Top 25 Fantasy Football Sleepers for 2012
Indeed, it's early May, but it's never too early for fantasy football. With the calming of free agency and the glow from the draft fading, we have settled into rookie minicamps and organized team activities.
What better time than to start plotting for your fantasy football drafts?
Get a head start on your list of sleepers by taking a look at these 25 guys who are either undervalued or simply flying under the radar.
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The oft-maligned quarterback in the Windy City has had to deal with terrible offensive lines and a weak receiving corps over the years. One of those issues was fixed this offseason.
Marty Booker was the last Bear to top 1,000 yards receiving and just five of the past 41 seasons have seen Bears exceed that yardage. Brandon Marshall has topped that in each of his past five seasons.
A fly on the wall must have seen Cutler finally smile when the Bears traded for Marshall and drafted Alshon Jeffery. These two are an immeasurable upgrade from Devin Hester and Johnny Knox, whom we wish a full and speedy recovery from that horrific neck injury.
Getting a major upgrade in his arsenal will give Cutler a major fantasy boost, to the tune of a top-10 quarterback finish. Considering he's the 15th quarterback off the board in the ninth round, according to Fantasy Football Calculator, that qualifies him as a sleeper.
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After a promising rookie season, Blount found himself in and out of Raheem Morris' doghouse for much of last season. The Buccaneers then traded back up into the first round to snag Doug Martin with the 31st pick in the draft.
Case closed. LeGarrette's fantasy relevance is gone, right?
Not so fast.
Morris is long gone, replaced by Greg Schiano out of Rutgers. What was one thing he was known for during his tenure as head coach in New Jersey? Pounding the rock.
As good as Doug Martin could be, Blount will see plenty of time on the field. He will be a strong complement to Martin in a running back timeshare, and his bruising style could net him the lion's share of the goal-line carries.
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The Giants found themselves in a bit of a tight end pickle after the Super Bowl, during which Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum both suffered knee injuries, likely knocking them both out for the 2012 season.
Martellus Bennett comes to the rescue for New York, and he suddenly finds himself being relevant in the fantasy realm. With all the attention being paid to guys like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, Bennett could be a solid starter.
Despite being disappointing in Dallas—though spending the bulk of his time there behind Jason Witten on the depth chart—the former Cowboy is just 25 years old. He has Eli Manning throwing to him and a host of weapons around him to open up the seam in Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Rueben Randle. With little competition for playing time at tight end, his fantasy outlook is quite good.
The value you will get out of picking him in the teen rounds is even better.
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With Rashard Mendenhall possibly missing the entire 2012 season with a torn ACL—incidentally a stark contrast to Adrian Peterson, who could make it back by Week 1—Isaac Redman will shoulder the load in Pittsburgh.
While he may seem like a downgrade, Redman has actually played well for the Steelers in limited duty. He averaged 4.4 yards per carry (YPC) and had a touchdown rate of 2.7 percent last season in just 110 carries. He's also a good pass-catching threat, having hauled in 90 percent of his targets last season.
Early average draft position (ADP) yields on Fantasy Football Calculator show Redman nearly dropping into the sixth round, presenting good value for a lead back in an offense that has historically run the ball a great deal.
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When the Dolphins traded away Brandon Marshall, many thought they would sign a free agent or spend a high draft pick to replace him.
Their major free-agent signing was Legedu Naanee, and they waited until the sixth round to draft B.J. Matthews, effectively making Hartline the de facto WR1 in Miami.
This may seem like trouble for the Miami offense, but Joe Philbin more than made due with receivers with less-than-stellar measurables in Green Bay. Greg Jennings is 5'11". Jordy Nelson is bigger at 6'3" but has clocked a 4.62 40-yard dash at the combine along with other average measurables.
Hartline is closer to Nelson than Jennings in terms of body type.
Miami is looking to sign Hartline to extension, which indicates they value him as a starter. Simply being the top choice by attrition gives him fantasy value, and being a part of Philbin's offense could net him a nice fantasy season, whether it's Matt Moore or Ryan Tannehill throwing him the ball.
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Hankerson flashed promise last season with a couple of good games before being shelved with a hip injury. In his two games with significant playing time last season, he amassed 140 yards receiving and a touchdown.
The Washington Examiner's John Keim projects that Hankerson will beat out Josh Morgan for a starting job opposite free-agent acquisition Pierre Garcon. Coupling his potential with Griffin's, this season could be a launching pad for the talented receiver.
His fantasy owners could greatly benefit as a result.
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After an electrifying rookie debut on Thursday Night Football last season, Cobb fell off the fantasy radar with the likes of Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver and James Jones ahead of him on the depth chart.
Old Man Driver may have danced his last dance with the team after five straight years of decline, however, opening the door for Cobb to increase his playing time. According to Pro Football Focus, Cobb was on the field for just 30.8 percent of his team's offensive snaps—a number that figures to go up dramatically without Driver, who was on the field for 52.1 percent of offensive snaps.
Cobb represents a youthful upside the rest of the Packers receivers do not possess. Any time a receiver gets more playing time with Aaron Rodgers, his fantasy numbers are bound to increase.
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Indeed, Thomas is in a crowded backfield, but he may just be the best all-around back in New Orleans.
We all know about Darren Sproles and his record-breaking all-purpose yardage from a season ago, and the Saints traded away a future first-round pick to nab Mark Ingram last year.
Well, Ingram is injured—the former Alabama back just had arthroscopic surgery on his knee, his second such surgery—and he was not exactly a picture of health last season.
While Thomas has not been healthy himself throughout his career, he was able to stay injury-free last season. When he was on the field, he performed well, averaging 5.3 YPC and scoring six rushing touchdowns.
He's also an underrated pass-catching threat, having caught an astounding 91.9 percent of his 62 targets last year for 485 yards and a touchdown.
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In reality, there are not really any good statistical indicators for Gabbert. He completed just 50.8 percent of his passes, averaged a paltry 5.3 yards per completion and compiled an abysmal 65.3 NFL quarterback rating.
Gabbert may have been awful last season, but his top receivers were Jason Hill and Mike Thomas at one point. He also had to deal with a lockout-shortened offseason and being thrown into the fire in Week 2.
The second-year veteran got a major weaponry upgrade this offseason, however, when the Jaguars signed Laurent Robinson and moved up to pick Justin Blackmon in the draft. Add to that the benefit of a full offseason and the former first-round pick may surprise many this coming season.
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The former undrafted free agent quietly led the Seahawks in receiving last season with 788 yards, though injuries to Sidney Rice had something to do with that.
He and his fellow pass-catchers may have gotten an upgrade at quarterback this offseason in Matt Flynn—or even Russell Wilson, depending on how you look at it—which could be a boon to their fantasy totals.
In terms of production, Baldwin had about half the yardage and touchdowns that Larry Fitzgerald had last season in about half the playing time. In other words, he was right on pace with Fitzgerald from a production standpoint.
That is a good sign.
If Baldwin can build on a successful rookie campaign, he will be one of the bigger sleepers of 2012.
This is about as far as Williams got last season.
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His season was cut short before it could get going, but Ryan Williams will make his triumphant return to the Cardinals this year barring another injury.
When Arizona drafted the former Hokie, Beanie Wells' seat went from warm to blazing. After Williams injured his knee, Wells quietly topped 1,000 yards rushing and scored 10 touchdowns last season, helping stabilize his status on the team. Still, his career 4.2 YPC is not inspiring, and he did not crack 100 yards rushing outside of his two huge games against the Giants and Rams last season.
With oft-injured Wells, the only thing standing in the way between Williams and a starting gig, there's a good chance Williams will log some serious playing time if he's all the way back from his injury.
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Michael Turner is 30 going on 43, and Jason Snelling is not much younger and may have hit his ceiling. Taking away Turner's 122-yard performance against a Tampa Bay team that had quit on their coach and Turner averaged just 3.3 YPC in his previous five games.
Rodgers is in his second season, and he finds himself in a good situation.
The scat back was in on just 29 percent of the Falcons' offensive snaps last season and caught 25 passes. While Snelling provides that pass-catching capability, Rodgers brings upside to the table.
Should Turner or Snelling slow down or fall prey to injury, Rodgers could capitalize in a big way. He is a deeper sleeper who qualifies as a top running back handcuff.
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Rookies are terribly unpredictable fantasy options, particularly at wide receiver. Streeter has a chance to be an under-the-radar pickup this year, however.
Anquan Boldin will be 33 this season and is on the decline—he has not topped 900 yards his past two seasons. Streeter is 6'5" with a 4.40 40-yard dash speed and a ton of upside. That excellent combination of size and speed is a good way to take advantage of Joe Flacco's cannon arm.
Streeter has a good chance at playing time right away if he can live up to his potential. He's a deep sleeper for now but keep an eye on Baltimore's situation at receiver.
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Starks enjoyed sleeper status last season after putting himself on the map during the 2010 playoffs. Unfortunately, injuries and a bit of capriciousness on the part of Mike McCarthy derailed a promising season for Starks.
With Ryan Grant gone and no major competition for playing time, Starks looks like he will be in for a big workload increase. Considering defenses will have to stay honest against Aaron Rodgers & Co., if he stays healthy, Starks will have plenty of room to operate and produce.
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The Bengals may have drafted Mohamed Sanu before Marvin Jones, but the latter could win the starting job opposite A.J. Green before opening day. Per Bengals beat writer Joe Reedy:
Jones does have an uphill climb to beat out Sanu and Jordan Shipley, who could be cleared to practice soon after tearing an ACL in last season's opener. Despite relatively poor production in college, many scouts had a high draft grade on Jones.
If he does win that starting job, Jones will find some space operating opposite A.J. Green, who will take much of the attention from opposing defenses. The more playing time the better for fantasy production.
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Ben Watson is injury prone and has been a career disappointment, and Evan Moore failed to impress last season. With a full season under his belt, the former basketball player could be in line for more playing time.
Cameron is raw, but the thought of another former basketball player following in the footsteps of Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham has to be enticing enough as a late-round flier if he hops Moore or Watson on the depth chart.
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Take a mental trip back in time to 2010—a time when Peyton Manning was still a Colt, and his neck was not a mass of fused vertebrae.
If you recall, Dallas Clark went down with a season-ending wrist injury before Week 8, opening the door for Jacob Tamme to start. In the nine games he started, Manning targeted him an eye-popping 90 times.
That amounts to 160 targets over a full season.
While the Broncos signed Tamme and Joel Dreessen in tandem, the latter was likely brought in to block more than catch. Even if Tamme is targeted a meager six times per game, he will catch 70 passes if he can maintain the 73.5 percent catch rate he had in 2010.
Of course, this is all contingent on Manning staying healthy. If he does, Tamme will be a PPR stud.
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The speedy Raider managed just 33 snaps all of last season as a rookie, but Michael Bush's departure gives him a big opportunity to contribute.
The Raiders did trade for Mike Goodson, so Jones will have some competition behind Darren McFadden. The starter has never played more than 13 games in a season—he only played seven last year after a breakout season in 2010.
There's a good chance Jones and Goodson will see the field a significant amount, and the speedy sophomore has the upside to capitalize in a big way. He is, however, just a deep sleeper right now, but a good handcuff at the least.
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All the credit for this prediction goes to Bryan Fontaine at Pro Football Focus. Here's an excerpt from his article predicting a breakout performance from Rudolph:
Despite only playing less than half of the time (49.2% of total snaps), Rudolph enjoyed a solid rookie season. As the Vikings fell out of contention, Rudolph’s playing time increased at the expense of Visanthe Shiancoe. Rudolph showed in his limited role that he could contribute in the passing game and as a blocker (combined +5.0) when given the opportunity. Although Rudolph only ranked as the 34th best tight end in PPR leagues, he ranked an impressive 11th in our tight end rankings.
It is natural to try to find a current comparable player to Rudolph. During the live telecast of the NFL Draft on the NFL Network, Rudolph was compared to Rob Gronkowski because of their almost identical workout numbers – something that now seems preposterous given Gronkowski’s record-breaking 2011 season. In November, I compared Rudolph to Todd Heap in his prime. Heap was a top four tight end from 2002 to 2006, except for 2004 (six games), and was the top tight end overall in fantasy leagues in 2002.
Rudolph caught an impressive 78.8 percent of his targets, just one positive statistical indicator. Even though the Vikings signed John Carlson, the departure of Visanthe Shiancoe opens the door for Rudolph to enjoy dramatically increased playing time. If he can even get to half of what Gronkowski did in his sophomore season, he will have a good fantasy season.
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Aaron Rodgers easily led the league with 0.72 fantasy points per attempt (PPA), but can you guess who was second on that list?
When all arbitrary thresholds are removed, that man is Jake Locker.
Granted, there's a reason why statistical thresholds exist—it strains credulity that Locker would have been the No. 2 fantasy quarterback on a season-long basis as a rookie.
Still, his promising production in limited duty grants him sleeper status going into the 2012 season, despite Matt Hasselbeck barring his way to a starting job. Once the Titans hand him the reins—which could happen quickly if Hasselbeck stumbles—there will be a mad dash to grab Locker on the waiver wire unless you have stashed him on your bench.
Stash him on your bench.
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The rookie in Dallas makes this list for one simple reason—Laurent Robinson.
Considering he was the team's third receiver last season, Robinson had a magnificent fantasy campaign. His departure to greener pastures in Jacksonville leaves a hole at WR3 for the Cowboys, and Coale could be the man to step into that role.
It may be difficult to put trust into a late-round draft pick, but the Cowboys are one of a few teams who could make one relevant.
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His stud receiver is gone. His team signed David Garrard and drafted Ryan Tannehill.
Why is Moore a fantasy sleeper?
Ireland has professed his excitement for Moore publicly, though that was before the Dolphins drafted Tannehill. Still, the veteran is in line to be the starter unless the rookie blows everyone away during the preseason.
Moore quietly had a solid season after stepping in for Chad Henne last year. He was 12th in the league with a 87.1 NFL QB rating en route to a 6-4 record as a starter for the Dolphins. His fantasy output was erratic, however, but he did score some points with his legs.
Being without Marshall will sting, but Joe Philbin did help Matt Flynn detonate for 480 yards and six touchdowns against the Lions in Week 17 last year.
If Moore wins the starting job, he will be on borrowed time, but he will be worth a look in deeper leagues.
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Jackson may be 31 and coming off injury, but all this does is depress his price.
The newly re-signed Buffalo running back was the top fantasy running back last season before a knee injury shelved him for the rest of the season. While he was healthy, though, he was averaging career highs in yards per carry (5.5) and yards per catch (11.3).
Here's what Bleacher Report's Sigmund Bloom had to say:
Fred Jackson's new contract should cast light on what a value he'll be in fantasy leagues...elite RB in 1st half of year, mid-low RB2 price.
With C.J. Spiller fresh in fantasy owners' minds, Jackson could be a steal of a deal in your draft.
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Greg Olsen has always fallen short of the fantasy hype. Whether it was lack of use in Mike Martz's offense in Chicago or a timeshare with fellow Hurricane alumnus Jeremy Shockey, he has never been able to capitalize on his fantasy potential and deliver for fantasy owners.
Now that Shockey is out of the picture, Olsen might finally be able to deliver on that potential.
The downside to Olsen's statistical indicators is that he only caught 52 percent of his targets last year. He did score five touchdowns, however, and he should be in line for a big chunk of the 59 targets Shockey took last season.
If he can get his targets closer to 120, up from 85, and improve his catch rate, he could finally have a solid fantasy season. He should be a nice backup tight end—if backing up your tight end is something you like to do—and a decent TE2 option with potential.
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Achilles injuries are notoriously difficult to come back from, but Demaryius Thomas proved that it can be done, though eating a bag of marijuana is not the best way to go about doing that.
Detroit's backfield resembles a M.A.S.H. unit—Jahvid Best is one concussion away from retirement, Kevin Smith is made of glass and soon-to-be-acquired Ryan Grant is, well, not good.
Leshoure might be suspended to start the season, making him undraftable depending on the length of the suspension, but he is a second-round draft pick from just a year ago—the Lions are going to give him every opportunity to contribute if he keeps clean going forward.