Fantasy Football Sleepers 2012: Late-Round WRs with Starting Potential
With fantasy leagues that start three or more wide receivers becoming more and more common, it's essential to acquire solid depth at the position. Finding a late-round wideout with the potential to become a weekly starter can make all the difference in the world, especially if the injury bug strikes your squad.
Keeping that in mind, here's a look at a trio of wide receivers whose fantasy upside far outweighs their very modest price tag in 2012.
Danny Amendola, St. Louis Rams
2011 was a lost season for wide receiver Danny Amendola of the St. Louis Rams, who played in only one game before a dislocated elbow ended his season.
However, in 2010 Amendola emerged as a "safety blanket" of sorts for quarterback Sam Bradford, reeling in 85 passes, and the 26-year-old recently told Fox Sports Midwest via The Courier of Montgomery County that he's eager to get back into action.
Coming off injuries, I’ve never had to sit out a full year. That was tough. I’m hungrier than ever, and I’m ready to get back out there and start competing and start moving into camp and preseason and into the season.
Amendola isn't incredibly athletic, nor does he possess the sort of game-breaking speed that makes fantasy owners salivate. What Amendola does possess is good hands, solid route-running skills and a rapport with Bradford.
In a very unsettled Rams receiving corps, a healthy Amendola should see plenty of targets, making him a very interesting late target in point-per-reception leagues as a sort of "Wes Welker Lite".
Brandon LaFell, Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers let veteran Legedu Naanee depart in free agency this offseason (the fact that you're asking yourself right now who Legedu Naanee is explains why), leaving the team in the market for a new starting receiver opposite Steve "Fists of Fury" Smith.
The early leader for that job would appear to be third-year pro Brandon LaFell, who ESPN's Pat Yasinkas predicts could be in for a breakout season after reeling in 36 catches for 613 yards and three touchdowns in part-time duty in 2011.
In a lot of ways, LaFell is similar to Muhsin Muhammad, the only wide receiver that ever has worked successfully in tandem with No. 1 receiver Steve Smith. LaFell is big and strong and could provide a nice target over the middle for Cam Newton.
Newton threw for over 4,000 yards last year, and, while Smith caught the majority of those passes, he's also sure to see the majority of attention from opposing defenses this season. That should equate to lots of single coverage for the 6'2" LaFell, who could easily obliterate his 15th-round price tag.
Jerome Simpson, Minnesota Vikings
At first glance, it might seem odd to spend a draft pick, even a late one, on a player who will be spending the first three weeks of the season serving a suspension. However, in the case of wide receiver Jerome "Smoky" Simpson, there are a couple of reasons why a modest investment on draft day could pay off big time later in the year.
First, there's the 50 catches for 725 yards and four scores that Simpson put up last year with the Cincinnati Bengals—numbers that were good enough to place Simpson 45th among fantasy wideouts in PPR leagues.
Yes, the suspension is unfortunate, and there's always the risk that the fifth-year veteran could run afoul of the league's substance abuse policy again, which would net a much lengthier vacation.
It's really not that big a fantasy concern though. If you're scrambling to insert late-round picks into your starting lineup that early in the season then you're probably sunk anyways, and if Simpson screws up again later you can just cut him loose.
That said, according to CBS Sports Simpson and Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder have already developed a rapport during the team's recent organized team activities, with the Vikings' signal-caller saying “Once he gets back, we're not going to miss a beat.”
Simpson was already set to line up as the Vikings No. 2 receiver upon his return. With top receiver Percy Harvin unhappy and demanding a trade, at the very least Simpson will have an opportunity to improve his relationship with Ponder while Harvin grouses.
In a best case scenario for Simpson's fantasy value, the Vikings could reverse course (pardon the pun) and deal Harvin, at which point Simpson would become Minnesota's top wide receiver.
That's an admittedly unlikely scenario, but, so long as Simpson is on the field for 13 games, there's a very good chance that he'll be more than worth the last-round pick it will take to procure his services in most fantasy drafts.
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