Fantasy Football Sleepers 2012: 10 Players Who Could Surprise This Season

Randy ChambersAnalyst IJune 25, 2012

Fantasy Football Sleepers 2012: 10 Players Who Could Surprise This Season

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    Believe it or not, the NFL 2012 season is right around the corner. With July only a week away, it won't be long before we are watching preseason football and having debates over whose team is better this season.

    With the real season set to begin soon, you should be preparing for fantasy football drafts and trying to gain any edge over your competition. It is never too early to begin studying players, trends, schedules, weather and anything else you believe that plays a factor in your players contributing at a high level.

    In this article, we will talk about the sleepers. These are the players that nobody is really paying attention to or believe won't end up having a great season, so they don't even think about selecting them on draft day. These are the players that you may want to consider on draft day because they could be the X-factor in you winning this year's fantasy championship. 

    Here are 10 sleepers for the 2012 fantasy football season that you should keep an eye on when your fantasy draft takes place.

Isaac Redman, RB, Pittsburgh

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    Pittsburgh is a team that loves to run the football, and for the past couple of years, it has been Rashard Mendenhall that has carried the load. Not this season after tearing an ACL in Week 17. In fact, he will likely begin the season on the PUP list and could be a non-factor for the entire year. 

    That's where Isaac Redman enters the picture as the full-time back for the Steelers. He is entering his fourth year and coming off his productive season yet. In limited time last year, Redman averaged nearly five yards a carry and rushed for 479 yards on only 110 touches. He is also valuable in PPR leagues, catching 18 passes for 78 yards. Remember, this is limited action we are talking about.

    “I'm ready to get out there. Hopefully, I'll surprise everybody.” Redman said. (Via CBS Sports)

    If Redman can continue that type of production with more carries, he should be a true No. 1 running back option in 2012.

Jared Cook, TE, Tennessee

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    While you may not think of Tennessee being a pass-first team, the Titans did throw the ball a total of 584 times last season. (Only seven other teams had more pass attempts in 2012.) Tight end Jared Cook could emerge as one of the better players at his position. He is a physical monster who will have a whole offseason to work out and get on the same page with quarterback Jake Locker.

    He was thrown at 74 times last season and hauled in 49 of those passes for 759 yards and three touchdowns. He finished the season extremely strong, finishing with 21 receptions for 335 yards and one touchdown in the last three games.

    If Cook can build off that momentum in his fifth season, he will become one of the strengths at a position that does not have a lot of depth.

Toby Gerhart, RB, Minnesota

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    We all know the main guy in Minnesota is running back Adrian Peterson, but he is coming off a torn ACL and MCL. Sure, he is doing extremely well in his rehab and should be ready to go by the time the season starts, but Peterson is this offense and the coaching staff would be wise to slowly work him back into regular form.

    That's where you could benefit from somebody like Toby Gerhart, who got a chance to show his ability when Peterson missed playing time with an ankle injury. On only 109 touches, he racked up 531 yards and a touchdown. He also provided a big boost in PPR leagues, catching the ball 23 times for 190 yards and three touchdowns.

    Gerhart is a versatile runner who can help this Vikings offense in a variety of different ways. He can also help your fantasy team while Peterson continues to recover from last year's injury.

Michael Crabtree, WR, San Fransisco

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    When Michael Crabtree is not injured or busy being a diva on and off the field, he is a productive wide receiver. He may not have fulfilled the high expectations coming out of Texas Tech, but he has the skill set to become a premier wideout in this league.

    Despite battling a foot injury all of last season, he finished with 72 receptions for 874 yards and four touchdowns. These, of course, are not No. 1 wide receiver numbers, but they are productive numbers when you consider the lack of weapons on this 49ers team. Now you add proven receivers such as Randy Moss and Mario Manningham on this team, and Crabtree should face a lot of single-coverage in 2012.

    If you are one of those owners that continues to wait for this guy to emerge in the fantasy world, this may finally be that year.

Peyton Hillis, RB, Kansas City

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    Peyton Hillis was another victim of the Madden curse last season, or maybe that 2010 season was a fluke or maybe a combination of both. Either way, Peyton Hillis is in a new situation on a new team and should get a shot to prove himself once again.

    After rushing for over 1,100 yards and scoring 13 total touchdowns in 2010, Hillis only managed 587 yards and three touchdowns last season. Playing for the Kansas City Chiefs, he should get plenty of touches simply because Jamaal Charles is fresh off of an ACL injury and wasn't an every-down back regardless. You can say the same for Dexter McCluster as well.

    We should not expect ridiculous numbers in 2012, but at the very least, he should get a ton of goal line carries, which gives him more value in the fantasy world than a lot of people are giving him at the moment. Last year, he was overrated; this season, he has been written off. He is worth a late-round pick and could surprise you with his production.

Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle

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    Second-year wide receiver Doug Baldwin has tremendous upside heading into 2012. He will have a true quarterback in Matt Flynn throwing him the ball, who is already familiar with the West Coast offense. He should also see a lot more single-coverage with a healthy Sidney Rice now on the field.

    Baldwin led all rookie wide receivers with 85 targets last season. He had seven games where he finished with at least 60 receiving yards and averaged 15.5 yards per catch. He has big-play ability written all over him and should fare much better with an actual quarterback throwing him the football.

    I really like his upside heading into the season, as he could be your No. 3 wideout that puts up No. 2 numbers.

T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts

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    T.Y. Hilton is from FIU and was drafted in the third round on this year's NFL draft. He isn't getting much attention at all in fantasy and could very well go undrafted on draft day. But that does not mean he couldn't help your fantasy team at some point in the year.

    Hilton has terrific hands and is one of the fastest players in the entire 2012 draft class. He is a playmaker with the ball in his hands and a threat to take it the distance every time he touches the ball. He caught 229 passes for 3,531 yards and scored 38 total touchdowns in his four year college career.

    The question really is, how much playing time will he receive with the Colts in his first year? He should get every opportunity to succeed with not many quality receivers on the roster.

    Do not waste a draft pick on the rookie that nobody is paying attention to, but keep an eye on him early because he could become this year's Randall Cobb or Torrey Smith.

Josh Freeman, QB, Tampa Bay

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    Is there any other quarterback that has improved his fantasy value in one year more than Josh Freeman?

    He is in much better shape, as he has dropped 20 pounds since last year. He also has two key weapons that have been added to the offense in wide receiver Vincent Jackson and rookie running back Doug Martin. Both will play key roles in this year's offense and help take off the pressure that was on Freeman all of last season.

    Freeman failed to live up to expectations in his third season, throwing for 3,592 yards and 16 touchdowns while also throwing 22 interceptions. But a lot of those failures can be blamed on a running game that ranked 30th in the league. He is a nice dual-threat quarterback who completes a high percentage of his passes and has the potential to take his game to another level this season.

    With added playmakers to this offense, expect the Tampa Bay quarterback to become a top fantasy option in 2012.

Rashad Jennings, RB, Jacksonville

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    Rashad Jennings is a tough running back who has a great combination of speed and power. He could easily be the starting running back for Jacksonville and may have to be until the team settles on a new contract for star back Maurice Jones-Drew.

    Jennings missed the entire 2011 season due to a knee injury, but is ready to be a huge part of this offense this season. In 2010, he saw limited action, carrying the ball only 84 times, but finished with 459 yards and four touchdowns. He also caught 26 passes for 223 yards, which makes him a valuable option in PPR leagues.

    Regardless of what goes on with Jones-Drew's contract anyway, can he really be continued on for the entire season considering he is coming off of three straight seasons of at least 300 carries? (Last year, he led the league with 343 rushing attempts.) There are only so many times one guy can be relied on before he begins breaking down.

    Jennings may remain the backup when MJD gets back on the field, but his production should increase from 2010, which makes him a reliable bye week replacement.

Carson Palmer, QB, Oakland

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    Despite being traded to Oakland in the middle of the season, Carson Palmer showed that he can be a solid starting quarterback in 2012. He only played 10 games for the Raiders last season, but finished throwing for 2,753 yards and 13 touchdowns. In four of those 10 games, he threw for at least 300 yards and at least two touchdowns.

    Now he has a whole offseason to get familiar with the players and playbook, which should improve those numbers this time around. His 275 yards a game average was good for seventh in the league last season, above quarterbacks such as Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Schaub, Michael Vick and Tony Romo.

    Palmer is that quarterback that you can get in the later rounds of the draft that could eventually become your starting fantasy quarterback in 2012.