Fantasy Football 2012: Andy Dalton and 6 Other Sleepers
The term "sleeper" gets bandied about too often in fantasy football. Everyone wants to be the person to name the next breakout Victor Cruz or Jordy Nelson, but each writer’s idea of what makes a person a sleeper can be vastly different.
For this article, sleepers will be players that can be drafted after Round 10 in a 12-team league based on the ADP (average draft position) from MyFantasyLeague.com. In some cases, the players listed below are not even being drafted in standard-size leagues.
These players should provide more value than their current ADP suggests.
Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati (Current ADP: Pick 121)
Last year, Dalton was lost behind the behemoth that was Cam Newton, but he finished the season as the 14th-ranked QB. He had 3,398 yards, 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, but only one of those interceptions came in his last six games.
He and receiver A.J. Green worked well together, especially since both were rookies and had very little chance to work with each other before the season.
Green ended the year as the 18th-ranked wide receiver. He finished with over 1,000 yards and had seven touchdowns, but those numbers don’t do him justice. He proved that he will be a star in this league with outstanding leaping ability, great quickness, agility and no fear of going over the middle.
Tight end Jermaine Gresham is also coming off a strong season with 56 receptions, 596 yards and six touchdowns.
After those two, though, there are questions. So far in OTAs and minicamps, both Armon Binns and Brandon Tate have been praised because of very strong practices and seem to be fighting it out for that No. 2 spot, but rookies Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones will be involved also.
Dalton should improve going into year two and is a great value as a very solid No. 2 with the upside to finish as a mid-to-late No. 1 if this offense comes together.
Pierre Thomas, RB, New Orleans (Current ADP: Pick 147)
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Thomas will never be a stud back, but he can be a very nice complement on a fantasy team's bench.
In 2011, he carried the ball 110 times for 562 yards, scored five touchdowns and caught 50 passes for another 425 yards and one touchdown. Those stats ranked him at No. 21 running back in 2011, but so far in 2012 drafts, he is being taken as the 53rd running back off the board.
In the four years that he has been mostly healthy, he has never averaged less than 4.8 yards-per-carry and has always been a good receiving back. There is no reason to see a major decline in these numbers in 2012.
Mark Ingram, who many thought would lead this team in rushing in his rookie season, managed only 122 carries and an average of 3.9 yards per carry, with only 11 receptions. He is also coming off another knee surgery that is being reported as a simple “scope” procedure, but this is just one more injury to add to a list that pushed him off many teams' draft boards just over a year ago.
Right now, Darren Sproles has to be the main guy heading into 2012 after his amazing 2011 season, but Pierre Thomas will still be a big contributor on this offense and is a forgotten man in drafts. Don’t forget him.
Rashad Jennings, RB, Jacksonville (Current ADP: Pick 196)
While many are talking about Maurice Jones-Drew and the possibility of his holding out into the season, no one seems to be looking past MJD to who will pick up the slack if he does hold out. That would be Rashad Jennings, who didn’t get a chance to play a down in 2011 and has seemingly become the forgotten man.
Jennings sustained a knee injury in the third preseason game last year, and even though he felt he could come back during the season, the team put him on IR before the start of the regular season. He did not need surgery on the knee and is 100 percent healthy and taking all of the first-team reps until MJD comes back to the team.
Jones-Drew’s holdout seems real, and there are many, including Adam Schefter, who feel that it could last into the season. If that is the case, then Jennings will become a key part of this offense until that changes, and maybe even after it does.
In limited touches in 2010, Jennings rushed for 459 yards on just 84 rushing attempts, good for 5.5 yards per carry. He also caught 26 balls for an additional 223 yards. He is a big back at 6’1” and 228 lbs with good quickness and vision and has good hands coming out of the backfield.
With MJD averaging over 360 touches a year over the last three years, there has to be concern with him staying healthy, especially if he does hold out into the season. Holdouts do not usually have strong seasons; just ask Chris Johnson about 2011.
Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay (Current ADP: Pick 138)
Cobb is only a sleeper in leagues where they don’t award points for returns, because in those leagues, he will be taken much earlier than the ADP listed above.
Even in leagues that don’t reward points for returns, though, Cobb represents good value.
We saw what he was capable of in his first game as a rookie, when he took a kickoff 108 yards for a score to tie the record for longest return in NFL history. He went on to catch his only touchdown of the season in that game and was named the NFL’s Rookie of the Week.
He finished the season second overall in kick returns and seventh in punt returns, but one thing was always clear: If you put the ball in his hands, anything was possible. He is lightning quick with great vision and is very tough to bring down.
As a receiver, he only managed 25 receptions for 375 yards and the aforementioned touchdown, but he was buried on the depth chart. Behind guys like Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver and James Jones, it was hard for him to get on the field as a rookie.
The team did restructure Driver’s contract to bring him back in 2012, but that should be a good thing for Cobb, because he will again be able to learn from one of the league’s best receivers. He should be able to pass Driver on the depth chart this season, as he is easily the more dangerous receiver of the two.
Andre Roberts, WR, Arizona (Current ADP: Pick 250)
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This time of year, rookies take up a lot of space when talking about future plans for a team, but rarely does the play equate to the hype they received prior to the start of the season.
Right now, the talk in Arizona is that Michael Floyd will be a big part of this offense for 2012, and because of that, most fantasy owners are forgetting about Andre Roberts.
Roberts is coming into his third season, which is often thought to show the biggest improvements in young wide receivers. They finally start to grasp the game and defenses at NFL speeds and can make quicker decisions that lead to more playing time.
He took a big leap in 2011, catching 51 passes for 586 yards and two touchdowns—over twice as many catches as his rookie season.
Right now, the thought is that he will start the season opposite Larry Fitzgerald until Michael Floyd knows the system, but then should switch to the slot position, something he is more suited for. According to Mike Clay of ProFootballFocus.com, he played on the outside 81 percent of the time in 2011, after playing in the slot 63 percent in 2010.
Either way, he presents good value where he is currently being drafted.
Mike Thomas, WR, Jacksonville (Current ADP: Pick 323)
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Thomas is coming off his worst season as a pro, and that was mainly due to two factors: very poor quarterback play and the fact that he was miscast as a No. 1 receiver. He is not, nor will he ever be, a No. 1 WR in this league.
Early this offseason, there was some talk that maybe the team would release him before the 2012 season, but that talk has since quieted. Jacksonville head coach Mike Mularkey recently stated that Thomas is the most versatile receiver on the team because of his ability and experience.
The team brought in Laurent Robinson, who starred for the Cowboys last year, to take over that No. 1 spot and alleviate Thomas' pressure to be “The Guy." With defenses having to spend resources on Robinson, it should free up more space for Thomas.
Also, QB Blaine Gabbert will now have a full offseason to improve on his game, which should also improve Thomas’ chances.
In 2010, when tight end Marcedes Lewis was playing like a mad man to secure his new deal and Mike Sims-Walker was still a viable receiver, Thomas posted his career-best numbers with 66 receptions, 869 yards and four touchdowns. He was the 24th-ranked receiver that season, and if he can rebound to anywhere near those numbers this year, he would be a steal.
Thomas is currently being drafted as the 110th receiver off the board and represents nice upside.
Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina (Current ADP: Pick 153)
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Many, including this writer, expected Olsen to become a dominant tight end in 2011. Jeremy Shockey was on the downturn of his career, and Olsen would be working with Rob Chudzinsky, the Panthers offensive coordinator.
Chudzinsky is known for having helped Antonio Gates and Kellen Winslow, Jr., have their best years. He is called the “Mad Scientist” by the Panthers because of the constant variables he throws into the offense.
But there was a monkey wrench thrown into those plans: an injury-plagued offensive line. They lost four linemen for the season by mid October, including right tackle Jeff Otah, who, despite being labeled an excellent talent, just cannot stay on the field. Because of this, Olsen had to block more often than he typically would.
According to Mike Clay, Olsen was kept in to block 45 percent of the time for the season. That number increased to 55 percent in the final five weeks.
The team is hoping to have Otah back for the preseason, and they spent a second-round pick on Midwestern State tackle Amini Silatolu to help at the position. If these guys can stay on the field, then that should free up Olsen to have his best year as a pro.
He is currently being drafted as the 19th-ranked tight end, but has a shot at landing in the top 12 with Chudzinsky’s help.
These are all players worthy of consideration in fantasy drafts and can be had in the later rounds of drafts. Take advantage of these values on draft day, and a championship may follow.
You can read more of Jim Day’s work at Fantasytaz.com.
Jim Day is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.