Who Will Be 2012's Biggest Fantasy Football Steals?
There are sleepers. And then there are steals.
A sleeper is someone who could potentially have a big year. Most fans think of a sleeper as a previously unknown player who comes up big. However, the more general definition of a sleeper is simply any player whose performance could exceed his draft position—regardless of whether the player is known or unknown.
A steal is someone whose performance will greatly exceed his draft position.
I recently gave my list of possible sleepers who have some question marks heading into training camp.
Now I'm giving you my list of steals. These guys do not have question marks in my mind—I am all-in on these guys this year.
This list of steals is naturally significantly shorter than the list of sleepers because, after all, there can't really be that many steals.
Let's see who this year's biggest fantasy football steals will be.
QB Jay Cutler
Last year, Cutler finished with a pedestrian 16.2 FPPG average, 17th among NFL starters. That ranks him as a middling QB2.
This is not surprising given his anemic receiving weapons (sorry, Devin Hester and Johnny Knox) and his porous offensive line. Right?
But the numbers reveal something else.
Cutler hit over 20 FPPG in five of his 10 games last year, averaging 22.6 FPPG. That would rank him as the sixth-best fantasy QB last year. For perspective, a 20-plus FPPG average makes you a solid QB1.
So Cutler was a QB1 for half his games—even with said anemic receiving weapons and porous offensive line.
Of course, that's not the whole story.
The other five games, Cutler was completely dreadful, averaging just 9.8 FPPG. That's where those anemic receiving weapons and porous offensive line were on full display.
This year, though, Cutler is reunited with former teammate and Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall. Along with second-round receiver Alshon Jeffery and fourth-round "move tight end" Evan Rodriguez, the Bears have plenty of receiving weapons.
And offensive-line-coach-turned-offensive-coordinator Mike Tice has vowed to run an offense that will minimize his offensive line's weaknesses and take advantage of Cutler's skills, such as more rollouts.
Jay Cutler will be this year's Matthew Stafford—an upper-tier QB1 at a mid-tier QB2 draft price.
QB Michael Vick
Remember last year? Vick was often the first quarterback taken in fantasy drafts and almost always no later than the second QB taken.
Yet Vick finished with a 20.1 FPPG average—10th best among fantasy signal-callers. So it's not like Vick was a bum like Matt Moore.
The fact is that Vick still has the talent to produce like an elite quarterback, he still plays in a fantasy-friendly offense that he's familiar with, he still has several weapons to throw to and he should have an improved defense that will help the offense in terms of field position.
Sure, there is always the potential for injury given his running style, but he can be a major impact fantasy player for what is, this year, a substantially discounted price.
RB Doug Martin
Doug Martin's ADP has climbed to No. 49 from the upper 50s on myfantasyleague.com real drafts.
Yet he's still severely undervalued.
By the end of this season, Martin will finish as a top-10 fantasy back.
I have the same feeling about Martin as I did with a then-unknown RB named Arian Foster back in 2010. At that time, I took Foster with my fifth-round pick, fully expecting him to finish as a top-10 fantasy back.
Foster finished as the No. 1 fantasy back.
I'm not predicting a No. 1 finish in fantasy for Martin, but he will nevertheless be a draft steal.
Martin had a solid 2011 season with Boise State, won the MVP award at the Maaco Bowl, had a solid combine and really stood out during Senior Bowl practices and in the Senior Bowl game itself.
With a beefed-up Buccaneers offensive line in front of him and receiver Vincent Jackson keeping defenses honest, this every-down back will have a standout season far exceeding his fourth- or fifth-round draft status.
Some wonder about LeGarrette Blount's role on the team as the former starter. Don't think twice—Martin will be the man.
RB Mark Ingram
Like Martin, Mark Ingram is starting to get some love in real drafts, moving up to No. 76 on myfantasyleague.com.
But also like Martin, Ingram is strongly undervalued.
Ingram is a former first-round draft pick who New Orleans traded up to get. The 2009 Heisman trophy winner struggled in his rookie season, averaging only 5.3 FPPG.
With a crowded backfield that was further complicated by the lockout, Ingram had difficulty establishing himself in the running game that ultimately became an afterthought as Drew Brees pursued his lofty passing record.
Ingram's situation is quite similar to that of Ryan Mathews in San Diego, who also struggled as a rookie in 2010, averaging only 5.7 FPPG.
Mathews was talented enough not only to retain his starting gig in the Chargers' backfield but also to produce a 13.3 FPPG average, good for 11th among fantasy RBs and a low-end RB1.
Ingram, too, is talented enough to rise to the top of the Saints' backfield this year with a full offseason behind him and become the sustaining runner the Saints envisioned him to be.
I expect Ingram to also finish the season as a low-end RB1.
WR Titus Young
Titus Young is currently clocking in at No. 103 on myfantasyleague.com's real draft ADP.
No surprise considering Young averaged only 5.2 FPPG in his rookie season.
But don't expect the same this year.
Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reported that Young looked uncoverable in OTAs and minicamp.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford became a top quarterback by staying healthy enough to throw to Calvin Johnson for all 16 games. But this year, Stafford can take the next step in becoming an elite quarterback by taking advantage of two top receivers instead of just one.
Titus Young, the former second-round pick, will be that second weapon Stafford will look to.
While all of fantasy is buzzing about Julio Jones stepping up in his sophomore season, fellow sophomore Young stays under-the-radar—just the way I like it.
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