Fantasy Football 2012: One Sleeper on Each Team You Must Know About

Alec NathanFeatured ColumnistJuly 18, 2012

Fantasy Football 2012: One Sleeper on Each Team You Must Know About

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    As NFL teams prepare for training camps, fantasy owners are doing some preparation of their own.

    Drafts are quickly approaching, and owners are beginning to compile research on some of the league's lesser known players.

    There's impressive depth at wide receiver, quarterback and tight end, so owners will have plenty of options to choose from as drafts enter their latter stages.

    Here is one sleeper from each team to keep an eye on.

Baltimore Ravens: Ed Dickson, Tight End

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    At 6'4'' and 255 pounds, Ed Dickson is quickly becoming one of Joe Flacco's favorite targets.

    During an impressive sophomore season, Dickson posted 54 catches for 528 yards and five touchdowns—numbers that make him one of the premier young tight ends in the NFL.

    In 2012, Dickson should improve on those solid numbers and establish himself as a top-15, if not top-10, tight end.

    With Flacco playing for a new contract, Dickson could benefit from some energized play under center.

Cincinnati Bengals: Mohamed Sanu, Wide Receiver

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    Mohamed Sanu would be wise to take notes from A.J. Green, the Bengals' breakout rookie in 2011.

    Sanu may be two inches shorter than his receiving counterpart, but he should benefit from constant double teams on Green.

    With Jordan Shipley looking like he could start the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list, and the offseason departure of Jerome Simpson, Sanu could be in line for an increase in targets.

    Alongside Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham, expect Sanu to be integral to the growth of quarterback Andy Dalton during his second year under center.

Cleveland Browns: Greg Little, Wide Receiver

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    After a solid rookie campaign, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Greg Little appears poised for some increased production in his sophomore season.

    Little posted 709 yards and two touchdowns on 61 receptions in 2011, and as the Browns' No. 1 wideout, he should benefit from the presence of rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden.

    Supplemental draft pick Josh Gordon is gaining plenty of hype, but don't be surprised if Little tops 1,000 yards and five touchdowns playing in an improved Browns offense.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Isaac Redman, Running Back

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    Isaac Redman is far from versatile, but he's next in line for carries with Rashard Mendenhall sidelined due to an ACL injury.

    This season will be Redman's third at the professional level, and he will be tasked with handling a heavier workload.

    Although the Steelers appear to be transitioning to a more pass-oriented attack under offensive coordinator Todd Haley, Redman will certainly see goal-line carries throughout the early stages of the season.

    Redman is a candidate to vulture touchdowns, if nothing else, and should be on fantasy radars throughout the middle rounds of drafts.

Buffalo Bills: C.J. Spiller, Running Back

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    Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller has yet to validate his selection at No. 9 overall in the 2010 NFL draft, but he's slowly creeping up the Bills' depth chart.

    Once Fred Jackson went down with a broken leg, Spiller stepped in admirably, finishing the season with a 5.2 yard-per-carry average, rushing for a total of 561 yards and four touchdowns.

    Spiller also has a nice role carved out in the Bills' passing game, as he racked up 269 yards and two touchdowns on 39 catches last season.

    Although Jackson figures to enter Week 1 as the starting tailback, Spiller should be in line for a bigger role in his third professional season.

Miami Dolphins: Matt Moore, Quarterback

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    Although the Miami Dolphins' quarterback competition is far from over, Matt Moore looks as likely a candidate as any to win the job.

    In 13 appearances and 12 starts last season, Moore totaled 2,497 yards and 16 touchdowns while completing 60.5 percent of his passes.

    Moore has shown the ability to post consistent point totals, however the only downside to his fantasy value is in his lack of legitimate receiving targets.

    Brian Hartline, Chad Ochocinco, Davone Bess and Anthony Fasano are Moore's most potent weapons, but given the chance to start, Moore should finish the season as a nice QB2.

New England Patriots: Brandon Lloyd, Wide Receiver

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    The aerial attack of the New England Patriots is now firmly led by Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski, but former St. Louis Ram Brandon Lloyd could emerge as the team's most legitimate downfield threat this season.

    Lloyd landed with the Rams after being traded from the Denver Broncos, and he finished the 2011 season just short of 1,000 receiving yards, catching five touchdowns.

    Tom Brady is certainly a massive upgrade from Sam Bradford, so expect Lloyd to rack up plenty of catches as the season goes on.

    While Lloyd may be more valuable in PPR formats, he should be able to post numbers that make him a quality No. 2 WR on fantasy rosters.

New York Jets: Stephen Hill, Wide Receiver

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    With Plaxico Burress firmly out of the picture in New York, Stephen Hill is set to step in as the Jets' No. 2 receiver opposite Santonio Holmes.

    With an inconsistent Mark Sanchez under center, Hill may struggle to get in a groove early on—but his 6'5'', 206-pound frame should make him a red-zone target that Sanchez grows to love.

    Burress posted 612 yards and eight touchdowns in his lone season with the Jets, and if Hill is capable of replicating those numbers, he could be a very nice pickup for fantasy owners.

Houston Texans: Owen Daniels, Tight End

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    Although the Houston Texans have shifted to a more run-oriented offense in recent years, they still have some nice weapons to utilize in the passing game.

    Owen Daniels' production has dropped off over the past two seasons due to a combination of injuries and an emphasis on the running game, but the departure of fellow tight end Joel Dreessen should benefit his statistical output.

    Daniels posted 677 yards and three scores in 2011, and if he can double his touchdowns this season, he could end up being a top-10 tight end.

Indianapolis Colts: Austin Collie, Wide Receiver

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    After flourishing to the tune of 15 touchdowns in two seasons with Peyton Manning under center, Austin Collie struggled mightily without his All-Pro quarterback in 2011.

    With Curtis Painter under center, Collie was downright disappointing, catching just one touchdown in a full 16-game slate.

    No. 1 overall selection Andrew Luck is a welcome sight for Collie, and although he will compete with rookie tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen for targets, there's no reason to think he won't revert back to production more reminiscent of 2010.

    Somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 yards and five touchdowns sounds entirely reasonable for the fourth-year wideout.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Laurent Robinson, Wide Receiver

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    With just four career touchdowns entering the 2011 season, there were few people who expected Laurent Robinson to break out when Miles Austin went down with a hamstring injury.

    Robinson surprised fantasy owners and experts alike by shouldering the load and finishing the season with 858 yards and 11 touchdowns.

    Robinson bolted for Jacksonville in the offseason and will presumably line up with rookie Justin Blackmon as the team's starting receivers.

    Although his numbers last season would seem to take him out of the sleeper conversation, the attention being paid to Blackmon has overshadowed Robinson's arrival.

    If Blaine Gabbert can take the next step in 2012, Robinson could be in line for a big season.

Tennessee Titans: Kendall Wright, Wide Receiver

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    One of the more overlooked rookie receivers heading into training camp, Kendall Wright appears set for slot duty in his first NFL season.

    With Kenny Britt on the mend and Nate Washington penciled in as the other starting wideout, Wright will rotate in as the team's No. 3 receiver.

    Wright's downfield speed makes him an intriguing bench option for fantasy owners, and although he may not produce right away, the Baylor product offers serious upside.

    If Jake Locker ever steps in as the team's starter, Wright could benefit from his tremendous arm strength.

    A change-of-pace receiver for the Titans, Wright figures to finish this season somewhere in the neighborhood of 500-to-600 receiving yards.

Denver Broncos: Jacob Tamme, Tight End

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    Reunited with quarterback Peyton Manning, Jacob Tamme figures to be an important piece of a rejuvenated Broncos offense in 2012.

    In Manning's last full season with the Colts, Tamme caught 67 balls for 631 yards and four touchdowns—numbers that should be easily replicable in Denver.

    Although Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are certain to see their production grow, Tamme's established chemistry with Manning could pay serious dividends.

    The Broncos also acquired tight end Joel Dreessen this offseason, but his presence shouldn't be enough to limit Tamme's touches.

Kansas City Chiefs: Peyton Hillis, Running Back

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    With speedy back Jamaal Charles set to be cleared for participation in training camp, the newly acquired Peyton Hillis will enter the 2012 season as a change-of-pace back in Kansas City.

    One of the hottest names in fantasy football two years ago, Hillis' production dropped off in 2011 primarily due to injuries.

    Perhaps a forgotten name amongst running backs, Hillis could be a sneaky pickup for owners in the mid-late rounds of drafts, as he figures to vulture some touchdowns from Charles.

    Hillis should also be in line for a decent workload as the Chiefs attempt to keep Charles fresh coming off of his ACL injury.

Oakland Raiders: Jacoby Ford, Wide Receiver

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    With Denarius Moore and Darius Heyward-Bey locked in as the team's starting wideouts, Jacoby Ford will have to earn his touches as the team's slot receiver.

    Ford's speed makes him an intriguing sleeper, especially if your league counts return yards. Ford was limited to just eight games in 2011 due to injuries, but in 2010 he compiled 1,280 return yards and three touchdowns.

    However, for Ford to become a real fantasy contributor, his receiving numbers will need to improve.

    Ford averaged 14.7 yards per catch last season, and if he can increase his number of receptions from 19 (in just eight games) to somewhere around 40, he should finish with somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 receiving yards.

San Diego Chargers: Eddie Royal, Wide Receiver

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    After a rookie season in which he posted 980 yards and five touchdowns, Eddie Royal disappointed fantasy owners for three consecutive seasons in the Mile High City.

    Now firmly entrenched as the San Diego Chargers' slot receiver, Royal is looking to bounce back from a season in which he caught just 19 balls in 12 games.

    Royal will benefit immensely from having Philip Rivers at quarterback, and in a pass-first offense it would be no surprise if he caught 50-to-60 balls.

    Already praised by head coach Norv Turner, Royal looks like a breakout candidate in his first season in San Diego.

Chicago Bears: Michael Bush, Running Back

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    The new handcuff to Matt Forte in Chicago, Michael Bush looks like a serious threat to Forte's touchdown total.

    After backing up Darren McFadden for the last few seasons in Oakland, Bush had a career-year in 2011 thanks to some injuries to the Raiders' No. 1 back.

    Bush totaled 256 carries for 977 yards and seven touchdowns last season, and while owners shouldn't expect similar production this season, he's a threat to reach double-digit touchdowns as the Bears' goal-line back.

    Reminiscent of Mike Tolbert when he carried the rock in San Diego, Bush could be the league's premier goal-line back this season.

Detroit Lions: Titus Young, Wide Receiver

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    A rookie out of Boise State in 2011, Titus Young flashed his elite speed on numerous occasions on the Ford Field turf. 

    Young finished the 2011 campaign with 48 catches for 607 yards and six touchdowns—numbers that have him firmly entrenched as the Lions' No. 2 wide receiver.

    Although Calvin Johnson demands a heavy dose of targets, Young benefits from playing in one of the most dominant passing offenses in the league.

    In his second season, it wouldn't be surprising to see Young top 800 yards and seven touchdowns—numbers that would make him a borderline flex play for fantasy owners.

Green Bay Packers: James Starks, Running Back

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    When it comes to the Green Bay Packers and fantasy football, there are few names that go unnoticed. Running back James Starks may be a popular name, but his production hasn't warranted significant hype to this point.

    Playing on one of the league's pass-happiest teams, Starks has to live with playing second fiddle to reigning league MVP Aaron Rodgers.

    Starks rushed for just 578 yards and one touchdown in 2011, and while fantasy owners target Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley in the early rounds of fantasy drafts, Starks could fly under the radar and be a nice flex option for owners playing in deeper leagues.

    Don't expect 1,000 yards out of the Green Bay back, but expect Starks to make the most of his opportunities.

Minnesota Vikings: Jerome Simpson, Wide Receiver

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    The freakishly athletic Jerome Simpson has traded in his Cincinnati orange for Minnesota purple.

    Although Simpson is suspended for the first three games of the 2012 season, he's already penciled in as the Vikings' starting receiver opposite Percy Harvin.

    Simpson posted 725 yards and four touchdowns on 50 catches last season, but it will be second-year quarterback Christian Ponder who is the key to Simpson's production.

    Ponder struggled throughout his rookie season, but the addition of Simpson should help instill confidence in the Florida State product, boosting both his numbers as well as his receivers'.

Dallas Cowboys: Felix Jones, Running Back

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    With DeMarco Murray the clear starter in Dallas, Felix Jones will once again be relegated to his role as the team's backup.

    Although Jones will supplement Murray, he has the explosive, big-play ability that makes him worthy of late-round consideration from fantasy owners.

    Should Murray go down with an injury (like he did at the end of last season), Jones will be next in line to receive the lion's share of the carries.

    Jones could still factor into the Dallas offense as a passing down specialist, but the upside in drafting him is that he provides immense value should Murray go down.

New York Giants: David Wilson, Running Back

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    When Brandon Jacobs departed New York for San Francisco in the offseason, the Giants needed to find a competent backup to starter Ahmad Bradshaw.

    The Giants found their replacement for Jacobs in the NFL draft when they selected Virginia Tech's David Wilson with pick No. 32 overall.

    Although Wilson isn't the bruiser that Jacobs was, he was considered one of the draft's elite backs and should be a more than capable backup to Bradshaw.

    Wilson will likely see somewhere in the neighborhood of four-to-six touches per game when the season starts, but if he can show he's worthy of a heavier workload, it wouldn't be the least bit surprising if he started to chip away at Bradshaw's carries.

Philadelphia Eagles: Jason Avant, Wide Receiver

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    Make no mistake about it, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jason Avant has one of the best sets of hands in the NFL.

    In Andy Reid's pass-heavy offenses there are plenty of targets to go around, and Avant has solidified himself as the team's go-to receiver in the slot.

    With DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin stretching the field with their speed, Avant has benefited from softer coverages over the middle.

    Last season, Avant caught 52 balls for 679 yards and one touchdown.

    Although Avant has never topped three touchdowns in a single season, his reliable hands and excellent route-running make him a favorite target of quarterback Michael Vick in the red zone.

Washington Redskins: Santana Moss, Wide Receiver

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    While attention and praise is heaped on No. 2 overall pick Robert Griffin III, his receivers should not go unnoticed.

    The same happened last offseason in Carolina, where Cam Newton exploded, along with veteran wideout Steve Smith, to help establish the Panthers as one of the league's up-and-coming franchises.

    Should Redskins receiver Santana Moss find himself re-energized thanks to Griffin, the 33-year-old wideout could be in line for a serious increase in production.

    Moss' straight-line speed has diminished with age, but Griffin's stellar arm should certainly help him out. Don't expect Steve Smith-like production out of Moss in 2012, but 900 yards and six touchdowns isn't entirely out of the question.

Atlanta Falcons: Harry Douglas, Wide Receiver

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    Harry Douglas hasn't been the slot receiver many have projected him to be, but as the Falcons transition to a more pass-oriented offense, Douglas' role should continue to grow.

    Douglas caught a career-high 39 balls last season en route to 498 yards and one score, and although Roddy White and Julio Jones will continue to dominate the passing game, there's hope for Douglas.

    Douglas will assume his role in the slot for the Falcons, and with one of the league's most prolific passing offenses, there's a chance that Douglas could finally break out.

Carolina Panthers: Brandon LaFell, Wide Receiver

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    Much like Harry Douglas, Brandon LaFell is a sleeper because of his role in an explosive offense that continues to evolve.

    LaFell clearly benefited from the presence of Cam Newton under center in 2011, recording a career-high 613 receiving yards (17.0 yards per catch) and three touchdowns.

    With Steve Smith likely to see plenty of double-teams after his massive 2011 campaign, LaFell should benefit from weaker coverages on the outside.

    In an offense that stresses vertical passing, LaFell's 6'2'', 210-pound frame should serve him well.

New Orleans Saints: Devery Henderson, Wide Receiver

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    If you haven't noticed by now, there's a common theme among fantasy sleepers this season. This particular class of wide receivers is so deep that a few unheralded names are sure to pop, pushing owners towards championships.

    Devery Henderson is yet another wideout in the NFC South who should see his numbers explode in 2012.

    With Robert Meachem now entrenched as the San Diego Chargers' No. 1 wideout, Henderson will grow into a more consistent role as the Saints' starting No. 2 wideout.

    Henderson's production has been highly inconsistent over the past few seasons due to the arsenal of weapons Drew Brees has been afforded, but alongside Marques Colston, Henderson should solidify himself as a reliable threat on the outside.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Williams, Wide Receiver

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    Mike Williams may not fall into the category of conventional fantasy sleeper, but his poor 2011 and the acquisition of Vincent Jackson have caused him to fly under the radar.

    As many are aware, Williams broke out during his rookie season, putting up stellar numbers (964 yards and 11 touchdowns) en route to a football revitalization in Tampa Bay.

    However, 2011 was a very different tale for Williams and the Bucs. Williams caught 65 balls for the second consecutive season, but racked up just 771 yards and three touchdowns—numbers that hardly validated the price of an early draft pick.

    Owners who drafted Williams last season may feel betrayed, but with Jackson in the fold, he looks like a nice mid-round steal in drafts.

Arizona Cardinals: Ryan Williams, Running Back

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    Ryan Williams' rookie season didn't get off to the start he (and fantasy owners) hoped it would.

    Williams never stepped on the field in the regular season, tearing his patellar tendon in preseason action; an injury that he is now just recovering from.

    With starting running back Beanie Wells seemingly always on the injury report, a timely recovery from Williams could result in a nice workload for the 22-year-old tailback.

    A speedy complement to Wells, Williams stands just 5'9'' and figures to get his touches primarily on third downs.

    Williams will compete with LaRod Stephens-Howling for touches, but his overall skill should win him the No. 2 running back job in Arizona.

San Francisco 49ers: Mario Manningham, Wide Receiver

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    Now a member of the San Francisco 49ers, receiver Mario Manningham is going to compete for targets with Randy Moss.

    Moss has been gaining the majority of the press out in the Bay Area this offseason, but Manningham's role in the slot should not be understated.

    Alex Smith took great strides last season as the 49ers quarterback, and he stands to improve with some new faces at wide receiver.

    Although Manningham will need to outshine Moss, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis to warrant significant targets, he has gone fairly unnoticed this offseason.

    Snag Manningham in the latter stages of drafts, if possible.

Seattle Seahawks: Matt Flynn, Quarterback

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    While Matt Flynn hasn't been dubbed the Seattle Seahawks' starting quarterback yet, the contract he signed in the offseason would seem to indicate he's the front-runner for the job.

    Flynn, of course, has never started extensively at the professional level, but in a few spot starts, his numbers have been impressive.

    Flynn's breakout performance came in Week 17 of the 2011 season, as he torched the Detroit Lions for 480 yards and six touchdowns en route to a 45-41 victory.

    With a healthy Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate, Flynn could post numbers that make him a borderline QB1 this season.

St. Louis Rams: Brian Quick, Wide Receiver

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    While the St. Louis Rams aren't typically considered a factory that churns out fantasy studs, Brian Quick could emerge as one of the NFL's elite young receivers in his rookie season.

    Quick, selected No. 33 overall in the 2012 NFL draft, is an athletic specimen out of Appalachian State who has flown under the radar while names like Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd and Alshon Jeffery dominate conversation.

    Quick faces little-to-no competition for a starting spot in St. Louis, making him an intriguing late-round steal for fantasy owners.

    Don't be surprised if Quick finishes the season with 800 yards and five touchdowns.