Updated Fantasy Football Sleepers and Surprise Players for 2012
With training camps now underway and more off-the-field incidents reported, it's time to revisit my previous list of 2012 fantasy football sleepers.
Some new potential surprise players have been added to the list, and I'll note which players were dropped from my previous list.
Remember, the definition of sleeper is not just "an unknown player who will have a breakout season."
The general definition of sleeper does include such players, but it more broadly is "any player who will exceed his draft position."
This means you will see some "name" players on this list simply because of their low ADP (average draft position).
Let's see who the current undervalued players are.
1. Matt Ryan, ATL
There's a perfect storm coming. With Michael Turner's age and, well, Julio Jones' age, everything is set for the Falcons to be airing out the ball more—much more—and running the ball less—much less. Roddy White and Jones are set to be Atlanta's version of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.
2. Jay Cutler, CHI
While Brandon Marshall is Chicago's Roddy White, Cutler won't have a second receiving threat equal to Julio Jones. But what Cutler lacks in quality, he makes up for in quantity. Rookie Alshon Jeffery, solid slot receiver Earl Bennett, rookie "move tight end" Evan Rodriguez, red-zone tight end Kellen Davis and wideout Devin Hester offer plenty of secondary options.
3. Michael Vick, PHI
As a current No. 42 pick in myfantasyleague.com real drafts, Vick offers real value. Owners labeled Vick a failure despite a very solid 20.1 FPPG last year. If Vick rebounds with a stronger season, he'll easily outperform his current draft status.
4. Josh Freeman, TB
With a stronger offensive line and more lethal offensive skill players, Freeman should easily outplay his draft status (No. 118).
5. Andy Dalton, CIN
After acquitting himself with a solid rookie campaign, Dalton returns with more offensive firepower. With a year's experience under his belt and more weapons to work with, Dalton will be able to outperform his current draft status (No. 122).
6. Blaine Gabbert, JAX
No one should pick Gabbert except those in very deep leagues or dynasty leagues, as his ADP is No. 251. But if you are in a very deep league, Gabbert is worth a flyer towards the end of your long draft. Maurice Jones-Drew's holdout isn't encouraging, but backup Rashad Jennings has shown some ability if it comes to that. And having two talented receivers helps a lot.
Off the List
Eli Manning's rising ADP—now No. 52—makes him no longer a sleeper.
Ben Roethlisberger—still struggling to learn Todd Haley's offense and without Mike Wallace, to whom the Steelers have broken contract talks indefinitely—is now too expensive to take at No. 85.
1. Doug Martin, TB
2. Fred Jackson, BUF
Though Jackson is knocking on that dangerous 30-year-old milestone that kills RBs, at a current No. 48 ADP, he represents a decent value, as I think he has one more season left in him.
3. Mark Ingram, NO
Offseason knee surgery kept him out of OTAs and minicamp, but at No. 82 current ADP, it won't take a lot for Ingram to outproduce that draft status.
4. Isaac Redman, PIT
Redman doesn't have special talent, but what he does have is opportunity. With Ben Roethlisberger struggling to learn the new offense, Mike Wallace out indefinitely and a reinforced offensive line, all signs point to Redman getting enough volume to outproduce his No. 85 ADP.
5. Ronnie Hillman, DEN
Willis McGahee is at that 30-year-old milestone, but due to his significantly larger career workload than Fred Jackson,'s McGahee is a better bet to be fall off the cliff this season. If that happens, Hillman (No. 114 ADP) would capably fill in.
6. Mikel Leshoure, DET
Assuming no further off-the-field issues, Leshoure should eventually take over the starting role from concussion magnet Jahvid Best this season. At No. 120 ADP, Leshoure would easily outproduce that draft slot.
7. Isaiah Pead, STL
While plenty of people think Steven Jackson will be fine this season, history appears to argue otherwise. At No. 140, Pead is a low-risk, high-reward sleeper candidate in very deep leagues.
Off the List
Reggie Bush finally had his big season—and then the Dolphins changed the coaching staff. I'm not sure Bush will fit in Mike Sherman's new offense.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis couldn't get it done behind a solid New England offensive line and against defenses specifically playing the pass, so I'm skeptical he'll get it done in a Cincinnati offense that's also looking to be pass-first this year.
Donald Brown is in a Colts offense in flux. With that many question marks, I'd rather go with someone safer.
1. Vincent Jackson, TB
Jackson is currently the 23rd wide receiver off draft boards. Last year, the 23rd-best fantasy receiver averaged 9.0 FPPG (Nate Washington). Jackson finished last year as the 15th-best fantasy receiver (10.4 FPPG) with a subpar Philip Rivers. A subpar Philip Rivers is like a decent Josh Freeman. So already, Jackson is all but guaranteed to outperform his draft status. And if Freeman plays well, then it's gravy.
2. Eric Decker, DEN
In Denver's first seven games last year with Kyle Orton, Decker averaged 10.0 FPPG. But when Tim Tebow became the starter, Demaryius Thomas became the preferred target, and Decker became mostly ignored. Decker and Peyton Manning have worked on their chemistry this offseason. While Thomas is clearly more talented than Decker, it appears that Manning will help Decker be worth more than the 28th-best fantasy WR.
3. Torrey Smith, BAL
Last year, Smith finished as the 29th-best fantasy WR. Currently, he's again going off draft boards as the 29th-best fantasy WR. Smith should be the Ravens' No. 1 WR in short order and is an easy bet to improve upon his rookie production.
4. Denarius Moore, OAK
Moore had some big games but was plagued by injuries and typical rookie inconsistency. He should continue his upward progress this year and outperform his current status as the 30th-best fantasy WR.
5. Titus Young, DET
Covered already as a steal in the tenth or eleventh round if he has no more off-the-field issues.
6. Laurent Robinson, JAX
He should command the ball when it's time to pass the ball. And as the Jaguars' No. 1 receiver, he'll easily outproduce his No. 142 current ADP.
Off the List
Vincent Brown will probably have a decent season, but I'm not sure he'll command enough targets to actually warrant sleeper status. Between Antonio Gates, Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal and rookie Ladarius Green, it remains to be seen if Brown will rise above them all.
Demaryius Thomas as a fourth-round ADP pick no longer qualifies him as a sleeper. Much is actually expected of a fourth-round pick.
Same goes for Dez Bryant as a third-round ADP pick; a lot is expected of third-round picks, so he's no longer a sleeper.
1. Jermaine Gresham, CIN
2. Tony Gonzalez, ATL
Believe it or not, the veteran tight end finished third among fantasy tight ends last year. Going as the 12th tight end off boards this year, he should easily outperform that draft status—particularly if the Falcons morph into the pass-first team I expect them to be this year.
3. Brent Celek, PHI
The 15th tight end off draft boards so far, he could be a TE1 if Michael Vick uses him the way he used Celek at the end of last year (8.9 FPPG in his last 10 games).
Off the List
Vernon Davis and Jermichael Finley are now both up to a fifth-round draft pick, which no longer makes them sleepers. In fact, it could be argued they might even be a bit overvalued now.