Fantasy football owners have to dig deep like the dudes on Gold Rush for sleepers who can make their teams championship contenders.
Titles are not won just by having Aaron Rodgers as your quarterback, Rob Gronkowski as your tight end and David Akers as your kicker. You need to draft diamonds in the later rounds or pick up third-stringers on the waiver wire that turn into first-stringers.
Here are three deep sleepers who will help fantasy owners win their pools in 2012:
Washington head honcho Mike Shanahan never knows what he wants to at running back. Ever since his Denver days when he helped turn Olandis Gary and Mike Anderson into 1,000-yard rushers, Shanahan has thought running backs were disposable and that he could plug anyone in at tailback and have him run for 100 yards per game because of his offensive system.
All Royster did at the end of last year was make Shanahan look like a genius. The Penn State product ended the season with back-to-back 100-yard games and averaged 5.9 yards per carry. He showed super speed bursts, pass-catching skills and tackle-breaking ability.
Yet Royster enters the 2012 campaign possibly third on the depth chart behind Roy Helu and Tim Hightower. Maybe training camp and preseason games will shuffle the trio's roles before the start of the season and Royster will bump up a notch or two. Helu is unproven and Hightower is coming off a torn ACL, so Royster is worth a late-round look no matter what.
Stephen Hill, New York Jets (WR)
Hill has more going against him than Uzbekistan does at the Olympics. Let’s look at the two main reasons he should not be drafted very high in fantasy leagues, if at all.
1. Hill comes out of Georgia Tech, a flexbone/wishbone team who was lucky to throw the ball 10 times a game, and a team that asked Hill 99.9 percent of the time to just go long and straight, so his route running is probably shaky at best.
Hill only caught 49 passes in his three college seasons. You would prefer your rookie receivers come from schools with pro-style offenses that believe passing should be more than just a decoy.
2. Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow will be throwing Hill the ball. Sanchez finished 28th in completion percentage in 2011 and had a harder time completing passes over 20 yards last season than Detroit Lions have staying out of trouble.
And do I even need to mention Tebow’s troubles? He connected on only 46.5 percent of his pass attempts last year with the Denver Broncos, which makes Sanchez look like Steve Young. Tebow should be on the field for five to 10 snaps per game, and that likely means you can cross off five to 10 chances Hill will get the ball.
But while other fantasy owners might write Hill off as someone with limited value in 2012, he does have things going in his favor. Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Denver’s Demaryius Thomas also came out of Georgia Tech, so it is not like Hill has no chance of being productive.
The Jets ground-and-pound offense should mesh nicely with Hill’s sprinter speed. Just like at Georgia Tech where defenses stacked the box against the run, only to watch Hill burn them deep with passes over the top, the same scenarios should play out with the Jets. Heavy doses of Shonn Greene up the middle should open up a couple long bombs downfield for Hill each week.
Hill averaged an astounding 29.3 yards per catch last season with G-Tech. He will not do that with the Jets, but if Santonio Holmes attracts double teams from secondaries and defenses focus too much on the run, Hill will make tons of big plays and be a fantasy find, especially in distance leagues that reward bonus points for longer touchdowns
Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh Steelers (WR)
The Mike Wallace soap opera is getting uglier than a Jackson family get-together. I would put the odds at 50-50 that Wallace plays a down for the Steelers this season. Between his probable holdout and the Steelers turning around and signing Antonio Brown to a long-term, multi-million dollar deal, there has been no foreshadowing to this ending well.
So if Wallace holds out or gets traded, a starting spot would open up at WR. Enter Sanders, who has shown flashes of brilliance in limited action during his first two pro seasons and is much faster and has more upside than veteran Jerricho Cotchery.
Sanders has had problems getting and staying on the field, either because of injuries or the 1,000-yard receivers higher than him on the depth chart. Sanders did not play in eight games between his two years and only has 50 receptions for 664 yards and four touchdowns in his short career.
Sanders has slot receiver size since he is under six feet tall and lighter than 200 pounds, so you might want to write him off as being starter material, but Brown is no giant and is similarly sized and is fresh off an 1,108-yard breakout season.
Pittsburgh has a history of making bold moves with receivers that it no longer wants around for one reason or another. Look no further than the aforementioned Santonio Holmes, who was dealt away for a low draft choice after his constant run-ins with trouble.
Do not be surprised if Wallace is moved before the season starts or before the trade deadline, and if that happens then Sanders’ fantasy value will skyrocket.