Fantasy Football 2012: Building Ultimate Sleeper Starting Offense
It's far from guaranteed that last year's fantasy football studs will be in top form again in 2012.
After all, just check out last year's projected Top 20 running backs on ESPN.com and see how they wound up at season's end.
It's more than likely that a bunch of sleepers will top the list at every position rather than what the experts predict. I'm not sure if there is a such thing as fantasy football experts, but that's beside the point.
Superstars will obviously be off the board early, but the effects of blowing a couple of high picks can be felt for the entire season.
That is, unless the rest of your draft results in solid sleeper pick-ups.
Here is an entire starting lineup that can likely be found outside of the first two rounds, depending on your league's size and style, of course.
For argument's sake, I'll use one quarterback, three backs, three receivers, and one tight end, defense/special teams, and kicker. The extra running back accounts for the "flex" position.
Carson Palmer, Oakland Raiders
With a full offseason to develop chemistry with a young, explosive set of receivers, Palmer looks to lead the Raiders to the playoffs.
Carson Palmer just told me: "I've never been this excited for a football season in my life."
His trade request was finally granted by the Cincinnati Bengals midway through last season, and the Raiders knew they were potentially giving up two first-round picks to get their new franchise signal-caller.
Considering he came in cold to a new offense, a new atmosphere, and with a largely inexperienced group of receivers, Palmer played well and almost got the team to the postseason. In fact, if not for a relatively putrid defense, it just may have happened.
2012 will be the year the Raiders should see a return of breakout proportions from their huge investment in Palmer.
At that, he'll be available considerably later than many of the game's top QBs in fantasy drafts.
Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns
This may be the pick that costs the most in terms of value, but that isn't saying much considering the rookie from Alabama is projected somewhere in the second or third round by most experts.
Considering the unproven nature of the Browns receivers—and the team's ancient first-year QB Brandon Weeden—the offense will likely lean a lot on the running game.
The 30-year-old threshold is the typical point of destruction for a running back's pro career, but Richardson turned 21 in July. His receiving ability will also provide Weeden with a helpful checkdown option.
Richardson will be able to shoulder the heavy load for an offense that missed breakout star Peyton Hillis last year.
With stalwart left tackle Joe Thomas, center Alex Mack, and second-round pick Mitchell Schwartz, Richardson should have plenty of help in front of him, blocking-wise.
Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams
Speaking of that magic number 30, Jackson is a little less than a year away. If Jackson's proven nothing else throughout his career, though—and he has proven plenty of things—he is extremely durable.
The state of the Rams franchise is very much up in the air and has been for a number of years. What has been constant has been Jackson's production year in and year out.
Jeff Fisher should improve the morale of the team and reestablish an identity on defense. Quarterback Sam Bradford finally has a decent set of receivers to throw to.
However, the success the Rams have will largely depend on their bell-ringer at running back, especially with the run-first mentality of new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
Jackson will also be available relatively late despite the fact that he's a three-time Pro Bowler.
If that's not a sign of drastically changing times in the NFL, especially for running backs, I don't know what is.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cincinnati Bengals
I know, another AFC north runner. Let me remind you that Law Firm has never fumbled in his NFL career. Not once in 510 carries.
Sure, I'd imagine that would change this season as the featured back, but no tangible evidence has told me so.
According to a report by Cincinnati.com, backup Bernard Scott will miss two weeks with a hand injury. This gives Green-Ellis even more leverage for more touches moving forward.
That, and the fact that Scott had a per-carry average of just 3.4 in 2011.
Green-Ellis also has a nose for the end zone, scoring 13 and 11 times in the past two seasons, respectively.
Considering his exceptional skills in pass protection, there may be more of an opportunity for Green-Ellis in the passing game as well.
Likely to be one of the last starting running backs to be drafted, Green-Ellis would be a low-risk, high-reward player worthy of a mid-round pick.
Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts
Sure, he's aging and he may not be quite as fast as he once was. Oh yeah, and he's playing with a rookie quarterback.
Not to worry. Wayne isn't playing with any typical rookie QB in Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall pick. Luck also has his college roommate, Coby Fleener, as a big tight end target to throw to.
Since tight ends are becoming more and more prominent in the NFL, the built-in chemistry between the Stanford teammates will make them dangerous.
That's where things will open up for Wayne. Three of the previous four seasons before 2011, Wayne had at least 100 receptions.
Even though last year was his first since 2003 without reaching 1,000 yards, he still got close with a slew of horrific quarterbacks throwing him the ball.
Imagine what he can do with Luck at the helm.
Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins
It's worth mentioning Garcon next, since he was Wayne's teammate last year during the Colts' abysmal season. He, too, nearly reached the 1,000-yard mark in what was a career year.
Now, as the No. 1 target in Washington, he will also be catching passes from a rookie in Robert Griffin III.
Griffin has an unprecedented set of skills: a combination of blinding speed and polished passing ability.
ESPN NFC East blogger Dan Graziano discussed how good Griffin looks throwing the ball in training camp, but expressed concern over a suspect offensive line.
Translation: Griffin is a wonderful deep passer from the pocket, but he will likely be his most dangerous as a rookie on the outside.
Garcon is a deep threat, but his speed will also allow him to get open on broken plays, which could translate to huge gains for the Redskins offense.
On top of that, the Redskins' division is loaded with suspect secondaries. The atmosphere is prime for Garcon to post his first 1,000-yard year and have a huge yards-per-catch average with Griffin at the helm.
Denarius Moore, Oakland Raiders
Going back to Carson Palmer's potential for a breakout year, Moore is a younger player who had his coming out party late last year.
The rookie fifth-round pick wound up fourth in the NFL with an 18.7 yards per catch average, and managed to score five TDs on just 33 catches.
Moving forward, Moore should be the No. 1 option for Palmer. They have had a full offseason together, and developed a surprising amount of rapport even though Moore was so raw.
If you can get a top QB on a fantasy team with his top receiver, the results could be phenomenal. This would be a potentially cost-effective way of doing just that.
Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
Even though he played behind longtime starter Visanthe Shiancoe in 2011, the second-round rookie out of Notre Dame still showed off his skills as a pass-catcher.
Now, the starting tight end job is Rudolph's. If the Vikings are to have any prayer of being competitive in the brutal NFC North division this season, Rudolph must have a breakout year.
Rudolph definitely has that type of ability, and the Vikings don't have many options on the outside, save for stud playmaker Percy Harvin.
The running game is a bit of a question mark with Adrian Peterson coming off a major knee injury. Second-year quarterback Christian Ponder has his work cut out for him if he can't turn and hand it to one of the best backs in football.
That's where Rudolph comes in. His massive 6'6", 258-pound frame will create serious problems when he's matched up man-to-man on linebackers.
Besides Harvin, Rudolph may be the Vikings' leading receiver. That would bode very well for fantasy owners.
Don't be shocked if this entire starting secondary goes to the Pro Bowl. After all, three-fourths of it just did.
There are many reasons to be excited about Pete Carroll's young, talented roster, but the most prominent of which is the unit on the back end of the defense.
Kam Chancellor is a big, physical strong safety who can not only deliver a huge hit, but also pull his weight in coverage. Free safety Earl Thomas is one of the league's biggest rising defensive stars.
Cornerback Brandon Browner made the Pro Bowl along with Chancellor and Thomas, recording five interceptions.
The lone Pro Bowl snub was Richard Sherman, who managed four interceptions in just 10 starts in his first year, but will likely not be left off the Hawaii roster in the years to come.
First-round pick Bruce Irvin should provide a huge pass-rushing boost on third down, along with what is already a solid defensive line.
This will be a dangerous defense that hardly anyone will be talking about. A late-round flier would be a no-brainer.
Alex Henery, Philadelphia Eagles
Probably not a household name, but there is a reason the Eagles used a fourth-round pick on this kid last year.
David Akers went on to have a wonderful year with the San Francisco 49ers, but Henery was no slouch, going 24 of 27.
Henery's booming leg and NCAA record-setting accuracy in college translated immediately, despite the increased pressure in the pros.
While kickers may not be the pick you'll be losing sleep over ahead of a fantasy draft, Henery is a great option.
The Eagles offense is among the most explosive in the league. Even when it doesn't produce touchdowns, Henery will be there to bail it out nearly every time.
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