Fantasy Football 2012: 10 Fantasy Football Sleepers You Need to Draft
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Often times, fantasy football leagues are won and lost in the draft.
Sure, knowing who to start week-in and week-out and making the necessary personnel moves can play a vital role, but filling your 16 roster spots on draft night takes hours upon hours of research.
Fantasy owners are always looking for an edge over their fellow managers, and that usually means finding a diamond or two in the rough late in the draft.
We've put a bow on the first week of preseason football and fantasy football drafts are almost in full swing. There will be more injuries and shuffling around all the way up to September, but we are starting to get a better idea of the state of the NFL.
Whether it be a snake draft or an auction league, the draft is where it's at. In order to get a one-up in your leagues and prepare for the latter rounds, take a look at the top fantasy sleepers of 2012.
And don't worry—I don't expect you to draft all of them.
TE: Coby Fleener (IND)
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Rookies and second year players are often found on fantasy football sleeper lists, and Colts rookie Coby Fleener is no exception as he cracks this one as perhaps the biggest tight end sleeper in the NFL.
Stanford is taking over Indianapolis with Andrew Luck following in Peyton Manning's footsteps and Fleener battling for the No. 1 tight end position with fellow rookie Dwayne Allen.
Fleener was the top tight end prospect out of college and he amassed 667 yards and 10 touchdowns in his final year of college with Luck slinging him the pigskin.
My money is on Fleener winning out in the tight end position battle, although I could see both youngsters getting significant time.
I believe Fleener could put up similar numbers to his senior year at Stanford in his rookie season with the recent tight end boom in the NFL and the familiarity factor with Luck, so at the very least you should consider Fleener for a backup TE spot.
QB: Jake Locker (TEN)
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There is no better example of "waiting in the wings" than in Tennessee, and that example is Jake Locker awaiting his turn to take over the quarterback reigns from Matt Hasselbeck.
That time might be now.
Locker has the talent to do it, and Hasselbeck isn't getting any younger, so by the time we reach the NFL season opener, Locker could have the quarterback job, well, locked up.
He's due to start Friday against Tampa Bay, so it could be a sign of things to come. Locker didn't turn the ball over in his five appearances last season, and while he didn't put up the most eye-popping numbers in his limited time, he may just need a full-time starting role to settle down and find his groove.
Expect Locker to be the Titans man behind center Week 1, and plan on selecting him as a backup option in your fantasy football league in case he breaks out in 2012.
I believe he will. He's got the tools to do it.
RB: David Wilson (NYG)
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Look out for this guy.
Wilson put up huge numbers in his final season with Virginia Tech (1,700-plus yards) and also looked impressive in his preseason debut. Oh, and by the way, Giants starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw isn't exactly the most durable back that's ever played the game.
Of course, a running back that only splits carries, let alone doesn't get the majority of them, isn't as attractive as guys like Maurice Jones-Drew and Arian Foster, but with the league heading in a pass-happy direction, there are only so many MJDs out there these days.
Take Wilson late in the draft with the possibility of Bradshaw going down, and then sit back and enjoy the fireworks.
FB/TE: Charles Clay (MIA)
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That's where the versatile Charles Clay comes into play. Clay is essentially a tight end as he didn't accumulate any rushing statistics last season, but when he's not leading the way for Bush, Clay is making plays of his own.
Last season Clay caught 16 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns, the second highest TD reception total among current Dolphins now that Brandon Marshall is in Chicago.
With Joe Philbin and Mike Sherman implementing the West Coast offense in Miami, Clay should get more chances in the passing game. Because of that, he should excel as a result of his surprising speed while being matched up linebackers.
Remember—we now live in a world where tight ends reign supreme, and there's no better candidate to take advantage of that world in 2012 than Charles Clay.
RB: Ryan Williams (ARZ)
Don't let Ryan Williams' season ending injury from a season ago fool you—the man can ball.
An unfortunate injury sustained against the Packers during the 2011 preseason cut short Williams' rookie season, but he's fully healthy now and ready to handcuff Beanie Wells in the Arizona backfield.
He's set to play in the Cardinals' next preseason game against the Raiders, and if Williams can make enough of an impression, he should be able to push Wells—who's battling an injury himself—for the starting job in the backfield this season.
With the bleak quarterback situation in Arizona, the team may turn to the youngster Williams to take some pressure off Kevin Kolb, and this could lead to some solid production from the second Hokie running back to make this list.
He's definitely worth a shot as a late-round draft pick.
WR: Randall Cobb (GB)
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Aaron Rodgers has a lot of options.
Whether it be Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson or Jermichael Finley, it's difficult for defenses to key in on one specific player.
Well, you can add one more player to that list, and his name is Randall Cobb.
It seems to be someone different every year making their mark in the Green Bay offense, and this year it's Cobb's turn. Already proving he has what it takes to be an electrifying return man, head coach Mike McCarthy is instituting more plays in the Packers playbook designed for Cobb.
Last season Cobb accounted for 25 catches and 375 yards and one receiving touchdown, but he also scored twice on special teams.
He'll celebrate his golden birthday on Aug. 22, but he's mature beyond his years. It may be a risk selecting Cobb because of the weapons in front of him on the depth chart, but that can also work to his advantage as Cobb should receive less attention from defenses.
His explosiveness alone is enough reason to take a long look at Cobb late in your fantasy football draft.
QB: Matt Flynn (SEA)
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Matt Flynn has made two starts in his brief NFL career, but the former national champion has already proven he deserved better than a seventh-round draft pick in 2008.
That still appears to be the plan, and if Flynn can take what he learned under the tutelage of Aaron Rodgers and apply it in Seattle, there's no reason this guy should go undrafted in fantasy leagues this season—just as he nearly did in real life.
That national title he won at LSU proves he is a winner, and while he's obviously not a top-tier quarterback in the NFL just yet, he's a guy who could sneak into a starter's role in some fantasy leagues this season.
Flynn for the win.
WR: Leonard Hankerson (WSH)
Just who exactly is Leonard Hankerson?
I'll tell you who—he's a wide receiver for the Washington Redskins that only played in four games last season.
But in his final game before suffering a season ending hip injury, Hankerson caught eight balls for 106 yards and left us all with a hankering for more. Sorry, I couldn't help myself.
He's back, he's healthy and he doesn't have Rex Grossman or John Beck throwing him the football anymore. He's got Robert Griffin III, and I don't think anyone out there would consider that a downgrade.
Hankerson is making a strong case for the No. 3 receiver spot behind Pierre Garcon and Santana Moss, and even those names aren't that attractive, especially in comparison to the Jennings and Nelson ahead of Cobb situation.
Keep an eye on Hankerson throughout the preseason to see if he wins the position battle and then draft away.
RB: CJ Spiller (BUF)
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It may be hard to believe, but CJ Spiller has worked himself into a sleeper role because of the slow start to his professional football career.
Don't look now, but Spiller is back on the rise. He finished last season admirably, putting up 5.2 yards per carry in 2012 filling in for Fred Jackson, who broke his leg.
Jackson is expected to once again assume his role as the starting running back, but don't let that scare you away from Spiller. He's also a viable option catching the ball out of the backfield and he's certainly earned himself more carries thanks to the way he closed out the 2011 season.
He might not have the make up to be an every-down back a la Reggie Bush, but he's one of those guys that has the ability to break out at any given moment.
Spiller was selected No. 9 overall by the Bills in 2009—they can only keep him behind Jackson for so long.
Look for Spiller to overtake the No. 1 running back job in Buffalo at some point this season, and in turn look for him in the late rounds of your fantasy football draft.
WR: Brandon LaFell (CAR)
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It's almost hard to call Brandon LaFell a sleeper anymore, but as far as a guy who could make a giant leap this season, LaFell has to be near the top of the list.
LaFell appears to be in line to take over as the No. 2 receiver opposite of Steve Smith, and his numbers steadily increased from his rookie season to his sophomore year in large part to the addition of fantasy superstar Cam Newton.
Many times we see players make "the leap" in their third season, and I see no reason why LaFell can't make that leap, especially with Newton expected to keep improving and much of the focus remaining on Smith.
He's probably the most "awake" sleeper on this list, but there's no way you should let LaFell slip past the sixth or seventh round in your fantasy football draft.