The key to finding sleepers in your fantasy football draft is determining which players will far exceed their average draft position in the later rounds.
As information reaches us faster with the Internet and around-the-clock football programming, it makes it difficult to find breakout candidates in the later rounds.
We could probably put the term sleeper to rest, but where is the fun in that?
The following players represent excellent value given their current average draft position. The only players considered are being drafted after the 120th overall pick—the 12th round in a 10-team league and the 10th round in a 12-team league.
Average Draft Position (ADP) courtesy of ESPN.com.
1. Andrew Luck: Colts
2. Jake Locker: Titans
3. Christian Ponder: Vikings
You may have heard that Andrew Luck had an impressive preseason debut. It was only preseason, but the rookie displayed poise in the pocket and delivered the ball with accuracy. Most importantly, Luck displayed his underrated scrambling ability. Luck is unlikely to repeat Cam Newton’s rookie success, but there are few backup quarterbacks with his upside.
Jake Locker is starting the second preseason game for the Titans. Based on his play against the Seahawks, he may have already wrapped up the starting job. While Matt Hasselbeck struggled to find his rhythm, Locker was able to move the offense and displayed the stronger arm with plenty of zip on his passes.
Like Luck, Locker’s scrambling ability makes him a high upside backup option and a dark horse for the top 12 quarterbacks if he starts all 16 games.
Christian Ponder is not a big name, but he flashed potential in limited action as a rookie. The common theme with these quarterbacks is their scrambling ability, something that Ponder does well. Ponder could finish inside the top 20 quarterbacks if the Vikings lean more on the passing game as they ease in Adrian Peterson at the beginning of the season.
1. Kevin Smith: Lions
2. Rashad Jennings: Jaguars
3. Jacquizz Rodgers: Falcons
4. Kendall Hunter: 49ers
5. Isaiah Pead: Rams
Finding a valuable running back in the later rounds is one of the toughest tasks in your draft.
Players either classify as the clear handcuff to a feature back, or someone that is a dark horse to win a starting job in the preseason.
Kevin Smith was the Lions’ best running back last season in only seven games. He is the favorite to win the starting job with the injuries to Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure. Once the team confirms his status on the depth chart, his ADP is sure to rise.
Rashad Jennings is a must-draft for anyone owning Maurice Jones-Drew this season. Although, he is a player worth targeting in his own right. Jennings missed all of last season on injured reserve but has been one of the most impressive players in training camp.
If Jones-Drew continues his holdout, Jennings will be the feature back with plenty of fantasy value.
Jacquizz Rodgers is primed to take touches away from Michael Turner this season. Rodgers saw time with the first-team offense in the Falcons’ first preseason game—scoring a goal-line touchdown and handling third-down duties.
With the Falcons transitioning to a more pass-heavy offense under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, Rodgers could have a Darren Sproles-type season in 2012.
Kendall Hunter and Isaiah Pead are the top handcuff running backs to Frank Gore and Steven Jackson. Both Gore and Jackson are nearing the end of their careers.
1. Greg Little: Browns
2. Austin Collie: Colts
3. Randall Cobb: Packers
4. Kendall Wright: Titans
5. Jon Baldwin: Chiefs
Greg Little struggled with drops as a rookie, although the coaching staff believes it was concentration-related. He could surprise as a post-hype breakout this season as the Browns lack any other legitimate weapons on offense.
Austin Collie showed an instant rapport with Andrew Luck in the first preseason game. Collie, primarily a slot receiver until now, has locked up a starting spot opposite Reggie Wayne.
The Packers are going to need to find ways to keep Randall Cobb on the field this season. After performing well in a limited role as a rookie, Cobb has been the talk of training camp. If Cobb is the primary slot receiver—he could be in for a big season.
Kendall Wright is the most likely player to take over for Kenny Britt in the Titans offense early in the season. Wright is a versatile player that can also play in the slot and utilize his trademark quickness. Chris Palmer’s offense is similar to what the Giants run—meaning the Titans’ slot receiver could have the upside of a Victor Cruz.
With Dwayne Bowe’s ongoing holdout, Jon Baldwin is a lock to see increased production this year.
1. Kyle Rudolph: Vikings
2. Jermaine Gresham: Bengals
3. Kellen Davis: Bears
Kyle Rudolph has generated considerable buzz during training camp and his ADP is steadily on the rise. Rudolph had a slow start to his rookie season because of a hamstring injury and we are now finally seeing the talent that he displayed at Notre Dame.
He is a dark horse to finish inside the top 10 tight ends as the No. 2 passing option behind Percy Harvin.
Jermaine Gresham looks to be the second receiving option in Cincinnati with the departure of Jerome Simpson to the Vikings. With an increase in opportunities, Gresham makes a fine low-end TE1.
Kellen Davis is hoping to catch 40 to 60 passes this season, according to ESPNChicago.com. Given his success in the red zone in a limited role, Davis figures to be a strong TE2 option this year going undrafted in many leagues.
The Patriots defense allowed the second-highest amount of yards last season, yet still managed to finish as a top-10 defense in standard fantasy leagues. New England spent first-round picks on Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones in the draft this year to bolster the front seven.
Buffalo has arguably the best defensive line in the NFL after adding Mario Williams in free agency. In addition, the Bills added Stephon Gilmore in the first round of the NFL draft to bolster their secondary. This could be a surprise top-five fantasy defense.
The Chiefs are looking like a stronger defensive team this year with the return of safety Eric Berry. Head coach Romeo Crennel’s forte is defense, and he will have this unit playing better in his first full season at the helm.
1. Robbie Gould: Bears
2. Nate Kaeding: Chargers
3. Matt Bryant: Falcons
Robbie Gould figures to benefit from the offensive changes the Bears are making on offense. He is one of the most consistent kickers in the league.
Nate Kaeding tore his ACL on the first play of the season last year, and missed the entire year. The Chargers have one of the most potent offenses in the league—making Kaeding a solid fantasy option again. Most fantasy owners may overlook him when drafting.
Matt Bryant could make a run at the top-five kickers this year. The Falcons are installing an up-tempo offense intent on scoring often. Bryant could be in line for a lot of point-after attempts. He also benefits from kicking indoors at the Georgia Dome.