Fantasy Football Sleepers 2012: Underrated Talents at Every Position
With the start of the regular NFL season just weeks away, fantasy football fandom is in full swing. Everyone is scouring previews written by proclaimed "experts" on the subject to find sleepers and any other advantage to guarantee bragging rights against their arch-rivals.
Fantasy football is nearly impossible to project, but there are some very underrated, intriguing talents to be had. Here are some diamonds in the rough you don't want to snooze on at each position.
Quarterback: Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
I know, he hasn't officially been named the starter yet, and I know they paid Matt Flynn to fill that role this offseason.
I'm sorry, but Wilson has simply been the much better quarterback this preseason playing behind spotty-at-best pass protection with lesser skill players at his disposal.
Not only does the rookie third-round pick have excellent mechanics and a cannon arm, he is also accurate and has displayed an ability to make the right reads and throw it away at the proper time.
Throw that high football IQ in with a penchant for making plays—and extending them—with his speed and athleticism, and the only knock that can possibly be brought upon Wilson is his height.
It's not as if he hasn't heard that before.
As I mentioned in a recent article, Wilson's offensive line at Wisconsin was bigger than all but two of the NFL's 2011 units. Again, he keeps pointing this out, but no one is listening.
If you won't listen to Wilson and believe he can play behind a humongous offensive line, then just watch him on the field. He does nothing but make plays.
Keep in mind, he also picked up a pro-style offense at Wisconsin in a matter of weeks, became the starting quarterback, and set an NCAA record for passer efficiency.
Everyone is sound asleep on the Seahawks this year, but with Wilson under center, they could really surprise some people.
If Sidney Rice is healthy—he will be in action when Wilson makes his first start on Friday night—and the running game is adequate, look for Wilson to be a fantasy stud this season.
Running back: DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys
Still touted as a solid second option at running back, Murray should be considered in the top tier based on what has transpired for the Cowboys this offseason.
The acquisition of fullback Lawrence Vickers can't be emphasized enough. Vickers has had amazing success with the Cleveland Browns and the Houston Texans last season, and inexplicably lands on his third team in three years.
With the loss of Laurent Robinson in free agency, Miles Austin's continuing hamstring issues, Jason Witten's ruptured spleen, and Dez Bryant's off-field mishaps, who is quarterback Tony Romo going to throw the ball to?
The answer is likely Bryant, a slew of mediocre receivers, and...Murray.
Proven to be a reliable receiver out of the backfield, Murray has the versatility to be more involved in that aspect in 2012. Look for Romo's completion percentage to go up, and if head coach Jason Garrett is smart, a heavier emphasis on the running game.
Considering Felix Jones failed a conditioning test earlier this summer, Murray should be in line as the unquestioned workhorse in the Dallas backfield.
Taking Murray higher than the experts recommend is a risk worth the reward.
Wide receiver: Jonathan Baldwin, Kansas City Chiefs
Dwayne Bowe will make his preseason debut on Friday night after recently signing his franchise tender, but he will likely show some rust having missed training camp.
This presents the opportunity for Baldwin to show off his skills as the go-to option on the outside.
According to a report by Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated, Baldwin has had a fantastic offseason:
People in and around the organization say he has displayed greater maturity and focus and consistently made catches during workouts that had teammates and media members shaking their heads.
Of course, they are shaking their heads in a good way, and it looks like Baldwin is fulfilling the promise the Chiefs believed they saw in investing a first-round pick in the Pittsburgh product a year ago.
All indications are that the 6'4", 230-pound freak of nature is poised for a breakout season.
Tight end: Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
Upon receiving a fresh start after losing traction with the Chicago Bears, Olsen made the most of his opportunities in his first season in Carolina.
Playing with a rookie quarterback in Cam Newton—albeit an extraordinary one—Olsen registered a career-high 12 yards per catch and five touchdowns.
Olsen had to compete with Jeremy Shockey for targets in the passing game, but with Shockey no longer in the fold, Olsen will see an increase in passes flying his way.
Also helping the cause is a more mature Newton, who will make better decisions and likely look to Olsen more as he goes through his progressions.
Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski was the tight ends coach that keyed the explosive receiving abilities of Antonio Gates in San Diego and mentored Kellen Winslow, Jr. during his years at the University of Miami.
With Olsen being the clear No. 1 receiving threat at the position, Chudzinski could help him make a big leap in 2012.
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