2012 Fantasy Football: 20 Undervalued Players to Watch out For
The NFL opener is right around the corner and you know what that means. It’s Fantasy Draft time! With each passing year, that does not just mean it’s time for last cuts and prep for the NFL season, but more importantly, it is time for most football fans to get involved and invest their own resources and time in projecting players for bragging rights and healthy pots this coming year.
You are not going to shock anyone this year by grabbing sure bet producer Aaron Rodgers in the top 5; there is no debate over Arian Foster’s health this year; or Ray Rice’s contract; Calvin Johnson has entered relatively uncharted territory as a potential top 5 pick at the WR position; and Cam Newton appears to be hear to stay.
Beyond the obvious debates, everyone wants to know who the sleepers are in this year’s fantasy drafts. Some of these won’t surprise the well-studied fantasy owners, but if I can inform you of maybe one or two sleepers that can help you out this year, I’ve done my job!
Jacob Tamme, Broncos
Most of you may be a little bit dumbfounded by this selection, but if you have watched Peyton Manning over the years, you have to be familiar with his laser precision in the passing game and his preference to utilize the tight end position.
Tamme is a talented player that played with Manning in Indianapolis, so the rapport is there. It’s just up to Tamme to perform. He will get his opportunities.
Right now, he is ranked 127th on Yahoo and Matthew Berry from ESPN ranks him 129th. I believe he has breakout-year potential.
Nate Kaeding, Chargers
Kaeding is coming off of an injury at the end of the year that appears to have affected him in the rankings. This is somewhat puzzling because he is back, healthy and has hit long field goals in the preseason.
If you are going by the rankings that major sites provide for you, beware. Kaeding is still a top-five potential kicker and should get his share of opportunities with the still potent San Diego offense that still has Philip Rivers at the helm.
Kaeding is ranked as the 11th best kicker on Yahoo and the 15th best kicker by Berry on ESPN. If your friends or foes start the string of kicker picks in the later rounds and you are late to react, have no fear… Kaeding is here.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
Everyone will acknowledge Ben as an elite quarterback, whether you like him as a person or not. The debate every year seems to be whether or not he has elite fantasy value. That is a legitimate debate.
I have had him several years as my backup, and can readily admit that he has been a frequent matchup plug-and-play for me and fared quite nicely in the last two-to-three years.
An eye must be kept on Todd Haley’s influence as offensive coordinator, because he is a strong personality and if anyone has a chance of convincing Big Ben to play it safe it is he. Also if the Steelers can get healthy in the backfield, this may lead to more run balance.
With that said, I still cannot believe that Roethlisberger with all the receiver weapons he has and arguably the best deep-ball threat in the league in Mike Wallace, is rated as the 12th-best QB on ESPN (Berry) and the 13th best on Yahoo. Yahoo was nicer to him putting him at a reasonable 76th ranking, but 98 by Matthew Berry on ESPN? Ouch!
He threw for over 4,000 yards and 20 touchdowns last year! Definitely keep him in mind as a backup QB that can step in and produce on byes and bad matchups for your starter. Or if you value other positions more and wait until late to get a QB, he should suffice as a starter as well.
Eric Decker, Broncos
It does appear that ESPN and Yahoo are not completely asleep on this young man, but I still think that you should value Decker higher as you read this piece.
Decker is a very talented and athletic receiver that likely gets penalized for being a white receiver in the NFL (to put it bluntly). However, but if you have followed him at all in his pro career or while at the University of Minnesota, you will know that he catches everything (often in acrobatic fashion) and despite his injuries can get away from DBs in the open field.
Peyton Manning has a long history of latching on to young and smart secondary receivers in the past. Anthony Gonzalez and Austin Collie come to mind. Eric Decker may be as good or better than those two quality receivers that Manning force-fed points in the past. Look for Manning to rely on Decker heavily.
He’s currently ranked around 50 on both platforms, but don’t be scared to reach after the elite WRs come off of the board.
Jay Cutler, Bears
It’s hard to remember after being stifled a bit in Chicago, but Cutler used to be a prolific, stat-stuffing passer in Denver. Two elements to that formula have been re-introduced. Jeremy Bates, his old quarterbacks coach, is back as QB coach for the Bears and likely to be involved in the play calling, and more importantly, the guy on the receiving end of many of his impressive passing plays was Brandon Marshall.
Marshall’s arrival in Chicago cannot be overstated. Not only is he the first true No. 1 receiver the Bears have seen in at least a decade, but he is also the tall, athletic target that Jay needs to compensate for his (sometimes overly) ambitious decision making on throws.
Instead of in the recent past when Cutler had to be on the money to get the ball to his average receivers, now he just has to be in the ballpark and Marshall is liable to win any one-on-one matchup and come down with the ball. Don’t forget Alshon Jeffery as an option in the red zone as well.
The freedom that has been restored for Cutler and the play calling that will fit his skill set combined with the personnel around him being upgraded should be a recipe for a fairly prolific year.
Obviously, turnovers are always a concern, as is the Bears offensive line, but he has a good chance to outperform his No. 99 ranking that Cutler got from Matthew Berry and even the No. 85 he got from yahoo. He could border on elite if things work out for him this year.
Alshon Jeffery, Bears
Alshon Jeffery did himself quite a disservice last year at South Carolina. He was out of shape, had a poor attitude and he did not produce. It cost him in the draft this year and he certainly took a hit on his reputation.
However, if you saw him play in 2010 at South Carolina, you will know that he is an absolute animal at the “moment of truth” on jump balls and has a great opportunity to break out this year and make fantasy owners look verrrrry clever.
Jeffery has a chance at ending the preseason as the No. 2 receiver and has done nothing but impress Bears teammates and coaches with his work habits and skills.
Given that Brandon Marshall will draw extra attention more often than not, look for 6’3" Jeffery to be a factor in the red zone this year. Right now Matthew Berry has him at No.139 and Yahoo has him at No. 131. I’m willing to bet that he will give you top-100 production this year if not better.
Peyton Manning, Broncos
Well, if there is anyone on this list that you’d never think would be called a sleeper, I think all of us above the age of five would agree that Peyton would be that guy. Manning is coming off of missing the 2011 season after multiple neck surgeries, so it makes sense.
But now that it’s been proven that he’s healthy and there is tape out there of him making beautiful on-target throws, I am thinking people should get on board and start thinking more about who this guy used to be.
Manning used to be a sure bet first-round fantasy pick and a guy that has carried many owners to fantasy championships. Yet, just two years after the best statistical season of his career Yahoo ranks him at No. 66?? That is a bit much. ESPN gave him much more respect putting him where he belongs in the top 40, but I think that anyone making the mistake of counting him out as a top-five to 10 fantasy quarterback may be sadly mistaken.
Peyton will not fail, if he’s physically able. He has nice weapons and it seems like he will rebound this year.
I do not think we have heard the last of Peyton Manning as an important fantasy option. If you have the stomach go for him as a late-round starting QB or a sure bet backup.
Reggie Bush, Dolphins
It may be a stretch to call him a sleeper after the season he had last year, and his illustrious past at USC, but Reggie Bush is well positioned again this year to light it up.
Yahoo ranks him adequately at 50, but Matthew Berry has him at 67. Bush is a dual threat out of the backfield as both a rusher and a receiver and has a chance to have a similar year to Darren Sproles.
Bush ran for 1,000 yards, averaged five yards per rush, and pulled in 43 receptions last season. He scored seven touchdowns last year. Combined with the potential of Ryan Tannehill at the QB position and his momentum from last year, Bush may be positioned to approach but probably not reach elite fantasy levels. If you can get him as your second RB or maybe as a flex if you are strong at the position, you are ahead of the game.
Darren Sproles, Saints
Darren Sproles is becoming less and less of a secret these days, but believe it or not that might not be enough. At this point, now that he is no longer judged only for his size and lack of identity as a conventional runner, it should now be acknowledged that he is bordering on elite as a fantasy running back.
That may seem like a bit of a reach for you, but if you have watched him over the years or owned him in fantasy before, you know that he gets his touches in a variety of ways and can score on any play.
He is explosive and multi-purpose. Similar to Reggie Bush, you really have to look at his combined yards to capture his influence.
Last year, he rushed for a respectable 603 yards, earning 6.9 yards per tote! More impressively, he caught 86 balls and scored seven touchdowns through the air. These are not typical stats for a running back.
Throw in the fact that he returns kicks as well and can get you points in that area, I am not sure there is a dual threat running back I would rather have outside of Ray Rice, Matt Forte and maybe Reggie Bush. His No. 48 ranking by Yahoo and No. 35 ranking by Berry does not reflect that.
Greg Olsen, Panthers
As a resident of Chicago, I still am shocked as to why the Bears let Mike Martz run Olsen out of town. He is one of the more athletic tight ends in the game and was productive in Chicago for the most part during his stay. However, due to the fact that Martz refuses to feature tight ends, he was shipped off to Carolina.
Olsen could not have been happier about getting the chance to play with a guy like Cam Newton last year. In his record setting rookie year, Newton threw 45 balls to Olsen connecting for four touchdowns.
With Jeremy Shockey gone and the likelihood that the rapport has been further built between the two, I am expecting Olsen to get a lot of touches this year for the Panthers.
Steve Smith will likely be doubled and if Newton is disciplined enough to not force it to Smith; the next best option might be Olsen over the middle.
Right now he is ranked 123 by Yahoo and 112 by Berry on ESPN. I believe he should comfortably settle into the top 100 in production and be a nice TE option for those that cannot grab hold of the elite tight ends early.
Stevan Ridley, Patriots
Ridley will now be the feature back for the Patriots after showing signs last year. Considering as much as Tom Brady has thrown the ball the last few years, BenJarvus Green-Ellis scored 24 TDs over the course of the past two years. He got his share of opportunities in the red zone.
Ridley is a strong and agile back that can easily make a similar impact for the Patriots or possibly do more.
Look for Ridley to have a strong year and surprise owners with his returns. As usual, the RB choices are thin after the elites, so a player like Ridley is a good person to consider. He is ranked 77th on Yahoo, and 93rd by Berry. He will outplay those rankings.
Justin Blackmon, Jaguars
If you are a college football fan, you should not have a hard time envisioning this guy being successful at the next level. Blackmon is an animal on the football field and there is no coincidence that he scored 18 touchdowns and racked up 121 catches and 1,533 yards in his junior year at OK State.
Yes, those are college stats, but it’s the way he did it. His skill set, size, mindset, physicality and ability to attack the football are unique and generally lead to success at the pro level.
His QB, Blaine Gabbert will be the key. It appears he is coming along at least, so expect Blackmon to prove himself as the year goes on and outplay his No. 99 ranking on Yahoo. Matthew Berry has him just inside 100 as well, but I think Blackmon has a good chance of stepping up as a solid WR2 option for anyone looking for a sleeper.
Reggie Wayne, Colts
Reggie Wayne used to be a mainstay amongst the elite WRs in fantasy in his prime when he played with Peyton Manning. Then the last couple years he has fallen back to the pack when it seemed that Manning often used him as a decoy at times and did not force-feed him as much the last couple of years he was in Indy. Last year, the Colts just had a disaster at the QB position.
This year, although Andrew Luck is a rookie and is not Peyton Manning, I can see Wayne doing some major damage. For one, Luck is far along in his development as a quarterback, so he won’t be too far off of Manning’s ability to get Wayne the ball.
However, based on the lack of supporting cast and Luck’s likelihood as a rookie to rely heavily on his veteran receiver, I expect Wayne to have a very productive year.
He is ranked 79th by both Yahoo and Berry, which are not bad, but the potential is there for Wayne with an able-bodied quarterback to get him the ball consistently and not quite the supporting cast to distract him.
Kyle Rudolph, Vikings
The Vikings are unlikely to be a major threat this year offensively, given Christian Ponder showed good signs but still has a ways to go.
However, outside of the discussion over Adrian Peterson’s miraculous recovery, the next most attractive offensive weapon (not named Percy Harvin) that you should pay attention to is Kyle Rudolph.
It’s hard to predict how Ponder will distribute the ball, but Rudolph is a major-league tight end oasis of talent that has yet to be discovered. This year may be the year. Percy Harvin will be the feature, but look for Rudolph to find himself and be a steal considering his 169 ranking on ESPN and 136 ranking on Yahoo.
He could end up being a second-level fantasy tight end before it is all said and done.
Mikel Leshoure, Lions
He is coming off of a devastating injury from last year in camp, as he was one of the many to tear an Achilles during shortened camp last year, but given he is young, I believe he can bounce back. For anyone that saw him at Illinois, you know that this is an explosive back that can take it to the house on any given play and can operate well between the tackles.
Given he has not lost this explosion and can stay healthy, consider him another option as you fight through the fray of questionable running backs outside of the few elite sure-bet options this year’s crop offers.
Kevin Smith may be the feature at this point, but unfortunately as solid a runner as he is, he cannot stay healthy for the life of him. He gets injured all the time and Jahvid Best has been put on PUP for now.
I believe he may be one of the true fantasy surprises and he’s worth keeping in mind to be flex if you are not deep at the WR position, or someone to store on the bench in case he blows up. He is ranked 116th on Yahoo, and Matthew Berry has him at a very low 184th. Therefore, he will not go early, so you have time to think about it.
Sidney Rice, Seahawks
It is easy to forget Sidney. He had a huge year playing with Brett Favre during that magical 2009 season, but he has always struggled with injury. There is no reason not to consider him a risk again because of injury, but he still is a very talented receiver and will be playing with upstart rookie quarterback Russell Wilson who is willing and able to get him the ball.
I won’t predict a year like 2009, but I do think that he will put up a pretty solid year and outplay his rankings on Yahoo and ESPN that are well over 100. His health is the only question.
Andrew Luck, Colts
As much as Luck has been hyped as the greatest thing since sliced bread, he somehow has been downplayed as a fantasy player this year. Based on his skill set and the weapons he has available to him, it is surprising to me that he is ranked 103rd by Yahoo and 117th by Matthew Berry on ESPN. Even more surprising, he’s the 16th top-ranked quarterback on Yahoo and 23rd on ESPN.
Sure, I don’t expect him to have a year like Cam Newton, but I also don’t necessarily think he will be harnessed as a rookie or struggle to the point that he won’t be a threat fantasy wise.
Indy’s offensive line is not great, but he can make all the throws; he is likely to utilize Reggie Wayne as a No. 1 and his old college buddy Coby Fleener as a capable tight end. He has the ability and decision making to make plays in the red zone.
I think that he will be well above average as a fantasy quarterback this year and could be a nice option as a backup quarterback you can turn to at times if you are not completely confident in your starter. I see no reason why he should not go within the first 10 rounds and should be a top-100 player.
Kellen Winslow II, Seahawks
I almost had to scroll down to the top 500 to find this guy on the list! Winslow probably never panned out to be quite the player he seemed he would be coming out of the “U” several years ago, but he still has been a pretty productive player that usually is good enough to start in someone’s fantasy lineup who does not value tight ends enough to get an elite one.
Winslow will be playing with a capable quarterback in Wilson and he’s always been a player that can win matchups in the red zone and make plays in the open field.
Given he is the likely starter in Seattle, I expect him to perform better than a player ranked 181st by Yahoo and 192nd by Matthew Berry despite Zach Miller being on the team. Keep an eye on him and move him up your list a bit in case you do not grab hold of the 5-7 elite tight ends in your draft.
Braylon Edwards, Seahawks
Ironically, Edwards has been reunited with his old buddy from Cleveland Winslow in unexpected fashion. Edwards—a guy who is no longer guaranteed a job, much less a starting spot on teams he signs with anymore—has seemed to find a home in Seattle after beating out Terrell Owens. Winslow no longer seems to be a guy who will be locked down by teams long term anymore
Edwards is still a big play threat at this point in his career and still is one of the better receivers in the league at winning “jump balls” and making plays in the red zone. He should be an option for Russell Wilson and may be able to be a sneaky option to bring off of the bench and plug in as the season plays out.
Right now Matthew Berry ranks him at 189, but he was outside of the top 200 (217) for Yahoo. For a guy of his track record, that is pretty bad. If you can sneak him onto your squad in the later portion of your draft, it could pay dividends.
Willis McGahee, Broncos
It seems as if the addition of Peyton Manning would impact McGahee’s rankings negatively. I believe it will help him. He will regain some of the red-zone running opportunities that Tim Tebow had last year, and it is underrated how much Peyton Manning's offenses tend to run in the red zone.
McGahee is about as tough a goal-line runner as there is in the league, and given he showed such productivity last year, there is reason to believe he has at least another good year or two in him.
He is ranked 55th by Yahoo which I believe is a little bit low. McGahee may or may not rack up the 1,199 yards that he did last year, but I do believe he may double his four-touchdown output from last year. Given the thinness of sure bets at the RB position this year, keep an eye on McGahee after the usual suspects come off of the boards in the first few rounds.