Fantasy Football Sleepers: Breaking Down Most Divisive Late-Round Targets

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistAugust 27, 2014

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 14:  Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears participates in warm-ups before a preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Soldier Field on August 14, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.  The Bears defeated the Jaguars 20-19.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Fantasy football sleepers of the world, you divide opinion like few men can. The arguments are as old as the game itself and ultimately devolve into a pretty simple exchange. 

Person 1: "He has huge upside!"

Person 2: "Yes, but he won't realize that upside this year!"

And on and on they go. 

So to add a little nuance to the conversation, I've picked out three of the most divisive among your sleeper rankings and tried to get to the bottom of what makes you the subject of so many disagreements. Maybe, along the way, we can decide if you are worth an owner's time or not.

Like teenagers or the rock stars they emulate, you're just misunderstood. So let's pull back the veil, shall we?

Lamar Miller, RB, Miami Dolphins

Nov 11, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins running back Lamar Miller (26) runs with the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Oh Lamar Miller, you've broken so many hearts in your day. You were supposed to do big things last year, really big things, much bigger than the 702 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns you managed. Folks out there, well, they're still feeling pretty burned by you.

But there you are, with an average draft position of 94 according to's cumulative average draft rankings. There you are, just waiting to be plucked off the board in the 10th round of the drafts in 10-man leagues, a RB3 or RB4 with tantalizing upside but so many scorned hearts left in your wake. 

Your detractors will point to your disappointing two-year career. They'll note the presence of Knowshon Moreno in the Miami Dolphins backfield, challenging you for the starting place. They'll be burned once, fine, but twice?

They won't play that. 

But those detractors will be ignoring a few things. You're still a potentially explosive talent, even if you've only shown it rather infrequently. Your offensive line won't be nearly as much of a mess as it was a season ago. And have they heard what your head coach recently said about you?

If they haven't they're about to, via Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

Lamar Miller and Knowshon Moreno split first-team snaps the past two days. Joe Philbin said the job is open but has been far more effusive and expansive discussing Miller than Moreno this week.

'I like everything Lamar has done since he’s gotten here,' Philbin said. 'He’s had an excellent offseason and camp... I like everything he's done since April 21.'

Philbin, conversely, has had only one thing to say about Moreno: 'Knowshon ran the ball well [Saturday].'

Sure, we might be reading into those words a bit much, but it sure sounds like Philbin is leaning toward you as the starter. Yeah, we both know Moreno probably offers more as a third-down back, but if you get the first two downs, you could really produce for fantasy owners.

Heck, it worked for Ryan Mathews last year, a player who has broken his share of hearts in fantasy football.

So yeah, at your 10th-round ADP, you're a very viable breakout candidate. All you needed was people to have more realistic expectations. Rushing for over 1,000 yards and six or seven touchdowns?

You can totally do that. 

Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 14: Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears talks with wide receivers coach Mike Groh during warmups prior to a preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Soldier Field on August 14, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan D
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

No quarterback divides opinion quite like Tony Romo. But when it comes to people looking at a sleeper at the quarterback position, well, many people are divided about what you'll bring to the table this year, Jay Cutler.

People look at you one of two ways. The first was summarized by Field Yates of ESPN:

The Bears offense features two of our top eight ranked receivers, our No. 4 running back and a top-12 tight end. So weapons won't be an issue for Cutler, whose talent can both dazzle and mesmerize at the same time he goes through his decision-making ruts. But count me as a believer that another offseason under head coach Marc Trestman will pay dividends for Cutler, provided he stays healthy.

Yes, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte will make you look good. Trestman, the quarterback whisperer, might make you a better quarterback. And nobody is doubting that big arm of yours.

So that's the first school of thought when it comes to your fantasy value. The folks that subscribe to that line of thinking see you for what you might be. The second school of thought, however, suggests we should all be a bit more realistic about your upside given what you've actually been during your career.

The truth is, you've exceeded 4,000 passing yards just once in your career (2008 with the Denver Broncos). You've thrown 25 or more touchdown passes just twice. You've averaged slightly over an interception per game in your career (112 interceptions in 104 games played). You aren't going to add any fantasy value by running with the ball. You've missed 12 games in the past three seasons.

You can see why people are really gun-shy when it comes to picking you, right?

It turns out in average drafts you are going one place behind the aforementioned Mr. Miller from Miami. Personally, I don't feel people should select you unless they also have a Romo, Philip Rivers or Matt Ryan on the roster, but it's hard to deny that you offer intriguing upside.

Just stay healthy and don't turn the ball over as much as you normally do, and maybe, just maybe, you'll blow up this year.


Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver Broncos

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 23:  Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders #10 of the Denver Broncos catches a pass for a 67 yard touchdown in front of cornerback A.J. Bouye #34 of the Houston Texans during a preseason game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on August 2
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Who are you going to be for the Denver Broncos this year, Emmanuel Sanders? Are you going to be the player whose career year was the 67 receptions for 740 yards and six touchdowns scored last year for the Pittsburgh Steelers? Or are you going to be the player who steps into Eric Decker's shoes?

Are you going to be the player who can fill the void left by the 87 receptions for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns Decker took to the New York Jets this offseason?

A lot of folks don't think you can fill those shoes. You aren't as big as Decker, after all, or nearly as good in the red zone. They think you could be fourth or fifth in the pecking order in the passing game, behind Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Wes Welker and perhaps even Montee Ball.

Of course, they are conveniently ignoring your recent returns. Sure, it was only the preseason, but you just caught five passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns on eight targets. If nothing else, that should suggest there will be plenty of targets to go around with you, and, well, we all know how good Peyton Manning can make a player look.

Especially for fantasy owners.

Not only that, but Wes Welker's health concerns are a major issue after he suffered another concussion during the preseason. The Broncos may look to lean on you more in the passing game and protect Welker a bit more this year.

Look, nobody thinks you are going to be a touchdown machine like Decker was. Thomas and Thomas will take care of that. But your receptions and yards should see a major boost this year, and it wouldn't be surprising at all if you exceeded 1,000 receiving yards and at least replicated your six scores from a year ago.

For a player going at the beginning of the eighth round in 10-man leagues, your floor is pretty high and so is your ceiling. You're definitely a player I'm targeting in my drafts.

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