Most of us that play fantasy football can rather easily agree upon the top twenty or thirty players heading into the upcoming NFL season, but how many times does the eventual champion win because of superior drafting alone? Waiver wire pickups, player potential diagnosis, and adjustability is what wins championships, and is perhaps even more important than stellar drafting.
There are the high draft pick rookies that come into the league with great fanfare. Then there are the rookies drafted in the later rounds or are completely undrafted altogether that come into camp and open everyone's eyes, and the veteran free agent acquisitions who find themselves in new and particularly favorable situations.
A true sleeper is a player to keep an eye on, whose current fantasy stock is lower than the given player's potential. Potential can be either a favorable situation or athletic talent alone. A sleeper therefore is not necessarily a lock to make a big impact in fantasy football, but someone to monitor for developments.
Lets take a look at some of the players that are flying under the radar heading into the 2009 fantasy football campaign.
Talent wise, Bernard Scott could have been a big time college player and a first round selection. In reality, he is fortunate to have made it this far. The first things you will hear about Scott is his sordid past, that he was kicked off two teams and has had other legal troubles from acting a fool. Because of these off the field issues, Scott had to create his own winding path to the Pros.
His overall college rushing stats that include one year stints at Central Arkansas and Blinn College and two at Abilene Christian, are astounding: 7,239 yards and 101 TDs, which includes two back to back 2,000 yard seasons at ACU, and added 93 catches for 1,391 yards and 10 TDs in his final two seasons. He won the the 2008 Harlon Hill Trophy (Division II's Heisman) in a landslide.
The Bengals running game hasn't had a 1,000 yard runner since Rudi Johnson was their workhorse back in 2006. Last season they gave one time Bears bust Cedric Benson a second chance, and he delivered with a solid effort, nearing 1,000 all-purpose yards. But lets be clear here, Benson is not the future for the Bengals, he is a stop gap with pedestrian skills.
Bernard Scott has the tools to wow, and should get a shot to gradually increase his work load throughout the season. The Bengals would be remiss if they kept Scott under wraps for too long.
In the Giants' Super Bowl winning 2007 postseason Ahmad Bradshaw led the team in rushing. Sure, Derrick Ward was out with an injury, but if you didn't see Ahmad's play making ability on display, you weren't paying close enough attention.
Derrick Ward came back for 2008 and secured the #2 RB role, and he and Brandon Jacobs powered the Giants' #1 ranked rushing offense by gaining over 1,000 apiece. This off season, Ward signed on with the Tamp Bay Buccaneers, and third round draft pick RB Andre Brown is lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles, leaving the #2 spot for Bradshaw to showcase his talents.
The formula for Bradshaw's fantasy success is fairly obvious. He plays on team with a very strong running game, will likely get around half of the RB touches, and is an explosive play maker with equal parts speed and power.
When I look around at the projected top 25 Fantasy Football WRs for the upcoming season, Chris Henry is not on the list. In fact fellow teammates Chad Ochocinco and Laveranues Coles are usually listed ahead of him. I am not buying it.
The most dangerous weapon in the Bengals ariel attack is Chris Henry, sorry Chad. He is 6'4" with good hands and blazing speed. He has a great repertoire with Carson Palmer, evidenced by his output in 2006, his second year in the league when he had a TD catch for every 4 receptions as the third wheel. That year, Chad Johnson had 87 catches for 1,369 yards and 7 TDs and T.J. Houshmandzadeh had 90 catches for 1,081 and 9 TDs to steal the show, but the little talked about Henry chipped in with 36 catches, 605 yards and 9 TDs, and led all three WRs with 16.8 yards per catch.
On a team with two Pro Bowl caliber receivers, Henry was the most valued TD and long ball threat. That is an amazing stat and a little known fact.
I predict Chris Henry to have a breakout year and be one of the 10 best stat producers at the WR position.
By most standards, Tim Hightower had a fantastic rookie year. In the regular season he totaled 636 yards from the line of scrimmage including 10 TDs and 34 receptions, and an additional 3 TDs in the postseason. He was named the starting RB over a potential Hall of Famer Edgerrin James for a portion of the season.
In crunch time, he was money. He got the extra yard when the team needed him to most over and over again throughout the season, none more important than the 4th and 1 at midfield he converted to continue the game winning drive of the NFC Championship Game to lift the Arizona Cardinals to their first ever Super Bowl. Oh and did I mention that he was the one who went on to score that winning touchdown?
Some Fantasy Football experts will point to his meager 2.8 yards per carry last season and say he isn't a starting caliber RB, and that that is why Arizona drafted Chris "Beanie" Wells with their first pick in the draft, surmising that Hightower's value is minimal. Not so fast, if you look a little deeper you can see that NO ONE in the Cardinal uniform put up gawdy numbers on a team that ranked DEAD LAST in rushing yards per game. Also, factor in how many times Hightower was given the ball in short yardage situations where getting 2 yards was a victory.
Finally, as good as Wells might turn out to be, remember, head coach Ken Whisenhunt's M.O. is to bring along players slowly. Case in point, budding superstar Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie didn't even start until late in the season last year. In addition, Wells has already injured his ankle-twice.
Remember these things about Tim Hightower: he was an integral part of the Cardinals 2009 NFC Champion team, he is currently #1 on the depth chart for one of the top scoring teams in the NFL, and he has shed 15 pounds in his second off season working in highly regarded team trainer John Lott's strength and conditioning program. Whats not to like? A lot of fantasy owners have already written him off because of Wells, but I believe Tim Hightower is in a great position to build upon an outstanding rookie campaign and could be a steal in your fantasy draft.
At this point, Jared Cook is no better than third on the depth chart behind former All-Pro Alge Crumpler and starter Bo Scaife. It won't be long before that is scrambled.
Cook made headlines at the NFL Combine by dazzling in the 40-yard dash, running a 4.5, and also coming in first among TEs in the vertical and broad jumps. But wait, theres more. He is 6'5" and 246 lbs and has been compared to Calvin Johnson by his college coach Steve Spurrier.
Where have I heard all this before? Oh yeah it was the great Vernon Davis, who has yet to turn into that dominating NFL player we all assumed he would be, so why get so excited about Cook? What is different about him?
Cook has a reputation for being level headed and down to Earth. His teammates love playing with him, and if the first two preseason games are any indication, all of his QBs love throwing to him.
It might not happen overnight, but I would be surprised if the Titans don't make every effort to make this rare athlete a focal point in the passing game all year long.
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Chris Farmer also covers the Arizona Cardinals for NFLTouchdown.com @