Fantasy Football Sleepers for 2008

Brad BerremanAnalyst IJuly 16, 2008

Fantasy Football Sleepers For 2008

Many factors lead to a player having a breakout season. Sometimes players above him on the depth chart leave via free agency or get hurt, providing the opportunity for playing time and production. Other times the player is simply healthy or has more experience, leading to greater success.

 Here's my top ten fantasy football "sleepers" for 2008:

 10. Robert Meacham, WR, New Orleans Saints—Meacham did not play in 2007 due to a knee injury after being the Saints' first round pick. That said, the second starting spot could be his for the taking. Veterans Devery Henderson and David Patten were not consistently productive last season, and Meacham could at least get a chance to play a lot. The Saints have a good offense helmed by quarterback Drew Brees, and anyone that starts regularly has a good chance at being productive. Meacham could be a part of that in what essentially will be his rookie NFL season.

 9. Drew Bennett, WR, St. Louis Rams — He had just 33 receptions for 375 yards and three touchdowns in his first year in St. Louis after signing as a  free agent. Bennett played in 14 games, only starting one, as the Rams' offense battled significant injuries to key players (QB Marc Bulger, RB Steven Jackson, OT Orlando Pace) all season. With the free agent departure of WR Isaac Bruce (49ers) providing a likely starting spot opposite WR Torry Holt this season, Bennett could have a breakout season and prove he was worth the big contract he signed last offseason.

8. Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears— He was the Bears' second round draft pick this year out of Tulane. With the team's release of troubled RB Cedric Benson, Forte seems to be the frontrunner for the starting job. His only competition for significant playing time is "the other" Adrian Peterson and 2007 draft pick Garrett Wolfe. If the Bears' aging offensive line can have one last hurrah and whoever wins the battle at quarterback can provide a threat throwing the ball, Forte could be a sleeper pick for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

7. D.J. Hackett, WR, Carolina Panthers— He Signed a free agent deal this offseason with the Panthers after spending the first three years of his career with the Seattle Seahawks. Hackett played just six games last season while battling a knee injury. With the attention teammate Steve Smith garners from opposing defenses, Hackett could have a breakout year. Provided he can stay healthy, and quarterback Jake Delhomme stays on track in his recovery from Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow.

6. Julius Jones, RB, Seattle Seahawks—Jones signed with the Seahawks this offseason after spending his first four NFL seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. He should have the opportunity for plenty of playing time, since the Seahawks released  long-time RB Shaun Alexander. The competition for carries includes fellow free agent signee T.J. Duckett and incumbent Maurice Morris. If Jones can nail down the starting job, he could finally realize his potential.

5. Vincent Jackson, WR, San Diego Chargers—Jackson was a popular breakout candidate coming into 2007, but that never materialized as he only had 41 receptions for 623 yards and three touchdowns. With wide reciever Chris Chambers present for the entire season, the 6'5" Jackson could at least become the red zone threat his size suggests he can be. Oh, and those two guys L.T. and Antonio Gates should help Jackson realize his potential in 2008 too.

4. Alex Smith, QB, San Francisco 49ers—The 2005 number one overall pick has yet to realize his potential, but the hiring of pass-happy offensive coordinator Mike Martz could accelerate Smith's development. If he can fend off supposed competition from Shaun Hill for the starting job, Smith should be fairly productive with new WRs Isaac Bruce and Bryant Johnson and incumbent young TE Vernon Davis to throw to. He did battle a shoulder injury in 2007, so hopefully his shoulder won't get fatigued from throwing the ball so much this season.

3. Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions—After being taken second overall in the 2007 NFL Draft, Johnson was considered to be a can't miss prospect. But he battled a back injury for much of the season, only missing one game though. Johnson had 48 receptions for 756 yards and four touchdowns last season in what seems like a small sign of better numbers to come. A change in offensive philosophy toward a more run-oriented system might hurt Johnson and the other Detroit receivers' numbers this year, but better health should easily lead to a more productive campaign for the Georgia Tech product in his second NFL season.

2. David Garrard, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars—Garrard took over the starting job before Week One in 2007 and he ran with it. He ranked third in the league in passer rating last season, behind only Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, while throwing 18 touchdowns against just three interceptions in 12 games played . Garrard did miss three games due to a lower leg injury, and did not play in the team's last regular season game because it meant nothing to the team's playoff positioning. The additions of WRs Jerry Porter and Troy Williamson should bolster the Jaguars' receiving corp and provide more opportunities in the passing game.

1. Santonio Holmes, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers-In 2007, Holmes caught eight touchdowns among his 52 catches for 942 yards. That's a 18.1 yards per catch average and an average of a touchdown every 6.5 catches. That per catch average was the best in the league for anyone with at least 20 receptions. Holmes did miss three games last season due to an ankle injury, but incumbent number one wide receiver Hines Ward is advancing in years and a change of the guard could be in order. A healthy Ben Roethlisberger for a second consecutive season in 2008 will also help Holmes succeed. Oh, I almost forgot, Holmes is entering his third season in the NFL.

Honorable Mention: Bryant Johnson, WR, San Francisco 49ers; Selvin Young, RB, Denver Broncos; Zach Miller, TE, Oakland Raiders; Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers; Anthony Gonzalez, WR, Indianapolis Colts