2010 Fantasy Football Sleepers: 15 Guys To Watch Closely
This article goes out to those of you who have already bought your magazines, read Matthew Berry's article on espn.com, and have your rankings laid out for your draft next month.
This goes out to those of you who don't give a rip about where LeBron James goes to Miami (I'm not one of those), but rather whether Brandon Marshall will thrive at the beach.
And this goes out to those who don't care about the baseball All-Star game, but rather are looking more forward to the NFL preseason.
And in honor of you guys, here are some guys that I personally think are huge sleepers this year in fantasy football.
(As a note, I have included espn.com's projections for all these players along with my analysis)
15. Matt Moore
Probably one of my riskier picks on here, given that Carolina runs the ball, and they did draft Jimmy Clausen.
But many people seem to forget how well Moore did at the end of last year when he was finally given a chance.
And yes, he doesn't throw for very many yards, but he threw for three touchdowns against Minnesota and the Giants.
I'm not saying you should draft him as your starter or anything for Pete's sake.
But why not draft him as a backup that has a possibility to do pretty well?
It's not like the NFC South has some great pass defenses, and the Panthers run game should open up some passing lanes for Moore.
I could definitely see a few more games this year where he puts up some decent fantasy numbers.
That is, if he beats out Jimmy Clausen.
espn.com projections: 1943 yds, 12 tds, 8 ints
14. Zach Miller
I'm sure you've gotten tired of hearing Miller's name being thrown around as a sleeper (for those of you that have played for the past few years).
But facts are facts.
And by that I mean this: Miller has done fairly well with a slew of different quarterbacks, and now he gets one in Jason Campbell who actually likes to throw to the tight end.
Let's look at some stats shall we?
Let's compare two seasons from different players:
1. Player A in 2008: 83 catches, 849 yards, 1 TD
In 2007: 66 catches, 786 yards, 8 TD
2. Player B in 2009: 66 catches, 805 yards, 3 TD
In 2008: 56 catches, 778 yards, 1 TD
Chris Cooley, although I didn't include last year because of injury issues.
Who was his quarterback? Jason Campbell.
Not a huge difference huh?
Here's the thing. I'm not suggesting that Miller is a top 5 tight end yet.
But he is on the verge I believe, because of a new quarterback, and a solid running game that should present some good play action opportunities.
Here's what I would do if I were you (and will be my plan in at least one, if not more leagues):
Don't draft a top-tier tight end (unless he falls to you).
Draft better players at other positions, and wait around for Miller.
Sound like a good plan?
espn.com projections: 74 catches, 895 yards, 3 TDs
13. Eddie Royal
You want to talk about a guy whose value shoots up in PPR leagues.
Ladies and Gentleman, the forgotten Eddie Royal.
It's not very often that you see a player do as well as Royal did in his rookie year, then hit a huge sophomore slump.
But guess what happened when Brandon Marshall went to Miami?
Eddie Royal all of the sudden becomes the go-to-guy.
Now granted, the Broncos have some big targets in Jabar Gaffney and the rookie Thomas.
So Royal probably won't steal many touchdowns.
But he probably will have a good many more targets in the Denver offense, one Josh McDaniels realizes that Royal could be the team's Wes Welker.
Why he didn't do that last year is beyond me...
espn.com projections: 65 receptions, 691 yards, 4 TDs
12. Cadillac Williams
Remember just a few years ago when Cadillac was a great young running back coming out of Auburn?
And he was sought after in fantasy circles?
Man. That seems like a while ago.
But I really think he should be on your radar this year.
I think the development of Josh Freeman is the key.
As Freeman learns about the pro game, about the Bucs offense, and learns about spreading the ball around, the passing game should progess through the season, and Williams will benefit.
And maybe even catch a few out of the backfield.
What was that I said earlier about the defenses in the NFC South?
I think Williams is another high-upside guy that you draft later, and hope that he finds the fountain of youth.
I mean, he is the starter for the Bucs after all, so he should see the ball a lot.
I see him getting close to a 1,000 yards, along with a handful of scores.
I'd say that's a solid number three guy at least.
espn.com projections: 200 carries, 756 yards, 3 TDs
11. Matthew Stafford
You want I guy that I'm targeting as a great backup in any league (or possibly a starter in deep leagues)?
Of the Detroit Lions.
Laugh now, but Stafford had some very positive signs at the end of last year that lead me to believe he will be a solid quarterback in this league.
He's gotten a lot of help in the offseason from the front office, as they upgraded his help at wide receiver (Nate Burleson) and running back (Jahvid Best).
The offensive line still needs some work, but hey, it is the Lions we're talking about.
My main point here is that Stafford is a great guy to maybe draft a round early.
Because he's got what all of us fantasy football players like to call "upside."
(You'll see that word again. I promise).
espn.com projections: 3710 yds, 20 tds, 20 ints
10. Lee Evans
Don't look at me like that.
It's not Evans fault he had a terrible season last year.
It's the issue of quarterback for the Bills.
But this year, there's no Terrell Evans to take away targets from Evans.
Sure, there will be many passes thrown at him that he just can't catch (like last year).
But this year, I think that number goes way up, mainly because he's really the only qualified receiver on the roster.
Unfortunately, he won't get any long TDs, unless Trent Edwards grows an arm in the offseason.
But 60 catches? Maybe 800 yards or so with a half dozen TDs with the possibility to do more?
I'll take that, thank you very much.
espn.com projections: 54 receptions, 784 yards, 5 TDs
9. Austin Collie
Sure, Indianapolis has Reggie Wayne.
And Dallas Clark.
And Pierre Garcon.
So where does the second year player come in?
Right across the middle.
Collie is exactly what the Colts were looking for in a slot guy, only with a bigger body.
Plus, here's the thing, and not many will agree with me on this:
Pierre Garcon is like Reggie Wayne II.
Usually teams like to mix it up a bit.
Now, I don't see Collie going out wide at all, even if there is an injury.
But Peyton Manning is the quarterback.
And there were times when Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne were covered well last season.
This is where I believe Collie, and not Garcon, comes in.
Collie has, or so I've heard, a work ethic to match Manning's.
He's got great hands, and a large frame for Manning to hit.
And he had seven touchdowns last year.
Say hello to a great bench player for your fantasy team.
espn.com projections: 62 receptions, 691 yards, 5 TDs
8. Jerome Harrison
Warning: Fantasy Kryptonite.
How many times have you seen or heard something similar?
I still can't fathom how so few have faith in Harrison.
Granted, his amazing end-season run did come out of nowhere.
But it did happen.
And it happened on a team with a terrible offense, and a terrible offensive line to boot.
That what makes it all the more amazing.
So here's a tip from me to you:
While the rest of your league mates are running away from Harrison, worried that he's a fluke, go ahead and draft him.
The Browns actually may have a decent quarterback for the first time in a while in either Jake Delhomme or Seneca Wallace (or Colt McCoy?), and may have some semblance of a passing game.
That should open up some opportunities for Harrison, who, although he won't sneak up on anyone this season, could surprise a few with his production.
I think Harrison is a solid number two back personally (with a lot of upside in PPR leagues), and I believe he can get around 1,200 yards along with a few scores.
espn.com projections: 182 carries, 839 yards, 4 TDs
7. Justin Forsett
Seattle just straight baffles me at times.
They have a great young running back in Forsett, who, let's be honest, far and above exceeded expectations last season when he came in for Julius Jones.
So what does Seattle do?
They go out and get two more running backs in Leon Washington and LenDale White.
Then they let White go before he even gets a chance to get going.
I wonder what Forsett is thinking this whole time?
I mean all Forsett did last year was average five yards a carry when given the opportunity.
And now the O-Line appears to be improved with the addition of Russell Okung.
So what's not to like about Forsett, other than Leon Washington taking some carries/catches?
I mean, Thomas Jones was okay with that.
espn.com projections: 220 carries, 1078 yards, 5 TDs
6. Johnny Knox
I'll be honest.
I saw Jay Cutler's disappointing season coming last year.
What I didn't see coming?
The development of the rookie Knox.
And it should continue this year.
I think maybe the one guy, other than Cutler, who will benefit most from the adding of Martz at offensive coordinator, is Knox.
I mean, just look what Martz did in Detroit.
He didn't make them a winner, but he sure made Jon Kitna a dangerous quarterback.
And, as many of us have heard, Martz doesn't like to use the tight end much.
So that leaves Cutler's targets consisting mostly of the wide receivers and running backs.
And I honestly think that Knox is the best receiver on the Bears.
No offense to Devin Hester, but Knox is almost as fast, and has better hands.
I think all this adds up to a possible break out season for Knox.
espn.com projections: 53 receptions, 697 yards, 6 TDs
5. Michael Bush
This is definitely one of those guys that you pick in the later rounds of your draft, sit him on your bench, and hope he does better than expected.
But what's wrong with that?
Listen, I know I brought up Jason Campbell already, and while I don't think he'll make the Raiders a winner, or that he's this fantasy "savior", he provides stability at quarterback that Oakland just hasn't had.
And this should take at least some pressure of the run game.
Bush, however, shouldn't be too concerned, as he did well even with seeing a lot of eight man fronts last season.
He had 539 yards last season in what was considered a part time role, with a lot of attention on Darren McFadden.
Here's the thing with Bush though: If he manages to become the man in Oakland, given his tough running style, he could easily become a number two guy overnight.
So why not take a chance on him?
espn.com projections: 189 carries, 847 yards, 6 TDs
4. Alex Smith
I myself can't believe that I'm actually putting Smith on this list.
Somebody throw some cold water on me.
But seriously, what Smith did last season surprised everyone, including many Niners fans.
The question is: Can he do it again this year?
My answer is yes, he can.
For starters, the Niners went out in the draft and upgraded their offensive line, which was a huge need for them.
He's got an emerging wide receiver in Michael Crabtree.
He's got arguably one of the best tight ends in the game in Vernon Davis.
And he's got Frank Gore.
Throw in some more time to throw, and a better pass action game because of his improved O-Line, and I really do think that Smith is a viable number one QB in deeper leagues.
espn.com projection: 3098 yds, 20 tds, 14 ints
3. Pierre Thomas
The starting running back from the Super Bowl Champions does in fact make my list.
No Reggie Bush?
Look, I think Bush is a great asset.
But I still think he's a little overrated, though very athletic.
I really think when it boils down to it, Pierre Thomas is going to be the engine behind the Saints running game, which was a lot better than most people thought last year.
And yes, it looks like the Saints will probably go with some kind of three headed monster again this year, with Bush, Thomas, and some goal-line back.
So Thomas will lose a few touchdowns.
But in leagues that reward points for receptions, Thomas can be a very valuable back.
In what amounted to 13 games last year, Thomas averaged about 3 catches a game.
I believe that Thomas is a perfect compliment back on a fantasy team, someone that has a great deal of upside as a number two guy that you should not ignore on draft day.
espn.com projections: 200 carries, 1034 yards, 7 TDs
2. Beanie Wells
This may be a bit too obvious of a pick, but I honestly think that Wells will exceed some projections this season.
Well for starters, the Cardinals are going to have a new quarterback.
And whether it's Matt Leinart or Derek Anderson, they both aren't nearly as pass happy as Kurt Warner was.
Therefore, the Cardinals will probably run the ball more.
Along with Warner leaving, there is a lot of uncertainty at the quarterback position.
I mean, this is Matt Leinart we're talking about here.
And when there is uncertainty at the quarterback position, teams tend to run the ball more.
As well, the Cardinals offensive line improved with the addition of Alan Faneca.
That should mean more room for Wells to run, who did very well last year behind what was supposedly a weak Cardinals line.
And let's not forget who the coach is: Ken Whisenhunt.
What coaching staff was he a part of before the Cards?
Rumor is, the Cardinals will become "Pittsburgh East."
And do you really think the Cardinals are going to feed the ball more to Tim Hightower?
I don't think so.
espn.com projections: 243 carries, 1138 yards, 9 TDs
1. Mike Wallace
The second year pro is a breakout just waiting to happen.
I'll admit it: I just didn't see last year coming.
But now with what I've seen from 60 Minutes, I like him.
Don't you? (Don't answer if you're a Browns, Bengals, or Ravens fan.)
And now the Steelers go out and trade away his biggest competition in Santonio Holmes.
And Hines Ward ain't getting any younger folks.
The biggest question mark for Wallace this season is who the quarterback will be before Big Ben gets back.
I think that will only temporarily slow down Wallace.
I believe that is his biggest weakness right now.
Sure, he's no PPR champion, but he's going to get double digit TDs this year.
Count on that.
espn.com projections: 60 receptions, 1075 yards, 5 TDs
Want to Play Fantasy Football? Sign Up With CBSSports.com
What makes CBSSports.com's Fantasy Football game the best on the web?
-Completely customizable, from draft options to scoring schemes
-The fastest and most accurate live scoring on the web
-Mobile apps to manage your league and team