Fab-Five Fantasy Football Sleepers
I'll start by clarifying what I mean by a sleeper pick, as my article on this year's fantasy busts seemed to draw a fair amount of criticism due to me selecting some players that will have a good year, they just won't live up to their pre-draft hype.
I see a sleeper pick as a player I draft in the fifth round or later that puts up numbers that greatly exceed his draft position.
I'll provide you all with an example.
Last year, I drafted Wes Welker in the 10th round of a PPR league, and he finished as the No. 4 receiver overall, a position significantly higher than he was expected to finish going into the season.
With that being said, my top-five fantasy sleepers of 2008:
1. Jason Campbell
Watching him play on Sunday further solidified Campbell as my top fantasy sleeper going into the 2008-2009 season. While I do not foresee Campbell making the jump into the QB elite, I do feel he will go undrafted in most leagues and will finish the season as a top-10 QB.
Jim Zorn's West Coast offense suits Campbell, and the additions of Malcolm Kelly, Devin Thomas, and Fred Davis will bolster the Redskins' attack. While Kelly could potentially be sidelined with a knee injury, Thomas figures to start the season as the team's No. 3 receiver and could possibly surpass Randle El as the No. 2 by season's end. While Fred Davis will certainly not start over Chris Cooley, Zorn does figure to use two TEs for a number of plays, which will allow Davis to see more PT.
Throw in Santana Moss and Clinton Portis, as well as an improving defense, and all signs point to Campbell having a solid year and making himself into one of the NFL's better QBs.
2. Anthony Gonzalez
Two words: Brandon Stokley. In 2004, Stokley racked up 1,000+ yards and 10+ TDs while serving as Manning's slot receiver, the same position Gonzalez will be filling this season.
The difference between the two, though, is that in the five years prior to 2004, Stokley never surpassed 350 yards receiving and never solidified himself as a receiving threat, two things that Gonzalez managed to do in his rookie season.
Gonzalez posted 500+ yards receiving last season and three TDs while averaging a ridiculous 15.6 YPC. These stats, along with the luxury of having Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Dallas Clark taking a significant amount of the defensive pressure off him is why I see Gonzalez having a monster year.
This pick depends, of course, on Manning returning to form after his knee surgery, but I have full confidence in him and expect him to post 30+ TDs and 3,500 yards while leading a Colts offense that will once again rank as one of the league's elite.
3. Rashard Mendenhall
While Willie Parker will handle the majority of the workload, the Steelers' offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has praised Mendenhall's work and camp, and he has also hinted that Mendenhall could become the goal-line back.
If that happens, Mendenhall's fantasy value will skyrocket. While he won't deliver many 100-yard rushing performances, if any, he could very easily post one to two TDs on any given Sunday.
Mendenhall is a great late-round steal and could provide a fantasy owner with anywhere from 0 to 15 points in a given week. If drafted, look to start Mendenhall in bad-weather games, as the Steelers will most likely look to grind out a W through the running game.
4. Alge Crumpler
On most boards, Crumpler serves as the No. 13 TE, a ranking I feel is a great disservice to the proven veteran. Crumpler, like Campbell, will most likely go undrafted in most leagues but has the potential to finish somewhere near the No. 5 fantasy TE.
Vince Young does not go deep. In his two-year tenure for the Titans, he has only thrown six passes of 40+ yards. That being said, Alge Crumpler does not go deep, either. The lumbering TE is known for his sure hands and precise route running, and was often Michael Vick's favorite target during his days in Atlanta.
Vince Young, who shares the scrambling QB title that was placed on Vick, will often look to Crumpler when he gets in trouble behind the line.
Crumpler's number of catches and TDs will increase this year, as I feel by season's end, Crumpler will have become Young's favorite passing target, ahead of unproven WRs Justin Gage and Justin McCareins.
5. Devin Hester
In leagues that award points for KR and PR yards, Hester is a must. As long as teams keep kicking to him, he will continue to make big plays, which in turn will make any fantasy owner happy.
While I do not see him posting six return TDs again, I do see him emerging as the WR threat that Chicago so desperately needs (they also need a QB, RB, and TE, but that isn't the focus right now).
Look for Hester to be available late and monitor how Lovie Smith uses him in the early weeks of the season.
Smith will slowly ease his star into the offensive scheme, so don't look for Hester to post big receiving numbers early, but by season's end, he should be challenging to be the Bears' No. 1 WR.
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