Fantasy Football Sleepers: NFC Edition
The NFL season is just around the corner, meaning fantasy football enthusiasts are gearing up for a grueling season of following games on television, Internet and cell phone just to see what certain players are doing.
One of the most exciting things about fantasy football is discovering a sleeper. Someone that has been dismissed by other managers because of a lack of name recognition or simply ignorance to circumstances that will make a player have a much higher fantasy value than originally believed.
So while many of you may have already had your fantasy drafts, others are still preparing for their selections that are sure to be trashed by your friends until that guy with the name they can't pronounce puts up 150 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1. Or, as is the case with several sleepers, these guys could have gone undrafted and are sitting on the waiver wire, waiting for an astute fantasy manager to pick them up.
Either way, keep this article close to you and away from your fantasy football league members. It wouldn't be wise to alert the guy drafting one pick ahead of you about the sleeper you plan to take.
So let's check out some sleepers from the NFC, position by position and heck, I'll even throw in a defense. Oh, and when these guys win your league championship for you, feel free to send me 5% of your winnings.
QB: Matt Moore, Carolina Panthers
Despite my purely satirical piece the other day about the sheer ineptitude of the Panthers' offense this preseason, Matt Moore should be a fine late-round draft pick. While you won't want him as your starting quarterback all season, the Panthers' schedule is set up nicely for Moore to have a solid season in his first year as the season's starter.
Though speed demon Steve Smith is in the waning years of his prime, No. 89 always seems to get open and outfight his coverage. As long as rookie wide receiver Brandon LaFell can progress on an above-average learning curve, as he has shown he is capable of this preseason, there should be some opportunities for the run-oriented Panthers to find the end zone through the air.
Look for the Panthers to hit the waiver wire within the next couple of weeks to pick up another receiver to fill in the No. 3 spot that Dwayne Jarrett has been unable to secure in his three previous seasons as an underwhelming second-round pick.
As for the Panthers' schedule, Moore could be a viable option to plug in as a starter in weeks 14 and 17 when they take on the Falcons, who ranked 28th in pass defense last year, as well as weeks 7, 8, 12, 13, 15, when the Panthers face teams who ranked in the bottom third of pass defense a season ago (vs. SF, @STL, @CLE, @SEA, vs. ARI, respectively).
Moore is 6-2 as a starter for the Panthers, making him more than capable of running John Fox's use-the-run-to-set-up-the-pass offense.
QB: Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers
'Niners quarterback Alex Smith has yet to play like a No. 1 overall draft pick, but this season he finally has all the weapons around him to live up to expectations.
Michael Crabtree showed flashes of brilliance last season after his exhausting contract hold-out, leading many to believe that an off-season of workouts and a full season of playing will make him one of the top wide outs in the league.
Smith will also have the luxury of throwing to Vernon Davis at the tight end position, an absolute freak of nature who tied the league lead for touchdown in 2009 with 13.
Tack on the fact that he plays in perhaps the poorest pass defending division, the NFC West, and you've got six games in which the 49ers air attack should be quite potent.
Entering the season as favorites (by several accounts) to win their division, San Francisco should finally be able to warm up to their No. 1 draft pick from 2005 as he now has enough players around him to showcase his arm once and for all.
RB: Beanie Wells, Arizona Cardinals
Though he's owned in 100% of Yahoo!'s fantasy football league's, I'm still considering Beanie Wells a sleeper due to the fact that he, on average, has been taken in the fifth round behind 15 other running backs.
Wells will be the feature back for the Cardinals' offense this season, which will go from pass-heavy in 2009 to run-happy in 2010. With Kurt Warner's retirement and Matt Leinart's inability to live up to any hype he's ever received, look for Ken Whisenhunt to revert to the brand of smash mouth football the he prefers.
Though he will still be splitting time with Tim Hightower, Wells should be able to post solid fantasy numbers, especially in two games against the Rams and all four match-ups against the AFC West.
After leading the team in carries in his rookie season in 2009, despite never starting a game, Wells should be able to supplant himself as the Cardinals' work horse running back for the duration of the 2010 season.
RB: Clinton Portis, Washington Redskins
Now that he's been reunited with head coach Mike Shanahan, Clinton Portis should see his production go up after the 2009 season in which he missed eight games due to a concussion. Despite the fact that he will have fellow veterans Willie Parker and Larry Johnson waiting in the wings, Portis should experience a bit of a career boost now that he's playing for the same coach whose offensive lines paved the way for two consecutive 1,500+ yard seasons in 2002 and 2003 while a Denver Bronco.
Most people will overlook Portis in this year's fantasy drafts because of his age and his injury last season, but those same people could regret it as the season wears on. Having Parker and Johnson as back-ups will give Portis much needed rest on certain series throughout games, but look for him to receive the ball in most goal-line situations.
As long as Portis and his running mates can stay happy with the limited number of carries they will receive, he should be able to approach the 1,000 yard mark for the seventh time in his career.
View his numbers last season as an aberration in an otherwise fine career in which Portis has eclipsed the millennium mark in yards every season that he has been healthy.
WR: Devin Aromashodu, Chicago Bears
Bears wide-out Devin Aromashodu is going to burst onto the scene this season in a big, big way. At 6'2'', Aromashodu will be a go-to target in the red zone while his speed is above-average for a receiver his size.
Though not currently projected to be one of the starting two wide receivers, Aromashodu will get plenty of playing time after tearing up the final four weeks of the 2009 season and having an impressive training camp.
Aromashodu was sidelined for the Bears' first eight games last season due to an injury sustained in the preseason and did not see significant action until Week 14 against the Packers. From that game through the final three regular season contests, Aromashodu had 22 catches for 282 yards and 4 touchdowns, tied for the most TDs in that four-game span.
With pass-happy Mike Martz taking over as offensive coordinator, and gun-slinger Jay Cutler at quarterback, look for Aromashodu to become an incredibly attractive late-round or waiver-wire pick up. Though the Bears play in a historically defensively stout division, two dates with the Lions as well as match-ups against Seattle, Miami and Dallas should pose opportunities for Aromashodu to rack up major fantasy points.
WR: Arrelious Benn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Arrelious Benn, whom the Bucs traded up on draft day last May to pick, will start out wide for a team that is on the backside of its rebuilding phase.
The coaching staff has high hopes for Benn in large part because they have high hopes for quarterback Josh Freeman, whom they feel is the future face of the franchise. With a limited number of targets to throw to, chances are Freeman will be looking for Benn early and often.
Benn is 6'2'', 220 lbs. making his frame one of his most critical assets. His athleticism should allow him to rise above shorter defenders to catch the ball at its highest point. Though the Buccaneers have one of the worst receiver corps in the NFL heading into this season, expect Benn to be the diamond in the rough of a very rough unit.
While you won't want to use too high of a draft pick on Benn, he will be a solid reserve to have on your squad in case of injury or in case he blows up against his competition. If you are in a keeper league, Benn's value is even higher as he and Freeman (ages 21 and 22 respectively) should blossom into a very dangerous duo in the coming seasons.
TE: Fred Davis, Washington Redskins
Redskins tight end Fred Davis, though playing behind Chris Cooley, should figure into the 'Skins offense on several occasions this season. Coach Shanahan is a big fan of two-tight end sets, while quarterback Donovan McNabb utilized his tight ends as well as any quarterback during his career as a Philadelphia Eagle.
After Cooley went down with a broken ankle in Week 7 last season, Davis stepped in and caught 41 passes for 464 yards and six touchdowns. And this was with Jason Campbell as quarterback. As long as Donovan McNabb's ankle injury does not cause him to miss significant time, Davis should see a steady number of passes coming his way regardless of Cooley's presence on the field.
One reason Davis has such a high fantasy value is because of his size. At 6'4'', 257 lbs., he is a lot for a defense to handle, especially when he's finding pockets in the end zone as he is known to do.
Games against the Titans, Lions, Rams and Jaguars should be circled on your calendar if you're planning on using Davis as a reserve, as these teams have relatively poor pass defenses. But at the same time, considering Davis caught multiple passes in each of his games as a starter last year, he's proven that he can play against some of the best defenses and therefore could be a starter in a fantasy league with 12 or more teams in it.
K: Jason Hanson, Detroit Lions
Jason Hanson is a very deep sleeper. So deep, in fact, that you may not even need to draft him, just keep an eye on him and scoop him up in the first couple weeks if the Lions are able to move the ball.
Ranking near the bottom in just about every offensive category last year, it really can't get much worse for the Lions. The problem is, it could stay the same. Reports from this off-season, however, have several fans excited about the second year of the Stafford-Johnson connection, as the sophomore quarterback continues to learn the ins-and-outs of NFL.
If Stafford and the Lions are able to move the ball throughout the first couple weeks, especially since they'll be facing staunch defenses such as Minnesota and Green Bay, see if you can't go snag Hanson.
Hanson is the 14th most accurate kicker in NFL history and has kicked more 50+ yard field goals since 2000 than any other kicker, with 27. He's scored 88 points in each of the past two seasons, which isn't ideal for a kicker, but keep in mind he was playing on the first ever 0-16 team in NFL history, then a team with a rookie quarterback.
Though he's now 40 years old, kickers are in a special position where they can last virtually forever. If Detroit is able to move the ball, not necessarily score touchdowns but at least get within field goal range, Hanson could be a very smart mid-season acquisition.
Defense: Atlanta Falcons
Though they ranked 21st in the league in yards allowed last season, look for the Falcons to have a much improved defense in 2010 as they make a push to overtake the Saints as NFC South champions.
The Falcons' pass defense, which ranked 28th overall last season, should be less porous after the signing of corner back Dunta Robinson from the Texans. Robinson will be the Falcons' No. 1 corner back, and is fully capable of shutting down elite receivers every weekend if he can stay healthy.
If John Abraham (pictured, right) can revert to his 2008 form, when he posted 16.5 sacks as opposed to his just 5.5 from last season, the defensive line should be able to put more pressure on the quarterback and force some bad throws. Jonathan Babineaux (pictured, left) will start the season serving a one-game suspension for drug charges, but is a very tough defensive tackle who running backs will be looking to avoid at all costs.
The Falcons ranked 10th in the league in rush defense last season tied for 11th in the league in turnover margin. These rankings should stay about the same, if not improve, as the Falcons will face some of the lowest scoring offenses throughout the season (Carolina and Tampa Bay twice, Cleveland, St. Louis).
You may want to start out with the Falcons as your back-up defense if anything, just to see how well their secondary may have improved, but if they are able to improve as much as this author believes they can then your first-string defense could be used as trade bait during the season.