The 2010 NFL season in fast-approaching. Many leagues have already completed their drafts, and those who haven't will be finished on Thursday. With that in mind, we're going to take a look at some sleeper picks that will either be available in the late rounds of your draft or as free agents.
A note about sleeper picks: These guys should not be a part of your week 1 lineup because they carry a huge amount of risk with them. However, they also have very high upside, making them worth sticking on your bench for a week or two to see if they live up to their potential. As such, when you start looking to fill your bench spots in the late rounds of your draft or by securing guys off the waiver wire, look for these guys who might be further down the list than some other "safer" options.
Let me explain that last sentence a little more: Lee Evans (WR, Bills), Bernard Berrian (WR, Vikings), and Roy Williams (WR, Cowboys) are all likely to be available in the late rounds (rounds 12-16) of your draft. Also available are guys like Dexter McCluster (WR, Chiefs), Mike Williams (WR, Seahawks or Buccaneers), and Anthony Gonzalez (WR, Colts). With the guys in the first group, we know what to expect at this point. They're likely to put up some solid numbers in the realm of 500-900 yards and 3-5 touchdowns this year, giving them at most around 7 points a week, hardly someone you'd want to rely on as a starter on any given week. The other group of guys has more question marks around them, but they have a chance to deliver some huge numbers the way Steve Smith (WR, Giants), Jamaal Charles (RB, Chiefs), and Miles Austin (WR, Cowboys) did last year. Those guys came out of nowhere last year to emerge as fantasy studs and likely helped to salvage the seasons of many fantasy owners whose top draft picks didn't quite pan out.
With that in mind, here's a look at some sleepers who have a chance to ascend to fantasy stardom this year:
Justin Forsett, RB, Seahawks - Forsett emerged as the starter in Seattle last year when Julius Jones proved that he wasn't up to the task anymore. Now, with Jones gone from Seattle, Forsett looks to be the starter from the beginning of the season this year. Seattle's offense has its share of problems, but if Pete Carroll can inject new life into that team, Forsett will likely be the beneficiary and have some big games.
Ricky Williams, RB, Dolphins - Last year, Williams showed that he still had value even behind Ronnie Brown early in the season. When Brown went down with an injury, Williams turned into a fantasy stud. Yes, he's a year older, but he's had a strong preseason. If the Miami running game remains a timeshare all year, Williams has moderate value. However, if Brown goes down with an injury again (a likely scenario, given his history), Williams could once again become a fantasy stud.
Jerome Harrison, RB, Browns - Despite doubts surrounding his ability to carry the starting load all season, both from his coach and commentators, Harrison will begin the season as the Browns' starting running back. Montario Hardesty's challenge continues to be hampered by injuries, which means that the job is Harrison's to lose entering week 1. He had a couple huge games at the end of the season last year, and while there are plenty of reasons to doubt him, there aren't many guys who have the starting job on their team available this late.
Donald Brown, RB, Colts - The Colts are not a running team by any stretch of the mind. However, they do put up a lot of points, and their feature running back gets to share in the fun. Joseph Addai has held that position for the past four years, but his contract is up after this year. The Colts drafted Brown for a reason, and if their plan is to use him as their starter going forward, a changing of the guard may happen at some point during the season. Also, if Addai happens to get hurt, Brown will get the job. Last year, Addai finished in the top 10 among running backs, which is a good indicator of where the ceiling is for Brown should he inherit the starting job.
Leon Washington, RB, Seahawks - Like Forsett above, Washington will benefit from the departure of Julius Jones. He'll likely see work as a 3rd down and goal line back, which could limit his value, but he's also starting the season as the primary kick returner, which gives him some value in leagues that count return yards. He averaged over 4 yards per carry in each of his 4 seasons with the Jets, so if he happens to earn the starting job in Seattle, be it through injury or performance, he could deliver some big numbers.
Jacoby Jones, WR, Texans - Following a very impressive preseason, Jones appears to have ascended to the no. 2 receiver role in Houston. With his speed and explosiveness, he will make some big plays this season working opposite Andre Johnson. The Texans are looking to make a run for the playoffs this year, banking heavily on their explosive offense. Look for Jones to benefit from their aggressive passing attack and make some big plays this year.
Joshua Cribbs, WR, Browns - Joshua Cribbs is an explosive talent with a lot of speed. His work in the return game was unmatched last year, and the Browns are looking for ways to make him a bigger part of the offense. Whether his yards come from standard pass plays, direct snaps, or the occasional reverse doesn't matter - in fantasy, points are points any way they come. Cribbs has the potential to be a breakout player this year on a team that has made moves to improve itself this offseason.
Dexter McCluster, WR, Chiefs - McCluster's situation is similar to that of Cribbs. The Chiefs know they've got a guy who has a ton of talent, and they're looking for ways to utilize him effectively. This means McCluster will get opportunities to line up as a receiver and get some touches out of the backfield. Given that this is his rookie season, his touches may be limited, especially early on, but there's definitely room to move up in the Chiefs' receiver corps, meaning that McCluster's role in the offense is likely to expand throughout the season.
Mike Williams, WR, Buccaneers - With an impressive training camp, this rookie has garnered a lot of attention and earned the no. 1 wide receiver position on a team that is badly in need of receivers. Questions about his attitude dropped him to the fourth round in this year's draft, but his talent and ability allowed him to beat out second rounder Arrelious Benn for the top spot. Tampa's passing game is nothing to write home about, but as the starter, Williams will get plenty of targets this year. If he can transfer his offseason performance to the regular season, he's going to have a big season.
Mike Williams, WR, Seahawks - The departure of T.J. Houshmandzadeh means that this Mike Williams will also start the season as the no. 1 receiver on his team. He's struggled throughout his NFL career to find a comfortable home, but it seems that pairing back up with his former college coach, Pete Carroll, has given him a much-needed boost this year. Like many players on this list, he'll need to transfer offseason success to the regular season, but he does present an opportunity to grab a no. 1 wide receiver at a very cheap price this year.
Laurent Robinson, WR, Rams - Robinson rounds out a trio of guys who will begin the season as no. 1 wide receivers in passing attacks that have struggled recently. He carries the risk that if the 2010 Rams play like the 2009 Rams, his numbers are likely to be awful. However, Sam Bradford showed a lot of promise in the two preseason games where he was the starting quarterback. Yes, Bradford's a rookie, and yes, there will be some growing pains, but the upside could be huge here for both Bradford and Robinson. If you've got room on your roster, it's worth picking this guy up and watching how this situation plays out.
Anthony Gonzalez, WR, Colts - Gonzalez looked poised to inherit the no. 2 wide receiver role in the Colts' explosive pass attack last year before a knee injury sidelined him for the season. In his absence, Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie emerged to share the no. 2 receiver role that would have likely been his. Gonzalez is healthy this season, and while he'll likely start the season by sharing time with Austin Collie out of the slot, this former first round pick has the talent to earn himself a significant role in an offense that loves to throw.
Harry Douglas, WR, Falcons - Like Anthony Gonzalez, Douglas is coming back from an injury this year. There are a couple key differences in Douglas' situation. First, the Falcons are not the Colts (and Matt Ryan is not Peyton Manning). However, while the Falcons' passing attack won't match the numbers of the Colts, that may actually work in Douglas' favor in terms of fantasy, as there are less obstacles between him and a starting role. With Michael Jenkins battling injuries, Douglas could open the season as the no. 2 opposite Roddy White, giving him a shot at a larger role in the Falcons' offense than Gonzalez is likely to have with the Colts, at least in the early part of the season.
Jordan Shipley, WR, Bengals - An impressive preseason, coupled with Antonio Bryant's knee problems, has allowed Shipley to secure a spot as the slot receiver in Cincinnati. The addition of Terrell Owens indicates that the Bengals intend to throw the ball more this year, and if Carson Palmer can return to form, this could be a very explosive offense indeed. Shipley has drawn a lot of comparisons to the likes of Wes Welker, high praise for a rookie. If he can live up to those lofty projections, he'll be a monster, especially in PPR leagues. He is a rookie, so don't expect him to put up huge numbers out of the gate. As the season goes on, however, this is a guy who could make a big impact.
Zach Miller, TE, Raiders - Miller is a talented tight end on a team that might finally be able to get him some looks in the red zone this year. Jason Campbell is a huge upgrade from Jamarcus Russell, and if we learned anything from his time in Washington, it's that he loves throwing to his tight ends. As a result, Zach Miller could have a huge season this year.
Jermaine Gresham, TE, Bengals - Gresham is another rookie in Cincinnati who stands to make an impact with that team's improved passing game. He's a great receiving tight end and will open the season as the starter. With Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens stretching the field, there will be a lot of room to work in the middle for this big target.
Fred Davis, TE, Redskins - After Chris Cooley went down with a season-ending injury, Fred Davis stepped into that role and made an instant impact. Cooley is back this year, but there are question marks about how long he'll stay healthy. If Cooley goes down again, Davis will be the starter again in Washington, and this year he'll have Donovan McNabb throwing to him.
Vince Young, QB, Titans - Young put up solid numbers last year when he was given back the starting role. His battle with depression looks to be behind him, and he's had a full training camp to work with the first-team offense as the starter. His running ability gives him a leg up over other quarterbacks in the same tier, as fantasy scoring rewards rushing yards much more than passing yards.
Chad Henne, QB, Dolphins - The addition of Brandon Marshall and the emergence of Brian Hartline means that Henne will have some targets to throw to this year. He showed some flashes last season, and while the Dolphins will likely focus heavily on the run again this year, Henne has the weapons to put up some big numbers in the passing game.
Sam Bradford, QB, Rams - Rookie quarterbacks typically do not do well in fantasy, but there are always exceptions to that rule. If this year is one of those years, Bradford will be the guy, as the no. 1 pick of the draft has emerged as the top of his class in the preseason. He's the only rookie to win the starting job for week 1, and he did it with some very impressive play during preseason bouts with the Patriots and Ravens. There are likely to be growing pains, especially behind an offensive line that still needs a lot of work, but if the Rams rally around him, then he could emerge as a big fantasy sleeper this year.