In fantasy football, everybody team owner is constantly scouring the waiver wires for sleepers. A sleeper is generally defined as a player that most expect to fail, but that has the upside and could possibly produce at a cheap cost.
Here enters former Clemson track star, and football standout, Jacoby Ford. Ford was drafted in the fourth round in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. Anybody familiar with the Clemson Tigers of recent years has heard great things about Ford, as he was a big role in a speedy offense powered by himself, as well as C.J. Spiller and James Davis.
Ford was a champion in many track events as well, and went into the NFL Combine to post a 4.28 forty yard dash, which was the best of the entire combine. His lack of size (5’9) and his inconsistent hands kept him from making a splash on the first day of the draft.
The Raiders, looking to add to a speedy offense of which consisted Darrius Heyward-Bey, Louis Murphy, and Darren McFadden, selected Ford, expecting him to contribute immediately in the slot.
2010 has been just mediocre for Ford, as he earned the kick return role, but failed to get involved with the offense. Ford has had a pretty successful start to his career as a return man, with 14 returns of 20-plus yards, and two 40-plus yard returns. He’s averaged over 24 yards a return as well.
But in terms of fantasy, his value has been extremely limited. Most leagues don’t offer much for kick return yards, if any, and return touchdowns are too rare to plan for a start in fantasy. But as of the last three weeks, his role in the offense has changed.
Ford had just two targets in the passing game prior to Week 7. Since Week 7, he’s been targeted 14 times in the passing game, most notably this Sunday when he saw nine passes his way. Out of those nine passes, he caught six of them, and had 148 receiving yards. If that’s not enough to shock you, you can tack on the 94 yard kick return he had to open up the second half. This is the kind of production Oakland was expecting when they drafted him in the fourth round.
Ford started the receiving kick in the third quarter with a 16-yard catch that he took out of bounds. Early in the fourth quarter, Campbell hit Ford deep for a 37-yard reception that got the Raiders to the Kansas City seven yard line. Ford followed that up with catches of 16, 12, and 19 yards before ending the regular time with a 29-yard pass in traffic that set up a tying field goal for kicker Sebastian Janikowki.
After a quick Kansas City three and out, it only took Oakland one play to get within field goal range. Jason Campbell hit Ford on a 47-yard pass and catch as Ford beat Brandon Flowers down the field.
What’s most impressive about Ford is that he caught a few passes that were in traffic. Ford’s lack of size automatically gave impressions that he was strictly a burner and couldn’t make too many plays in the middle of the field. What Oakland now knows is that Ford can make plays in all aspects of the game. He can rush the ball, return kicks, and catch it anywhere on the field.
The biggest question is with the lack of solid play by Darrius Heyward-Bey, and a depleted wide receiving corps, how will Oakland continue to utilize Ford?
Fantasy owners in deeper leagues should give Ford a look as a Flex receiver. His fantasy value is still limited despite this game, as we want to see more consistency from Ford. His ability is outstanding, but the inconsistent quarterback play from Campbell could hurt Ford, as can the return of Zach Miller, who is the second best tight end in fantasy football.
The good news for Ford is that Bruce Gradkowski has a good chance to start in Week 11, depending on whether or not Coach Tom Cable feels that Campbell gives the Raiders the best chance to win. If Ford sticks to the No. 2 receiving role, and Gradkowski comes back, many owners could be rewarded with an excellent, Johnny Knox/Davone Bess-esque Flex option.
Overall, we know the ability is there for Ford, and while his size scares some people, his speed is legit. However, temper your expectations if you put the waiver wire in for him this week. Oakland does have a bye in Week 10, so keep up to date with the Gradkowski/Campbell situation.