Top 25 Fantasy Football Sleepers for the 2011 NFL Season
It happens every single year in the world of fantasy football.
Some of the top fantasy draft picks flop face down and disappoint us, while some unexpected players make a winner out of some team in your league.
Let's try to pinpoint some of those players, as we look at 25 Fantasy Football Sleepers for the 2011 Season.
C.J. Spiller (Running Back, Buffalo Bills)
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C.J. Spiller was drafted by Buffalo with the No. 9 overall pick in 2010 but was a disappointing rookie.
He managed to run for only 283 yards and no touchdowns, and as a receiver he picked up 157 yards and one touchdown.
Not too impressive for a top-10 pick, at least not yet.
Expect Spiller to assume more responsibilities in 2011 alongside running back Fred Jackson.
Spiller can get you points on the ground, by catching the ball and even in the return game. If he earns more touches every game, then he’ll be a valuable late-round pick.
Jordan Shipley (Wide Receiver, Cincinnati Bengals)
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We saw Jordan Shipley put together a pretty promising rookie campaign for the Cincinnati Bengals.
He had 600 receiving yards and three touchdowns as a slot receiver.
If Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco both leave the Bengals, then expect Shipley to become a key component in their aerial attack.
Of course, if quarterback Carson Palmer is gone next season, that could hurt Shipley's attempt to improve on his numbers.
Christian Ponder (Quarterback, Minnesota Vikings)
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All the successful rookie quarterbacks have one thing in common—running backs.
A solid work horse in the backfield makes life easier for a rookie, and Adrian Peterson is among the best.
It wouldn’t be wise to start Christian Ponder on your fantasy team immediately, or to use a high pick on him. But he could be a solid backup quarterback that could eventually develop into a starter as the season progresses.
Michael Crabtree (Wide Receiver, San Francisco 49er's)
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As a rookie in 2009, Michael Crabtree partook in a lengthy contract holdout that lasted until Week 7.
Missing training camp and practically half of the season certainly hindered his development, so his second season in 2010 was practically a second rookie season for him.
Now that he has some experience in the offense, look for him to develop into his destined role as a top receiver for the San Francisco 49ers.
Mark Clayton (Wide Receiver, St. Louis Rams)
Mark Clayton will attempt to return from a devastating knee injury that ended his 2010 season.
Before the injury, he and St. Louis Rams’ quarterback Sam Bradford had almost instant chemistry, despite Clayton missing the team’s training camp.
Clayton had 306 yards and two touchdowns in just over four games for St. Louis last season, so look for him to build on that if he comes back healthy.
Arrelious Benn (Wide Receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
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Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Williams basically stole all of the attention in 2010, but the team is still expecting big things from Arrelious Benn.
Both were rookies last season, and despite Benn being a second-round pick (while Williams was a fourth-round selection), Williams had the better year as the team’s top receiver.
Now that opposing teams know to place their focus on Williams and now that Benn has had a year to develop, look for him to make a sizable contribution in 2011.
Jerricho Cotchery (Wide Receiver, New York Jets)
Jerricho Cotchery has been a solid receiver for the New York Jets ever since he was a rookie in 2004, but he lost some of his stats to wide receivers Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards in 2010.
Holmes and Edwards will both be free agents this offseason, and it’s expected that at least one of them will be let go.
If that happens, then expect Cotchery to play a bigger role in their offense as the No. 2 receiver.
Lance Kendricks (Tight End, St. Louis Rams)
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Kendricks was drafted by the Rams with the No. 47 overall pick in 2011 as a tight end.
But “tight end” only describes his spot on the roster, as he’ll be much more to the team than a simple tight end.
You’ll see Kendricks split out wide as a receiver, catching balls out of the backfield and of course as a traditional tight end as well.
Think of what tight end Aaron Hernandez is to the New England Patriots, and then you’ll get the idea and understand why Kendricks is a valuable fantasy asset.
Mikel LeShoure (Running Back, Detroit Lions)
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Mikel LeShoure should be productive immediately in Detroit.
He is coming to a capable offense, and it’s very possible that the Lions drafted him as their primary back.
They’re thrilled with Jahvid Best—there’s no doubt about that—but they’re just not sure if he’s fit to carry the full load, which is why they used their second-round pick last April to draft the bigger and more durable LeShoure.
LeShoure might have a learning curve, and it might take him some time to find some consistency, but he will get carries immediately.
Brian Robiskie (Wide Receiver, Cleveland Browns)
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Brian Robiskie was a second-round pick by Cleveland in 2009, and he’s given fans little to be excited about.
But people constantly forget that it takes time for some players to develop.
Robiskie had 152 yards and three touchdowns in the final three games of last season. That's about half of his yards (310) and all of his touchdowns (three) for the 2010 season in the final three games.
Now that the Browns actually have solid answer at quarterback in Colt McCoy, we can expect the learning and production to begin.
Toby Gerhart (Running Back, Minnesota Vikings)
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Toby Gerhart had very little production behind the Vikings’ starting running back Adrian Peterson.
He only had 81 carries on the entire year, which resulted in 322 rushing yards and only one touchdown.
However, now that the Vikings have a rookie quarterback under center (2011 first-round pick Christian Ponder), expect their offensive philosophy to shift a bit and become a more run-friendly offense.
Gerhart will certainly get more carries in 2011.
Leon Washington (Running Back, Seattle Seahawks)
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Leon Washington turned out to be a good acquisition by the Seattle Seahawks, who gained Washington by sending a fifth-round pick to the New York Jets.
Washington was a valuable and versatile part of the Jets, who were likely only willing to trade him because of a leg injury that he had in 2009.
Despite the injury, Washington was able to remain productive for Seattle.
Now that he’s had time to heal the injury even further, he should return to the Seahawks in 2011 completely rejuvenated, which means he will see a peak in his stats.
Ryan Mathew (Running Back, San Diego Chargers)
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Fantasy Football team managers were inexplicably using high picks on the rookie running back Ryan Mathews in 2010.
Due to injury, Mathews was a disappointment to those people.
But let’s not give up on the hype too soon. He now knows the ropes of the NFL, and he’ll hopefully stay healthy in 2011.
The Chargers had the No. 1 ranked offense in the NFL in 2010 (average yards per game), so Mathews is in an environment that will help him produce big numbers.
Mark Ingram (Running Back, New Orleans Saints)
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Reggie Bush is likely out and newly acquired running back Mark Ingram is in (No. 28 overall pick, 2011).
The Saints will probably rely primarily on running backs Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas in the beginning, but Ingram will become more involved as the season progresses.
Ingram is a workhorse that is coming to an elite offense, so expect solid production out of the former Heisman Trophy winner, even if he is a rookie.
Jerrel Jernigan (Wide Receiver, New York Giants)
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If the New York Giants lose wide receiver Steve Smith to free agency, then expect rookie receiver Jerrel Jernigan to contribute immediately.
There’s a good chance that the Giants used a third-round pick on Jernigan last April as a fallback plan in case Smith leaves.
If Smith does sign with another team, then Jernigan’s fantasy value will increase enormously. But even if Smith doesn't leave, expect Jernigan to get involved in the Giants’ offense more and more as the season progresses.
Daniel Thomas (Running Back, Miami Dolphins)
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Either running back Ronnie Brown or running back Ricky Williams will be gone in 2011.
Maybe even both of them.
If that happens, then the spotlight will shine directly on rookie running back Daniel Thomas, who the Dolphins just drafted in the second round last April.
Miami has been relying on their run game for a long time now, and Thomas will make a great addition.
Beanie Wells (Running Back, Arizona Cardinals)
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Beanie Wells showed promise as a rookie in 2009, but his stats in 2010 were a significant drop off.
Wells had 793 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie, but he had only 397 yards and two touchdowns last season, as well as a dismal 3.4 yards per carry average.
He also missed three games in 2010 due to injury.
Don’t let his drop off in 2010 fool you, as he’s still a very capable back. Last year, the entire Arizona offense was trying to adapt to life without quarterback Kurt Warner, who left the team for retirement.
The Cardinals have not solved their quarterback issue yet, but the initial shock of losing Warner is gone, and Wells will likely get back on track at some point.
Tony Scheffler (Tight End, Detroit Lions)
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Tony Scheffler was acquired by the Detroit Lions through free agency prior to the 2010 season.
Scheffler was a solid tight end for the Denver Broncos but experienced a slight drop off in numbers after his first season with the Lions.
The Lions have a solid offense that’s capable of getting Scheffler more involved, so expect more production out of him now that it’s his second year in the offense.
Brandon LaFell (Wide Receiver, Carolina Panthers)
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Carolina wide receiver has asked to be placed in a competitive situation, which is clearly not Carolina.
Expect Smith to be traded prior to the 2011 season.
This would leave second-year receiver Brandon LaFell as the new primary receiver.
LaFell was one of the bright spots on the Panther’s team last season, as he had 468 receiving yards in a secondary role behind Smith. It wasn’t a bad rookie season for LaFell, especially when you consider he was on the worst team in the NFL.
Expect him and newly acquired quarterback Cam Newton to form a chemistry with one another.
Legedu Naanee (Wide Receiver, San Diego Chargers)
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Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd are set to become free agents, and one of them will leave.
This means the Legedu Naanee will have a chance to become for involved.
The Chargers have a top notch offense and an elite quarterback (Philip River), so they are capable of inflating Naanee’s numbers.
Expect him to do more in 2011, as he’ll be trusted with more responsibilities.
Randall Cobb (Wide Receiver, Green Bay Packers)
Randall Cobb was just put into a very ideal situation.
The Green Bay Packers used their 2011 second-round pick on Cobb, which puts him into one of the best offenses in the NFL.
Not only that, but Cobb will also get fantasy owners points in the return game, on top his receiving stats.
Look for Cobb to make some owner who spent a late-round gamble pick on him very happy.
Joel Dreessen (Tight End, Houston Texans)
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Tight end Owen Daniels is the undisputed starter at tight end for the Houston Texans, and no one is really expecting tight end Joel Dreessen to relinquish him of that role.
Dreessen had a career year in 2010, acquiring 518 yards and four touchdowns in 10 starts.
Though the Texans still like Daniels, they learned something in 2010—Dreessen is a weapon, and he needs to be properly utilized in 2011.
Mike Thomas (Wide Receiver, Jacksonville Jaguars)
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Mike Sim-Walker is generally who people would think of if asked who the Jacksonville Jaguars top wide receiver is.
But receiver Mike Thomas beat Sims-Walker in 2010 by nearly 300 yards.
Mike Thomas became quarterback David Garrard’s favorite receiver, as he accumulated 820 yards, while Sims-Walker ended his season with only 562 yards.
Sims-Walker did have seven touchdowns compared to Thomas’ four, but regardless, Thomas will continue to be Garrard’s preference, especially since Sims-Walker might not return in 2011.
Jonathan Stewart (Running Back, Carolina Panthers)
Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams will likely sign with a more competitive team, as he’s set to become a free agent this offseason.
Jonathan Stewart will take over as the Panther’s feature back.
Stewart was a disappointment in 2010 with only 770 yards and two touchdowns (compared to 1,133 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2009).
His shortcomings last season should not be taken to heart, as the entire team around him played pretty poorly as well.
He’s a talented back, and he’s bound to continue his success at some point.
Tim Tebow (Quarterback, Denver Broncos)
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Starting quarterback Kyle Orton was benched for the final three games of the season for Tim Tebow, who was a rookie at the time.
It’s not certain and maybe even doubtful that the Broncos’ new front office agrees with that move.
If they do, however, expect Tebow to become a solid fantasy asset, as his ability to run gives him extra value.