Could Riley Cooper be a sleeper for the Eagles this year?
Most of the research and strategy that goes into a fantasy football draft revolves around the first few rounds. This is where the studs are taken. As soon as the draft order is decided, fantasy football owners pour over draft sheets, rankings and specialty websites to build a strategy on which of those studs to choose. These picks will become the cornerstone of the franchise, and the research must be done to ensure the pick is not wasted.
However, many gems can be had in the late rounds. Taking a flyer with the last pick is low-risk/high-reward and can make you look like the genius of the draft if it actually pays off. With optimism high on a new CBA, let's take a quick look at potential sleepers from each team...
The Cardinals selected Williams in the second round of the 2011 draft (second running back taken in the draft). Ryan Williams was a Third-Team All-American in 2009 by The Sporting News where he set a Virginia Tech school record and an ACC freshman mark with 1,655 yards rushing on 293 carries. He scored 22 TDs for the Hokies as a freshman.
Williams is expected to compete for the starting job with veterans Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells. Wells regressed in 2010 and seems to have lost the coaching staff's confidence. Hightower performed decent enough, and has some sleeper potential, but lacks big playmaking ability. This is where the speedy Williams fits in.
There are still a lot of questions left to answer in Arizona, namely the QB situation, but the RB starting job will most likely come down to a battle between Hightower and Williams.
Worth a look: Tim Hightower
The Falcons gave up four draft picks and moved up 21 in the first-round spots to land Jones with the sixth overall pick in the NFL draft. The Alabama alum is a big physical receiver at 6'2", 220 pounds. This size and style not only allow him to overpower smaller defenders, but also make him a great blocker.
He doesn't have the best breakaway speed, but his size provides a great target for Matt Ryan. He will be expected to compete for a starting job right away, eventually taking over for Michael Jenkins. Jones can be expected to have a few big games for the Falcons.
This speedy receiver caught 67 passes for 1,055 yards and 12 touchdowns at Maryland last year. With an aging group of receivers, Smith is a refreshing addition for Joe Flacco. Although he will start behind Mason and Boldin, Smith can provide the home run threat that the passing offense desperately needs.
Worth a look: Willis McGahee (if re-signed by Ravens)
Nelson was productive during his rookie campaign in Buffalo, catching 31 passes for 353 yards and three touchdowns. At 6'5", Nelson could develop into a very attractive red-zone target. Considering his competition, a slumping Lee Evans and Steve Johnson, he has sleeper written all over him.
Worth a look: Fred Jackson
Calling Jonathan Stewart a sleeper just doesn't sound right on the surface. However, coming off a season where he only rushed for 770 yards and two touchdowns and numerous injuries, many aren't expecting a big year from Stewart.
The QB situation in Carolina doesn't provide much confidence either. DeAngelo Williams is a free agent and there is no guarantee where he will be playing in 2011. This all adds up to sleeper potential for Stewart. He can put up first-round numbers and be had in the fourth to fifth round.
Devin Hester has yet to produce much from the WR position. His numbers declined last season when he caught only 40 passes. However, he is still blessed with ridiculous ability. His talent gives him a shot to score any time he touches the ball.
Still considered Cutler's deep threat, Hester has the potential to put up big numbers and can be had in the mid-to-late rounds.
Bernard Scott will probably start the season backing up Cedric Benson. However, Benson may leave through free agency once the lockout is lifted, putting Scott in the starting role. Whether Benson remains is yet to be seen.
Either way, the Bengals are expected to increase Scott's workload in 2011, giving him an increased chance to produce for your fantasy teams.
What Greg Little lacks in speed, he makes up for in size and athleticism. At 6'3", 220 pounds, Little has the potential to step in and make an impact on an offense that lacks a potent passing game.
Although only a rookie, the Browns are switching to a West Coast offense which will play to his strengths as a receiver. Cleveland is expected to use a lot of four-receiver sets, ensuring more field time for Little.
Worth a look: Montario Hardesty, Colt McCoy
Tashard Choice has produced whenever given a chance. Unfortunately, he has been the victim of a loaded backfield. With Marion Barber most likely on his way out of Dallas, Choice should start the season behind Felix Jones on the depth chart.
However, with Choice's talent, the Cowboys would be silly to not give him plenty of touches. I see this turning into a nice one-two punch on an offense that should put a lot of points on the board. Choice will have a lot of chances to put up fantasy points.
Worth a look: DeMarco Murray
Tim Tebow makes the sleeper list because he is unlikely to be the starter in his second year and his game is unpredictable (inconsistent). However, Tebow seems to be one of those players that just knows how to win. He has proven he can do it with his legs, too, adding up fantasy points faster.
Tebow just needs the chance, and he may get it if Orton is traded away.
Titus Young should fit in perfectly with the Detroit Lions offense. Bryant Johnson was very disappointing in 2010 and the Lions need someone to step in and play the slot. The slot position fits Young's talents perfectly.
With good hands and breakaway speed, Titus Young has the potential to be very productive for the Lions in 2011. Now if only Stafford can stay healthy...
Worth a look: Mikel Leshoure
It's hard to pick a sleeper on a team that is as loaded with talent as the Green Bay Packers. However, after outstanding performances in last season's playoffs, Jordy Nelson gets the nod.
He has a ton of momentum going into this season and should be the No. 2 receiver behind Greg Jennings. He should easily outperform James Jones and the over-the-hill Donald Driver.
Ben Tate was supposed to be the big sleeper of the Texans going into last season. Unfortunately, a broken ankle opened the door for Arian Foster and the rest is fantasy football history.
After leading the league in pretty much everything last year, it's doubtful that Foster will lose his starting job. Tate should get some carries though, and will be ready to step in should Foster suffer an injury. Don't be surprised if he vultures some TDs away from Foster throughout the season.
Delone Carter is a bowling ball of a running back. Sized at 5'10", 215 pounds, it takes multiple tacklers to bring him down. He can be the perfect player to help control the clock, which can be great when you have Peyton Manning as your quarterback.
It may be tough getting touches in Indy's crowded backfield. One thing that Carter has going for him is that none of the running backs have separated themselves behind Joseph Addai, and even he is on the decline. Carter may get a chance to shine in 2011.
Mike Thomas had a breakthrough year in 2010, becoming David Garrard's favorite target. Although his numbers won't be astronomical, Thomas will get a lot of targets and this should result in plenty of receptions.
While he may be more attractive in PPR leagues, Thomas has the potential to score a lot of points in any format. Think of him as a poor man's Wes Welker.
Kansas City selected Jon Baldwin with the 26th overall pick in the 2011 draft. With the lack of a legitimate No. 2 receiver opposite Dwayne Bowe, the Chiefs are hoping Baldwin can fill the void. Loaded with talent, Baldwin should have no problem moving past an aging Chris Chambers on the depth chart.
However, he will be fighting for catches with the already established targets of Bowe, Tony Moeaki and Jamaal Charles.
Daniel Thomas is a rookie, selected 62nd overall by the Dolphins in this year's draft. He is also the only running back that we absolutely know will be on Miami's roster when the season begins. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams will both be free agents once the new CBA is signed.
Add to the situation that Thomas played quarterback in a Wildcat offense, is 6'1" and has 4.55 speed. Depending on how free agency shakes out, Thomas may find himself as the lead back for the Dolphins.
The Vikings shocked everyone when they selected Christian Ponder with the No. 12 pick in the 2011 draft. Ponder will step into a situation where he will be surrounded with a ton of talent. Once free agency begins, the Vikings may decide to go after a veteran quarterback, but right now Ponder's only competition is Joe Webb.
Expect Ponder to start the majority of Minnesota's games and have the potential to be a solid QB2.
Brandon Tate is entering his third year in the NFL, the year when a lot of wide receivers break out. Tate definitely has the most upside of the Patriots' receiver corps. He is also the team's only deep threat for Tom Brady, who enjoys airing it out.
Wes Welker and Deion Branch will get the majority of the targets, but Tate provides the home run threat.
Jimmy Graham will be the starting tight end for the New Orleans Saints in 2011. In only his second year in the league, Graham will replace Jeremy Shockey, who is no longer on the team. With this pass-happy offense, Graham should finish the season easily in the top 10 in fantasy point for tight ends.
Worth a look: Lance Moore
The New York Giants drafted Jerrel Jernigan in response to the uncertainty surrounding Steve Smith microfacture surgery recovery. If Smith starts the season on the PUP list, Jernigan will get his chance to shine.
With his speed, Jernigan will be the slot receiver and will get plenty of targets. The big thing to watch here is Steve Smith's recovery.
This will be Sanchez's third year in the league and as the starting quarterback for the Jets. Although he has yet to put up fantasy-worthy stats, his numbers have improved each year and he has shown flashes of what what is yet to come.
This should be the year that he may become a legitimate QB1. Though not a sure thing, he is definitely worth a late pick if you haven't nabbed your gunslinger yet.
Jacoby Ford became a go-to deep target for the Raiders halfway through last season, when he broke into the starting lineup. He has shown what he can do once he has the ball, as seen in his three kickoff returns for touchdowns.
The Raiders offense will find ways to get him touches, and it will payoff for them and fantasy teams everywhere.
Worth a look: Denarius Moore
While the Philadelphia Eagles have two of the best burners in the league at wide receiver with DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, neither of them have the size desirable in most passing offenses.
This is where Riley Cooper steps in. At 6'3", Cooper won't be the one moving the chains or making the big plays, but he will get plenty of targets in the red zone.
Emmanuel Sanders will probably go unnoticed in most drafts because he is currently behind Hines Ward and Mike Wallace on the depth chart. However, Ward isn't getting any younger and with a full season with Big Ben under center, Sanders will have plenty of opportunities to make an impact on the field and on your fantasy team.
Worth a look: Antonio Brown
Vincent Brown was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft by the Chargers. Known for making the difficult catch and running excellent routes, Brown will be stepping into a very competitive receiving corps in San Diego.
However, Brown looks to have the most upside, aside from Vincent Jackson, and should climb his way up the depth chart quickly. Look for Brown to see a lot of targets from Philip Rivers.
The 49ers surprised many by taking running back Kendall Hunter early in this year's draft. This may show the lack of confidence the staff has in Anthony Dixon's abilities. Expect Hunter to compete earlier for the backup role to Frank Gore.
As a much better pass-catcher than Dixon, Hunter may have the early edge in San Francisco's West Coast offense.
Golden Tate did not have much of an impact for the Seahawks during his rookie season in 2010. However, Seattle has added new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings. Bevell has coached Percy Harvin and could easily use Tate in that same role.
Tate will likely start the season in the slot position, but has the talent to move up to the No. 2 wide receiver by year's end. Either way, he should expect an increase in targets from last season.
Lance Kendricks was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft by the Rams. He is a very athletic, speedy tight end and is expected to get significant playing time right away.
He will likely share time with Michael Hoomanawanui, but has better abilities and should get the majority of field time throughout the season.
Worth a look: Austin Pettisand
Josh Freeman is really coming into his own. The 6'5" quarterback, with a cannon for an arm and crazy athleticism, showed why he may be a great NFL quarterback during his sophomore season in 2010. He threw for 3,451 yards and 25 TDs with only six interceptions.
Surrounded by talented receivers, led by Mike Williams, and a solid running game, Freeman should continue to improve in 2011.
Jared Cook has the size and athleticism that offensive coordinators look for in a tight end to create mismatches in the secondary. With the lack of a true No. 2 receiver on the Titans roster, Cook looks to be targeted a lot this season.
Add to the fact that the team may have a rookie under center (Jake Locker), and Jared Cook has the potential for a big season.
Worth a look: Nate Washington
A rookie out of Nebraska, Roy Helu has shown that he has the breakaway speed for the big play. This is what the Redskins feel they have been missing from their backfield. He should start the season behind starter Ryan Torrain, but given Torrain's injury history this could turn into a starting role at some point in the season.
Worst-case scenario, this should turn into a running back by committee.
Worth a look: Leonard Hankerson