If an owner pounces on one of the best sleeper quarterbacks late in the draft, they can address all other positions one round earlier. That one round can make all the difference. It can be the difference between Greg Jennings and Dwayne Bowe, or between Maurice Jones-Drew and Peyton Hillis.
According to Fantasy Football Calculator's ADP (Average Draft Position) charts, Fitzgerald has an average draft position of 21.1 overall in a 12-team league. If an owner took a quarterback this round instead of Jennings, about 12 picks later Dwayne Bowe is the next guy on the list (34.9 average overall pick).
It's the same case with running backs—if an owner could pass on a quarterback they could pick up Jones-Drew right away (11.1 ADP) instead of Peyton Hillis (23.9 ADP).
That's not to bash Bowe or Hillis, but most owners would probably choose Jennings or Jones-Drew before either of them any day.
So let's take a look at six sleepers who could turn out to be solid starters this year in the QB slot who can be nabbed in later rounds and allow an owner more draft power to address other positions.
The least risky player on this list is Joe Flacco, who can barely be called a sleeper all things considered. Still, while Flacco has indeed made a successful transition into the NFL, he hasn't exactly become a fantasy stud yet.
While 878 completions for 10,000-plus yards and 60 touchdowns in three full seasons will pay Flacco's bills, it won't really buy a fantasy football crown for any owner's head.
Those numbers are improving as the years go on though, and Flacco seems poised to finally have a big year. Coach Harbaugh kept Flacco on a pretty short leash in his first two years and, although it was a wise decision, it never panned out too well for fantasy owners.
Last year when Harbaugh finally started to let him loose, Flacco responded with 3,600 yards and 25 touchdowns. Anybody coming off of a year like that can't fairly be called a sleeper unless a huge increase in production is expected, but that might just be the case with Flacco.
Despite the departure of Mason, Flacco could easily find the 30-plus touchdown range and push for 4,000 yards through the air. Anquan Boldin, Ray Rice, Torrey Smith and Ed Dickson are four great targets who will be both contributors and benefactors of Flacco's breakout year if it happens. His interception percentage is poised to drop below 2.0 percent and his TD/INT ratio (25/10 last year) along with his rating (93.6) have steadily increased throughout his career.
John Harbaugh is no idiot and he has to be sick of being eliminated in the playoffs. With his defense yet another year older, he might just set Flacco free and see how well he can do after three careful years of tutoring. If that's the case, snatching him in the middle of the draft would be a steal.
If Flacco was held by the leash as a rookie, then Bradford was just held onto by the collar by Pat Shurmur in his first year. Despite his limitations, he still posted an impressive stat line for a rookie: 16 starts, 3,512 yards and 18 touchdowns.
There are some stats that need improving like the 18/15 touchdown-to-interception ratio and the sub 80.0 quarterback rating, but both of those have nowhere to go but up.
It's no secret that Sam Bradford is the best bet to become the next great superstar quarterback in the NFL (except for Josh Freeman maybe), so hop on the train before the ticket becomes expensive for years to come. Bradford's average draft position is 107.5 according to Fantasy Football Calculator, which is way down in the late eighth round in a 12-team draft. This might be the last year that number is higher than 50.
Last year Bradford put up those numbers without Donny Avery or any big time receiver. He just about gave Mark Clayton a career year out of nowhere until he too went down with a season-ending injury.
Now with a full season under his belt, Bradford will have Avery, Sims-Walker, Pettis, Salas, Gilyard, Amendola and a slew of tight ends looking to ride the Bradford wave to throw to hopefully all year. With his smarts and pinpoint accuracy, look for Bradford to skip the sophomore slump and explode this year.
After being considered a first-round risk for the Buccaneers by many, Josh Freeman responded with an amazing and surprising second season in which he got better and better with each game.
With 291 completions for 3,451 yards, 25 touchdowns to only six picks and a near playoff berth in the highly competitive NFC South, was more than enough to turn critics into fans.
Freeman is an athletic marvel, and his receivers, offensive line and entire young team will just be one year more experienced heading into the new season. Mike Williams is looking like a future superstar, and other scary targets like Arrelious Benn and Kellen Winslow will keep double teams to a minimum.
There is almost no ceiling for Freeman who looks to have a promising career ahead of him. Most people seem well aware of him too, considering he has the highest ADP (83.6) out of all of the quarterbacks in this article (again according to Fantasy Football Calculator). Any player who has yet to have a stellar fantasy season is a risk no matter which way you spin it, but this might be the last year Freeman can be drafted outside of the first five rounds in any league.
Focusing on backs and receivers in the first few rounds, coupled with snagging Freeman in the mid-rounds, could easily be a common key to victory for many fantasy owners this year.
Once upon a time there was a quarterback in Philadelphia who was feared by the entire league. He was a perennial Pro Bowler, consistently had his team in playoff contention, and did it all without ever having a great core of receivers.
After years of marvelous play, he was traded away and eventually buried on Mike Shanahan's bench under Rex Grossman. That player is now trying to rise from the dead and come back to life under center in Minnesota.
Donovan McNabb was indeed great once upon a time, putting up over 3,500 yards to go with 22 scores...in 2009. Yeah, that was only two seasons ago and yet everyone seems to act like McNabb is down for good after last season.
Shanahan and McNabb just didn't click, it's as simple as that. He wasn't a good fit for the offense and he didn't seem to put forth 100 percent effort either.
Still, he has been very adamant about putting last year behind him according to a Star Tribune article released shortly after he was shipped off to the Vikings. With new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave apparently giving McNabb plenty of freedom as the quarterback, himself said in an NBC Sports article, he is a prime candidate for comeback player of the year.
Add in Adrian Peterson keeping defenses honest, the blazing speed of Percy Harvin and Bernard Berrian, and the big targets provided by Michael Jenkins and the new Shiancoe/Rudolph tight end duo, McNabb could go back to his superstar ways.
Barring any more dedication issues, the six-time Pro Bowler could easily be a solid QB1 available in mid-late rounds in most drafts.
To anybody unfamiliar with Matt Stafford's production in the limited amount of time he's been able to stay on the field, it's safe to say that his injury history is the only reason he qualifies for this list.
In just three games last year, Stafford had a 91.3 rating with 535 passing yards, six touchdowns and only one interception.
For fun, let's multiply his stats by five as if he only missed one game and made 15 of 16 starts (to avoid complicated math). The resulting stat line is 285 completions for 2,675 yards, 30 touchdowns and only five interceptions. That's one heck of a sophomore campaign.
The reason Stafford is found all the way up at No. 3 for this riskiest sleepers list, is because he had horrible nagging shoulder injuries last year that obviously limited his playing time, cost him valuable game experience and makes his health a big question mark going forward.
But for an owner feeling risky, putting faith in Stafford might be the best choice of the year. Improving on his projected stat line of last year, would have the former No. 1 pick pushing 40 total touchdowns with very limited interceptions and well over 3,000 yards.
Any quarterback would be happy to have Jahvid Best behind him and Megatron keeping defensive coordinators awake at night. That's not to mention the wily veteran Nate Burleson, exciting rookie Titus Young and the double security blanket of Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler.
If Matt Stafford can stay healthy, he'll be a huge steal in most drafts.
Once a guy gets to the pros, what he did in college doesn't really matter any more—it's essentially a clean slate. Still, on a scrappy team like Cleveland, a guy with Colt McCoy's track record of winning in college is exciting.
Without putting up stellar numbers, McCoy proved that he indeed is a winner in his limited time. Apparently, Holmgren and company are sold too, considering the release of Delhomme and lack of a new quarterback on the roster to challenge the second-year player.
McCoy nearly tops this list because despite his impressive leadership last year, he wasn't exactly Tom Brady. He threw more interceptions (nine) than touchdowns (six), and despite completing over 60 percent of his passes he still had a poor quarterback rating of 74.5.
To be fair though, outside of Joshua Cribbs and the occasional flash of brilliance from Mohammed Massaquoi, the former Longhorn had nobody to throw to. This year things should be easier for him.
The Browns offensive is actually pretty good and their defense is steadily improving, so he should find himself on the field longer this year which is never a bad thing for fantasy owners. McCoy will also have several tight ends and wide receivers to experiment with in the offseason.
If guys like Bryan Robiskie, Mohammed Massaquoi, Greg Little and Benjamin Watson can improve and step up, McCoy will have some actual threats for targets this year. It's definitely a stretch, but if McCoy can recapture some of that Texas magic too, fantasy owners could be in for a treat.
According to the Seattle Times, Tarvaris Jackson has been named the starter for the Seattle Seahawks. Yes, the same Tarvaris Jackson who blew multiple opportunities to keep the starting job by getting injured or under-performing in Minnesota.
Still, Jackson was a second-round draft pick for a reason. Actually, lots of reasons—he's an athletic freak, he has a cannon for an arm and he has flashes of good accuracy. In the NFL, he showed flashes of brilliance while under no pressure, but in big situations he turned out to be a flop.
Jackson followed offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and star receiver/best friend Sidney Rice out to the northwest though, so he knows the system and already has an excellent rapport with a potential top-10 receiver.
Any doubters out there who think he will lose the job should consider Pete Carroll. He is the embodiment of anti-conservatism and seems to fly by the seat of his pants. Jackson has all of the raw talent in the world, and if Carroll can harness it Jackson could be an absolute superstar in Seattle. If Jackson flops, Carroll gets a good chance at drafting Andrew Luck next year. Sounds like a win-win. Charlie Whitehurst is most likely just a career backup and too boring for Carroll anyways.
With Sidney Rice, Mike Williams, Marshawn Lynch and Brandon Tate, all of the weapons he could ever need are there. If Jackson can overcome his often very visible nervousness, he could be the story of the year in the NFL.
There aren't really any eye-popping stats to back him up, but if a light goes on for Jackson he could be a top-10 quarterback due to his dual-threat ability. Like betting on a 30:1 horse at the tracks, only the riskiest, most desperate, or perhaps the most-drunk-at-the-draft owners, should go for Jackson. If he reaches his potential though, those risk-takers will look awfully smart.