Fantasy Football Sleepers to Leave Opponents Begging for Mercy
We know the big names in Fantasy Football. Ideally, everyone could have a team with Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster at running back, Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald at receiver, Antonio Gates at tight end and Tom Brady at quarterback.
The problem is that depending on the size of the league, you're not likely to land any more than one of those guys, if that. Sure, there are other elite players, but it's hard to land too many of them on one team.
The goal here is to identify some late-round guys that will help you win your league.
We're looking to identify two quarterbacks, three receivers, three running backs, and two tight ends that aren't necessarily at the top of everyone's wish lists.
Based on ESPN's projections, we're looking at:
Quarterback: Outside of top-15
Running Back: Outside of top-25
Wide Receiver: Outside of top-25
Tight End: Outside of top-15
Without further adieu, let's take a look at some guys that will help you win your league.
Quarterback: Matt Cassel, Kansas City Chiefs
ESPN Ranking: No. 16 QB
Matt Cassel has been a starting quarterback for three seasons. His worst was 2009, when he had 2,994 passing yards with 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
If you're running a team that has strong players at other positions, those numbers won't kill you.
Even at that, we can expect much better.
In 2008, he had 3,693/21/11 and 2010 was 3,116/27/7. The team he has around him now comes much closer to resembling the teams he had in 2008 and 2010.
The addition of Steve Breaston will only help Cassel and his fantasy owners. It wouldn't be at all surprising if he had seasons close to the best numbers between 2008 and 2010.
Quarterback: Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals
ESPN Ranking: No. 18 QB
As a quarterback, I have a hunch that Kolb will prove to be overrated for Arizona. Quarterbacks are a lot more than just stats in real football, but not in fantasy.
Kolb has a good group of receivers to throw the ball to. Other than Larry Fitzgerald, we don't know which ones will see consistent playing time, but it's a battle of nearly a half dozen players.
The ones that emerge will have earned their playing time.
Also, the acquisition of Todd Heap at tight end will go a long way in getting Kolb touchdown passes.
The question with Kolb is his health, which will rightfully scare people away. But Kolb is the kind of guy that will have a few big weeks. If he stays on the field, he'll be a good fantasy player in 2011.
Running Back: Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills
ESPN Ranking: No. 26 running back
Jackson's hovered around the 1,000 yard mark in each of the last two seasons. In 2009, he was just over the mark while in 2010, he was just under.
As a pass catcher, Jackson has also been dangerous, catching two touchdown passes in each of the last two season.
The loss of Lee Evans will likely put more of a focus on Buffalo's running game.
Truthfully, if you can't land yourself a top five back, there is not much difference between Jackson and some of the guys ranked in the top 10.
Running Back: Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
ESPN Ranking: No. 30 running back
When Lynch has been on the field, he's had a great ability to find the end zone.
He hasn't had over 1,000 yards since 2008.
In 2009, he had only 450 yards, but came back with a decent total of 737 in 2010 while splitting action between Buffalo and Seattle
More importantly, in seasons where he's played more than 10 games, he's only failed to score 6 rushing touchdowns once.
Also, while there are better options, he's not a bad bet to steal a few points in receiving yards.
With the new offense in Seattle, we're likely to see more of an emphasis on running. Lynch should get plenty of opportunities to earn fantasy points for his owners.
Running Back: Michael Bush, Oakland Raiders
ESPN Ranking: No. 38 running back
Yes, he is Darren McFadden's backup. But before you dismiss him for that, consider a few things.
1. McFadden is injury prone and is experiencing injuries at training camp. When he missed games in 2010, Bush received the majority of the carries and did fine.
2. Even when McFadden is on the field, Bush gets a lot of the carries inside of the 10-yard line. In 2010, Bush scored eight touchdowns. Given his size, that's not likely to change.
Bush won't earn many points for his receiving yards, but he also won't cost you many yards with fumbles. In 2010, Bush didn't lose one fumble.
Wide Receiver: Austin Collie, Indianapolis Colts
ESPN Ranking: No. 26 receiver
The concern with Collie is his health. That's understandable, as Collie played only nine games a season ago.
But before we're too dismissive, let's look at what he did in those nine games:
58 receptions, 649 yards, eight touchdowns.
When Peyton Manning is throwing the ball, there are plenty of opportunities to get yards, touchdowns, and the fantasy points that come with them.
Even if he only plays a half-season again, those are good numbers to have. If he gives the Colts a full season, Collie will be one of the game's elite fantasy receivers.
Wide Receiver: Pierre Garcon, Indianapolis Colts
ESPN Ranking: No. 28 receiver
Normally it's not advisable to have two receivers from the same team on your fantasy team. But when those receivers are on the Colts, you should think about bending that rule.
Garcon tends to drop passes, but he also catches a lot of them.
In two years as a regular player, Garcon has 765 and 784 yards receiving. His six touchdowns in 2010 will also be valuable, and there's no reason to believe that Garcon won't repeat that performance.
The biggest concern for Garcon and Collie is the potential injury issues of Peyton Manning. But his neck is becoming less of a concern by the day.
If Manning is cleared, he's always found a way to get on the field, as he's never missed a game in his NFL career.
Garcon will get plenty of yards and find the end zone plenty. He's worth the drops.
Wide Receiver: Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers
ESPN Ranking: No. 30 receiver
Smith may not be available too late in drafts. His name value is still pretty high.
It wasn't that long ago when Smith was seen as the best receiver in the game, period. Yes, he had a down year in 2010, but so did his team.
Jimmy Clausen was ineffective in 2010, but one of two things will happen this year.
1. Clausen will show enough improvement to earn his starting spot back.
2. No. 1 pick Cam Newton will earn the job.
Either scenario would have the Panthers' quarterback situation significantly better in 2011 than it was in 2010.
Since 2005, Smith has been bankable for 1,000 yards and at least six touchdowns.
Although the acquisition of Greg Olsen will take touchdowns from Smith, he should be the go-to guy for whatever quarterback wins the job in Carolina. Smith should see plenty of passes; get plenty of yards, and more than his share of touchdowns.
He'll bounce back in 2010 and be much better than the No. 30 receiver when the season is over.
Tight End: Aaron Hernandez, New England Patriots
ESPN Ranking: No. 20 tight end
Rob Gronkowski got most of the playing time towards the end of the 2010 season. Still, Hernandez had a respectable rookie season, with 563 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
Tom Brady has a similar impact on receivers (and tight ends) as Peyton Manning. His targets have generally enjoyed their best seasons with Brady throwing them the ball.
There are plenty of good offensive weapons to take points away from Hernandez, but New England's offense is normally more than good enough for plenty of guys to get points.
While he's not the ideal player at the position, it would be foolish to discount Hernandez.
He also battled injuries at the end of last season. Not coincidentally, that was the same time of the year that Gronkowski really emerged as the top guy.
A healthy Hernandez will improve on his 2010 season and be a strong fantasy weapon.
Tight End: Todd Heap, Arizona Cardinals
ESPN Ranking: No. 21 tight end
Despite playing on a defense-first team, Heap has been one of the best tight ends in the league for the last decade.
He's had a few seasons where he missed significant time, but Heap has played in at least 13 games in each of the last three seasons.
In 2010, he only played 13 games but still had 599 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
Now, in Arizona, he's playing for a more offense oriented team with the Cardinals. He's also playing on a team that has a questionable running game and a group of unproven receivers, with the obvious exception of Larry Fitzgerald.
With a questionable running game, the big tight end is more than likely to see plenty of scoring opportunities.
Heap's numbers in 2010 were good, but they'll be better in 2011.