Top 20 Fantasy Football Sleepers

Matt Stein@MatthewJSteinCorrespondent IIAugust 26, 2011

Top 20 Fantasy Football Sleepers

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    In the world of fantasy football, in order to have any shot of winning your league title, you need to have some tricks up your sleeve. You need to have players who are poised for an incredible season, but no one, except for yourself, is aware of that.

    These players are known as "sleepers."

    These aren't players you take with the top overall pick—heck, I wouldn't pick any of these players in the first three rounds of a draft. Some might even be a reach in the fifth round of most fantasy drafts.

    Lucky for you, I've put together a list of the top 20 fantasy football sleepers. These are players who would never be drafted before the third round in any fantasy draft.

    All I ask in return is a small percentage of the winnings you accrue thanks to drafting one or more of the following players.

    I kid of course, but I'm not completely against the idea, if you catch my drift.

Quarterback Sleepers

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    As the NFL becomes more and more of an offensive league, quarterbacks are being relied upon to put up huge numbers for their teams.

    A few years ago, you wouldn't dare draft a quarterback in the first few rounds, but now it is common to see top quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers, Michael Vick and Drew Brees drafted in the first round of some fantasy drafts.

    Here are five sleeper quarterbacks for you to enjoy.

Colt McCoy, Cleveland Browns

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    I believe Colt McCoy is going to be a very good NFL quarterback, and I don't think I'm alone in that assessment. All McCoy did while at the University of Texas was win football games.

    He doesn't have a rocket for an arm, but he is very accurate and intelligent. McCoy isn't going to throw a ton of interceptions, so he won't be losing you many points. While he doesn't have an excellent receiving corps, the Cleveland Browns' receivers are young, quick and could develop into some potential threats.

    Worst-case scenario for McCoy is he is a serviceable starter for your fantasy team.

    However, the best-case scenario is he is a top fantasy quarterback by the end of the year.

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

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    If you've ever watched Matthew Stafford play when healthy, it's easy to see why he could be the next big thing at the quarterback position.

    He has a cannon for an arm and has the ability to make any throw on the football field. The biggest knock on him is his inability to stay healthy, but I think Stafford will manage to play all 16 games this year.

    Most experts have Stafford ranked as the 15th or 16th-best fantasy quarterback, but with Calvin Johnson at his right hand, Stafford could very well finish the season as a top-five quarterback.

Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals

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    No one is really sure what to expect from Kevin Kolb since he is unproven as a starter in the NFL.

    One thing Kolb has going for him is Larry Fitzgerald, one of the most talented wide receivers in the league. As long as Kolb can throw the ball in the direction of Fitzgerald, it will probably be caught.

    Kolb has struggled in the preseason so far, but he is still learning the offense in Arizona and will be fine once the regular season starts. People will shy away from him, but you shouldn't. He has the ability, and even if he struggles the first few weeks, he will figure it out and could put up big numbers.

Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams

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    Sam Bradford put together a rather impressive season for a rookie last year.

    In fact, it might have been one of the best rookie seasons for a quarterback in NFL history.

    Bradford is only going to get better, but the major problem with him is the lack of proven receivers around him. The St. Louis Rams did pick up Austin Pettis and Lance Kendricks in the draft, and both players will be valuable to Bradford's development.

    Don't expect a sophomore slump from Bradford—he is just too good.

    In fact, you can count on a sophomore rise and a quality fantasy season from him instead.

Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    This is another player who gets no love in the fantasy football world. The average media ranking for Josh Freeman is 12th, which is absurd to me.

    He is entering his third year in the league and showed huge improvement between his first and second years. If Freeman continues to exponentially improve, watch out, because there may be no stopping him.

    Freeman also rarely makes mistakes when throwing the football. He only had six interceptions all of last year, and that number won't increase very much.

    This kid is a star in the making, and if you want to win your fantasy league, I suggest you hop on for a ride.

Running Back Sleepers

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    In order to be a true contender in your league, you need to have quality running backs on your team.

    None of the following players will put up as many points as Adrian Peterson or Chris Johnson, but the points they do put up may surprise you.

    The following four running backs are sleepers who might propel you to first place in your league.

Reggie Bush, Miami Dolphins

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    Reggie Bush battled injuries with the New Orleans Saints and never really found his groove. He now gets a fresh start with the Miami Dolphins and, personally, I think it will be good for him.

    What Bush has going for him is versatility. He has the ability to run the ball, but he is even more dangerous as a wide receiver. Considering the lack of Chad Henne's arm strength, the Dolphins will most likely run plenty of plays designed for Bush.

    If Bush finally becomes the player everyone expected out of college, he could have a monster fantasy season.

Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts

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    The Indianapolis Colts re-signed Joseph Addai, which means Donald Brown will once again be the backup in Indianapolis.

    However, I don't see that lasting very long for two reasons.

    First, Addai is an injury-prone player.

    Secondly, Brown is a better player.

    Now, I know that is a bold statement, but it's true. Brown hasn't had much of an opportunity so far in his career to show off his talents, but with Peyton Manning aging, I expect the Colts to run a more balanced offense and Brown to get plenty of touches.

    Once Brown shows what he is truly capable of as a running back, I expect him to takeover the starting position from Addai and have a breakout season.

Tim Hightower, Washington Redskins

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    After being picked up by the Washington Redskins, Tim Hightower might actually be in a better position than he was in with the Arizona Cardinals.

    Right now he looks to be the starting running back and could get the majority of carries. Hightower is also a threat as a receiver out of the backfield and could get plenty of looks on screen passes.

    If Hightower starts the season out playing well, which I think he will, Washington will rely on him more and more—which means more points for you.

C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills

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    I know C.J. Spiller sits behind Fred Jackson on the Buffalo Bills' depth chart right now, but this kid is too dynamic to be there very long.

    Spiller had injury problems last year, but is back to full health. When he was at Clemson, there were few players who were better in the country at making plays than him. Not only is he a great runner, but he will definitely be utilized in the passing game as well.

    Sure, Buffalo might have reached by drafting him so high last year, but Spiller has the potential to be a special player. He has a unique combination of speed and field vision, and his abilities—once fully utilized—will make him a great fantasy player.

Wide Receiver Sleepers

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    Wide receiver is easily the deepest position in fantasy football. Most teams have two quality starters and some teams, like the Green Bay Packers or New York Jets, have three or four players worth having on your team.

    As the late rounds of your draft approach, I certainly wouldn't forget about the following seven wide receivers.

Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers

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    James Jones might be a more common pick for a sleeper from the Green Bay Packers, but I like Jordy Nelson more.

    With Donald Driver continuing to show signs of aging, Aaron Rodgers will start looking for a replacement. After a huge game in the Super Bowl, I expect Nelson to eventually become that player. He has tremendous speed and better hands than Jones.

    The Packers have one of the best offenses in football, so they should put up great numbers as a team. There will be plenty of opportunities for Nelson in this offense, and I think he will make the most of them.

Austin Pettis, St. Louis Rams

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    Austin Pettis is one of two rookie wide receivers to be a fantasy sleeper.

    He enters an ideal situation with the St. Louis Rams in that the Rams are thin at wide receiver and they have a fantastic young quarterback in Sam Bradford.

    Pettis will have to fight for touches to start the season, but I expect he and Bradford to have a good connection, as Pettis has great hands and can make plays after the catch.

    Bradford-to-Pettis is a combination people will be talking about for plenty of years to come.

Greg Little, Cleveland Browns

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    And here is the second rookie receiver to make this list.

    Whenever you have a sleeper quarterback like Colt McCoy, who doesn't have any proven receivers to throw to, you will also often have a sleeper receiver.

    That receiver for the Cleveland Browns is Greg Little, who will begin the year as a starter. Little is a big possession receiver, but is surprisingly talented with the ball in his hands. He should be able to make an instant impact in Cleveland's rising offense.

    Little may shock some people as he contends for Offensive Rookie of the Year and could become very valuable to a fantasy roster.

Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers

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    It's true that Michael Crabtree hasn't lived up to expectations, but anyone who watched Crabtree in college knows he can play.

    This will be the year Crabtree breaks out, but because of his fantasy irrelevance the past two seasons, many will decide to pass on him.

    I wouldn't if I were you, because he has all the talent in the world and is just waiting to explode.

    Crabtree's stats might take a hit because Alex Smith is throwing him the ball, but I expect Smith to improve under the tutelage of Jim Harbaugh, which will only make Crabtree that much more dangerous as a player.

Andre Roberts, Arizona Cardinals

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    After watching Andre Roberts in the preseason, I believe he will be a fantastic complement player to Larry Fitzgerald.

    He should benefit greatly from Fitzgerald receiving extra attention by opposing defenses. Roberts is a very young player who is still learning the game, but he already has a great handle on his role in the Arizona Cardinals' offense. He doesn't try to do too much and always seems to be open when Arizona needs a big play.

    Roberts is a reliable fantasy option and could have a very good fantasy season if defenses focus too much attention on Fitzgerald.

Mike Thomas, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    It may surprise you to see any receiver from the Jacksonville Jaguars as a fantasy sleeper, but contrary to popular belief, the Jaguars actually have a pretty decent passing game.

    Even if Jacksonville is horrid through the air, Mike Thomas will still put up quality numbers because he is the only receiver with any talent on the team. He isn't the biggest receiver, but he has great speed, and uses his small stature as an advantage to get into tight spaces and make plays.

    Whoever ends up throwing the ball in Jacksonville will almost certainly be looking Thomas' way. That is good news for fantasy owners who have Thomas.

Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    After an impressive postseason, Emmanuel Sanders looks poised for a breakout season.

    Even though he currently sits third on the depth chart for the Pittsburgh Steelers, I don't expect that to affect his fantasy status too much. Ben Roethlisberger is good at spreading the ball around, and with Hines Ward aging, Sanders should see an increase in his numbers.

    Sanders is great at making plays after the catch, which is a definite bonus in fantasy football. He won't be a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver on your team, but he will be a valuable backup who can come in and put up points when you need them.

Tight End Sleepers

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    The position of tight end has evolved over the past few years to where we now see way more athletic players at the position. Not only can these guys block, but they can outrun any linebacker—and some safeties—to make dazzling catches.

    These following four tight ends have the potential to put up large amounts of points for your fantasy team.

Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers

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    The Chicago Bears really dropped the ball with Greg Olsen. Coming out of college, he was one of the best receiving tight ends in the league.

    Unfortunately, he was never fully utilized in Chicago, and now he is a member of the Carolina Panthers.

    I know the Panthers are much worse at the quarterback position than the Bears, but I still think Olsen will have a better season this year than last year. With young quarterbacks, a talented tight end can act as a safety blanket, and that is exactly what Olsen will be.

    Don't be surprised if Olsen has his best statistical season of his career with Carolina this year.

Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints

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    With the offseason departure of Jeremy Shockey, Jimmy Graham becomes the starting tight end for the New Orleans Saints.

    Anyone who plays with Drew Brees should put up decent numbers, and a player with Graham's talents should do very well. He runs precise routes, has great hands and should get plenty of targets from Brees. 

    In a pass-happy offense, any tight end is a good pick, but Graham is a great player who will have a very good fantasy year.

Lance Kendricks, St. Louis Rams

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    In a few years, Lance Kendricks might be one of the top pass-catching tight ends in the NFL.

    It certainly helps to have Sam Bradford as your quarterback, and these two young players should help each other mature and develop.

    Kendricks has already proven to be a popular target for Bradford in the preseason, and his touches will continue to grow throughout the regular season.

    Kendricks may start on your fantasy bench if you draft him, but I guarantee he won't last there very long.

Aaron Hernandez, New England Patriots

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    Both Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski had impressive rookie seasons. Gronkowski's was a little better statistically, but I like Hernandez as a better overall fantasy player.

    Hernandez brings a unique set of skills to the football field. He had an impressive performance in Week 15 last year when he caught two touchdown passes against the Green Bay Packers.

    Don't be surprised to see more games like that from his talented youngster.

    With one of the best quarterbacks in Tom Brady throwing him the ball, Hernandez should have plenty of opportunities to make plays.