For as long as fantasy football has existed, fantasy writers have joined in an unbreakable bond, protecting an industry-secret so monumental that, if revealed, would forever change everything we know and love about fantasy football.
These fantasy writers have been hiding this secret for as long as it has existed, even going to extraordinary lengths to keep it safe. Remember those patently awful “National Treasure” movies, where worst-actor-on-the-planet Nicholas Cage solved complex riddles and traversed through dangerous obstacles in order to find coveted government treasure? Well, if you were to go on a treasure-hunting mission to reveal the fantasy writer’s secret, it would be much more intense and dangerous than anything that hack Cage could have imagined.
But I am here today to reveal this secret to you, consequences be damned. I embarked on a tireless mission, reading every blog I could find, digging through internet archives, and emailing and Tweeting to anyone who would listen. And what I found, dear readers, is what fantasy writers have worked so diligently to hide from you, and it is this simple fact:
There are no such things as fantasy “sleepers.”
“What?” “No!” “Gasp!” “[Other words that signify shock and surprise!]” Yes, I know this may offend and even horrify you, but it’s true. Fantasy sleepers are a myth invented by the media to appease your insatiable desire for inside information. But alas, they do not exist.
“But Josh,” you’re asking, “why aren’t sleepers real?” While I am a little concerned that you just asked me a question out loud, knowing full-well that I’m not in the room with you, I do have an answer for you.
You see, sleepers cannot exist due to the fact that their popularity destroys them. When a new crop of players becomes the year’s top sleeper picks for the season, those players get beaten to death with analysis, predictions and large sticks. This year, we have already read more coverage about Rashad Jennings and Tim Tebow than we’ll ever read about Adrian Peterson and Gisele Bündchen’s husband. It’s hard to consider them “sleepers” when they’ve been hyped so much that you’ve even had conversations with your 86-year-old grandmother about their fantasy outlook.
But even though sleepers may be a figment of your imagination, there are still a gaggle of undervalued players you can take advantage of in your drafts. I don’t mean sexually, because that’s clearly frowned upon in this society, but remember that there will always be under-the-radar RB2 or WR2 talent that can be had in the draft’s middle rounds.
So, now that I have surely filled your minds with magic and wonder with my carefully-crafted, long-winded story, I will reveal to you my most undervalued player—or “top sleeper,” if you’re still stuck on that idea—for the 2011 fantasy season. And that player is—drumroll please. No, seriously, bang on the table and make a drumroll—Mario Manningham.
Yes, that Mario Manningham, the receiver who finished last season hotter than Kurt Russell in Tombstone. The fact that I have to even consider him undervalued is befuddling, as his numbers last year ranked him among the game’s best receivers. Manningham finished 2010 with 944 receiving yards and nine touchdowns—good for 17th among fantasy WRs, according to pro-football-reference.com—despite recording catches in only 14 games and starting just eight. And Manningham looks like a good bet to significantly improve on those numbers, as he will enter this season as the Giants’ clear No. 2 receiver behind Hakeem Nicks. Nicks will draw opponent’s top cornerbacks, while last season’s starter, the fake Steve Smith, decided it would be fun to try playing football on one knee rather than two, clearing the way for an increase in opportunities for Manningham.
Yet, even though I love Manningham more than Tom Brady loves looking girl-pretty, he’s still being underappreciated in fantasy drafts. It may be because Eli Manning looks like this when he plays quarterback, but even that’s not a good enough reason to let Manningham fall as far as he has been in drafts.
According to Rotoworld’s ADP Report, Manningham is currently being drafted 77th overall and 28th among wide receivers, which makes him a mid-sixth round pick. That may not seem too low, but his value is much higher than that, especially when you consider some of the players being taken before him in most drafts. Some receivers currently being drafted before Manningham are Dez Bryant, who is still essentially all-hype and fancy stolen jewelry, Austin Collie, who is the NFL’s all-time leader in concussions per season, and Sidney Rice, whose quarterback is Tarvaris freakin’ Jackson. Fun fact about all these players? They all finished at least 66 spots behind Manningham in the player rankings last season.
Now I’m not saying I don’t like those players. I think all three will be valuable fantasy commodities in 2011, provided they don’t buy things they can’t afford, keep their brains from banging against their skulls, and turn Tarvaris Jackson into a not-awful quarterback. But what I am saying is that, if Manningham is still on the board, I’m not touching any of these players with a 10-foot pole. Partially because I don’t have a 10-foot pole to figuratively touch these three men with, but mostly because I think—nay, I know—that Manningham will out-produce all of them.
Let’s re-examine the facts: Manningham finished last season with a torrid stretch of games, amassing at least 100 yards and a touchdown in each contest. His end of season totals placed him just short of 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns, numbers which would have placed him inside the top-10 at the position last season. And even though he started just eight games for the Giants, Manningham developed a lot chemistry with his young, feminine quarterback, enough to have him finish 17th at the position with more limited opportunities than his competition.
Some fantasy writers like to make bold predictions. But bold predictions aren’t bold enough for me. I like stating irrefutable facts, which are always correct in my mind and usually nowhere else. And right now I will declare that Manningham will finish the upcoming season as a top-12 fantasy wide receiver. Don’t take that prediction to the bank, because it is not legal tender and security will likely escort you off the premises, but do take it into your drafts, because Mario Manningham could be the player that makes all of you wildest fantasy football dreams come true.