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Fantasy Football Sleepers: 10 Early Season Studs Nobody Saw Coming

Justin SparksCorrespondent IIISeptember 27, 2011

Fantasy Football Sleepers: 10 Early Season Studs Nobody Saw Coming

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    Fantasy football is three weeks old now and that probably means you either made good or bad choices thus far. Sleeper picks and studs have emerged in the first three weeks and you need to know who they are if you're serious about winning Charlie Sheen style.

    Every seasoned fantasy aficionado has experienced either picking up the sleeper of the year or played someone who has. The latter has a sick feeling of disgust to it.

    Throughout the states, leagues will be searching for this years sleepers. Sleepers are the difference between a good season fantasy wise and a championship season.

    Here's a list of early sleepers that have developed in the first three weeks.

10. Ben Tate

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    For those of you who were quick to act upon the news that Arian Foster would be sidelined due to a nagging hamstring injury, give yourselves a pat on the back. Foster went off the board as the No. 1 overall draft pick in several fantasy leagues throughout the country but has yet to shake off the injury. 

    Plug Ben Tate into the quick, athletic running back position for the Houston Texans and you have yourself a quality find on the waiver wires. Tate has scored 36 fantasy points through the first three weeks of the season.

    Averaging 12 points a game should draw zero complaints from any fantasy owner. The kicker here is whether or not the Texans will keep giving Tate carries whenever Foster returns to full health. Then again, averaging 100.3 yards per game through Week 3 might allow Tate to keep his current spot.

    Definitely keep a hold of this guy. Even if Arian Foster returns, the Texans might look to split carries and Foster could re-aggravate his hamstring. This guy could potentially be the sleeper of the season. He's that good.

9. Denarious Moore

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    If it were not for the Buffalo Bills coming back from an 18-point deficit in Week 2, the Oakland Raiders would be undefeated.The Raiders have averaged 30.7 points per game thus causing fantasy owners to scramble for Raiders other than Darren McFadden.

    An astonishingly athletic team has found a potential weapon at wide receiver in rookie Denarious Moore. The rookie from Tennessee has taken advantage of his opportunities while spotting for Jacoby Ford.

    Moore recorded his first catch of his career in Week 2 and added four more to the grand tune of 146 yards and one touchdown. In case you do not have your calculators handy like myself, that would be 22 fantasy points.

    He followed up week three with a less than spectacular stat sheet but scored on a great effort during an end around. Moore remains a solid bench or flex slot guy whether Jacoby Ford comes back or not.

    Keep an eye out on the number of touches he receives a game. If the number of targets toward Moore begins to reduce, then drop him. If not, you may have found yourself with hidden fantasy gold.

8. Fred Davis

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    Let's be honest here, by a show of hands how many have ever heard of Fred Davis before this season?

    Exactly. I saw a few hands but they were clearly lying if they're not Washington Redskins fans.

    The Redskins tight end has stepped in for Chris Cooley and has done so adequately through three weeks. Davis played excellent during his first two games of the season and took part in the utterly boring Monday night game last night.

    Grabbing a hot tight end could be an easy upgrade within your starting lineup as the season progresses. Typically there are only three to five tight ends that consistently produce solid numbers you can count on week in and week out. Davis could be that guy early on this season.

    Davis has averaged 17.83 yards per catch  and 8.7 fantasy points heading into Week 4. The latter may not be worth running your mouth to a fellow league peer but my rule of thumb for tight ends has always been to get at least five points. If the tight end can consistently hall in 5 points, you should be content.

    If the Redskins and Rex Grossman can keep things going then Fred Davis might turn into a stud tight end.

7. Texans Defense/Special Teams

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    After coming off a tough Week 3 loss to the New Orleans Saints, the Houston Texans defense and special teams still remain one of the fantasy sleepers of the early NFL season. An improved secondary has enabled the Texans pass rush to do their work.

    The week one thrashing of the Peyton Manning-less Indianapolis Colts provided Texans fantasy owners with a healthy 18 points. Following up that performance against the Colts with an 11 point showing in Miami versus the Miami Dolphins. However, a Week 3 shootout versus Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome hurt the units average.

    Houston gave up double the combined points allowed from Week 1 and Week 2 on Sunday but look to bounce as they return home for a couple weeks. The Texans defensive unit has 27 fantasy points through Week 3.

    It's too early to name them studs per say, but the Texans defense and special teams have been a sleeper. Defensive units are all about how they match up versus the opposing offenses so take the surprise start to the season with a grain of salt.

    The Saints put up 40 points but there's not too many teams that have the fire power like they do at home.

6. A.J. Green

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    Several NFL pundits stated that rookies would not be able to assimilate into their teams and make an impact early in the season. Good thing I was taught to only believe half of what I hear.

    A.J. Green has averaged 10 points per game through his first three games, including scoring a touchdown in his first game and recording over 100 receiving yards in his second. Andy Dalton has found his partner in crime at the receiving position in Green as the two move forward.

    The rookie out of Georgia came in highly touted and is said to be the best wide receiver since Calvin Johnson to enter the league. Early signs show this guy has what it takes to be a star in this league.

    The Cincinnati Bengals' first half schedule could provide some advantageous opportunities for Green to exploit. This guy clearly will be one of the best offensive rookies in the league and could provide solid flex slot fulfillment.

5. Rex Grossman

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    Alright, so maybe Rex Grossman's game on Monday night didn't exactly help me out with this one. However, remember that it took place in a big NFC East matchup that seems to always be unpredictable.

    Maybe the Washington Redskins faced two mediocre teams at home or perhaps Grossman wasn't lying when he said they would be the team to watch out for. Either way we really do not care. We want to know what he can do for us and by that we mean: show me the points.

    Arguably there are five quarterbacks that stand head and shoulders above the other 27. Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Peyton Manning have unanimously been assigned a top five spot. You can put them in specific spots as you please.

    For those of us who do not have the first four in that list this season, our fantasy teams need a solid start. Call me crazy—I'd never thought I'd say this nevertheless put it in Internet stone—but "Sexy Rexy" could be your fantasy stud this season.

    Give me a minute to recover from that proclamation. 

    Grossman has averaged 282 passing yards and 14.3 fantasy points per game. Sure, 14 points may not be eye popping but not everyone throws 400 yards every week like Brady or Brees. Certainly a sleeper pick and a risk as your main starter, but the rewards could make the investment worth it.

4. Eric Decker

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    Brandon Lloyd should be the wide receiver from the Denver Broncos being listed on a fantasy football list of stud performers. Instead, it's the Broncos second-year wide receiver Eric Decker making the big catches for the Broncos.

    During the opening week versus the Oakland Raiders, Decker returned a punt for an electrifying 90 yards during that Monday night matchup between rivals. Then in Week 2, Decker did his part in filling the Lloyd and Knowshon Moreno sized void for the Broncos. Decker caught five balls for 113 yards with two touchdowns.

    His Week 3 performance did not produce as many points even though he had seven catches and had been targeted 12 different times. The 12 targets came with No. 1 wide receiver Lloyd back in the lineup. This clearly indicates the Broncos like Decker and they want him to be apart of this offense.

    Averaging 12 points per game should be nothing to sneeze at for a wide receiver less than 10 percent of fantasy owners had on their rosters prior to Week 2.

3. Ryan Fitzpatrick

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    You know what they say, right? The quarterback for the Buffalo Bills—Ryan Fitzpatrick—came from the finest institution in all the land. Harvard University produces NFL quarterbacks like Yale produces United States Presidents. Actually, Yale has more U.S. Presidents than Harvard has NFL quarterbacks.

    The Bills quarterback has orchestrated two epic second half comebacks in successive weeks all while putting up formidable numbers. In honor of the scholar, I will present several key statistics.

    However, before I get to the quantitative things, the point must be made that Fitzpatrick falls into the sleeper-stud category perfectly. No one thought the Bills would be 3-0 nor would Fitzpatrick outscore the top five in fantasy points except for Drew Brees and Tom Brady.

    Fitzpatrick has nine touchdowns in three games. Leading the Bills back from 21-3 and 21-10 at halftime the past two weeks. He has averaged 21.3 fantasy points per game, 64.9 completion percentage, 103.2 quarterback rating, and 7.51 yards gained per pass attempt.

    The Harvard man is the real deal and no longer can be considered a sleeper moving forward. However, being labeled a stud could be a little more accurate if he keeps these statistics up.

    The Bills look good and confident. Fitzpatrick will be the one driving the wagons in Buffalo.

2. Rob Gronkowski

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    The New England Patriots and Tom Brady have only seemed to use two main people: Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski. Brady simply does not trust his wide receiving corp at this point in time.

    Enter Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots tight end has gotten off to a blazing start in 2011 and the record breaking offense has provided Gronkowski with a healthy portion of plays.

    Averaging 18.7 points per game, which includes two 20-plus games in his first three games. You could make the argument he was never a sleeper pick but I could counter with Aaron Hernandez originally being the main target at tight end.

    Hernandez suffered an injury and Gronkowski has been the beneficiary of additional plays. With five touchdowns and 281 receiving yards through three games, Gronkowksi has established himself as a stud tight end.

    Whatever you do, do not get suckered in a trade for this guy. Tight ends are tough to replace and this early season stud looks to keep posting big time numbers.

1. Cam Newton

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    Cam Newton started his NFL career unlike any other quarterback in the history of the league with two consecutive 400 plus yard passing games. Newton has the fifth most points of any position in the NFL with 69 points through his first three games.

    For those who picked Newton in the draft hoping maybe, just maybe he would explode on to the scene are glad they took the gamble. The former Auburn Tiger has made a fine transition to being the Carolina Panthers main guy and looks to be a productive pro for a very long time.

    The Panthers play a tough stretch of games versus some pretty solid defenses in the next few weeks but do not let that scare you. He still threw for 432 yards passing versus the Green Bay Packers in Week 2 and I doubt anyone would say their defense is sub par.

    Newton easily could be the sleeper of the season and in the majority of leagues you had to risk a draft pick on him rather than wait for waivers. He definitely will cool down over the next few weeks but either way this rookie is a fantasy stud.

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