Every year there are players to be found late (sometimes even undrafted) thatâ€™ll make someone go from pretender to contender overnight. Those teams that people walk away from the draft scratching their heads at end up being the same teams staring down their opponent in the championship year after year. Be the guy this year to snatch up the Arian Foster, Michael Vick and Brandon Lloyd of 2011. Hereâ€™s the early run of the 2011 sleepers:
Nelson - A lot of people liked Stafford going into last season and I think for good reason. He had a larger complement of weapons in his second season, an offense that was improving as a group, and a full season under his belt. Well, unfortunately injuries derailed our finding out whether all of that would truly come to fruition but we were able to catch a few things:
- In his only two full games he threw for 452 yards, 6 tds and 1 int
- One of those games was against the New York Jets
- Detroit added another running back, Mikel Leshoure, as well as another receiver, Titus Young, this offseason to complement an arsenal of weapons including Jahvid Best, Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, and Brandon Pettigrew
- Despite their star QB being on the bench for most of the season, the Lions ranked 3rd in the NFL in pass attempts
- The only two teams who put the ball in the air more were led by Drew Brees and Peyton Manning
- Detroit gave up the 6th fewest sacks in the NFL last season
If you add all that up, you have the potential for a top 5 signal caller. Now, do I anticipate Stafford being top 5 this season, probably not. He is still an injury risk and needs to get through a full season before we can expect a top 5 performance. But the upside is absolutely there. When looking for a sleeper later in the draft, huge upside like his is where Iâ€™m looking.
Adams - I think Jackson has offensive weapons and in 2011 I have zero faith in Christian Ponder becoming the starter that veteran-filled Vikings team needs. With 10 in the box trying to stop Adrian Peterson, he'll be able to connect with Harvin, Shaincoe and Sidney Rice. This all hinges on Minnesota not signing another QB in free agency.
Sparks â€“ Iâ€™ve always liked how the Lions compete with a healthy Matthew Stafford under center. The only problem with that is I rarely get to see it. These 3 things I know about Stafford. 1, he was 11 for 15 prior to getting injured in week 1. 2, He finished the season with 6 TDs as opposed to 1 Int in 2011. 3, The Lions were beating the Jets before he exited with his injury in Week 9 and they are a completely different offense with him. With Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew, good pass catching backs like Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure with the addition of rookie speedster Titus Young, Stafford has all of the tools to have a big season! Health is the only question.
Fahey - Presuming he plays this season, which I believe he will because he won't be let go by the Bengals, Carson Palmer could have a big season. The offense around him will be much improved because of the addition of AJ Green. Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco simply didn't complement each other. Green as well as Ochocinco or some of the team's younger receivers should make his life easier. Throw Jermaine Gresham into the mix and Palmer could have a good fantasy year.
Fahey â€“ Torrain is a strong runner and will get a lot of carries in Washington. Clinton Portis is gone and the team as of right now has no passing game to rely on. No doubt his numbers will be hurt because the offense will be one dimensional but he is built to sustain a beating so should put up good yardage irregardless.
Nelson - Sometimes sleepers are just gut calls. There is something about Choice I have always liked. He just seems to play with a chip on his shoulder and I think he is burning for his shot. I think this is the year he may get to run with it. If Barber is gone before the season, Choice will start as the primary back up to Felix Jones. Jones is not the most durable player and he appears to be better suited as a change of pace back. In the 10 games Dallas has given choice at least 8 carries he has 6 total touchdowns, over 100 yards per game from scrimmage and a 5+ yards per carry average. Dallas did DeMarco Murray, but I think he will remain in a back up roll barring a multitude of injuries in front of him; thus leaving the door wide open for Tashard Choice to break out.
Sparks â€“ The Cowboys at this point know they canâ€™t live and die on the arm of Tony Romo. Marion Barber hasnâ€™t been the rusher that potentially explosive offense needs since his 16 TD campaign and Felix Jones has made big plays for them, just not consistently. Part of that is due to the fact that Dallas has been using a three-headed rushing campaign, making it tough for any one runner to get into a groove. 2011 is the year the Cowboys figure out what they have in their number 17 pick and I think Jones doesnâ€™t let them down, both rushing and receiving. He may not perform like your top 5 rushers, but in total yards and touchdowns heâ€™ll far outperform his draft selection spot.
Sparks â€“ Amendola has stars aligning he could only dream of placing him in line for a good 2011 season. He has a new pass happy offensive coordinator in Josh McDaniels who may have lost plenty in Denver but had that passing offense clicking on all cylinders. He turned Brandon Lloyd into a fantasy gem and Kyle Orton put up numbers fantasy owners wouldâ€™ve never dreamed. He also worked a similar Wes Welker into a perennial 100-catch machine in his days in NE. Enter emerging QB Sam Bradford, returning WR Donnie Avery and still impressive Steven Jackson to draw away from Amendola, leaving him to take in pass after pass in 2011. I like Amendola even more should the Rams bring in a free agent WR.
Nelson - I think it was safe to expect, after spending years away from the NFL and getting his life together, Mike Williams would probably start last season a little slower than most teamâ€™s number 1s. After all, he was a shot in the dark signing that wasnâ€™t even expected to make the team out of camp. Oh but make the team he did as he proceeded to catch 65 balls for 751 yards and 2 touchdowns for the Seattle Seahawks, just seemingly scratching the surface of the potential he showed at USC. During a 6 game stretch in the middle of the season, and in between injuries, Williams averaged roughly 7 receptions a game to the tune of 86 yards. He established himself as a go to reliable target for Matt Hasslebeck. After a full offseason to build off his comeback success, I believe Mike Williams can take those numbers to the next level. If you projected the averages during that 6 game stretch over a 16 game season, Williams would finish to a line of 112 catches and just under 1400 yards. Will his numbers be that high, probably not but I certainly donâ€™t think 85-90 catches for 1000 yards is out of the question. Especially under the assumption the Seahawks resign Matt Hasslebeck, which I fully expect. The only question left is the touchdowns. Williams only finished with 2 touchdowns during the regular season last year. The silver lining however, is one of those was in the final game of the season and he added another 3 in the two playoff games. I believe Williams and the Seahawks will build upon that late season success in the redzone and it would not shock me to see 7+ tds from Williams this year. 1000 yards and 7+ tds makes Williams a number 2 fantasy receiver. Sounds sleepy to me.
Fahey - Sanders could be in for a huge year. He is a very talented receiver that is incredibly difficult to match up to. His injury in the Super Bowl destroyed the Steelers gameplan as the offense was set to run through him. Sanders will see a lot more time on the field in his second season opposed to his rookie year and will benefit from the receivers around him drawing coverage away from him.
Nelson - I guess Iâ€™m in on the Lions this year. Pettigrew had 722 yards and 4 touchdowns playing with Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton. Iâ€™m going to go out on a limb here and say he can do better with Matt Stafford. With Calvin Johnson on the outside, the middle of the field will remain wide open. He is entering his third season and his role should continue to expand as he continues to improve. Yards might not go up much with Titus Young coming in, but I think his touchdowns will rise with Stafford at the helm.
Fahey - Celek is going to be part of one of the most explosive offenses in the league but will be overlooked in favor of his teammates in fantasy drafts. The logic here is obvious because LeSean McCoy, Michael Vick, Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson will rightfully garner the most attention from fantasy football fans but they will also draw the most attention from opposing defenses. Celek will have every opportunity to take advantage of mismatches that come his way.
Sparks â€“ Mercedes Lewis had 10 TDs in 2010 and finally showed the reason why he was highly touted in the draft 6 seasons ago. In his last 2 seasons heâ€™s posted 518 then 700 yards. The big difference? His last season he posted 10 touchdowns, the season before only 2. I think heâ€™s grown into the player the Jaguars can count on to be a good TE and with most of the attention on Maurice Jones-Drew along with Lewis being a mismatch for defenders (too fast for linebackers, too big for defensive backs) 2011 will be another solid season for Lewis. He may not post 10 TDs but 6-7 and 750 yards is not a stretch in the least. The fact that heâ€™s currently being shown as the 10th to 12th highest rated TE is a travesty. Draft Lewis late and thank me later.