I love me a deep league. You give me 15 friends and a five-hour, 18-man roster draft and I am smitten. The longer you play fantasy football, the more you yearn to deviate from the Standard Leagues where you started playing. You experiment in points per reception (PPR) leagues, you try an auction draft, even venture into the realm of the individual defensive player (IDP). But for my money, there is nothing more satisfying, or challenging, than a deep league.
You get a chance to flex your NFL knowledge and show off to your friends that your powers of prediction are the stuff of legend. You take notes during preseason games. And you find the gems, the unsung heroes of fantasy. There is nothing like it. So, enjoy this list of deep sleepers, the guys that don't make the cut in a standard draft, the men with average draft positions of 200 and beyond. Because you go past the starters. You're a warrior.
1) Andre Roberts, Wide Receiver, Arizona Cardinals
Andre Roberts. His ADP isn’t even listed in the top 180 meaning that you can probably pick this guy off waivers right now.
For those of you that have never heard the name, there is likely good reason for it. Andre Roberts is in a position battle with Early Doucet for the WR2 spot on the Arizona Cardinals. Glamorous, I know.
In 2010, Roberts started two games for the Cardinals and ended the year with 24 receptions, 307 yards and two touchdowns, which is not a bad stat line for a guy backing up one of the most feared receivers in the game, not to mention the carousel of high school quality quarterbacks throwing near him.
There is a new quarterback in town and though his resume isn’t very long, he can bring a lot more to Arizona than Anderson or Skelton were able to last season. In the three games that Kolb started in place of Michael Vick last season, he threw for 810 yards and five touchdowns. And now to get to the fun stats…
In those three starts for Kolb, his second receiver, Jeremy Maclin, was far more productive than DeSean Jackson. Call it coincidence, call it a fluke, call it whatever you will, it’s a statistic. Maclin had 95 yards on six receptions in Kolb’s first game, and a massive 159 yards and two touchdowns on seven receptions in Kolb’s second game.
So, with a quarterback that knows how to spread the ball around, I think it is safe to assume that Andre Roberts is a massive wide receiver sleeper. He will have the phenomenal Larry Fitzgerald to draw most of the coverage and could see a very high percentage of catches with the Cardinal offense.
If this man wins the second receiver spot on the Cardinals roster, get ready for some heavy PPR numbers and praise for selecting the sleeper pick of the draft.
2) Jerious Norwood, Running Back, St. Louis Rams
Now here is a player you have heard of before. Norwood served as the backup and change-of-pace to Michael Turner in Atlanta for years. He's a fragile back, but even when healthy, he was underutilized in Atlanta.
One of the major goals for the St. Louis Rams in the offseason was to acquire a change of pace runner to relieve some of the burden from star, Steven Jackson. Jackson has had over 320 carries in three of the last five years. And in the two that he didn't reach 300, he missed games due to injury. Lightening this man's extravagant workload and decreasing injury risk is a must for the St. Louis offense.
That is where Norwood comes in. As a backup for Michael Turner in 2006, Norwood ran over 90 times for 633 yards and two scores. His yard per carry average was 6.4. In 2007 and 2008 Norwood managed 6.0 and 5.1 yards per carry. So he can get the job done when he is asked.
Norwood is no slouch as a receiver either. He offers a change of pace to Steven Jackson and is a threat out of the backfield, with more than 900 receiving yards on 96 receptions throughout his career.
When it's getting late in your draft and you are down to backup running backs, make sure Norwood is on your list. If Jackson goes down, he is a speedy veteran who has performed well in this role before.
3) Visanthe Shiancoe, Tight End, Minnesota Vikings
Just one year ago, Visanthe Shiancoe was the new hot tight end that owners were scrambling to add to their roster mid-season. In 2010 however, his number dropped and he fell off the tight end rankings.
Last season, Shiancoe nearly matched the yardage and reception numbers that he had posted in 2008 and 2009, but his touchdown number greatly decreased. But with a new quarterback under center, it is likely that we could see a re-emergence of the 11-TD tight end that we saw in 2009.
Donovan McNabb is taking over the reigns and he is no stranger to the tight end in the endzone. McNabb gave Redskin's tight end Chris Cooley 77 receptions for over 800 yards last year. And in 2009, McNabb's tight end Brent Celek posted the most receptions of any Philadelphia Eagle and came just short of 1,000 yards with eight touchdowns.
If Shiancoe can shake off a hamstring injury that has been hampering him this preseason, he could easily post his highest career fantasy numbers.
4) Steve Breaston, Wide Receiver, Kansas City Chiefs
Steve Breaston served for four years as the second receiver behind Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona. In that time, he posted over 2,500 yards, 187 receptions and seven touchdowns. Not too shabby for a guy who isn't getting picked up in your fantasy football league.
It's no big news that the thorn in the side of the Kansas City offense last season was the passing game. The Chiefs had the highest yards per game on the ground in the league, a dizzying 164.2 ypg. But managed third to last in passing yardage. In fact, the Chiefs passing offense had a mere 341 more yards than their rushing offense.
This is largely in part to their second highest wide receiver posting 213 yards. But now there is a new receiver in town, looking to make his mark again as a number two receiver. Not only will he boost the value of Dwayne Bowe by opening up the passing game, he will give quarterback Matt Cassel a much needed second target.
I don't expect much of a dip in the run-heavy offense of Kansas City, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But having a legitimate number two receiver is just what the Chiefs needed. Expect Breaston to perform at a high level, surpassing the 47 receptions and 700 yards he managed last year.
5) Kendall Hunter, Running Back, San Francisco 49ers
Kendall Hunter is rookie out of Oklahoma State and has elusiveness rivaling some of the top running backs in the NFL. Downside, he's the backup to Anthony Dixon, the backup for Frank Gore.
Gore has a knack for not lasting the entire season, allowing backups a good chance to see some playing time. And because of his injury history, I wouldn't be surprised to see the San Francisco 49ers give more looks to the second string running back.
The only hurdle that Hunter is facing this year is taking over Dixon's backup job. This shouldn't be too hard of a task for the rookie. In Week 2 of the preseason, Hunter broke a huge 53 yard score and ended the game with 105 yards on just nine carries. In his other two preseason trials he has posted 4.1 and 5.0 yard per carry performances.
Now compare that to the 2.3, 4.4 and 1.9 yards per game performances of Anthony Dixon. In addition, Hunter's running style is complimentary to Gore's, providing the change-of-pace and receiving abilities that a true second running back must possess. At 30 pounds lighter and six inches shorter than Dixon, Kendall Hunter definitely wins that matchup.
I expect Hunter to take over the second spot and be in prime position to put up big numbers if (when) Gore goes down. Even if Gore manages to stay healthy, we could see some split carries where Hunter sees the field.