So, let me preface this post by saying that my definition of a fantasy football sleeper might be a bit different that other advice websites.
Lots of posts that you will find elsewhere will list someone like Isaac Redman as a big 2012 fantasy sleeper. Sure, he will be picked up in or around Round 5, between 20-25 for his position… But is he really a sleeper? Not for me. He is starting. For the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s not a particularly bold statement to predict that he will see some sort of success.
No. I’m not looking for the easy player to name my sleeper. I’m looking for the next Victor Cruz, the next Jordy Nelson. To me, a sleeper must fall into a few categories.
1) 6th round or later average draft position (ADP).
2) Not have fantasy buzz surrounding him.
3) Not be in the first 50% of people picked at their position.
Quarterback: Carson Palmer, Oakland Raiders
Palmer is being picked late in the 10th round, 16th when it comes to quarterbacks. For those of you keeping score at home, that means that in a deep 12-team league, he is playing a bench role.
Yet, the way I see it, he will be a fantasy football must-start this year. Last season, he was thrown into a system and basically played the position school yard-style. And he kind of excelled at it.
In the last eight games of the season, Palmer threw for over 2,300 yards, completed 64% of his passes, and a QB Rating of 89.0. Total that out for a full 16 game season, and Palmer would have ended 2011 with the 6th highest yardage total, 5th highest completion percentage and cracked the top 12 in passer rating.
He will now have healthy receivers at his disposal and a healthy number one running back. If he can get a handle on his interception total, then Palmers number could easily get in to the top five.
Running Back: Cedric Benson, Free Agent
Someone has to bite on him. And with Trent Richardson in line for surgery, it is looking a bit like he will be a Cleveland Brown this season. But that is still up in the air.
What I do know is that he is the 57th running back coming off the board and you can find him all the way in Round 14 of 12-team drafts. And, of course, the fact that he has topped 1,000 yards and 6 touchdowns in the past three seasons, and you have yourselves a pretty solid sleeper pick.
So here is hoping that he can land with a team where he will be a starter. Or at least a team where he will be the definite number two. But, going for that cheap, it is a risk I’m willing to take.
Wide Receiver: Brandon LaFell, Carolina Panthers
There are a number of 2012 wide receiver sleepers that I want to mention here. Terrell Owens is still a beast and could cause some heads to turn in Seattle. Alshon Jeffrey is probably my favorite rookie receiver, lining up beside Brandon Marshall and getting passes from Cutler. Then you Heyward-Bey, Amendola, Nate Washington, Mike Williams. There are a lot of mid-late round gems to be had here…
But I’m going to press my luck and go with LaFell. And for me, this all starts at the quarterback position. I said it last year with Michael Vick, no quarterback who has rushed for 8 TDs in a season has done it the next year. Now, Cam Newton will likely break that, as he is the team’s best red zone threat… But looking at the last half of the 2011 season, teams figured him out.
All of Newton’s numbers went down, people got to him and both he and Steve Smith became rather ineffective. The way to solve this…add another piece. And that is where Brandon LaFell comes in.
He had 36 receptions last year, 613 yards and three scores, but he only started the last six games of the season. If he can start this year, and provide good looks for his quarterback, he could push to be a top performing WR2 in this league. We all know that Newton is good enough to let two wideouts shine.
Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati Bengals
Dallas Clark, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I had a lot of guys to choose from at receiver, but I did have a favorite. But for my tight end sleeper this season, I had to give it a split.
Jermaine Gresham is horribly underrated in my opinion. Is he Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski? No. But can he put up the same numbers as Jermichael Finley and Vernon Davis? Yes.
Gresham is headed into his third year in the NFL as has improved every step of the way. Just shy of 600 yards last season, with 6 scores, despite his rookie quarterback and standout rookie receiver getting all the looks.
If Gresham can be more aggressive in getting the ball, and Andy Dalton can stay on the same pace as his rookie season, there is no reason to doubt that Gresham could see between 700-800 yards and get his scoring total flirting with ten touchdowns.
Dallas Clark, on the other hand, isn’t even in the top 20 tight ends as far as ADP. But he should definitely see the starting lineup for the Buccaneers. For the last few seasons, we have seen Kellen Winslow perform fairly well at this spot, despite having little to no wide receiver help.
Dallas Clark has that luxury that Winslow was missing. Like his glory days in Indy, Clark will benefit from having two great NFL receivers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Is Josh Freeman the next Peyton? Not by any means, but like Manning, Freeman likes to drop it off to his tight ends.
He won’t see the numbers of his past, but he could see numbers that make him a fantasy football starter by midseason.