As we head into the 2004 preseason, many fantasy leagues are awakening from their dormant periods and beginning to think about the draft. And while anyone can select LaDainian Tomlinson in the first round, it’s the all-important sleeper pick in the late rounds that determines your dominance as a fantasy football player. Here is an early look at 2004’s All-Sleeper Team.
Quarterback: Carson Palmer (Cincinnati)
Palmer rode the pine all of last year as the backup, while starter Jon Kitna compiled great numbers and enjoyed a breakout season. This year, head coach Marvin Lewis has said Palmer will more than likely be his starter.
Palmer is a great student of the game and is always watching film. He also has a very solid trio of receivers at his disposal in Chad Johnson, Peter Warrick, and Kelley Washington. Look for Palmer to be a very important factor in the Bengals’ playoff push. He will likely be drafted very late if at all in fantasy leagues this year, and could provide great value at a cheap price. To be safe, you should draft Palmer as your backup, but it is entirely possible that he will be producing numbers good enough to be your starter as the season progresses.
When to get him in 12-team drafts: Rounds 12-16
Take instead of: David Carr, Byron Leftwich, Jake Delhomme
2004 Projections: 3520 yards, 24 TD, 17 INT
He’s this year’s version of … Matt Hasselbeck
Running Back: Lee Suggs (Cleveland)
Suggs was injured for much of 2003, but capped off the season with a furious performance in Week 17, when he toted the rock 26 times for 186 yards and two scores against the Bengals. With William Green’s future uncertain (regardless, Green was about as useful as a screen door on a submarine last year) and the departure of Jamel White, look for Suggs to have a solid campaign. Don’t do anything crazy and take him as your feature back, but he has the potential to be a solid second RB for your team. Ideally, you would like to have a player like Suggs as your third back, but since running back is by far the most coveted position in fantasy football, many mock drafts have Suggs going anywhere between rounds four and six.
When to get him: Rounds 4-7.
Take instead of: Curtis Martin, Tyrone Wheatley, Antwoin Smith
2004 Projections: 985 yards, 7 TD
He’s this year’s version of … Domanick Davis
Running Back: Marcel Shipp (Arizona)
Shipp had a very promising year in 2002, when he had over 1200 total yards and nine scores. However, the addition of Emmitt Smith pushed Shipp into the backup role last season. When Smith went down with an injury, Shipp showed signs of life with 165 yards rushing against the 49ers in Week 8 and 141 yards against the Bengals a week later. This year, with a new coaching staff in place, the starting role in hand, an offensive line full of former first-round picks, and Anquan Boldin to take pressure off of him, Shipp looks poised to have a breakout year.
When to get him: Rounds 4-8
Take instead of: Troy Hambrick, Garrison Hearst, Correll Buckhalter
2004 Projections: 1,065 yards, 9 TD
He’s this year’s version of … Rudi Johnson
Wide Receiver: David Terrell (Chicago)
Terrell can certainly talk the talk, and this might be the year he starts to walk the walk as well. New coach Lovie Smith promises to incorporate a more aggressive game plan this season, much like the Rams’ and Chiefs’ offenses. To do so, the Bears need the services of a speedy, athletic receiver. With Marcus Robinson and Dez White no longer in the navy and orange, Terrell’s number will finally be called. Marty Booker is a possession receiver at best, and the coaches love Terrell’s Moss-like athleticism and are reportedly reworking the offense to feature him much more than in years past.
Fantasy owners should take a chance on Terrell and use a late-round pick to nab him. Draft him as your fourth receiver and watch as he plays his way into your starting lineup this year.
When to get him: Rounds 12-16
Take instead of: Ike Hilliard, Troy Brown, any Cleveland receiver
2004 Projections: 59 catches, 1,025 yards, 8 TD
He’s this year’s version of … Steve Smith
Wide Receiver: Brandon Lloyd (San Francisco)
Terrell Owens and Tai Streets are gone, and Lloyd finds himself at the top of the depth chart. Did you see his catch against the Seahawks last year? ‘Nuff said.
When to get him: Rounds 13-16
Take instead of: Johnnie Morton, Josh Reed
2004 Projections: 64 catches, 900 yards, 6 TD
He’s this year’s version of … Andre Johnson
Tight End: Kellen Winslow, Jr. (Rookie)
Winslow has the size, speed, and hands to be a dominant pass-catching tight end very early in his career … possibly even in his rookie season. In college, I saw Winslow make a one-handed touchdown grab that made me check my pants for stains, it was so good. He might instantly be in the class of Gonzo, Shockey, and Heap, and will be a great target up the middle and in the red zone. Owners should go ahead and take Winslow after the big three are gone. Yes, he is that good.
When to get him: Rounds 6-8
Take instead of: Boo Williams, Alge Crumpler
2004 Projections: 49 catches, 680 yards, 8 TD
He’s this year’s version of … Boo
Defense/Special Teams: Denver Broncos
The Broncos are a very logical pick to be a great defense in 2004, having traded for Champ Bailey and signed John Lynch this offseason. Denver was already a top ten defense last year, and these additions can only help. Champ can also serve as a dangerous punt returner if they decide to play him there. The Bucs no longer have the premier defense in the league, and Denver should be considered among the league’s elite this year.
When to take them: Rounds 11-14
Take instead of: Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Dallas
This year’s version of … The Baltimore Ravens
Andrew Scherber has been playing competitive fantasy football for the past eight years. His sports writing has earned him several awards and scholarships, as well as the opportunity to write for the Minnesota Wild.
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