Now that 2008 is behind us, it is never too early to look ahead to the 2009 season. A sleeper is defined as a player who went unnoticed during the previous season but has the opportunity to break out the following season. The players below are hidden gems for next season based on their current situation with their team and/or their solid play toward the end of last season. These are the type of players that you would want to target late in your upcoming drafts.
Kellen Clemens, QB, New York Jets
Clemens has played sparingly since his 2006 rookie season but is now poised to take the starting job after Brett Favre’s (hopefully final) retirement. While Clemens has yet to play a full season as a starter, he has had three years of bench time to learn the position including the opportunity to learn from Favre (which could be a good or bad thing). The 2009 New York Jets feature a solid offense with the tandem of Thomas Jones and Leon Washington in the backfield and Laveranues Coles, Jerricho Cotchery and Dustin Keller on the wings. In addition, their offensive line is strong and will remain intact for the 2009 season. The only kink in this plan would be if the Jets drafted Mark Sanchez out of USC. If that happens, it will be a very interesting training camp to say the least.
Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs’ 2008 third-round pick from Texas, Charles will likely get his shot at a starting job in 2009. He was primarily used to spell Larry Johnson last season and tallied 357 rushing yards on 67 carries (5.3 ypc), 27 receptions for 272 yards and a touchdown. Johnson has been trying to escape Kansas City for some time and after his verbal outburst following the season finale, he may very well get his wish. If new head coach Todd Haley decides to let Johnson go, the Chiefs would have a franchise running back in Charles for the foreseeable future; if Johnson is retained, it would still be a good idea to grab Charles in the event Johnson cannot co-exist with Haley and his staff.
Johnnie Lee Higgins, WR, Oakland Raiders
Late in the 2008 season, Higgins emerged as the top target for JaMarcus Russell, finishing the season with 22 receptions for 366 yards (16.6 ypr) and four touchdowns. Higgins’ biggest contribution to the offense came at the end of the season, when he caught a receiving touchdown in each of Oakland’s last three games. The Raiders have to be excited about Higgins’ big-play potential and he likely showed enough over the last few weeks to begin next season near the top of the depth chart. Oakland has a young nucleus, including JaMarcus Russell, Darren McFadden, Chaz Schilens and Zach Miller. If Russell continues to improve and Higgins remains his top target, the sky’s the limit. While he may remain the team’s top return man, I fully expect Higgins to be the team’s #1 wide receiver to start the 2009 season.
Brent Celek, TE, Philadelphia Eagles
Celek, the 2007 fifth-round pick from Cincinnati, is in line to remain the starting tight end for the Eagles in 2009. He started seven games for the Eagles in 2008 and finished the season with 27 receptions for 318 yards and a touchdown. Celek also proved to be a reliable force during the postseason, adding 19 catches for 151 yards and three touchdowns. He has developed into a strong receiving option in his sophomore campaign, and he has the size (6-4) to become Donovan McNabb’s right-hand man like L.J. Smith circa 2005 and 2006. The oft-injured Smith may not be with the team next season; even if he returns, he is one love-tap away from another injury. Celek may not be in the top-ten TE rankings at the end of the season, but he will be a solid addition to your fantasy team and a great TE2 in 2009.
Like every off-season, there will be a list of players that fall under the definition of a sleeper. The tricky part is finding that hidden gem and the best advice that I can give you is don’t be afraid to take a chance late in your draft and hope for the best.
Roy Daniel is a SSgt (E-6) in the U.S. Marine Corps and has been playing fantasy football since the mid 1990's. For better or worse, he is a die hard Miami Dolphins fan and loves to root for the underdogs. You can find him roaming the Cafe as dolfin99.
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