The term “sleeper” typically only carries an applicable life span of about 5-6 NFL regular season weeks. After that time frame, most player roles are well defined and everybody in the fantasy world is familiar with each team’s depth chart. Fortunately, we are only into the second week of regular season play; thus, hidden gems are still being uncovered weekly. Last week we covered players, in particular WRs Laurent Robinson, Mario Manningham and Chansi Stuckey, that should be deemed ready to make an “immediate impact” and produce quality stats each week. This week we will cover players, again in particular WRs, that may fall just short of being “immediate impact” but instead should be able to sustain adequate low-end production with occasional spikes. These players are best suited to be used as depth, a bye-week/injury sub, or potentially a WR3 for teams in desperate need. This “hidden WR production” list consists of Johnny Knox, Kelley Washington, and Maurice Stovall.
Johnny Knox: Week 2 exposed a rookie WR that most fantasy junkies probably knew of vaguely, but associated very little value towards. This guy will obviously be the “hot flavor of the week” pickup in most leagues after his 6-reception, 70-yard, 1-TD performance in Week 2, especially considering that he was playing with the first string in front of Earl Bennett the entire second half. Buyer beware though, as this kid may be more of a mirage this early in his development than a mainstay.
While he has displayed an uncanny ability to get open, both on streaks and with comeback hooks, it is how he catches the ball that should red flag him. His long term value looks real good, as his best route appears to be the speedy streak. But it should be noted that this rookie not only had zero catches, but that he had zero passes thrown at him from Cutler in the preseason. Owners should also be wary of the awkward manner in which Knox catches the ball on the underneath routes, a jump-in-the-air style with catching the ball away from the body. This will severely dampen his YAC, and it leaves him exposed for tough contact from defenders. At the moment, Johnny Knox should be deemed as Chicago’s WR3 despite all reports that he has unseeded Earl Bennett for the WR2. Once the dust settles, the limitations and strengths of Knox should prove to be better utilized from the third WR slot for Chicago. Knox should definitely merit strong consideration, by all fantasy owners, as a sleeper with occasional spiked production potential but amidst an inconsistency from week to week.
Kelley Washington: Most fantasy owners will discredit Kelley Washington based on his unimpressive and under-performing past. But owners should assess his current situation as separate from his past. He is playing on a Baltimore offense that has thrown for 497 yards and 5 TDs in two games, and is blossoming into one of the NFL’s more explosive passing games. While only entrenched as the WR3 in Baltimore, a look into his preseason and regular performances should unveil some very attractive tendencies for fantasy owners to notate.
During the preseason, Kelley Washington caught 6 of the 7 passes thrown his way. All 6 catches came with Flacco under center in the first string offense, and 5 of the 6 catches went for first downs. It is also noteworthy that Washington’s best game of the preseason came during the infamous third-week dress rehearsal, where he snagged all 3 passes thrown his way for 66 yards.
The regular season has displayed an even greater reason to raise the expectation meter on Kelley. Through the first two games, he has accumulated 7 catches, 101 yards, and 1 TD. But the real insight befalls on the stats that, during these two regular season games, he has only one drop and all but one of his catches have gone for first downs.
When all of these factors are meshed together, the product that starts to surface is why Kelley Washington should start to draw considerable attention as a quality fill-in, depth player. He is the guy on a team with a passing game that is rapidly gaining NFL respectability, who has a secure role granting 3-4 catches a game in the area of the first-down marker while lined up routinely against LBs. Summed up, he is the most likely to draw the passing mismatch. Add into the equation that Washington’s hands have been almost flawless and the result is dependability in the eyes of Flacco.
Maurice Stovall: On a team with a mad-man slinger such as Byron Leftwich and a somewhat questionable WR1 still out, any player drawing Lefty’s attention should become a “player of interest” to any fantasy owner. It is understood that Antonio Bryant, who is on the mend for at least another week with a recovering bum knee, will assume the WR1 upon his return. The player most forgotten, though, will be Maurice Stovall. His development has been slow and still presents some giant obstacles for him to stride into the arena of showing true promise, but his circumstances cannot be overlooked. Lefty throws more deep passes per game than probably any other NFL starting QB. In Week 2, Stovall was discovered as a big target option deep. While his catching technique is still extremely flawed, a flash of potential suddenly showed up on that one play. If Clayton and Bryant are distracting the other team’s best cover DBs, then who is left to cover Maurice Stovall as the WR3?
This very scenario is the same reason that owners should also anticipate quality production from Kellen Winslow as the option in the middle of the field. Stovall’s Week 2 stat-line of 3 catches for 80 yards is enough to place a “watcher” sticker upon. Fantasy owners can feel confident that the combination of Stovall being mismatched and Lefty’s constant deep pass mentality will result in an occasional spike in stats for Stovall on a random weekly basis.
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