Well the 2009 NFL season is off and running at full throttle. As usual, Week 1 surfaced a sliver of players who represented poor high-end potential on draft day, but now appear to be immediate impact contributors for any fantasy football roster. The WR position surfaced the biggest portion of surprise eruptions with the arrival of Mario Manningham, Laurent Robinson, and Chansi Stuckey. Each player’s key sleeper indicators are italicized for easy scan purposes.
Everybody knew that the New York Giants were going to find somebody within their stockpile of WRs to step up to the plate with production. Of the six most popular names that frequently arose for this role, Mario Manningham was most likely the last name mentioned. His 2008 rookie stat-line featured only 7 games played, 4 catches, and 26 total yards for the season. To further mask where he was in his development, the 2009 preseason didn’t show a very solid chemistry with Eli either on the field or in the stat-line. In fact, Manningham was reportedly at risk of not making the final cut roster as the preseason came to a close. But plug in injury factors along with inconsistent play of other WRs and suddenly Manningham’s value spikes dramatically from goat to possible star. If you watched the game against the Redskins, then you witnessed some marquee signs of a true sleeper in the making, which are an effective use of the “arm brush by” and the “stutter step” to gain YAC. Fantasy owners should be be willing to take a shot at Manningham in anticipation that he is gaining dependability and chemistry in a high octane, Kevin Gilbride offense.
A few things about Laurent Robinson jump out when looking for breakout sleeper indicators. The biggest one is the infamous 3rd-year WR theory. Most experienced fantasy football junkies are familiar with this theory, which states that WRs are most likely to experience a breakout season in the 3rd year of their career, because that is when everything they have been taught in NFL practice finally starts to click and show on the NFL field. Some players of note who found success upon their 3rd season were Steve Smith, Chad Ochocinco, and T.O. The other sleeper indicator is “on the field” performance to close out the season prior to the year that you expect them to develop. When viewing Laurent’s career totals up until this date, they can easily be skewed. In 2007, Laurent’s rookie season, he posted 7 games of at least 3 or more catches, started 6 games, posted better stats in the last 8 games than the first 8 games, and a Week 16 stat-line of 7 catches-114yds-1TD. All of these things point in a direction signaling that this player has shown a promising, although limited, ability to compete on the NFL level.
Coming into 2008 season, Laurent was considered a great sleeper candidate, but a knee sprain injury in Week 3 lingered most of the season, suffocating almost his entire stat-line. The loss of the 2008 season, as a tier of insight into Laurent’s development, compounded by the trade to St Louis in the off-season, as a degrading throw-in on a trade that only swapped out 5th-round and 6th-round picks, pushed Laurent completely off all sleeper radars into the vault of uselessness. While undeserving of being overlooked in most drafts, Laurent put up solid stats in the 2009 preseason. He displayed good hands, quality route running, and an understanding of the St. Louis offense. So although the stat-line in Week 1 for Laurent Robinson was a surprise for most in the fantasy world, it resides perfectly in line with his preseason totals to form consistency.
Chansi Stuckey is also in the group of 3rd-year WRs but the factor that has landed him on this immediate impact list though is unique because it has absolutely nothing to do with his physical attributes. It is the presence of Mark Sanchez. As a new QB, Sanchez represents the opportunity for an entire offense to be blanketed from broad exposure until after the preseason. In the same manner that Matt Ryan provided the 2008 Atlanta Falcons with a productive fantasy passing game, Mark Sanchez can uncover excellent sleeper value in New York. During the preseason, Chansi Stuckey won the stiff competition with Brad Smith and David Clowney for the second starting WR position. In the third preseason game, also known as the dress rehearsal game, Chansi was the leading WR with 4 catches, 69yds and 1TD. This should have been a screaming indicator to all fantasy owners that Mark Sanchez had established chemistry with Stuckey. The NFL Week 1 4-catch, 64-yard, 1-TD performance of Stuckey validated this chemistry, as Sanchez only completed passes to four players, and even more telling is that only TWO were WRs and the only passing TD went to Chansi. So during a time that a potentially huge QB prospect is trying to entrench himself with a solid WR chemistry, any player receiving as much attention as Stuckey has received from Sanchez should be worthy of a sleeper position in fantasy football.
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