SleepersNovember 19, 2009

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Sleeper Watch

By Jimmy Vanderpool

The NFL was able to avoid the injury bug for a solid 10 weeks. But injuries to key NFL players each season is like death in real life, in that it cannot be cheated. As much as the loss hurts, it also seems to sprout new potential in places nobody thought to look before. Week 10 brought us injuries that significantly shifted the stability of RB situations in Cincinnati, Atlanta, and Seattle, the WR situation St Louis, and the RB/WR situation in Miami.

Instead of focusing specifically on individual players for this week’s sleeper insight, we will cover NFL team situations that present excellent sleeper opportunity:

Julius Jones left Seattle’s Week 10 game early in the 1st quarter with a chest injury. The most recent reports claim that it was not a broken rib but that he did experience some bleeding in the lungs. This opened up a window of opportunity for rookie Justin Forsett, who went on to post 123 yards on 17 carries. Prior to this game, Forsett’s high was 6 carries in a game. The bigger RB to target for sleeper value would be Louis Rankin, whom I featured as a sleeper just two weeks ago. Fantasy owners should anticipate the divide between Rankin and Forsett to become closer this week, with the outcome falling in the area of about 60/40, with Forsett getting the greater number of touches but Rankin with the greater yardage total.

Cedric Benson was mildly injured in Week 9 with a hip injury that wasn’t publicly known until he was dinged up early in Week 10 against Pittsburgh. Although most reports claim the injury to be of lesser long term significance, it was enough to signal a need for the Cincinnati front office to sign RB Larry Johnson, who was just recently released by Kansas City. On Monday Bengals coach Marvin Lewis boldly stated that Larry Johnson would be inactive on Sunday unless something changed with the current depth chart. The latest report on Thursday stated that Benson was doubtful for Sunday. This change could be enough to get Larry Johnson on the Bengals active roster Sunday. If Benson is indeed listed as out come Sunday, then fantasy owners should expect a split between Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard to account for about 85-90% of the running duties. Bernard Scott does appear to have the “east to west dancing illness” that plagued Rashard Mendenhall prior to this season, so owners should be wary on how effective he will be this early in his career.

Michael Turner’s high ankle sprain should be enough to draw him an OUT status for a couple of games. The ideal backup, Jerious Norwood, is suffering from a hip injury and is carrying a questionable status. Nonetheless, he’ll not be able to handle starting duties if he does play. Thus the buck falls to Jason Snelling by default. Snelling has had limited success in the past in the NFL so it is safe for fantasy owners to anticipate quality production from him, The problem is that owners should not expect Snelling to contribute for anything more than a week or two. Once Norwood or Turner reaches decent health they will immediately regain the starter role ahead of Snelling.

St Louis
Week 10 took a starting St Louis WR to injury for the second time this season. An early injury to Keenan Burton during the Saints game opened the door for Brandon Gibson to produce a seven-catch, 93-yard breakout performance. Although Gibson was already being groomed to unseat Burton as the starter in the upcoming weeks, the role wasn’t expected to expand so quickly. Considering the hefty price tag St Louis spent when they traded star LB Will Witherspoon for Gibson, the game plan was sort of obvious regarding Gibson. It is safe for fantasy owners to consider Brandon Gibson a WR3 with value instantly equitable to Donnie Avery.

The IR status of Ronnie Brown, after suffering a Lisfranc foot fracture, creates a multitude of speculative theories in Miami:

-It doesn’t seem reasonable to expect Ricky Williams to assume the brunt of Ronnie Brown’s vacated workload. Ricky only has four games with double-digit carries and his success is thought to be related to the fact that he is well rested during the games. Fantasy owners should be aware that an increased role does not always result in increased production, especially when talking about a 32-year-old RB acclimated to a RBBC.

-Another thought is that Miami could look towards an unproven RB like Lex Hilliard or FB Lousaka Politeto fill Brown’s role in some capacity. Neither has ever shown great production as a rusher but players like LeRon McClain and Peyton Hillis showed in 2008 that a FB type can transition well into a limited NFL RB role.

-The last theory is that Miami could shift its offensive scheme more towards a passing attack and put Brown’s workload on the shoulders of Chad Henne. At the moment, it seems illogical that Miami could restrict the wildcat when it is their prime reason for any experienced success. But Henne’s full potential as a passer still remains unknown because it wasn’t needed. Although, at times, Henne has shown that he can deliver an accurate deep pass.

All avenues have real value in terms of sleepers. The trick will be to be the fantasy owner who invests in the right theory without knowing yet which direction Miami officially has adopted.

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