Ask any fantasy owner what their definition of a “sleeper” is and you’ll likely get a different answer from all of them. Some people feel a sleeper must burst onto the fantasy scene out of nowhere to become a reliable performer. Others feel all a sleeper must do is outperform the players selected around them in their fantasy draft.
My definition is a combination of the two. First, a sleeper must outperform their draft position, while also outperforming players taken many rounds ahead of them. The second part defines a sleeper as a players that rises up his NFL team’s depth chart, becoming a starter and surprising many fantasy owners with their performance once they get their chance.
Successfully drafting sleepers is paramount to having a successful season. More and more fantasy owners are becoming more informed. Therefore, the best players are less likely to fall to you in your draft. So, after grabbing the steady and proven performers to build the core of your fantasy team, you will need to use the latter part of the draft to find those hidden gems to put you over the top.
Last season, some great performers slipped through the cracks of many drafts. Miles Austin, Sidney Rice, Vernon Davis, Brent Celek and Mike Sims-Walker were all late-round picks – some were even waiver pickups. The owners that took these players were likely in the mix for league championships last season.
Here is my pre-training camp list of the best sleeper candidates for 2010;
Mike Wallace, WR – Pittsburgh:
The Steelers trade of WR Santonio Holmes to the Jets has opened a spot for Wallace to become their #1 wideout. Sure, Hines Ward remains, but he is becoming more of a possession receiver. The Steelers drafted Holmes with the idea of him becoming their deep threat of the future. Now that job falls to Wallace, who led the NFL in 2009 in yards per catch with 19.4. The sophomore receiver will be hurt by QB Ben Roethlisberger’s 4-game suspension, but after that, he should make plenty of noise. Wallace reminds me a lot of Austin, with speed to burn and good hands. Pittsburgh has a third-place schedule, so they should put up some good numbers up against some inferior opponents.
Chad Henne, QB – Miami:
The Dolphins will abandon the Wildcat offense. And why not? They actually have a #1 receiver to throw to downfield, with the off-season acquisition of WR Brandon Marshall from the Broncos. Secondary receivers like Davone Bess, Greg Camarillo and Brian Hartline can contribute as well, but Marshall will make everyone better. Henne will get every opportunity to succeed and I think he has all the tools to become a great NFL quarterback in 2010. The Dolphins will still trail in many games, but that will give Henne more chances to air out the ball. Draft Henne as a #2 QB or as a bye-week replacement and hope he shines.
Justin Forsett, RB – Seattle:
LenDale White’s shocking release from the Seahawks opened the door for Forsett. Last season, he was one of the best performers in the second half, averaging over 10 points per game after week 8. He may open the season in a RBBC with Julius Jones and Leon Washington, but I think he can overcome that to become a bona fide NFL starter. Forsett is a dual rushing/receiving threat in the mold of Brian Westbrook. If he can earn the chance to get 20 touches per game, he could be a fantasy star.
Ben Tate, RB – Houston:
You will hear a lot about other rookie RBs like Ryan Matthews, Jahvid Best and C.J. Spiller – but Tate could be the best rookie in 2010. He will fly under the radar because he was picked in the second round, but Texans’ coach Gary Kubiak has a lot on the line this season. Kubiak has had a carousel at RB during his tenure in Houston, and the pressure is on him to get to the playoffs. Tate is Kubiak’s pick and despite what you may hear to the contrary, Kubiak wants to install the big back from Auburn as his main runner. The Texans’ have a great passing offense but need a running game. If given the chance, Tate has the opportunity to run on many defenses thinking pass rather than run. Tate’s physical presence makes him a great candidate for double-digit TDs as well.
Devin Aromashodu, WR – Chicago:
Many Fantasy sources will name Aromashodu as a sleeper – so his stock may rise before your draft. But, considering his late-season surge in 2009 (averaging over 13 points per game weeks 14-17) and that passing guru Mike Martz has taken over the Bears’ offense, Aromashodu must be mentioned. There is no sure-fire, #1 WR in Chicago, so whoever assumes that role has the chance to put up some big numbers. Keep an eye on the training camp competition at WR with the Bears this summer – and remember Aromashodu’s name.
Early Doucet, WR – Arizona:
Like Wallace, this young wideout has the chance to earn a starting gig with a good offense. Doucet’s name may not be highly regarded, but with Anquan Boldin traded to the Ravens, Doucet could be a name we hear a lot of in 2010. He didn’t do much in the regular season in 2009, but he had 14 catches for 145 yards and 2 TDs in the Cardinals’ two playoff games. Many fantasy owners may assume that WR Steve Breaston will take Boldin’s starting position, but Breaston is likely headed to the slot receiver position, leaving Doucet as the receiver opposite perennial All-Pro Larry Fitzgerald. With Fitz attracting double-coverage, Doucet will have the chance to get wide open downfield. Don’t be concerned about QB Matt Leinart taking over for the retired Kurt Warner. Doucet doesn’t need his QB to be great – he just needs to get the ball. Look for Doucet in the later rounds of your draft and hope he shines.
Cadillac Williams, RB – Tampa Bay:
Surprisingly enough, Williams rebounded from a patella tendon knee injury in 2008 and became the Bucs’ starting tailback last year. He had over 1,000 combined rushing/receiving yards and 7 total TDs. Williams has remained low on the Fantasy radar screen this offseason, but he is injury-free. Tampa will not be a strong team this year, but any starting RB is worth a late draft pick. Williams and Derrick Ward will battle it out for starting duties, but the inside track belongs to the Cadillac. Williams will likely be a mid-to-late round pick, an excellent spot for a decent RB3 on your fantasy squad.
Malcom Floyd, WR – San Diego:
The Chargers are in a tough spot. They are a Super Bowl contender, but their best WR, restricted free agent Vincent Jackson, is involved in a nasty contract dispute. It’s difficult to say when or if the dispute will end (Jackson has threatened to hold out into November). In the meantime, the lanky Floyd has an opportunity to be San Diego’s top downfield target if Jackson holds out. Floyd had only 1 TD in 2009, but he amassed 776 yards receiving. QB Philip Rivers loves to throw deep so if Floyd is his best option, his numbers could skyrocket.
Devin Thomas, WR – Washington:
The third pro season for wide receivers is a usually a big one. Thomas was the ‘Skins second round pick in 2008 and he has all the tools to be a great NFL receiver. Unfortunately, he has fizzled his in first two seasons and last year recorded 25 catches for 325 yards and 3 TDs in 14 games. The recent changes in Washington could help Thomas in a huge way. Donovan McNabb comes over from the Eagles to give Washington an established QB and new head coach Mike Shanahan is considered an offensive genius. So, Thomas will have a great opportunity to establish himself as a pro. Considering Santana Moss’ potential scandal with HGH, Thomas may be the best WR on the team when the season opens. He is a great late-round flier to take a chance on in 2010.
Matt Jones, WR – Cincinnati:
Many people have forgotten about Jones. He was the Jaguars’ top receiver in 2008 (761 yards in 12 games), but was suspended for drug violations in 2009. Even after being eligible to sign with an NFL team, Jones was passed over by the league and sat out last year. Reportedly, this has shocked Jones into taking his career seriously, and he reported to the Bengals in great shape. Jones will have to contend with Chad Ochocinco and Antonio Bryant for catches, but Jones is a pure sleeper – he’s a disgraced former first round pick trying to reestablish his career. Cincinnati loves reclamation projects, and perhaps they can find lightning in a bottle again with Jones. Keep an eye on Jones as a last-round flier in your leagues in 2010.
Tom is from Toronto, Ontario, Canada and attended Ryerson University's Journalism School. After two years working for Hockey Night in Canada after graduation, he decided to go into the private sector for employment. He still has a passion for sports, and he's completely hooked on Fantasy Football.
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