Ok so let’s define this shall we. Everyone has a sleeper category and many people mean different things. Here at FFBLife and in my eyes I look at a sleeper as follows:
A guy with abundantly more potential to blow up than his fellows.
Make sense? It’s a guy who has one way or another caught my eye through some combination of talent and/or possible opportunity. If you are going to take a shot on a guy at the end of your roster, what’s the point of looking for a guy who may be ok from time to time? You don’t win championships with a team full of safe guys. The guys who will win the title in your league is going to have some record setter, a great group of superstars that particular year, or be the one who found some sleepers to blow up and supplement his stars. That is where I am looking in this section. And here we go:
Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, QB: Josh Freeman was a popular breakout candidate going into last season following a 25 TD to 6 INT season that saw him run for the second most yards of any QB. Obviously last year didn’t go as planned for Freeman or the Bucs but that doesn’t mean the potential wasn’t there. First, the Bucs added Vincent Jackson which automatically improves Mike Williams chances to rebound from a sophomore slump and gives Freeman two legitimate weapons on the outside. Dallas Clark, if healthy could really test the middle of the field and the Bucs drafted a RB in Doug Martin that is far better at receiving the ball than what they had last season. Freeman will certainly be in some potential shootouts going against the Saints, Falcons and Cam Newton led Panthers twice each and could be a great gamble late. – Kevin Nelson
Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans, QB
I have a sneaking suspicion that the Titans have actually already decided to start Locker this year. He looked decent in his limited action last year and the drafting of Kendall Wright is a perfect final piece in a Locker-friendly offense. If you look at their receivers, Kenny Britt, Nate Washington and Kendall Wright, with Jared Cook at tight end, they are all big receivers who love to go deep. Their size compensate somewhat for Locker's accuracy, while their speed will show off his arm-strength. Because Chris Johnson should rebound and the offensive line is excellent in pass protection, it's relatively safe to start Locker and expect some success. Locker has to deal with the Texans and Jaguars defenses twice a year, but he will have every opportunity to rack up points against the Colts twice. The Titans should be a competitive team next year, Locker is worth picking up, even if as a backup initially, because of his potential upside. – Cian Fahey
Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, QB – Now I know you’re probably saying how is Freeman a sleeper? You’re somewhat right but coming off of Freeman’s unimpressive season, he is likely to slip quite a bit in 2012 drafts. There are roughly 17 other quarterbacks you could draft ahead of Freeman in most opinions. So in a 10-12 man league Freeman will be available fairly late (depending on the people you are drafting with of course). With most drafts having around 16+ rounds, I see Freeman going as late as possibly the 9th. Matthew Stafford was selected in a similar position in 2011, and he did not disappoint. If you can snatch Freeman up late and focus on a big play tight end and two star running backs, with the mix of quality wideouts you should be in good position to win your league. With the additions of Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin, and with quality players in Mike Williams and LaGarrette Blount, look for Freeman to have a big season. Quietly. – Anthony Fusilli
Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams, QB
The Rams only made one improvement to their offensive line, but it was a significant one in Scott Wells. Wells is a fine center who, in a perfect world, will improve the Rams' relatively young group at each position with his leadership and intelligence. By adding weapons around Bradford however, the Rams did protect Bradford in another way. Isaiah Pead should catch plenty of screen passes to slow down the pass rush, not to mention add some yardage, while Brian Quick will stretch the field with Danny Amendola and Steve Smith racking up the receptions. Bradford needs to have a big year in 2012. He now has enough weapons to be a solid starter who you can draft in the latest of late rounds. – Cian Fahey
Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans, QB: This one of course hinges on winning the starting job and is one of the reason he could be so cheap come draft day. Locker is in an open QB competition in Tennessee this year and did not do half bad when he came in as a sub last season. In the 3 games in got into last year Locker amassed 5 TD to 0 INTS and a 99.4 QB rating. Locker is a duel threat QB who can get stats both through the air and on the ground. With Kenny Britt back healthy, new rookie Kendall Wright, a developing Jared Cook who is one of my breakout candidates, and the ever dangerous Chris Johnson occupying the safeties, the potential is great for potential big games. – Kevin Nelson
*Others Noted: Carson Palmer, OAK. Kevin Kolb, ARI.
Ryan Williams, Arizona Cardinals, RB: Remember this guy, again a sleeper going into last season; his rookie year was lost due to injury but looks good to go for training camp and the season upcoming. Beanie Wells is not the model of durability himself so Ryan Williams should at least share time right off the bat. He also has some explosive potential and with Malcom Floyd and Larry Fitgerald out wide, he could see some nice running lanes to use them. Beanie better be careful, because I think this kid could make a run at the job like Chris Johnson did to Lendale White in Tennessee a few years ago. – Kevin Nelson
Toby Gerhart, Minnesota Vikings, RB
After Adrian Peterson went down last year, Toby Gerhart proved to be a strong runner who could consistently carry the football. Gerhart showed a resilience and bullishness between the tackles to average 4.9 yards per carry. He likely won't be much of a receiving threat next year, but he did have three receiving touchdowns and 23 receptions last year. Regardless of the status of Peterson, Gerhart will see a significant increase in his opportunities this season. He should take advantage of those to become a respectable starter. – Cian Fahey
Isaac Redman, Pittsburgh Steelers, RB – Isaac Redman has a great opportunity to prove that his late success last year was no fluke. Rashard Mendenhall is recovering from a torn ACL and most likely going to be put on the PUP list. This gives Redman first dibs on the backfield in Steel City. Redman averaged 4.4 yards per carry last year. The addition of new assistant coach, Todd Haley, adds even more value to Redman, especially in PPR leagues. Haley likes to use his backs in exotic packages and also use them as receivers. Redman won’t break any 80 yarders on pure speed, but he’s a hard-nose runner with great cut-back ability, and he’s being undervalued going into this year’s fantasy drafts. I also can’t help but think after drafting Redman around the 7th or 8th round, you can do some handcuffing. Mendenhall’s average draft position is currently in the 11th round, and might even go undrafted in your league. Yes, he will be out for the first 2 months, but the rewards could be great for someone that takes the handcuff gamble and this turns into a 2-headed monster heading into the final stretch of the regular season. Redman comes with not much risk, and ability to deliver high reward. Just think about it. – Michael J. Igyarto
Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons, RB: This is for total yard/PPR leagues especially. There is just something that intrigues me about this guy. Now he won’t overtake Michael Turner as the starter of course, but he will play 3rd downs and has passed Snelling as the Falcons back up. Rodgers is a potential Darren Sproles type clone who, like Sproles, gets to play home games on the fast turf. With the Falcons opening up the passing aspect of their offense, that could put more opportunity in Rodgers hands in his second season. – Kevin Nelson
Peyton Hillis, Kansas City Chiefs, RB – Hillis helped destroy my fantasy team last season and I swore to never draft him again. Well… I’ve had a change of heart. He’s not on the Madden cover again, and he got the job backing up the other guy who helped kill my 2011 fantasy team, Jamaal Charles. (Yes, I had the joy of having both players.) Looking forward to 2012 Hillis is the backup to Charles as he recovers from a torn ACL. This should lead to many scoring chances for Hillis in the red zone, as well as short yardage situations. We all know Hillis has the ability to break big runs and trample the defense so don’t be afraid to take a late flier on Hillis as a possible flex player slot or backup back in case of a starter’s bye/injury. – Anthony Fusilli
Alex Green, Green Bay Packers, RB: Ok, show of hands football fans, are you worried about the skills of James Starks as a defense? I didn’t think so. A sleeper is somebody who we want to take a job and run with it. Alex Green has that opportunity in Green Bay. Ryan Grant is gone, and as we all agreed in sentence one, James Starks isn’t exactly knocking the door on the NFL’s top 100. Smith is out until training camp after recovering from a knee injury but the opportunity is there for this young back out of Hawaii if he can make some noise early. – Kevin Nelson
*Others Noted: Donald Brown, IND. CJ Spiller, BUF.
Brandon Lloyd, New England Patriots, WR – The reuniting of Lloyd and offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels it the first plus in this situation. This is his 3rd time catching balls for a McDaniels run offense. Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise if Lloyd already knows the Patriots’ playbook. Lloyd has been so impressive in OTAs, that the Boston Globe reports that Patriots quarterbacks have been looking for him because he's been exactly where he needs to be on every play. Then of course, you have Tom Brady throwing him the ball. Lloyd won’t be a great PPR receiver per say, but this man will find the end zone and is a deep threat for Brady at all times which can and will lead to large chunks of yardage. Lloyd is currently going 7th round or later in recent mocks, and I say he’s a great 3rd option for your team who has the ability to get you decent yardage and touchdown receptions, despite the team being loaded with receiving threats. He might just slip past some folks so monitor him in your drafts and see if he slips farther down than he should. Everybody wants the Gronkowski, Welker or even Aaron Hernandez when drafting a Patriot, but Lloyd might turn out to be the surprise in this offense this year. Low risk/high reward situation if you ask me. – Michael J. Igyarto
Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks, WR: I love guys who talk about greatness. A lot of guys want to get better, do their little PR thing in front of the camera insincerely or whatnot, but then there are the guys who just talk like greatness is all they see. Baldwin is one of those guys. You listen to Baldwin, an undrafted rookie last year out of Stanford and he wasn’t impressed by a rookie season that saw him catch 51 balls for 788 yards because he wants to be the best. Call him a slot receiver and he’ll laugh at you. He wants to be everywhere. Seattle might not through like the Packers or Patriots but with Sydney Rice coming off surgery to both shoulders, a lot of the load will fall on Baldwin. I’m excited to see what he does. - Kevin Nelson
Domenik Hixon, New York Giants, WR – While I don’t expect Hixon to be this year’s Victor Cruz, expect him to play a big role in the New York Giants offense. With the possibility of Hakeem Nicks missing time, Hixon has the opportunity to shine in the G-men’s passing game. Jake Ballard, Eli’s former go to Tight End, is gone as well. This should open up more opportunities over the middle for Hixon, and with the departure of Mario Manningham, look for Hixon to be Manning’s deep threat as well. Grab him late or even on the free agent wire if one of your guys gets hurt and you need some WR production. – Anthony Fusilli
Greg Little, Cleveland Browns, WR: No longer having to worry about Colt McCoy throwing him the football, Little’s success will now be tied to rookie Brandon Weeden. If there is one thing last year, and the new NFL has shown us is that rookie QBs can be successful early. Weeden is the most NFL ready of any rookie and could have similar potential to Andy Dalton last year. Little has lost weight in an effort to be quicker, down to 220, and has been very strong with the football so far. Little had 61 catches for just over 700 yards with McCoy last season and there is no reason to believe that won’t jump up with an improved quarterback and running game (some guy name Trent). – Kevin Nelson
Eddie Royal, San Diego Chargers, WR
The Chargers have been raving about Eddie Royal since he arrived this off-season. He has apparently already shown signs of a good rapport with Philip Rivers and pushed Vincent Brown out of contention to be the starting slot receiver. Royal had a great rookie season, but has done very little since. A lot of the reasons for his poor play were out of his control however. A combination of injuries and scheme changes have hurt Royal since Jay Cutler left Denver. Royal is the type of receiver who will excel in the right situation, but is essentially useless outside of that role. When Josh McDaniels took over in Denver, he traded for Jabar Gaffney and started Brandon Lloyd over Royal because they were better fits in his offense. Once McDaniels was gone, Tim Tebow came in for Kyle Orton and Royal went from an average quarterback in a scheme he didn't like to a terrible passing quarterback in a system that crippled him. Playing with Philip Rivers, an elite quarterback talent like Jay Cutler, with enough quality receivers around him to draw coverage, Royal should have a huge rebound year this year. – Cian Fahey
Lestar Jean, Houston Texans, WR: For years now we have been plucking Kevin Walters and Jacoby Jones up in drafts hoping that we hit the guy who will finally breakout with the 24/7 single coverage opposite Andre Johnson. Glimpses were shown, but nothing really hit. Jean missed his rookie season due to injury but has been thoroughly impressive in OTAs thus far. He has a good size at 6’ 3” 215 lbs and has been given the nickname “Big Play” by his WR coach. He has been attached to Johnson and his coaches at the hip learning the offense’s ins and outs and has been running with the first team while Johnson rests his current ailment. Everyone wants to find the next Victor Cruz, perhaps this is it. – Kevin Nelson
*Others Noted: Danny Amendola, STL. Jacoby Ford, OAK.
Jared Cook, Tennessee Titans, TE – 2011 saw an emergence of tight ends that put up better numbers than receivers. It’s a new age in football, and tight ends are no longer just there to clog up the passing lanes or protect the quarterback. Cook fits the character of one of these tight ends. He’s tall, he’s fast, and he’s massive. If you are like me, and you don’t want to waste a 1st or 2nd round pick chasing Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski around, wait for a guy like Cook. Tennessee is excited for this guy this season. It’s his 4th year and if he stays on track, he should emerge as a top 10 tight end this season. He started very slow last year, but finished the season very strong going for two 100-yard games in his final three. His 2011 numbers were 49 receptions, 759 receiving yards, and 3 touchdowns. I expect those receptions to rise, and so should his touchdown total. Cook’s current ADP is 12.1. This is like stealing. Someone should arrest me for the robberies I’m going to pull on my competition with this pick. – Michael J. Igyarto
Martellus Bennett, New York Giants, TE: This will be an early sink or swim. Bennett has never been short on talent, only on attitude. Playing for a coach like Tom Coughlin will either write the ship or end our sleeper speculation before you can say “man, what a wasted talent.” The Giants have a pass catching TE need and Bennett could excel in this role with his head on straight. This is a true potential boom. – Kevin Nelson
*Others Noted: Daniel Fells