Monday, August 24, 2009
Week 3 Column: The Sleepers
Heading into Week 3 of the preseason, the editors tried to put me on an abbreviated word count, not wanting to risk a freak typing injury when “the games don’t matter.” But after some heated discussions, and a late-night hold-out threat issued by my agent, they agreed to let me play out the full column.
I reminded them that Draft Night is just around the corner, and you’d be expecting a complete list of sleepers today. After all, fantasy veterans know the secret to great drafting is not simply selecting the best players available, but taking them no earlier than necessary. You may share my belief that Beanie Wells is poised to have a breakout season; but you’re hurting yourself – and, worse yet, begging for ridicule from your opponents – if you draft him too early.
Wells could rank among the Top 10 running backs by year’s end, but he’s typically valued closer to the 30th RB slot. He’s what we in the “bidness” call a sleeper; because, of course, calling him a kumquat makes no sense at all.
It’s nearly impossible to field a dominating fantasy team without nabbing at least a couple of these undervalued players. Last year, mid- to late-round selections of Philip Rivers, Kurt Warner, DeAngelo Williams, Matt Forte, Chris Johnson and Roddy White, to name just a few, made their owners look like geniuses, and champions.
Your goal, therefore, is not just to draft the best player available at every pick, but to have the knowledge and patience to wait on the guys that are flying under your less-savvy opponents’ radar.
So who are these hidden gems, you ask? Read on for my Top 10 Sleeper Picks of 2009, broken down by position.
(Note: ADP means “average draft position,” and indicates where the player is typically selected in standard leagues, according to multiple mock draft web sites. Compare this to their value in my Top 100 rankings, where applicable.)
Matt Schaub, QB, Texans (ADP: 70, Top 100: 39). I’m not alone in pegging Schaub as a sleeper, and I share the well-documented injury concerns. But when I look at his favorable schedule, especially during the fantasy playoffs, I can’t help but think Houston’s gunslinger will be knocking on the door of the fantasy elite by season’s end.
Carson Palmer, QB, Bengals (ADP: 80; T100: 43). Until a high ankle sprain slowed him down, Palmer was having an outstanding offseason reconnecting with familiar targets Chad Ocho Cinco and Chris Henry, as well as free-agent pickup Laveranues Coles. Assuming he shakes this latest nagging injury, look for a nice bounce-back campaign from the once-and-future elite passer.
Chris “Beanie” Wells, RB, Cardinals (ADP: 74; T100: 14). Three rookie backs ranked among the Top 11 last season, so there’s no reason the new workhorse in one of the NFL’s most prolific offenses can’t do so this season. Let your competitors dwell on his pesky ankle problems and Tim Hightower’s presence; you snare this year’s Rookie of the Year on the cheap.
Felix Jones, RB, Cowboys (ADP: 77, T100: 24). Most experts are high on the second-year sensation, but how many have him ranked ahead of teammate Marion Barber? I do, because I believe the multi-dimensional back will be the Cowboys' most explosive offensive weapon of 2009. And he won’t be pulled at the goal-line because he’s just as effective in short yardage as his counterpart.
Willie Parker, RB, Steelers (ADP: 64, T100: 31). You can believe the pundits who say he won't get the goal-line carries, or you can watch the game. You know, the one Saturday where he took the ball at the Redskins' three-yard-line and swept into the end zone? Rashard Mendenhall continues to be a disappointment, while Fast Willie is gunning for a new contract.
Kevin Walter, WR, Texans (ADP: 85, T100: 58). He was maddeningly inconsistent in 2008, following an “up one week, down the other” pattern. And yet he still ranked among the Top 20 receivers by year’s end. With more seasoning, and a healthy Schaub under center, Walter has considerable upside.
Chris Henry, WR, Bengals (ADP: 130). Though he'll begin the season as the team’s third wideout, I expect Henry to outperform, and eventually unseat, newcomer Coles. Henry has great rapport with his quarterback, and he's arguably the team’s biggest playmaker.
Troy Williamson, WR, Jaguars (ADP: 170). The talented but underachieving wideout has vaulted into contention for a starting job by virtue of his outstanding preseason performances. Williamson is the definition of a late-round flier, but he just may be on the brink of shedding the “bust” label he earned after Minnesota made him the seventh overall pick of the 2005 draft.
Kevin Boss, TE, Giants (ADP: 147, T100: 91). As he breaks in a new set of starting wideouts, Eli Manning will find comfort in Boss, a reliable, if unspectacular, red-zone target. You won’t mistake him for Antonio Gates, but he’ll be a solid second-tier tight end.
Lawrence Tynes, K, Giants (ADP: 225). Last season, John Carney scored 143 points with the Giants after Tynes suffered a preseason knee injury. Now that Carney is in New Orleans, Tynes re-enters a favorable situation but remains the forgotten man. His Week 10 bye makes him an even tastier final-round pick.
Here are two bonus players – let’s call them fliers – to target in the final round, or as early waiver-wire pickups.
Sam Hurd, WR, Cowboys. Virtually invisible a month ago, Hurd has been the Cowboys’ most impressive and consistent wideout throughout camp. He is slowly climbing up the depth chart, and could push Patrick Crayton for a starting job before long. Miles Austin’s stock, meanwhile, is dropping like a rock.
Jermichael Finley, TE, Packers. It’s only a matter of time before the ultra-athletic youngster supplants Donald Lee in the starting lineup. And when he does, Finley will quickly become a lethal red-zone weapon.
Next week: The 2009 Perfect Draft.