Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Fantasy Football - Sleeper Picks

Tis the season of joy and wonder! It’s the most, wonderful time…of the year! All the little boys and girls develop their lists of what they want for the coming football season. “I’ve gotta use my first two picks on a running back!” “I’m not taking a QB till way late!” That’s right folks, fantasy football is back.

Rather than divulge my entire strategy for who I like and hate where and when (since I’m in a league with two-thirds of this blog’s co-authors), I’ll instead just focus on one piece of that puzzle. It’s the piece I find most frustrating, and simultaneously the most exciting. It’s trying to figure out who’s going to come out of nowhere to have a big season. Predicting the Eddie Royals and the Matt Cassels of the world are no easy task.

Which, of course, is why I’m taking on the challenge. Something to think about here, though. This isn’t the same old same old list of sleeper picks. You know “those” picks, right? The ones that are in every fantasy football magazine as a sleeper? I’m not going to tell you about Carson Palmer and Derrick Ward and Anthony Gonzalez. The only guys those are sleepers to are the ones that walk into draft day with a printed pre-ranked list they haven’t looked at yet from some website they couldn’t name if you offered to pay their entry fee.

And you don’t need sleepers to beat those players, anyway.

This list is a handful of players you may or may not have heard of, but consists almost entirely of guys that I’m not seeing in anyone’s fantasy rankings. These aren’t guys you want to target in the 7th or 8th round to make sure you get them early…they’re guys you want to target in the round before you get a kicker to make sure no one picks them up off waivers after week one. They’re ultra-high risk, but potentially very high reward. They’re guys you can definitely consider in keeper leagues, particularly ones that reward you for keeping players drafted later.

Expect people to look at you funny if you draft them. But by the end of the season, if they don’t pan out, no one will remember. And if they do, you’ll make sure no one forgets.


Chad Henne, Miami
Drafted in the 2nd round last year, Henne is viewed as the long term solution to the QB position in Miami. There’s a reason he wasn’t a high first round pick, but largely he has the tools to succeed if given the chance. Last year, surrounded by terrible receivers, Chad Pennington scored in the top 15 QBs in most formats, and was #11 in my format that favors yards heavily. Pennington is also in his 30s and has had constant injury issues.

Note one particular trend: For his career, whenever Pennington threw 350+ times in a season, he never reached 300 attempts the following season. If Henne can play, and Pennington goes down – both reasonable possibilities – Henne could be in for a break-out season.

Running Back

A brief note on RBs: This is tough to find any “deep” sleepers, since many people know the names of backups. Top backups go to handicap guys frequently higher than they should go, since it’s so important to be covered at this position. These guys may need to be targeted earlier than I indicated above.

Justin Fargas, Oakland
Fargas has put together two mediocre seasons in Oakland, splitting carries. But most impressive has been his 4.2 YPC in those years. Now, Al Davis didn’t command his minions to draft the hallowed Darren McFadden and pay him $26MM guaranteed to ride the pine, and new coach Tom Cable is offering his best lip-service at noting how he’d love nothing more than to get McFadden more involved.

However, the rumblings I’m reading coming from Raiders camp and McFadden’s performance last season are that he’s a lot like Reggie Bush. Good outside the tackles, but not inside. On top of that, he struggled with injuries last year. Davis is fickle, and if McFadden isn’t performing, and Fargas is, it wouldn’t shock me to see Cable go with what works and start getting Fargas – who runs well between the tackles – more carries; particularly at the goal line.

LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia
Sitting in waiting behind Brian Westbrook, perennial super-stud? Well, that very specifically depends on how long Westbrook is a super-stud for, doesn’t it?

Westbrook has always been dinged up, and yet fantasy owners could rely on him to start 90% of the time. He has consistently been a top 5 scoring FFL back. He’s one of the best pass-catching backs in the league, and in many PPR leagues has been the top overall pick for many the past few years.

But Westbrook is completely off my board this year. He hits the magic age – 30 – in less than a month. And while he only averages ~230 carries, he’s catching another 70, plus getting touches in the playoffs. In the past four years, he’s touched the ball an average of 325 times per season. It’s a lot of touches, and even if his performance doesn’t start sliding or he stays healthy for 14+ games again this year, it’s a decent bet that the Eagles start reducing his carries both to give the rookie playing time, as well as keep Westbrook fresh for the playoffs. McCoy should be a solid runner on a great offense, and if Westbrook really falls off a cliff – not like that’s never happened before *cough* Tomlinson *cough cough* - McCoy could have some very strong numbers.

Wide Receivers

Demetrius Williams, Baltimore
I might get some homer cat-calls here. But I’m going on a limb with him anyway. Here’s a guy that’s had a lot of talent on the practice field, but has had a lot of issues translating it to performance on game-day.

But there are some reasons for that. First, we all know how awesome the Ravens offense has been, right? This can be a limiting factor for any number three receiver. Second, he’s struggled with injuries the past two years. Reports have attributed this to his long, lanky frame. This season, the Ravens offense could improve greatly as Cam expands the play-book and Flacco improves with a year under his belt; and “DWill” has added 30-40 pounds of muscle to his frame (thanks to a heavy weight-lifting regimen) in an attempt to avoid injuries.

More particular than that, he compliments Derrick Mason better as a down-field threat to Mason’s possession receiver status. Add on that we’ve pretty much already seen what we’re going to see out of Clayton, who really should be in the #3 slot; DWill has looked very good in camp so far; and Clayton is struggling with injuries, and it adds up to a shot for DWill to steal Clayton’s starter status, and start piling up some fantasy points. 800 yards and 5 TDs could be reasonable and make him a solid backup. But if he’s really been fooling us all and lives up to the potential we’ve seen from him, he could be worth cracking the starting lineup as a #3 or even #2 FFL receiver.

Domenik Hixon, New York Giants
Some quick and dirty stats for you. Up through week 11, with Plaxico still playing, Hixon averaged 1.5 rec, 24.5 yards and 0.1 TDs per game. From week 12 on after Plax left, he averaged 4.7 rec, 58.5 yards and 0.2 TDs per game. Those numbers over a full season translate to 75 rec, 936 yards and 3 TDs.

Not dominant, but remember that this is a young guy, still with room to develop. The fact that the Giants drafted two receivers hurts his FFL value. But after playing so well last year, he’s starting camp as a starting receiver, and could easily retain that job. While I personally think Eli isn’t a great QB without Plaxico, I also believe that they throw the ball a good bit, and whoever their starting receivers are will get catches.


So there it is. Five guys to keep an eye on, watch through camp, and think about in those final rounds of drafting. Good luck!


  1. Mike Bush would be the guy in Oakland if/when McFadden sucks.

  2. Homer cat-call. Williams is a third receiver on a one-receiver team and he's never been able to stay healthy. The parlay required for Williams to be a viable fantasy threat isn't close to profitable. Anyone would be far better off taking a real #2 and trying to catch Lance Moore in a bottle.

  3. I've heard Fargas is looking good. Just a guess.

    Williams called out as a sleeper only if he takes that #2 slot. He and Hixon should both be deep picks, but that's what this is meant to be...I don't see Henne mentioned anywhere either.

    The thing with Williams is that he's actually got a solid chance to steal Clayton's spot in training camp. Clayton is mostly on the sidelines with hammy issues, and Williams is making plays running with the first team. If he starts and stays healthy, his numbers should be up over his all time highs pretty easily. If he breaks out as a legit receiver, he'll make a viable fantasy player.

  4. Hixon isn't a deep pick. He's the #1 receiver on a Super Bowl contender.

  5. He's ranked in the 60s in a few of the sites/mags I've looked at. Most I've seen have both Nicks and Steve Smith in front of him.

    Steve Smith is one of those "sleepers" I was discussing at the beginning of the article...the kind that's basically on everyone's sleeper list. Which seems like a worthless pick to me...his numbers actually got worse when Plax went down.

  6. If someone in my league drafted Chad Henne I would piss in their ear and then kick them out of the league on grounds of stupidity.


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