The term "sleeper" might just be the most dangerous word in fantasy, but it's also the most tantalizing. Depending on the size, shape and composition of your league, the word can mean very different things. One person's sleeper is another person's sixth-round pick.
Let's say, for example, that you're playing in an 8-team league that involve four first-time owners, two dudes who will abandon their teams immediately after drafting them, and another guy who refuses to own any player from the Packers, Lions or Vikings. In a league like that, the Manning brothers might just qualify as sleepers.
But some of you are playing in 20-teamers with multiple flex spots, with rules of Byzantine complexity. In a league like that, owners probably don't consider anyone a sleeper unless he's ticketed for a practice squad, and/or he's spent a couple seasons in the CFL.
So please, let's acknowledge from the start that "sleeper" will mean something different to every reader, and to every fantasy manager. Today, I'm rolling out a list of a dozen end-of-draft players to target in competitive leagues. These names might just be too obvious for the sharks among you, and they'll be too deep for others. Hopefully we'll unearth something useful in the list below. These are the new leads. And to you, they're gold...
(Note: ADP data is from Mock Draft Central, where these players are all going outside the top 150 picks).
QB Jake Locker, Tennessee, average draft position 205.2, QB No. 24 — The kid appears to have the lead in the Titans' QB position battle, and he's got the skill set to thrive in a changing offense that promises deep strikes and big plays. Locker was terrific in limited duty as a rookie, and he'll have an impressive collection of weapons at his disposal in Tennessee: CJ, Kendall Wright, Nate Washington, eventually Kenny Britt (assuming good health. And no crime spree). At Locker's current price, he's a crazy steal.
RB Rashad Jennings, Jacksonville, ADP 188.7, RB56 — Have you seen Maurice Jones-Drew? No? Well, neither have the Jaguars. Jennings figures to get touches in Jacksonville, with or without MJD in the mix. He's a powerful, talented back who's averaged 5.4 YPC over two NFL seasons. If MJD were to miss significant time, Jennings could pay out 90 cents on the dollar as a handcuff.
RB Alex Green, Green Bay, ADP 192.8, RB59 — Green might just be the only running back in Packers camp getting any positive buzz at all. Even if Cedric Benson takes a significant role, Green will likely be the primary pass-catcher out of the backfield. Ced is not exactly known for his receiving contributions. Green is obviously tied to one of the league's best offenses, so that works. Same deal with this guy...
WR Randall Cobb, Green Bay, ADP 152.0, WR51 — Cobb is a dangerous man. It's almost unfair to think of this guy lined up in the slot, matched up with a safety, with one of Earth's best quarterbacks at the controls of the offense. Without question, Cobb's combination of talent and situation make him a prime breakout candidate. Of all the names on this list, he's the one I'm most likely to reach for as a final round flier.
RB Taiwan Jones, Oakland, ADP N/A — Jones is live-wire quick, a scary man in the open field, and he'll run behind Darren McFadden, a legendarily injury-prone (but also awesome) lead back. I don't know that we'll ever see a 20-touch game from Jones, but he's a highlight waiting to happen when he's on the field.
QB Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay, ADP 150.6, QB18 — Yeah, he was a bust-and-a-half last season. But every aspect of Freeman's offense has been upgraded — the line, the backfield, the receiving corps — and his team's defense is still rotten. This team will fall into a few shootouts, and fantasy points will follow. No way Freeman should be drafted beyond pick No. 150.
RB Jonathan Dwyer, Pittsburgh, ADP 210.0, RB69 — Look, someone is going to have to carry the ball in Pittsburgh. It won't be Rashard Mendenhall (knee) to open the year, Isaac Redman is battling a groin injury, and Chris Rainey is like a teacup version of an NFL running back (5-foot-8, 180). Dwyer could end up with a nice-sized workload.
RB Bilal Powell, NY Jets, ADP N/A — I realize he didn't really put any highlights on tape last season, but he's beginning to look like the primary third-down back in New York, a guy who should see the field plenty. If your name is right behind Shonn Greene's on the depth chart, then you better be ready. We know this team loves to run, so Powell should get his chances.
WR Jerome Simpson, Minnesota, ADP 206.0, WR73 — You'll have to wait out his three-game suspension to open the season, but that's OK. No one's fantasy league settles its championship in Weeks 1-3. We know Simpson has plenty of talent, we know the Vikes are going to have to throw, and Jerome will have a starting role waiting for him when he returns.
RB Shane Vereen, New England, ADP 188.6, RB55 — Stevan Ridley appears to be the back to own in New England, but he's a couple red zone fumbles away from joining Laurence Maroney in exile. The Pats aren't all-in on any single back. Vereen will be in the mix, and he'll no doubt deliver a few respectable PPR lines.
WR Jonathan Baldwin, Kansas City, ADP 166.9, WR57 — I'm pretty much going to mention this guy whenever we're discussing sleepers, late-rounders, value picks, favorite Baldwins ... I'll basically jump on any opportunity to hype him. He's a huge receiver with crazy athleticism, one of the buzziest off-season names in the league. Dwayne Bowe's absence from camp has presented Baldwin with a terrific opportunity. Draft him late, take your profit.
RB LaMichael James, San Francisco, ADP 210.2, RB71 — It's not hard to imagine James serving as Darren Sproles-Lite in the Niners' offense. Of course there's a pileup of quality NFL runners in the San Francisco backfield, but James' talents are unique among them. We'll see a handful of highlight plays from the rookie, I'd wager. Obviously his path to fantasy value is cluttered, but an injury or two would make him a pickup-of-interest.
And let's toss out one more name, just to throw a tight end into the mix...
TE Martellus Bennett, NY Giants, ADP 185.7, TE20 — Well, we can't say that Bennett suffers from a confidence problem...
"I'm in the best shape I've ever been. Ask any of the guys in the camp," Bennett said. "I'm stronger than I've ever been. I'm faster than I've ever been. I could run all day. I'm kind of like a black unicorn out there. It's amazing to watch."
OK then. He's at the top of the depth chart at his position, tied to an excellent offense, and he's available at a no-risk price. Deep league players can, um ... ride the unicorn.
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