If you're new to fantasy football, you may be wondering what a "sleeper" is. To me, a sleeper is a player that has potential to outperform his draft position. Sleeper candidates can be rookies or "under-the-radar" players. Some successful sleeper examples from last season include Jimmy Graham, Matthew Stafford and Willis McGahee. So what can you do to land the next potential superstar? Below are a few traits that many sleepers have in common:
Wide receivers usually break out in their third year as a pro. Having to learn how to run precise routes while adjusting to the speed of the NFL takes time, which is why it is rare that rookie receivers produce elite numbers right from the start. Oakland Raiders' Darrius Heyward-Bey is a classic example of this trend. He was a non-factor during his rookie season, but in his second year he showed some progress by posting 26 receptions for 366 yards and one touchdown. Last season, he nearly tripled that production with 64 receptions for 975 yards and four touchdowns. Some third-year receivers who look to break out in 2012 include Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Brandon LaFell and Antonio Brown. They have shown potential and are in favorable situations to take the next step forward.
Team Needs and Player Opportunity
When an offense is lacking talent at a particular position, you want to look into that position to see who can fill that spot and become productive. Take Jahvid Best for example. Heading into last season, the Detroit Lions had potential of having a high-octane offense, but lacked a featured running back. Mikel Leshoure was supposed to play a key role in their offense, but he suffered a torn Achilles tendon before the season even began. As a result, Best shouldered most of the running back duties to start the year and was fairly productive. Some players are forced to start based on a team's need, so they can put up solid numbers just by seeing the field and having an opportunity to get touches.
Age and Injury Concerns to the Current Starter
On every roster, there are a mix of aging veterans and young players in line to take their job. When the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Maurice Jones-Drew in 2006, Fred Taylor's time as the starter was numbered. They were an effective tandem for two years, but by 2008 the offense was built around Jones-Drew. A similar scenario occurred with Hines Ward and Donald Driver. Over the past three seasons, their reception totals have steadily dropped, which is a sign that their skills are declining and that their respective teams have found the receiver (or receivers) to replace them. If a starting veteran is not producing like he has in years past, look at the players behind him on the depth chart.
Finding sleepers does not end once the draft is over. It's an ongoing process that takes place when you scour the waiver wires each week or make trades. Always keep in mind of a player's opportunity and an NFL team's needs. You also have to be patient with certain sleepers as they may not help right away, but possibly down the road. Identifying the right sleeper will greatly improve your chances of success and can make the difference between winning your league championship or getting eliminated before your fantasy playoffs even begin.
Travis Chan is a longtime fan of the San Francisco 49ers, Giants and Golden State Warriors. He is also a fantasy sports enthusiast and contributor for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. You can follow him on Twitter @Travischan1.
More from Yahoo! Contributor Network:
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football