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Fantasy Football Focus: The Starting 11 – Wake Up, It’s Sleeper Time!

Pierre Thomas

I have never claimed to be “a smart man.” So for me to write an article this week highlighting several of my sleeper picks before four of my five fantasy league drafts are held may not be the brightest of moves. But hey, these are the sacrifices a writer makes for his readers.

Now the definition of a “sleeper pick” has been clouded over the years. Sure, a rookie could be a “sleeper pick,” but why was he a sleeper in the first place? What track record is that based from? Can a former superstar be a “sleeper pick” after a major injury? What about underachievers from last year? Could they overachieve this year and be considered a “sleeper pick?” So to simplify and be all-inclusive, I use this easy “sleeper” definition: a sleeper pick is a player I feel will outperform the position he is drafted in. For instance, right now Pierre Thomas’s average draft position is late third round, about 30th overall on average. Personally, I think he will bring you the same production, if not more, than the Steven Jacksons and Frank Gores of the world, who are being drafted generally in the 5th or 6th spots. So if you get the chance to grab Thomas off the board if he’s sitting there at the outset of round 4, you take him for the value alone. He’s got upside, and that’s what sleeper picks are all about.

So for this week, I tip off my fantasy opponents to a healthy dose of my sleeper picks. Consider this week’s article a “starting 11, biggie-sized.” Today I bring not 11, but 22, of my sleepers for ’09, “quick hit” style. Hey, it’s almost game time, players are stepping it up, it’s time for me to as well.

The Starting 11 (x2): Sleeper Picks (in no particular order)

1 – David Garrard, QB, Jacksonville

You forget that Garrard finished in the top 10 in most fantasy categories for QBs a year ago. He might not be a fantasy starter, but he could be a great bye week fill-in or injury insurance policy. If only he had someone to throw to…

2 – Trent Edwards, QB, Buffalo

Edwards has a new toy in the toy chest with T.O. coming to town, and that’ll help even the most mediocre quarterback look almost startable. Again, it may be a stretch to rely on T.E. week after week, but he could deliver top 10 production this year and be what Garrard was last year.

3 – Mark Sanchez, QB, NY Jets

He hasn’t played a down yet in the regular season, but new head coach Rex Ryan has tabbed Sanchez as the starting signal caller come week 1. The Jets defense was already good, and could be even better this year, meaning the rookie QB should have lots of time with the ball and plenty of chances to put up stats. Again, he’ll be a serviceable backup for you, who could turn some heads, but you can’t go counting on him to put up monster Brady-type numbers from the start.

4 – Kevin Smith, RB, Detroit

Not a lot of competition in the backfield for Kevin Smith in Detroit. With question marks at QB, Smith will be relied upon to manage the game and carry a heavy workload in his second year in the league. He had just under 1000 yards on the ground for a winless team last year. Look for him to blow by that mark this season, giving you a great #2 RB option. Draft him before the 5th round though, otherwise you may miss out.

5 – Pierre Thomas, RB, New Orleans

Thomas broke out as a legit back midway through last season after Reggie Bush was lost with a knee injury. With good hands and great goal line presence, Thomas has what it takes to be a feature back capable of big numbers this season. It being a contract year for Mr. T. doesn’t hurt the cause either, as he will surely be looking to put up career high stats to cash in with in the offseason.

6 – Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, NY Giants

With the departure of Derrick Ward, Bradshaw will man the #2 back duties for the G-Men this season, behind Brandon Jacobs. With Jacobs’ bruising style of rushing, injuries do tend to occur, which would leave Bradshaw with an extended workload. Think about him in the middle rounds as a back with a ton of upside.

7 – Donald Brown, RB, Indianapolis

He’s my early offensive rookie of the year pick. I like what I’ve seen and heard so far from the Connecticut grad, and backing up a banged up Joseph Addai should mean mucho playing time for the rookie, especially now with Dominic Rhodes off to Buffalo.

8 – LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia

With Brian Westbrook aging before our eyes, rookie LeSean McCoy could be used sooner rather than later in what could be an explosive Eagle offense this season. A middle round pick is well worth it for the Pitt grad, whose short, shifty style should mount up bigger and bigger stat lines as his career progresses.

9 – Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Pittsburgh

Mendenhall may as well be a rookie this year, after last year’s campaign was cut short in just the fourth week, when he suffered a broken shoulder against the Ravens. This season, Mendenhall should act as a physical interior compliment to veteran Willie Parker, and if Parker breaks down, look for Mendenhall to be poised to fill in Pitt’s starter role with ease.

10 – Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City

After a tumultous offseason for KC’s incumbent starter Larry Johnson, even if LJ stays with the revamped Chief offense, Jamaal Charles should see ample playing time. With no Tony Gonzalez at TE, secondaries will be loading up, double- and triple-teaming lone deep threat Dwayne Bowe, which should leave the Chief running game with some holes to jet through. Take a flyer on Charles in the later rounds, and you may look like a genius by season’s end.

11 – Bernard Berrian, WR, Minnesota

Berrian quietly put up career highs in 2008 with 964 yards on just 48 catches, and seven visits to the end zone. All that with a crappy pair of QBs, Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte. Enter “The Ageless One,” Brett Favre, and the speedy Berrian should build on those numbers for an even bigger year this go-around.

12 – Lee Evans, WR, Buffalo

I’ve liked Lee Evans for a while, even before Terrell Owens came to town. A 1,000 yard receiver last season, Evans should see much less double coverage this year with T.O. lining up across the field on the other side of the ball. Consider Evans a solid #2 WR for any fantasy team, worthy of a pick near round 5 or 6.

13 – Eddie Royal, WR, Denver

With the Brandon Marshall saga waging on day after day, someone has to capitalize on it, and I believe it will be Eddie Royal. Kyle Orton has to throw to somebody, and if Brandon Marshall doesn’t want to be that guy, it will be Royal who will rise to the top, after putting up 980 yards on 91 catches, look for those totals to potentially grow this season.

14 – Anthony Gonzalez, WR, Indianapolis

It seems like every fantasy football “guru” has Gonzalez on their list of sleepers, and I too, have jumped on the bandwagon. With Marvin Harrison now out of the picture in Indy, Gonzalez will be a full-time starter opposite All Pro Reggie Wayne, poised for a breakout year in the Indy offense. Give him a look as early as round 6.

15 – Torry Holt, WR, Jacksonville

His speed and overall explosiveness has declined greatly, but really, who is David Garrard going to throw to in Jacksonville, other than Torry Holt? The Jags won’t come close to resembling the old St. Louis “Greatest Show on Turf” offense, but Holt will be treated as a #1 WR in Jacksonville, and by default, should put up solid fantasy numbers.

16 – Josh Morgan, WR, San Francisco

Isaac Bruce: old. Michael Crabtree: young, and acting even younger. In the middle? Josh Morgan, who is poised to reap the benefits and have a monster year. The second-year man out of Virginia Tech should build on a strong second half last season. San Fran has vowed to be heavy on the run game, but once they fall behind, they’ll have no choice but to air it out. Look for Morgan to be under a lot of those balls.

17 – Chris Henry, WR, Cincinnati

If Chris Henry can stay on the field and out of trouble, he could be in line for a big improvement over last year’s disappointing season that began with serving a four-game suspension. He’s got the ability, he just has to keep his nose clean. In those later rounds when you’re looking for players with upside, look Henry’s way. I’m betting he has a better year than Cincy’s #2 man, Laveranues Coles.

18 – Owen Daniels, TE, Houston

The receptions will be there. The yards will be there. And if this season Owen Daniels can find the end zone more than last year’s two TDs, Daniels will finally reach that top-3 tight end potential he’s had since he entered the league. Once that top tier of tight ends is off the board (you know, the Gates-Gonzalez-Witten-Clark group), look Daniels’ way in the middle rounds.

19 – Chris Cooley, TE, Washington

I could almost copy and paste what I wrote about Daniels above here for Chris Cooley, because nearly the same applies. Cooley’s coming off a year where he posted career highs in receptions (83) and yardage (849), while only finding the end zone for one measly touchdown. If Jason Campbell can refocus in Cooley’s direction this coming season, like Daniels, he has the potential of being a top-3 tight end.

20 – Greg Olsen, TE, Chicago

Olsen made some nice improvements in 2008, his second year, increasing his reception and yardage totals, while posting 5 TDs. With an upgrade at the QB spot in Chicago, as Jay Cutler takes over under center, Olsen should see those numbers continue to improve here in year 3.

21 – Visanthe Shiancoe, TE, Minnesota

Another tight end entering his third season, Shiancoe will also see an upgrade under center for his squad, as Brett Favre joins the Vikes this season. Shiancoe had a very solid year last season, posting 596 yards and 7 touchdowns on the year, and there’s no reason why those totals can’t improve once he and Favre gain some chemistry on the field.

22 – San Diego Chargers, Defense/Special Teams

Can a team defense really be considered a “sleeper?” Sure they can! No one has San Diego cracking their top 5 in the rankings, but with Shawne Merriman back in the fold, rookie LB Larry English added to the squad, and the flashy Darren Sproles returning kickoffs and punts, the Bolts are well worth a pick coming into this season, as they look to regain their spot as one of the elite defenses in the league.

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One comment for “Fantasy Football Focus: The Starting 11 – Wake Up, It’s Sleeper Time!”

  1. Solid list. Shiancoe is going into his 7th year, not his 3rd. It’s his 3rd year in Minnesota.

    Posted by Pork'n'Beans | August 30, 2009, 3:24 pm

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