Looking for some deep sleepers for your fantasy football team? I’ve gone through the depth charts and filtered out several players across multiple positions that you should be able to draft in later rounds or pick up off of the free agent list. I personally play in a 12-team keeper league that has two flex positions so finding a stud with a breakout year is crucial. Below are my results…
Russell Wilson – Coming into his first season into the NFL, Wilson will be given the reigns of the Seahawks. He’ll be on a short leash after the team sunk a big contract into Matt Flynn, but at least he has the chance to create his own destiny. His inexperience may lead to mistakes, but he’s a dual threat with his throwing and running abilities. He’ll bring a lot of flavor to a survival group looking for excitement living in a desolate world, but could be out early with a few mistakes.
Isaiah Pead – ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on SportsCenter Monday that the Rams envision No. 50 overall pick Isaiah Pead as Steven Jackson’s eventual successor. Schefter stated that “a lot of teams really coveted Pead,” and he wouldn’t have been available much longer after the 50th pick. Though Pead is a smallish 5-foot-10, 197, he shares many traits with Rams coach Jeff Fisher’s 2008 first-round pick in Tennessee, Chris Johnson. Both backs were billed as change-up complementary runners coming out of college. Both had 197-pound Combine weigh-ins, and both ran 10-yard splits in the 1.4s. While it’s likely Pead will eventually have to be paired with a more powerful runner, he’s in prime depth-chart position behind a 29-year-old with significantly more career carries than any active NFL running back.
Jonathon Dwyer – Redman has been slowed by injury at times this season, which is why the unheralded former sixth-round pick may be in line to vulture some carries from him. Dwyer has looked impressive in the preseason, averaging 5.9 yards per carry, certainly putting him in the discussion for an increased workload, after just 16 carries in 2011. Still, even if he were to surprisingly be named the starting running back at the beginning of the season, Dwyer is unlikely to be featured in a starring role, so Fantasy owners should still leave him for the later rounds on Draft Day, though he has some upside as a sleeper.
Evan Royster – Royster’s title may just be in name only as coach Mike Shanahan has always been coy with his roster management. The second-year back, who was limited by a knee issue during the preseason, could essentially start the game before ceding carries to Helu and Morris. Even Royster is uncertain of the situation. “I think they’re going to keep us in the dark until probably the day before the game,” he said. Royster posted back-to-back 100-yard outings in the last two games of last season, but is a risky starting option in most Fantasy formats until the Redskins designate a clear lead back. The other running backs are unfortunately in the same boat.
David Wilson – Wilson would certainly endear himself to Fantasy owners with that type of production as he would easily become a top commodity. But there’s only one issue that could cause him to fall short in his ambitious quest: opportunity. He is slotted behind starter Ahmad Bradshaw to begin the season, although the veteran has shown injury concerns in the past, which could lead to an expanded role for the dynamic 21-year-old Wilson, who had 28 carries for 131 yards in the preseason, said he’s ready for any challenge. “I know what to expect, so it’s not like butterflies. … I think the nervousness is gone,” Wilson said.
Jacquizz Rodgers – Rodgers reminds me of Glenn stepping up to replace Dale after he was eating by walkers in The Walking Dead. He is ready to step up and prove himself if Michael Turner falters or gets injured. Turner just turned 30 and that is towards the end of shelf life for NFL running backs. Rodgers should bring a spark and edge to an up-beat offense. Aggressiveness is what saves lives in a Zombie Apocalypse; any hesitation could result in major consequences.
Kyle Rudolph – Rudolph had a strong preseason, hauling in six catches for 65 yards (10.8 ypc). Vikings coach Leslie Frazier raved all preseason about how Rudolph will be a favorite target of quarterback Christian Ponder. Outside of Percy Harvin, the Vikings still have a suspect receiving corps, so the potential for Rudolph to be an impact player for Minnesota is there. Rudolph is obviously more of a Week 1 sleeper because he needs to prove himself before moving up the Fantasy rankings. But Ponder is owned in nearly half of CBSSports.com Fantasy leagues, so clearly owners can see the potential the second-year pro brings to the table.
Robert Meachem – Meachem had arthroscopic surgery on the right knee during the offseason, but thus far hasn’t had any major setbacks with the knee. Sadly, though, his performances in preseason games have been lacking. Meachem was a key free-agent addition for San Diego after the Chargers lost Vincent Jackson to Tampa Bay. Meachem is expected to start opposite Malcom Floyd and could be a big-play option down the field for quarterback Philip Rivers. Meachem should also have less competition for targets with San Diego than he had in New Orleans. It could be a career year for the sixth-year receiver, but Meachem remains just a mid-round Fantasy option.
Brandon LaFell – LaFell holds serious breakout potential this season, as he will look to further develop into a weapon with Cam Newton entering his second year at the helm of the offense. The third season is when many receivers take a big step forward in their production, so LaFell seems like a prime candidate to emerge as a Fantasy contributor, especially considering his role in what could be a productive passing offense. LaFell had two of his best receiving games against the Buccaneers last season, bringing in six catches for 167 yards and a touchdown, so this is a good place for him to begin his campaign. You should wait for LaFell to prove himself before investing in him, but he could be a hot commodity on waivers if he gets off to the fast start.
Brian Quick – Quick has the chance to be the No. 1 receiver for the Rams, and it’s a good sign that he’s starting to make plays in practice. We consider Quick a No. 4 Fantasy receiver coming into the year with the chance to be a No. 3 option. He’s worth a late-round pick in all formats.
Steve Smith – Smith overcame a difficult situation with a knee injury last year and is now considered fully healthy. The Rams are excited to have his services with Sam Bradford throwing the footballs this season. He is not worth drafting in the majority of leagues, but he could be worth adding off the waiver wire once the season starts if he’s healthy and playing well.
Randall Cobb – Cobb has reportedly impressed in training camp, and he does have eight catches for 93 yards in three preseason games, after a rookie season in which he caught just 25 passes for 15 yards. Cobb has the tools to excel in the team’s wide-open passing offense, and could emerge as a strong fourth option on a team that passes it as much as any team. He is still more of a low-end sleeper, unworthy of targeting on Draft Day, but if he starts the season quickly, Fantasy owners should not hesitate to take a chance on him off the waiver wire.
Jerome Simpson – The 26-year-old has had some problems learning the playbook in the early going, albeit he seems to be catching on rather quickly at this point. He also seems to be building a solid rapport with Ponder and could end finally end up producing the way most having been waiting for him too if he can keep himself on the field. Fantasy owners should consider Simpson a quality reserve option heading into the season. Just remember, he’ll miss the first three games of the year, so if you draft him you have to commit to keeping him for a little while.
Titus Young – It would be more comforting to see Young post some gaudy preseason numbers, but the pundits still feel he is in for a potential breakout season in 2012. Defenses will be lined up to stop star receiver Calvin Johnson, which could leave Young and the other Lions’ receivers in favorable situations. Young came on late in 2011, recording four touchdowns in his final five games. Fantasy owners have been jumping on the Young bandwagon by drafting him after the likes of Dwayne Bowe, Miles Austin, Vincent Jackson and Torrey Smith. Consider Young a solid mid-round Fantasy pick, worthy of a of a selection beginning in Round 8 of standard leagues.
Stephen Hill – Hill has led New York in receiving through three preseason games and stands to see plenty of targets playing opposite of Santonio Holmes this season. The Jets traded up to get the former Georgia Tech standout and his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frames makes the 21-year-old and intriguing target in the passing game. It remains to be seen how much the Jets will pass this season so owners might want to take a wait-and-see approach with Hill.