In our last post, we defined a fantasy football bust as a top ranked player who is sinking your team due to their poor performance. If you’ve saddled yourself with a bust, it’s difficult to remain competitive let alone challenge for your league’s championship.
However, obviously one way to counter your bust is to find yourself a sleeper (or better yet more than one). Every year there are players picked at the end of a draft or claimed on the waiver wire who put up surprise performances and reward their fantasy owner. Plus, there are players taken in the third, fourth or later round, or who go for reasonable auction prices but put up monster performances and while they may not be sleepers in the truest sense are key to their owner’s success.
Here are ten fantasy football sleepers or players who will outperform their average draft position for the upcoming season.
QB Kyle Orton, Denver Broncos – If Jay Cutler headlines our fantasy busts at quarterback, then it figures that Orton should be one of our sleepers at the position in 2009. The oft-criticized Orton put up nearly 3,000 yards passing with 18 touchdowns and three rushing touchdowns in 15 games with the run oriented Bears in 2008. Now he moves onto Denver where he will lead Josh McDaniels Patriots inspired offense with superior receiving talent at wide receiver and tight end as well as a solid stable of running backs. Orton is as talented as McDaniels’ protégé Matt Cassel and, while he won’t match Cutler’s statistics from 2008, he figures to be a solid backup fantasy quarterback with the potential to sneak into starter status.
QB Matt Schaub, Houston Texans – Schaub needs one thing to establish himself as a fantasy football stud – a healthy season. Last year, he was the 7th ranked fantasy quarterback in points per game but started just 11 games. With the Texans returning all eleven starters from an offense that ranked 3rd in yards per game in 2008, Schaub has the potential to ascent to elite status provided he can stay upright for 16 games.
RB Ronnie Brown, Miami Dolphins – Brown has had an up and down career and seems to always be on the cusp of something bigger than he’s ever actually delivered. Early in his career, he seemed to be a tad out of shape. In 2007, he was headed to the Pro Bowl before a knee injury ended his season in week 7. Last year, he was in a time share with Ricky Williams. In 2009, he’s in a contract year for a competitive Dolphins team that will rely heavily on the run game and added center Jake Grove in free agency. Throw in reports that he is in outstanding shape and top ten status seems quite likely.
RB Derrick Ward, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Ward isn’t really big, he isn’t really fast and he’s not always fluid catching the ball. However, he turned that into 1,025 yards rushing on just 182 carries and 384 yard receiving as a backup with the Giants in 2008. This year, he moves to Tampa Bay where he will almost assuredly start ahead of, but be in a platoon situation with, Earnest Graham, running behind a young, powerful offensive line. Last year’s 23rd ranked running back isn’t getting his due in the preseason rankings but he has the potential to be a solid number two running back at a reasonable cost.
RB Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions – Smith might not be half as good as he thinks he is but while the rest of your league is scared stiff to take a running back from the 0-16 Lions, you can score a solid backup running back with the potential to be a decent number two. Smith had 975 yards rushing in his rookie season despite getting 10 or fewer carries in six games and starting just 12 games. He also caught 39 passes despite having just 54 targets. The team has added Bryant Johnson and Dennis Northcutt at wide receiver and the massive Brandon Pettigrew at tight end and cannot possibly be as porous on defense as they were in 2008. Add it all up and Smith figures to get more opportunities in 2009 and expect him to make the most of them.
RB Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens – Rice put up inconsistent numbers as a rookie in 2008 but that was more a by-product of how the coaching staff used him than how he actually performed. The Ravens have moved LeRon McClain to fullback to fill the void left by the departure of Lorenzo Neal and Willis McGahee has been relegated to backup status due to the combination of the team’s disappointment in his practice habits, his performance in 2008 and offseason knee surgery. While Rice may not see goal line duties, he figures to put up solid numbers and could be especially valuable in PPR leagues given his 33 receptions in limited opportunities last season.
WR Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers – It’s been a long time since fantasy football enthusiasts could look at a 49ers wide receiver and get excited. The dry spell might be over with Crabtree now on the scene. His draft stock seemed to decline dramatically as a result of a slight stress fracture in his left foot. Perhaps it’s more important to focus on his 41 touchdowns in just 26 games in college, his outstanding playmaking ability, his ability to make catches in traffic and the fact he’s motivated to prove he should have been taken higher than the 10th pick in the draft and ahead of fellow wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey. Not to mention that head coach Mike Singletary berated him recently for practicising BEFORE team doctors said he should.
WR Donnie Avery, St. Louis Rams – Avery put up some solid games as a rookie in 2008 but was inconsistent and made numerous errors in his route running. More of a deep threat, Avery managed to record only 54 receptions on 108 targets, hardly awe inspiring numbers. However, the talent is clearly there and so is the opportunity with the departure of Torry Holt. The only issue is whether the light comes on for Avery this year or in 2010. Avery isn’t a candidate to hit the top ten in 2009 but expect him to establish himself as a low-end number two receiver with more upside in the years to come.
WR Malcom Floyd, San Diego Chargers – More of a super sleeper than breakout candidate, Floyd will likely enter the season as a backup in the high-powered Chargers offense. However, Chris Chambers will be 31 years old when the season starts and is coming off the worst season of his career. Buster Davis, a 2007 1st round pick, is fast approaching bust status. Meanwhile, Floyd caught 27 of 37 targets for 465 yards and four touchdowns in limited opportunities in 2008. At 6’5″ and 225 pounds, Floyd is a big target who has developed a knack for getting open. While he’s not a candidate to bust out in 2009, he’s worth a flyer in deeper leagues and worth monitoring as a potential waiver wire candidate in other leagues.
TE Greg Olsen, Chicago Bears – Olsen has put up solid, if not spectacular numbers over the last two seasons splitting duties with Desmond Clark since the Bears took him with the 31st picked in the 2007 draft. With Jay Cutler on board at quarterback, Clark clearly slipping to backup status and the team having a weak number one wide receiver in Devin Hester and a major question at the other wide receiver position, Olsen figures to get many opportunities to shine in 2009. He has the ability to beat linebackers on short patterns and split the seam on unsuspecting safeties on deep patterns. Look for Olsen to ascend to the tier of tight ends just below Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten and Dallas Clark.