There are sleepers and then there are the deep sleepers. Players that, although they aren’t likely to make or break your fantasy season, can fill in holes on your roster at key times during the season and allow your team to continue on its winning ways. Occasionally, a deep sleeper comes along and makes a big contribution to your squad and helps push it over the top.
In 2003, Anquan Boldin burst onto the fantasy scene and quickly caught the attention of fantasy enthusiasts and NFL fans alike who had marginal expectations for the 2nd round draft pick. It turned out that the Cardinals knew exactly what they had and had been hiding Boldin during the preseason by minimizing his playing time. In week one against the Lions, Boldin posted 10 receptions for 217 yards and two touchdowns. By season’s end, he had amassed 101 receptions for 1,377 yards and eight touchdowns.
In 2005, Willie Parker was a little thought of 2nd year, former undrafted free agent expected to get minimal playing time behind Jerome Bettis, Duce Staley and Verron Haynes. After a week one performance that included 209 total yards and a touchdown, fantasy owners were clamoring to nab Parker off the waiver wire. Parker finished the season with 1,420 total yards and five touchdowns, fantastic production for a deep sleeper.
In 2008, Steve Slaton of the Texans, Tim Hightower of the Cardinals and Matt Cassel of the Patriots were a few of the deep sleepers that put up solid fantasy production. Think of the production that these players plus Boldin and Parker put up in their coming out seasons when it comes time to make the last few picks in your fantasy draft. You just might strike gold.
Shaun Hill, SF – It’s tough to be high on a journeyman quarterback starting for a team that figures to run the ball plenty in 2009. However, head coach Mike Singletary was focused on the run in 2008 and Hill still managed to post nearly 20 fantasy points per game. With an improved offensive line, the addition of rookie running back Glen Coffee and a potential breakout year for receiver Josh Morgan, Hill could be a surprisingly solid fantasy option at quarterback.
James Davis, CLE – Let’s see. Cleveland is clearly in a rebuilding mode. Their starting running back Jamal Lewis is 30 years old. The other contender for the backup spot Jerome Harrison was drafted by the previous regime and has missed two preseason games and posted four yards in three carries in the game he did play. Oh, and Davis averaged 7.8 yards per carry during the preseason, including an 81-yard touchdown run. This rookie 6th round pick is looking like a solid prospect as your number four running back.
Rashad Jennings, JAX – Jennings isn’t about to steal any carries away from Maurice Jones-Drew and the goal line carries will go to Jones-Drew or Greg Jones. However, Jones-Drew is in his first year as the team’s full time back and, while there are few concerns about his durability, the bottom line is that he’s never had to carry the full load for 16 games. If he were to go down, it’s very likely the team would look to Jennings to replace Jones-Drew because he is a closer version of Jones-Drew than Jones would be.
Mike Goodson, CAR – The rookie 4th round pick has had an impressive preseason, posting 118 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. With top backup Jonathan Stewart, a 1st round pick in 2008, having missed OTAs and much of the preseason with an Achilles’ tendon injury, there is a decent chance that Goodson will be DeAngelo Williams‘ top backup for at least part of the season. With the Panthers expected to finish in the top five in rushing in 2009, Goodson is an excellent deep sleeper.
Tashard Choice, DAL – Choice’s situation in Dallas is very similar to Goodson’s. Choice, who averaged almost 13.5 fantasy points per game over the last five games of 2008, is currently running third string behind Marion Barber and Felix Jones, the team’s 1st round pick in 2008. Barber’s hard charging running style make him susceptible to injury and he missed one game in 2008 and played sparingly in three others. Jones was impressive as a rookie but missed 10 games due to injury. With the departure of Terrell Owens and questions about Roy Williams‘ ability to duplicate Owens’ production, the team is expected to rely more heavily on the run in 2009 than they did last year.
Danny Ware, NYG – The Giants featured the league’s best running attack in 2008, utilizing Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw. With Ward’s departure and a season ending injury to rookie 4th round pick Andre Brown, Ware will enter the season third on the depth chart. The injury prone Jacobs has played in just 24 of 32 regular season games over the past two years, which makes it very likely Ware will split carries in at least a few games with Bradshaw. It’s also worth noting that the Giants brass is high on Ware.
Austin Collie, IND – Anthony Gonzalez put up solid number as Indy’s third wide receiver and Collie has the inside track for that job. Either Collie lines up in the slot with Gonzalez outside or Pierre Garcon gets the outside looks in the three wide with Gonzalez shifting to the slot. If Collie wins out, the 4th round pick has an excellent opportunity to put up solid numbers in 2009. With reports out of Indy suggesting that Gonzalez is struggling somewhat, the situation in Indy bears watching.
Laurent Robinson, STL – Robinson has already won the starting spot opposite 2008 2nd round pick Donnie Avery and, although the Rams offense figures to struggle, the situation in St. Louis is intriguing. Avery struggled to stay healthy as a rookie and then was hurt early in training camp this year. Keenan Burton, who was expected to win the starting spot opposite Avery, has a long history of injuries, both in college and the pros. Third year player Derek Stanley is coming off ACL surgery, rookie 5th round pick Brooks Foster is on injured reserve and veteran retreads Ronald Curry and Tim Carter are destined for reserve roles, if that, as the team rebuilds. Botton line is the Rams have to throw it to somebody and Robinson figures to get plenty of looks.
Brandon Stokley, DEN – With Brandon Marshall currently doing whatever it takes to get out of Denver and new head coach Josh McDaniels already succumbing to the trade wishes of disgruntled quarterback Jay Cutler, Stokley is looking like a solid sleeper pick in all leagues. In fact, with McDaniels now in Denver and Stokley expected to fill the Wes Welker role in the offense, Stokley is a solid pick in point per reception leagues already. The Marshall situation is just icing on the cake.
Malcom Floyd, SD – The 27-year Floyd enters his fifth season, third on the depth chart in San Diego. Floyd surpassed 2007 1st round pick Craig Davis last season and put up solid numbers (237 yards and two touchdowns) during a four game stretch when Chris Chambers was injured. With Chambers coming off the least productive year of his career and San Diego featuring a high powered offense, Floyd is an excellent deep sleeper.
Jermichael Finley, GB – Finley failed to impress the Packers brass as a rookie in 2008, mostly due to his brash attitude and poor understanding of the playbook. However, he seems to have matured during the offseason. Finley will almost certainly start the season as the backup to Donald Lee but he is the team’s future at the position so a move into the starting line-up will not be a surprise. At 6’5″, Finley has the height to be a solid red zone option and he has scored two touchdowns during the preseason. It’s also worth noting that Lee scored 11 touchdowns over the last two seasons.