Remember the double header last year on the opening Monday night
of the season - the second game pitting the Denver Broncos against
the Oakland Raiders? You know, the game when rookie Eddie
Royal schooled Oakland’s “prized” free agent CB DeAngelo Hall?
Incumbent #1 WR Brandon Marshall was suspended, making Royal the
coveted first option of Jay Cutler on most pass plays. Royal finished
with 9 catches for 146 yards and a TD, and in the process became
in many fantasy leagues one of the best waiver wire finds of the
Finding those gems from the bottom of the draft or early in the
season off the waiver wire can do wonders for your roster. Players
from 2008 such as Antonio
Breaston, and several others, all were major contributors
for fantasy teams at some point last season. Finding these sleepers
is mostly luck, but applying certain criteria makes them easier
to locate. Is their offense conducive to tremendous production?
Do they back up an injury-prone player? Have they shown flashes
in the past? Are they coming off an injury themselves? Having
a familiarity with these kinds of situations makes the process
less about luck and more about being astute regarding what to
look for. Applying these criteria, I’ve compiled a list of players
(in alphabetical order) who could surprise this year and assist
your team with piling up the W’s.
Bess WR, MIA – Davone Bess was one of those late-season free
agent pick-ups that undoubtedly gave many fantasy teams an unsuspecting
boost. Over the last six games, Bess had 35 catches for 366 yards.
His spike in production coincided with the injury to Greg Camarillo,
who should be fine in 2009 after blowing out his knee last year.
Despite selecting two WRs in this year’s draft, I believe Bess
displayed enough ability to maintain his starting spot.
Bess complements the ability of teammate Ted Ginn Jr. and Camarillo
beautifully, and is in many ways a combination of the two. The
limitations of QB Chad Pennington, however, prevents the deep
throws from being incorporated more in the Miami offense, but
Bess still became a weapon in the fantasy world—in PPR leagues
especially. Depending on the health status of Camarillo, Bess
could return to the starting line-up opposite Ginn or see more
action in the slot as a #3. Either way, Bess has put his name
on the list of suitable sleepers entering 2009.
Ward's departure makes Ahmad Bradshaw a
RB, NYG – With Derrick Ward’s move to Tampa Bay, Ahmad Bradshaw
now gets thrust into the position of Brandon Jacobs’ primary backup.
And if the previous two years are any indication, that sets up
Bradshaw to be a quality sleeper. Jacobs has suffered injuries
the past two seasons and that opened the door for Ward to show
his stuff. Bradshaw completed the three-headed monster at RB and
gave the Giants the big play potential that the others could not.
Bradshaw doesn’t score many TDs, having scored only three
times in two seasons. But his slight build (5-9, 200 lbs.) lends
itself to the cat-quick acceleration that has allowed him to average
6.1 yards per carry in his two-year career. You could do a lot
worse than drafting Bradshaw as a handcuff to Jacobs. Even if
Jacobs doesn’t get injured, Bradshaw should get 8-10 carries
and be a viable option for fantasy owners.
TE, SEA – In a 2008 season that saw Seattle Seahawks WRs fall
like flies, rookie TE John Carlson was the lone bright spot on
an otherwise dismal passing team. But with the return of QB Matt
Hasselbeck and the addition of free agent TJ Houshmandzadeh, Carlson
should continue what he started in 2008. WRs Deion Branch and
Nate Burleson return from injury, and while some may think that
may take away from Carlson’s targets in the passing game, I tend
to believe that will help open things up for him.
Carlson will garner attention from owners who play in leagues
that mandate using TEs, but those in which the TE position is
optional, Carlson could easily fall through the cracks. He lacks
the big name, plays in the wilderness that is the Great Northwest,
and Houshmandzadeh is getting the bulk of the attention when it
comes to receiving options for the Seahawks. Carlson could really
surprise. Keep an eye on him.
Charles RB, KC – Jamaal Charles appeared in every game last
year, but his two best games showed his ability: a 106-yard rushing
performance against Tampa Bay in week 8, and a 102 yard receiving
day against Miami in week 16. Word from Kansas City training camp
is starting RB Larry Johnson has a more refined focus and is chomping
at the bit to show he still has it. But Charles should remain
in the fray as a third down specialist and occasional replacement
for Johnson during games.
New Kansas City head coach Todd Haley found success last year
as the offensive coordinator using the spread offense for the
NFC champs Arizona Cardinals. And new QB Matt Cassel found similar
success utilizing a similar scheme with New England. Even though
the Chiefs’ skill position players fall woefully short of matching
those of the Patriots and Cardinals, the Chiefs could still incorporate
such an offensive approach to some degree in 2009. If that’s the
case, Charles could see some value as a pass-catching runner out
of the backfield. And considering Johnson has missed 12 games
over the past two years, Charles’ multi-dimensional skill set
could increase his value should he become the full-time starter
at any time.
WR, NE – Joey Galloway suffered through an injury-plagued
season last year in Tampa Bay, but now he’s healthy and gets to
play in a spread offense with the league’s best QB. Randy Moss
and Wes Welker will continue their assault on defensive backs
in 2009, leaving the veteran speedster from Ohio State the x-factor
in New England’s passing attack. There’s a good chance some owners
may not remember the last good season Galloway had (for the record,
it was his 82 catch, 10 TD performance in 2005 for the Bucs),
and that’s good news for you. Couple that with his nondescript
season in 2008 and Galloway could easily slip to the tail end
of the draft.
Tom Brady certainly won’t throw 50 TDs again; he won’t even crack
40. But tossing, say, 30 TDs could project Galloway’s output to
be comparable to his 2007 production of 57 receptions for 1,000
yards and 6 TDs. Not bad for a soon-to-be 38-year-old receiver
looking for one last chance at a Super Bowl ring.
Harrison RB, CLE – Cleveland RB Jamal Lewis ran the ball 279
times last year and each one was more painful to look at than
the previous one. No other RB on the roster had more than 34 carries,
despite Lewis’ obvious struggles. My take is new head coach Eric
Mangini won’t be so flexible in that regard. Harrison doesn’t
have as physical a running style as Lewis, but his ability to
catch the ball out of the backfield and his superior speed and
agility relative to Lewis may be too much for the new coaching
staff to ignore.
More than anything, Harrison’s ability mirrors that of Leon Washington,
the RB for Mangini’s former team—the New York Jets. Washington
had 47 receptions in 2008 and was used in a multitude of ways
in the Jets offense. Perhaps Harrison could be utilized in like
fashion this year, especially when you consider the youth and
inexperience that characterize the WR position in Cleveland. If
Lewis’ less-than-stellar play continues into 2009, Harrison could
emerge and see his playing time increase significantly.
Chris Henry: Motivated and ready to rejuvenate
WR, CIN – After scoring 15 TDs in his first two years in the
league, a combination of boneheaded off-the-field decisions, inconsistent
play, and an injured Carson Palmer have all contributed to Henry’s
production bottoming out to the tune of four TDs over the previous
two seasons. But Henry supposedly rededicated himself during the
off-season and says he’s motivated to repay the trust head coach
Marvin Lewis demonstrated in bringing him back by playing well
Henry is a match-up nightmare, especially when used in the slot.
Laveranues Coles will work the underneath routes and Chad Ochocinco
will occupy the attention of the opposition’s top corner and safety
over the top, leaving Henry to conceivably work against nickel
backs. I’ll take that match-up. Henry is physically superior to
most nickel backs in the league and possesses the speed and athleticism
to make the amazing plays downfield. He could potentially match
his 2006 production of 36 receptions and 9 TDs.
Williams WR, BAL – Demetrius Williams is a long shot to do
much this year, but there’s one undeniable skill that he has that
other WRs on the roster do not: Williams has the speed to get
downfield and could be a viable weapon if matched with QB Joe
Flacco’s big arm. Taking shots downfield, even for a run-first
offense such as the Ravens, is essential to loosening up the defense.
Williams is the best option on Baltimore’s roster to perform such
Williams, however, is an injury waiting to happen. He had Achilles
and ankle surgeries during the off-season, and this year he hopes
to play in all 16 games for the first time since 2006, his rookie
season. Keep in mind that veteran WR Derrick Mason isn’t getting
any younger, plus he flirted with the idea of retiring. And Mark
Clayton has never quite lived up to the first round status that
Baltimore invested in him. So if Williams can somehow stay healthy
all year, he has a chance to add some spice to an offense better
know for its ground attack.