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2009 Fantasy Football Sleepers

By: — July 2, 2009 @ 10:32 pm
Filed under: Player Analysis

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.

2009 Fantasy Football Busts

By: — @ 2:18 pm
Filed under: Player Analysis

If you’ve played Fantasy Football for any length of time, then it’s happened to your team. Saddled with a severely underperforming high draft pick or costly auction player, your team has sunk to the bottom of the standings with little hope of re-emerging short of an outstanding performance on the waiver wire.

When this happens in re-draft leagues, your team is generally finished. When it happens in dynasty leagues, you can try to salvage your season by sacrificing assets from future years but often times you are left making bad trades because your opponents know that you have a huge hole to fill in your line-up.

A fantasy bust can happen for a number of reasons and every year there is plenty of speculation on which players are prime candidates to be a bust in the coming season. Generally, age, injury issues or competition (and thereby opportunity) are the prime reasons for a player adding the bust label to their name. Occasionally, a player just has a down year for fantasy purposes, quite often because of a reduced number of touchdowns.

We’re focused here on players that were top performers in 2008 looking to repeat in 2009, or were top performers in prior years but not in 2008 and expected, by Joe Average fantasy player, to rebound this year. With all due respect to Joe Average, here are ten players that are likely to score fewer fantasy points this year or are unlikely to meet the lofty expectations you’ve surely been reading about.

QB Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears – Cutler’s offseason move from the Broncos to the Bears seriously hinders his value as a top fantasy quarterback (see previous comments). With the pass heavy Broncos in 2008, Cutler ranked third in points in most leagues. Basically, the Bears will be more competitive than the Broncos were last year and rely more heavily on the run so Cutler will not throw the ball anywhere close to the 616 times he did last season. Expect 100 or so fewer attempts and Cutler landing somewhere between a low end starter and top backup.

QB Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys – The Cowboys and the rest of the football world found out in 2008 that Romo’s not quite the dominating presence at the quarterback position that they thought him to be. Forced to throw more than in the past, Romo struggled at times despite having a receiving cast of Terrell Owens, Roy Williams and Jason Witten. With Owens being shown the door, the inconsistent Williams will need to step up his game as will the forgotten Patrick Crayton or one of Miles Austin and Sam Hurd. With uncertainties at wide receiver and a stable trio of running backs in Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice, look for the Cowboys to be more focused on their running game in 2009.

QB Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons – Ryan had a phenomenal rookie season and figures to build on his success in 2009 with the return of Roddy White and Michael Jenkins as well as the addition of Tony Gonzalez at tight end. However, Ryan is a prime example of an exciting young player who is more valuable in real football than in fantasy football. The Falcons will continue to pound the ball with the one-two running combination of Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood. Ryan was fantasy football’s 16th ranked quarterback last season and he figures to move up from there but not significantly. Don’t bite the hype on Ryan.

RB Thomas Jones, New York Jets – Jones will be a 31-year old running back coming off a career season by the time the 2009 season begins. His 241 fantasy points in 2008 were 40 more than his previous high and 67 more than he averaged over the previous four seasons since becoming a starter with the Bears. With Brett Favre and Laveranues Coles leaving and being replaced by Mark Sanchez, Kellen Clemens, Chansi Stuckey, David Clowney and Brad Smith, opponents will focus on stopping the Jets running game in 2009. Expect them to be successful.

RB DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers – Williams was fantasy football’s top running back in 2008, running behind a powerful offensive line. With the Panthers returning all five starters on the offensive line and expecting the same 11 starters on opening day, it would make sense that the team’s top running back would be in line for a repeat performance. However, it’s hard to imagine Williams scoring 20 touchdowns again this year with Jonathan Stewart expected to take on a larger role entering his second season. Williams may end up as a decent number one running back but there is huge risk to taking him as a top five running back.

RB Joseph Addai, Indianapolis Colts – Here’s the good – he’s currently the starting running back for an offense that figures to be amongst the league’s best in 2009. Here’s the bad – he’s been injury prone, he just had arthroscopic knee surgery and the team used its 1st round pick on his position (Donald Brown). There have been glowing reports about Brown coming out of Indianapolis this offseason but it remains to be seen how he performs with the pads on especially in blitz protection given the team’s huge reliance on Peyton Manning at quarterback. Addai could have a huge year but he’s the type of player who somebody in your league will gamble on before they should and exactly the type of potential bust who could ruin your season.

WR Chad Ochocinco, Cincinnati Bengals – Ochocinco is 31 years old and coming off a 540 yard, four touchdown performance, his worst season since his rookie year in 2001. His apologists will argue that Ochocinco suffered with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback last season and that he is ready for a rebound year with Carson Palmer back behind center. That is certainly possible but it’s also possible that Ochocinco is a player who has never honed his craft and he is now at the age where he cannot produce big numbers based on his declining natural abilities. Plus, he has plenty of up and coming wide receivers behind him on the depth chart. He’s high risk/high reward and only worth the risk at the right price.

WR Antonio Bryant, Tampa Bay Buccaneeers – Bryant enjoyed a breakout campaign last season, finishing as the eighth ranked receiver with 1,249 yards and seven touchdowns. However, the combustible Bryant will go from having Jeff Garcia at quarterback to one of Byron Leftwich, Luke McCown or rookie 1st round pick Josh Freeman. The Bucs will likely focus on establishing their running game with a solid one-two punch in Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham running behind a young, powerful offensive line. It’s anyone’s guess how the mercurial Bryant will react if his production diminishes one season after a career year. Buyer beware.

WR Santonio Holmes, Pittsburgh Steelers – Every year, the NFL playoffs produce surprise performances and Holmes certainly fits the bill as the Super Bowl MVP. Holmes is a burner with big play ability who had an outstanding game in the Super Bowl, he’s heading into just his fourth year in the league and it’s likely that performance combined with his age will result in him being taken in drafts and auctions higher than he should be. Holmes will benefit from the departure of Nate Washington but it’s worth noting that he had only two games of double digit fantasy points in 2008.

WR Lance Moore, New Orleans Saints – Moore had a huge season last year, finishing with 928 yards and a whopping ten touchdowns playing in New Orleans high-powered offense, making him fantasy football’s 12th ranked wide receiver. The problem is that Moore isn’t really all that good and his season was basically the result of a convergence of events unlikely to happen again. The team’s top wide receiver (Marques Colston) missed significant time as did their prized free agent acquisition at tight end (Jeremy Shockey). Their former 1st round pick at wide receiver (Robert Meachem) played well at times but was inconsistent. Their multi-talented running back (Reggie Bush) also suffered an injury and their old, reliable power running back (Deuce McAllister) finally broke down. And so they turned to their not very big, not very fast former undrafted free agent wide receiver. In the six games that Bush missed, Moore averaged 15.5 points per game. In the other ten games, Moore averaged six points per game. In the five games in which Colson, Bush and Moore all played, Moore averaged 3.3 points per game. Remember that when you decide to overpay for Moore.

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