If you are a serious fantasy football player, it is time to start researching for sleepers. There is still a lot of off-season left, but the draft is over and most of the impact free agents have already signed. I pick one sleeper on every NFL team and give team-by-team analysis at this point in the off-season.
Some of the choices are no-brainers, but a few of the teams only have very deep sleepers. I didn’t focus much on quarterbacks, since nearly every team has already named a starter for next season. A lot of incoming rookies and slot receivers made the list.
The sleepers I list below consists of running backs, wide receivers and tight ends who could impact their teams and your fantasy league this season. Let me know if you have your own fantasy football sleeper that didn’t make the list. I will make sure to give you credit when I update this list during training camp.
Arizona Cardinals – RB Ryan Williams – Williams is coming off major knee surgery and will miss at least two games to start the season. I don’t trust Beanie Wells as a starting running back and the Cardinals backup options are a mixed bunch. LaRod Stephens-Howling, Javarris James, Alphonso Smith, and Jared Crank are the guys who will battle for position on the depth chart. Williams is a guy you need to circle and keep an eye on his progress.
Atlanta Falcons – RB Jason Snelling – How can I have a fantasy football sleeper post without including the perennial sleeper favorite Jason Snelling? Michael Turner turns 30 this season and has carried the ball over 300 times in three of the last four seasons. He is at risk of regressing this season, but that same warning was also given before the 2011. Keep this in mind, the Falcons cut Pro Bowl fullback Ovie Mughelli. Bradie Ewing, a rookie, will be blocking for Turner this season. Jacquizz Rodgers is a back that shouldn’t steal any carries from either Turner or Snelling, since he brings something different to the position.
Baltimore Ravens – WR Jacoby Jones – The Ravens have a slew of young wide receivers. Torrey Smith, Tommy Streeter, Demetrius Williams, and Tandon Doss will fight for playing time, but Jones has the most experience out of that group. Jones will be used as a return specialist, but he will also get opportunities at wide receiver. Flacco can’t rely on an entire receiving corps of guys who are adjusting to the NFL. Keep an eye on this situation as training camp progresses.
Buffalo Bills – WR Naaman Roosevelt – Buffalo’s wide receiver corps is an improved group. Stevie Johnson and David Nelson are the leaders, but after them it is unknown who the #3 or #4 receivers will be when the season begins. Naaman Roosevelt, Brad Smith, and Ruvell Martin will battle for those two spots. Roosevelt is a local fan favorite since he was born in Buffalo and went to college there. Ryan Fitzpatrick has the green light to air it out and he will spread the ball around.
Carolina Panthers – WR David Gettis – Gettis is a very interesting sleeper this year. He suffered an ACL tear last season and never had the opportunity to experience the regular season with Cam Newton. He had 500+ yards in 2010 with a hodgepodge of quarterbacks throwing to him (Matt Moore, Jimmy Clausen & Tony Pike). Steve Smith had a Pro Bowl year in 2011 and Brandon LaFell had a promising season with 613 receiving yards. Gettis should win the #3 WR spot over Armanti Edwards and Joe Adams. Adams is someone to keep your eye on. He is an impressive talent and could impress Carolina’s coaching staff in training camp.
Chicago Bears – TE Evan Rodriguez – Mike Tice is the new offensive coordinator in Chicago and he will not ignore the tight end position like former offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Kellen Davis will be the starter, but expect plenty two-TE sets. Cutler checked down to tight ends in Denver and Chicago’s tight ends will be more productive in 2012.
Cincinnati Bengals – WR Mohamed Sanu – Cincinnati drafted receivers A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, and Marvin Jones in the last two drafts. All three are tall and fit on the outside. Sanu is more athletic than most realize. Green will be getting double teams and Sanu will be getting man-to-man coverage. Sanu could be worth a late-round pick.
Cleveland Browns – WR Travis Benjamin – Brandon Weeden has a bigger arm than Colt McCoy, so expect the wide receivers to have increased stats. Greg Little, Josh Cribbs, and Mohammed Massaquoi will all have the opportunity for breakout years. Benjamin could sneak into the game when the Browns go four-wide. Rookie quarterbacks get to know rookie wide receivers really well. They work with them in rookie mini-camp and they could develop chemistry.
Dallas Cowboys – TE James Hanna – Jason Witten has played ten seasons and is 30 years old. The Cowboys run plenty of 2-TE sets and Hanna is the next best tight end on the roster. He was impressive at Oklahoma in college and is in line to be Witten’s successor. He is a big target for Tony Romo and has nice hands.
Denver Broncos – WR Brandon Stokley – Peyton Manning and Brandon Stokley are old friends and worked out together this off-season. They were also teammates together in Indianapolis. Stokley had 1,000+ yards and 10 TDs with Manning in 2004. They have amazing chemistry together and will be a huge asset in the slot. Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas will have success in 2012, but they are known commodities and both will be drafted.
Detroit Lions – RB Mikel Leshoure – Mikel Leshoure missed his entire rookie year to a serious injury and Jahvid Best has trouble staying on the field for Detroit. Leshoure is an intriguing sleeper since he could be a forgotten player during your league’s draft. He could serve a two-game suspension for a marijuana arrest this off-season. Best will have the starting job going into the season, but Leshoure is the backup who has the best shot at starting for their team at some point in the season.
Green Bay Packers – RB Marc Tyler – James Starks has the starting job going into the season, but he has never had the job by himself. He split the carries with Ryan Grant last year, who is no longer on the team. John Kuhn will continue to vulture touchdowns in Green Bay. The backup running back job is up in the air. Marc Tyler has the best shot at winning the job over Brandon Saine. Tyler had a solid career at USC, a college known for grooming elite NFL running backs.
Houston Texans – WR Keshawn Martin – Jacoby Jones is no longer on the Texans and Martin will be taking over as their return specialist. He will not be in that role exclusively. He should play in the slot position or take over the 3rd wide receiver position if DeVier Posey has a rough training camp.
Indianapolis Colts – RB Delone Carter – The starting running back job is up for grabs in Indianapolis. Joseph Addai is gone and they will need either Donald Brown, Vick Ballard or Delone Carter to shine in training camp. Brown is the front-runner for the job. If he gets it, Carter should get plenty of goal-line carries. He is currently the front-runner to be the third-down back. I almost picked Ballard for the sleeper, since he has the same build as Carter.
Jacksonville Jaguars – WR Cecil Shorts – The Jaguars are looking to open the playbook for Blaine Gabbert in 2012. Mike Thomas led the receivers in receptions last season and the addition of Justin Blackmon is huge for Gabbert’s development. The #3 and #4 spots are open to win during training camp. Shorts, Laurent Robinson, Brian Robiskie, and Chastin West will be battling for those two spots. Shorts only had two receptions last season, but he as a lot of speed. Gabbert is still a work in progress and any wide receiver other than Thomas or Blackmon will be a risky gamble.
Kansas City Chiefs – WR Devon Wylie – Wylie is another rookie that could make an impact this season. He is a smaller receiver and will be used in the slot. Scott Pioli knows all about how much Wes Walker improved the Patriots and they hope Wylie can deliver a spark.
Miami Dolphins – WR B.J. Cunningham -It isn’t known if Ryan Tannehill will start the season as the starting quarterback or have either Matt Moore or David Garrard keep the position warm. When you glance at the wide receivers on the Dolphins roster, you have to google most of them. Davone Bess and Brian Hartline are the only receivers left who contributed in 2011. They added Legedu Naanee in the off-season and he will be a factor in the passing attack. B.J. Cunningham had a productive career at Michigan State and has an NFL body. He has great hands and has the size to jump for balls if Tannehill has trouble with his accuracy early in his career.
Minnesota Vikings – WR Greg Childs – Christian Ponder needs big targets and Michael Jenkins and Childs are the perfect receivers to line up on the edges. Percy Harvin can go back to the slot position. Childs was impressive at Arkansas, but fell in the draft due to a late-season injury. It is unknown if he will be 100% by the first game of the season, but that news should be released soon.
New England Patriots – WR Jabar Gaffney – Chad Johnson and Anthony Gonzalez didn’t make the Patriots team for a reason…Tom Brady has a lot of familiar weapons. Deon Branch and Jabar Gaffney are back to help Tom Brady to become, better?! He’ll get a lot of looks, but the wide receiver position is crowded in New England. Brady likes to mix it up and spread the ball around. Gaffney is a risk in even the deepest of leagues, but New England doesn’t have many sleeper options.
New Orleans Saints – WR Nick Toon – How many Saints receivers have you owned over the last three seasons? Drew Brees likes to spread it around with Lance Moore, Devery Henderson, and Marques Colston expected to catch the majority of his passes. Robert Meachem is no longer on the team and Toon is built like Colston. It is possible that they will use him in a similar capacity.
New York Giants – TE Martellus Bennett – The Cowboys drafted Bennett to be Jason Witten’s successor, but he never had the opportunity to be a productive player. They just drafted Adrien Robinson and Bennett, even though he is panned as a bust, will get the bulk of the targets. Manning has shown a tendency of looking for tight ends in the past (Jeremy Shockey, Kevin Boss, etc.), so Bennett could be a top-10 tight end in fantasy this season. .
New York Jets – RB Terrance Ganaway – The Jets drafted Ganaway to help inject new blood into the backfield. Shonn Greene had a 1,000 yard season last year, but struggled at times. LaDainian Tomlinson is no longer on the team and Joe McKnight will get some carries. Ganaway has a shot at earning the backup job over McKnight. He has the talent but will need to adjust to the NFL. His carries should increase as the season goes along…sorry, I forgot to mention Tim Tebow. We have no idea how the Jets will use him. He could be a player that will have passing, receiving, and rushing stats by the end of the year.
Oakland Raiders – RB Taiwan Jones – Darren McFadden is coming back from a serious injury. He already has a history of various injuries that forced him to miss games. Oakland signed Mike Goodson from Carolina, but Taiwan Jones is an intriguing player. He was limited in 2011 because Michael Bush was in the way. Bush is now in Chicago and the backup job is open in Oakland.
Philadelphia Eagles – RB Dion Lewis – LeSean McCoy just signed a lucrative deal to stay in Philadelphia long-term. A lot of backs regress the season after they earn a big deal. I’m not saying that McCoy will sleep on his pile of money and be lazy, but it is just a weird coincidence in the NFL. Ronnie Brown is no longer his backup and Lewis is the next in line. I don’t see Bryce Brown as a threat to overtake Lewis, but I’d be curious if he earns a roster spot.
Pittsburgh Steelers – WR Jerricho Cotchery – Mike Wallace is marred in a contract dispute which may not be resolved before training camp. Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown will step up and fill the need, but Cotchery lends veteran leadership to the position. He could take over Hines Ward’s role. He will not be a superstar, but a possession receiver that could steal a few touchdowns inside the red zone. Another possible sleeper is rookie running back Chris Rainey. Isaac Redman will be Rashard Mendenhall’s handcuff, but keep an eye on Rainey.
San Diego Chargers – WR Eddie Royal – The Chargers lost Vincent Jackson this off-season but added Robert Meachem, Roscoe Parrish, and Eddie Royal. Philip Rivers still has Malcolm Floyd as his #1 receiver with Meachem the likely #2. Royal is the ideal slot receiver and has the speed to add yards after the catch. Rivers will throw for 4,500 yards again, but it is unknown how those yards will be divided. The first few games will foreshadow the rest of the season.
San Francisco 49ers – WR Chris Owusu – Alex Smith had a hard time connecting with his receivers in 2011. He used Vernon Davis and Frank Gore as his crutches and Michael Crabtree would often disappear in games. San Francisco signed Mario Manningham and Randy Moss in the off-season, but adding Owusu was a smart move. He played for Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and should pick up the offensive system fast. I’m not saying that he will have more receiving yards than the aforementioned receivers, but he could surprise a lot of fantasy football owners. I would declare him as a very deep sleeper.
Seattle Seahawks – RB Robert Turbin – For the people who draft Marshawn Lynch, Turbin will be his handcuff. He had a solid career at Utah State and should have an impact with the Seahawks. He’s a workout warrior and a very intriguing running back to keep an eye on this season.
St. Louis Rams – RB Isaiah Pead – Steven Jackson will be 29 years old at the start of the season. He has been very durable throughout his career. He currently has a streak of seven straight 1,000 seasons. Jackson has a lot of miles on his body and he could start to break down over the next few years. Pead could receive some carries to spell him during long drives. He is a handcuff that you should make sure to own if you draft Jackson.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – WR Tiquan Underwood – Josh Freeman will have plenty of targets to throw to in 2012. Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn, Sammie Stroughter, and Dallas Clark will all be awaiting his passes. It is hard to pick a sleeper from this team since Doug Martin isn’t really a sleeper. He should get a lot of playing time by splitting carries with LaGarrette Blount. If I had to pick one, it would be Tiquan Underwood. He played for new head coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers. The receiving corps is very full and he may not even make the squad. He is just a guy to be aware of in very, very deep leagues.
Tennessee Titans – WR Lavelle Hawkins – Jake Locker is in the same boat as Christian Ponder and Blaine Gabbert this season. They had an abrupt preseason last year and they will have an entire off-season program this year. It is still unknown if Matt Hasselbeck will start the season at quarterback, but I will assume that Locker starts the season. Kenny Britt missed most of the last season due to injury. Nate Washington, Damian Williams, and Hawkins picked up the slack and had better than expected numbers. Britt will take away from a lot of the other WRs’ targets this year. Hawkins is a small receiver and could get a decent amount of balls in the short passing game.
Washington Redskins – WR Anthony Armstrong – The Redskins added Josh Morgan and Pierre Garcon to the team this off-season. Those signings received a lot of media attention. The Redskins are making sure that Robert Griffin III has enough weapons to succeed in the NFL. The public forgot that Washington still has Santana Moss and Anthony Armstrong. As a Colts fan, I can tell you that Garcon drops a lot of balls. Garcon, Moss, and Armstrong all have the same stature, but Moss isn’t suited to play the slot. If Garcon starts to make mistakes, Armstrong’s role will increase. One last thing…I want to add Kirk Cousins as a possible deep sleeper. He is the exact opposite of Griffin III. Cousins is a stationary quarterback and Griffin III may expose himself to some vicious hits by running with the ball. I am not saying that you should take a late-round flyer on Cousins, but just be aware of their distinct differences.