It’s about that time of year that you are preparing for your annual fantasy football drafts. Everyone has a good idea of who they want with their first-round picks, but what about the later rounds? Those who are in deeper leagues or “Man’s Leagues” with 20 teams, they need to be aware of sleepers of players that you can pick up later in the draft that may have some fantasy value. A few of the players that I’m about to list should be picked higher than where they are going and a few are possibly injury replacements that you should keep your eyes on.
Arizona Cardinals – Tim Hightower RB – The Cardinals drafted Beanie Wells out of Ohio State, but he has dealt with the injury bug in college and could keep that trend in the NFL. Hightower wasn’t happy when Arizona drafted Wells and worked hard in the off-season.
Atlanta Falcons – Brian Finneran WR – Finneran adds veteran leadership to the wider receiver squad. He should help with the catches if any other receiver goes down with an injury. (I had Harry Douglas here earlier, but I was informed that he tore his ACL a few days ago. Thanks to theGNC for giving me the heads up on this one)
Baltimore Ravens – Ray Rice RB – Even with LeRon McClain and Willis McGahee in the backfield, Rice will get some carries. He has had a great training camp so far and a lot of people are saying good things about his work ethic. He was a beat at Rutgers, where he played top talent, I bet Rice will be a force in the NFL very soon.
Buffalo Bills – Fred Jackson RB – Marshawn Lynch starts the season suspended and they sign Dominic Rhodes, but Jackson has the upper hand in the battle between himself and Rhodes. He will slip into the later rounds and it would be a nice pick in the mid-rounds to secure some #1 running back totals the first few weeks of the season.
Carolina Panthers – Josh McCown – QB – I’m not sold on Jake Delhomme, Carolina should have signed Byron Leftwich when they had the chance, but Josh McCown is their #2 QB right now. McCown will see action this season, so if you are ballsy and pick Delhomme, make sure you snag McCown as insurance.
Chicago Bears – Juaquin Iglesias WR – The Bears have Jay Cutler as QB and he loves speedy and tall receivers, Iglesias is your man. He will not be drafted in most leagues, but he needs to be. Cutler will be throwing the ball all over the place this season, get in early on Iglesias.
Cincinnati Bengals – Chase Coffman TE – Reggie Kelly is out for the year and Coffman will step into the starting role for the Bengals. He was drafted in the third round from Missouri and he was considered one of the best receiving tight ends in the draft. Carson Palmer is back and he needs a short option, since Cedric Benson can’t catch well, Coffman should receive a lot of looks.
Cleveland Browns – Steve Heiden – TE – Brady Quinn looks to be the starter in Cleveland and he loves his tight ends. When Quinn played last season, Kellen Winslow had nice games. Heiden has had a lot of injuries over his career, but he has good hands and will see the end zone this season.
Dallas Cowboys – Sam Hurd – WR – Hurd has been a “player to watch” the last few seasons, but he has dealt with injuries. Terrell Owens is in Buffalo now and Roy Williams is still getting used to Tony Romo, so Hurd may have a chance to gain some playing time this season. He would be an option in deep, deep leagues that need a receiver in later rounds.
Denver Broncos – Jabar Gaffney – WR – Josh McDaniels is the new coach in Denver and he has brought over some of his old New England Patriots receivers. Whomever the starting quarterback will be in Denver, Kyle Orton or Chris Simms, they will need a reliable possession receiver. Gaffney can get open and will receive a good number of chances to earn fantasy points.
Detroit Lions – Bryant Johnson – WR – The Lions need offense to win games this year, since their defense is made of swiss cheese. Calvin Johnson will be doubled often and Bryant Johnson is a capable receiver. Matthew Stafford or Daunte Culpepper will learn to love Bryant Johnson.
Green Bay Packers – Jordy Nelson WR – Nelson had a few flashes last season. Aaron Rodgers makes sure to keep an eye out for him. He could turn into a very good 3rd receiver for Green Bay. If Driver or Jennings goes down, he can pick up the slack.
Houston Texans – Rex Grossman QB – Matt Schaub is a good QB in the NFL, but he misses a few games every year. Dan Orlovsky is the other QB in Houston, but if Grossman can beat him out for the 2nd-string position, he could re-gain some value in the NFL. If only he could grow a few inches…
Indianapolis Colts – Austin Collie WR – Marvin Harrison isn’t in Indianapolis anymore, so all the receivers will be bumped up a spot, which leaves the 3rd receiver open to competition. Collie was a good receiver at BYU and is a much better long-term option than Roy Hall. Expect Collie to see some action early this season.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Chauncey Washington RB – Fred Taylor is in New England and Jacksonville is expecting that Maurice Jones-Drew to be their lone back this year. MJD is a good running back, but it’s a lofty goal for a back that small to last an entire season without missing some action. Washington could get some action when Jones-Drew needs a breather.
Kansas City Chiefs – Bobby Engram WR – Engram has had success wherever he has player and should have a decent year in KC. Matt Cassel proved himself last year and even if he falters, Tyler Thigpen did a good job last season. The ball should be in the air more with Cassel under center and Engram can rack up catches in a hurry.
Miami Dolphins – Patrick Turner WR – Miami’s receiving corps is average at best. Camarillo, Ginn, and Bess will not win any awards, so Turner could see some playing time this year. He’s a big target and Pennington could see a receiver with size.
Minnesota Vikings – Sidney Rice WR – Everyone has been waiting for Rice to have a big year, he probably won’t have one this season, but he’s worth a late-round gamble. The QB situation in Minnesota is bad, but if Sage Rosenfels wins the job, look for the Vikings to throw the ball more. Rice could be the winner in that case, but it is still to be determined.
New England Patriots – Laurence Maroney RB – Maroney was a first-round pick just two seasons ago, but his draft stock took a tumble with injuries and sharing carries with Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk. Don’t count on Fred Taylor doing much, he’s old and fragile. Tom Brady is back and they should be throwing the ball more this year, but Maroney is too good of a back to be wasted. I expect him to see the end zone at least 6 or 7 times this year.
New Orleans Saints – P.J. Hill RB – Reggie Bush is not an every-down back and Pierre Thomas is still unknown. Hill was a great, punishing back at Wisconsin and should add some power in the backfield. He could vulture some touchdowns away at the very least.
New York Giants – Mario Manningham WR – Plaxico Burress was dumb and shot himself in the leg last year and he’s no longer on the Giants. Eli Manning needs a tall, deep threat to spread the defense out for Brandon Jacobs. Manningham can be the receiver they need, since the rest of the receiving corps are smaller possession receivers, Manningham could become a great asset for the Giants.
New York Jets – Brad Smith – WR – Chansi Stuckey and Jericho Cotchery will be catching most of the passes from Mark Sanchez this year, but this team lacks a 3rd receiver. Brad Smith has had limited success as a receiver, but this year could be his breakout season for the Jets.
Oakland Raiders – Johnnie Lee Higgins – WR – Higgins had some highlights last year and he’s very speedy. He could be the recipient of some deep balls from JaMarcus Russell. If Russell gets beat out by Jeff Garcia at any point this season, Higgins value could be hurt, since he doesn’t throw the deep ball much.
Philadelphia Eagles – LeSean McCoy – RB – Correll Buckhalter is no longer with the team and someone has to be there when Bryan Westbrook goes down at some point this year. The NFC East is too tough of a defensive division to think that he can stay healthy all year. McCoy was a stand-out in college and can be a difference maker in the NFL. He could see significant action this year.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Rashard Mendenhall – RB – Mendenhall is the heir apparent to Willie Paker, but he needs a healthy season under his belt before he can become a first or second round fantasy pick. Mendenhall could be a nice insurance pick if you own Parker. Look for him to at least get some scrub time at the end of the season if they are already locked into a playoff spot.
San Diego Chargers – Malcolm Floyd – WR – There aren’t too many fantasy sleeper option in San Diego. They are loaded with guys that deliver every year. Floyd could be a nice third or fourth option for Phillip Rivers. He’s tall and speedy, kind of like Chris Chambers.
San Francisco 49ers – Alex Smith – QB – I know what you’re thinking, c’mon man, Alex Smith?! He needed a change of scenery, he didn’t get it, but now he has Mike Singletary as his head coach. Mike Nolan didn’t have any clue how to groom Smith in his offense. If anyone is going to get through to Smith, Singletary will be the guy. Shaun Hill could end up with the starting job, but it’s a close race right now.
Seattle Seahawks – Seneca Wallace – QB – I think it’s the area of this post where I like back-up quarterback, due to starting QB injury concerns. Hasselbeck has had a good NFL career, but he is nearing the end. A smart bet would to have sign Michael Vick, but I doubt Jim Mora Jr. would have wanted him again. Wallace did a nice job filling in for Hasselbeck over the last few seasons.
St. Louis Rams – Kyle Boller – QB – I’m not sold on Marc Bulger anymore. He had two good seasons and he has hit a wall. Steve Spagnuolo will preach defense and ball-control, so the Rams offense should see better starting field position this year. Boller has been known to throw interceptions, but Bulger has been just as bad.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Michael Clayton – WR – Clayton isn’t really a traditional “sleeper,” but I expect him to have a great season this year. If Josh Freeman is the QB in Tampa Bay, Clayton will see a lot of looks. I predict a 1,000 yard receiving season for Clayton. Make sure you draft him in the mid-late rounds, if he’s still there.
Tenneessee Titans – Nate Washington – WR – All Tennessee needed last year was a dynamic receiver, Washington could be that player. He can stretch defenses with his deep threat ability, something they missed last year. Kerry Collins could fall in love with him by mid-season.
Washington Redskins – D.J. Hackett – WR – Santana Moss and Antwan Randle-EL are speed guys, but Hackett has both speed and better hands than either of them. He did a great job in Seattle and could end up being a nice pick up for Washington.
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