Everyone has them, and no two lists are the same. It needs to be emphasized that “sleepers” won’t necessarily be superstars, but will outperform their draft position. And busts won’t be useless, but will underperform their draft spots as well.
Someone who threw for 4,483 yards and 26 TDs last year is a sleeper? Tony Romo is when there is a legitimate possibility he could hit 4,500 and 35+ TDs. Austin, Bryant, Witten, Williams, and Felix Jones is a nice stable of toys. If Jones, can stay healthy, he could be a real monster. If Vince Young has left his maturity issues behind, he might benefit from defenses loading up on Chris Johnson. He might also enjoy a full season of having Kenny Britt and Justin Gage to throw to. Matthew Stafford and Alex Smith look like they will be unleashed this year, and both could get 3,000 to 3,500 yards and 25-30 TDs. You absolutely can’t ignore Matt Ryan, even though we said the same thing last year. He has the weapons and the talent to be great. In deeper leagues, keep an eye on Josh Freeman of the Bucs. He will get the chances to throw, but who will he throw to? Deeper leagues might also take a glance at Dennis Dixon. He has impressed in pre-season, but so far it doesn’t seem he will get the first-team reps to prove himself.
Rashard Mendenahll gets his first full season as the man in Pittsburgh, and he will be especially featured while Big Ben is suspended. Knowshon Moreno might surprise some people by getting over 1,000 yards and 10 scores, and I’d take the over on both of those. Matt Forte will be better than last year. How good? I’d bet good enough to make his 5-6th round pick solid value. Felix Jones… if he stays healthy… yikes! Jerome Harrison is a serious talent and if he gets enough carries he could really be special. Clinton Portis has plummeted down RB rankings, and now he finds his backfield crowded, but we cannot ignore what he did last time Mike Shanahan was on his sideline. Ladanian Tomlinson‘s numbers are going to surprise people. He will have plenty of carries in the Jets backfield. Justin Forsett looks to get the majority of the carries in Seattle and could produce some useful numbers, we hope Ahmad Bradshaw, Donald Brown, and Fred Jackson get the same chance.
Michael Crabtree and Hakeen Nicks could emerge as top 15 options in fantasy if their quarterbacks learn to look for them regularly. They have the tools. Bernard Berrian will benefit from the Sidney Rice surgery and Percy Harvin’s migraines. Pierre Garcon is a legit #2 receiver and could end up closer to Wayne in the WR rankings than he is right now. Kenny Britt and Justin Gage are on the radar for as long as their quarterback can keep his head on straight. Eddie Royal and Malcolm Floyd will benefit from the absence of their team’s 2009 top receivers, Jackson and Marshall. Jacoby Jones and Mario Manningham might establish themselves as #2 receivers on their respective teams and that could translate to fantasy relevance. Standing in their way, for Jones, is Kevin Walter, and for Manningham is Steve Smith. I like Jones’ chances slightly more.
The Steelers will likely simplify their offense for the fill-in quarterback during Big Ben’s absence, meaning Heath Miller has a chance to grab some early touchdowns. Also keep an eye on Kevin Boss. He has the skill set to be an Owen Daniels type threat. The Titans Jared Cook and Redskins Fred Davis have starters entrenched ahead of them, but might break through this season. Both are physically solid.
Rookies are ALWAYS bust candidates. Their hype is just too high.
Matt Schaub is still an injury worry. Phillip Rivers is missing his best target and Donovan McNabb moves from a pass-heavy Eagles team to a run-centered Redskins crew. But easily the biggest bust of this season will be Brett Favre. He has now lost his top receiver, possibly for the year. His second best has unexplained migraines. And the team wants to run more anyway. I’m not sure where all the hype came from about Jason Campbell, maybe just the fact he isn’t Jamarcus Russell, but he never did anything in Washington and I see no change coming in Oakland.
How long can Steven Jackson carry the entire Rams offense? How long can he stay healthy? Cedric Benson was a revelation last year. It’s safe to expect him to come back down to Earth this year. Leshean McCoy might struggle if Kolb would rather throw to receivers than runners. Ricky Williams, Thomas Jones, and Chester Taylor are on the wrong side of 30 and relegated to #2 duties.
Why are people so sure Brandon Marshall will be a stud in Miami? Him, Deshean Jackson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Anquan Boldin all will be catching from new QBs, and unproven passers at that. Chad Ochocinco, Derrick Mason, Donald Driver, and Hines Ward can’t keep their producing 1,000-yard seasons (which they all did last year) with a collective age of 137 years old. Devin Aromashodu is on a lot of sleeper lists, but so much so that he is being taken too high. Don’t fall prey to the sleeper rush.
Not all these predictions will pan out. But these are guys I see who can either be had for value, or should be avoided like the Jets defense without Darrelle Revis. And as the season approaches, please send me your sleepers and busts. I would love to hear who you guys are targeting.