The fantasy season is over. Now is not the time to sit around idly watching the … PLAYOFFS?! Now is the time to organize your last impressions from this season and write them down. You will forget what happened and get caught up in all the hype in late July and August when all the fantasy experts are telling you what to think. Create your own list of thoughts and save them on your computer. I’m not saying ignore the experts, some of them know what they are doing, but I think it is important that the experts use stats to back up their opinions. Therefore, I present to you my opinion of five players whom I would consider sleepers and backed up my opinion with factual data. Also, I should point out that this information is mainly intended for point-per-reception (PPR) formats but also has utility for standard league players.
5. Titus Young. If you’ve been watching the Detroit Lions lately, this won’t come to a surprise to you at all. Young seems to have supplanted Nate Burleson as the #2 WR target in Detroit. He has come on strong late this season and has developed a knack for getting in the endzone. The smallish (5’11”, 174 lbs.) WR finished his regular season rookie campaign with 48 receptions for 607 yards and six scores. The six scores rank him 4th amongst rookie WRs this season, but it is noteworthy that four of those scores have come in the last four weeks. There is a lot to like about the former 2nd round pick from Boise State. He has excellent speed and quickness , he is tied to a high yield offense, his playing time seemed to increase as the season went on and he is gaining chemistry with Matt Stafford. We can’t just ignore the negatives though: he may be the 3rd overall target in that offense (Calvin Johnson, Brandon Pettigrew), he has a history of causing trouble and his QB still has not shed the ‘injury risk’ label (at least in my mind). With all these factors in mind, I would not draft him in a single digit round. I’m thinking 12th-13th round at this point, making him a low-risk/high-reward player, possibly working himself into a situational WR3 or flex option on your fantasy team. You will be tempted to drop him early in the season, but like a fine wine, he will get better as the season ages.
4. Brandon Lloyd. He may not be a sleeper in every sense of the word because we know what he is capable of. He was the waiver wire all-star of 2010. I am considering him a sleeper since the Rams’ injury-marred , disaster of a season ended in the firing of their head coach and GM. The result, at this point (that’s what you get for reading about ridiculously early sleepers), is uncertainty in St. Louis. After being traded from the Broncos to the Rams early in the 2011 season, Lloyd made an immediate impact. He delivered a useful 70/966/5 for the season. If you delve further, you find that he played in only fifteen games this season. In his four games with the Broncos, he had only 19/283/0. In his 11 games with the Josh McDaniels-led Rams’ offense and their revolving door at QB he had 51/683/5, which is an average of 13.6 Fantasy Points per Game (FPG). 13.6 FPG places him in the WR3 range in a season where he was traded to a new team that couldn’t keep a QB healthy . Lloyd was able to make an instant impact for the Rams because he was reunited with McDaniels. The two were together in Denver in 2010. With McDaniels departure to become the OC for New England (again), I would expect a solid 70+ receptions and 1000+ yard campaign from the under-appreciated Lloyd in 2012. However, Lloyd followed McDaniels from Denver to St. Louis via a trade. Would McDaniels push the Patriots to trade for Lloyd? Food for thought.
3. James Jones. What sleeper list would be complete without a perennial sleeper such as Jones. This time I think its for real. The problem for skill players in an offense like the Packers’ (Saints, Patriots and Lions are other example) seems to be the presence of a few consistently great fantasy producers and a whole bunch of guys that are hit and miss fantasy producers. So why is it that I have the audacity to believe that James Jones can move into the ranks of the consistent producers? Let’s take the Saints and the Patriots for example and use the metaphor of the burden of proof in a murder trial; means, motive and opportunity. The Saints and the Patriots have great QBs that excel at getting the ball to the open man, whoever it may be. Aaron Rodgers proved that he is one of, if not the best QB in the game in a season that saw both Tom Brady and Drew Brees eclipse Dan Marino’s all time passing record. There we have the means. As for the opportunity; the Saints and Patriots have shown us that it is possible to have three consistently good fantasy producers in the same offense. Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and Darren Sproles are the three studs for the Saints and Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez represent the bulk of the offense for the Patriots. In 2011, Green Bay had only two consistently good fantasy producers, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, so there is room for another. The potential for a 3rd fantasy producer coupled with the diminished production of Donald Driver give us opportunity. Last we have motive. The motive is directed by the NFL to pass more. Rule changes in recent years have greatly benefitted the offenses, specifically passing. It is not a coincidence that two QBs eclipsed a passing record set in the 1980s in the same season. As you might have noticed, I have not mentioned the logical third prong of the Packer pitchfork of offense, Jemichael Finley. Wouldn’t he be expected to become the third good fantasy producer? Maybe, but why didn’t he do it this year? I don’t have the answer but, he will come at a higher price than Jones on draft day and this article is about sleepers. I like Jones in the late rounds 10th or higher. Another low-risk/high reward guy, that’s how I like my sleepers.
2. C.J. Spiller. I wanted to put Knowshon Moreno here but I couldn’t do it. Spiller is a former #1 draft pick for the Buffalo Bills but has not quite produced like he was expected to until Fred Jackson went down with a broken leg. If you would like my thoughts on how Spiller and Jackson will split carries next season, click here. Since Jackson’s injury, Spiller has produced like Bills fans had always hoped he would. In the last four weeks of the season Spiller had 308 rushing yards and 2 rushing TDs in addition to receiving stats of 18/153/2 . In PPR leagues, that is 88 fantasy points, or 22 FP/G! Jackson was having an epic fantasy season before he was injured, and his return will diminish Spiller’s fantasy production greatly. Jackson, though a ‘low-mileage’ back, will be turning 31 this year. Spiller, on the other hand, will be only 25 years old at the beginning of the season. Jackson is recovering from a broken fibula, Spiller is a former #1 pick (owners and GMs generally want these guys to do well so they don’t look bad) and has the ability to line up at WR. In 2012, I want to own a piece of that backfield and I am anticipating Spiller to be the lower priced player of the two. If Spiller is available after Round 6 in your fantasy draft, grab him and reap the rewards.
1. Matt Flynn. Matt Flynn is currently the back-up QB for the Green Bay Packers. At the end of the season, he will become an unrestricted free agent, which means he will be able to sign with any team. The 3rd year man out of LSU may be one of the most sought after UFAs of the offseason. It is easy to overhype a back-up who has had limited success (Scott Mitchell anyone?) however, in Week 17, Flynn set a franchise record with six TD tosses in a single game. This for a franchise that had Brett Favre and has Aaron Rodgers, who was sitting out to avoid any injuries that might arise if he were to get Suh-plexed. It is valid to consider that Flynn’s performance was a result of the system in which he plays rather than his skill. Ultimately, you must decide, but I am betting on Flynn. Obviously, the team Flynn ends up playing for will be a major factor in determining his fantasy value going forward. He is an interesting player to monitor, especially in keeper leagues. He will probably be available toward the end of fantasy drafts and if so, I won’t hesitate to add him to my roster.