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by Michael Nazarek
Editor's Note: Below you will find a portion of our Fantasy Football Sleepers for 2012. If you'd like to read about all 46 sleepers, please click HERE to order our 2012 Pre-Season Draft Guide.
Everyone knows about Aaron Rodgers, Arian Foster, and Calvin Johnson. The top 50 players taken in most fantasy drafts will likely be the same group of players. What separates the men from the boys is knowing who will produce when they are not expected to produce. To this end, I will supply you with sleeper lists of players at each of the key fantasy positions. Consider each and weigh them against your league competition. I will list sleepers in three distinct categories… obvious, darkhorses, and long-shots. I have also offered my “deep sleeper” at each position. Note: The official projected statistics for these players were not posted, as they may change with each guide update.
The following LONGSHOT SLEEPER was posted on these pages early last AUGUST. It just goes to show you that sometimes these players pan out in a HUGE way…
Victor Cruz (New York Giants) – With WR Steve Smith signed in Philadelphia, who will fill the #3 WR job for the Giants? Cruz appears as one of the possibilities, that is, provided he blows up in the preseason like he did last year (6-145-3 against the Jets). Remember that one-handed catch on that long 64-yard TD against the Jets? Anyway, I’ve added him here until someone else rises to the occasion proving me wrong. He certainly is a long-shot, but one that might pay off down the road.
Yeah, I’d say he paid off. And I drafted him myself in the FFWebMasters 14-team experts league in the final round of my draft last year. He was a big reason why I made the playoffs. On to this year’s lists…
Jay Cutler (Chicago) – Cutler has struggled as a Bear, but he gets WR Brandon Marshall back as his primary target in 2012. The talent is still there for Cutler, and now he has a talented receiver that he has great chemistry with. What’s not to like here? While he may not throw as often as he did when in Denver, the passing game should increase to the point where Cutler could become a solid fantasy starter. And that is what makes him an obvious sleeper pick.
Carson Palmer (Oakland) – Palmer was semi-retired when he was traded to the Raiders in the middle of last season. Although he had his ups and down in the last half of the season, Palmer showed he still has the talent to lead the team possibly to the playoffs. Entering 2012, he’ll have had an entire normal offseason tp get on the same page as his teammates and possibly reproduce the type of numbers he once had as a Bengal. And that makes him an interesting obvious sleeper pick in 2012.
Jake Locker (Tennessee) – I love his talent, but he must first beat QB Matt Hasselbeck for the starting job this summer. If that happens, WR Kenny Britt needs to stay healthy all season and productive. Rookie WR Kendall Wrigt must also make an impact. A lot of parts need to fall into place to help Locker, making him a longshot fantasy sleeper.
Ryan Mathews (San Diego) – His situation has all the marking of former Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson. RB Mike Tolbert is gone and the coaches firmly believe Mathews can be the true workhorse back they need him to be. Provided he stays healthy, he should easily be a top 10 fantasy back. Why is he on this list? Some out there might still see him as a shifty complimentary back, but that is no longer the case.
Shonn Greene (New York Jets) – The Jets desperately want to get back to ground and pound and Greene will help them get back to it. L.T. has retired, leaving Greene to finally carry the load for the Jets. Yes, QB Tim Tebow may steal a few scores, but Greene will get his fair share and in this running offense that will translate into solid fantasy numbers, making him an obvious sleeper pick.
Stevan Ridley (New England) – The Law Firm has left the New England area for Cincinnati. That leaves second-year back Ridley the favorite to start, although he’ll share time in the backfield with RB Shane Vereen. Ridley showed more than Vereen last year and although the Patriots prefer to pass, Ridley could surprise in his production. You could do a lot worse than to grab the Patriots starting RB as your sleeper #3 fantasy RB.
Rashad Jennings (Jacksonville) – Jennings missed all of last season after suffering a knee injury during August. He is healthy now and the injury did not require surgery. That’s important to note because RB Maurice Jones-Drew is threatening to hold out into the season if he doesn’t get a renegotiated deal, something the Jaguars are saying right now won’t happen. If MJD sits, Jennings will start. He is the obvious handcuff to MJD and a longshot fantasy sleeper at this time. Like others on this list, his standing could change, depending upon what happens later this summer with MJD.
Julio Jones (Atlanta) – Everyone knows the scond-year wideout for the Falcons. Why is he listed here? He didn’t have a full season to show all what he can do due to injury. That should change in 2012. The Falcons have big plans for him, so big that WR Roddy White believes he’ll see less targets this season to benefit Jones. Regardless, it’s clear that Jones will play a pivotal role in Atlanta’s offense, making him the ultimate obvious fantasy wideout sleeper.
Torrey Smith (Baltimore) – Smith surprised last season, making big plays for the pass-starved Ravens. To a point, he was a one-trick poney, though. Of course, it was his rookie season. However, this offseason Smith has shown a lot of improvement in his route-running. With veteran WR Anquan Boldin getting up in age, Smith is set to take over as the new #1 WR. If Smith can score 7 times as a rookie, don’t be surprised if he tops double digits for 2012!
Sidney Rice (Seattle) – Rice showed what he can do when healthy with a good QB back in Minnesota with QB Brett Favre. But a move to Seattle and shoulder injuries sidetracked his initial season as a Seahawk. Two shoulder surgeries later, Rice says he’ll be fine in 2012. And if QB Matt Flynn emerges as a quality starter, the sky could almost be the limit for Rice in Seattle as their #1 WR. That certainly qualifies him as a darkhorse fantasy sleeper.
Titus Young (Detroit) - Young had his moments during his rookie season last year. And after being disciplined for fighting with a teammate this offseason, turned in an impressive performance during OTA’s and minicamps. So much so that rumors are circulating that Young could push veteran WR Nate Burleson for his starting job. Regardless, Young is in line for more targets and an increased role in the passing game. And that makes him an interesting darkhorse fantasy sleeper.
Brandon LaFell (Carolina) – LaFell is in line to start opposite WR Steve Smith for the Panthers in 2012. Thus far, he’s proven to be a bit inconsistent in his play, but did show some improvement late last season. It appears the opportunity will be there for LaFell, so taking him as a late-round fantasy flier pick isn’t a bad idea in your draft this summer. He certainly has longshot fantasy sleeper written all over himself.
Jermaine Gresham (Cincinnati) – Gresham has developed into a solid pass-receiving target for the Bengals, increasing his scores from 4 in 2010 to 6 in 2011. The team has a very young receiving corps, with little experience behind star WR A.J. Green. That’s where Gresham comes into play. Don’t be surprised if he bumps his scores in 2012 up to 8+. Draft him in the middle rounds of your draft as an obvious fantasy sleeper and you won’t be disappointed.
Tony Moeaki (Kansas City) – Moeaki missed the entire 2011 season due to a torn ACL. However, as a rookie ni 2010, he caught 47 passes for 556 yards and three scores. The Chiefs love their young TE and he should easily equal those numbers in healthy this year, or even surpass them. The Chiefs missed a short passing game last year and Moeaki can certainly provide that, making him a nice darkhorse fantasy sleeper.
Kyle Rudolph (Minnesota) – This time last year he was my deep sleeper at TE. This summer, he’s in line to start with TE Visanthe Shiancoe no longer on the roster. QB Christian Ponder began to look his way more late last year, and the Vikings have plans to make him a significant contributor. With only so-so talent in the receiving corps outside of WR Percy Harvin, if Rudolph steps up, he could break into the top 20 fantasy TE’s, if not top 15. Only time will tell if it’s his time to shine or not.