By Dave Hunter
I don’t know about you, but every season before my favorite fantasy football drafts I get squishy with excitement thinking about the prospects of uncovering the “golden egg.” The talented fantasy football player that will truly pay off for me without having to reach too early or spend the big bucks. We all want that, don’t you agree?
However, there is a problem. The term “sleeper” is extremely saturated in the fantasy sports world today and every fantasy sports website that’s worth anything at all will have a list of sleepers to draft for the season. So, it’s not going to be easy as it once was to “get one over” on your buddy during the draft.
Even with the word sleeper being such a broad term these days in the fantasy world, the definition itself has somewhat changed over the years. Sleepers aren’t just rookies or players that you’ve never heard of before, they are players expected to outplay their slotted draft value.
With that in mind, here are two players at each major position (QB, RB and WR). I’ve marked them as primary and secondary sleeper options, with the belief that each will perform above and beyond their expected draft slots:
Sam Bradford, QB, Rams (Primary) – I usually hate doing the “what if” scenario on players, but in this case it really hits home. If Bradford had played a 16-game season in 2013, basing these numbers solely on what he was averaging before he went down with a catastrophic season-ending ankle injury, this is what he would’ve have totaled: 3,856 passing yards, 32 TD and 9 INT. Not bad at all, eh? That would’ve put Bradford 12th overall in the NFL in QB passing yards and tied for fourth in TD passes. Yeah, that’s right… tied for fourth! I know what you’re thinking. The “what ifs” are nice and all, but it’s what the player has done that counts. If you add up the games that Bradford has missed over his career it would total one full season. I like Bradford this season even with his injury issues over his career. I’m going to take the high road and avoid argument here and assume that Bradford stays injury free, and also assume that with his receiving core of players he exceeds expectations by a bunch. I’d love to have a chance at Bradford as my No. 2 QB this season, with the idea that he could even rise to a No. 1 slot if my every week starter falls to injury.
E.J. Manuel, QB, Bills (Secondary) – Manuel started off the 2013 season with decent production through his first three games throwing for 689 yards and four TDs, although he really tailed off due to injury and inconsistent play. Manuel has the talent to succeed as a quarterback in the NFL and is a nice project as a No. 2 QB backing up your starter. However, a ton must go right for Manuel to succeed this season, but I’m buying in for the most part with the excitement that surrounds Manuel’s new rookie target Sammy Watkins. Let’s not forget that Manuel knows how to scramble and run with the ball too, which makes him a good upside secondary threat.
Ben Tate, RB, Browns (Primary) – Man, I love this guy. I’ve gone gaga over Tate for quite awhile now, dating back to his rookie season when he was drafted by Houston. Tate hasn’t had an easy NFL path, missing his first season entirely with an ankle injury and having to compete with Mr. Arian Foster. With the move to Cleveland and without a major competition option to worry about (sorry, Terrance West is no Arian Foster), Tate has a chance to really take the reigns as a bona fide RB2 guy. I’m not expecting 1,500 yards and 12 TD, but a 1,100-yard season and seven TD is not out of the question… even in Cleveland.
Khiry Robinson, RB, Saints (Secondary) – Robinson is an intriguing option at RB this season, mainly as a backup or RB4 play. He’s got tons of upside potential in the Saints offense with Darren Sproles in Philadelphia now with the range on his value from nothing to through-the-roof. If the Saints had an established RB on roster, and not the likes of Pierre Thomas or Mark Ingram, then I’d be quite wary of talking up Robinson. But let’s get real here. Thomas and Ingram are not every-down RB options and Robinson has the stuff to overtake them if given the chance. And that’s the key… if given the chance.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Vikings (Primary) – If Patterson’s WR play matched his special teams play in 2013 then we’d have a superstar to discuss and not a sleeper. Of course that’s asking a bunch from a rookie coming into the NFL expected to take the place of the recently departed (to Seattle not the grave) Percy Harvin. Patterson showed flashes of brilliance as a receiver for the Vikings, but he just didn’t get enough attention in the passing game to be anything more than a bye week fill-in. That will change this season, with the Vikings expected to take advantage of Patterson and his speed.
Tavon Austin, WR, Rams (Secondary) – I went all-in on Austin last season and I don’t feel dirty at all for doing so. I still have plenty of faith in the kid, especially since Sam Bradford is healthy and ready to go for the Rams this season. Austin was a maniac with the ball after he caught it, but he didn’t get the looks he should have over the season to really take advantage of his talents which includes his crazy but wonderful downfield speed. The hype has passed on Austin, admittedly so considering his 2013 season, but taking a chance on him in the late rounds is smart. He’s a make or break kid and I’m certainly putting in with the “make” side of things.