Fantasy Football is almost here, and for some people who have already drafted it has already arrived. For the people still waiting for their live draft and analyzing who they are going to take in the late rounds to form a dynamic bench, this is the article for you.
Wide receiver should turn out to be a pretty deep position during the 2012 season. It is becoming a passing league with more and more breakout stars at quarterback, tight end, and wide receiver than ever before. I mean, who would have thought that Cam Newton, Jordy Nelson, Victor Cruz, Matthew Stafford, and Jimmy Graham would finish in the top five at their respective positions?
In the following list I have come up with five sleepers at the wide receiver position that could either come out of nowhere to put up starting caliber numbers or outperform there expected draft slot by two rounds or more.
1. Brandon Lloyd
Lloyd isn’t a deep sleeper that you will be able to get in the very late rounds. And he probably can’t be called a traditional sleeper because people are talking about him quite a bit. However, Lloyd is being drafted in the fifth to sixth rounds in most drafts this year, and I think he has the potential to eclipse that draft slot by two to four rounds.
Since 2008, there have been 20 receivers to get 65 or more targets on passes at least 21 yards down field. Brandon Lloyd is the only one to not drop a deep ball (88 targets). Also, over the last two seasons (with Josh McDaniels as Head Coach or OC), Lloyd leads the league in targets of at least 20 yards down the field with 73. Calvin Johnson is second with 64.
Lloyd has done this with Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, AJ Feeley, and Kellen Clemens as his starting quarterbacks. The best quarterback out of that bunch, Kyle Orton, started 13 games for the Broncos in 2010, the year where Lloyd led the league in receiving. Tim Tebow started the remaining three games that same season.
In 2011, the Broncos traded Lloyd to the Rams. Sam Bradford was looking forward to being able to have a reliable pass catching option. However, he battled injuries that season, leaving Feeley and Clemens to deliver the ball deep to Lloyd. Yikes.
Next year, Tom Brady, one of the best quarterbacks in the league, will be under center for Lloyd, and Josh McDaniels will be in town as his OC. This is the same player that is currently going in the sixth round.
Prediction: 1188 yards, 12 touchdowns
2. Greg Little
I will follow up Brandon Lloyd with a more traditional sleeper. Greg Little can be currently had in the last couple rounds of ESPN Standard leagues. The reasoning behind him falling is sound, but I think he has a chance to take the next step as a pass catcher.
Little was only a rookie last season when he caught 61 balls for 700 yards. He also battled horrendous hands, as he dropped 14 balls in 2011. If he didn’t have those drops, we could have been talking about Greg Little leading rookies last year in receptions and not AJ Green.
I think if Little can at least improve on his drops (even if he doesn’t, are the Browns going to turn to Mohamed Massaquoi in the passing game?) then he can become a big target for Brandon Weeden. Little was a second round pick, so he has the talent and the coaches confidence. Now he just needs to keep improving his game and score more consistently.
You won’t have to worry about targets for Little, and unless Weeden is the next Blaine Gabbert, then I think the quarterback situation should be fine to the point that the Browns young and talented first receiver won’t suffer. Maybe Weeden will skip all of the NFL development and be amazing next year? He is 29 years old.
Prediction: 1044 yards, 6 touchdowns
3. Reggie Wayne
Another receiver that could see an enormous amount of targets next year is Reggie Wayne. Wayne is a bigger name in fantasy than Greg Little, but Wayne is still going in rounds ten to twelve in most drafts. That qualifies him as a sleeper and a player that could become a reliable fantasy starter next year if an injury occurs to your team.
Wayne had nearly 1000 yards receiving last season with Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter, and Dan Orlovsky throwing him the ball last year. In that group, Orlovsky is the one who had the highest quarterback rating in 2011, and he almost beat out both Painter and Collins by 20 points.
Because of the awful quarterback play, Wayne’s target to catch percentage went down to 56.8 percent after a 63 percent season in 2010. Wayne also saw less targets altogether because Colt’s coaches wanted nothing to do with throwing the football (even though they eventually had to). However, this is the same player that saw 177 targets and 112 catches in 2010 with Peyton Manning at the helm. Wayne might be getting older but I don’t think he’s declining because of last year. I think he can only go up.
While Andrew Luck is a rookie, I think he can only be, at the very least, four to twenty times better at getting Wayne the ball than Colt’s quarterbacks last year. Luck will receive some growing pains (probably) and he will like to throw to his buddy Coby Fleener. But that won’t stop Wayne from getting a bunch of targets all season as the Colt’s only real wide receiving threat (Austin Collie?).
Maybe Luck will be the next John Elway starting this year? That’ll make Wayne one of the best receivers in the league again. However, you don’t even have to count on that for Wayne to be a good draft pick in fantasy.
Prediction: 1155 yards, 7 touchdowns
4. Randall Cobb
Here is a deep sleeper. Randall Cobb can probably be had in the second to last round in your draft (before you grab a kicker), or he might go undrafted. However, I think he has upside that most, if not all, undrafted wide receivers don’t have in fantasy.
Cobb is currently the fourth receiver on the Green Bay Packers depth chart (five if you count Jermichael Finley, which you should), but I think he can head into the season as the third receiver if he takes over for James Jones (which he should). Cobb showed promise in his rookie season, catching 25 of his 31 targets, and scoring on two special teams plays. Now, Cobb is in a loaded receiving core in Green Bay, featuring Finley, Greg Jennings, and Jordy Nelson, but if Brandon Lloyd can have a big year as the Patriots fourth option, why not Randall Cobb?
James Jones had 635 yards and 7 touchdowns last year as the Packers third receiver. If Cobb is the third receiver this year, couldn’t he have similar numbers? Donald Driver, the Packers fifth receiver going into 2012 and not getting any younger, had over 400 yards and 6 touchdowns. 6 touchdowns! With Jordy Nelson probably going to come back to Earth on his 15 touchdown season, I don’t think it’s going to be that hard for Cobb to significantly improve on his one receiving touchdown last year.
Besides having the potential to have a solid year in the passing game with more touchdowns than he probably should have because of Aaron Rodgers, Cobb is also the Packers leading return man. He had two return touchdowns last year, and with him being a rookie and only getting better, I don’t see why he won’t be able to get two to four return touchdowns in his sophomore season. If your league offers points for return touchdowns (if it doesn’t why are reading this part on Cobb?) than Cobb’s value only goes up.
Packers coaches have also talked about Cobb having a great training camp and that they are going to do what they can to get him on the field and involved. In my eyes, I think that means more rushing attempts for Cobb. He’s explosive with the ball in his hands, so why take the chance that he will be open down field when you can just hand off to him. Cobb has been compared to Percy Harvin the most in the NFL, and Harvin had over 300 rushing yards last year. I also don’t think there’s an Adrian Peterson (or even Toby Gerhart) in the Packers running game to “steal” carries from.
Overall, Cobb could be a victim to the Packers stacked receiving core and not break out. However, because you could easily pick him up before the season starts if he’s proclaimed the third receiver, the upside you get with him is worth the roster spot.
Prediction: 850 total yards (rushing including), 10 total touchdowns
5. Terrell Owens
Okay, this is where all points and evidence to back my sleeper goes out the window. Terrell Owens will be 39 years old, he’s on the Seattle Seahawks, he didn’t play at all in 2011, and he has numerous problems off the field. My response to all of that is simply: I’m still drafting him because he’s T.O.
This is a guy who should have had, if he didn’t get hurt, 1200 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010. This was while he was sharing the spotlight from Chad Johnson and getting the ball thrown to him from a washed up Carson Palmer (maybe I’m wrong though). I’m not saying Matt Flynn is a stud quarterback, but I will say that I am very high on Flynn this year and Owens does not need an elite quarterback for him to get his touches.
Seattle brought him in for a reason. Owens has taken a year off (not that he wanted to) and he is probably fully healed from that injury (he better be, Seattle). He still is a dominant physical presence and Pete Carroll and Matt Flynn will do all they can to get him the ball (who else do they have?).
Yes, Owens is an injury concern, he’s a locker room concern, and he could easily have a Randy Moss type year circa 2010. But let’s be honest here, Fantasy Football is a game. It’s here for our enjoyment. And you know what? I want to get my popcorn ready in 2012.
I’ll see you in the championship game.
Prediction: 1090 yards, 9 touchdowns