The first five we’ll call “Solid Sleepers,” guys that are most likely to be drafted and possible late-round steals. The one stipulation is that they have to be outside the top-100. And just for some perspective, the last five players on the ESPN top 100 are: Kenny Britt, Shane Vereen, Nate Washington, Jay Cutler, and Robert Griffin.
Then the second five, we’ll call “Deep Sleepers,” guys that you maybe haven’t even heard of before and will possibly remain somewhat anonymous until a big splash triggers twitter-mania and waiver-wire craziness. And these are all guys outside the ESPN top-150.
So here they are:
BRANDON PETTIGREW, TE, DETROIT LIONS
Pettigrew has all the tools in place to become an elite fantasy tight end. The last two seasons he’s been right around 750 yards and 5 touchdowns, but I think he’s got the potential for a lot more. Working in Pettigrew’s favor is the fact that he’s teamed up with a pro-bowl caliber quarterback, the most talented receiver in the NFL, and he was the team’s second most targeted receiver last year. From a fantasy perspective, the key is going to be more endzone targets and the hope that defenses will be smart and put everything they have on Calvin Johnson so that Pettigrew will find a fair share of openings.
CEDRIC BENSON, RB, GREEN BAY PACKERS
Alright, so he’s number 101 and probably going to be drafted in most fantasy leagues around the tenth round or so, but he’s been doing well so far in the Packers system – 6 carries, 38 yards in preseason debut – and could be a late-round goldmine. Meanwhile, the Packers other leading candidate for the starting running back spot, James Starks, is nursing a turf toe injury. Even when healthy last year though, Starks couldn’t prove to be the number one guy while Benson has proven he can carry that load in the past.
LEGARRETTE BLOUNT, RB, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Preseason fantasy rankings are an extremely imperfect art and this is the perfect example. Blount was a top-three or top-four round running back last season, but after injuries took hold of him last year, he’s suddenly dropped to a late round guy. Blount’s got minimal wear and tear on him and he showed what he can do when healthy his rookie season. Doug Martin may have the starting spot for now, but he’s a completely different mold from Blount and if both rushers are healthy, I’m guessing the bigger guy’s getting the bulk of the short-yardage and goal-line carries.
MIKE WILLIAMS, WR, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
This is a ranking I just can’t understand. Yeah, Williams was disappointing last year, but most of that disappointment falls on the lackluster performance of Josh Freeman. Williams was far too good his rookie season – just two years ago when he compiled 964 yards and 11 touchdowns – to be as low as he is in the ESPN rankings right now (128th, five spots ahead of Randy Moss). He’s a crazy-good athlete that will only benefit from the addition of Vincent Jackson. Expect far better numbers than the 771 yards, 3 touchdowns he put up last year.
ANDREW LUCK, QB, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
This one is especially for deep leagues, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a guy that’s added to every league after week one or two. Remember how quickly Cam Newton exceeded our expectations last season? Well Luck is in a similar situation on a team that no one expects to do well and even if though they probably won’t, there’s still room for some fantasy points to go around. I’m thinking something like 3,500 yards, 20 TDs, 16 INTs as his possible line at the end of the year.
RYAN WILLIAMS, RB, ARIZONA CARDINALS
We all know the concerns about Beanie Wells playing another full season with his injury history. But then there’s the question of who we should be looking at in case these speculations come true. We’ve seen very little from Ryan Williams, Arizona’s 2nd round pick in 2011, but there’s a good chance that he’ll start the season as Beanie’s number two. Williams has rushed for 40 yards on 8 carries in his two preseason games this year and he’ll remain mostly a mystery until we start to see what kind of Cardinals team shows up this year. Stay tuned.
MIKEL LESHOURE, RB, DETROIT LIONS
By not adding either Cedric Benson or Ryan Grant this offseason, the Lions were either stupid, or they knew something that the rest of the league doesn’t yet about Leshoure. Neither Kevin Smith nor Jahvid Best can consistently stay on the field, and even when they can, neither are great up-the-gut runners, both being better off screens or pitch-plays. Leshoure is a boulder of a running back that’s perfect for short yardage situations. The Lions have one of the leagues most dominant passing attacks, which leads to a hefty amount of redzone opportunities for running backs. Translation: keep your eye on the running back situation here. (And as a side note, Leshoure is suspended for the first two games of the season, so be on the watch for week 3)
DANNY AMENDOLA, WR, ST LOUIS RAMS
The negative is that offensive guru Josh McDaniels is no longer in St. Louis, but the good news is that Amendola is healthy again and ready to hit the field. He was a popular sleeper last year mostly because of McDaniels and the fact that Bradford needed a go-to receiver and he seemed like the best option, but after an early season-ending injury last year, you barely heard his name again. Well despite the big disappointment in St. Louis last season, Sam Bradford is still a very solid quarterback at the end of the day, and Amendola has shown more potential to be that top-receiver than anyone else in St. Louis – 85 receptions in 2010. And every number one receiver needs to be owned in fantasy leagues no matter how bad the team is doing.
KENDALL WRIGHT, WR, TENNESSEE TITANS
I think the rookie wide receiver with the best shot to make a big fantasy difference this year isn’t Blackmon or Floyd or Alshon Jeffery. To me, it’s Kendall Wright. He’s shown solid chemistry with new starter Jake Locker in preseason and should have plenty of time on the field when the season begins. Kenny Britt is an extremely talented receiver, but he can never stay on the field, while Nate Washington is consistently solid but never anything spectacular. I think Wright has big play potential and if the Titans turn a few heads this season, don’t be surprised if Wright is one of the reasons.
DAVONE BESS, WR, MIAMI DOLPHINS
As mentioned above with Amendola, number-one wide receivers need to be on fantasy rosters. Bess is the most experienced wide-out in Miami now that Marshall is gone, and he should see plenty of rookie Ryan Tannehill’s throws coming his way this year. I’ve never viewed him as anything more than a decent number two receiver, but in ppr leagues especially, Bess could really come in handy. And if Tannehill proves to be the answer in Miami, then someone out there’s going to be reaping the benefits, and I’ll bet on Bess over anyone else on the Dolphins receiving team.