|Each year we search out the "sleepers" but what does that really mean? Is it a player that went undrafted and yet ended up as a top ten player like Dominic Rhodes? Or was it Ahman Green who was normally the ninth back taken but should have been the fourth back taken?
I'm not here to play semantics. Let's take a look at several players that could provide you with nice results and should be available from mid-draft and deeper. Players that could perform well above the position where you drafted them and ones that could turn into starters for your team at some point in the season.
You know, the deeper ones with that wonderful "upside". Sleepers and Undervalued players. These are the SUV's you need to park in your fantasy team parking lot.
A few quarterbacks that will go as backups in your league but will be worthwhile grabbing earlier than later.
Vinny Testaverde (NYJ) - Vinny has had his ups and downs in his career. While we all remember last year (2752/15/14), it was only 2000 when he was much better (3732/21/25) and Vinny had a 29 touchdown year in 1998. Uneven? To be sure. Reason to believe this is an up year? Even more so. The Jets enter into the second season of their West Coast variant and Vinny has now digested and bought into the offense. While last season he was looking over his shoulder at Chad Pennington, he was signed to a long term contract and has no fears of being replaced. The Jets offense has looked much improved in the offseason and the receiving set of Wayne Chrebet, Lavernues Coles and Santana Moss should not only keep the chains moving, they should score some nice long touchdowns as well.
Michael Vick (ATL) - Vick takes the reins of the Falcons for the first full season and there is a very valid reason to believe that he could turn in nice numbers for your team this season - rushing yards. Vick could be a thousand yard rusher if they moved him to tailback and he has a cannon for an arm. Translated that means that Vick could easily lead the league in rushing yards as a quarterback (which almost always count more than passing yards in fantasy leagues) and he will be throwing some nice bombs for those distance scoring leagues. Temper this with a likely higher interception total from learning the game but Vick could easily slide inside the top ten.
Jake Plummer (ARZ) - Admittedly Plummer has spent most of his career working on promise and not production. There is good reason to believe that he too will have a probable career year in 2002. He ranked eighth in the NFL last season in passing yards and for the first time in his career, he threw more touchdowns than interceptions (18/14). David Boston has joined Terrell Owens in the "Beast" category and he is in a contract year. The rest of the Cardinal receivers are all fast and now include an actual receiving tight end in Freddie Jones. Add in their move to the NFC West and the 49ers and Rams will be giving them reasons to throw even more.
Deep SUV runningbacks are always hard to land and invariably, they will come as a product of some situational change. The first string back is injured or in rarer cases just cannot move the chains and the second guy gets a shot. These are the guys to grab and stick on your roster for the season if you have room for potential deadwood. Besides, you know the week you cut them will be the week that their starter goes down. Rookie SUV's are very hard to obtain given the focus on the position and speed at which they are taken.
Jonathan Wells (HOU) - Getting any runningback from an expansion team is normally not a reason to dance around your draft, but Wells has an excellent shot at eventually getting the starting nod. The Texans signed James Allen to only a one year contract so the faith is not there in the Chicago transplant. The Texans took Wells with the hopes that he could emerge during the season and become the full time starter by the 2003 season. Wells is a rookie from Ohio State and is a complete back. He not only can run with authority with some open field moves, but he can catch the ball well and he blocks as well. In a dynasty league, this guy is a definite late grab and should get the chance to showcase his skills during the 2002 season.
Jamel White (CLE) - As shocking as it seems, the first runningbacks taken in the NFL draft do not always turn into superstars right out of the gate (if ever). Jamel White has been outstanding this offseason, bulking up and displaying much better form than last season when he was coming on towards the end of the season. Cleveland did not invest in William Green for nothing, but if Green continues to get dinged up or seems that he might benefit from just watching for a while, White will be the man.
Brian Westbrook (PHI) - While Westbrook gets knocked for only being 5'8", he is well built at 200 pounds and has shown some eye-popping moves in camp and in the preseason game against the Patriots. When you look at his running style it looks more like a third down scatback but Westbrook has the power to run inside. With Duce Staley and Dorsey Levens on the roster, it is unlikely that Westbrook will step in and become the leading rusher without some injury situation happening in front of him, but in an Andy Reid offense almost anything is possible. Deeply in your drafts he is worth a flyer on a team that loves to throw to their backs and should make the playoffs.
Maurice Morris (SEA) - Morris will be firmly behind Shaun Alexander all season unless Shaun suffers an injury but he is a definite backup to have for him if you drafted Alexander. And if you have the roster room, he is an interesting pick to take away from an Alexander owner in your division. Morris has looked very strong, enough so that Holmgren is trying to figure out how to keep Morris on the field without digging too deeply into Alexander's numbers. A worthwhile flyer.
Travis Stephens (TB) - This is a player you might be able to get at the end of your draft or even as a free agent later on. Jon Gruden is happy with Mike Alstott and Michael Pittman and both players have good potential to rack up some good fantasy points this season (more Pittman than Alstott). But both players have shown a propensity for injury. Pittman never has played more than 13 games in a season and Alstott's hamstrings seem a little tighter every season. Stephens offers a Garner-esque quality to the backfield and for at least a game or two, or more, Stephens could offer value this season in an offense that should easily be the best that Tampa Bay has seen since Pirate Bruce was on their helmets.
Troy Hambrick (DAL) - We can be certain that Emmitt Smith will gain over 540 yards this season but we cannot be completely sure he will get to 542 yards. Emmitt has lost a step, reasonable considering he will have ran farther with 320 pound linemen hanging on him than anyone else in NFL history, but Emmitt is already the story of the year for the Cowboys. However, Dallas knows that Emmitt will not be back next year (something about a $10 million salary) and Troy Hambrick is the only thing standing between Emmitt and moving up in the first round next year to get a rookie stud. Hambrick has looked very powerful and quick in play last year and will be auditioning this season for the starting gig next year. If you draft Emmitt, and I am hoping not as your #2 runningback, you have to take Hambrick if you want assurance later in the season that you will have someone getting touches in games.
The one position that always grants players that are following a natural line of development or veterans that get a new lease on life. Let's only consider SUVs that will normally be taken after the first 36 receivers in your draft but who could well end up as starters for your team.
D'Wayne Bates (MIN) - Bates came over from Chicago in the offseason to challenge for the vacancy left by Cris Carter. Pitted against Derrick Alexander, he has consistently outperformed Alexander and has shown to be more durable as well. The Vikings are going to more two tight end sets this year and want to establish a better running game. That means there will be only two receivers on the field for most plays and someone will not be Randy Moss. Bates is in his third season and has shown good hands and possession ability. He's tall, he's hungry and if the Randy Ratio is even 50% there is still plenty left over to make a difference.
Antonio Bryant (DAL) - A rookie on a team that was the worst passer last season hardly looks appealing, but the same could be said for Chris Chambers last season. Bryant won the Blitnekoff award as a sophomore, the only other player to do so was Randy Moss. After a huge year in 2000, he was injured for part of 2001 and turned in lower numbers that dropped him a little from the NFL radar. Add in that this is not a player with any ego problem. Bryant has maturity to gain but his physical skills and supreme confidence (sounds nicer that way, eh?) are factors needed in receivers. Emmitt will need to run to get the record but the Cowboys will need to throw to win games. Now that the Rocket has crashed, Bryant gets his shot.
Jabar Gaffney (HOU) - Rookie receivers actually can have decent years and this ex-Florida Gator is already the starter for the Texans. Sure Houston will stumble and lurch along in their inaugural season, but they are also going to have to throw the ball. A lot. The Carr to Gaffney connection could be a Houston feature for a long time and here is saying that it starts this season. Gaffney looks solid.
Jacquez Green (WAS) - While Spurrier likes to mix and match quarterbacks and he may lead the league in the number of players with a catch this season, his offenses are still predicated on having two main receivers. Green played for Spurrier in college and now is back to the system that he was most successful in and one that best fits his physical size and abilities. There will be an aerial show in D.C. this season and Green stands to benefit.
Martay Jenkins (ARZ) - Frank Sanders, the receiver that normally averages about three touchdowns a year is a proven, average receiver. He has been eclipsed by David Boston and now will be passed by Martay Jenkins. The Cardinals are pleased with the speed of their receivers this season and Jenkins leads the non-Boston pack in potential. Jenkins had 518 yards and three scores last season and will be challenging Sanders for the #2 slot. When Boston draws the safety, Jenkins has the jets to take it deep. Look for Martay to take a step up.
Santana Moss (NYJ) - Depending on who you ask, Santana can run somewhere between a 4.38/40 and just shy of Mach 2. He was a gamebreaker in college and came to the Jets with high hopes last season until he suffered knee problems and went out for the season. The Jets are becoming much more comfortable with their offense and Moss will be a #3 receiver working on moving up.
Pathon, Jerome (NO) - There is an obvious injury concern here since Pathon has not proven to be durable, but the speedster across from Joe Horn is in a spot that was worth 1046 yards and 5 touchdowns. Donte' Stallworth is going to compete for the position as well but has been slowed by hamstring injuries - something that affected him in college as well. Pathon started hot last season before getting sidelined by injuries. You cannot count on him the entire season but he should provide very nice numbers when he does play.
Bobby Shaw (JAX) - The Jimmy Smith holdout is not exactly helping the Jaguar's passing attack, but in his absence it has allowed Bobby Shaw and Patrick Johnson more playing time. Darnay Scott is in camp as well but still trying to return from his leg injury. Shaw was "Mr. Third Down" last season in Pittsburgh and came from a record-setting collegiate career at the University of California. Shaw has beaten out Johnson for the #2 slot, so no matter what happens with Jimmy Smith, Shaw will be playing. He is a little small but plays with tremendous focus and intensity, with great hands and finally a chance to be an every down player.
Dez White (CHI) - While the Bears were busy waiting for David Terrell to catch fire this summer, they noticed that it was Dez White who was himself getting hot. White has turned in a great camp and secured the #2 position across from Marty Booker. Marcus Robinson is getting healthy - at least for now - but White is becoming entrenched on the outside. I'll take the starter even if he was not drafted in the first round or has a name from a few years ago. White has stepped up his play and should shine for the Bears this season.
Let's be serious here - tight ends are notoriously similar for most so the best thing you can do is secure one of the top twelve and then take a swing at the fence with a tight end that might come out of nowhere like so many have in the recent past. After the top twelve, let's take a look at a couple of SUV tight ends.
David Sloan (NO) - The Saints reloaded at the tight end position, sending off Cam Cleeland to New England and acquiring Sloan. For the Lions last season, Sloan's seven touchdowns were almost twice the next best receiver (Morton with four) and he had 37 catches for 409 yards. In New Orleans, Sloan should get at least that good of production in a system that likes to throw red zone passes to the tight end.
Randy McMichael (MIA) - A deep sleeper at tight end, if such a thing is possible, McMichael is a fourth round rookie from Georgia that has already beaten out Jed Weaver for the starting nod in an offense now directed by Norv Turner. The Dolphins would love to replicate the same success that Turner once found with Jay Novacek and McMichael is a talented receiver who caught 90 passes in college.