For your fantasy football draft preparation, we present our 2011 sleepers.If you are interested in how our 2010 sleepers turned out, check out our “2010 In Review” article here.
Listen to QB Sleepers here:
Listen to RB/WR Sleepers here:
Listen to Busts here:
These sleepers are not based on ‘hype’ or “gut feelings”, but rather a more mathematical approach. We take into account the projected strength of schedule (not 2010 SOS ranks), usage in the team’s system, projected touches, daily training camp performance updates, latest news and individual matchup ratings . We take all this information, process it together and then review to find our favorite sleepers and also some busts.
To define a “Sleeper”: A player whose projected value is notably higher than his current Average Draft Position. In short, a guy who will be worth more than you pay for him. Many of these are lower end players that you might see raise in value mid or late season so keep them in mind for early season waivers pickups.
To define a “Bust”: A player whose projected value is notably lower than his current Average Draft Position. In short, a guy who will be less more than you pay for him.We are not saying they score zero points this season, just that the guys you pass on to draft them will score more than them.
GRADES: A= Strongly Recommended B= Recommendation C= Your Call D= Deep Leagues Only
*NOT IN ORDER OF RANK, LISTED RANDOMLY
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We see a ton of positives about Bradford. He looked like a pro right out of the gate and the 600 attempts are a great place to start from a fantasy perspective. Last year STL actually finished top 10 in Red Zone appearances and was 4th worst in red zone RB TDs. Bradford was credited with 63% of all the Rams red zone scores (more than Manning, Rogers and Brady!) The recent signing of Mike Sims-Walker and the healthy return of some of last year’s veterans should vastly improve the wide receiving corps and new OC Josh McDaniels has a very pass heavy playbook(just look at Denver’s totals last year for proof). We like looking at the quarterback
against the coverage safety because the coverage safety is really the player that the quarterback has the most influence against. Pump fakes, etc are usually designed to move the coverage safety out of position, so it only makes sense to pair these two up in analysis.With that in mind, Bradford’s schedule is also incredibly favorable, as only one quarterback has a better coverage safety matchups than he does. (Hasselbeck). He is our vote for “Josh Freeman” of the year. Draft him as a QB2 and you will likely see low end QB1 value. ADP: mdc: 126 espn: 95 cbs: 101 yahoo: 113 ffc: 111
Having Tom Moore helping out with the gameplans could give offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer more confidence to let Sanchez air the ball out against weak defenses (something Schottenheimer did only sporadically in 2010)…and he will face plenty of them. He throws enough passes and has enough downfield production to be considered a low #2 fantasy QB against any schedule. The favorable matchups may make him as much as a mid #2 fantasy QB. Either way, he is a risk-reward player. He is going around the 13th round and could be a backup steal with about 5 great spot start opportunities and plenty of weapons. ADP: mdc: 191 espn: 128 cbs: 130 yahoo: 113 ffc: 163
Despite having Stafford on the shelf with a shoulder injury for 13 games, DET managed to finish with that league’s No. 9 fantasy passing game, just behind Brady’s Patriots. Getting Stafford back healthy is key, but what you might not know is DET lead the NFL in Red Zone Passing % during the 2010 fantasy season. Most of the talk in Detroit this summer is about the new defense. This is actually great news for Stafford’s value. The Lion’ defense was 28th in the league in “3 and outs” in 2010, keeping your fantasy players off the field all too often and significantly reducing your chance for scoring fantasy points. With a young, strong and vastly improved defense taking the field each Sunday for Detroit, you can expect more time on the field for Stafford and friends and expect an uptick in point production. ADP: mdc: 105 espn: 118 cbs: 94 yahoo: 96 ffc: 107
Jake Locker / Matt Hasselbeck #3 SOS (no round) – D
This is a waiver pull later in the season rather than a draft option. Whichever guy is starting when you are looking will have value which might be tough to see but the most obvious place to start is the schedule. The Titans passing matchup strength is easier than any other team in the league. That type of matchup advantage provides ample value as long as the player is capable of taking advantage of it, and Hasselbeck’s experience says he is that type of player early. His numbers were not elite last year but considering the pass catching corps and weak offensive line he had, totals of that nature might be expected. Despite the bad situation last year, he still ranked #3 overall on Bomb passes. Conversely, the Titans have do a much better job of protecting the QB: they were 5th in least QB sacks allowed and allowed the least amount of hits on the QB (fewer than Colts). So if Locker gets back there then he will have above average protection and time. Granted his opposing defense schedule strength doesn’t jump out at you, but if you look closer you can see they face a collection of some of the weakest free safeties in the league. Pass on either guy in your draft and wait until waivers for those matchups plays. ADP: mdc: 248 Nerd: 208 espn: 179 cbs: 215 yahoo: nr ffc: 190
Bonus Sleeper: Sam Bradford
Like all the other NFC North QBs, his schedule is unforgiving (Atlanta, at New Orleans, two games against Green Bay, two game against Detroit and a the only NFC North date with the Philly “dream? team”). His offensive line is the same one that gave little to no pass protection and now it faces a much tougher set of opponents. His perennial very high bad decision rate indicates his gunslinging days are definitely not behind him. The difficult matchups, lack of vertical passing success and the high bad decision rate make Cutler too risky to lean on as a #1 fantasy QB at best with the worst fantasy QB SOS. ADP: mdc: 109 espn: 112 cbs: 92 yahoo: 103 ffc: 124
As bad as the Redskins receiving corps was last year, Minnesota’s might not be that much better. Collectively, they face some of the toughest individual matchups of any passing game in 2011. To get an idea of just how tough the matchups are, check out this list: at San Diego, at Kansas City, home/away against Chicago, home/away against Green Bay, at Atlanta and versus New Orleans. It’s a combination of pass rushers, creative defensive schemes and tough road venues. Add that to joining a team after a lockout-shortened offseason and it diminishes his chances of success. It’s probably a safe bet that both PONDER and McNabb will start games this year, whether due to ineffectiveness or injury behind an aging offensive line that struggles in pass protection. His second worst fantasy QB SOS makes this is a situation to avoid in fantasy football. ADP: mdc: 148 espn:132 cbs: 226 yahoo: 116 ffc: 156
After his fantasy darling season in 2009, many owners grabbed him again to hope for just as a productive season. Impressively, no other QB took a snap for HOU in 2010, allowing Schaub to finish as the #10 overall fantasy QB. However, look closer, he had the second easiest road of all QBs last year. He did produce fantasy starter numbers, but keep in mind that he has the #28 QB SOS in 2011. You can expect things to be a little tougher this season, making him a top 15 at best. Despite having a trio of WRs that could probably vie for a top-five honor in best vertical pass receiving trio, Schaub threw only 162 vertical passes. This team did not utilize its downfield passing game to the extent that it should have and it was part of why Schaub ranked ninth in fantasy points. With offensive coordinator Rick Dennison placing more emphasis on Arian Foster and the running game, Schaub closed out last season as just a borderline QB1. he also has the league’s worst projected fantasy playoff schedule for any QB. ADP: mdc: 79 espn: 45 cbs: 43 yahoo: 53 ffc: 59
The Dolphins gave up three draft picks to select Thomas with a late second-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
We like that commitment. Thomas led the Big 12 Conference in rushing the past two years. He totaled 2,850 yards and 30 touchdowns rushing at Kansas State, and he also made 52 receptions. The Dolphins did add Reggie Bush, but with the investment the Dolphins made in Thomas he will be the bell cow. Don’t freak out about Bush being an “every down back”. Reggie Bush averaged 11 carries per game in college, 2 more than he averaged in 5 NFL seasons with the Saints. So for him to become an in between the tackles, every downer would be the first time he has ever done it in his life. OC Brian Daboll runs a hybrid of the west coast offense in which a majority of the short passes go to the WR’s instead of RB’s or TE’s. Miami is bringing in a new offense and have built one of the better lines in the league at this point as long as Jake Long is healthy. Thomas has the 4th best SOS of any fantasy RB and the thrid easiest fantasy playoff schedule. We consider Thomas a low-end No. 2/high-end No. 3 Fantasy option heading into the year, and he’s worth drafting as early as the 5th round standard leagues. He is going in the 6th and is worth a slight reach. Keep in mind that MIA has the best schedule in 2011 against teams allowing Red Zone Scores. ADP: mdc: 84 espn: 73 cbs: 61 yahoo: 88 ffc: 63
New OC Jay Gruden will run a more traditional west coast style offense which really doesn’t suit the current Bengals starting personnel very well at all. The good news is that the offensive line remains strong despite under-performing last year and if they can get that unit back on track it will allow for better offense in Cincinnati in 2011. The Bengals have the #1 rated SOS for RBs this year and although that looks good for Benson, Bernard Scott and his 4.6 yards per carry career average. He is a deal for a guy with at best 12th round value. What we should note here is that all the value for Scott is the same for Cedric Benson. We really like Benson as an undervalued take this summer, but Scott is a really cheap flier with the same upside. ADP: mdc: 106 cbs: nr yahoo: nr ffc: 181
The buzz has been growing every day and Ingram has been going in about the early 5th round recently. Put some perspective on this: Sean Payton has not given a running back more than 200 total touches since the came to New Orleans. It will be unlikely that any RB will see a 1000 yard season in NO this year. For perspective 200 or less touches was about Ronnie Brown, Felix Jones or Brandon Jackson 2010 touches. Pierre Thomas isn’t going to just go away and Sproles is in the mix and having a good camp. NO was second in Red Zone possessions in 2010 and they passed way more than run in the Red Zone with 56.8% of the plays going through the air, finishing 4th overall. His fantasy SOS is third worst in the fantasy playoffs for all RBs. Ingram is not as much of a high upside guy as the #2 fantasy backs going around him in the draft. Those options would be Benson, Grant, Daniel Thomas, Jonathan Stewart. if you get him as a flex back, nice work. But as a #1RB high second round pick, you’re nuts. ADP: mdc: 66 espn: 63 cbs: 54 yahoo: 76 ffc: 54
Yes, Hillis won many teams a championship off waivers last year, but this is a new season. First look at the fact that Monterio Hardesty and new third down back Brandon Jackson have crowded the backfield more in 2011 than was the case in 2010. Also Hillis didn’t finish so strong, he averaged 4.78 YPC in the first eight games, but just 3.82 in the final eight. Also, he led all RBs in fumbles and lost fumbles last year and…uh…Madden Curse? Holmgren is already on record saying he wants to go with a tandem and Jackson has become the 2nd back. Jackson will pose little competition for Peyton Hillis on early downs, but he’ll cut heavily into his production in passing situations. Hillis won’t see 60 catches again this year.Worst of all, CLE has the 2nd hardest schedule in 2011 against teams allowing Red Zone Scores and the toughest schedule in 2011 against teams based on Opponent Red Zone Scoring Percentage. He also has the fourth worst fantasy Rb playoff schedule. Hillis is going in the second round, but will likely see third and maybe fourth round value this year. Most of his draft value comes from owners looking back at 2010. You can get RBs like Forte, Steven Jackson or maybe even Frank Gore for his price. ADP: mdc: 15 espn: 24 cbs: 22 yahoo: 26 ffc: 23
With free agent Steve Smith (knee) unlikely to make an impact even though he was recently re-signed, Manningham’s time is now. The fourth-yearWR made the most of his opportunities down the stretch last season, recording three 100-yard games and four touchdowns over the final three weeks. Manningham had fantastic metrics in just about every category. He was also was #6 in 2010 in WR bomb receptions. His target volume may keep him from being a true #1 fantasy WR, but Steve Smith’s possible absence (he could start the year on the PUP list) could change that. Either way, with the kind of producti Manningham posts, it easily makes him an excellent #2 fantasy WR and one worth reaching for. He will get DRC in weeks 3 and 11 and Revis week 16. Even with the matchup against Revis, he still has the best fantasy WR playoff schedule. However he was the #8 performing WR against all rated CBs in 2010 and was 8th overall against strong rated CBs. He can rise above tough individual matchups. NYG was 4th in Red Zone Possessions and 5th in Red Zone TDs in 2010. Considering he is going in about the 7th round in drafts your other WR options there would be guys like Knox, Steve Smoth CAR, Malcom Floyd, Britt and Crabtree… he should produce numbers more like those of WRS like Anquan Boldin or Stevie Johnson or Austoin Collie…all going in the 5th…he has upside into the 4th as well. With the physical tools to make big plays after the catch, Manningham has turned into one of our favorite value picks. ADP: mdc: 89 espn: 71 cbs: 77 yahoo: 89 ffc: 74
This is a late round PPR value pick only. Amendola was tied for the most red-zone targets (24) among wideouts last season. Only three wide receivers in the NFL saw more short pass targets last year. So consider this a depth bonus pick for PPR leagues that start 3 WRs. ADP: mdc: 124 espn: 191 cbs: 128 yahoo: 126 ffc: 128
The 6 foot 2, 230 lb wideout has been compared to Hakeem Nicks and is already well-versed in the West Coast offense because he played this style in college. That helps his accelorate his learning curve. Little has a great chance to step in as the Browns’ No. 1 receiver right away. He came out of the gate with the first team because of injuries to Massoquai and Cribbs in the first week of camp and Brian Robiskie has proven to be among the least effective players in the league. Little’s YAC ability will be put to good use in the Browns’ West Coast offense. Little has taken the time to catch Colt McCoy’s passes this summer and start building chemistry for the upcoming season. If he can get on the field during and build a rapport with Colt in camp, he could end up being this year’s version of Mike Williams (TB). My hidden stat for Greg Little is that Colt McCoy was third in 2010 in medium passing volume. Right in Little’s zone. Since Little is capable of taking a hit and getting yards after the catch more than any receiver on their roster, he should excel if given the chance and can produce valuable YAC totals. You really can’t go wrong in the 12th round, take a kicker or Little with Lots of upside. A fourth best schedule for fantasy WRs should give CLE an easy road to decent numbers. ADP: mdc: 222 espn: nr cbs: 192 yahoo: 123 ffc: 148
Yes, Wallace is not sneaking up on anyone. But we want to make the case for Wallace as a second player off your board this year if you pick early in round one. First, Roethlisberger led all QBs in bomb passes in 2010, in limited play, with 36% of his passes were thrown at the medium, deep and bomb depth levels. Wallace led the league in passes caught against safeties and was #1 overall against all rated levels of CBs. But this is not to say he is just a deep ball guy, Wallace is nearly as dangerous on short passes as he is longer ones (10.2 short pass YPA led the league) and he destroyed just about every level of matchup thrown his way. He has not missed a game in his NFL career and having Roethlisberger around for 16 games (instead of the 12 games he played in last year) could help increase Wallace’s target total. Wallace also led the NFL in receiving yardage in the second half of the season with a whopping six 100-plus-yard efforts in the last 9 games. He was quoted saying he is shooting for 2000 yards and has the softest projected schedule for all fantasy WRs. He is going in the third round and I feel he has the potential this year to be a top of the second round WR producer and weekly WR1. Great pickup as your first WR (third pick) is you pick early in the first round. ADP: mdc: 33 espn: 26 cbs: 28 yahoo: 31 ffc: 27
Ya heard? Knox is losing reps to third rate Roy Williams. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz is predicting 70 or 80 receptions for Roy Williams and Hester was already named the strter on the other side. Although Knox started 16 games in 2010 he still only managed to post 94 targets. The 7.1 YPA against strong rated cornerbacks was markedly lower than what he posted against any other level of CB and in 2011 he has seven of them on the schedule (including four in the first seven weeks). Knox is going the 9th round and might not even have that much production with the worst WR schedule win the NFL, a terrible offensive line for pass protection and Roy Williams complicating things. Drop him off your board. ADP: mdc: 101 espn: 99 cbs: 87 yahoo: 98 ffc: 89
Harvin has the second worst schedule of all WRs. Seven strong individual corner matchups are daunting. Rice’s departure means defenses will have more opportunities to aim their coverage schemes towards keeping Harvin in check. Having a new QB after a lockout-truncated offseason is a bit of a concern, although McNabb’s history reduces that concern fairly significantly. Harvin is join going the late 5th round and 6th round while WRs like Boldin, Lloyd Manningham and Garcon will also be around that level. ADP: mdc: 59 espn: 59 cbs: 73 yahoo: 66 ffc: 61
This is a run-first team. The Chiefs don’t throw vertical very often and having three downfield threats may split the long pass targets into too many pieces. The six bad corner matchups are a negative, as is having a poor vertical QB in Matt Cassel. Bowe’s previous performance inconsistencies have to bring doubt as to whether he can/will repeat last year’s numbers. Last years great number also came to him mainly because of the second best schedule for any fantasy WR in 2010. This is another of those stock analysis situations. Many are going to assume Bowe will repeat his numbers and pay a correspondingly high price . It is never a good idea to buy high, so consider his true value to be more along the lines of an early-mid #2 fantasy WR and the reward should be worth the risk. Bowe is currently going in the late 3rd round early 4th…mostly because of his 2010 campaign. KC has the 2nd toughest schedule for fantasy WRs in the league. ADP: mdc: 29 espn: 35 cbs: 31 yahoo: 34 ffc: 35
Just some things to point out before you consider taking Vjax as your second overall pick. Take a look at the corners he faces in individual matchups this season (all “red” rated): Antoine Winfield, Brandon Flowers (2xs), Champ Bailey (2xs), Darelle Revis, Charles Woodson, Tim Jennings, Ladarius Webb and Chris Houston. Thats 9 horrible matchups out of the 15 and two of those are in the fantasy playoffs. Simply not worth his second round pricetag. Leave this pick for the Chargers fans in your league. ADP: mdc: 40 espn:29 cbs: 32 yahoo: 35 ffc: 22
Yes he is one of the top picked sleepers of the preseason, but we still expect Graham to make a splash now that Shockey has been removed from the picture. Scouts Inc.’s Matt Williamson believes Graham could be “lumped in” with Antonio Gates, Vernon Davis, and Jermichael Finley at this time next year. New Orleans led the NFL in Red Zone possessions and threw more in the Red Zone than any other team. Graham, a third-round pick, finished the regular season scoring in three straight games and totaling five touchdowns and 307 yards in the Saints’ last eight contests (he didn’t play in the postseason due to an ankle injury). While Graham’s yardage left a lot to be desired in most games, it was obvious that his presence in the Red Zone was welcomed by the Saints and especially quarterback Drew Brees.We love Graham as a breakout candidate and will grab him in all our drafts. We like him as a top 7 TE with major upside and will not cost you too much if you pass on the big 6 TEs and grab WRS instead. Graham will be a safe pick as he has the #3 easiest schedule of any TE and the Saints will use him often. ADP: mdc: 81 espn: 90 yahoo: 69 ffc: 76
In 2010, Cook played 53.9% of the TEN snaps over the last 5 games and ranked as a top-10 fantasy TE during that span. New Titans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer has been very complimentary about Cook. The Titans still may add TE depth in free agency, but Cook is entrenched as the starter. He caught 26 passes for 303 yards with a touchdown over the final 8 weeks of 2010. Chris Palmer will have no problem drawing up plays for Cook as the primary receiver, making the third-year pro a serious fantasy sleeper. You also have to like a TE on a team with QB issues. So far in camp Cook has been splitting out wide as ”Y” tight end. You gotta love it. Also don’t worry about the acquisition of TE Daniel Graham..he had only 31 targets all of 2010, he is there to take blocking duties off Cook’s plate. Best of all, Cook will have the second easiest schedule of any TE in 2011. Make him the first TE you look for off waivers if you hit early TE troubles. ADP: mdc: nr espn: 180 yahoo: 138 ffc: 182
Daniels rushed back too quickly from his torn ACL last year, hurting his numbers and potentially making him undervalued in 2011 fantasy drafts. The Texans plan to stand pat at receiver, so Daniels will return as the No. 2 passing-game option behind Andre Johnson. If healthy, he’s a safe bet for top-7 TE stats He came on late in the year, leading the Texans in targets over the final four weeks and catching 22 balls over that span. The dearth of tight ends that can post 100 targets is limited and some of those are pure dink/dunk types. Daniels is one of the few who is capable of tallying a good mix of short and vertical routes while reaching that 100-target mark. Ability of that nature makes him a mid-#1 tight end. he also has the third best fantasy playoff schedule for all TEs. He will enjoy the 4th easiest schedule of any fantasy TE. Now another year removed from his reconstruction, Daniels qualifies as a fantasy sleeper. You can get him at least a round after all the top TEs go off the board and could find him in the mix with the big guys. Wait on him in the 6th round. ADP: mdc: 124 espn: 76 cbs: 82 yahoo: 63 ffc: 71
Miller’s target volume will drop quite a bit in Seattle. He faces a brutal schedule (worst in the NFL) and has games against 7 red rated Strong Safeties, leading the NFL in worst individual matchups. Sure is is a 9th round selection, but you can also get guys like Grokkowski, Winslow or Marcedes Lewis instead of him. He also has the worst fantasy TE playoff schedule. ADP: mdc: 127 espn: 120 cbs: 110 yahoo: 90 ffc: 115
Forget the name. He is done. ARI has never had a history of even using TEs in the passing game and he has the third worst schedule for pass catching tight ends in 2011. ADP: mdc: 235 espn: 152 cbs: 171 yahoo:123 ffc: 184