12:56 pm, August 23rd, 2012
NFL kickoff is only 13 days away, meaning you’ll soon be drafting your fantasy football team. Make no mistake: Who you pick to be on your pretend football team will be the most important set of decisions you make this year.
To help you choose wisely, we’ve decided to highlight some players that might be going a little under the radar, but who we think you can get some productive numbers out of. Here are some sleepers you might be able to snag when you sit down to draft.
1.1. Darren McFadden
Take him if: He's there in round 2. If, miraculously, he's still there in round 3 and you haven't taken him yet, Dear God take him.
How could a guy projected as a top running back be a "sleeper?" Very simply, actually. McFadden has been going late first, early second round in most drafts. Heck, I even did a draft in which D-Mac fell to the third round (I began questioning the intelligence of the people I was drafting with). Don't let McFadden's injury from last season scare you: He is a top-five running back in the NFL, meaning he should be a top six pick in your draft. If you play in a 12-team league, and you're picking outside of the top half of picks, and you're making that first or second selection, and McFadden is still on the board, for the love of God, pull the trigger and take this guy. In McFadden's last two seasons, he's rushed for over five yards per carry. Over five! Some people are arguing he's an injury risk, which is what makes him the ultimate in high risk/high reward: If McFadden touches the ball 200 times this season, he'll go for 1,000 yards. This is a guy who could easily rack up a 1,400-yard season.
2.2. Matt Ryan
Take him if: You didn't get Rodgers, Brady, or Brees, and you want to stock up on RBs and WRs in the middle rounds.
Matty Ice is back for the 2012 season, and he's got weapons. After being shut out by the Giants in the Wild Card round of the playoffs last season, many a fantasy owner still have the image of a beleaguered Ryan being tossed around MetLife Stadium like a rag doll. This means he'll go lower than he should in most drafts. And this is a guy who last year threw for over 4,000 yards and added 29 touchdowns. Last year, three quarterbacks threw for over 5,000 yards, an NFL record. The league is becoming increasingly more focused on the pass, and Ryan is a stud. Again, don't quote me as saying Matt Ryan is going to eclipse the 5,000 yard passing plateau, but if he's sitting there in the fourth round, or drops to the fifth, there's absolutely no reason not to take him.
3.3. Steven Jackson
Take him if: He falls past the early third round.
Jackson's ADP has fallen outside of the Top 20, despite the fact that he's rushed for 1,000 yards in seven consecutive seasons. The Dreadlocked Wonder is an absolute workhorse, a guy who is going to get a ton of touches, and, despite his advancing age, continues to be a powerful, durable back. His rushes went down a little last year, but the Rams know the only way to keep Sam Bradford healthy is to make their opponents stop the run. His age continues to make his ADP dip, so grab him if he falls past the early third round.
4.4. Brandon Lloyd
Take him if: He's still there in round 6.
Remember that record-breaking season Tom Brady and Randy Moss shared back in 2007? I'm not saying I'm expecting Lloyd to haul in 23 touchdowns in 2012, but for a guy who's not getting picked in the top 50 in some leagues, his high-reward potential is huge. As recently as 2010, Lloyd led the entire NFL is receiving yards, with Kyle Orton as his quarterback. I'm not taking anything away from that great year Orton had in Denver, but Brady might be a step or two ahead of him. I don't think it's too much to expect Lloyd to have a 1,000 yard, 10 touchdown-plus season. And, again, his ADP is 50+ in most standard leagues.
5.5. Matt Schaub
Take him if: He's there in round 10.
So long as Andre Johnson is on the field, and so long as Matt Schaub's foot is healthy, the 31-year-old Texans signal-caller will have a big season. Schaub led the entire league in passing in 2009 when he threw for 4,770 yards. He also threw for a career high 29 touchdowns that season. Personally, I've got Schaub inside the top 10 fantasy quaterbacks, but in drafts he's being selected 15th among QBs. Getting a fully healthy Arian Foster should help. And again, if Andre Johnson, Schaub's favorite target, can stay on the field, there's no reason to think he can't replicate that huge 2009 campaign.
6.6. Reggie Bush
Take him if: He's still there in round 5.
Reggie Bush was the 11th leading rusher in the NFL last season. Let that settle in for a second. Now add in his near 300 yards receiving, and Ryan Tannehill, and understand what Bush did was not a gimmick. In terms of ADP, Bush is not a top 20 running back, even though he was the 11th leading rusher in the league last season. So something doesn't add up. Yes, guys who were behind him last season like Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, and Matt Forte should be picked higher than him, but for where Bush is being selected, he's a very serviceable RB2, and, if you're like me and value running backs highly, is a great flex or RB3 option. Bush is a dynamic player who I think Miami will try to incorporate as frequently as possible into their offense.
7.7. Alex Smith
Take him if: You need a QB2 in the late rounds, or, if you're really bold, a QB1.
There's a lot to like about Alex Smith. He's a mobile quarterback. He's been given the reigns to the 49ers' offense. The team has continued to put more weapons around him, in the form of Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, and Brandon Jacobs. He plays in the NFC West. Quarterbacks in fantasy football drafts are selected in two waves. There's the big three (Rodgers, Brady, Brees) followed by some stragglers, and then the rest of the pack. The point being, if you miss out on one of those top three or four guys, and see quarterbacks start to fly off the board a few rounds later, you don't have to panic and reach for a guy like Philip Rivers in the fifth or sixth round. Smith is a guy you could snag late. He's normally not even cracking the top 15 in terms of quarterbacks selected, meaning guys are taking him as a QB2. Smith would be very serviceable as a backup, or even a late round reach.
8.8. DeSean Jackson
Take him if: You want to roll the dice on Michael Vick's health, and he's around in round 6.
When DeSean Jackson told the media he didn't give it 100 percent effort last season, it might not have been his best decision. Okay: it was a terrible freaking decision. But everyone had sort of already figured that out for themselves, so it wasn't really news. If Jackson is back on board, as he claims to be, you should be thinking about the receiver that led the league in yards per reception back in 2010. A guy that had a combined eight touchdowns and over 1,110 yards from scrimmage. While the Eagles' primary focus on offense is still going to be to get the ball to LeSean McCoy, DeSean could have a huge year, and is still being picked outside of the Top 20 wide receivers.
9.9. Peyton Hillis
Take him if:
He's there in round 7, or if you have Jamaal Charles.
After an injury-riddled season, Peyton Hillis left Cleveland to head to greener pastures in Kansas City. Jamaal Charles is still the main running back for the Chiefs, but he's coming off of knee surgery, and what Hillis can provide will not be overlooked. He's a running back who, in 2010, playing for a terrible Browns team, racked up over 1,000 rushing yards, over 1,600 yards from scrimmage, and 13 total touchdowns. Those are monster numbers, numbers that you shouldn't expect to be duplicated this season... but numbers that mean he'll get his chance to produce in KC. A big bruiser, Hillis will see touches in the red zone, which means touchdowns, which means fantasy points. He's another one of those guys that you probably want at your flex or RB2 spot, but if he's around in round 7, take him.
10.10. Jahvid Best
Take him if: He's available in round 12.
Yes, Jahvid Best has had some difficulty staying on the field, dating back to his time at Cal. Last season, he only played six games, but in 2010, he appeared in all 16 for Detroit. During that season, he racked up over 1,000 yards from scrimmage, and got into the endzone six times. He isn't a guy to fill your RB1 slot, or maybe not even your RB2, but if you play in a league with a flex, or find yourself in a bind for a running back, Best is going in the 13th round and could provide great production from that spot. Again, the biggest thing for the 5-foot-9 running back is staying on the field. While Best's current status is unknown, reports are he's getting "closer," to returning the the field. For a player going so late in most leagues, he's a potential steal.