As we continue our fantasy football coverage, we’re going to jump off of Carl’s idea and try to identify some supersleepers. Some of these individuals are players who fit as the final bench player coming out of your draft who could contribute mightily by the end of the year. Steve Slaton last year – whom I drafted in the final round in a 12-team league with great success – is the ultimate example. Others on this list are longshots to monitor early in the season so that you can be ahead of the game when it comes to waiver claims.
Before we begin, remember that you can go to the fantasy football category on Football Relativity for many more articles, and you can use the search bar on the right to find specific players. And one more thing – we’ve left rookies off of this list, because we did a comprehensive analysis of those players including supersleepers in this post.
RB Greg Jones, Jaguars – Jones is a big, bruising back who seen his role go up and down in his four years in Jacksonville. Last year he had just two carries and 13 catches playing behind Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor. But now that Taylor’s gone, Jones has a good chance to plug in as the No. 2 back in Jacksonville. He’ll have to beat out rookie Rashad Jennings for that job, but if he does, it could be lucrative for fantasy owners, because the Jaguars probably will want MoJo to stay closer to 20 touches a game than 30. That makes Jones (and Jennings) worth a speculative draft pick late in your draft, especially if you have a deep bench in your league.
RB Danny Ware, Giants – With Derrick Ward leaving via free agency, and Brandon Jacobs so big that he’ll end up missing some playing time, the No. 3 back in New York is worth a fantasy look. And now that rookie Andre Brown is out for the year with a torn Achilles, holdover Ware is that guy. Recall that Ward had more than 1,000 yards last year in limited time, and then put Danny Ware on your draft list. He should be about a 300-yard back for the season, but if Jacobs and/or Ahmad Bradshaw gets hurt, that total will ratchet up quickly running behind one of the league’s best offensive lines. He’s worth stashing on your bench if it’s long enough.
RB Jason Wright, Cardinals – Wright, a former Brown, moved to Arizona in the offseason to take the third-down back role that J.J. Arrington once held. While that particular role isn’t a fantasy football bonanza, Wright is worth watching because of the injury issues that rookie Chris “Beanie” Wells is experiencing. If Wells misses time, which seems somewhat likely, Wright is primed to leap over Tim Hightower on the depth chart to get some playing time. If you’re counting on Wells for your fantasy team, make sure you get Wright just in case, and late in a draft Wright might be worth a flier regardless.
WR Miles Austin, Cowboys – Austin only had 13 catches last year, but he averaged a whopping 21.4 yards per catch and scored three touchdowns. That big-play ability is a good sign, and it’s reason for the Cowboys to give Austin every chance to develop. Because Patrick Crayton isn’t a legit No. 2 receiver, Austin also has the opportunity to move into the starting lineup and not just into three-WR sets now that Terrell Owens is gone. Austin is the second Cowboys receiver (behind Roy Williams) that fantasy owners should want this year, and he’s definitely worth a draft pick.
WR Earl Bennett, Bears – Bennett struggled to learn Chicago’s offense last year as a rookie, and as a result he didn’t get a single catch in his freshman year. But he seems to have a better grasp of the offense now, and the fact that he played collegiately with new Bears QB Jay Cutler at Vanderbilt with such great success should make Cutler confident throwing him the ball. Devin Hester is the Bears’ best receiver, but he’s more of a downfield or screen-pass threat, and so there’s room for a third-down target to end up with 50 catches or so. Bennett is the most likely guy to fill that role. If you believe in Cutler as a fantasy quarterback this year, then you need to believe in Bennett and stash him on your bench in the draft.
WR David Clowney, Jets – After the Jets let Laveranues Coles go in the offseason, they enter the ’09 season with only one proven wideout. So someone should be able to emerge across from Jerricho Cotchery. The candidates are Brad Smith, Chansi Stuckey, and Clowney, a big receiver with downfield ability who seemed to be breaking out before getting hurt at the beginning of the year last year. Don’t risk too much on any of these guys, but if you want one to watch, take a flier on Clowney.
WR Mike Furrey, Browns – Furrey, who had almost 100 catches in Detroit two years ago, moves to Cleveland, where he or David Patten, or perhaps rookie Brian Robiskie or Mohammed Massaquoi, will run alongside Braylon Edwards. Furrey is the most likely out of that group to emerge as a dependable chains-mover, and that puts him on this list. You’ll have to watch the waiver wire to see whether that role puts him on a pace for a 35-catch season or a 55-catch season, because the latter level is worth a bench spot while the former won’t be.
WR Pierre Garcon, Colts – Garcon is competing with rookie Austin Collie for the Colts’ No. 3 receiver job. We project Collie as the favorite in that competition but wanted to mention Garcon for the sake of full analysis. Whoever wins the Colts No. 3 job probably merits a bench spot in deep leagues with 14-16 teams, given how Anthony Gonzalez and Brandon Stokely before him have produced in that role.
WR Malcolm Kelly, Redskins – Kelly and fellow rookie Devin Thomas had forgettable rookie seasons in 2008, but there’s a wide-open door for one of them to walk through and become a starter in 2009. Since you can’t draft both, we’ll recommend Kelly as the sophomore who’s more likely (if only slightly) to take the starting job. That should put him in the 30-40 catch realm, which is enough to make him a midseason fill-in if you’re stuck for a receiving option. If Santana Moss gets hurt, though, both Kelly and Thomas could become fantasy factors. At the least, they’re names you should know.
WR Johnnie Lee Higgins, Raiders – It was mostly overlooked because the Raiders were so rotten last year, but Higgins began to emerge at the end of his second season last year to score four receiving touchdowns to go with his three punt-return touchdowns. Now he’s a starting receiver in Oakland who has the chance to be the Raiders’ No. 1. Rookie Darrius Heyward-Bey will get some long balls, but Higgins looks as probable as anyone to be the main outside target for JaMarcus Russell. If Higgins gets 50-60 catches, he’ll score his share because he’s so good with the ball in his hands. That makes Higgins an interesting guy to grab at the end of your draft, because his production could easily surpass that sort of draft position.
WR Mario Manningham, Giants – Manningham is the buzz receiver in Giants camp this year. That kind of preseason buzz doesn’t usually pan out, but given the fact that the Giants bid goodbye to Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer in the offseason, there are a lot of catches waiting to be claimed in the Meadowlands. So if Manningham carves out a role, he’s worth watching as a supersleeper.
WR Jordy Nelson, Packers – Green Bay has a solid stable of wide receivers led by Greg Jennings, but Donald Driver’s age means that there may be a chance for a young receiver to step into the starting lineup this year. The question is whether that would be James Jones or Nelson. We’ll put our bet with Nelson, who had a very solid 33 catches for 366 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie last year. If Nelson progresses as most young receivers do, he should start to take some playing time from Driver. That could push him into the 50-catch range, which would make him worth a bench spot. So if you’re taking a chance late in a draft, Nelson is a reasonable gamble to take.
WR Limas Sweed, Steelers – Sweed was a bust as a rookie, finishing with just six catches, but many receivers are. If he progresses, he can provide height and jump-ball ability that Pittsburgh’s other receivers don’t have. That could make Sweed a guy who gets a disproportionate number of red-zone looks, which could make him a 4-6 touchdown guy even with only 30 catches or so. Sweed isn’t draftable unless Hines Ward or Santonio Holmes gets hurt, but watch to see if he’s getting looks in the red zone so that you know if he’s now worth an early-season waiver claim.
WR Mike Walker, Jaguars – Torry Holt is getting the publicity in Jacksonville, but Walker could emerge in his second year as the Jaguars’ most productive receiver. He had 16 catches in just 9 games last year, but he should have a starting role this year. Given the fact that Holt appears to be slowing down, that would put Walker in position to catch 50 balls or more. There are rookie receivers who could step in if Walker struggles, but on draft day Walker is worth consideration because there’s a chance he could end up as Jacksonville’s No. 1 receiver this season.
WR Demetrius Williams, Ravens – Williams is a big receiver who has played just one full season in his three years. But if he can learn to truly leverage his 6-foot-2 frame, he can provide an option that Baltimore’s offense hasn’t had. He enters the year as the Ravens’ No. 3 option, so he’s not a draftable player, but watch him early in the season to see if his production merits a speculative waiver claim.
TE Gary Barnidge, Panthers – Barnidge missed his entire rookie season in ’08 due to injury, but he’s giving Jeff King and Dante Rosario a run for their money for the starting tight end job in Carolina. If he gets it, Barnidge’s receiving skills make him worth monitoring as a fantasy player. In a starting role, he could end up with 400 yards and a couple of touchdowns, and that would put him as a backup tight end in larger leagues. So when your tight end is on bye, be aware of what Barnidge’s role is and keep an eye on him.