There’s nothing less romantic than a Fantasy Football Sleepers list at this point in this season. Groupthink elevates hot rookies, training camp superstars, and workout wonders to pedestals they don’t deserve.
You sit at home dreaming that these unknowns will become Mr. Right—late round draft picks that are often the lottery tickets you need to win your championship. But like the perfect fake profile on e-Harmony, the only thing these players share is the ability to generate page clicks.
So instead of a normal sleepers and busts column, I’m going to write about Fantasy losers who have broken your heart (maybe more than once) but are ready to kiss and make up. But instead of sending you roses, these players will help your team during the loneliness of bye weeks. With a little bit of luck they will be committed to you through the playoffs, helping lead your team to a championship.
It’s important to note that you should NOT necessarily spend a draft pick on these players. They’ve broken your heart before and could again! Instead, think of this as your preseason watch list. Follow them closely and pounce before they are the number one waiver claim of Week 3.
*Note: to qualify for this list, a player’s ADP must be below 160, or the last pick of a 10-team standard league.
Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
The Heartbreak: Smith drew notoriety for several seasons as one of the worst number one picks of all time. But just like the terrible first date that turns into a two year relationship (with help from a Jim Harbaugh intervention before 2011), Smith saved his reputation and his career. Smith led the 49ers to the NFC championship game in 2011 and had them in first place in the NFC West before suffering a concussion against the St. Louis Rams in the ninth game of the season. The hit knocked Smith’s senses out of him—and launched Colin Kaepernick into the starter’s role. And just like that, the relationship was over.
Why It Will Be Different: Smith’s bad luck ended with an offseason trade to the Kansas City Chiefs. Uniting with Andy Reid, Smith looks to lead the new-look Chiefs back from the debacle of 2012. Reid probably did not leave his predilection for red zone passing in Philadelphia, giving Smith opportunities for passing touchdowns to Dwayne Bowe and scrambling opportunities on broken plays when befuddled Raiders lose containment thinking they are defending Brady Quinn. Smith compares favorably to Jeff Garcia, whom Reid coached to a solid 16 ppg average in 2006 as a starter. With more speed, a better arm, and the mindset to show why he deserved to keep his job in San Francisco, Smith looks to rally his talented offensive cohorts to more than just a winning season.
You’ll Be Falling in Love when Smith tops 3500 yards, 24 passing touchdowns, and 3 rushing scores. (QB 12)
Daniel Thomas, RB, Miami Dolphins
The Heartbreak: Thomas showed up late for the first date and didn’t pay. Injuries derailed his rookie season before it could really get started. He languished early in 2012 behind Reggie Bush, producing little and earning the stink-eye from fantasy owners as yet another series of injuries limited his season.
Why It Will Be Different: Color me skeptical about early darling Lamar Miller. While he may prove me wrong, right now he seems like a pretty girl at the bar who looks much more average after the lights come on. Thomas has drawn praise from his coaches for increased maturity and spent the offseason doing extra training to prepare his legs for the upcoming season. The extra work will pay off.
The evolution of Ryan Tannehill and the addition of Mike Wallace and Dustin Keller will help the Miami passing attack exude a sense of danger which it has failed to produce for several years. This will help the Miami rushing attack by providing more plays and more red-zone opportunities, which Thomas will gobble up.
And if I’m wrong about Thomas, you don’t have to look too far away to another strong candidate for commitment: fellow Dolphin backup Mike Gillislee. But he hasn’t let you down yet, so he doesn’t qualify for this column.
You’ll Be Falling in Love when Thomas scores eight touchdowns and averages fifty yards a game (while keeping the fumbling problem under control). Total: 8ppg (RB 25)
Julian Edelman, WR, New England
The Heartbreak: You know how you had that crazy ex-girlfriend that you were afraid might murder two or three people? Well, that wasn’t Edelman. But after being anointed as “The Next Wes Welker” prior to the 2012 season (and starting in place of Welker Week 1 before being knocked out of the game), Edelman became that great Match.com profile who set up a date and then didn’t show. To add insult to injury, he posted some awesome pictures online (a 21 and 16 point back to back showing versus the Colts and the Dolphins), then set up a date again and then didn’t show again (scoring only one more point the rest of the season).
Why It Will Be Different: Edelman faces competition for both the slot position he’s played in the past (from the equally flakey Danny Amendola) and the outside receiving positions (from a bunch of guys only Internet stalkers have heard of). All these new “weapons” will have Tom Brady—err, wait. He’ll still be Tom Brady. Which is why someone will emerge from the no-name pack of Patriot receivers to be a relevant fantasy contributor. Edelman’s familiarity with the system, athleticism (remember when he was going to be a cornerback for the D-needy Patriots?), and a general lack of anyone that’s proven to be that much better than he is will allow him to establish himself as the Patriot receiver to own.
You’ll Be Falling in Love when Edelman hauls in 70 passes for 750 yards and six touchdowns, with a rushing TD and a PR TD thrown in to make up for standing you up twice. (WR 24)
Austin Collie, WR, San Francisco
Bonus time! Assuming Jim Harbaugh’s deal with the Devil is still in place (see Alex Smith, the resurrection of the 49ers), Collie will finally prove that he’s ready for a commitment. After a tragic series of concussions nearly ended his career, Collie will stay healthy and put up numbers in place of Michael Crabtree (who obviously must have angered Jim Harbaugh in some way).
But then again, he might be “the one who got away,” but for the worst reasons. If he can take a hit and not lose his mind, watch out.
Brent Celek, TE, Philadelphia
The Heartbreak: During that beautiful season of 2009, Celek was an elite TE, finishing as the fourth TE in fantasy (eclipsing such luminaries as Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten in the process). But just like the girl who acts like she loves you, only to ignore you the next time (and the next time and the next time) she sees you, Celek produced mediocre results over the next three seasons (scoring only once during 2012—yikes).
Why It Will Be Different: The Eagles hope that Chip Kelly won’t just be a rebound. With the innovation and player development regimens Kelly looks to implement, Celek stands to be a perfect reclamation project. Injuries to Jeremy Maclin and uncertainty around Riley Cooper have created opportunities for several players in Philly’s camp. The Eagles’ fast paced offense will make fantasy starters out of several players (as will their rebuilding defense). Celek will be ready to show the love once again.
You Will Be Falling in Love when Celek comes close to repeating his 2009 season, churning for 700 yards and seven touchdowns. (TE 10)
- Former 49er Alex Smith is ready to start over with Chiefs (sacbee.com)
- 49ers training camp practice recap, Day 16: Austin Collie, MarQueis Gray among the standouts (ninersnation.com)
- 2013 Fantasy Football Draft Tips (sports.gunaxin.com)