There will be many more 2011 Fantasy Football Rankings and features this summer, including tons of 2011 Fantasy Football Mock Drafts and Player Rankings. I'll also have an extensive 2011 NFL Fantasy Football Preseason Stock Report. Follow me @walterfootball for updates.
2011 Fantasy Football - Sleepers (July 23):
This is a list of 2011 fantasy football sleepers - underrated players who will exceed expectations.
Sam Bradford, QB, Rams. Bye: 5.
The 2010 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year threw 18 touchdowns last season, but only one in his final five games. This may scare some fantasy owners. Don't make the same mistake.
Three reasons to like Bradford as a sleeper next year: He'll have more experience. He'll also have a healthier receiving corps to work with. And Josh McDaniels is now his offensive coordinator. McDaniels turned Matt Cassel and Kyle Orton into fantasy stars. Imagine what he can do with a talent like Bradford.
If you're worried about the lockout preventing McDaniels from teaching Bradford, don't be concerned. Josh's brother, Ben, has been teaching Bradford all offseason. Ben was Josh's quarterbacks coach in Denver. Since he's currently unemployed, he could legally work with Bradford.
Tim Tebow, QB, Broncos. Bye: 6.
Tim Tebow is a very interesting fantasy quarterback. He's not going to consistently post great passing stats or anything - though he did throw for 308 yards and a score against Houston in Week 16 - but he's going to generate a TON of rushing touchdowns. He ran in for a score in each of his three starts late in the year.
Tebow really intrigues me because he'll post running back-type numbers from the quarterback position. On the down side, Tebow's style of play makes him very prone to injury. I'll be shocked if he starts all 16 games, and I've adjusted my projected stats accordingly.
By the way, if you have a fantasy draft coming up soon, don't worry about Kyle Orton potentially starting in Denver. There's no way the Broncos are going to keep him around at his $9 million cap figure.
Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions. Bye: 7.
I really liked Matthew Stafford last year and drafted him as a backup in nearly all of my fantasy leagues. Of course, Stafford suffered an injury in the first week of the season, which knocked him out until November.
Everyone is down on Stafford now, so buy low. Once upon a time, Matt Schaub and Phil Simms were considered extremely brittle due to a plethora of injuries early in their careers. They proved their critics wrong, and so could Stafford. He has the talent around him to be a fantasy stud.
Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers. Bye: 6.
Ryan Mathews was selected in the second or third rounds of most fantasy drafts last summer. Thanks to injuries, Mathews didn't do much early on. However, in his final four games, Mathews totaled 296 rushing yards, seven receptions (53 rec. yards) and a whopping five touchdowns.
General manager A.J. Smith didn't spent the No. 12 overall selection on Mathews to keep him on the bench. The Fresno State product will be a big part of San Diego's potent offense in 2011.
Chris Wells, RB, Cardinals. Bye: 6.
Anyone who has previously owned Chris Wells probably won't even think about drafting him this summer. Wells really sucked last year, but here are two things to consider: First, Wells had a knee injury at the beginning of the season that never really healed. And second, Arizona's presumed improvement at the quarterback position (Kevin Kolb?) will force defenses to be more honest. A healthier Wells will have more running room in 2011.
The Cardinals drafted Ryan Williams, but we've seen something like this before. Remember when the Colts drafted Donald Brown? Joseph Addai still got most of the touches. Same thing with DeAngelo Williams (Jonathan Stewart) in Carolina and Thomas Jones (Cedric Benson) in Chicago. If anything, the Ryan Williams selection should motivate Wells. It'll also make him fall during your fantasy draft, so you should be able to pick him late.
Montario Hardesty, RB, Browns. Bye: 5.
Peyton Hillis is being drafted in the second or third round right now, which is crazy. Hillis wore down last year, so the Browns will have a two-back rotation of Hillis and Montario Hardesty in 2011. And who knows, maybe the Madden Curse will strike Hillis down and open the door completely for the 2010 NFL Draft second-rounder.
Rashad Jennings, RB, Jaguars. Bye: 9.
The Jaguars are concerned about Maurice Jones-Drew's knees, so they plan on decreasing his workload in 2011. That's great news for Rashad Jennings, who rushed for 5.5 yards per carry in relief of an injured Jones-Drew last season.
Shane Vereen, RB, Patriots. Bye: 7.
I have no idea what Bill Belichick plans on doing with his running backs. We'll find out this preseason, but for now, Shane Vereen is worth taking late in your fantasy football draft. He's a really talented back, and could get the majority of the carries during the second half of the year.
Delone Carter, RB, Colts. Bye: 11.
Delone Carter is another rookie running back worth looking into late in your draft. Joseph Addai constantly gets injured, while Donald Brown has fallen out of favor with Peyton Manning. Even if Addai stays healthy, Carter could get the goal-line work early on.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals. Bye: 6.
I hated Larry Fitzgerald last year. He was on my Avoid/Bust list because the drop from Kurt Warner to either Matt Leinart or Derek Anderson was too significant. Fitzgerald scored a career-low six touchdowns in 2010, marking his worst fantasy campaign since his rookie year.
Arizona is the favorite to trade for Kevin Kolb, so the team's quarterbacking situation will automatically be much better than it was last season.
Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys. Bye: 5.
Dez Bryant is a stud. People are going to be scared off by his off-the-field antics, but I'm expecting a big year out of the NFL's most renowned jewelry hoarder. Bryant didn't even know the playbook last year, yet was still able to produce.
Austin Collie, WR, Colts. Bye: 11.
The Colts didn't take a receiver in the 2011 NFL Draft, which tells me that Bill Polian is optimistic about Austin Collie's recovery. Collie really only had two concussions last year - the first in Philadelphia and the second against the Jaguars. He appeared to have one in between, but that was just a relapse. If Collie can stay in the lineup, he'll definitely have a huge year. Just look at what he did against Jacksonville prior to his second concussion: eight catches, 87 yards, two touchdowns.
Mario Manningham, WR, Giants. Bye: 8.
Steve Smith is coming off knee surgery and may not be ready for the start of the season. Furthermore, Smith has admitted that he's concerned that he has lost some explosiveness. Oh, and check out Mario Manningham's numbers in the final three games of the 2010 campaign: 16 catches, 346 yards, four touchdowns.
Manningham is entering his contract year, so I'm expecting him to post some huge numbers.
Robert Meachem, WR, Saints. Bye: 11.
Robert Meachem saw his numbers fall from 45-722-9 in 2009 to 44-638-5 in 2010. He was a major disappointment, and fantasy owners will be reluctant to draft him this summer. Don't make that same mistake. Meachem played through a really bad leg injury last year, which really affected his production. Now healthy, Meachem could be primed for a breakout 2011 campaign.
Danario Alexander, WR, Rams. Bye: 5.
Danario Alexander is a very talented receiver, but went undrafted last year because of major knee issues. Alexander showed some play-making ability in 2010, but missed some action because of his knees. Alexander says he's healthy now. If he can stay in the lineup, he could put up huge numbers for the Rams. Just look at what Brandon Lloyd did in Josh McDaniels' offense in 2010.
Jordy Nelson, WR, Packers. Bye: 8.
I love Jordy Nelson as a 2011 fantasy football sleeper. Donald Driver is pretty much done, while James Jones is a potential free agent with drop issues. Nelson quietly became Aaron Rodgers' No. 2 option down the stretch. Just look at his playoff run beginning with the Atlanta game: 17 catches, 286 yards, two touchdowns.
Jacoby Jones, WR, Texans. Bye: 11.
Here's how Jacoby Jones is perceived: He's a physically talented receiver who for some reason hasn't been able to produce for the Texans despite playing across from Andre Johnson. Here's the reality: In his final four games last year, Jones caught 22 passes for 287 yards and a touchdown. Maybe the light switch finally flipped on for Jones.
Mark Clayton, WR, Rams. Bye: 5.
Mark Clayton played in only four full games last season. In those contests, he caught 22 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns. As with Brandon Lloyd, one of St. Louis' receivers is going to explode under the tutilege of Josh McDaniels. It could be Mark Clayton, though it could also be Danario Alexander or a free agent like Sidney Rice.
Jacoby Ford, WR, Raiders. Bye: 8.
You could call Jacoby Ford a poor man's DeSean Jackson when it comes to fantasy football. Ford is unbelievably fast, and has the ability to break for a long touchdown on any play. If he doesn't get the big gainer, however, chances are that he'll post no fantasy points for you. It would really help if Ford had a better quarterback than Jason Campbell.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Steelers. Bye: 11.
Did you know that Emmanuel Sanders had nearly as many targers as Hines Ward during the second half of the 2010 season? Sanders could go undrafted in many leagues this summer, but he's definitely worth a late-round flier because he might be Ben Roethlisberger's second option in 2011.
Andre Roberts, WR, Cardinals. Bye: 6.
Andre Roberts has some upside. He caught five passes for 110 yards and a touchdown in the penultimate game of the 2010 season. He'll probably be the No. 2 receiver in Arizona this year, so there's potential if Kevin Kolb is the quarterback.
Jimmy Graham, TE, Saints. Bye: 11.
Jimmy Graham hauled in 31 receptions for 356 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie in 2010. With Jeremy Shockey gone, the job is all Graham's. He's going to score a ton of touchdowns in New Orleans' high-octane offense.
Owen Daniels, TE, Texans. Bye: 11.
Most of the 2010 season was a waste for Owen Daniels. But not the last four games - he posted 271 yards and two touchdowns in those contests. Can he stay healthy though? Well, the Texans apparently think so because they gave him a 4-year, $22 million contract in March. Daniels is going to be WAY undervalued in your fantasy drafts this summer.
Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Lions. Bye: 9.
I didn't like Brandon Pettigrew last year because he was coming off a torn ACL. Whoops. Pettigrew had a great second season, catching 71 balls for 722 yards and four touchdowns.
Heath Miller, TE, Steelers. Bye: 11.
Heath Miller had a disappointing 2010 campaign, catching just 42 balls for 512 yards and two touchdowns. The reason for his decline was that he had to stay in and block because of all the injuries Pittsburgh incurred to its offensive line. If the Steelers can retain Willie Colon, Miller should rebound with a solid 2011 season.
Jamal Adams. No other prospect would be a safe bet as well as being a good fit for the defense. John Lynch, the legendary Bucs safety, opting to draft a playmaking safety with his first pick as a general manager. IMAGINE THE HEADLINES.