Everyone loves sleepers. The dream of your 18th-round draft pick putting up Pro Bowl numbers and carrying you to a fantasy title is tantalizing. Though it rarely happens, many players spend a lot of time working their way through the back end of the draft looking for these gems hidden amongst a sea of has-beens, never-will-bees and assorted over-hyped mediocre players. One player stands out to me in terms of ability and opportunity to make this leap and become a dominating force in the league this year. He, like all players in these rounds, has many things working against him, and the chances for success are slim but his overall potential is nauseatingly high.
Chris Henry, WR Cincinnati Bengals.
It seems like he’s had a million chances and is determined to blow them all, but he gets one more this year. To understand the reasons he has a better chance to hit it big than anyone else in the late rounds, you have to start off with understanding where big TD seasons come from – they come from production in the redzone. The four highest receiving TD seasons in the past seven years have been Randy Moss with 23 in 2007, Moss with 17 in, Braylon Edwards with 16 in 2007 and Muhsin Muhammad with 16 in 2004. Moss caught 14 of his 23 TDs in 2007 on targets in the redzone and eight of his 17 in 2003. Edwards caught nine of his 16 TDs in 2007 and Muhammad 12 of his 16 – 60% of their total TDs came on redzone targets.
Chris Henry has potential. In his first two years in the league, he put up 15 TDs on 67 receptions – a pace that would have him tying Moss’ record with 103 receptions (it took Moss 98 receptions). In 2006 Henry scored nine touchdowns on 36 receptions – one TD for every four catches, a rate better than even Moss’ TD for every 4.3 receptions in 2007. To establish his pedigree a little more, Henry also had 22 touchdowns in 93 receptions in two years at
OK, he has the talent to put up ridiculous numbers, but how about the opportunity? Since 2003,
(Ochocinco) Johnson caught 90, 95, 97, 87 and 93 balls from 2003-2007 and yet has only a single season of double-digit TDs. Why? Because while he has elite open-field talent he doesn’t have the skills necessary to be an elite redzone talent. In 90 redzone targets during those five years, he has totaled 24 TDs, averaging less than five redzone TDs a year on 18 targets.
Laveranues Coles has never had a double-digit TD season despite racking up 631 receptions throughout his solid career. He is another example of a good between the 20s receiver without the knack for the ball in the endzone. In his last four years with the Jets, Coles has 16 TDs in 68 targets in the redzone for a ratio very similar to Johnson’s.
Cedric Benson has 634 career carries and 12 total TDs with 68 carries and 10 TDs in the redzone. To put that in perspective, Johnson had 12 TDs on 67 redzone carries in a single season during 2005. While his TD-per-carry rate in the redzone is respectable, his coaches have obviously been hesitant to give him the bulk of the touches near the goalline with even the other Adrian Peterson getting 60 percent more carries inside of the 20 during 2007.
In conclusion, the Bengals have lost their two best redzone performers the past two years and their replacements don’t appear to measure up to their level of production, leaving an opportunity for a player like Henry, whose skill set seems perfectly suited for hauling in touchdowns. There are questions of course about Carson Palmer’s health and Henry’s ability to stay out of jail and on the field, but at the price he is going at, I will be finding a slot for Henry on many, if not all, of my fantasy teams this year.