Fantasy sleepers frequently creep into awareness as the NFL season progresses. Players possessing a high level of talent, but minimal opportunity are often considered sleepers. They may get an opportunity to shine when a starter is injured or through inheriting a larger role for their team due to another player’s struggles. The nickname “sleeper” is assigned since these players are generally selected in the late rounds or even picked up from a waiver wire during the season.
For a player to provide value as a sleeper, they must significantly outperform their average draft position. We have already witnessed several players being heralded as sleepers with amazing performances early in the season including Arian Foster, Jahvid Best and Michael Vick to name a few. Arguably, the most momentous impact thus far has been earned from an Indianapolis Colts’ wide receiver. No, I am not talking about Reggie Wayne. This wide receiver has produced nearly twice as many fantasy points in a standard league than first round picks Andre Johnson and Randy Moss. When you hear this wide receiver’s name is Austin, you may think I am referring to last year’s most prolific sleeper Miles Austin, who is indeed having a strong season, but still less productive than Mr. Austin Collie.
It is time to take chances on these types of game changers. With injuries already plaguing many fantasy teams, it is survival of the fittest. In fantasy terms, this may include making key trades to fill in gaps, picking up a handcuff for your running back or simply taking a risk on someone who may finally have his opportunity to blossom as an NFL star and fantasy sleeper.
Kyle Orton – Through three weeks of the NFL season, Orton has more passing yards than Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Matt Schaub and Aaron Rodgers. Although Orton was considered a sleeper by some, most did not believe he would post top 5 quarterback stats. Although Denver was playing catch-up against Indianapolis last week, Orton’s extraordinary numbers cannot be ignored. He is currently averaging 359 passing yards per game. Unfortunately, he has only thrown only four touchdowns, but still ranks among the NFL’s top passers.
If Orton is on your team, you may have a draft steal. Before you jump on the bandwagon and rename your team “Orton Hears a Who,” you may want to decide whether to continue riding with the Broncos quarterback into the sunset, or think about selling high. If you glance at Orton’s upcoming schedule, you may become less optimistic and believe his outstanding start may take a dive. In Denver’s next four contests, he will battle the Tennessee Titans, Oakland Raiders, Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets. The first three challengers are among the defensive leaders against the pass. Although the Jets’ pass defense may not be as fine tuned as last season, they will continue improving and will certainly be stingier against the pass when Darrelle Revis returns.
I like Orton this year, but would highly recommend selling high to a team with a struggling quarterback like Carson Palmer or Brett Favre, especially if you have another solid option. Although Eli Manning threw for more than 300 yards against Orton’s next opponent, the Giants were playing from behind. The Titans’ defense also picked him off twice. I see Orton throwing for 250 yards, one touchdown and an interception against Tennessee. Before you consider trading or benching him this week, I’ll throw you a curve. Orton threw 13 touchdowns and only three interceptions last year, while his numbers were very unimpressive in the Mile High City.
Ahmad Bradshaw – Although it was never formally announced, it is now obvious that Bradshaw has taken Brandon Jacobs’ job as the New York Giants’ starting running back. With a draft position in the middle-to-late rounds, Bradshaw has been a pleasant surprise this year despite the fact that he is yet to have huge breakout game. This is partially due to the fact that the New York Giants have frequently been playing from behind and relying heavily on the pass late in games. Unfortunately, Bradshaw will not be breaking out anytime soon as his next two games are against the NFL’s top two rush defenses, the Chicago Bears and Houston Texans. Chicago’s defensive barricade has allowed a league-low 133 rushing yards over three games. If Bradshaw is your only option, then you have to start him. On the bright side, Bradshaw has historically played a major role in the passing game, which may bump him up a few points. Think twice before starting Bradshaw in shallow leagues as I predict totals of 40 rushing yards and 25 receiving yards in Week 4.
Austin Collie – Unless you are in a deep league, Collie was more than likely snagged off of waivers. Congratulations to those telepathic, or just plain lucky, fantasy teams that took a chance on the former BYU Cougar as he currently leads the NFL in receptions, receiving yards and is tied for the lead in touchdowns. Though he ranks sixth in targets this season, he has caught 84 percent of passes thrown his way. Despite being behind Pierre Garcon, Reggie Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez on the depth chart before the season, Collie has more fantasy points than Randy Moss, Andre Johnson and Wayne. With Garcon nursing a sore hamstring and Gonzalez resting a bum ankle, Collie is a weekly must-start and in store for more monster games as he was targeted by Peyton Manning 16 times last week.
In Week 4, Indianapolis will be expected to torch Jacksonville’s fourth-worst pass defense that has surrendered six pass plays over 40 yards. Collie has two catches of more than 40 yards already so he is an absolute must-start in every league, especially points per reception leagues. With a near-perfect matchup this week, he will light up Jacksonville’s secondary with at least 100 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Dustin Keller – Antonio Gates is having a stellar season, but is doing what was expected of him as the first or second tight end drafted off the board. Last week, Keller was targeted more than any other tight end not named Gates. He has already surpassed his touchdown total and is halfway to exceeding his receiving yard total from last season.
Many anticipated Keller to improve from last season, but few expected the Jets’ tight end to be the second-most productive tight end through three games. Although his season opener was a disappointment with only 13 receiving yards, Keller made up for it by averaging more than 100 yards receiving against his last two opponents, which were both division rivals. Keller plays the weakest division rival in Week 4, the Buffalo Bills. With Santonio Holmes suspended, Braylon Edwards potentially in the doghouse and Jerricho Cotchery being a non-factor, Keller will continue to serve as Mark Sanchez’s favorite target and establish himself as a premier tight end. With Sanchez increasing his passing yardage three games in a row combined with a favorable matchup against Buffalo’s weak pass defense, Keller will be a strong play this weekend.
However, before you join The Keller Fan Club, take heed of his performances last season against Buffalo where he totaled a meager three catches and 21 yards in two games. Although the Bills defense may not ordinarily impress, they may have Keller’s number. Regardless, Keller is recommended this week and will haul in 80 yards and another score.
Seattle Seahawks Defense/Special Teams – This may be one of the only matchups this year where I will recommend Seattle’s defense. If you watched their game against the San Diego Chargers, their defense dominated the first half, but then seemed to fatigue in the second half as Philip Rivers threw for 337 yards in the second half. Seattle successfully forced five turnovers and, most importantly, upset the favored Chargers with their lethal weapon, Leon Washington. Washington ran two kick returns back for touchdowns and lifted Seattle over San Diego in an upset, despite the Chargers earning almost twice as many total offensive yards.
Although Seattle’s next opponent, the St. Louis Rams, have not succumbed to any kick return touchdowns this season, they give up an average of 26.1 yards per return. With San Francisco winless, the Rams versus Seahawks game has become more intriguing and may determine who will take over first place in the NFC West. Who would have thunk it?
Folks, we are now in Week 4. If you are sitting winless looking up in the standings, it is often said “desperate times call for desperate measures.” Make a trade or pick up a sleeper on the waiver wire and analyze each of your matchups for this weekend. You do not have to finish first in the standings to win your trophy, but you will need enough ammunition to make the playoffs and have a shot.