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2012 Draft Prep: Sleepers for Draft Day

Senior Fantasy Writer
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One of the best things we do after the season is over is look back on our sleepers from the previous year. It's a fun exercise to see how we did.

In 2011, I hit on Marshawn Lynch and Willis McGahee in this space, and I'd like to forget Sam Bradford and Daniel Thomas. That's the thing about sleepers; some will come through in a big way, while others will disappoint. It's just a matter of taking risks on these players in the right spots.

With that in mind, here are a dozen sleepers I'd take a chance on this season. Hopefully at this time next year we'll have more guys like Lynch and McGahee and less like Bradford and Thomas.

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Josh Freeman, QB, Buccaneers: Freeman was a huge surprise in 2010 when he finished as a Top 10 Fantasy quarterback and a tremendous bust last year when he was just inside the Top 20. This year, Freeman could re-emerge as a potential starting option and shapes up as top-end backup Fantasy quarterback. Freeman has lost about 20 pounds and gained some quality weapons in Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin and Dallas Clark. The Buccaneers have improved their offensive line and Freeman is poised to play closer to his 2010 form. That year, Freeman had 25 touchdown passes and just six interceptions. He regressed last year to 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions, but we expect Freeman to dramatically improve. He's a great No. 2 quarterback to pair with fragile starters like Michael Vick and Peyton Manning, and he is an excellent value pick based on his Average Draft Position.
My projection: 3,989 yards, 27 TDs, 12 INTs; 233 rush yards, four TDs
Early-August ADP: 138th overall
I'd take him: 113th overall

Jake Locker, QB, Titans: Locker might not open the season as the starter for the Titans, but he has more upside than Matt Hasselbeck. In the two games where Locker attempted at least 19 passes last year as a rookie he had at least 18 Fantasy points in a standard league. By comparison, Hasselbeck had just six games with at least 18 Fantasy points despite starting all 16 games. Locker has a lot to prove before Fantasy owners can count on him, but he's someone to keep on your radar. If he starts for the Titans at any point this season he could post quality stats, and you might end up adding him off the waiver wire. We'll find out how Locker does in an open competition against Hasselbeck during training camp, but we like what we saw from Locker in 2011 and hope for more this year.
My projection: 3,088 yards, 20 TDs, 14 INTs; 177 rush yards, two TDs
Early-August ADP: Not being drafted
I'd take him: 211th overall

Toby Gerhart, RB, Vikings: We all hope Adrian Peterson is back in Week 1 and ready to go following his knee injury last season. But I'm skeptical Peterson will be ready, which means more touches for Gerhart. And even if Peterson is back it would be surprising to see him get 19 carries a game, which is what he's averaged for the past three years. The Vikings don't want to overwork Peterson coming off his injury, and Gerhart was solid in place of Peterson last year. Gerhart had double digits in Fantasy points for five games in a row from Weeks 12-16, and he averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Gerhart is never going to be a dominant running back, but it's clear he can be a weekly starter if given enough touches. If something happens to Peterson in his comeback then look for Gerhart to shine, and he's definitely worth drafting in all leagues with a late-round pick.
My projection: 157 carries, 722 yards, six TDs; 34 catches, 211 yards, one TD
Early-August ADP: 95th overall
I'd take him: 85th overall

Peyton Hillis, RB, Chiefs: It's always good to draft a talented player coming off a down year who is motivated, especially when injury was a reason for that struggle. That's what we have in Hillis. He was a star in 2010 with the Browns but went through a nightmare season in 2011, mostly due to contract squabbles and a bum hamstring. He's healthy this year and now reunited with the offensive coordinator in Cleveland, Brian Daboll, who helped him become a star. Hillis will share carries with Jamaal Charles, but Charles is coming back from last year's torn ACL. We hope Charles is 100 percent, but even if he is, the Chiefs have said the two will split carries evenly. Hillis also figures to work at the goal line, and he has proven to be a quality receiver. Kansas City has a solid offensive line, and Hillis might present better value on Draft Day than Charles, who is being drafted in Round 3 on average. I'd much rather pass on Charles and settle for Hillis later in the draft.
My projection: 188 carries, 881 yards, eight TDs; 34 catches, 211 yards, three TDs
Early-August ADP: 75th overall
I'd take him: 69th overall

Ronnie Hillman, RB, Broncos: The Broncos are going with Willis McGahee as their starter, and coach John Fox remains loyal to his veterans. But with Peyton Manning now in town, he will likely have a prominent say in the personnel around him. While McGahee should dominate the carries, we could see Hillman play an important role in the passing game. And McGahee battled through injuries last year and will turn 31 this year. Hillman is easily a No. 3 Fantasy running back in PPR leagues, and he should be a key reserve coming into the year in all formats. But don't be surprised if by the middle of the season, especially after McGahee takes a pounding as the featured back, that Hillman takes over as the starter on all downs. If he proves he can pass protect for Manning then his playing time will continue to rise dramatically.
My projection: 144 carries, 703 yards, four TDs; 48 catches, 333 yards, one TD
Early-August ADP: 139th overall
I'd take him: 100th overall

Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Falcons: Michael Turner isn't going away, but he's not going to see as much playing time as in recent years. Turner had at least 300 carries in three of the past four years, and coach Mike Smith said "we need to reduce his workload." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Turner will likely see fewer than 250 carries, with Rodgers getting the additional work. Smith also believes Rodgers can be a three-down back, and we like his value with a late-round pick. He is an explosive playmaker who should help in the passing game, and the Falcons want to have a more aerial attack with Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Julio Jones. Rodgers is a solid option in PPR leagues, and he could do what Smith said and work on all downs. If Turner suffers a breakdown this year -- and keep in mind he's 30 -- then Rodgers will likely play a significant role in a dynamic offense.
My projection: 111 carries, 505 yards, two TDs; 44 catches, 311 yards, three TDs
Early-August ADP: 155th overall
I'd take him: 112th overall

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Kevin Smith, RB, Lions: When last season ended, I was asked about my favorite sleeper for 2012. Without hesitation I said Mikel Leshoure. But after what has transpired this offseason and the early part of training camp, I'm sprinting away from Leshoure and running toward Smith. We might as well eliminate Jahvid Best from this backfield since his concussion woes are keeping him off the field. But Leshoure, who sat out last year with a ruptured Achilles, also can't stay healthy. He dealt with an ankle injury in offseason workouts and then suffered a hamstring injury in training camp. He also will start the season with a two-game suspension, so Smith continues to rise on my draft board. He also is injury-prone, but Smith should be Detroit's starter for the first two games of the season, including Week 1 against St. Louis. Smith appeared in seven games for the Lions last year and averaged 12.6 Fantasy points a game. I'll take that upside over the unproven Leshoure and his injury problems. Smith is a great No. 4 Fantasy running back for any roster.
My projection: 132 carries, 632 yards, five TDs; 22 catches, 177 yards, two TDs
Early-August ADP: 115th overall
I'd take him: 94th overall

Ryan Williams, RB, Cardinals: Williams has a lot to prove to Fantasy owners before anyone can consider him a starting option, but you should pass on Beanie Wells and his Round 5 ADP and wait for Williams. At least Williams is the healthier of the two at the start of training camp, with both battling knee injuries. Williams was expected to be the better option in 2011 before he went down with a torn patellar tendon. Wells opened training camp on the PUP list, but Williams has been able to practice. He has superior talent to Wells, and if both are healthy, Williams will post better stats. He's the better receiver and he should also have more total yards. If the touchdown split is close than Williams will perform like a quality No. 3 running back or flex option. It's no guarantee Williams will make it through a full 16 games, but you can't count on Wells either. I'd rather take my chances with the better player, which will prove to be Williams.
My projection: 184 carries, 840 yards, seven TDs; 22 catches, 155 yards, one TD
Early-August ADP: 119th overall
I'd take him: 95th overall

Randall Cobb, WR, Packers: The Packers have one of the deepest receiving corps with Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Donald Driver and Cobb. That likely will be the depth chart as well, which shows you how many people Cobb has to leap over to make an impact. But the Packers are known for playing their talented players, and Cobb has more upside than Jones and Driver. He could emerge as the No. 3 receiver for the Packers, and Aaron Rodgers will love looking for Cobb down the field. Cobb might not get drafted in the majority of leagues, but if you're looking for a No. 4 Fantasy receiver who could be a difference maker then put Cobb on your radar. The Packers will continue to use Cobb as a return man, which could limit his offensive snaps, but look for him to make the most of his playing time on offense in what should be a nice sophomore campaign.
My projection: 45 catches, 784 yards, five TDs
Early-August ADP: 178th overall
I'd take him: 138th overall

Robert Meachem, WR, Chargers: The Chargers lost one of the best big-play receivers in the NFL when Jackson signed as a free agent in Tampa Bay. Meachem will now assume Jackson's role as the No. 1 receiver in San Diego, and he should see plenty of targets from Philip Rivers. Meachem's career high in targets was 66 in 2010, and he's averaged just 3.9 targets a game over the past three seasons as part of a crowded receiving corps in New Orleans. Jackson, by comparison, had 115 targets last year and has averaged 6.8 targets a game over his past three full seasons. With the anticipated increase in targets we can expect a career year from Meachem, and he's a receiver to target as your No. 3 option with the chance to be a starter in all leagues. Antonio Gates will be the best receiving option for the Chargers and Malcom Floyd and Eddie Royal will also play prominent roles. But all of those guys are injury prone -- as is Meachem -- but the opportunity is there for the former Saint to succeed.
My projection: 57 catches, 945 yards, seven TDs
Early-August ADP: 90th overall
I'd take him: 79th overall

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Brian Quick, WR, Rams: We've heard good things out of Rams' training camp about nearly all of their receivers, including Danny Amendola, Greg Salas, Chris Givens and Steve Smith. That's all well and good, and hopefully one or more of those guys emerge because St. Louis has a miserable receiving corps. But look for Quick to be their best Fantasy receiver this year and a go-to target for quarterback Sam Bradford. He's a big target at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, and Bradford should look for him in all scenarios. The Rams will likely be trailing in a lot of their games, and Quick should rack up plenty of production. He's not an elite talent, but he does have an exceptional opportunity given the lack of talent around him. Don't be surprised if Quick ends up as the best rookie receiver this season, and he could emerge as a No. 3 Fantasy option this year.
My projection: 54 catches, 811 yards, six TDs
Early-August ADP: 166th overall
I'd take him: 133rd overall

Kyle Rudolph, TE, Vikings: Rudolph did not have the rookie season many hoped for with just 26 catches for 249 yards and three touchdowns, and the Vikings added a veteran in John Carlson this offseason. But Carlson is clearly No. 2 on the depth chart, and Fantasy owners are hoping the way Rudolph closed last year -- three touchdowns in his final seven games -- is a sign of things to come. He's had a tremendous offseason and has developed a quality rapport with quarterback Christian Ponder. Rudolph will likely be the No. 2 option in the passing game after Percy Harvin and should be drafted as a No. 2 Fantasy tight end with upside. He might not emerge as the next Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham, but Rudolph should turn into a quality playmaker in his second year.
My projection: 48 catches, 533 yards, five TDs
Early-August ADP: 187th overall
I'd take him: 174th overall

Off the radar: 10 deep sleepers of varying degrees
Greg Olsen, TE, CAR He struggled last season after a hot start, but he should be more consistent this year as the only tight end in town.
Lestar Jean, WR, HOU The Texans need a second receiver, and Jean has drawn rave reviews.
Austin Collie, WR, IND He's healthy and starting and should prove to be a nice weapon for his rookie quarterback.
Taiwan Jones, RB, OAK Mike Goodson is No. 2 in Oakland behind Darren McFadden, but Jones might have more upside.
Bilal Powell, RB, NYJ Shonn Greene's backup might be Joe McKnight, but Powell should have more upside.
Chris Rainey, RB, PIT Isaac Redman can't do it all with Rashard Mendenhall (knee) out, and Rainey could play on passing downs.
Eddie Royal, WR, SD The Chargers envision Royal as their slot receiver, something PPR owners should take note of.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, PIT Depending on what happens with Mike Wallace, Sanders could emerge as a prime target for Big Ben.
Ryan Tannehill, QB, MIA The Dolphins need someone to make plays, and he won't sit on the bench all season.
Nick Toon, WR, NO Toon could replace Meachem and see plenty of targets from Drew Brees, a good thing.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @JameyEisenberg and on Facebook .

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Player News
Chiefs' Jeremy Maclin getting work in as a punt returner
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:59 pm ET) Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was the Chiefs' prized free-agent pickup this offseason, which makes it that much more intriguing that he lined up to return punts during practice on Thursday, per ESPN.com.

Maclin, who signed a five-year, $55 million deal with the Chiefs, was a premier punt returner in college and played the role sparingly -- with little success -- with the Eagles.

Coach Andy Reid said the team is preparing Maclin just in case he's needed to return punts or kicks because of injuries.

We just want to make sure he is ready,’’ Reid said. “You have limited numbers that you can dress on game day, so you don’t know what rotation you are going to have there with the receivers and returners. So it gives you an opportunity to keep him fresh. We don’t work him every day like the other guys. It’s kind of an every other day deal, so just to make sure that he’s okay and can still do that, but he’s not going to be the primary guy doing it right now.”


Eagles CB Byron Maxwell guarantees trip to Super Bowl 50
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:40 pm ET) Eagles cornerback Byron Maxwell knows what it takes to make a Super Bowl run, he's appeared in two straight as a key member of the vaunted Seahawks defense.

Now, Maxwell is confident the Eagles will make a run to the big game and he will make his third consecutive appearance, per NFL.com.

"Because I've been there before," Maxwell said. "Knowing what it's like if we go that far. Because we're gonna go that far this year, meaning the playoffs and the Super Bowl. We're gonna go that far. Hopefully that experience I already had, I can help them."

The Eagles haven't made a Super Bowl since their 24-21 loss to the Patriots in 2004, but Maxwell didn't backtrack with his comments.

"You can take that as a guarantee," he said. "That's just me believing in my team and the product we're going to put out there on the field. I really do believe that. I have no choice but to think that way."

Maxwell, who signed a six-year, $60 million deal with the Eagles this offseason, recorded 39 tackles and two interceptions in 13 games last season.


Report: QB Matt Simms asked for release from Jets
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:35 pm ET) Third-year quarterback Matt Simms asked for his release from the Jets on Thursday, a source close to the situation told The Record.

Simms, who had no comment when reached, apparently saw little future with that team when it selected Bryce Petty in the draft. He wanted to test the free agent market before mandatory minicamps began in June. If he clears waivers, he can sign with any team.

The 26-year-old Simms has played in just four career games with a poor 48.7 completion rate.


Eagles' Sanchez on QB competition: 'Everybody wants to be the starter'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:24 pm ET) The Eagles have a quarterback competition on their hands, and Mark Sanchez is making it clear he wants to be the starter, per NFL.com.

"Everybody wants to be the starter and I'm no different," Sanchez said.

Coach Chip Kelly has said that Sanchez and Sam Bradford will compete for the starting spot and that the best player will be behind center for the start of the season.

“Everybody’s in competition,” Kelly said, per ESPN.com, “and the best players play.”

Sanchez played in nine games for the Eagles last season, passing for 2,418 yards, 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Bradford missed all of last season due to an ACL tear.


Former Jet Garrard: Geno Smith too 'worried about outside noise'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:14 pm ET) Jets quarterback Geno Smith has had a tumultous start to his career, to say the least. In his first two years in the league, Smith has underperformed while consistently turning the ball over.

Former Jets quarterback and backup to Smith, David Garrard says he knows why Smith has struggled to live up to the hype he had coming out of West Virginia, per ESPN.com.

"I definitely think Geno has the ability to be a pretty good quarterback. I just think sometimes he’s worried about the outside noise," Garrard said. "He’s worried about what his teammates think, what his coaches think, what the media thinks, what the fans think and he’s not just concentrating on his game and just making the plays that he should be making. You can see a lot of times in practice and in the meeting room, he’s spot on; he knows exactly what to do. But he has moments where he’s not doing that."

Smith threw for 2,525 yards with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 14 games last season.


Titans DT DaQuan Jones 'happy' to be named starter
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(11:51 am ET) Titans defensive tackle DaQuan Jones just got a promotion, and like anyone would be, he's happy about it, The Tennessean reports.

Jones is eager to showcase why he deserves his starting role, but he's also very aware that the season is a long ways ahead and anything can happen between now and then.

"I'm happy to go into the (OTAs) as a starter, but I know that nothing is set in stone and I know there's plenty of competition for that job," said Jones. "So now I'm just trying to make the most of my opportunity."

Jones, a fourth-round pick last season, played sparingly in the beginning of his rookie year -- appearing in just four of the team's first 13 games. He improved toward the end of the season and got his first start during the last game of the year against the Colts. Jones said he wants to continue to improve and show he can be a force on the defensive line.

"Right now I'm trying to work a lot on my base technique, trying to shed blocks faster and make plays," Jones said. "I'm trying to go into the season and be a playmaker."


Ravens rookie Za'Darius Smith impressive thus far in OTA's
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(11:37 am ET) Ravens rookie linebacker Za'Darius Smith is wasting no time making a splash and impressing his coaches at organized team activities, per The Baltimore Sun.

Smith picked off a Matt Schaub pass and took it back for a touchdown, showcasing his instincts and play-making ability.

"He's a good fit for our defense, so I'm excited about seeing how he does," Coach John Harbaugh said. "This is like all those guys. Once we get the pads on, we'll know a lot more. But so far so good."

Smith recorded 61 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks as a senior at Kentucky.


Eagles coach Chip Kelly: 'Everybody's in competition' for QB spot
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(11:10 am ET) Eagles coach Chip Kelly said Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez will actively compete for the top quarterback spot this season, per ESPN.com.

“Everybody’s in competition,” Kelly said, “and the best players play.”

Sanchez played in nine games for the Eagles last season, passing for 2,418 yards, 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Bradford missed all of last season due to an ACL tear.


Ravens DE Timmy Jernigan on replacing Ngata: 'Big shoes to fill'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(10:50 am ET) When the Ravens traded away Pro Bowler Haloti Ngata it shocked a lot of people, including defensive end Timmy Jernigan, according to NFL.com.

Jernigan will play a huge role as Ngata's replacement this upcoming season. 

"It's definitely something I've been waiting for for a long time," Jernigan said. "I've known I'm more than capable of doing the job. Now it's just a point of proving it. Last year, I showed flashes. You've got to be able to do it consistently day in and day out. It's huge shoes to fill."

Jernigan recorded 23 tackles and four sacks last season in 12 games as a rookie.


Ravens WR Steve Smith: 'I will not be playing until I'm 40'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(10:32 am ET) Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith has other things to do outside of the gridiron, and the 36-year-old has no plans on still being in pads when he's 40, per NFL.com.

Smith was asked this week if he had any desire to play into his 40s like the great Jerry Rice.

"Jerry Rice is obviously the greatest wide receiver to ever play, and I really don't have the family structure to chase 40, to be honest," Smith said. "I have got a lot of things on my to-do list that don't have anything to do with football. I'm going to take it day-by-day, but I will not be playing until I'm 40."

Smith, who's heading into his 15th NFL season, caught 79 passes for 1,065 yards and six touchdowns last season.


 
 
 
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