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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
Report: Falcons OL Gabe Carimi will head to free agency
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/4/2015) Falcons offensive lineman Gabe Carimi will not be retained before free agency begins on March 10, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter. 

Carimi appeared in all 16 regular-season games and made seven starts for the Falcons in 2014. 


Report: Colts, Dolphins going after Ndamukong Suh in free agency
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/4/2015) The Colts and Dolphins are expected to try their best to land soon-to-be free agent Ndamukong Suh when the new league year begins on March 10, according to a report from Yahoo! Sports. 

Suh will be the most sought-after free agent once the period begins. The report also states the Dolphins are currently in the lead, with the Lions and Colts close behind at this time. 

Teams can begin negotiating with agents during a legal tampering period that begins Saturday. 

In 2014, Suh recorded 53 total tackles and 8 1/2 sacks. 


Colts sign long snapper Matt Overton to four-year deal
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/4/2015) The Colts announced they signed long snapper Matt Overton to a new contract

Overton tweeted on his personal account that he will be with the Colts for another four years. In three seasons with the Colts, Overton has appeared in 48 games and has made 22 special teams tackles. 

He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2013. 


Police: Panthers' Cam Newton not person of interest in shooting
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/4/2015) Police stated Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is not a person of interest in a shooting at a Charlotte, N.C. nightclub, according to the Associated Press. 

Newton was photographed at Label nightclub on stage with rapper Young Jeezy last weekend before gunshots were fired into a crowd. Two people sustained non-life-threatening injuries as a result of the gunfire. 

In a video obtained by Charlotte's WSOC TV, Newton is spotted partying at the venue before he, along with the rest of the party's attendants, ducked when shots were fired


Adrian Peterson pleased with Vikings meeting, still has concerns
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/4/2015) Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was appreciative of the Vikings front office's visit on Wednesday, he said in a statement to ESPN's Josina Anderson

However, Peterson also alluded to some issues that needed to be hashed out between both parties. 

"I appreciate [general manager] Rick [Spielman] and Coach [Mike] Zimmer coming down to see me today," Peterson said. "We had a great dialogue and they were able to understand where I was coming from and concerns my family and I still have. We respect each other and hopefully the situation can pan out so that everyone involved is content."

Peterson was moved back to the Commissioner's Exempt list after U.S. District Judge David Doty ruled an NFL arbitrator should not have upheld a suspension that would last until April 15. The NFL has appealed this ruling.

With Peterson on the Commissioner's Exempt list, the Vikings are able to have communication with him. 

The Vikings have publicly expressed a desire to have Peterson back in 2015. Peterson has had reservations about wanting to return to Minnesota. 

Peterson only played in one game during the 2014 season. Following a child abuse allegation, Peterson pleaded no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault on his son. 


Report: 49ers shopping linebacker Michael Wilhoite
(3/4/2015) The 49ers are looking to trade linebacker Michael Wilhoite, according to The Sacramento Bee. The team is looking to obtain a sixth- or seventh-round pick in exchange for the former undrafted free agent, per a league source.

Wilhoite, 28, filled in when starters Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman were sidelined with injuries last season. He started all 16 games for the first time in his career in 2014. He tallied career-highs with 87 total tackles, six passes defensed and two interceptions.


Report: Bills' Rex Ryan wanted to trade Kiko Alonso upon arrival
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/4/2015) From his first day as the Bills head coach, Rex Ryan was looking to trade linebacker Kiko Alonso, according to a report from NFL.com's Ian Rapoport. 

One of the first things Ryan wanted to do with the Bills, the report states, was trade Alonso. On Tuesday, CBSSports.com NFL Insider Jason La Canfora confirmed the Eagles and Bills had a plan in place to swap Alonso for running back LeSean McCoy. ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported the story. 

It's a strange revelation considering Alonso's stellar 2013 season as a rookie, when he totaled 159 tackles and four interceptions. However, he's coming off of an ACL tear that was sustained last offseason. 

Without Alonso in 2014, the Bills were still able to finish fourth in the NFL in yards allowed per game at 312.2 per game. 


Report: Giants LB Jacquian Williams to become free agent
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/4/2015) Giants linebacker Jacquian Williams will become a free agent on March 10, according to a report from the New York Daily News

A concussion limited Williams to just nine games in 2014. In those games, he recorded 78 tackles and three pass deflections. 


Report: Cowboys sign LB Keith Rivers
(3/4/2015) The Cowboys signed linebacker Keith Rivers to a one-year deal for the veteran minimum Wednesday, DallasCowboys.com reports.

Rivers, 28, played three seasons with the Bengals after being selected ninth overall in the 2008 NFL Draft before missing the 2011 season with an injury. He went on to play for the Giants and the Bills, but spent just one year in Buffalo, making the Cowboys his third team in three seasons. He started a career-low three games during his one season with the Bills in 2014.


Report: Giants talks with Antrel Rolle not productive
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/4/2015) It doesn't look like safety Antrel Rolle will be with the Giants next season. 

According to the New York Daily News, contract negotiations between the two parties haven't gone well. Rolle doesn't want to come back for much less than the $7 million he earned for each of the 2013 and 2014 seasons. 

It's also possible that Rolle winds up with the Dolphins, the report states. 

Rolle recorded 87 tackles and three interceptions in 2014. 


 
 
 
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