NEW YORK– By Jason Greenfield
As the NFL season is less than a week away, that means fantasy football is about to start. But before you draft take a look at these players you should draft and the sleepers this year who may help your team win a championship.
QB to Draft-Matt Schaub: Schaub is getting drafted on average in the 12th round. Schaub, who is coming off an injury where he fractured his foot, appears to be healthy and played well in the preseason. Before the injury, Schaub played all 16 games in the 2009 and 2010 seasons. In those two years, he put impressive numbers throwing over 4,700 and 4,300 yds and doubled his TD’s to interceptions. Schaub benefits from the playmakers he has around him. He has arguably the league’s best wide receiver on his team in Andre Johnson (who appears almost fully healthy despite battling a rib injury), the best running back in Arian Foster (who can not only run but can catch, he had over 600 receiving yards), and a solid tight end in Owen Daniels (who had over 600 yards receiving.)
Sleeper at QB-Josh Freeman: Freeman, who had a great first year where he threw 25 TD’s and six picks, had a real setback last year with six more interceptions than touchdowns. Freeman is getting drafted on average in the 13th round. If Freeman can reverse the bad fortune he suffered last year and go back to his rookie season this can be a real steal. Also, there are changes in the Bucs team that may help him go back to the success he had in his first season. This offseason brought in different personnel which may help Freeman. The Bucs brought in a new coach, Greg Schiano from Rutgers University (who turned around a once pathetic team in college football to a team that has won bowl games). Schiano, known for his tough no nonsense personality, may change the Bucs locker room for the good. Also the Bucs brought in two players who went to two Pro Bowls each in wide receiver Vincent Jackson and offensive guard Carl Nicks to help Freeman flourish. Additionally, the Bucs tried to help ease the burden from Freeman by aiding the running game, which was toward the bottom of the league, by drafting highly sought after running back Doug Martin from Boise State.
RB to Draft-Steven Jackson: With not many guaranteed running backs to choose from, Jackson offers something other running backs don’t offer. Jackson has been very consistent over the last seven years, playing at least 15 games in five out of seven years and gaining over 1,000 yards each of those years. The Rams are a team with problems that include not the best offensive line and a quarterback who regressed last year. So look to Jackson to carry the load for the Rams as he has for many years and produce effectively.
Sleeper at RB-Willis McGahee: McGahee had a breakthrough year last year, rushing for 1,199 yards and making he Pro Bowl, is drafted on average in the 10th round in fantasy drafts. McGahee’s production should remain the same this year and may be even better under new QB Peyton Manning. With Manning under center, McGahee can expect to see different defenses than last year, ones that will have less press in the line of scrimmage. McGahee touchdowns also should go up because he will be seen as a go to guy in the red zone. McGahee also appears to be a safer option than Roy Helu (battling injuries and competion), Peyton Hillis (who played 10 games last year and will back up Jamaal Charles), and Jonathan Stewart (who has a crowded backfield where he will split carries with DeAngelo Williams and newly acquired Mike Tolbert), who are all drafted in the same round as him.
WR to Draft-Torrey Smith: Smith who was a rookie last year, had a very impressive start to his career gaining over 800 yards and seven TD’s. Smith, who has great speed, was mainly seen as a number two option behind Anquan Boldin, and seen as a long ball threat. This year Smith’s yard total and touchdowns should increase, having emerged as Joe Flacco’s number one option at receiver. So to draft him in the 9thround after having a successful year, having a full training camp, and becoming the number one options appears to be a no brainer.
Sleeper at WR-Darrius Heyward-Bey: Heyward-Bey, who is going on average in the 11th round, can be a number two receiver or a very solid number three receiver for your fantasy team. Heyward-Bey had his best year of his career last year, just missing 1,000 yards by 15 yds and had four TD’s. Heyward-Bey’s numbers should be better this year after developing chemistry with Carson Palmer, who was acquired in the middle of the year, and is now viewed as the number one receiver on the Raiders. Also every receiver who on average is drafted in the same round as Heyward-Bey (Greg Little, Boldin, Denariyus Moore, Sidney Rice, and Santonio Holmes) has over 100 yards less than him.
TE to Draft- Vernon Davis: If you don’t want to draft a tight end in the first five rounds of your draft, then your tight end should be Vernon Davis (who on average is drafted in the 6th round.) Davis has put up some great stats over the past three seasons (gaining 2,671 receiving yards with 26 TD’s), and has developed very good chemistry with quarterback Alex Smith. Even though Davis’ receiving yards and scores dropped from over 900 yards the last two seasons to 792 this past season, we should expect Davis stats to return this year. Davis will be aided by the acquisitions this offseason of Mario Manningham and Randy Moss at wide receiver. These acquisitions will take some pressure off Davis, who is relied on as the go to guy for the Niners the past three seasons, and has received the most attention from opposing defenses.
Sleeper at TE-Brandon Pettigrew: A tight end who should be receiving more attention than he receives is Brandon Pettigrew. Pettigrew, who on average gets drafted in the 8th round, can be a very solid starting tight end and a steal at his position. Over the past three years, Pettigrew’s stats in receptions, yards, and TD’s all have increased. Last year Pettigrew was third in the league for tight ends with receptions, and put up a very respectable 777 yds and five TD’s. His stats should only go up in the very pass friendly Lion offense run by quarterback Matthew Stafford, who threw for over 5,000 yards. Also, if Calvin Johnson, who many consider the best wide receiver ,would go down with injuries (he suffers from hamstring and ankle problems or could be injured due to the Madden curse), Pettigrew would be looked to as the go to guy.