The term “sleeper” in fantasy sports can represent a variety of players, but can sometimes be a difficult player to hold onto in football. With only 17 weeks (16 week if your league excludes the last week of the regular season) to work with, fantasy owners can only wait so long to see whether their sleeper will have a breakout game or finally become valuable. When going into the later rounds of a draft, the sleepers are the players that will be the difference between winning the league title and struggling to maintain relevancy at the bottom of the standings.
Finding sleepers than will pan out is no easy task. After picking name-brand players such as New England Patriots QB Tom Brady and Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, the less familiar names and players who have yet to fully prove themselves in the NFL are the players that will fill up a fantasy football bench and bye week slots. By doing some research ahead of time on the transactions that go on in the offseason, position battles during training camp, and players with question marks surrounding their status this season, you may be able to pinpoint on a few players you feel have the potential to breakout.
Look at second and third year players receiving an expanded role on their team
Whether it was because of a free agent leaving in the offseason or the team believing their young player is ready for more playing time, look at players that have not received much time yet to showcase their abilities. These players are itching for more playing time and will be hoping to prove their value, especially if they got an extended look at the end of the previous season (see Willie Parker in 2004). In 2010, young players such as New York Giants WR Hakeem Nicks and Pittsburgh Steelers WR Mike Wallace received more playing time and opportunities to be featured in their offenses, thus providing great seasons despite being drafted later than more prominent names.
Follow offseason player and coach movement
As players switch teams, there will be some players who inherently move up the depth chart by default. Scour team depth charts prior to a fantasy draft to highlight players who have moved up or are now paired with an offensive or defensive coordinator that will suit their playing styles and abilities. In 2010, players such as Houston Texans RB Arian Foster and Tennessee Titans WR Kenny Britt benefited from changes in the offseason and put up great numbers.
Track injuries & surgeries from offseason and end of last season
A telltale sign of the potential a backup player may have in a season, see which players are coming off injuries at the end of the prior season or surgery over the offseason. If anything were to go wrong with the starter, these backups with little value at the beginning of the season will instantly be thrust into a situation where their workload, production, and value will increase. A common practice of this is to draft or pick up the backup, or “handcuff,” the starting running backs on teams where the starting job may not be too secure, such as selecting Ben Tate of the Houston Texans and Brandon Jacobs of the New York Giants in 2011.
More from this contributor:
Free agent fantasy stars for week 1: Fan’s opinion
What fantasy owners in IDP leagues can expect from Patrick Willis
10 Fantasy Players Ranked in Top 50 for 2010 Who Will Not Repeat Success in 2011: Fan’s View
Top 10 NFL starters who double as threats in the return game
Should the Madden Curse scare fantasy managers away from Peyton Hillis?
Austin Chang is a lifelong football fan, San Francisco 49ers supporter, fantasy football player since 2005, and contributor for the Yahoo! Contributor Network.