Fantasy season is in full swing and with it comes an insatiable thirst for discovering sleepers that can turn the tide towards victory. The NFC is packed with such players. Which ones should owners keep a close tab on?
Christine Michael – Seattle Seahawks
Reserve Seattle Seahawks runner Christine Michael has had one of the better preseasons among running backs. The rookie has averaged 7.2 yards per carry including a dominant showing against Green Bay. His explosiveness is a very good sign, and something Pete Carroll will use.
Quinton Patton – San Francisco 49ers
Through all the turmoil at wide receiver it may turn out that the San Francisco 49ers most unheralded pickup becomes their best. Quinton Patton came with a lot of questions attached to his name what with a free fall in the draft. However, the rookie made his dedication clear from the outset and is very adept at getting open and making big catches. His time at Louisiana Tech is proof enough of that.
Jared Cook – St. Louis Rams
News out of the Gateway City is that quarterback Sam Bradford has developed a connection with free agent addition Jared Cook. The St. Louis Rams tight end was considered among the best available on the market in March. He is big, fast and athletic with a chip on his shoulder after some frustrating years in Tennessee. Expect him to take advantage of the Tavon Austin factor.
Charles Hawkins – Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals offense might become a serious threat not just to the NFC West but every other team in the conference if they get their receiving corps in order. In which case it’s important to take note of Charles Hawkins. Despite injury concerns coming out of college, the 5’8″ receiver is blazing fast and a threat to take it the distance any time he touches the ball. He is the leading pass catcher in the preseason, averaging an impressive 19.6 yards per catch. Getting him on the field with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd will only increase the explosiveness.
Nick Toon – New Orleans Saints
After losing Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson it was feared the New Orleans Saints couldn’t keep up with replacing their losses. Based on the early showings from young second-year receiver Nick Toon, that isn’t as bad as first though. Robbed of his rookie season by an injury, he has made up for lost time, leading the Saints in receiving during the preseason. This will build him a connection with Drew Brees, and lead to huge benefits down the line.
Darius Johnson – Atlanta Falcons
Darius Johnson at the very least is well versed in playing wide receiver the right way based on his time at Southern Methodist University. In a pass-happy offense under Matt Ryan and his own understated talent centered on blazing speed, Johnson has an excellent chance to see the field at some point. His compact frame and shiftiness make him a perfect slot receiver, and could perhaps take some heat off of tight end Tony Gonzalez.
David Gettis – Carolina Panthers
Widespread misfortune at wide receiver forced the Carolina Panthers to stay patient with David Gettis. The young receiver missed the entire 2011 season and most of last season because of injuries, which put a cloud over his very promising rookie year when he had 508 yards and three touchdowns. It seems that patience has paid off. He is the leading receiver for the Panthers so far in the preseason and if he stays healthy, owners should scoop him up as fast as possible.
Kevin Ogletree – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In the absence of a capable NFL tight end the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had to bring help at wide receiver for their two established stars in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Their answer was former Cowboys free agent Kevin Ogletree. It was a slight gamble at the time but appears to show signs of being the right call. Through three preseason games Ogletree is the leading receiver and could prove dangerous in the slot with Jackson and Williams on the outside. What it comes down to is whether Josh Freeman is able to take that next step. He can just put up good numbers. He must play efficient in order to reach the NFL playoffs.
Lance Dunbar – Dallas Cowboys
Yes, Lance Dunbar is hurt but the Dallas Cowboys believe he is on track to play in Week 1 of the regular season. This is great news because he more than anybody has a chance to unseat DeMarco Murray as the starter. In his limited number of touches during the preseason Dunbar has averaged 4.8 yards per carry and 17.5 yards per reception. He is the dual threat back Dallas slacked last season and could perhaps become the missing piece to their puzzle moving towards a critical 2013 run.
Brandon Myers – New York Giants
Eli Manning has not looked like the same quarterback who won two Super Bowls during the preseason. Without Victor Cruz and with Hakeem Nicks still recovering from his own injury problems, Manning has struggled to generate consistent offense through the air. The hope is that Reuben Randle will step up at receiver after a year on the bench to offer some needed relief. However, history shows Manning prefers to use tight ends when it comes to spreading the ball around. That means big things for Brandon Myers, who had a deceptively solid season in 2012 for the Oakland Raiders.
Riley Cooper – Philadelphia Eagles
Jeremy Maclin is out. Chip Kelly has a knack for adjusting his offenses to different players based on their skill set but he can’t hide the lack of a #2 receiver. That is why the Philadelphia Eagles hope Riley Cooper is ready to step up. People will judge him based on his rather controversial remarks made during the off-season but the fact is he is the best hope they have to take heat off DeSean Jackson and give Michael Vick a target to spread the ball to.
Fred Davis – Washington Redskins
A torn ACL cut short what was a blossoming combination last year between Robert Griffin III and tight end Fred Davis. Ironically RGIII tore his ACL later in the season too, so both players are slight question marks going into this NFL season. However, this increases their fantasy sleeper potential, especially Davis. The Washington Redskins need somebody to step up at tight end. Mike Shanahan has shown a love for using them in the past. If he can rekindle his connection with Griffin then it means big things for what is a contract year for him.
Joique Bell – Detroit Lions
Reggie Bush was considered one of the coups of free agency. The Detroit Lions badly needed a productive running back and they got one. Lost in that bonanza has been the quiet ascension of reserve Joique Bell who outrushed Bush in the preseason and trails him by only two yards in receiving. This has put former second round pick Mikel Leshoure in a tough spot, and could signal a shift on the depth chart.
Christian Ponder – Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson is the best fantasy points producer in the league. Yet outside of him and perhaps tight end Kyle Rudolph there is nothing but question marks throughout the Minnesota Vikings offense. So the best place to find a sleeper is right at the top in quarterback Christian Ponder. He hasn’t topped the 3,000-yard passing mark in his career but for the first time has real weapons at receiver in Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson. This may prompt a major boost in stats, and with them fantasy points.
Jermichael Finley – Green Bay Packers
Eddie Lacy holds center stage for expected breakout Green Bay Packers. However, he isn’t that player that has had the best training camp according to head coach Mike McCarthy. That honor goes to Jermichael Finley. The much maligned tight end who was all over the news for his squabbles with the team last year apparently is in premium physical condition and ready to take his game to the Pro Bowl level. That is reflected in his highly productive preseason.
Jay Cutler – Chicago Bears
For the first time in ages there are actually quite a few sleeper options for the Chicago Bears but it all starts at the top with Jay Cutler. He comes off his worst season as a quarterback for the team where he ranked 29th in the league in passing. With Marc Trestman calling the shots and a completely revamped playbook and offensive line, the 30-year-old quarterback has a chance to earn a lucrative new contract. Based on his steady NFL preseason improvement, there is more than just hope for it happening.