There is no pre-season joy greater than locking in on a sleeper. Just as Maverick found Joker in his sights above the Mojave dessert, a fantasy football manager takes delicious and determined joy in twisting and turning and ultimately nailing his bogey.
What satisfaction, what joy. You've swerved through the early rounds, doing all sorts of inverted 3G moves. Now you can ... squeeze ... the ... trigger.
Or at least that's the theory.
But the problem is, there are other fantasy football managers who spend just as much time as you hunting for sleepers. Which means that, by the time your draft has arrived, your sleepers are surprises no longer.
This leads to the antithesis of finding a sleeper – you end up chasing the Non-Sleeper Sleeper. This is a guy who lurks in the shadows, but is obvious to all fantasy managers as a true talent if things simply broke the right way. Think Kevan Barlow in 2004. Think Kevin Jones last year. Think, If I picked those guys in the first round, I'm going into an uncontrollable spin. (Poor Goose.)
The exact formula for a non-Sleeper Sleeper is unclear, but it is usually determined by an alchemy of fantasy magazines, Internet experts, and fellow league members. Already, we've determined a few guys who may fall into the dreaded non-Sleeper Sleeper category. We're not saying that they won't be decent, but we aren't inclined to reach for them at the point in which they'll be drafted.
Reggie Bush – currently going in the mid-third round in many a mock draft. But wait, isn't he stuck in a RBBC? And isn't he like 5-7 or something? We know, we know – he's supposed be the second coming of the videogame-like Clinton Portis, but we see him as shades of David Meggett. And we don't have the guts (or is it stupidity?) to take him in the third round.
Aaron Brooks – yes, we hate the Saints. And yes, we've found many a message board poster claiming that Brooks deserves sleeper status because he'll be "chucking the rock to Randy." But already, we've seen him go above Jake Plummer who last year a) sported an impressively patchy beard; b) performed well (unless you consider that whole playoff thing); and c) had a nice little road-rage incident which seems fiery and impassioned if not slightly reckless.
Chester Taylor – First, it's just difficult to take seriously a player named Chester. But second, this is a guy who got his first big break when he was named the starter in Minnesota, and rewarded the karma gods by showing up fat. And third, when did the Minnesota offense, behind their newly constructed offensive line, suddenly get good? Chester's trouble.
Koren Robinson/Donte Stallworth – Two guys who always get non-Sleeper Sleeper status. We can't even confirm that Robinson and Stallworth aren't the exact same person. Has anyone ever seen these two guys in the same place at the same time? We thought not. Always climb up the charts into the seventh and eighth rounds (if not higher). The owner always jibber-jabbers about "amazing athletic potential" before dealing with an inevitable suspension or pulled hammy. If these guys are sleepers, then we want to stay awake.
Frank Gore – Basks in the glow of the U's stable of running backs. And he does have a cool, bull-like last name. But at the end of the day, he plays for the San Francisco 49ers. On two rickety knees. Which makes him the second coming of Kevan Barlow. Which makes him someone that should be largely avoided.
Our own league, the Bush League, is ground zero of hyping guys like this. Every year, an owner starts hyping Onterrio Smith or Charles Rogers or any Cleveland Browns running back, and every year there is disappointment and heartbreak and pain.
All of which leads us to say: beware of these non-Sleeper Sleepers. If you know about them, chances are everyone in your league knows about them, too. Which means you'll be overpaying for the risk you're taking. Which means that there's probably a true sleeper out there of the more boring variety (say, Jamal Lewis or Corey Dillon – both of whom have fallen into the fifth round in some of our mock drafts) that could be taken in their places.
Erik Barmack and Max Handelman are the authors of Why Fantasy Football Matters (And Our Lives Do Not), reviewed by Jason Sklar of ESPN Classic as "The Bible of fantasy football -- only funnier, and with more football." For more information, check out their web site.
Article first appeared 08/03/06