Admittedly, sleeper/bust articles have become clichéd at this point, but that doesn't make them any less valuable. Targeting players who will be available later in drafts as well as players to avoid early is key to any astute fantasy player. Yes, I am going to be calling some bigger names "sleepers." That is because they are undervalued and will produce better numbers than their average draft position would indicate.
Joseph Addai - A lot of people laughed when I drafted Larry Johnson in the third round last year, and then one of them went and drafted J.J. Arrington right afterward. The point is, sometimes if you really want a guy, it's OK to reach and make sure you get him. I'm certainly not saying Addai will even approach Gram'mama's numbers from last year, but I am saying that after the top three or four rounds, it's all about upside. Addai is full of it. Dominic Rhodes was absolutely atrocious last year, nearly finishing with a YPC average under 3.0. Addai may have to wait his turn, but don't forget the Colts have turned to rookie RBs before without hesitation. Come fantasy playoff time, Addai will be worth much more than where he was drafted.
Michael Vick - He's transformed from completely overrated in real football to vastly underrated in fantasy football. Last I checked, accuracy wasn't a fantasy category. He's rushed for 1,500 yards the last two seasons, while missing a couple of games. Now his knee is healthier, so expect more running this year than last. Remember, this is also Vick's third year in the West Coast offense, so there's still some upside here.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh - While this obviously hinges on Carson Palmer's health, Houshmandzadeh is still being undervalued among most fantasy players. He just might have the best set of hands in the game. A fantasy playoff schedule featuring OAK, at IND and at DEN is icing on the cake.
Reggie Wayne - Touchdown totals can be one of the more fluky stats, so don't focus on that insufficient category for Wayne last year. With Edge gone, and the Colts' defense regressing some, their passing attack will be closer to 2004 than 2005. This is the year Wayne outperforms the aging Marvin Harrison, mark it down.
Marc Bulger - If Bulger stayed healthy, he was on pace to finish as the No. 1 ranked fantasy QB last year. Admittedly, that's flawed reasoning, but Bulger turned the corner last year and showed the best anticipation of his career. If Scott Linehan protects Bulger's shoulder, big numbers are in store. But don't forget about...
Gus Frerotte - While not a sexy pick, Frerotte was surprisingly efficient last year and is joining a Scott Linehan coached team, so he is ahead of even starter Marc Bulger in the playbook. Speaking of Bulger, it's said that the Mr. Glass character from "Unbreakable" was modeled after him, so you know Frerotte is in line for some playing time. In the Rams' potent offense, he'll make the most of it.
Michael Clayton - Clayton can be had dirt-cheap this year. He had an awful season last year, but that can be blamed mostly on injuries. His first year, however, was one of the most impressive rookie campaigns ever. Joey Galloway is 34 and coming off a career year. Gruden's offense is made for big receiving numbers. Don't forget about Clayton.
Aaron Brooks - Brooks is related to Michael Vick in more ways than one, as he too is a poor real life QB yet an underrated fantasy commodity. If the Raider offense made Kerry Collins a viable fantasy option even without a healthy Randy Moss, it will certainly make Aaron Brooks a QB2.
Julius Jones - Jones is admittedly injury-prone, but Bill Parcells always backs him up - something rare when it comes to him and injured players. Parcells does this because Jones has talent. The offensive-line failed miserably last year but looks much-improved this time out. Combine that with Owens opening up the box, and Jones will provide tremendous second round value. Just make sure you draft Marion Barber.
Brian Westbrook - Especially in point-per-reception leagues, Westbrook is a fine target. If he somehow played a full season, a run at 80-90 catches wouldn't be out of the question. His numbers were suppressed last year because from Week 10 on he either had Mike McMahon as his QB, or he didn't play. Just make sure to grab Ryan Moats.
Mark Brunell - I'd rather watch "The View" than have Mark Brunell on my team this year. After week 10 last year, he didn't throw for 200 yards even once. Look for the Jason Campbell era to come sooner rather than later.
Terry Glenn - Terry Glenn is not a very good pick this year. Sure, "she" led the league in yards per catch last year, but remember, the most yards a receiver starting opposite Terrell Owens has ever had in a season is 805.
Joey Galloway - A 34-year-old coming off a career year? And an injury-prone one at that? Bust lists are made for players like Galloway. The shrewd move would be to let someone else pay for Galloway's 2005 aberration and draft teammate Michael Clayton about five rounds later.
Reuben Droughns - Many draft lists have Droughns way too high. While I'm willing to concede him eclipsing his measly two-TD total from last year, there isn't a whole lot of upside here. While the Browns improved O-line is a plus, their fantasy playoff schedule (at PIT, at BAL, TB) is an absolute nightmare.
Jamal Lewis - While Lewis will be motivated for a payday, wasn't that the same case last year? I'll attempt to refrain from making a Mike Tyson comparison, but people tend to be quite changed after spending time in the clink. The Ravens QB play should be improved, and Lewis is still only 27 years old, but he's a risk I'll be happy to let another owner take.
Willis McGahee - Illustrated last year by scoring just four times on 21 carries inside the five, McGahee is in just too tough of a situation to warrant the mid-second round pick he will require. Pass on McGahee, and draft one of the top-seven wideouts instead.
Corey Dillon - While C-Dill remains a fine target in TD-only leagues, the smart move would be to avoid him in all others. As ornery as can be, Dillon will be motivated to prove that he's not "too old." Still, Laurence Maroney will get touches, and Dillon will inevitably be nagged by injuries. That 3.5 YPC number from last year is brutal.
Tiki Barber - Barber keeps defying the odds, but it will catch up to him this year. While last year was one of the most impressive campaign's in the league, it also consisted of him getting over 400 total touches. When it comes to age, the track record of over-30 RBs is nothing short of terrible. Add the fact that the G-Men have the toughest strength of schedule this year, and there's way too much risk for what it will take to get him.
Article first appeared 7/28/06