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2012 NFL Sleepers and Busts: Experts Offer Early Overvalued/Undervalued Picks

Chris Liss

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

SLEEPERS AND BUSTS

We asked the staff for three sleepers, three deep sleepers and three busts. The criteria were simple: a sleeper is anyone who is likely to outperform his draft slot; a bust, any top-10 QB or top-20 RB/WR likely to disappoint; and a deep sleeper, anyone not in the top-100 picks who could surprise.


MARK STOPA

SLEEPERS

Michael Vick, QB (Eagles)
I think the public may overreact to Vick's 2011 struggles. The upside is still there - as high as that of any fantasy player - yet Vick will undoubtedly be drafted behind several QBs with lower ceilings. Moreover, there's no way LeSean McCoy will rush for 17 TDs again this year, and there's no way Vick will have just one. As the TDs normalize between McCoy and Vick, there's profit potential here.

Isaac Redman, RB (Steelers)
Rashard Mendenhall likely will miss some (if not most) of 2012 with a knee injury, Pittsburgh has nobody notable in the backfield except for Redman and Ben Roethlisberger doesn't steal goal-line carries. Redman lacks explosiveness, but who's to say he can't plod his way to 1,100 yards and 10-12 TDs (in a Michael Turner sort of way)? Redman has never done that over a full season, but that's why he'll be drafted so low.

Vincent Brown, WR (Chargers)
Vincent Jackson is in Tampa, Antonio Gates is aging, Robert Meachem has never been anything close to a No. 1 receiver and Malcom Floyd is best suited as a complementary target. Brown has potential for a breakout season with star QB Philip Rivers looking for a bounce back. Remember, when you're targeting sleeper WRs, look for young guys with elite QBs.


DEEP SLEEPERS

Tim Tebow, QB (Jets)
Forget about the hype and check your league rules. If Tebow gets used as a RB, could he qualify there in your league? If so, that's a nice potential coup. Even if Tebow doesn't qualify as a RB, he has tremendous upside if he winds up with the starting job at QB in New York. In a way, this is the same situation Tebow was in at this time last year - the backup, but with an unproven guy as the starter (last year it was Kyle Orton), and lots of media hoopla, so there's a better than average chance Tebow gets the gig at some point.

Ryan Williams,RB (Cardinals)
Beanie Wells played pretty well last year, posting 1,047 yards rushing and 10 TDs over 14 games, while Williams missed last year with a preseason ACL tear. But forget about last season for a moment and think about where these two guys were at this point last year. Williams was a highly-touted, second-round draft pick, expected to push the oft-injured Wells for the starting job.

Stevan Ridley & Shane Vereen, RB (Patriots)
Somebody is going to get the starting job in the New England backfield, and Benjarvus Green-Ellis is in Cincy. If you're at the end of a snake draft, it sure wouldn't be a bad idea to pair these two and see what happens.


BUSTS

Cam Newton, QB (Panthers)
The Panthers won't want to give their franchise player the pounding that comes from being the team's goal-line running back. Moreover, consider past history: In 2012, one year after rushing for nine TDs, Mike Vick rushed for just one. In 2000, one year after rushing for eight TDs (in just 11 games), Steve McNair rushed for zero (in 16 games). Even if Newton finishes with six rushing TDs - a huge total for any QB - that would put him roughly on par with Philip Rivers or Eli Manning, not Tom Brady or Drew Brees.

Vincent Jackson, WR (Buccaneers)
Jackson has been trying to get a big payday since 2010, and he finally got one. So what will he do now? Will he be motivated? Will the move to Tampa affect him? Will he have chemistry with Josh Freeman, who is clearly a big step down from Philip Rivers? That's too many questions for someone you'll have to draft in the third or fourth round.

Antonio Gates, TE (Chargers)
At 31, the wheels are starting to fall off for Gates, as he has struggled with foot problems in consecutive seasons. Draft Aaron Hernandez, Jermichael Finley or even Vernon Davis instead.


KEVIN PAYNE

SLEEPERS

Stevan Ridley, RB (Patriots)

Ridley averaged 5.1 yards per carry in a limited role last season and should make a bigger impact now that Benjarvus Green-Ellis and his 181 carries are gone. Green-Ellis also found the end zone 24 times the last two seasons, showing the Patriots were willing to run the ball near the goal line. Ridley had a bigger impact last season than teammate Shane Vereen, who fought through a variety of injuries during his rookie campaign. As long as Ridley cures his fumbling issues, he should be the best fantasy option in the New England backfield.

Carson Palmer, QB (Raiders)
There's reason for optimism with Palmer this season. Six of of his 16 interceptions occurred in his first two games - and remember he wasn't only adjusting to a new system and new teammates, but he hadn't even played football since the end of 2010. His 8.4 YPA was good for fourth best in the league, better than that of Drew Brees or Eli Manning. With a whole offseason to figure out the offense and work out with his receivers, Palmer should be considerably better. Moreover, his receiving corps has a ton of upside with its speed and big-play ability. Finally, the Raiders gave up 27.1 points per game (fourth most in the NFL) and 6,201 total yards (fourth most in the NFL) - expect Palmer to be in his share of shootouts.

Greg Little, WR (Browns)
Despite not being named a starting wide receiver until Week 6, Little managed to lead the Browns in receptions (61) and receiving yards (709) with Colt McCoy at QB. The Browns drafted Brandon Weeden who should start and be an upgrade over McCoy immediately. While Little dropped 12 balls (tied for third), his 121 targets were good for 18th among wide receivers.


Deep Sleepers

Kevin Kolb, QB (Cardinals)

That the Cardinals picked up Kolb's $7 million roster bonus was telling - that's not the kind of money you pay for a prospective backup. Kolb was more efficient than one might think when he was on the field, posting a respectable 7.7 YPA. While that number doesn't jump off the page, it was better than that of more highly regarded quarterbacks such as Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan. Kolb now has a legit No. 2 receiving option in first-round pick Michael Floyd.

Buffalo Bills, TEAM DEFENSE
It's probably been a decade since anyone has drafted the Bills defense in a standard 10- or 12- team league, but the unit made huge strides during the offseason, highlighted by the signing of Pro Bowl pass rusher Mario Williams. The Bills also signed Mark Anderson (10 sacks), while defensive tackle Marcell Dareus should take the next step in his second season. Pro Bowl DT Kyle Williams should also be healthy, and the Bills added cornerback Stephon Gilmore with their first pick in the draft. With an improved defensive line the sack totals should rise, and Gilmore should make plays on the back end.

Mikel Leshoure, RB (Lions)
I typically stay away from players with "character" issues, but I'm going to make an exception here considering Leshoure could end up with the lion's share of the Lions carries this season, once he returns from a two-game suspension. A stout running back at 6-0, 227, Leshoure could have value if he merely emerges as the team's goal-line back. Moreover, he's expected to be healthy following an Achilles' injury that cost him his rookie season.

BUSTS

Reggie Bush, RB (Dolphins)

Without much to worry about from the passing game, opposing defenses will look to shut down Bush at the line of scrimmage. Bush missed only one game (Week 17) last year, but over the previous four seasons averaged less than 11 played. Division rivals Buffalo and New England will have improved defenses, and the drafting of Lamar Miller brings another running back besides Daniel Thomas to fight for touches.

Frank Gore, RB (49ers)
Gore finally stayed healthy for an entire season for only the second time in his seven-year career. Prior to last season he had missed at least two games in each of his previous three years. The 49ers added Brandon Jacobs in the offseason and then drafted LaMichael James to join Kendall Hunter in what will be a crowded backfield. Gore has eclipsed eight rushing touchdowns only once in his career and had a reduced role in the passing game with only 17 catches last season. He enters 2012 with a lot of mileage (1,653 carries), and his 4.3- and 4.2-yard-per-carry averages the last two seasons, respectively, suggest he's slowing down.

Steve Smith, WR (Panthers)
With the surprising emergence of Cam Newton, Smith exploded over the first half of the year with 918 receiving yards and four touchdowns but managed only 476 receiving yards and three touchdowns over the final eight games. Without any reports of a significant injury, this indicates the league adjusted to Smith's return to form. He'll also be 33 this season, isn't a big red-zone threat and hasn't had more than seven touchdowns in any of the last five seasons.


JEFF ERICKSON

SLEEPERS

Ahmad Bradshaw, RB (Giants)

Bradshaw has been discounted in the drafts I've seen because the Giants drafted David Wilson in the first round. But Wilson isn't a big back, and Brandon Jacobs is gone, so Bradshaw will get more goal-line carries than in seasons past. There's a risk the Giants will skew heavily toward the passing game as they did last year, but chances are the defense and run blocking will improve, creating a more favorable environment for carries.

Jay Cutler, QB (Bears)
If you play the wait-on-the-quarterbacks game, Cutler is a natural target. He has a new wide receiver in Brandon Marshall and, of course, a new offensive coordinator. I'm not certain how much the latter helps, but getting a top talent at receiver (with whom he already has a rapport from their Denver days) is a good starting point. If the new offensive system protects the quarterback better, Cutler could finally have the breakout season we expected the last two years.

Vincent Brown, WR (Chargers)
In our first non-PPR mock draft, the three top Chargers wideouts went within four picks of each other, with Brown leading the way before Robert Meachem and Malcom Floyd. I didn't get Brown, but he was my preference among the three, and Meachem the distant third - if Meachem couldn't emerge as anything more than a latter day Darnay Scott with the Saints, why would we expect more with the Chargers? Meanwhile, Brown has demonstrated big-play ability and with a full training camp this summer should gain more of quarterback Philip Rivers' confidence. Given the troubles Floyd has had staying on the field, it wouldn't be a shock to see Brown emerge as the Chargers' top receiver.

DEEP SLEEPERS

Isaiah Pead, RB (Rams)

Don't buy the early talk that Pead isn't guaranteed to be the backup to Steven Jackson, or that he doesn't have the size or strength to be a full-time back. Pay attention to what the team has done - by selecting him with the 50th overall pick, it's clear the Rams have big plans for him, and they further demonstrated their belief in him by not signing a brand-name backup.

Alex Green, RB (Packers)
Green is coming off a torn ACL, but the Packers were sufficiently pleased with his recovery that they let Ryan Grant go and didn't use a draft pick on a running back. James Starks failed to take over the full-time rushing duties last year - perhaps Green will push his way into the picture.

Kyle Rudolph, TE (Vikings)
The signing of John Carlson somewhat clouds Rudolph's status, but he should get more reps in his second year with the team and a presumably more stable quarterback situation in Minnesota. Rudolph's size and speed should make him a good target over the middle and in the red zone, and having a full offseason and training camp should help him get in sync with second-year quarterback Christian Ponder.

BUSTS

Matt Forte, RB (Bears)

As talented as Forte is, in non-PPR leagues he was going way too high, as early as the end of the first round. At press time he had a massive contract issue as the Bears' franchise player - sure, often that gets resolved before the season starts, but just as often you get the Chris Johnson season. More important, he's not a good goal-line back, and to address that shortcoming, the Bears brought in Michael Bush. Bush can also catch passes, so he's a very real threat to take away a lot of Forte's value. Forte's not worth a top-10 RB slot, and that's what it's going to take to land him in most leagues.

Cam Newton, QB (Panthers)
The league caught up to Newton over the second half of the season. Starting after the Panthers' bye week in Week 10, Newton's YPA each week in games not against the Bucs was 7.7 or less, frequently below 7.0. But what about his historic rushing season? There's a strong chance that fades, just with natural regression, and the Panthers signed touchdown vulture Mike Tolbert from the Chargers. Newton should improve on the passing side, but the likely drop in rushing touchdowns takes him out of first-round consideration.

Reggie Bush, RB (Dolphins)
It's cute that Bush believes he could lead the NFL in rushing this year, but that's just your standard OTA noise. You can even forget his long injury history - after all, if "Fragile Fred" Taylor can become "Durable Fred" over the course of his career, anything is possible. But there's still plenty of competition with Daniel Thomas and now Lamar Miller around, and a new head coach that won't likely be as reliant on the running game (last year Miami was sixth in the NFL in rushing attempts at 29.3 per game). Don't get caught paying feature back prices on a player that's going to have to share the rock.


DALTON DEL DON

SLEEPERS

Ben Tate, RB (Texans)

Tate had four fumbles in limited work last year and isn't nearly the receiver Arian Foster is, but he also averaged 5.4 YPC, which was tied for second best in the NFL (minimum 100 carries). Tate forced 30 missed tackles - only 10 backs had more, while 45 saw more snaps. There's little question Houston's system is the best in the NFL for RB production, and while Tate has battled injuries in the past, when healthy he's proven to be not only adequate but a top-15 type talent. If Foster were to go down, Tate could easily be a top-three fantasy commodity.

Carson Palmer, QB (Raiders)
Palmer threw 16 interceptions in just 10 games last year, but that was accompanied by 8.4 YPA, which tied for the third highest in the NFL (minimum 300 attempts), and don't forget he was sitting on his couch until a trade brought him to Oakland in Week 7. There's some concern with Hue Jackson getting fired and a change in offensive philosophy, but with Denarius Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Jacoby Ford, Palmer has plenty of weapons at his disposal in an AFC West division that will likely feature a lot of shootouts.

Robert Meachem, WR (Chargers)
Meachem's still just 27 years old, and the Chargers gave him a contract envisioning him as the top target, replacing Vincent Jackson. While San Diego also spreads targets like the Saints, it's not as drastic, and Malcom Floyd has been extremely injury prone throughout his career. Meachem, who got a healthy 10.3 YPT last season, could flourish in his new environment.


DEEP SLEEPERS

Mike Goodson, RB (Raiders)

Goodson received zero carries last season, which ended prematurely thanks to a hamstring injury. But he totaled 762 yards on just 143 touches in 2010, when he broke only one fewer tackle than LeSean McCoy despite seeing 463 fewer snaps. Darren McFadden is the undisputed starter, but he's never appeared in more than 13 games during his four-year career, averaging five DNPs per season. Taiwan Jones is currently listed as the team's backup, but he was given just 18 touches during his rookie season and thanks to his slight build would likely remain in a change-of-pace role should McFadden go down, ceding lead back duties to Goodson.

Jake Locker, QB (Titans)
Locker is no sure thing to beat out Matt Hasselbeck for the Titans' starting role, and last year's 51.5 completion percentage is a red flag, but he also produced an 8.2 YPA mark during his rookie campaign, with a 5:0 TD:TO ratio and a 99.4 QB rating. He's also highly capable of running, which is an obvious boon for his fantasy potential. With Kenny Britt, Jared Cook, first-round pick Kendall Wright and a rejuvenated Chris Johnson at his disposal, it wouldn't be a shock if Tennessee contended in the AFC South.

David Wilson, RB (Giants)
After a couple of nondescript seasons at Virginia Tech, Wilson busted out as a junior last year, rushing for 1,709 yards with nine touchdowns while getting 5.9 YPC. The former track star is extremely athletic, and he led all of college football in yards after contact last season. He had fumbling issues, and durability is also a concern, but the Giants let Brandon Jacobs leave via free agency, and it's hard to argue with GM Jerry Reese's track record when it comes to the draft. Taken in the first round, Wilson is expected to open 2012 behind Ahmad Bradshaw on the depth chart, but he's a flier with plenty of upside.


BUSTS

Vincent Jackson, WR (Buccaneers)

Jackson is going from one of the best passing offenses in San Diego to a much worse situation in Tampa Bay, and it's always worrisome when a wide receiver switches teams, especially in Year 1. Maybe Josh Freeman bounces back, and it's possible Mike Williams is more of a complementary target than a star, but Jackson has never recorded 70 receptions, reached 1,200 receiving yards or scored 10 touchdowns in a season during his seven-year career.

Marshawn Lynch, RB (Seahawks)
Lynch was one of football's biggest surprises last year, when he totaled 1,416 yards with 13 touchdowns, scoring in 11 consecutive games at one point. Still, banking on last year's stats would be awfully risky considering his career. He's not a great receiver and usually has a pedestrian YPC, so he relies heavily on volume (and scoring opportunities). There's little doubt Seattle will once again treat him like a workhorse in 2012 (which is more than half the battle with running backs these days), but he's likely to cost a top-15 pick, so realize you're betting far more on role than skill.

Frank Gore, RB (49ers)
Gore played all 16 games last season for only the second time in his career, and that came with a modest 4.3 YPC and a steep drop in production as a receiver. In fact, over the final eight games, he averaged just 3.5 YPC and had only four receptions. Gore is clearly in decline, as his physical style has resulted in a loss of explosiveness. Moreover, San Francisco added Brandon Jacobs, who's likely to take over goal-line work, through free agency and also selected LaMichael James in the second round of the draft. Kendall Hunter might be the biggest threat of all to steal touches, so it's a crowded backfield.


MIKE DORIA

SLEEPERS

Peyton Hillis, RB (Chiefs)

Hillis gives the Chiefs a player who is capable of handing the heavy lifting until Jamaal Charles is 100 percent, and we suspect that won't be out of the gate. It's also worth noting Hillis' career-high 1,177 rushing yards in 2010 was achieved during his one season working with current Chiefs/former Browns offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.

David Wilson, RB (Giants)
Trent Richardson and, to a lesser degree, Doug Martin are the most highly sought after rookie backs in fantasy drafts, but Wilson may provide more value relative to his likely draft slot. The Giants have moved on from Brandon Jacobs, and at the very least, Wilson - an explosive back - will immediately serve as a complementary option to the often banged up Ahmad Bradshaw. We're skeptical that Bradshaw can make it through a full season unscathed, and if/when he goes down, Wilson's utility will skyrocket.

James Starks, RB (Packers)
With Ryan Grant still a free agent, and the Packers evidently not trying to woo him back, the unheralded Starks is in line to be the team's top back, something that frequently seems to be slipping the minds of early mock drafters. Alex Green, who is bouncing back from a serious knee injury, as well as Brandon Saine, are also in the Packers' backfield mix, but with Starks well past the ankle issues that troubled him last season, he is in a good position to start the year as the lead back in the team's productive offense.


DEEP SLEEPERS

Shane Vereen, RB (Patriots)

While power back Stevan Ridley is the obvious replacement for BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Vereen could have a significant role in the offense if the team elects to go with a more versatile, all-around option. For now, a committee approach remains likely, and veteran Joseph Addai is also in the mix, but the situation is so unsettled as to be up for grabs. If one back does emerge as the featured guy, he'd have a lot of value in that environment.

Mike Goodson, RB (Raiders)
Goodson, who was buried behind DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart while with the Panthers, saw his 2011 campaign derailed by a hamstring injury, but he's a capable back, who will likely benefit from a change of scenery. Goodson should be able to beat out second-year back Taiwan Jones, making him a valuable backup, given Darren McFadden's extensive injury history.

Jonathan Baldwin, WR (Chiefs)
With Dwayne Bowe's contract still unresolved at press time, Baldwin stands a chance to see some valuable added practice reps as the 2012 season approaches. The 26th overall pick in last year's draft, Baldwin disappointed as a rookie, catching just 21 passes for 254 yards in 11 games, but at 6-4, 230, Baldwin possesses great size and has the upside to develop into a dangerous down field threat.


BUSTS

Jamaal Charles, RB (Chiefs)

Charles is bouncing back from a torn ACL he suffered in Week 2 of the 2011 season, yet he's flying off draft boards as though there were little question surrounding his health. While his recovery is said to be going well, even if Charles is ready for Week 1, he might not have recovered all of his previous burst and cutting ability by that that time. Moreover, the Chiefs signing of the rugged Peyton Hillis gives the team a player on whom they can rely early on, while easing Charles back.

Adrian Peterson, RB (Vikings)
Peterson is another gifted runner bouncing back from a major knee injury, which he suffered in late December. While his healing ability and work ethic favor an eventual return to form, he's not bionic and thus may not be all the way back until 2013. He's been drafted in mocks alarmingly early for my taste, and unless Peterson plummets, let someone else take the risk on him.

Rob Gronkowski, TE (Patriots)
Make no mistake. Gronkowski is a beast. And he is hardly a player in decline. But he is bouncing back from a nasty ankle injury, and it's not hard to imagine him losing some looks, particularly in the red zone to fellow TE Aaron Hernandez and free-agent acquisition WR Brandon Lloyd. Expecting Gronkowski to duplicate last season's record-setting numbers (90/1,327/18) is unrealistic, and where you'll need to draft him these days - likely the second round - is too high for a tight end.


DEREK VAN RIPER

SLEEPERS

Jay Cutler, QB (Bears)

For those obsessed with YPA spikes, Cutler's results last season don't point to a big step forward in 2012. Fortunately, the departure of offensive coordinator Mike Martz and the reunion with a true No. 1 wideout in Brandon Marshall (and the addition of rookie Alshon Jeffrey) should benefit Cutler significantly. Further, the NFC North boasts a trio of soft secondaries capable of generating a half dozen passer-friendly shootout scenarios.

Isaac Redman, RB (Steelers)
At press time, reports indicate there's a good chance Rashard Mendenhall will start the season on the PUP list, and there is no guarantee he'll be healthy enough to contribute at any point in 2012 after suffering a torn ACL in December. Redman made the most of his opportunities down the stretch including a 121-yard performance against the Broncos in the playoffs. It's also worth noting Redman was more successful than Mendenhall on a per-carry basis last season, and Redman could prove to be a capable every-down option if he secures the starting job in camp.

Malcom Floyd, WR (Chargers)
Floyd returned from a hip injury in Week 13 and was an elite receiver over the final five games of the regular season, averaging 91.0 YPG and hauling in four touchdown passes during that span. With the loss of Vincent Jackson in free agency, Floyd should have the opportunity to see an increased target volume from quarterback Philip Rivers over a full season. With elite per-target numbers over the last four seasons (10.3, 10.5, 9.3, 12.2) and a quarterback that led the NFL in yards per attempt from 2008-10, the pieces are in place for Floyd to produce his first career 1,000-yard season.


DEEP SLEEPERS

Lamar Miller, RB (Dolphins)

Even with a large investment in Reggie Bush and second-year back Daniel Thomas (the Dolphins traded up to draft him at No. 62 in 2011), Miami liked Miller's upside too much to pass on him early in Round 4 this April. He fell in the draft due to concerns about his knee and shoulder, but Miller is expected to be cleared for contact before the start of training camp. In addition to blazing 4.4 speed, Miller does not have the high college odometer reading many backs possess upon entering the NFL - only 335 carries at Miami. Neither back ahead of Miller on the depth chart is a model of durability, so he could find himself in a starting role sooner than expected.

Brandon LaFell, WR (Panthers)
LaFell's second season came with an upgrade to quarterback Cam Newton, and the duo appeared to develop a strong rapport over the course of the year. LaFell finished with 36 catches for 613 yards, averaging an impressive 10.9 yards per target and providing the Panthers with a second big-play threat at receiver behind veteran Steve Smith. Although LaFell will not be handed the starting job opposite Smith, he should be a heavy favorite entering training camp.

Evan Moore, TE (Browns)
Moore entered last season as an under-the-radar type with expectations of growth on a Browns team looking for reliable pass-catching options. More opportunities led to only slightly improved results, as Moore turned the extra 21 targets he was given into 18 additional catches, including a career-high four touchdowns. At 6-6, 250, Moore has the size to be a force in the red zone, and whether it's Brandon Weeden or Colt McCoy at quarterback, Moore's a sure-handed tight end on a team still looking for answers beyond wide receiver Greg Little.


BUSTS

Cam Newton, QB (Panthers)

Newton broke Peyton Manning's record for passing yards by a rookie (4,051) while rolling up 706 yards and 14 rushing scores (also an NFL record) en route to a top-five finish among fantasy quarterbacks. Even if he leads quarterbacks in rushing yards and touchdowns, Newton will likely struggle to repeat his rookie numbers in those categories. To make matters worse, opposing defenses seemed to figure out the Carolina passing game as the season progressed, as Newton's YPA fell from 8.3 to 7.2 during the second half of the season.

Trent Richardson, RB (Browns)
It's all about the price tag with Richardson. If owners become increasingly comfortable with him as a top-15 overall pick, there is simply too much risk as he'll cut his teeth in an offense that ranked 30th in the NFL in scoring. Richardson could also see an overwhelming number of eight-man fronts if the Browns' passing game fails to keep opposing defenses honest with Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy at the helm.

Rob Gronkowski, TE (Patriots)
The addition of Brandon Lloyd along with the return of the rest of the Pats' receiving options makes it unlikely Gronkowski repeats his 2011 numbers. It's also possible Gronkowski will yield more of his targets to fellow tight Aaron Hernandez, who brings a different dimension to the New England offense and is capable of putting up elite numbers at the position as well.

CHRIS LISS

SLEEPERS

A.J. Green, WR (Bengals)
Hardly a sleeper in the traditional sense as heíll no doubt be drafted in the second or third round, Green has a case for being the No. 2 receiver overall behind only Calvin Johnson. At 6-4, 210, and with great speed and athleticism, Green is a weapon in all ar- eas of the field, including the red zone. He also has very little competition for targets, as rookie Mohamed Sanu is currently projected to start opposite him, and Jordan Shipley and Jermaine Gresham are the only other estab- lished pass-catches in the offense. Second- year quarterback Andy Dalton impressed as a rookie and should only get better. With merely an average running game and young, improv- ing quarterback, the Bengals should air it out more this year, and if they do, Green should be a monster. His ceiling is No. 1 overall WR, and his healthy floor is probably 1,000 yards and eight scores.

Fred Jackson, RB (Bills)
Jackson was a threat to be a top-five fantasy back when he went down in Week 10, with 934 yards rushing, six scores, 39 catches and 442 receiving yards. Prorate those 9.5 games over a full season, and youíd get 1,573 rush- ing yards, 10 TDs, 66 catches and 744 receiv- ing yards. In fact, the yards-from-scrimmage total of 2,317 would have clocked in at eighth all-time. C.J. Spiller is still around, of course, and after his showing down the stretch, heíll be more involved. But the Bills should be a run-heavy team, having solidified their defen- sive front and secondary, while doing little to upgrade their passing game this offseason.

Jamaal Charles, RB (Chiefs)
Just a year ago, Charles was coming off the best per-carry output in a season siace Jim Brown dominated the league, and he was al- most universally considered a top-five pick. A year later, coming off surgery for a torn ACL, heís dropping to the third round. While an ACL injury is serious, Charles (unlike Adrian Peterson) has had a full year to recover from it, and in any event, recovery times from ACL tears have gotten progressively shorter over the last 10 years. Assuming heís 100 percent, Charles is in the same situation as last year, except that Peyton Hillis has replaced Thom- as Jones - if anything an upgrade that keeps the chains moving more often - and Todd Ha- ley - who underused Charles - has been fired.

DEEP SLEEPERS

Randy Moss, WR (49ers)
After a year away from the game, Moss is back with the 49ers, and reportedly looking as fast and spry as ever. The 49ers are deep at the receiver position with Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham and first-round rookie A.J. Jenkins, but none is so established or talented that Moss couldnít overtake them should he flash his previous form. The Niners are also a run-first team with merely an aver- age quarterback, but even with an all-world defense last year, Alex Smith threw for 3,144 yards and those have to go to somebody. Itís possible - even likely - Moss, now 35, is fin- ished, and heíll fill a Chad Ochocinco-on-the- Patriots role. But downside for deep sleepers doesnít matter - you merely drop them and move on.

Matt Flynn, QB (Seahawks)
In his last two starts, Flynn threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns (one pick) against the Patriots in 2010 and 480 yards, six touchdowns (one pick) against the Lions (who were fighting or playoff seeding) in Week 17 last year. The Seahawks gave him $10 million in guaranteed money, so heíd have to fall on his face not to beat out Tarvaris Jackson (and Russell Wilson). With Sidney Rice coming back from shoulder surgeries, Kellen Winslow now in the fold and Doug Baldwin breaking out a as an effective target in the slot, Flynn even has a few weapons, though nothing like the stockpile with which he worked in Green Bay.

Randall Cobb, WR (Packers)
Cobb made the most of his 31 targets last year, getting a whopping 12.1 YPT and could very well have a larger role this season. Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson are the lead dogs, but Nelson didnít even get 100 targets, and Aaron Rodgers spreads the ball around a good deal. With Jermichael Finley injury and drop prone, Donald Driver aging and possibly not on the roster and James Jones possessing merely average skills, Cobb could emerge as the teamís No. 3 receiver by seasonís end - and thatís assuming everyone stays healthy. Cobb is small, but heís very quick, runs good routes and is dangerous in the open field.

BUSTS

Demaryius Thomas, WR (Broncos)
Thomas is big, fast and explosive, and now he has Peyton Manning rather than Tim Tebow throwing him the ball. But Thomas was a bit raw coming into the league, and itís not clear whether he thrived in part because of Tebowís scrambling, broken-play, chuck-it-down-field style. Now heíll have to adjust to a quarter- back used to crisp routes and precise timing - areas that could be weaknesses for Thomas. Moreover, Manning wonít buy any time in the pocket, meaning the ball will come out a lot quicker and earlier than it did with Tebow. Finally, weíre talking about a 36-year old quarterback returning from a serious injury after a year off and adjusting to a new system with new, unpolished receivers. At the very least, Thomasí ascent toward the top of the receiver ranks could take some time.

Mike Wallace, WR (Steelers)
Wallace is not only unhappy with his contract - he skipped OTAs in May - but his produc- tion fell off precipitously in last yearís sec- ond half. That might have been due to more double coverage, but Wallace will still be the object of teamsí attention this year, with more targets going to Antonio Brown as a result. Wallace is as fast as any player in the league and will still make plays down the field. But heís also a low-volume player for a top- ranked receiver and isnít likely to see a lot of looks in the red zone.

Matthew Stafford, QB (Lions)
Sure, Stafford threw for 5,038 yards and 41 TDs, and he has Calvin Johnson, but it took him 663 attempts - the third most in NFL history. His 7.6 YPA was not that far above league average (7.2), and thereís no way the Lions will let their injury-prone franchise passer be exposed to that many hits again in 2012. Jahvid Best is returning from a concus- sion, and Mikel LeShoure and Kevin Smith are in the fold as well. Expect the Lions to run the ball with far more frequency and at least somewhat more success and Staffordís attempts and production to come back down to earth.