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My Five: Sleepers - All Positions - Part I

My Saturday night marathon session presses on. My goal, in anticipation of the two biggest draft days of the year, was to get all my breakouts, sleepers, busts, and maybe a strategy article up by the time y'all wake on Sunday. I've downed about three 5-hour energy drinks, so barring a heart attack, I plan on achieving said milestone.

In order to accomplish this, I'm going to have to shorten things up a bit for the sleepers lists (which might please readers anyway as I can get a bit long-winded). I've decided to mash all four columns into one, and I'll be trying to stick to only a couple key points on each player that stand out to me.

Last year, my first four columns here at RotoSynthesis were my sleepers lists. I had some good calls; Reggie Bush, Antonio Brown, Jimmy Graham, Matthew Stafford, and some bad one; Tim Hightower, Lee Evans, Marcedes Lewis, Sam Bradford. So it goes, can't hit 'em all.

For quarterbacks and tight ends I set the parameters as players being drafted (within their position) outside the top-20, for running backs the top-35, and for wide receivers the top-45.

In the interest of presenting a wider assessment, I have excluded all players featured in my Breakout series.



5. Nick Foles - Philadelphia Eagles - |STAR|ADP NL (not listed)

|STAR|average draft position referenced from composite rankings as of 9/1/12

Michael Vick will not last all 16 games. Vince Young left town, and the rookie has looked spectacular in the preseason. Foles has posted a 110.1 QB rating, thrown 6 touchdowns to 2 interceptions, racked up an excellent 8.8 yards-per-attempt, and hit on several deep balls; 7 for 20-plus, and 4 for 40-plus. He's a big (6-foot-6) pocket passer who may just get more out of Philadelphia's dynamic weapons than Vick can, even if it's only for a few weeks. He's a legitimate QB-handcuff for me.

4. Tim Tebow - New York Jets - |STAR|ADP 26

I think the Jets are going to stink. Since it took 14 quarters, and a 6-yard pass from Greg McElroy to Terrance Ganaway for the offense to score its first preseason touchdown, I'm guessing everyone else does too. So that's no prediction. But when they do stink, and the media hoards rain down upon Mark Sanchez, you just know "the savior" will be called upon. His rushing ability makes him fantasy-relevant and I think he starts eventually.

3. Christian Ponder - Minnesota Vikings - |STAR|ADP 30

Ponder's ceiling is limited based on the conservative, run-oriented offense the Vikings figure to employ. He also doesn't have a wealth of explosive targets. One could do worse than Percy Harvin, Jerome Simpson, and Kyle Rudolph though. Just ask the aforementioned Jets QBs. I was impressed with Ponder last year, when he had basically zero reps with the first team until he got his first start. Now he's has regular season experience and a full camp under his belt. He can be useful in deeper, 2-QB leagues.

2. Matt Cassel - Kansas City Chiefs - |STAR|ADP 29

No one wants to like Cassel, or admit to it. He did throw for 27 touchdowns and just 7 picks his last healthy season in 2010 though. Kansas City could possibly be the most run-heavy team in the NFL this year, so like Ponder his ceiling is limited, but this late, with a decent matchup, he could be a serviceable bye-week or injury replacement. He's got two nice pass-catching backs and a legit no. 1 target in Dwayne Bowe.

1. Russell Wilson - Seattle Seahawks - |STAR|ADP 22

Dude played so good this summer, he forced Pete Carroll to bench Matt Flynn just months after signing him to $10 million guaranteed. Over his eight quarters of preseason play, Wilson completed 63.5|PERCENT| of his passes, knocked out 8.5 yards-per-attempt, posted a 110.3 QB rating, and threw 5 touchdowns to 1 interception. He also ran for 150 yards and a score. If you extrapolate his per-quarter numbers to a full game, he averaged 268 passing yards and 75 on the ground with three touchdowns per game. Yes, I realize it's the preseason. But, the biggest knock on this guy was his size (5-foot-11), and last year behind an offensive line at Wisconsin that was legitimately bigger than that of the Packers, he had two battled balls. Two. Cam Newton, and previously Vick (and Tebow) have shown how valuable QB rushing yards are in fantasy. I'm drafting this kid.

Running Backs

5. Ronnie Hillman - Denver Broncos - |STAR|ADP 55

I don't necessarily think Hillman is an elite talent, or will blow up this season, but I do think he's going to get enough work to be fantasy-relevant at times. John Elway was raving about his skills after the draft, and despite dealing with a hamstring issue in camp, he got back fast enough to log 24 carries this preseason and churned out a respectable 4.0 per-carry average. Willis McGahee shouldered an increase of 149 carries last season at the age of 30 and I worry about him holding up this year. Knowshon Moreno is still around, but even if he looks slightly better, I think Hillman gets the work as he's the back of the future. His 3,243 yards and 36 TDs in two seasons at San Diego State don't hurt either.

4. Jacquizz Rodgers - Atlanta Falcons - |STAR|ADP 49

Michael Turner hit the foreboding age of 30 this year, has logged 300-plus carries in three of the last four years, and I think we've seen the start of his decline. Omitting his monster game against the AAA Buccaneers who were totally checked out in Week 17, he averaged 3.2 yards-per-carry and scored just one touchdown his last six games of 2011. I'm expecting a more wide-open, up-tempo attack from the Falcons that is geared more towards their dynamic weapons in space, which includes Rodgers. I'm not thinking fantasy starter, but in PPR leagues especially, he can be a solid matchup play or injury replacement.

3. Kendall Hunter - San Francisco 49ers - |STAR|ADP 57

If you're looking for a guy who is an injury away from fantasy stardom, this is my nominee. Frank Gore, who stands in his way, is getting up there in age (29), and mileage (1,654 career carries). He also tailed off in the second half last year, has annual injury issues that cost him games, and toted the rock in 2011 more times than he had in five seasons. Hunter is a scrappy 5-foot-7, awfully short, but like Maurice Jones-Drew, not particularly small. He tips the scales at 199 pounds and runs hard. He put up two monster, 1,500-plus-yard, 16 touchdown seasons at Oklahoma State and showed well in his rookie year averaging a respectable 4.2 yards-per-carry. He was also effective in the red zone (43 yards and 2 scores on 17 carries). I expect his role to increase, even with a healthy Gore, and I love him in keeper formats. That team knows how to, and loves to run it.

2. Jonathan Dwyer - Pittsburgh Steelers - |STAR|ADP 64

With Rashard Mendenhall working his way back from a torn ACL he suffered in Week 17 last year, and Isaac Redman being hampered by a groin injury this summer, Dwyer has been given a perfect opportunity to showcase his stuff. And that's precisely what he's done, plowing his way to a 5.3 yards-per-carry average and pleasing coach Mike Tomlin along the way. He didn't find paydirt in his preseason work, which is disappointing, and Pittsburgh's offensive line isn't stock full of Pro Bowlers, but I could easily envision a scenario where Dwyer gets the lead role early, and keeps it all season. He worked out with MJD and Matt Forte this offseason which appears to have moved him forward, and it shows me he's dedicated. Big potential reward here compared to the initial investment cost.

1. David Wilson - New York Giants - |STAR|ADP 39

I want to like Ahmad Bradshaw. I love, and really respect the way he plays the game. I want to think he's undervalued this year. I wasn't extremely impressed watching Wilson's tape from Virginia Tech. He seemed like a straight-ahead, bull-dozier-type which I didn't think would translate against the bigger players in the NFL (especially at 5'11", 205). But, he's been able to grind out 4.7 yard-per-carry this preseason and the Giants essentially have to give him close to a 50-50 split right away. Bradshaw is just too fragile. That in mind, Wilson could be a work-horse any given Sunday. (Pacino voice) "You die for that inch!" Sorry. Couldn't help myself.

To be continued...Part II