If you have a deep dynasty league, you always have one or two spots for deep sleepers. I define a deep sleeper as a player who many people don’t know who may have an opportunity in the future to get on the field could surprise with better than expected production. Victor Cruz is the epitome of a deep sleeper. He wasn’t drafted, came from a small school, was deep down on the depth chart and made the most of his practice time then produced when he finally got on the field. So much that he couldn’t be taken out of the lineup!
The thing is, when was the last time a Victor Cruz came along? Because his success is so recent, everyone believes another Cruz is out there. Chances are that he’s not, at least not at that level of success. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep your eyes out for players who could produce and be a WR3 or a RB2/3 or a QB2 and so forth, though. When these players hit, they are a joy to watch (and to say I told you so)!
So, here is a list deep sleepers. Chances are good if you know a lot about any of these guys, it’s only because they are on your local or favorite team, or that you’re a pretty savvy owner. The rest of the fantasy world is clueless about these guys and while most of them will not see the light of day, any one of them, if provided an opportunity, could exceed current expectations (which are near zero).
Adam Weber, DEN
Before Peyton Manning came along, Adam Weber was actually making noise during training camp last year as a quarterback with better prospects than Tim Tebow. I know, that’s setting the bar pretty low, right! But seriously, with Tebow and Kyle Orton in the mix, Weber was having a great camp. Fast forward to today and Manning and Brock Osweiler are in front of him. Manning is fragile and Osweiler is not ready for prime time. If Manning doesn’t make it on the field, is John Fox going to give the reins to a rookie who has a long way to go or a second year guy that at least has some NFL practice in his background? Weber hails from the University of Minnesota, the same school that Eric Decker came from, and is 6’3” and 220 pounds. If Manning gets hurt, don’t be surprised if the job falls to Weber.
Graham Harrell, GB
Here’s a no brainer – Harrell is now the backup to Aaron Rodgers and is one injury away from taking control of the most potent offense in the NFL today. Harrell hails from Texas Tech and was the quarterback when the Red Raiders were good a few years back. He was undrafted in 2009 and has spent four years on and off of both CFL and NFL rosters. He finally stuck with Green Bay since early 2011 and is now second in command to this offense. There is no telling what he will do if he gets on the field, but we said that about Tom Brady before he took over for Drew Bledsoe. Point is, he’s a great handcuff for Aaron Rodgers owners and a great stash if you have the room for him due to the potency of the offense he would be running.
Brian Hoyer, NE
The same deal with Harrell rings true here – Brian Hoyer is now second in command in New England and one step away from running a very potent offensive system. Hoyer was well known in college having played in the Big 10 at Michigan State. He’s been with the Patriots for three years after being undrafted in 2009 and has gotten onto the field for mop-up duty enough to have a few stats. He’s completed 62% of his passes and has a quarterback rating of 80. It’s a small data set, so you can’t rely on it, but it does indicate he has some experience and hasn’t tanked when he’s been on the field. He’s worth handcuffing if you have Tom Brady and like stashing in deep leagues.
Philip Tanner, DAL
Tanner is an undrafted second year man out of Middle Tennessee State who is third on the depth chart in Dallas. Late last year he hit IR with a hamstring injury, so there are no guarantees here, but the two guys in front of him on the depth chart (DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones) are also very injury prone, so if even one of them gets injured, Tanner will begin to see time on the field. He’s six feet tall and 215 pounds, so he has an NFL running back frame and Dallas has a good offense. If he gets a chance due to injury, he could be a nice RB2 for somebody.
Javarris Williams, HOU
Williams played at Tennessee State in college and was a seventh round pick in 2009. He bounced around the Chiefs and Seahawks rosters before settling into Houston last year. Houston has a couple of great backs in Arian Foster and Ben Tate, so there is very little chance he gets on the field. That said, he’s 5’10” and 223 pounds, a great size for NFL backs and if there is an injury, Houston has been known to use three backs at times, so he could have an opportunity to run well behind Houston’s great O-line. If he does that, it’s possible he gets a look from another team in the future. Not a bad deep sleeper.
Edwin Baker, SD
With Mike Tolbert moving on, Baker finds himself as the backup to Ryan Mathews as a seventh round rookie out of Michigan State. I can’t think of a better deep sleeper situation to fall into than that! Mathews will be the man for sure, but he can be injured at times, which would open a huge gaping hole for Baker to run through (no pun intended, of course). Baker is 5’9” and 215 pounds, so he has a solid NFL frame. Nobody will pick him up in even the deepest of leagues so you can grab him in free agency and stash him for the season to see how things play out. He has to compete with Curtis Brinkley for backup duty, but Brinkley had some time on the field last year and didn’t show much.
Cyrus Gray, KC
Gray is also a rookie and is probably one of the highest rated deep sleepers on this list. He was a sixth round pick by the Chiefs this past draft and though he sits behind Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis now. In a couple of years, he could be the guy in KC. You heard me correctly, Hillis is on a one-year contract and may not be there past 2012 and Charles has had trouble staying on the field. Gray is a smallish back, but was very productive at Texas A&M, has three down potential and has instincts and vision that are second to none. Take a look at him on YouTube if you don’t believe me – he has great vision. I drafted him in the DFL Rivals League to stash him and I suggest you do the same.
Clyde Gates, MIA
Gates will never be a #1 wide receiver, but he could be a Mike Wallace type of guy who stretches the field for the Miami offense. He won’t be a great PPR player, but when he hits, he’ll hit big. Gates will see the field for sure due to the lack of quality options on the Dolphins roster, so he’ll be productive early. He’s small and has elite sub 4.3 speed and the Fins will try to make him their home run hitter in 2012. He was on the field in 2011, but was not very productive due to an injury he played with all season. If he’s healthy, he could be pretty productive in the new West Coast offense that Miami is implementing.
Kevin Cone, ATL
At 6’2” and 216 pounds, Kevin Cone has an NFL receiver’s body. He was a JC transfer who played at Georgia Tech the last two years of college. As you know, Tech throws the ball about ten times a game, so he’s not an accomplished wide receiver, but at GT’s pro day in 2011, he stole the show with a 4.41 40 yard dash, bench pressing 225 lbs. 20 times, having a 36” vertical leap and a 10’01” broad jump. So, he has the athleticism of an NFL receiver, but he comes from a college team that doesn’t always produce NFL receivers. He was on the Falcons practice roster last season. As you know, the Falcons have Julio Jones and Roddy White, as well as Harry Douglas on the roster (not to mention Tony Gonzalez, as well), so Cone would be no better than the fifth choice in the passing game in 2012. But here’s the thing, Gonzalez probably will not be back after 2012 due to age and White’s skills will begin to decline some time soon. Cone is in a great position to develop into the #2 threat in this passing game within three years. Just a thought.
Seyi Ajirotutu, CAR
Ajirotutu was cut from San Diego last year and landed in Carolina due to Ron Rivera’s connection with the Chargers (he was their DC before getting the HC gig in Carolina). This guy is the fourth or fifth choice in the passing game and he has good size at 6’3” and 211 pounds. He’s going into his third year and as a rookie, he had 13 receptions for 262 yards (over 20 yards per reception) and two touchdowns in San Diego, so he can play. He won’t be a big part of the offense in 2012 but he’s experienced enough that if injuries occur he could produce.
Lestar Jean, HOU – This guy is 6’3” and 215 lbs and is currently starting in Andre Johnson’s WR slot in OTAs while AJ recovers from his injury. He went undrafted out of Florida Atlantic University. You can say what you want about FAU, as there are a lot of small schools in Florida that do not hit on the national stage, but Florida has talent everywhere and you can find gems at these smaller Florida schools. Jean could be one of them. He’s not the fastest guy in the world, but with Houston thinning out this offseason in many key positions, if Jean makes the most of his OTA work, he could very well find a role in this offense. If you want more information on Jean, check out our follow-up installment today.
Garrett Graham, HOU
With Joel Dreesen moving on to Denver, Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham are the only veteran TEs on Houston’s roster. Graham hails from Wisconsin where he was a fourth round pick for Houston in 2010. He’s been behind Dreesen and Daniels for two years and now finds himself one injury away from starting. Even as the second string, Houston uses a lot of two TE sets, so he’ll be on the field in 2012. He’s not huge and athletic like prototype TEs are these days, but he’s in a good situation to be a TE2 for Houston with upside in 2012.
Clay Harbor, PHI
Similar to Graham above, Harbor is #2 in Philly behind Brent Celek and is one injury away from being the man. Harbor was also picked in the fourth round in 2010 (just like Graham was), so they have a lot in common. Besides just having a great name, Harbor has caught a couple of touchdowns in his career so far and has slowly been working his way into the offense. If Celek gets injured, Harbor will have a great opportunity to be productive.
David Ausberry/Brandon Myers, OAK – Here’s an intriguing situation to follow. Oakland let Kevin Boss go after only one year on the roster and didn’t take a rookie in this past draft at that position. That leaves three unknowns to fight for the starting job. Ausberry and Myers have the most experience and Richard Gordon is also in the mix. While I don’t think any of these guys will be elite by any measure, one of them is going to be a starting TE in the NFL next year. For a deep sleeper, there is no better situation than that!
Willie Young, DE DET – Young is a third year veteran from North Carolina State who was drafted in the seventh round in 2010. He was 6’4” and 251 lbs when drafted and has worked to put on weight since then, getting up to 260 last year. He spent his rookie season on IR and played last year in a reserve role on Detroit’s vaunted DL. Last year he had 14 tackles and 3 sacks – not bad for a reserve. He plays behind Kyle VandenBosch, who, at 33, is not getting any younger. He’ll be a reserve again in 2012, but he’s in line to possibly start in 2013. If that happens, he could be the guy that nobody double teams and has a lot of opportunity for sacks and tackles in that 4-3 defense.
Junior Galette, DE NO – He was undrafted in 2010 and made the Saints roster to become a fan favorite by being a high energy guy. He plays behind Will Smith and Last year’s rookie Cameron Jordan, but with Smith being suspended four games due to the Saint’s “Bounty” scandal, Galette will have some opportunities to play early next season. If he takes advantage, he could be a future replacement for Smith and, if not, could at least earn a spot in the rotation for a solid DL2 fantasy role.
D.J. Smith, ILB GB
Smith was a rookie last season and a sixth round pick out of Appalachian State. I know his play well from personal experience as I have Desmond Bishop in my IDP dynasty league and when he went down, Smith started three games near the end of the 2011 season. In those three games, Smith averaged over ten fantasy points a game with ten tackles per game through that stretch, one interception and one pass defensed. So, he produced at an elite LB level for three games and then went back to the bench. He’s not going to play much in 2012 either due to the quality of the Packers inside backers, but when he gets a chance in three or four years, he will produce. Mark it down.
Koa Misi, MLB MIA
Misi has actually started since his rookie year in 2010, but has been somewhat of an invisible man in Miami’s solid defense. Here’s the thing, Miami is moving to a 4-3 base defense and Misi is will compete with Karlos Dansby to be the starting MLB. He’s small and fast and can make tackles and will have many more opportunities to do so as a 4-3 MLB rather than an undersized 3-4 OLB. Keep an eye on him, not many people are aware of this change and nobody but Fin fans know his name.
Larry Grant, ILB SF
Much like DJ Smith above, Larry Grant was a seldom used backup until Patrick Willis went down with an injury last year. Grant came in and produced solid fantasy points for the three games he started and can definitely contribute if provided the opportunity. With Willis and Navarro Bowman manning the middle, opportunities will not come often, but if injuries persist with those two, Grant will be a solid replacement.
Glover Quin, SS HOU
Quin is a converted cornerback and fourth year player for Houston. He started as a SS for the first time last year and did good, but not great, finishing in the top 40 for DB fantasy production. Quin is coming into his second year as a SS and should produce better stats that could push him into the top 20 next year and, if so, he will be a nice DB2 for someone. He’s starting now, so it’s a good situation to stash him and see what happens.