I've been tracking sleepers and busts in a variety of ways over the past month, but with the final round of drafts upon us, here's a look at under-valued players based on what you can expect from them, where you can find them, and what kind of use they might have. Remember: the point of identifying sleepers isn't that you strike it rich (although that does happen); it's really that you're getting equivalent production at one position that allows you to draft a difference-maker at another position earlier.
Wide receivers are plentiful, which means there's always SOMEONE on the waiver wire with a decent matchup. Of course, spotting that free agent player each week is a bit of a psychic trick.
My approach this year? I'm focusing on the receivers that are available in the first four rounds, and I want at least two of them. A nice third receiver would be a bonus, but beyond that? They're mostly roster fillers, to be swapped out with waiver-wire pickups as the season progresses.
Running backs are generally considered the Kings of Fantasy Football, which is nice for them, since with the pounding they take, your average fruit fly has a longer career. But there's a flip side: With the emphasis on acquiring RBs, their draft price stays extremely high in most leagues. Which means you'll be tempted to over-pay for them, and a flop can be extremely costly.
One thing we've learned about drafting: There are always going to be guys on your board that you wouldn't mind drafting, and if they fall into a value spot, maybe you'll take 'em.
But want really counts -- if you've been keeping up with your off-season homework -- are the guys who have a nice aura around them whenever your thoughts turn their way. The guys you like, not only to be OK, but to really help your team.
Here's my list of the guys I feel good about this offseason, along with a list of guys who I'd like to feel good about (my "Want To Like," or WTL, players), only my head keeps intervening...
(Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer, Tom Brady, Rex Grossman, Ben Roethlisberger, Alex Smith, Matt Schaub, WTL: Drew Brees, Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo, Matt Hasselbeck, Philip Rivers, JP Losman, Daunte Culpepper)
It's always nice to have an ace up your sleeve. Here are four stealthy, backup QB aces for you to keep hidden -- right up until the moment when you spring a brilliant roster move on your unsuspecting league.
Ranks based on recent Average Draft Position results...
1. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, San Diego. His numbers could go down by a third and LT would still be the No. 1 player in fantasy. That's just sick. 2. Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis. He deserves this ranking, but he's nowhere close to Tomlinson and probably won't produce like last year's No. 2. 3. Larry Johnson, RB, Kansas City. I expect a big decline here: Kansas City is rebuilding, the O-line is cheesecloth, the QB is likely to be Brodie Croyle, and LJ, coming off another punishing year, is holding out of training camp. He's already dropping in recent expert drafts and that trend could continue. 4. Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco. The situation is great, the player had a breakout year in 2006 ... and something about this scares me. Gore is playing on rebuilt bionic knees and just broke his hand, which means he'll enter September a little rusty. Again, not specific -- just a bad feeling. 5. Shaun Alexander, RB, Seattle. If I can get him at six, seven or eight, I'd feel pretty good about the value. Alexander is in decline, but he can still be good in spurts, and he's reported to camp in great shape.
While we don't question the underlying logic of the Stud Running Back Theory, we're on the record as heretics when it comes to the widespread belief that uninspiring RBs should trump quality players at other positions on draft day. But what comes next? What strategy makes sense for 2007?
Well, here goes: Unless you can get Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer or Tom Brady, don't draft a quarterback in the first seven rounds. And no, we're not smoking crack.
Notes from the first practice session of the Jacksonville Jaguars' 2007 training camp:
QUARTERBACKS The obvious No. 1 issue in Jacksonville is Byron Leftwich, who suffered through injury, inconsistency and management skullduggery in 2006. And perhaps the most telling thing I noticed all day was Leftwich's entrance into the practice area. He walked up the chute from Alltel Stadium beside enormous DT John Henderson, and as they casually sauntered by, the fans shouted "BIG JOHN! BIG JOHN! OVER HERE, BIG JOHN!"
I mentioned this to a Jags fan in the bleachers later. "There are a lot of mixed emotions," he said about the apathy toward Leftwich. No kidding. Backup QB David Garard received a much more enthusiastic fan welcome, both coming and going, and was himself much more gregarious than Leftwich, who struck me as reserved and a little wary.