Sleepers

Oh yeah. We’re willing to bet that many of you made this your first stop inside of the 2010 National Football Post Fantasy Draft Guide. And why not? Everybody wants to be the owner that lands the next Miles Austin or Ray Rice. Drafting the right sleeper can be the difference between a deep run into the playoffs and an offseason of ridicule at the hands of your fellow owners.

Introducing the NFP’s 2010 Top-20 Sleepers. Feel free to take advantage of the comments section below to let us know which players are your favorite sleepers.

1. Kevin Kolb, QB, Philadelphia Eagles: After three years of sitting behind veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb, Kolb finally gets his shot to lead the pass-happy Eagles offense. In each of the past five years, Philly has ranked in the top-ten in pass to run ratio and top-five in passing attempts. Translation: Expect a ton of attempts from the former Houston Cougar. Kolb’s studied for three years under a six-time Pro Bowl quarterback (just like Aaron Rodgers did under Brett Favre) and has a slew of weapons (DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek, LeSean McCoy) at his disposal. It’s no wonder we have him rated higher than any other fantasy publication.

2. Jahvid Best, RB, Detroit Lions: San Diego running back Ryan Mathews didn’t make the list because we all know he’s a top-15 fantasy selection. But Best fits the sleeper mold to perfection. He’s a dual-threat playmaker with explosive open field speed who possesses the ability to hit the home run from anywhere on the field. Former starter Kevin Smith is coming back from a torn ACL, which led the Lions to trade back into the first round for the former California running back. Expect QB Matthew Stafford and the Detroit offense to take the next step this season. As a bonus, garbage time stats are a big plus here.

3. Johnny Knox, WR, Chicago Bears: Somebody has to catch the ball in Chicago and we already know that veteran wideout Devin Hester isn’t a true No. 1. Knox is quite possibly the fastest player in the NFL at the moment and is extremely dangerous in the open field. As an unknown rookie last season, Knox hauled in 45 receptions for 527 yards and five touchdowns without making a single start. Offensive mastermind Mike Martz was brought in to run the offense and an offseason working with the architect of “The Greatest Show on Turf,” as well as Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler will go a long way in the young receiver’s development.

4. Jerome Harrison/Montario Hardesty, RB, Cleveland Browns: This one comes down to whichever guy wins the starting job. As of now, Hardesty comes at a cheaper price since he’s listed as the No. 2 RB on the Cleveland depth chart. But here is what fantasy owners should be keeping in mind: Despite winning only five games last season, the Browns ranked 8th in the NFL in rushing (130.4 yds/gm) and 3rd in run to pass ratio (51.3%). With a young and inexperienced receiving unit, look for Cleveland to once again rely heavily upon the running game. Also keep in mind that with several problem areas on both sides of the ball, the Browns still used a second-round pick on the workhorse from Tennessee. He’s going to see plenty of reps.

5. Steve Breaston, WR, Arizona Cardinals: Yes, Kurt Warner is gone and yes, Matt “Hot Tub” Leinart is a downgrade, but Breaston’s role is about to increase in a big way this season. Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin was traded to Baltimore back in March, paving the way for the former Michigan standout to step into the starting lineup along star wideout Larry Fitzgerald. With Fitz drawing most of the defense’s attention, Breaston (like Boldin) will face a slew of favorable 1 v. 1 matchups from opposing secondaries. This guy caught 132 passes for 1,718 yards and six scores over the past two years, so you know he can make plays with the ball in his hands. As long as Leinart steps up, Stevie B will deliver.

6. Miami Dolphins, D/ST: The Fish are going to pose big problems on both sides of the ball for opponents this season. Miami dumped some deadweight this past winter by unloading aging veterans Jason Taylor and Joey Porter and brought in a ton of talent by signing free agent linebacker Karlos Dansby and drafting defensive end Jared Odrick and mobile linebacker Koa Misi. In addition, second-year cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Sean Smith now have a full year of experience under their belts, so expect the secondary to force more interceptions in 2010. The Dolphins may not be a top-five defense at the end of the year, but you’re going to great some great value with this selection.

7. Kellen Winslow, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Winslow is without question the most recognizable name on this list, which may have many of you asking why we have him listed as a sleeper. Good question. However, owners are advised to keep in mind that the tight end class is extremely deep this season, which is why Winslow is being pushed to the bottom of the top-ten, increasing his value. The Buccaneers are going to be playing from behind in several games this year and quarterback Josh Freeman’s top two wide receivers are both inexperienced rookies (Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams). Therefore, expect the veteran, pass-catching tight end to see a plethora of targets when the pocket breaks down or the wide receiving unit fails to get open. Expect Winslow to improve on the 77-884-5 stat line he posted during Freeman’s rookie campaign.

8. Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants: Nicks paved the way for sleeper status at the end of last season when he took over Mario Manningham’s role as the No. 2 receiver on the New York offense. The former North Carolina standout caught 47 passes for 790 yards and six scores in only six starts en route to a top-30 fantasy finish. In addition, quarterback Eli Manning is coming off a career year that featured personal bests in passing yards (4,021), touchdowns (27) and completion percentage (62.3%). With wideout Steve Smith (107 receptions in 2009) lining up on the outside, look for Nicks to once again exploit 1 v. 1 coverage, as well as make a serious impact when Big Blue reaches the red zone.

9. Carson Palmer, QB, Cincinnati Bengals: Remember the good ‘ole days (2005-2007) when Palmer was one of the fantasy world’s elite quarterbacks? We do. And the talent around him this season may be enough to get the former Heisman Trophy winner back to the top of the heap. The Bengals upgraded their offense in a big way this past offseason by acquiring free agent wide receiver Antonio Bryant to play alongside Pro Bowler Chad Johnson. In addition, Cincy finally landed a playmaking tight end in rookie first-round pick Jermaine Gresham (Oklahoma). The Bengals will no doubt continue to feature a heavy dose of the running game, but Palmer finally has the weapons at his disposal to once again make a serious impact through the air.

10. Michael Bush, RB, Oakland Raiders: Now that turnover machine and Purple Drank spokesman JaMarcus Russell is history, the Oakland Raiders can finally being the process of playing offense like a real NFL franchise. Former first-round pick Darren McFadden has been a bust in his first two professional seasons, but Bush has quietly turned some heads within the organization and could be in line to win the starting job this August. The 26-year old averaged 4.8 yards per carry last season and caught 17 passes for 105 yards in only seven starts. With a serviceable quarterback like Jason Campbell running the offense, the Raiders actually have a legitimate chance of scoring some points this season.

11. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles: We aren’t going to waste any time telling you how much the Eagles love to throw the football. If you want to rea d about that, just scroll to the top of this article and check out the Kevin Kolb analysis. As for Maclin, the former first-round pick put together a very impressive rookie season, catching 56 passes for 773 yards and four scores en route to a top-38 fantasy finish. Expect the former All-American to take the next step in 2010 playing opposite the dangerous DeSean Jackson on an offense that could possibly throw more passes than any other team this year.

12. Zach Miller, TE, Oakland Raiders: As we mentioned above with Michael Bush, the arrival of a serviceable quarterback in Jason Campbell is going to be a huge boost for the Oakland offense. Miller has been a very productive tight end over the past two years (122-1,583-4), but has flown below the radar in the fantasy world due to his low touchdown totals. Campbell knows how to utilize the tight end position as he spent last year turning Fred Davis into a waiver wire gem, which is in addition to his quality work with the always-popular Chris Cooley. The Oakland receiving unit is extremely young and inexperienced so expect Campbell to turn Miller into his No. 1 target.

13. Donald Brown, RB, Indianapolis Colts: Brown was one of our favorite sleepers entering the 2009 season, but a multitude of injuries limited the former Connecticut Husky to just 11 games. Still, the 23-year old dual-threat running back flashed his skill set in a limited role in 2009, scoring three rushing touchdowns and averaging 15.4 yards per reception on 11 catches. The Colts are one of the NFL’s best offenses year in and year out and if Brown can keep himself healthy in 2010, he’s going to see enough action to produce some solid fantasy totals. Consider him a respectable flex option to open the season that you’ll be able to find in the middle to later rounds.

14. Chad Henne, QB, Miami Dolphins: Henne gained some valuable experience during his first season under center in Miami that ended with a 22nd place fantasy finish despite starting just 13 games. The big reason owners are advised to jump on this bandwagon is the arrival of Pro Bowl wideout Brandon Marshall, who brings to the table three consecutive seasons of 100+ receptions. Henne completed 60.8% of his attempts in 2009 and threw at least one touchdown pass in seven of Miami’s last eight games. The former Michigan quarterback also topped 320 passing yards in three of the Dolphins’ final five contests. Remember, Miami boss Bill Parcells was the guy who discovered Tony Romo…and he’s the same guy that made the decision to select Chad Henne. He clearly has an eye for quarterback talent.

15. San Francisco 49ers, D/ST: Led by Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis, the San Francisco defense burst onto the fantasy scene last season by racking up 44 sacks (3rd in NFL), forcing 21 fumbles (3rd) and picking off 18 passes (11th). The 49ers brought in some youth in April in an effort to bolster their defensive depth, drafting safety Taylor Mays (USC) and linebacker Navarro Bowman (Penn State). The upside here is the schedule the Niners will face this season. San Francisco’s opponents went 117-139 last year, which gives them the 28th hardest schedule to open the season. This unit has top-ten written all over them.

16. Mike Wallace, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: One of the most explosive vertical threats in the NFL, Wallace steps into the No. 2 spot in Pittsburgh now that former Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes has been traded to the New York Jets. Wallace averaged a ridiculous 19.4 yards per reception last season and scored six touchdowns on just 39 catches. The departure of Holmes means more snaps, more targets, more receptions and more fantasy points for the former Ole Miss Rebel. Be advised that the absence of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during the first 4-6 weeks of the season due to a suspension may force Wallace to get off to a slow start, but this guy is going to find the end zone in 2010. He has the ability to give you a solid fantasy performance by making just one reception.

17. Chaz Schilens, WR, Oakland Raiders: Another Raider? You know it. The logic behind Schilens making the 2010 Sleeper list is simple: Somebody has to catch the football in Oakland this season. 2009 rookies Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bey still have some developing to do, which leaves Schilens as the best bet to become new quarterback Jason Campbell’s No. 1 WR target. He only played in eight games last season due to injury, but had he played the entire year, Schilens was on pace to post a stat line of 58-730-4. Not outstanding, but you have to remember that JaMarcus Russell was the quarterback. Campbell offers more consistency and experience. Expect those numbers to improve in 2010.

18. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, New York Giants: Just like Colts running back Donald Brown, Bradshaw was one of our top sleepers entering the 2009 season. While the Big Blue running back racked up a respectable 985 total yards and seven scores, the impressive thing to note is that the he did that while playing the majority of the season with injuries to each foot, including a broken bone. Bradshaw enters the 2010 season as the No. 2 RB behind Brandon Jacobs, but his skills as a pass-catcher and ability to create yards after contact will earn him plenty of playing time on the league’s 8th ranked total offense from a year ago. 1,200 total yards and 10 touchdowns are a possibility…and a nice one for a guy you can snag in the middle to later rounds.

19. Alex Smith, QB, San Francisco 49ers: The former first-round pick hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations in his first five NFL seasons, but give Smith credit for figuring out a way to stick around and win back the starting job. He appeared in just 11 games in 2009, but—based on his final stat line—had Smith played in all 16 games, his statistics would have come in right around 3,424 passing yards and 26 touchdowns. That would have been good enough to rank in the top-15 in scoring. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree has all the makings of a legitimate No. 1 wideout, tight end Vernon Davis is coming off a monster season and running back Frank Gore is a dangerous pass-catching option coming out of the backfield. Target Smith as a QB2 this summer, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself thinking about inserting him into the starting lineup.

20. Justin Forsett, RB, Seattle Seahawks: New head coach Pete Carroll has been signing and dropping running backs at an alarming rate in his first offseason with the Seahawks. Why? Forsett has all the makings of a classic dual-threat running back. The 24-year old has explosive open field speed and excellent hands, as evidenced by the 41 passes he caught last year for 350 yards and one score. Not only that, Forsett is effective on the ground as well, as the former California running back averaged 5.4 yards per carry and picked up 619 rushing yards despite starting just two games. He’ll have some competition to deal with in Julius Jones and newcomer Leon Washington, but owners should keep this guy in mind. He’s a playmaker.

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