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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

My Top 10 Fantasy Sleepers for 2009

Now that training camp is up and running, you may be preparing for your fantasy football Draft and plotting your league domination for the season. But, no fantasy championship is won without the "sleeper pick"; that is the selection of a player that no one saw coming. Selecting a sleeper pick takes player and team knowledge, gut instincts, and a bit of luck. There are plenty of sleeper picks to be had in the 2009 season and I list them here in this Tuesday's Top Ten:

10) Brandon Pettigrew (Detroit Lions)

Already signed and into camp on time, Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew is ready to work within the Detroit offense. The best tight end prospect in the 2009 NFL Draft, the 263 lb. Pettigrew is not only an excellent receiver, but a stellar blocker as well. But, blocking doesn't get you fantasy points. Detroit will have to get the tight end the ball early and often for Pettigrew to reach sleeper status.

Whether its Daunte Culpepper at quarterback or rookie number 1 pick Matthew Stafford, Pettigrew should get lots of looks during drives. Number one receiver Calvin Johnson will undoubtedly draw the double team from defensive backs down the stretch. Having a big tight end with excellent hands is an asset to any NFL quarterback. However, Pettigrew did strain his quadriceps in practice yesterday, but the injury appears minor.

9) Nate Washington (Tennessee Titans)

At 25 years old, wide receiver Nate Washington has already won 2 Super Bowl rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now a member of the Tennessee Titans, Washington looks to continue his winning ways in an offense that he is completely suited for. Titans quarterback Kerry Collins has already gotten in rhythm with his new offensive weapon and the two have quickly established a productive rapport in camp.

While with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington played behind receivers Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward; both former Super Bowl MVPs. With the Titans, look for Washington to be more of a go-to-guy. His dominant play in practice is pushing him forward as the number one receiver on the team. Washington has all of the qualities as a bonafide sleeper pick.

8) Brent Celek (Philadelphia Eagles)

It was clear in last year's NFC championship game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Arizona Cardinals, that very few people had heard of Brent Celek. But, by the end of the game, the fans and especially the Cardinal players had become quite familiar with the tight end out of the University of Cincinnati. Celek had two receiving touchdowns in that match-up and put the Eagles in position for a comeback late in the game. Although the Eagles went on to lose that game, Celek earned himself props around the league as a tough tight end who can step up in the clutch.

Celek had 19 catches in the 2008 playoffs; third most for a tight end in NFL history. His 10 catches in the NFC championship game set a team record. He also set a franchise record in week 9 with 131 yards receiving in one game. Look for Celek to have a breakout season this year as Philly looks to contend for the Super Bowl.

7) Chris "Beanie" Wells (Arizona Cardinals)

Beanie Wells out of Ohio State University was chosen in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals. Soon after the selection, the Cardinals unceremoniously released veteran running back Edgerrin James. Apparently, the team knew the kind of power runner they will have in Wells and head coach Ken Whisenhunt wanted to roll the dice with the rookie.

However, he will have to fight for the starting job in camp with running back Tim Hightower. Wells was actually hurt in camp a few days ago and was carted off the field. It appears to be an ankle injury. Be sure to have the final word on the extent of the injury before drafting Wells as your sleeper pick.

6) Hakeem Nicks (New York Giants)

After releasing embattled receiver Plaxico Burress last spring, the New York Giants selected Hakeem Nicks in the 2009 NFL Draft to help fill the void at wide receiver. The first round draft pick out of North Carolina will have big shoes to fill. Burress was the go-to-guy for Giants quarterback Eli Manning and was instrumental in their surprising Super Bowl win a couple years back.

Nicks left the Tarheels as their career leader in catches (181), touchdowns (21), and yardage (2,840). He signed a 5 year contract with the Giants (worth around $12.5 million dollars) and will report to camp on time. That pleased head coach Tom Coughlin who is impressed with Nicks' hands and his ability to make catches across the middle of the field. Look for Nicks to emerge as the starter once the season begins.

5) Josh Morgan (San Francisco 49ers)

The 49ers had a surprisingly good 1st round on Draft day back in April. Michael Crabtree, thought to be the best receiver in the draft, fell to the 49ers at the number 10 spot. The 49ers needed a go-to-receiver and it appeared as if their prayers had been answered. Only problem is, Crabtree wants to get paid like a top 5 draft pick. In this league, especially in the middle of a recession, only guys chosen in the top 5 get the top 5 money. So Crabtree is a rookie hold out in camp and the 49ers are going with what they have.

What they have is a young receiver with great speed and even better hands. Josh Morgan has emerged as a consistent deep threat on the practice field. It's not lost on Morgan that Crabtree's holdout will ultimately benefit him. In fact, it would seem that the rookie's ego driven contract holdout has motivated Morgan during training camp. The 49ers new offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye is quickly becoming a fan of Josh Morgan. "He's an explosive guy and a great leaper" said Raye, "... he can get to some balls with extension that some guys can't." Look for Morgan to emerge as a good sleeper pick this season.

4) Vernon Davis (San Francisco 49ers)

Every year Vernon Davis is touted as a good sleeper pick in the tight end position. Every year, he fails to impress and leaves fantasy owners disappointed enough to cut him from the roster. However, this season Davis has an offensive coordinator who is known to use the tight end extensively in the passing game; especially in the red zone. Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye describes Davis as "explosive, competitive (and having) wide receiver speed." Those qualities will come in handy once the season begins.

Davis' attitude has been a consistent road block in his development. He is known to get into confrontations with teammates in practices and to over celebrate a mediocre reception during a game. But, head coach Mike Singletary has effectively put VD in his place and has even gone so far as to kick the tight end out of a game because of his antics. Let's hope that Samurai Mike can keep Davis in line this season. Draft Davis with a late round pick; he is a risky investment.

3) Kyle Orton (Denver Broncos)

When the Denver Broncos were forced to trade pro bowl quarterback Jay Cutler to the Chicago Bears this spring, it looked as if the Broncos made a huge blunder. After all, they ended up with Kyle Orton as their top quarterback in replace of Cutler. Orton certainly appeared to be a step down from Cutler. He's never made the pro bowl and his position as the Bears starter was always up for grabs in a heavy competition with teammate Rex Grossman.

But, Orton may surprise a few folks. New head coach Josh McDaniels will bring his excellent passing system from New England to the Broncos which should allow Orton to shine. Of course, starting wideout Brandon Marshall could determine just how successful Orton will be. Marshall is coming off a hip injury and is unhappy with his current contract with the Broncos. Even without Marshall, Orton will still have guys like Eddie Royal and Tony Sheffler to throw to; which is an upgrade from the surrounding talent he had in Chicago. Use Orton as a backup quarterback and draft him in the middle to late rounds.

2) Anthony Gonzalez (Indianapolis Colts)

It's hard to believe that fantasy owners will overlook Anthony Gonzalez of the Indianapolis Colts during the draft, but they will. He is a quiet force on the Colts offense and it's easy to overlook the 57 catches, 664 yards, and 4 touchdowns he had last season. But, this guy could be the steal of the fantasy draft and you will need to keep your eye on him as one of the biggest sleeper picks of the season.

Gonzalez has a lot going for him coming into this season. First of all, he has the best quarterback in the league throwing to him. Last season's league MVP Payton Manning will look to throw in Gonzalez's direction quite a bit this year. With the departure of Marvin Harrison, Gonzalez will aim to step it up in production and Payton Manning will aim the ball in his direction. Also, fantasy owners are not the only ones who seem to overlook Anthony Gonzalez. Opposing teams overlook him as well. As defenses double up on go-to-guy Reggie Wayne, Gonzalez will find himself frequently open; especially in the red zone. Draft him as a second or third receiver and look to put him in the starting lineup.

1) Trent Edwards (Buffalo Bills)

Trent Edwards wanted Terrell Owens on his team. Why? Because Edwards planned on getting Owens the ball and winning football games. Edwards knows that the two things that keep Terrell Owens happy is getting the ball and winning games. With Owens on one side and Lee Evans lining up on the other side, Edwards is my number one sleeper pick for the 2009 season. Evans had over 1,000 yards receiving last year; averaging over 16 yards per catch. And, despite his antics, Owens has always been a monster receiver who gives defensive backs nightmares. Edwards will also benefit from running back Marshawn Lynch (who is serving a 3 game suspension for misdemeanor gun possession).

Last season, Trent Edwards finished with a 85.4 quarterback rating and 11 touchdowns. Those numbers will undoubtedly increase this year with the addition of Owens. However, you don't want to draft this guy as your number one quarterback. Pick him up in the later rounds and use him as your number two guy. If you need him on a bye week or for a good match-up situation, he should produce good numbers for you as if he were your number one guy. He would also make good trade value if you need solid player down the stretch.

Well, those are my top 10 sleeper picks for the 2009 Fantasy season. I have my draft later today and this list will aid me in my quest for a 4th Fantasy league championship. I hope all of you end up with a solid roster to work with this year and I wish you luck in snatching up a few sleeper picks on draft day.

photo credit: AP Photo/David Duprey