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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Finding the sleepers

Everybody usually has a good idea of who the top 25 or even 50 players are in every fantasy draft. The real secret it figuring out who the sleepers are.

Certainly by now, everybody has an idea of a few sleepers. But do you really have time to sit down and figure out more than that?

Probably not. Here's what I've been hearing about different players.

Light sleepers (veterans expected to have comeback years):

Trent Dilfer, QB, Cleveland. Dilfer hasn't played much the past few seasons, but the Browns receivers aren't bad and they figure to be behind quite a bit. He'll have some big games.

Kevan Barlow, RB, San Francisco. Barlow struggled last season, his first as a full-time starter. And the team has threatened to replace him. But he's the most talented runner on the team and should put up decent-enough numbers to be a No. 2 or No. 3 fantasy back.

Steve Smith, WR, Carolina. Because he broke his leg in the first game last year, some will have forgotten that it was Smith, not Muhsin Muhammad that was Carolina's No. 1 receiver going into last season. Muhammad is gone, but Smith is all healed up.

Straight sleepers (Rookies or veterans expected to bust out):

Carson Palmer, QB, Cincinnati. Palmer was red-hot down the stretch last season and has outstanding receivers to throw to along with a solid running game. He could emerge as a top-5 QB this season.

Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, RB, Tampa Bay. Former Auburn teammate Ronnie Brown and Cedric Benson were chosen ahead of the Cadillac in the draft, but Williams landed in a better situation. He'll put up the best rookie running back numbers this season.

Nate Burleson, WR, Minnesota. Burleson doesn't have Randy Moss' speed, but he now has Moss' position. With Daunte Culpepper throwing to him, Burleson will emerge as one of the top receivers in fantasy football this season.

Heavy sleepers (Guys to roll the dice on):

Joey Harrington, QB, Detroit. Everything is in place for Harrington to have a big year. He just has to do it. There were concerns about Jeff Garcia stealing the job, but Garcia has looked bad in the preseason, solidifying Harrington's position.

J.J. Arrington, RB, Arizona. Plenty of people know about Arrington, but the question will be when to take him. I wouldn't go too early because guys his size just don't hold up all season. But I'd grab him as a No. 3 back.

Antonio Bryant, WR, Cleveland. The focus is on top pick Braylon Edwards, but Bryant has been the Browns' best receiver. The veteran has always had talent and it's possible the trade from Dallas to Cleveland woke him up. He could emerge as a big-time player this season.

In a coma (Time to start reaching):

J.P. Losman, QB, Buffalo. Losman is inexperienced, but he's got a nice supporting cast. Running back Willis McGahee will keep defenses honest and he's got a good set of receivers. He just needs to play consistently.

Willie Parker, RB, Pittsburgh. Everybody knows the Steelers are going to run the ball. But Duce Staley is already banged up and Jerome Bettis is now 33 years old. This guy has the best speed the Steelers have had at running back in the Bill Cowher era. And he has a 100-yard game against Buffalo last season to prove that he can get it done.

Bryant Johnson, WR, Arizona. Much of the focus has been on Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. But Johnson, a former first-round draft pick, has looked like the best receiver in the team's camp. He may not start ahead of Fitzgerald or Boldin, but Johnson will catch his share of passes and he's an injury away from being a solid starter.

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