Anyone that plays Fantasy Football is always looking for that unexpected player that is going to dominate the league. While it feels good to beat other Owners with a first round pick, nothing is sweeter than discovering a talent and using that passed-over player to dominate the league.
What makes it so hard to pick sleepers is that too often they do not come out of hibernation as expected, and what looked like a good bet on draft day turns into the first player to hit the waiver wire once the season begins. If these players were sure bets, we would not be talking about them as sleepers.
One player that many people were high on in 2009 that did not really deliver the fantasy boom that people expected was New Orleans Saints RB Pierre Thomas. Thomas was a little-known running back that came onto people's radars when in Week 17 of the 2007 season, he rushed 20 times for 105 yards and caught 12 passes for 121 yards and scored one touchdown in a 25-20 loss to the Chicago Bears. He followed that up in 2008 by rushing 93 times for 475 yards and six touchdowns from Week 11 to Week 16.
Many people thought he was going to emerge as a 1,000-yard to 1,200-yard back in 2009 and had him pegged as a potential top 15 running back.
Thomas' 2009 season just did not get off to a good start. He sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee in an exhibition game against the Houston Texans. That caused him to miss the season opener and see limited action in the Saints' second game. He than became trapped in a running back by committee problem that saw Mike Bell and Reggie Bush split time with him.
He had a nice stretch from Week Three to Week 12, where he rushed 116 times for 648 yards and five touchdowns, before having six or fewer carries in three of the next four games. Those were hardly the numbers people expected, and the problem was consistency; he had 126 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns against the Buffalo Bills, but too many weeks he had 60 yards rushing and no touchdowns.
This year could be different for Thomas, and he may finally realize those lofty expectations that people had for him in 2009.
First, he turns 26 in December and has only 328 career carries, which means he is relatively young and still could have a breakout season.
Second, Bush is probably going to have to renegotiate his $8 million contract; otherwise he will probably be on a different team in 2010. It would help more if Bell were on a different team in 2010, as Bell and Thomas have the same role, but regardless of how it shakes out, one fewer body in the backfield is going to give Thomas more touches.
Finally, teams are still going to have to gear their efforts toward stopping Super Bowl MVP QB Drew Brees, which means that Thomas is not going to be seeing a lot of eight-man fronts. If Thomas works hard this offseason and stays healthy, he could very have a larger role in 2010, even if the other two backs stay there.
Thomas was still the 20th-ranked running back in standard scoring leagues in 2009, but I think that ranking overstates how he performed most weeks last year. We currently have him ranked 24th.
While I would not recommend taking him as your first or second running back yet, I also think people are going to be down on him from last year and will allow him to slip further than he actually should. He would have great value in the sixth round as a No. 3 running back and may slide further because of his 2009 season.
It is impossible to be a top-tier fantasy running back with 150 carries. If he is going to go from a perennial sleeper to consistent fantasy starter, the Saints are going to have to show the same faith in Thomas that fantasy Owners have had in him the last couple of seasons. I think this may finally be the year that Thomas is an every-week fantasy starter.
By Derek Lofland, analyst at Fantasy Football Maniaxs