I've been reading Mark Yost's "Tailgating, Sacks, and Salary Caps: How the NFL Became the Most Successful League in History" and it's got my mind completely filled with football. From the league's shared revenue structure to its salary cap format to the impact fantasy football has had on the league, every aspect of the business is broken down in a way that doesn't require a masters degree in economics to understand. I love it and look forward to reading more tomorrow.
I feel like taking a little break from the divisional value picks, so I'm gonna throw out a few sleepers (in no particular order) for you to watch out for this season. I'll try to keep my value picks out of those post, but there are a few players that I can't help but include here. Enjoy!
Zach Miller, TE, Oakland Raiders:
Ever since being drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 2007, TE Zach Miller has been QB JaMarcus Russell's most reliable receiver. Part of the reason for this has been a lack of talent at the wide receiver position, but Miller deserves a great deal of credit. He's made a successful transition from Arizona State to the pros by showing up to the team's facility and working his tail off every day. With WR Chaz Schilens sidelined by a foot injury that should keep him out until week 3 or 4, Miller will again be asked to be Russell's go-to receiver. Aside from being the best pass catcher on the roster (with the exception of the injured Schilens), Miller has the improvement of Russell working in his favor. Criticized in the past for being erratic with his throws, JR has increased his accuracy in short-to-mid range throws, especially over the middle where Miller does his damage. I have Zach as my 6th ranked tight end this year, but he doesn't need to be drafted as such (you can probably wait until Greg Olsen, Owen Daniels, and Chris Cooley are off the board). With Tom Cable showing a committment to throwing the ball more in 2009, I expect Miller's impressive 2008 numbers to increase in 2009. Look for Miller to post a line of 60-65 receptions for 820 yards and 4-6 touchdowns this year.
Percy Harvin, WR, Minnesota Vikings:
I know, I know. Rookie wide receivers rarely make an impact right away in the NFL. The ones that do, however, are usually ones with speed (i.e. DeSean Jackson and Randy Moss). Well, Harvin has more than enough speed to excel at the next level. He proved how explosive he can be during his time at Florida and the Vikings plan on getting full use out of their 1st round draft pick in his rookie season. According to rotoworld.com, Minnesota has about 20 plays designed specifically to get the ball into Harvin's hands. True, the quarterback situation is a little shaky (Favre's arm will probably fall off sometime around mid-season and Tavaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels aren't quite starting-caliber QBs), but that's all the more reason to get the ball quickly into Harvin's hands and let him make plays. Further, the presence of RB Adrian Peterson and WR Bernard Berrian will prevent teams from doubling Harvin. I'm feeling a DeSean Jackson-like season for Harvin, except with a few more touchdowns. My prediction: 55 receptions, 920 yards, and 4 touchdowns. I also think he's going to return at least one kick for a touchdown this year and maybe, just maybe, rush for one either out of the wildcat or on a reverse.
Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver Broncos:
There are two other capable running backs in Denver (Correll Buckhalte and LaMont Jordan) but Moreno is going to get a chance to be the guy--the Broncos didn't take him 13th overall to maybe play him, maybe not. Moreno is the type of prospect that won't just take the opportunity and run with it, he'll sprint with it. Sure, Mike Shanahan is gone (the guy could make me a 1,000 yard back) and remains to be seen how new head coach Josh McDaniels will use his running backs (hopefully he doesn't trade them all away), but the fact is that the Broncos are a team in transition and they need to re-build through the draft (especially after trading Cutler). I don't have any sources within the organization, but I assume the front office and coaching staff are smart enough to realize that Moreno has to be the focal point of their offense for years to come. He'll be running behind a solid offensive line and can catch the ball out of the backfield. His stock has dropped a bit due to 1) his knee injury and 2) the uncertainty of how much he'll be used, but I believe that just makes him a more valuable selection in fantasy drafts because he's going to get an opportunity this season and he's going to make the most of it.
Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens:
From what I've read, the secret is out, but I'm including Rice in this post for those of you who haven't heard of him and for those of you who believe that jive about a committee in Baltimore. While fellow RB Willis McGahee will see some action this year, I don't think it'll be enough to take away from Rice's production. If anything, it'll just keep Ray Ray fresh and healthy throughout the season. Rice will get his touches (rushing and receiving) and has shown that he can produce given the opportunity. I read recently that McGahee may have the inside track at goaline touches, which if true would definitely hurt Rice's fantasy impact, but I still think Rice will help fantasy owners (especially in PPR leagues) with his ability to catch the football. He'll get close to 1,500 total yards and 5-7 touchdowns this season, which would be solid production given his 4th-5th round ADP. I'd take him in the 3rd-4th round in keeper leagues because McGahee is gone after this season, opening the door for Rice for years to come.
Anthony Gonzalez, WR, Indianapolis Colts:
A-Gon his entering his 3rd year in the NFL and is in the perfect situation for a breakout season. As most fantasy gurus already know and the rest of you will soon come to find out, talented wide receivers tend to flourish in their 3rd year in the league. Gonzalez caught 72% of the passes thrown to him in 2008 and just over 71% in 2007 (his rookie year), solid marks that should improve as he grows more and more accustomed with the Colts' system and Peyton Manning. Now that WR Marvin Harrison is gone, Gonzalez is the starter across from Reggie Wayne. Wayne should draw double teams throughout the year and TE Dallas Clark will keep safeties and linebackers occupied, giving Gonzalez an opportunity to pick apart opposing coverages. For a receiver with hands like himself, Gonzalez will thrive in the Colts' system catching balls from one of, if not THE, most accurate quarterbacks in recent memory, Peyton Manning. No doubt about it, A-Gon is going for over 1,000 yards this season and should see about 5 or 6 touchdowns, making him a nice WR2 option in fantasy leagues.
Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons:
I'm not sure how much of a sleeper he is anymore, but Falcons QB Matt Ryan is on the verge of becoming a dominant NFL quarterback. Judging from his play last season, he clearly understands how to read defenses and make NFL-quality throws. They key for Ryan will be to remain unsatisfied with his progress and continue to improve every time he's on a football field. After listening to interviews with the Boston College alumn, I believe he's got a good enough head on his shoulders to know that there is always room for improvement, especially at the quarterback position. Not only will RB Michael Turner (who keeps defenses honest) and WR Roddy White be returning to the Falcons this year, but Ryan got himself a new toy in veteran and future hall of fame TE Tony Gonzalez to play with. I expect the Falcons' offense to be one of the NFL's best this year, which only bodes well for Ryan's fantasy numbers. He's currently being drafted in the mid-6th round, but he's better than that (people are probably just unwilling to take a chance on him as their starting QB in his second year).
Eddie Royal, WR, Denver Broncos: WR Brandon Marshall's future in Denver seems up in the air at this point. Royal could emerge as the number one receiver in Denver. See my AFC West team-by-team value picks.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, New York Giants: See my NFC East team-by-team value picks.
Leon Washington, RB, New York Jets: See my AFC East team-by-team value picks.