My Much-Too-Late 2011 Fantasy Football Sleepers and Value Picks List

I’ve been a slacker this season when it comes to posting my sleepers and value picks. I tweeted about quite a few of them throughout the offseason and preseason, but if you weren’t following me there, you might have missed out.

On the plus side, the majority of my true sleepers are low on the draft board in 12-team leagues and quite possibly undrafted in 10-team leagues. You still have some time to make these moves, and if these sleepers continue to nap in Week 1, you might be able to buy low on them.

Early Value Picks

It’s probably too late to act on these recommendations, but consider this my not-so-bold predictions for this season. I expect these players to outplay their draft position.

Vincent Jackson

VJax is a highly ranked wide receiver on most boards, but I think he has as good a chance as any to be a top three fantasy wideout this season. I’ve targeted him as my WR1 or a high-level WR2 in all my drafts, and I really like his chemistry with Philip Rivers this preseason. This offense likes to throw the ball, and I expect Jackson to prove himself in another contract year.

As I tweeted…

Brandon Marshall

When you start to look at WR2-level receivers, I like Brandon Marshall quite a bit more this season. Henne held him back last season, but hopefully, Henne’s great ability to audible the offense and the Dolphins’ determination to put points on the board will help Marshall return to his 100+ catch standard this year. He’s got his head on straight, which should, if nothing else, keep him on the field as the Dolphins’ biggest weapon.

I expect him to bounce up the rankings from his current draft stock, and if everything breaks the way it could, he could produce more like a WR1 as a WR2 or WR3.

Mark Ingram

Yes, I buy the hype. I wasn’t even an Ingram fan when he was in college, but now that he’s in the NFL on a team that gets to the goal line as much as the Saints, it’s hard not to like his potential. He could have an early-career Marion Barber-type season of 20+ touchdowns, and the Saints have looked to him at the goal line all preseason.

Here’s to hoping the split between Ingram and Pierre Thomas ends up being slanted towards Ingram in a big way.

Extras: I also really like Darren McFadden to come close to last year’s numbers this season, and he’s falling into the second round in most drafts. I like Peyton Hillis more than most, but I think you should have a “Plan B” rookie to step in for him if he starts to wear down (Mark Ingram qualifies here).

Sleepers

Matthew Stafford

My favorite value pick this season, Stafford’s due for some good luck staying healthy, right? He’s being drafted late as a QB2 in most leagues, but I believe he has the potential to be a top-three quarterback if he stays healthy. His performance in the preseason only reinforced that belief. It’s safest to take him a QB2 and hope for the best, but I have taken him as a late QB1 in at least one league.

Austin Collie

Collie is risky. There’s no escaping the fact that he had some very severe concussions last season. One more could put his season in doubt. But, at least for now, he’s cleared to play, and his efficiency last season before his injury was off the charts.

Collie might miss Week 1 due to a foot injury, but you won’t want to play him Week 1 anyway without Peyton Manning in the lineup for the Colts. When Manning returns to the field, Collie should be a huge factor. While everyone else is considering drafting Sidney Rice, you can draft Collie and expect WR2 numbers at a middle to late round price.

Reggie Bush

This is Reggie Bush’s last real chance to be a lead back in the NFL. Rookie Daniel Thomas hasn’t wowed the coaching staff. Instead, they’ve been busy praising Bush’s work to be the feature back. He’s been effective when given the full load in New Orleans, even if he didn’t hold up all season. What you’re getting if you draft Bush is a quality flex/RB3 with the upside of being a RB2 some weeks.

I wouldn’t draft Bush in the early rounds, but a starting running back with upside on a team that’s determined to become more high-scoring sounds like a perfect bargain to me in the seventh round and on.

Lance Moore

He always had his best games when Bush was out of the lineup, and now Bush is out of New Orleans. An ailing Marques Colston just pushes me more in Moore’s direction. He could catch everything Drew Brees throws past Jimmy Graham.

Bernard Scott

I’m avoid Cedric Benson and drafting Scott this year because I think he’ll finally get his time to shine. Benson’s a workhorse and will probably carry most of the load for the Bengals this season, but led by a rookie quarterback throwing to a rookie wide receiver, the Bengals need as much running support as they can get.

Scott fits the West Coast system Jay Gruden brought to Cincinnati better than Benson, and he’s more explosive than Benson when give the ball. Whether he gets a chance to play over Benson this year or whether he’ll have to wait for Benson to wear down through the course of the season, Scott will see the field this season, and he’ll take advantage of that opportunity as best he can with little else going for the Bengals.

My two favorite true sleepers this season are actually tight ends, but hey, it’s that kind of that season.

Aaron Hernandez

The Patriots loved to use their tight ends last season after they traded away Randy Moss, and I don’t think Chad Ochocinco’s going to change that philosophy. Tom Brady’s going to throw to the open man, and the Patriots’ tight ends are two of their most difficult to cover receiving options. Rob Gronkowski will probably get more touchdowns than Aaron Hernandez, but not many.

Hernandez is a bargain as a late or not-even-drafted tight end. I’ve been bold enough to take him as my starter in one league, but I feel even better about him as a late-round TE2 or as a possible flex fill. He could produce like a WR3 or better.

Lance Kendricks

It’s hard to know what this guy even looks like because none of the fantasy football sites have his picture yet. He’s the St. Louis Rams rookie tight end, and he was a force in the preseason, especially around the end zone.

Josh McDaniels should use him just as the Patriot’s use their tight ends, and with few reliable pass catchers on the roster, the Rams could make him their leading receiver. If Sam Bradford takes the next step this season, it will be because of Lance Kendricks.

Best of all, he’s going undrafted in most leagues. Feel free to pick him up as a TE2 or just as a last-round sleeper. If the bet doesn’t pay off, he won’t cost you much. But I have a feeling it will.

Deep Sleepers

Here are a few you won’t see getting drafted often, but I’m a fan…

Delone Carter

The Colts newly named No. 2 running back could be a huge factor if Addai is injured this season — and possibly even if he’s not if Peyton Manning’s injury forces the Colts to lean on the running game. He’s become the favorite over Donald Brown and could vulture a few touchdowns in Indy this season. The Colts did let last season’s vulture, Javarris James, go in their recent roster cuts.

Danario Alexander

I’m a sucker for Danario. I loved his potential last season when he got a chance to start, and I think he’ll be able to make an impact as a deep threat on a Rams team that just let Donnie Avery walk. He would only be drafted in the deepest of leagues since he’s not even a starter for the Rams right now, but he’s definitely one I’ll have my eye on.

Denarius Moore

I still like Jacoby Ford this season, but Moore is his rookie twin. The coaches and team love him, and if he ends up a starter, I could see stashing him for those games the Raiders will open up the passing game. The offense there is, however, supposed to run through Darren McFadden this year. Derek Hagan‘s another to watch in Oakland if he ends up a starter. Hagan has made plays all preseason.

Victor Cruz

Last year’s preseason darling for the Giants has been quiet this year, but he’s healthy and probable to start in the slot for New York. Eli Manning hasn’t had a good preseason, but if he brings it together (or if there’s an injury to either of the Giants’ starting wideouts), Cruz would definitely be in line for some stellar performances. For now, he’s just one to watch or stash in deeper leagues.

Eric Decker

Decker is a big possession guy that made a lot of noise this preseason for the Broncos. Unfortunately, they’re move to a conservative John Fox offense probably means he’s not worth owning…for now.

How to Tier Your Player Rankings for a Fantasy Football Draft Day Cheatsheet

Tiering your cheatsheet is, in my opinion, the most critical of all draft day preparations you can make before your fantasy football season.

Sure, you can read injury reports all day long. That helps. No one wants to draft a guy on IR. But the real edge to draft a better team than the other obsessive football fans in the room is your ability to identify — quickly and quietly — the most valuable pick left on the board.

In the heat of the moment, we often lose sight of where players have been missed. You’re looking ahead to decide when you can draft a quarterback…or maybe you’re focused on following your RB-RB-RB strategy for the first three rounds. That’ll keep you from noticing a WR1-level fantasy wide receiver falling into the third round, ripe for your picking.

Worst of all, if you don’t have a consolidated rankings sheet, you might miss out on a top-tier wide receiver simply because your wide receiver rankings were underneath your quarterback and running back rankings when it was your pick.

Regardless of the reason, you can only blame yourself for not tiering your cheatsheet if you miss out on draft day bargains.

It’s been a few years since I visited the topic, and in prepping for 2011, I thought it’d be worthwhile to revisit the best way to tier your player rankings  for your fantasy football draft.

Step 1, Start with rankings you like.

I don’t care if you prefer the rankings or projections from ESPN, NFL.com, Fleaflicker, or Yahoo!. What matters is that you’re comfortable with the rankings you choose.

I often prefer to start with aggregate or consensus fantasy football draft rankings from sites like FantasyPros or Fantasy Football Nerd. These give you a good starting point since the outliers are reigned in a bit when averaged together.

But if you prefer to go with the player rankings or projections of just one man and one man only…that’s your call. More power to you. Go you — and him, whoever that analyst or blogger may be.

One note: It will be a huge help if you choose a set of rankings or projections that includes an average points per week or total points for each player, either based on last year’s fantasy football scoring, several years of scoring, or projected points for the current season. If you don’t, you’ll have to do a little more legwork in Step 2.

Step 2, Add an average point per game projection or total points projection to each player in your rankings.

Foreshadowing. See, if you read my note on Step 1, you already know what you’ll need to do for this step.

If you don’t have any kind of average projected points per week or total points projection listed for each player on your current cheatsheet, it’s time to go get that info. You can pull these total or per week averages from sites like FF Today, CBSSports, or ESPN.

If they don’t provide a per game average, you don’t have to drill down to it. But you can just divide the total projected points for the 2011 season by 16. There are, after all, 16 games in an NFL season.

Step 3, Separate your rankings by position, if they aren’t already separated.

Pulling out just the running backs and just the quarterbacks into one ranking column will help you when you start locking in your tiers.

Step 4,  Adjust your rankings to your liking.

Now that you have your list, it’s time to make it your own.

With a points total or average attached to each player, start modifying those points as you see fit. Here’s where your research comes into play.

Upgrade the players who will excel, and downgrade the players that won’t meet expectations.

If your points total or average is based on a player’s performance in previous seasons and especially if it’s based off just the last season, be sure to update it based upon offseason moves and team system adjustments. If you like Matt Hasselbeck more as a Titan than a Seahawk, for example, make sure you adjust his point total accordingly.

Furthermore, if you’re player points are based off projections for the current season, feel free to bump them higher or lower depending on how you feel about players. Just be realistic. Micheal Vick will NOT score 500 points in a single season.

Look at a player’s schedule for the upcoming season, estimate the number of points they could realistically score, total those estimations up, and divide by 16 to get your average. You, of course, don’t have to adjust this for every player, but feel free to do so for the ones you feel are under  or over-projected.

Once you have your average points per game or total points has been adjusted for each player, sort by your projections and then adjust your rankings some more based on rankings alone.

You don’t have to be as rigid with the stat adjustments here. Spot a player a point or so to their per game average or 4-5 total points for a full season projection when you feel like they should move up a couple of spots in the rankings.

But like I explained when talking about adjusting projections, be realistic. Crazy cheatsheets make for a crazy draft.

Step 5, Tier it up!

It’s time to start assigning players to tiers. Look at your average points per game projections and start dividing whenever there’s a significant difference.

For example, you’ll probably section off all the quarterbacks averaging more than 17 points per game in your projections into your first tier. Then you might make those quarterbacks scoring between 17 and 15 points per game your second tier.

Just look for the significant breaks and run down your list. You want to have a few tiers of top players at each position, but leave everyone averaging 5 points or less in the final tier.

Step 6, Align your tiers

So you’ve got your players segmented by position, but how do you know when to take a quarterback in your second quarterback tier over a receiver in your top, or first, wide receiver tier?

Look at the tiers you’ve created and make the tier scoring universal across all positions. So, all of your players projected for 17 points per game or more would make up your top tier.

It’s okay to have one or no players from a particular position in a tier. For example, you might slot Aaron Rodgers as the only player in your top tier if you project him higher than anyone else at more than 19 points per game. That’s fine. Just make the tiers align as best you can.

(Bonus) Step 7, Tag your sleepers

You’re more of less done creating your cheatsheet at this point, but I do like to throw in this tip just for the more savvy drafters out there. Once you’ve got your tiered cheatsheet created, I usually go back and mark the players I feel are “sleepers” or undervalued at their current position.

I know we adjusted our projections and rankings in the previous steps to our liking, but if I feel one player in the third or fourth tier has the potential to be a top-tier player if circumstances break his way — Jonathan Stewart, for example, or Ben Tate — I’ll be sure to mark him as the one I want to look to draft in that tier.

If I like a guy more than a lot of experts, but I can’t reasonably increase his projected points enough to make him a second tier player, I’ll mark him as a priority for the third tier.

As long as you don’t go homer-happy, you can also take a second to tag your favorite players in each tier at this point since part of the fun of fantasy football is drafting the guys you REALLY wanted to draft.

Just make sure you use a different mark for favorite players than your sleepers. You’ll need to know the difference quickly when you’re making your picks.

Time to draft

When you’re finished creating this tiered cheatsheet, you’ll be able to see, in one quick glance, that four players projected to score 15 points per game or better are still available as your pick approaches in the middle of the third round.

And you’ll be able to use your tiers to determine position scarcity. For example, when it’s your pick and you see one second tier wide receiver and six second tier running backs remaining on your cheatsheet, you will be able to jump on that last second tier wide receiver knowing that one of the second tier running backs will make his way back to you.

Rather than panic during a run on tight ends and start looking only at your rankings for that position, you’ll continue to collect value and steal picks at higher tiers for other positions.

The value picks are the entire reason you tier your player rankings, and the tiers work wonders. Just give it a try.

Best Player Available Strategy

As far as your draft strategy goes, tiers work best when you go into your draft targeting the best player available in each round.

Let your need at QB, RB, or WR steer you when there are several players available at the same tier, but when there’s only one or two top-tier running backs left on the board, it’s time to draft them. Don’t let someone else capitalize on those value picks that fall to you.

Of course, you don’t want to draft five quarterbacks just because no one else was jumping on the second tier signal callers, but I might consider taking four receivers in my first six picks if they were the only players remaining in my first or second tier. Assuming your rankings system and projections are solid, you’ll be able to make deals to improve your running back or quarterback struggles once the season begins.

If you want to get tricky, you can also try tiers with the draft strategy I have used since 2009, my “cutting out the middle men from best player available” strategy.

As a final note, I always feel like I don’t have to say this, but just in case there are any first-timers out there, you should always know the scoring and roster rules of your league!

Some leagues restrict the number of quarterbacks you can keep on your roster or the number of running backs you can draft. You’ll need to know this to take full advantage of the best player available strategy without botching your draft.

When you’re ranking players and preparing your cheatsheet, keep in mind your league’s scoring rules and the value placed on each position.

So that’s how you tier your fantasy football draft cheatsheets. Any questions?

Leave ‘em in the comments, and if you’re lucky, someone amazingly intelligent will answer you. Otherwise, you’ll just get me.