Fantasy football championships routinely are won by identifying the correct sleeper targets. You won't always be right, and mitigating the damage is important when you aren't. In other words, avoid being the overzealous owner who reaches by four rounds to grab a player based on the promise of what he might do. That doesn't mean you cannot select a sleeper earlier than what "the book" says but understand you are removing some of the value gained if you do. Smart drafting is all about relative value.
The following players have varying degrees of sleeper potential attributed to them, and some of them are simply undervalued. This list will evolve as the offseason progresses, so be sure to check back for additions and subtractions.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
Already listed in our "Breakout Players" article, Tannehill is in an awesome situation to shine. He is barely being selected as a QB2 in many leagues, nevertheless I expect top-12 results. Despite being sacked a whopping 58 times in 2013, Tannehill improved his accuracy (60.4 percent), touchdowns per completion (14.79), and rating (81.7). Rating doesn't matter directly for fantasy purposes, but it lends to the bigger picture. A new offensive coordinator -- Bill Lazor -- comes from Philly with his high-flying vertical attack, which will benefit from an improved offensive line. This system suits RB Lamar Miller better, and wideout Mike Wallace should feel right at home in a DeSean Jackson-like role. It may not always be pretty, but you can expect nearly 4,200 yards and at least 30 total touchdowns from Tannehill in Year 3.
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
Rebound candidate? Yeah, that applies, too. I'm going with sleeper, because he has the potential to be a top-five passer in 2014. Offensive-minded head coach Jay Gruden will give Griffin more freedom at the line of scrimmage, and the athletic passer is 100 percent healthy entering the season. He has a new toy in wide receiver DeSean Jackson, and tight end Jordan Reed is a blossoming threat. RG3's schedule is awesome. He won't run as much as in his rookie year, but Griffin still can contribute worthy ground stats that enhance his value.
Matt Schaub, Oakland Raiders
Rookie quarterback Derek Carr is already making noise, but even if he eventually takes over the starting gig this season, Schaub was a low-risk investment. The Raiders have a better offensive line, receiving corps, backfield and defense, in theory. You can't entirely forget last year happened for Schaub, but diminish the bad, because luck was not on his side most of the year, and Houston was generally a mess. He's a reasonable No. 2 fantasy passer, more so if you have a premier QB1.
Josh McCown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sleeper? Probably not, by definition, anyway. He had a career season in 2013 and spun that into a starting gig for Lovie Smith in Tampa. Undervalued? That's more like it. Production could be inconsistent, and matchups against Carolina and St. Louis to begin the year won't help his cause. It gets easier, though, with tilts at the Atlanta Falcons, Pittsburgh Steelers, and New Orleans Saints -- a good three-game barometer for his mettle. McCown's sked gets much easier, facing the Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta again, Washington Redskins, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, as the year wears on. McCown comes off the board near the tail end of standard drafts, yet he could produce numbers more closely in line with the tail end of the starting crop.
EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills
Manuel has a year of experience, so the game should slow down for him in this pass-friendly system. He has respectable weapons and a potentially lethal running game to rely on. You could do worse as a flier QB2 to back up an elite No. 1.
Geno Smith, New York Jets
Yes, he was pretty bad last year, but he wasn't that bad. The team around him has improved in a big way, including an upgraded line, backfield, and cast of receivers. Michael Vick doesn't appear to be a threat to his job, and Smith could take a huge step in Year 2, especially if he was humbled at all. Flier QB2 or QB3 in deep leagues.
About Cory J. Bonini
Cory is KFFL's General Manager. In late 2002, he joined the KFFL staff as a research analyst and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1996. A member of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, as well as Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Bonini has been featured in print, on radio and on scores of websites. Bonini co-hosted Big Lead Sports on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio from 2011 to 2012.
Bonini was recognized with the 2010 Best Article in Print Award from the FSWA and was a finalist for the same award in 2011. In '11, he finished first overall in the FSWA NFL experts challenge that featured 60 of the industry's best competitors.
Don't miss these great reports....