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More Sleepers

Here is another discussion regarding potential sleepers. Some of these names appeared on my previous list of 2009 sleepers, but some of them are new. Either way, here are some guys to keep your eyes on during the preseason and during the later rounds of your fantasy draft.

QB Kyle Orton (DEN): Most of the focus has been on QB Jay Cutler as a result of the offseason swap of the two QBs, but I think Orton could benefit the most. Orton was actually playing fairly well last year before an ankle injury derailed his season. And now he is in Denver, with a capable stable of RBs, WR Brandon Marshall and WR Eddie Royal as his main targets on the outside, and a coach who loves to throw the ball. The system is set up very well for Orton, who does not have great arm strength, but is pretty accurate. He is going pretty late in most drafts, but should end up out-performing his draft position by quite a bit.

RB James Davis: He should be the top backup to RB Jamal Lewis in Cleveland. And Lewis has seemingly been on his last legs for a couple years. I would not be surprised to see Lewis give way to Davis as the season progresses. It is also worth noting that Davis broke all of Lewis’ high school rushing records.

RB Andre Brown (NYG): Most people assume that RB Ahmad Bradshaw will assume the role vacated by RB Derrick Ward and pile up the yards in 2009. However, I do not think Bradshaw is that type of back. In fact, I think Brown has a chance to step in a claim quite a few carries in the NYG’s RB rotation. Also remember that RB Brandon Jacobs has a tendency to suffer nagging injuries.

RB Jamaal Charles (KC): There are rumors abound that RB Larry Johnson will have to fight for his starting spot. Now, this may just be the new coaches forcing the formerly-disgruntled RB to work harder. But it also could be due to the fact that Johnson is apparently not a great fit for new HC Todd Haley’s pass-central offense. Charles is a bit undersized, but has great speed and could excel in a more open offense. Keep an eye on Johnson, though. He reportedly showed up at camp weighing 223 pounds, after checking in at over 230 pounds last year. He is said to be in the best shape of his career. Maybe Johnson is the real sleeper here?

RB Ray Rice (BAL): I love Ray Rice in 2009. He is the starting RB on a team that loves to run — they ran more than any other team in the NFL in 2008. Obviously, RB Willis McGahee and RB Le’Ron McClain will steal some carries, but I think Rice will be the main ball carrier, getting around 20 carries per game. He loses some value, because McClain will likely steal the goal line carries, but Rice has solid hands, so he should put up good yardage totals. Either way, he is usually going pretty late in most drafts, so he should easily out-perform his draft position.

WR Robert Meachem (NO): Meachem was very talented coming out of Tennessee, but simply was not able to stay healthy and/or pick up the system thus far. However, coming into the 2009 season, QB Drew Brees has been raving about this kid. Now, normally, this might be shrugged off as a QB talking up a fellow teammate. But when you consider that in 2007, Brees kept talking up a guy by the name of WR Marques Colston, and in 2008, Brees was high on previously unheard of WR Lance Moore, you start to think that maybe you should pay attention. How well Meachem does is anyone’s guess. But with praise like that from Mr. Brees, you best keep him on your radar.

WR Limas Sweed (PIT): He was expected to be a very high draft pick while at the University of Texas, but a wrist injury and some other issues pushed him down on draft day. And then he was nearly invisible as a rookie in Pittsburgh. But rumors out of camp are that Sweed is looking very good and should be in line for the 3rd WR spot behind WR Hines Ward and WR Santonio Holmes. Although there are not a ton of passing yards to go around in Pittsburgh, due to his size, Sweed could develop into a nice redzone target, if nothing else.

WR Dominic Hixon (NYG): A lot of the focus in the preseason has been on rookies WR Hakeem Nicks and WR Ramses Barden. However, I doubt either one of these guys will have an impact in 2009. Instead, the NYGs will make due with guys like Hixon, WR Steve Smith, and WR Mario Manningham. Smith is more of a possession WR, and Manningham is an unknown quantity after being injured for most of 2008. Hixon, however, showed us last year that he has some talent, and should step into the role of the #1 WR this year. The Giants run the ball a ton, so do not expect Fitzgerald-like numbers. But he is worth taking late in your draft, probably even after someone else takes Nicks.

WR Earl Bennett (CHI): Count me among the people who do not believe WR Devin Hester is a legitimate #1 WR in the NFL. Couple that with the lack of other WR options in Chicago, and all of a sudden second-year WR Earl Bennett becomes intriguing, especially considering that he and QB Jay Cutler used to be college teammates. Will we see a reprise of the Jay and Earl Show in Chicago?

WR Josh Morgan (SF): I still like Morgan. I liked him last year. And despite the presence of WR Michael Crabtree (assuming he actually plays in 2009), I still like him this year. Obviously, the QB situation in SF is less than desirable. But that does not mean Morgan will not put up decent numbers. Remember, he had a TD catch in every game he started in 08. Which shows that the guy can get open. He is worth taking late for depth and could turn into a solid WR3.

TE Kevin Boss (NYG): Boss had a solid rookie campaign and is reported to have developed a very good chemistry with QB Eli Manning so far in camp. Which is good, because I think Eli will be looking to his TE a lot in 2009. Although I do think Hixon is a sleeper at WR, I do not expect the Giants’ WRs as a group to be all that dangerous. Which means that Eli will have to look to his TE a lot.

Packers Defense: Usually I would not bother to even include a defense on a list like this. But I think the Packers are going to be much better on defense this year than in 2008. They have a very good secondary, an improved defensive line, and they are switching to the 3-4, which should help them get more pressure on the QB. Are they going to be as good as the Ravens or Steelers? No. But if you wait until the very end of your draft to get a defense (like I do), I think they are a great value.

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