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'The NFL Beat': Fantasy Sleeper Cells

Certain NFL sleepers are plotting acts of fantasy terror

By Alex Dunlap, 4:47PM, Mon. Aug. 27, 2012

'The NFL Beat': Fantasy Sleeper Cells

Welcome back to fantasy season. The geek in the cube next to yours is pumped. He tells you all about his strategies while eating his microwaved fish leftover lunch. The entire office smells like his plan for the draft. Fishy at best, ridiculous at worst.

This should be your overall strategy. Do not buy a stupid, outdated magazine with your money. Follow this strategy, and I'll see you in the playoffs.

I love this time of year. Everyone is having their drafts and the question I seem to be asked most frequently is who are this year's sleepers? The guys you can get later in your 2012 fantasy draft who represent the most value and upside.

I will list them here. This is "The NFL Beat" and this is a sting operation. I have identified numerous sleeper cells, planning various fantasy terror plots. They are often hidden in the middle and late rounds of 2012 fantasy football drafts.

They are currently acting is if if they are normal, everyday picks, but make no mistake, they are highly volatile and explosive. The acts they are planning on carrying out this season, unbeknownst to many, are heinous and violent in nature:

Devery Henderson, Wide Receiver, Saints
Where you can draft him: 14th Round (12-team leagues)
In the recent past, choosing between Robert Meachem and Henderson was a weekly, near-waiver wire level transaction that should have only occurred out of desperation. Even with as much as the Saints sling the ball around, it was hard to count on any position to put up consistent receiving numbers other than the tight end.

Yes, I am saying Marques Colston is not a dependable fantasy WR. To draft Colston in the fourth round of 12-team leagues this season is not advised. I will take the value here. Henderson lines up opposite Colston and is the outright starter in an aerial attack offense that actually utilizes the Z more than you would think.

With Meachem now gone, the Saints WR corp is firmly set as Colston at the X, Henderson at the Z, and Lance Moore at the Y (slot). The Z receiving position put up a combined 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns in 2011. Henderson is a great player who is standing in that spot all by himself now.

The upside is tangible and clear in this situation. If you are reading this, you should own Henderson this season given his current draft position. He can practically be your last pick before defense and kickers and is likely to put up fantasy WR3 numbers with upside for high-end WR2 production.

Greg Olsen, Tight End, Panthers
Where you can draft him: 14th Round (12-team leagues)
Jeremy Shockey is gone in Carolina, leaving all of the fantasy tight end action going now solely to a dynamic, pass-catching TE in Olsen. He was traded to Carolina after the hiring of Mike Martz as offensive coordinator by the Chicago Bears. Martz does not use a tight end in the passing game, which is odd considering he used to play the position.

The Chicago offense was stuck in the "Greatest Show on Turf" era from the early 2000s, and refused to adapt to the new, tight end-centric nature of matchup exploitation of linebackers, safeties, and slower, cover-two corners that has become en vogue in the recent years.

Olsen had the 13th-most targets of any NFL TE in 2011 with 89. When you add in Shockey's 62 targets, that adds up to QB Cam Newton targeting TEs 151 times in 2011. The league's most targeted TE in 2011 was Jimmy Graham with 149. Olsen represents excellent value as a backup TE in 2012 redraft leagues who could end up starting for you many weeks.

In the best case scenario, grab a Top 5 TE early, and then hope that with Olsen's emergence on your bench, that you will be able to trade away the player with more name value for an upgrade at another position while rolling with Olsen manning your roster spot at TE.

Peyton Hillis, Running Back, Chiefs
Where you can draft him: 7th or 8th Round (12-team leagues)
How soon we forget the monster season that Hillis had in 2010 before being cursed by earning a spot on the cover of Madden. He was an absolute monster, and he was being coached by the guy who is coaching him now. OC Brian Daboll joins the Chiefs in his third stop in so many years via Cleveland then Miami.

Hillis acted a fool last season and pretended to be hurt because the Browns were awful and he wanted to be a crybaby diva about his contract. Now, he has been brought on board alongside a dynamic playmaker in Jamaal Charles who is coming off of season-ending ACL surgery in 2011.

If we have learned one thing, it is that these ACL injuries in RBs and WRs take two years to recover from fully. Charles has looked great, but Hillis is where I see the real fantasy terror occurring, plus you can get him four rounds later than Charles.

He's a receiving threat out of the backfield and an absolutely one of a kind physical, gifted runner. They will utilize Charles, but they will control the ball with Hillis. The preseason has showed us this so far, and it is hard to anticipate it changing drastically. Hillis represents the much greater value of the running back tandem in Kansas City.

Reggie Wayne, Wide Receiver, Colts
Where you can draft him: 9th Round (12-team leagues)
Wayne finds himself in an unfamiliar situation. The now-32-year-old Wayne is the featured attraction in Indianapolis, a role he is embracing. Wayne is now the veteran leader of an offense that is being steered by a rookie QB in Andrew Luck who already reminds me of Joe Montana.

It's his rhythm, pacing, composure, and touch. It screams "Montana" to me. They will be throwing the ball, and with a very young WR corps who are all said to be learning from Wayne, I believe it makes for a situation that many are undervaluing.

Austin Collie is out for who knows long with (seemingly) his 50th concussion. They take those seriously now, and he gets them too often. Luck was supposed to come in and have an excellent rapport with former Stanford teammate TE Coby Fleener, but we haven't got to see too much of that yet. Wayne remains the No. 1 option on an offense that will most certainly be airing the ball out, likely when playing from behind.

Pierre Thomas, Running Back, Saints
Where you can draft him: 10th Round (12-team leagues)
There is a running back log jam in New Orleans that will scare many of your leaguemates away from any Saints runner besides Darren Sproles. Sproles operates in his own way, and his production can be easily accounted for and predicted.

Sproles will serve as an extension of the run in the screen game, and will put up Top 10 numbers in PPR, but he'll only account for approximately 35% of the touches. The remaining 65% seems to be heavily tilted in Pierre Thomas' direction from all of our observations and charting of Saints practice early in August.

Michael Bush, Running Back, Bears
Where you can draft him: 8th Round (12-team leagues)
Bears new OC Mike Tice says he wants both Matt Forte and Bush to rush for more than 1,000 yards this season.

Bush was acquired as a free agent by the Bears after serving as the league's best backup running back, playing lights out in filling in for the always-injured Darren McFadden.

If you have watched the Bears this preseason, you likely have noticed that Bush actually looks like the better running back than Forte, and gets all of the goal-line touches.

What people forget about Bush is that just because he is big and sturdy does not mean he is not versatile. He is a great catcher out of the backfield and was the best RB in the league last season as a pass protector.

Forte is being drafted far too early in 2012 drafts. Taking Forte in the second round as compared to the eighth round average draft position where Bush can be had is something I can simply not get on board with. I will own Bush in many of my personal leagues this season if his draft position stays the same.

Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks
Where you can draft him: 14th Round (12-team leagues)
This is contingent upon Wilson winning the starting job, which he seems in the driver seat to do, but even if he doesn't, all you have wasted is your last pick in the draft. [Editor's note: Wilson has won the starting job in Seattle.] What you might turn out getting is a guy who is very capable of getting you a solid 15 fantasy points a week with his feet and big arm.

I watched every one of Wilson's throws at the Senior Bowl, and have interviewed him numerous times during draft season. His height (or lack thereof), delivery, arm strength, and most importantly, leadership ability and maturity remind me of a more mobile Drew Brees, and I believe is no doubt the future of the Seahawks franchise.

Draft Wilson as your backup QB in every league that you can with your last pick. If it doesn't pan out, you can always drop him for another QB that would have been available there anyway, with nowhere near the upside of Wilson.

[Alex Dunlap (follow On Twitter) is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America, the host of RosterWatch on ESPN Radio, founder of Rosterwatch.com, and NFL Columnist for Bleacher Report.]

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