Are you adequately prepared for some organized, professional football? I can't hardly believe it but the NFL preseason schedule kicks off in about six weeks with the Cardinals and Saints meeting on August 5th. It's practically here!
I don't think that you should ever hold a fantasy football draft before week three of the preseason (preferably somewhere between 7-10 days before the first regular season game would be fine) but that doesn't mean we can't start getting prepared now. Fantasy football is right around the corner and I'm going to kick my own 2012 fantasy football articles season off with a look at some sleepers I see in the NFC East. I'll try to identify at least one player per all 32 teams by the end of it.
So let's get started with the defending champs. The New York Giants:
It's been a rough career for Hixon but if he can finally catch a lucky break, I think he still shows great potential. Hixon tore his ACL during practice before the 2010 season and missed the whole year. He returned and then tore his ACL again in the second week of the season in 2011. Those injuries helped open up the door for undrafted free agent Victor Cruz, who has become a fantasy superstar, but that doesn't mean that Hixon's opportunities are over.
Mario Manningham signed a deal with the San Francisco 49ers, giving Eli Manning one less mouth to feed and someone is going to come after that teet. The Giants drafted Rueben Randle in the second round of the draft, but it's hard to ever get a good grasp on what a rookie wide receiver will do. Sure, it's hard to believe that Hixon will make his third comeback and make it count, but that's why this is a sleeper list. Hixon is definitely more of a sleeper than Randle but I also believe that he's got a lot of talent and potential.
Hakeem Nicks and Cruz are the obvious 1-2 but injuries and opportunities happen all the time in the NFL. Did you ever think that Cruz would get over 1,000 more yards than Manningham?
I don't think that at this point Hixon is even someone you consider drafting but I'm going to keep a keen eye on him. He had 4 catches for 102 yards and a touchdown in his first career start back in 2008 and was moderately successful in replacement of Plaxico Burress when called upon.
I'm always intrigued by returners-turned-actual-receivers and Hixon has demonstrated above-average returning abilities in his career and I think he can do great things in open space when given a chance.
I'm not sold on RB David Wilson, the Giants first round pick, only because its the Giants (they pass the ball and split the carries) and I think that Hixon and Randle will fight for chances until somebody ultimately wins. As I said, I just don't trust rookie wide receivers in a one-year league format.
In an ideal world for Dallas, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant would form to make one of the league's best wide receiver tandems in the NFL. They certainly would appear on paper to be great complements to one another when lining up on opposite sides of the field, but it hasn't yet worked out that way.
Not only did Austin miss six games of 2011, but he had 29 catches for 346 yards over his final eight games of the season. Meanwhile Bryant, despite perhaps being one of the most talented receivers in the league, has yet to explode as a consistent force for fantasy owners. He had 928 yards and nine touchdowns last year but never topped 90 yards in a single game once.
He was a consistent 6-10 points but he didn't provide a single major scoring outburst.
Instead it was Laurent Robinson that became the number one receiver that Dallas had been looking for all along. And now he's gone to be a Jacksonville Jaguar.
But Tony Romo is a fairly prolific passer so the yards have to go somewhere and we can't entirely count on Austin and Bryant to provide them (of course Jason Witten will get his share) just like we didn't know that Robinson would be one of the best pickups of 2012. Where will the yards go?
Currently, Dallas is trying out a number of players like 5th round pick Danny Coale and second-year player Dwayne Harris but the one with the most experience right now is Kevin Ogletree. It almost feels like Ogletree is a long-time vet but he's only 24 and entering his fourth season with Dallas. He played in a career-high 14 games last season and had 15 catches for 164 yards but more than anything I'm looking towards his experience as reason why Ogletree may be the first to get additional reps if and/or when Austin or Bryant get hurt.
The Cowboys are basically entering the season with no other experience behind those two.
Ogletree is seen as the favorite for the number three gig, but most Cowboys fans are growing tired of waiting for him to develop.
In a vacuum, Bryce Brown is the ideal running back. He's got the size, speed, and strength to be a number one back on most teams and provide elite fantasy value. That's the kind of kid that was ranked as the top prospect in the nation by many coming out of high school.
But as highly as he rates on physical tools, he confounds and frustrates on the mental. Brown bounced around from his verbal commitment to Miami to his one-year stints at Tennessee and Kansas State before just going ahead and entering the draft this season, all of which caused him to slip to the seventh round and picked up by the Eagles, one of those teams in the NFL that doesn't seem to care much about "commitment issues." Sure, the Eagles would be the ideal girlfriend, but when is completely ignoring character concerns ever going to pay off?
Maybe with Brown?
He ran a reported 4.37 40-yard-dash at his size of 6', 220 pounds. The talent is there, the athleticism is there, the potential is there but is Brown going to ask for a transfer after week four and then what's he going to do when he finds out you can't transfer in the NFL?
On the other hand, opportunities could be there. Running back is one of the league's toughest positions and so LeSean McCoy isn't always going to be safe. Ronnie Brown is gone so players like Brown, Dion Lewis (another sleeper) and undrafted free agent Chris Polk (also a sleeper but carries the injury tag) will be fighting for carries. LeGarrette Blount and Arian Foster were also players that fell out of the draft for mostly non-football issues and have gone on to excel in the league, but they also had larger bodies of work in college. Brown quit the team after not getting much playing time after three games, and teammates called him "overrated."
If Brown can make this team, maybe a paycheck and being surrounded by veterans will help him right the ship like it did for Foster. Or maybe he'll just flame out like Maurice Clarett. Only time will tell.
I wasn't sure if I should go "Deep" here with the sleeper or talk about a player like Roy Helu or Robert Griffin III, both players I expect to outplay their draft position on fantasy day. However, I'm going again with a guy that won't be drafted at all.
Hankerson was a 3rd round pick of the Redskins in 2011 and he made his season debut in week six against the Panthers (no catches) and then had his first career catch in week seven, a 23-yard grab. He made his first career start the next week and had 4 catches for 34 yards and a two-point conversion against the 49ers, the NFL's top defense.
In the next week, against the Dolphins, Hankerson had 8 catches for 106 yards. Not bad for a third-round rookie.
However, it would also be his last game of the season after a "subluxation of the right hip and a torn labrum." Hankerson was under physical therapy for three months and had surgery in February. He is expected to make a full recovery and return in late July. If he can fully-fully recover, he could also be a really nice sleeper for this season.
New young quarterback almost always means "new favorite young wide receiver." There's no way to tell who that's going to ultimately be for Griffin, but Hankerson is going to fight for his shot. Jabar Gaffney led this team in receiving last year and left to go play for the Patriots. Santana Moss is 33 and his skills seem to be diminishing fast.
It'll come down to Moss, Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, Anthony Armstrong, and Hankerson as guys that are fighting for catches. I like Garcon a lot but I don't see anything else interesting there with the exception of Hankerson and I think that Griffin is going to be throwing it a lot more than you might expect. Could Hankerson be "his guy" by the time September rolls around?
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