It still counts against the Raiders.
This is the final (for now) list of sleepers for every team in the NFL. I've gone through every division and today we'll do the last one, the NFC West.
It wasn't long ago that the NFC West was the NFC Worst, and was that way for a long time, but it appears that the AFC West took that title last year. Every team, including the Chiefs who got off to a very bad start, was in contention towards the end of the season until even Tim Tebow can be the quarterback of a division-winning team. Maybe this year, the NFC West will once again fall to the bottom though. This seems to be a defense-laden division, and there may not be a whole lot of fantasy stars. But in the midst of all of that, you can expect some sleeper surprises. Let's try to identify a couple and wrap up these sleeper lists.
Frank Gore is now 29 and despite the fact that he was an injury mess at the University of Miami, Gore has managed to stay relatively healthy throughout his career in the NFL. There's little reason to believe that Gore will be injured this year based on any "injury history" but the fact remains that this is a dangerous game and running back is a dangerous position. Gore is just getting up there in age for his position and it wouldn't be surprising to see him carry a lighter load this year or miss a few games to injury.
That's where Hunter can become very valuable.
When given increased playing time at the end of last season, Hunter was very productive. He put up 73 yards and 76 yards respectively in the last two games of the season for 5.3 yards per carry on 28 attempts. He also caught 16 passes in limited duty, just one fewer than Gore but for significantly more yards.
San Francisco did sign Brandon Jacobs, but I don't see him interfering with Hunter as they do different things. If Gore were to go down, I believe that Hunter would be the majority ball carrier. He's a deeper sleeper than most on this list, but Hunter is definitely one to watch.
As for the wide receiver situation, it's muddled. Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Michael Crabtree and A.J. Jenkins will all be competing for the services of... Alex Smith. Is this going to make Smith a super sleeper at QB or will it deflate the value of all those receivers? We have yet to find out, but it's definitely Smith's best entourage of his career. Still, it would be new territory to see Smith and a receiver hook up for major yardage. Hold until you know which of those guys might step out of the fray.
I try to keep high profile rookies off of this list, but maybe Floyd is an exception. Maybe because the Cards have questions at quarterback and we know that Larry Fitzgerald is going to be the solid number one.
But Floyd is being seen far back in a deep pool of receivers, but there's a chance that he could exceed expectations and become a WR3 or better as a rookie. It seems to me that in recent years as the league rules have adjusted and passing is become more and more prevalent, the learning curve for rookie receivers has softened. As Fitzgerald draws more attention to his side, Floyd will see more opportunities.
I saw Floyd as the top receiver available in the 2012 draft and the Cardinals grabbed him at 14 to appease Larry and probably because they really like what he can do. He's 6'3", 220 lb, and runs a sub 4.50 40-yard dash. He caught 179 passes and 21 touchdowns over his final two years at Notre Dame and set the school record for catches in a season with 100.
Those sure hands and good speed could put him in line to have a very productive rookie season, but you can get him at a non-starter fantasy price. Definite sleeper tag deserved here.
And just like that we transition to Floyd's former Notre Dame roommate and the guy that previously held the receptions record at Notre Dame, Mr. Golden Tate.
Tate flashed the ability that prompted Seattle to draft him in the second round in 2010 early, but could never stay consistent or earn himself more reps. He got lost in the shuffle and didn't wind up back into more playing time until injuries opened up the door in 2011. Consistency still an issue, Tate ended up with 35 catches for 382 yards, but as a fan that watches all of the Seahawks games, I can tell you that he made some plays that simply made me say "Wow." It explains why Seattle was once so high on this guy.
It's not uncommon for a receiver to not figure it out until after two years. Sometimes, in the case of Brandon Lloyd (another receiver that could make highlight catches but was totally inconsistent) it takes much longer than that. But the release of Mike Williams is going to open the door for a competition between Tate and Kris Durham to line up as starter opposite Sidney Rice. The winner of that battle could be in line for a productive season.
I believe that Tate will win that battle. I believe he'll have the most productive season of his career. Because he hasn't done much at this point, I don't even believe you have to draft him unless your league is very deep. But by the end of the year, I believe he'll be on a lot more rosters.
Rams Defense, Defense, Rams
I dare not touch the Rams offense until they've proven something. They've got a lot of receivers that I kind of like but none who have proven anything on a consistent level or proven to be a number one. They also haven't proven they can protect Sam Bradford. The defense however, looks interesting.
Chris Long is coming into his own as a defensive end and racked up 13 sacks last year. The Rams drafted Michael Brockers to assist on the inside in the first round. Robert Quinn had five sacks a year ago in limited duty and was only 21. The defensive line is looking very solid and they also added Kendall Langford in free agency.
The linebacker group is a work in progress but led by a solid tackler in James Laurinaitis.
The biggest improvement could come in the secondary where they've added Cortland Finnegan as one of the top free agents in the NFL and Janoris Jenkins in the draft. Jeff Fisher could have this group ready to contend on defense, grab a few sacks and a few interceptions and they could be a sneaky play against a weaker offense.
Their main issue will be how often their own offense leaves them a short field to defend.... and that could be a real problem.