Fantasy Football is hardly a fantasy anymore. In fact, the NFL kicks off in like two months if you think about it just right... (Its almost July and the season is in September. Yep, two months!)
I continue my look around the NFL for the leagues best under-valued players in fantasy for this upcoming season by checking in with the NFC North. The Packers and Lions offense will give defenses night terrors again this season, but don't count out the Bears who have a new offensive coordinator and some interesting new weapons.
Feel free to count out the Vikings.
Lets just get this party started with the fastest guy on the league's best offense:
Randall Cobb, WR, Packers
A second round pick in 2011, Cobb wasted no time making headlines after he scored two touchdowns (one receiving, one kick return) on national television in the NFL opening game against the Saints in a 42-34 Green Bay win. I had tabbed Cobb as a deep sleeper pre-season but that opening performance probably set the bar too high for anyone that actually picked him up off of a one game performance.
Cobb would only score one more touchdown all year, an 80-yard punt return against Minnesota in week 10. He did have 941 total yards on kick returns and 295 yards on punts, but was an afterthought of a crowded passing game. Cobb managed a career-high 75 yards on two catches against the Broncos, but had less than 30 yards receiving ten times. So why will this year be any different?
Well, I don't know that it will but it's hard to find many sleepers on this team. Offensively, Green Bay will be almost identical. They lost center Scott Wells to free agency and have not re-signed running back Ryan Grant, but you'll see mostly the same names putting up numbers in 2012. James Starks should get extra carries but even then, Grant and Starks combined for 3 rushing scores last year anyway. This team is not going to stop passing.
The Packers consistently use high picks on receivers and so far that has mostly worked out for them. Jordy Nelson was a second round pick and broke out in his fourth season. Greg Jennings was a second round pick and broke out in his second season. James Jones was a third round pick and has never really broken out. So what will become of Cobb?
It's impossible to know for sure but I like the fact that he's a talented kick and punt returner, showing that he has skills with the ball in his hands and a field in front of him. I like the fact that he plays with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Also, Donald Driver is 37 and reportedly "on the bubble." Other reports also have James Jones on the trading block.
Steam is building for Cobb as a breakout player in 2012 and as of yet, I have little reason to doubt it especially if Jones and/or Driver are gone. If that's the case, Cobb will be looking at a lot more than a one-week flash in the pan this season.
Jahvid Best, RB, Lions
His talent is unquestionable. I'm sure that the Lions realize that they were a significantly better team with him: 5-1 with Best and 5-6 with out him last year. No surprise that he's expected to carry a heavy workload this season and should be poised for a major breakout if he can manage to keep his head (or other body parts) from getting damaged again.
I pegged Best as one of the major breakouts before last season, grabbing him wherever I could, and thought he could be in line for 2,000 total yards. He had 677 total yards in six games last year before a concussion that ended up sidelining him for the rest of the year. I dropped him with a heavy heart when it was FINALLY announced he wasn't returning. But we can't go into this season worried that he'll be getting hurt again because Best still has all the talent in the world to be a 2,000 total-yard back in one of the league's best offenses.
Mikel Leshoure missed all of last year and is facing a two-game suspension. Kevin Smith was electric when he started last year and is only 26, but is the real injury prone running back on this roster.
Leshoure, Smith, and Titus Young are all good bets for deeper sleepers than Best, but I fully believe that he's a top 10 running back that's going to be drafted much later than that.
Jay Cutler, QB, Bears
It would be too easy to sit here and tell you "Michael Bush is a sleeper!" but it would also be a lie. Matt Forte is holding out. Everybody knows that Forte is holding out. So Forte is going to slip and Bush is going to rise. Then week one will come around and Forte will be starting and Bush will be a backup and he'll have been drafted far too soon if that's the case.
Forte is the unquestioned starter when he's healthy and under contract and he's also one of the best backs in the league. Bush is a player you definitely draft because he could have great value when he starts, but he's just not the starter and he'll probably be drafted too high. Which leaves me to Cutler, one of the most underrated players in the NFL.
I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I like the "personality" of Jay Cutler that has been shown on television and in internet articles. Based on what the media says, he seems like a douche. But I'm not playing Fantasy Doucheball, I'm playing fantasy football and when you watch Cutler play, he's good. When he's on his game, he's frickin' great, yet it doesn't seem like many people know that.
Last year, the Bears receivers were Forte (basically, he had 52 catches in 12 games), Johnny Knox, Roy Williams, Devin Hester, Dane Sanzenbacher, and Earl Bennett. All of them are good players in some respect and guys you would like to have somewhere on your roster, but the problem is that none of them are a number one wide receiver. Add a number one and all of a sudden the guys will seem like they are in a much better position.
/computer. please trade two picks for Brandon Marshall.
Okay, now we're talking. How does this receiver group look: Marshall, Knox, Hester, Bennett, Sanzenbacher? Much better right? Now you're going five deep with a much better option at number one, Knox and Bennett as a two, Hester as your deep threat, and Sanzenbacher in wider sets. But wait.. .there's more!
The Bears added Alshon Jefferey in the 2nd round, a player that was once projected as a top 15 pick until weight concerns dropped him to 45. It could turn out to be a major steal for Chicago and Cutler.
And so now, one of the league's top quarterbacks is looking at his best set of weapons to date. He's had Marshall before (and they flourished together) and he's had all of these Bears for a long time, but he's never had them together. If you put these receivers on the field and lineup Forte and Bush behind Cutler, I believe he could be in line for 35+ touchdowns and over 4,500 yards. I have no idea what kind of an offensive coordinator Mike Tice will turn out to be, but he's got to do better than the guy he replaced, Mike Martz.
But even if I was the offensive coordinator, I think I'd have a hard time holding back Cutler and this bunch.
Toby Gerhart, RB, Vikings
Earlier I said that it wouldn't be fair to label Michael Bush as a sleeper because everybody knows the Matt Forte situation but I won't apply that same principal to Toby Gerhart. Everybody knows that Adrian Peterson is unhealthy right now and questionable for the start of the year, and therefore, Gerhart won't go as deep as he possibly should.
Peterson is returning from major injury and is reportedly way ahead of schedule but we don't mess around with knee injuries. There's still a chance that Peterson hits the PUP and misses the first six games, there's a chance he misses zero games, and there's a chance he misses somewhere between 1 and 16 games. Impossible to tell right now. What I can tell is that Toby Gerhart is of the quality of a starting NFL running back and when he gets starts, he'll make the most of it.
Gerhart will never be able to shake the fact that he's white, but that will probably hold him back from being taken quite as seriously as most other NFL running backs. The numbers don't lie though: 68 carries for 369 yards (5.4 yards per carry) over the Vikings last five games last year with 3 touchdowns, all receiving.
He had very limited carries but still managed to be worth nearly 100 total yards per game over those final five games. Given a real workload, he could be a 100-120 yard back per game with a TD and had at backup, whiteboy prices!
The other reason that I picked Gerhart is because Minnesota doesn't have much else to work with. Percy Harvin is one of my favorite players in the NFL but he is not a true number one receiver and the Vikings don't have any other solid options in that respect. So I can't pick Christian Ponder because I'm not sold on Ponder and I'm not at all sold on any non-Harvin receivers. That's even if Harvin is a Viking this season.
The only thing I know for sure right now is that Gerhart could be a future NFL starter, and his first opportunity could be just around the corner.