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Fantasy Football 2015: Sleepers And Busts at each position

My sleeper and bust at each position for 2015... is it training camp yet?

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  • QB- Bust – Drew Brees

Drew Brees has been called many things in his spectacular 14-year career, so when looking for a way to address "Breesus" all you must do is take your pick. One thing Brees has never been known as is a bust, but I don’t see much upside for the signal caller in 2015. Last year, teams in the NFC South were about as desirable as that lone French fry underneath your car seat, and the New Orleans Saints were no exception. This offseason the Saints sent several coaches to the unemployment office, and most notably said goodbye to red zone threat Jimmy Graham in a trade with the Seahawks. While the Saints picked up center Max Unger in the trade, it still doesn’t bode well for the Drew Brees’s fantasy production in 2015.

I’m no psychic, but when a team trades their number one offensive threat for a top three run blocking center and grabs an additional running back during the offseason. It spells a significant change in the structure of that offense. For all you Saints fans out there, don’t worry, Drew Brees is still more than capable to march the Saints to the post season. However, from the looks of things the Saints are attempting increase their run game. In my opinion, there are no receivers on the Saints depth chart that can match the production from Kenny Stills, and Jimmy Graham this year. All signs point to the Saints looking to the ground to replace Grahams 10 touchdowns last season. ESPN.com has Brees as their number five QB, and I just don't see it this season. My advice is to let someone else bite on this tempting draft pick. The value just isn’t there this season for Drew Brees.

Honorable Mention: Peyton Manning, Ryan Tannehill

  • QB- Sleeper – Carson Palmer

You didn’t have to be a Cardinals fan to feel sorry for Palmer when he went down with his second career knee injury last season. This season, the 13-year veteran, and former 1st overall draft pick will be back under center for the Cardinals hoping to add a ring to his finger (finally). To say that Palmer has experienced some disappointment during his time in the NFL would be an understatement. After being selected 1st overall by the Bengals in 2003, he found himself sitting on the bench the entire year. He has injured the same knee twice (both came after new contract signings). He even played for the Raiders for a few years which is the football equivalent of having to clean your room for two years while you watch your friends go to the playoffs.

If you forgive Palmer’s incredible bad luck and look at his stats, you will see a QB with four 4,000-yard seasons, and a 62.6 average completion percentage over the past 12 seasons. He only played in 6 games last season and still threw 11 touchdowns. Carson Palmer is a sleeper because he is a quarterback with huge upside if he stays healthy, and most fantasy owners will be avoiding him like the plague after his injury last season. His ADP is QB25, which makes him a late round pick up (if he’s even drafted at all). My advice for this sleeper is to draft him as a bench warmer and see how things unfold. Your not missing out on much value if he stinks it up this year, and If he outplays his ADP he might make valuable trade material as the season progresses.

Honorable Mention: Teddy Bridgewater, Cam Newton

  • WR-Bust – Emmanuel Sanders

Oh, that Emmanuel Sanders guy plays for the Broncos! That means he’s got Payton Manning Throwing to him! He had a pretty good season last year! I guarantee you someone is going to make this mistake this year come draft time. Odds are there will be someone looking to fill their first wide receiver position in the third round, and they will unknowingly draft Sanders based off of name recognition alone. Last season Sanders logged 1,400 yards and nine touchdowns, so if you watched at least one Broncos game last year, you heard his name come up a few times. This season Sanders ADP is WR13, which normally wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for a few things.

First, Manning isn’t getting any younger, and by the end of last season it was plain to see that the year was taking its toll on the 39-year-old quarterback. Payton Manning is still a great quarterback, but to spare him the Broncos will be looking to operate a more run-heavy style offense this season than they have in years past. In fact, Sanders himself has said that he doesn’t plan on getting as many looks in the new head coach Gary Kubiak's scheme. Secondly (or thirdly) depending on how you look at it, Manning will have a lot of mouths to feed this season as many are expecting to see more two tight end sets on passing downs. If you consider yourself informed (which I expect you do) don’t draft Sanders with expectations higher than a matchup dependent flex option for your roster. I am calling bust on Sanders because I think there are better picks available at his ADP.

Honorable Mention: Kelvin Benjamin, Brandon Marshall

  • WR-Sleeper- Steve Smith Sr.

Imagine this, being able to plug in a consistent starting flex player every week that is capable of producing WR1 numbers. Does that sound good? What if I told you that you could find this player in the 8th round on average in this year’s draft? Last season was Smith’s first year with the Ravens after being released from the Panthers in free agency, and he found some success racking up a little over 1,000 yards and six touchdowns. Smith managed to finish 20th in fantasy points amongst wide receivers last season, and that was while he competed for targets with Torrey Smith. This season, with Torrey Smith playing for San Francisco the only real competition Smith Sr. has for targets is rookie Breshad Perriman. Many are projecting that this will mean an increase in targets for the veteran receiver in 2015. Smith bested at least nine other receivers statistically in 2014 that are being drafted higher than him this year. To give you a little better perspective John Brown finished 49th amongst receivers in fantasy points last season, and his ADP is WR42. Steve Smith sits at an ADP of WR39 this season after finishing in the top 20 in fantasy points last season.

Steve Smith is playing with a huge chip on his shoulder, and he knows he is approaching the end of his career. He isn’t the type of player who will settle for an "old" man role in an offense. He will either produce or retire, so if Steve Smith is planning on playing odds are he is playing to prove something to someone. You can pick up Smith Sr. in the 8 or 9th rounds this year. At that point in the draft, the only starters you haven’t chosen yet should be your kicker and defense. By picking up this sleeper, you are grabbing a player later in the draft with tremendous upside for the pick and very little downside. At the very worst he will be a great addition to your bench for bye weeks based on target potential alone.

Honorable Mention: Amari Cooper, Nelson Agholor

  • TE-Bust-Julius Thomas

The tight end position is one in which the difference between the top few and the rest of the top ten is extreme as far as fantasy production goes. It sort of changes the definition of bust and sleeper a little. For instance, Julius Thomas is an example of a bust at the position that will still produce relatively average tight end numbers this season. Average for the tight end position is not exactly what Thomas has been known for over the years. Previously with the Broncos, Thomas has scored 12 touchdowns in each of his last two seasons. This past year he was tied for most touchdowns by a tight end. That has caused his fantasy value to remain relatively high for someone who just got a brand new locker with a Jaguar’s uniform in it. Thomas’s fantasy value did take a slight hit, but the price is still too high to pay for someone who will be playing on the lackluster offense in Jacksonville.

The name of the fantasy tight end game is to either draft Gronkowski or try to find someone who will favor better than most in a head to head matchup every week. Games are rarely won at the tight end position, but you can really mess up a draft if you don’t have a realistic grade on your tight ends. Don’t fall into the trap of drafting the name while ignoring the situation. I think there are three top tier tight end options this season Gronkowski, Graham, and Olsen. These three players are the only players worth an earlier pick this year, and Gronk is the only player worth a first or second rounder. The second tier consists of Bennett, Ertz, Daniels, and Cameron. Finally, the rest of the tight ends are primarily bye week fillers with a few exceptions that might be able to produce decent starting numbers if you neglect the position altogether in the draft. Julius Thomas falls in the final group of tight ends. He is someone who certainly has the talent to produce, but this season he won’t have enough talent around him in Jacksonville. If he is available in the late rounds of your draft then go ahead, but don’t draft him before the 10th round.

Honorable Mention: Antonio Gates

  • TE-Sleeper-Delaine Walker

I had to fight back the urge to name Austin Seferian-Jenkins as the sleeper for this year. Honestly, I think Jenkins is a deep sleeper (perhaps I will write a deep sleeper piece soon). I loved watching him play at the college level because every game he looked like he was handing out free piggy back rides towards the end zone. This year, I think he will make a great safety net for Tampa’s rookie quarterback, but I think the best sleeper at the tight end position will be catching passes from a different rookie QB. Delanie Walker produced solid fantasy numbers rather quietly last season. He ranked in the top ten in both total fantasy points and points per game amongst tight ends. Most of the time when fans look at their teams upcoming schedule and see a matchup against the Titans they usually say the same thing.

Tennessee still has a football team?

Not only do they have a football team, but they also have a new quarterback in 2nd overall pick Marcus Mariota. Mariota is the reason I like Walker this season. I think that he will act as a great safety net as Mariota learns the new offense and acclimates to the NFL. The Titans also don’t really have a viable red zone threat other than Walker. The Titans are by no means a high-scoring offense, but there is something to be said for the connection between rookie quarterbacks and their tight ends. Look for Mariota to target Walker often in the Red Zone.

Honorable Mention: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Zach Ertz

  • RB-Bust- Demarco Murray

I honestly tried to find a different bust candidate besides Murray, but all signs point to him this season. The Cowboys went his way 393 times on the ground last season, and if you include the 40+ carries he received in the post season that puts Murray well over 400 carries on the season. The big reason for this was the offensive line. The Cowboys O-line was number one in run blocking last year in the NFL, but the unit was ranked 16th in pass protection. When your offensive line is ranked 1st in run blocking you run the ball a lot. This year Murray is going to be running the ball for a team whose offensive line ranked 29th in run blocking last season (mostly due to injuries).  Also, there is the notion that the Eagles backfield will be a time-share for carries this season. With Darren Sproles returning, and the possibility of Ryan Matthews getting some playing time the odds of Demarco Murray being used the at the same level are slim.

There is also historical evidence that points to a drop in production for running backs that see heavy use in a season. Larry Johnson carried the ball 416 times in 2006 and he essentially never saw the same success again. Terrell Davis and Jamal Anderson both had close to 400 carries in 1998, and they both tore ACL’s in 1999. Barry Foster carried the ball 390 times in 1992 for 1,690 yards and 11 touchdowns. The following year he only rushed for 711 yards. Demarco Murray logs one spectacular year and all of a sudden he is expected to be the 9th running back drafted this year? Putting that sort of draft value on a player who switched teams, and carried the ball over 400 times the season before is gambling a lot for a position as valuable as RB1 on your squad. Don’t bet against history. Leave Demarco Murray alone this season.

Honorable Mention: Jonathan Stewart, LeSean McCoy

  • RB-Sleeper- Cameron Artis-Payne

I’ve made my case for Jonathan Stewart already, and it looks like Stewart’s fantasy value is slowly increasing. For many of you, the idea drafting Stewart in earlier rounds is terrifying. Well, if you are convinced that Stewart is going to disappoint then here is my case for Payne. Payne Graduated from high school in 2007, and despite having a great year rushing for 1,953 yards with 31 touchdowns his senior year no one came knocking on his door with an offer. After a brief stint at a New York prep school in 2008 where he played in only five games, Payne moved back in with his parents and waited for his next chance. In 2011, he got his chance to play with the Alan Hancock Community College Bulldogs. During his first season with the Bulldogs, he rushed for 1,364 yards and 18 touchdowns in 229 attempts. Payne started receiving significant national attention during his second year with the Bulldogs in 2012. Payne was able to trade in 261 rushing attempts for 2,048 yards and 25 touchdowns. Auburn came knocking, and he went to play for the Tigers in 2013. The leading back for Auburn was Tre Mason in 2013, so Payne’s numbers were not indicative of a slump in his performance that year. He only amassed 600 yards on 91 carries, but regardless of how few carries he saw Payne still managed to average 6.7 yards a carry.

The 2014 season was Payne’s year atop the RB depth chart at Auburn, and he made it count leading the SEC with 1,603 yards, 303 carries, and 13 touchdowns. If Stewart does go down Payne will be an interesting player to watch, as the Panthers don’t have anyone else to turn to on the depth chart. I’m sure initially things would be running back by committee (because that’s the Panther’s way). I don’t see Fozzy Whitaker, or Jordan Trodman having the talent to make that a viable long term option. I’m calling Payne my sleeper because if Stewart goes down he will have the opportunity to assume the RB1 duties for a team that loves to run the ball. Payne is such a low draft pick this year fantasypros.com has Ray Rice being drafted before him if that tells you anything. Anyone who drafts Jonathan Stewart will be looking to pick up Payne as his handcuff, so you will need to make sure you pick him up before that happens. Regardless, you should still be able to wait until late, late, late in the draft before you need to do that. Cameron Artis-Payne is a "rainy day stash" type sleeper who could very well end up having a breakout year if Stewart goes down.

Honorable Mention: Jonathan Stewart, Lamar Miller