The term "sleeper" has several definitions. But in the world of fantasy football, it refers to a player who had never previously found statistical success but suddenly exceeds expectations. The 2009 NFL season was loaded with such performers, as Jamaal Charles, Sidney Rice and Brent Celek were just a few of the players that made significant contributions for owners despite modest preseason expectations. In our quest to assist fantasy leaguers in their league championship aspirations, here are 10 sleepers you'll want to target on draft day.
Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens: Flacco was one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league at the start of last season, but he faltered in the second half and finished just 18th in fantasy points at the position on NFL.com. He should be more consistent in 2010, though, as the addition of Anquan Boldin plus the return of Derrick Mason gives Flacco the best arsenal of weapons he's had at the NFL level. He's worth a middle-round look.
Kevin Kolb, QB, Eagles: The trade that sent Donovan McNabb to the Redskins instantly made Kolb a sleeper in fantasy circles. He showed flashes of potential last season, scoring a combined 52 fantasy points in two starts while McNabb was injured. In what will be a pass-laden offense with a plethora of offensive weapons that includes DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek, Kolb could turn into a legitimate fantasy starter in 2010.
Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions: A talented young quarterback, Stafford should take the next step in his development into an effective NFL starter this season. Not only does he have a very favorable schedule, but Stafford also has new weapons in Nate Burleson and Tony Scheffler to go along with his top option, Calvin Johnson. The Lions could also find themselves playing from behind a lot, so Stafford will be throwing the ball a ton.
Arian Foster, RB, Texans: Foster showed off some serious skills at the end of last season and is now considered the favorite to start for coach Gary Kubiak. Steve Slaton is also in the mix - that will no doubt affect his statistical upside a bit - but Foster is on the fantasy radar now that he's projected atop the team's depth chart. Fantasy owners should take a chance on him somewhere in the middle rounds in drafts.
Felix Jones, RB, Cowboys: Down the stretch in 2009, Jones saw his role in the offense increase as the Cowboys seemed to lose some faith in Marion Barber. With a real chance to open this season atop the depth chart, Jones has some definite sleeper value in fantasy circles. While he won't be a true featured back and is a bit of a risk due to a proneness to injuries, Jones does have the skills and abilities to make some noise in 2010.
Beanie Wells, RB, Cardinals: Wells was mostly non-existant for the first half of his rookie season, but he saw an increase in carries and fantasy production down the stretch and seems poised to avoid a sophomore slump. The presence of Tim Hightower does put a cap on his statistical ceiling, but Wells still has 1,000-yard potential in an offensive attack that should lean on the run more often with Matt Leinart under center.
Malcom Floyd, WR, Chargers: Floyd showcased his statistical potential at the end of last season, and it looks like he'll be a more prominent option in the Chargers pass attack in 2010. With Vincent Jackson suspended for the first three games, Floyd will be the team's top wide receiver and should see more than his share of targets. If Jackson also holds out for an extended period of time after the suspension, Floyd could be a very solid fantasy asset.
Johnny Knox, WR, Bears: Knox showed flashes of potential during his rookie season, and now he'll have the advantage of playing in a Mike Martz offense. Martz loves to throw the football downfield, and Knox is the team's best vertical threat in the pass attack. He seems destined to start opposite Devin Hester and could turn into the team's best wide receiver from a fantasy perspective. Knox will be worth as a low middle-round pick on draft day.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants: Nicks made an immediate impact as a rookie, averaging better than 10 fantasy points per game during a four-week stretch in October and finishing in the top 30 at his position on NFL.com. With a season of experience under his belt, Nicks should surpass his rookie totals in a Giants offense that could lean on the pass more often. Look for the North Carolina product to be drafted in the low middle rounds.
Mike Wallace, WR, Steelers: Wallace, who finished in the top 30 in fantasy points among wide receivers as a rookie, will become an even more prominent option this season after the offseason trade of Santonio Holmes. An athletic player with the ability to stretch defenses with his speed, Wallace will no doubt become a popular option in the vertical pass attack for the Steelers. He could develop into a viable No. 2 fantasy wideout.
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com. Have a burning question for Michael on anything fantasy football related? Leave it in our comments section or send it to AskFabiano@nfl.com!