Fantasy football, much like the NFL, can be unpredictable. Sometimes the players you least expect to make an impact come out of nowhere to lead you to a title. That was true last season, as undrafted fantasy players like Kyle Orton, Peyton Hillis and Brandon Lloyd all put up attractive numbers and helped lead some owners to a title.
Here's our look at 10 deep fantasy sleepers that could make an unexpected impact in 2011.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Bills: Although he didn't start a full slate of games, Fitzpatrick still posted career bests across the board and finished in the top 20 in fantasy points at his position. With no one to compete with him for the top spot on the depth chart, not to mention a favorable schedule and some nice weapons on offense, the Harvard product could develop into a surprisingly reliable option for fantasy owners.
Colt McCoy, QB, Browns: The epitome of a deep sleeper, McCoy is the unquestioned starter in Cleveland this season. While he's not going to turn into the next Brian Sipe overnight, McCoy has shown major flashes of potential in preseason action. He's also reportedly been in contact with Brett Favre in an effort to gain a more in-depth knowledge of the West Coast offense. Though his options in the pass attack are questionable in some spots, McCoy could be a low-end No. 2 option or matchup-based starter in deeper fantasy formats.
Roy Helu, RB, Redskins: A rookie out of Nebraska, Helu is in a position to find immediate success with the Redskins -- if the chips all fall into place. With the brittle Ryan Torain and fumble-prone Tim Hightower ahead of him on the depth chart, Helu isn't far from seeing a prominent role in the Redskins offense. What's more, we all know how coach Mike Shanahan likes to play with his backfield rotations. A good fit for the team's zone-blocking scheme as well, Helu is well worth a look in the late rounds as a fantasy reserve with upside.
C.J. Spiller, RB, Bills: Remember all of the hype surrounding Spiller coming out of college? Well, it didn't do him any good as an NFL rookie. Not only did he fail to make an impact for fantasy owners, but he was basically off the radar and on the waiver wire in most seasonal formats. Still, it's hard to look past the fact that Spiller does have the speed and abilities to make plays at the pro level. And if allowed a chance at a more prominent role behind veteran Fred Jackson, the Clemson product could develop into one of the better draft bargains of the 2011 fantasy campaign.
Jacoby Ford, WR, Raiders: Once he started to see consistent snaps in Week 7, Ford showed flashes of brilliance -- he put up two 100-yard performances, averaged 18.8 yards per catch and scored a total of seven touchdowns both as a receiver and a return man on special teams. He also finished sixth in return yards, so Ford has added value in leagues that reward points to individual players for that category. Coach Hue Jackson will make it a point to get him the football more often in 2011, so Ford has some definite deep sleeper appeal across the board.
Andre Roberts, WR, Cardinals: Roberts didn't put up eye-popping numbers as a rookie, posting 24 catches for 307 yards and two touchdowns. But with the loss of Steve Breaston (Chiefs) in free agency, the Citadel product will have a legitimate chance to start opposite Larry Fitzgerald in what figures to be a much-improved offense. If Roberts can secure a prominent role and gains a nice rapport with new quarterback Kevin Kolb in camp, he'll be worth a look in the late rounds of deeper leagues.
Robert Meachem, WR, Saints: Every year, Meachem is considered a potential sleeper from a fantasy perspective. And outside of 2009, he's failed to make a real impact. But when you consider that Marques Colston is coming off multiple knee surgeries -- and Meachem is in a contract year -- the Tennessee product could end up seeing a ton of targets and will certainly be motivated to produce. Consider him in the late rounds as a fantasy reserve with upside.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Steelers: Sanders has shown flashes of potential, and the fact that Hines Ward is in the latter stages of his career means he should see more targets in the Steelers pass attack. In fact, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Sanders finish with more fantasy points than his veteran teammate in 2011. While he has had some foot issues at the NFL level, Sanders is still clearly worth a look in the late rounds as a No. 5 wideout with upside on draft day.
Jared Cook, TE, Titans: Cook is an athletic freak of nature with some deep sleeper value heading into the 2011 campaign. He had a superb finish to last season, ranking sixth in fantasy points at his position over the final three weeks. With a favorable schedule and the skills to make an impact in the Titans' pass attack, Cook has some late-round value as a No. 2 fantasy tight end with the tools to possibly become a low-end starter in some larger leagues. In a pass attack with few reliable options, Cook is a player to watch.
Jermaine Gresham, TE, Bengals: Gresham is a talented tight end with great hands and immense upside at the NFL level. He had his share of nice stat lines as a rookie, and his role in the Bengals offense could expand further with new coordinator Jay Gruden at the helm. While he won't likely emerge into a surefire No. 1 fantasy tight end in most leagues, Gresham does have the skills to become a valuable reserve or matchup-based starter. He has late-round value in all fantasy formats and could turn into a nice draft-day bargain in 2011.