OWNER KNOWS THE IMPORTANCE OF sleepers, those overlooked talents who are
usually the difference between championship and hardship. Here is a list of 15
sleepers—some less obvious than others—who should help you beat the
competition. Whether it's a No. 3 receiver who's bound to be a No. 2 or an
overlooked, overweight running back who delivers at the goal line (even if it
means just a handful of carries per week), we've mined the depths of depth
charts for these hidden gems.
IT BECAME CLEAR
over the last two seasons that the only thing keeping Gonzalez behind Marvin
Harrison, who had clearly lost a couple of steps, in the Colts' receivers
pecking order was coach Tony Dungy's and offensive coordinator Tom Moore's
loyalty to the future Hall of Famer. As it was, Gonzalez nearly matched all of
Harrison's '08 totals despite being targeted 28 fewer times. Harrison has moved
on, and Gonzalez is in his third season—generally considered the year in which
receivers experience a jump in production. It's not unrealistic to expect a 50%
increase in his output, raising him to a 75-catch, 1,000-yard WR1.
2 T.J. DUCKETT
IF ASKED TO NAME
the rushing-touchdown leaders over the last six seasons, would you include this
journeyman short-yardage back? You should: His 40 ground scores over that
period rank ninth. Duckett won't remind anyone of Adrian Peterson—especially
with Julius Jones getting most of the carries—but what makes him attractive is
his ability to put up points. He scored eight times last year, and this year's
post-Mike Holmgren Seahawks are dedicated to the running game under coordinator
Greg Knapp, whose teams are perennially ranked near the top of the league in
rushing. Duckett will get even more chances to plunge into the end zone.
3 Jeff GARCIA
the likes of Kelly Holcomb, Joey Harrington, Brian Griese and Luke McCown; he
even had Philadelphians reconsidering Donovan McNabb. So he shouldn't have
trouble usurping JaMarcus Russell, who looked awful in OTAs. If the Raiders
struggle early—and they have the Chargers (twice), Texans, Giants, Eagles and
Jets by Week 8—coach Tom Cable will look to the vet, whose
touchdown-to-interception ratio (1.94:1) is fifth-best in the NFL during his
career. Garcia tends to bring out the best in the talent around him (see:
Antonio Bryant and Donté Stallworth), which makes him intriguing on a team
laden with it.
4 Fred JACKSON
HIS value is
greater than just being a three-game fill-in for the suspended Marshawn Lynch.
In his first two years backing up Lynch, Jackson averaged 4.6 yards a carry,
including 136 yards in last season's finale against Buffalo's first opponent
this year, New England.