Christopher Howland

Summer School

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Five Sleepers to Watch: Big 12

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Any fantasy sports guru will have no problem telling you that the key to a successful team and a successful season begins and ends with how well you draft.

While some players are obvious locks for the first five rounds or so, many other players can leave you with question marks surrounding their potential for the upcoming season. While the term "sleeper" is thrown around a lot when talking about fantasy sports, these "emerging stars", as I like to call them, do have value if taken later on in your draft.

With that in mind, here are five athletes from the Big 12 who possess the potential to become fantasy studs even if they are initially overlooked come draft day.

Other Conferences: SEC | ACC | Top 10 Rankings: Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers

Garrett Gilbert – QB – Texas

Finishing dead last in the Big 12 South standings with an overall record of 5-7, the Texas Longhorns quickly realized in 2010 that a majority of the team's success will rely on how consistent their starting QB can be under the pressures of thriving in a difficult conference.

The road back to the top may have gotten a little tougher for Garret Gilbert as newly-hired offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin was brought in by head coach Mack Brown to completely overhaul the offense. Harsin has a history of replacing the incumbent starter with a potential stud, evident by his appointment of redshirt freshman Kellen Moore at Boise State, but really, the job is Gilbert's to lose.

Gilbert finished 2010 with only 10 touchdowns to 17 interceptions and 18 sacks, but expect the competition he will face this spring from Case McCoy and Connor Wood to help jump start Gilbert's willingness to prove himself as a legitimate starter.

Gilbert is expected to use this summer as a crucial time to perfect the Longhorns' offensive system on his way to proving this fall that he is deserving of another shot under center. While a decision may not be made until the week one season opener against Rice, Gilbert has the experience, physical maturity and awareness to reclaim the starting gig and become a solid late round pick up in your fantasy draft.

2011 Projections: 2,500 passing yards, 18 touchdowns

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Joseph Randle – RB – Oklahoma State

While Oklahoma State saw their offense explode in 2010 under offensive coordinator Dana Holgerson's system, Cowboys' fans should still find comfort in knowing they will be able to enjoy another season of watching Brandon Weeden connect to Justin Blackmon, despite the departure of Holgorson to coach at West Virginia.

But even more promising will be the emergence of sophomore running back Joseph Randle.

Randle was given inconsistent playing time from head coach Mike Gundy in 2010, but will now compete to be the featured back in 2011 with Jeremy Smith after starter Kendall Hunter graduated and signed with the San Francisco 49ers. Despite the competition, Randle is expected to receive a large amount of the carries and improve upon his 82 attempts, 452 rushing yards and two touchdown totals from 2010.

Already receiving a vote of confidence from new offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who has been adamant in stating he will run the same offense as Holgorson, Randle is certainly salivating at the chance to prove himself as a capable back in the Big 12 and should also get the vote of confidence from you come draft day.

2011 Projections: 800 rushing yards, 8 touchdowns

Cyrus Gray – RB – Texas A&M

Always a threat to make a big play out of nothing, Texas A&M's senior running back Cyrus Gray should be considered on the fast track to the NFL if he builds off his late-season success from 2010. Rushing for 1,133 yards and 12 scores, Gray didn't even start for the Aggies until week six when head coach Mike Stanton saw the need for a change in his back field.

Gray took the opportunity to start over Christine Michael and ran with it, becoming an out of nowhere success story that rushed for over 100 yards in the final seven games of the Aggies' season, including 100 yards on 20 carries in the AT&T Cotton Bowl against LSU.

When given the opportunity to start in all 12 games of 2011, there is no doubt Gray's numbers will be much more impressive as he uses his explosive speed to gain major yardage and even become a threat in A&M's passing attack. Catching a total of 61 passes the past two seasons, Gray has drawn comparisons to a LeSean McCoy-type player and has the chance to be the best senior running back in 2011; something every fantasy team needs.

2011 Projections: 1,350 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns

Ryan Tannehill – QB – Texas A&M

With 18 starters returning on both sides of the ball and the aforementioned Cyrus Gray tearing up opposing defense, Aggies senior starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill should be a lock for great things in 2011, right?

The Aggies are fairly solid everywhere on the field and while he only started seven games in 2010, Tannehill will be looking to keep this team relevant in a tough Big 12 South conference, even if that means losing some notoriety so his fellow teammates can succeed.

Passing for more than 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns last year, Tannehill has flown under the radar by most NFL draft standards as he tussles for publicity with names like Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley. Despite the uncertainty surrounding his future at the next level, Tannehill displays a thorough understanding of the game and is an accurate, decisive athlete both outside and inside the pocket, making him a formidable late draft selection in most leagues.

2011 Projections: 2,400 passing yards, 17 touchdowns

Kendall Wright – WR – Baylor

Since Kendall Wright arrived on campus, he has seen his receiving stats improve from year to year. Set to compete in a demanding Big 12 South conference for his senior season, the Bears are going to rely on Wright to once again one-up his 2010 totals of 78 receptions for 952 yards and seven scores; numbers he should easily eclipse.

Wright brings a lot of upside to the Bears offense as a big play receiver with impressive speed and reliable hands, but most fantasy owners get hung up on his size, which is less than ideal for a star wide receiver. Standing at 5'10", 190 lbs. Wright is a lot more dangerous than his size indicates and also has a visible chemistry with QB Robert Griffin making them a formible duo in Baylor's' offense.

2011 Projections: 1,300 yards, 13 touchdowns

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