Josh Vitale

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Five Sleepers to Watch: Big 10

Thursday, August 04, 2011

There's no type of fantasy passer more valuable than a dual-threat quarterback. Quarterbacks who are just as much a threat to run as they are to throw are dangerous fake football weapons that can single-handedly carry your team to a championship. In the professional game, Michael Vick destroyed opposing defenses with his arm and his legs in 2010, allowing his fantasy owners to reap the reward.

In the college game, the poster-boy of these players is Michigan's Denard Robinson, who electrified the nation last season with his legs and will fly off fantasy draft boards early this year. But there are three other dual-threat quarterbacks you can snag later in drafts, all from Robinson's conference.

Here's a breakdown of some of the conference's top running quarterbacks, as well as other sleepers to watch in the Big 10.

Other Conferences: SEC | ACC | Big 12
Top 10 Rankings: Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers

Russell Wilson – QB – Wisconsin

A transfer from North Carolina State, Wilson is poised to bring his run-and-gun, ACC style of play up north to the Big 10. He finished last season as one of the fantasy game's best quarterback options, totaling 3,563 passing yards and 28 touchdowns to go along with 435 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. But for his senior season, Wilson will be taking his talents to Wisconsin to play for the Badgers.

Wilson's value will be a question mark entering the season, as he is not guaranteed the starting job as of yet. And with the Badger's affinity for the run game and the stronger defenses Wilson will face in the Big 10, it is not certain that his fast-paced style of play will adapt well in a new conference. But Wilson has shown before how dynamic a player he can be at the quarterback position, and he should be well-worth the gamble on draft day.

2011 Prediction: 3,400 passing yards, 35 touchdowns, 600 rushing yards, nine touchdowns

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Dan Persa – QB – Northwestern

Prior to his season ending injury in 2010, Persa was on his way to becoming one of the top QBs in the Big 10. Persa put up a season-best 318 passing yards against Iowa on Nov. 13 before rupturing his Achilles tendon late in the game, ending a season where he totaled a career-best 2,581 passing yards and 15 touchdowns as well as 519 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.

But with the football season a month away from starting, Persa claims he is 100 percent healed, meaning he will be back on the field with the hopes of continuing his solid play from last season. Persa averaged 258 passing yards per game in 2010, and if he averaged those numbers over the three games he missed, Persa would have finished last season with more than 3,300 passing yards, which would have been tops in the Big 10. He may struggle out of the gate while he gets his body back into game shape, but if he fully recovers, he could be a force late in the fantasy football season.

2011 Projection: 3,200 passing yards, 19 touchdowns, 450 rushing yards, seven touchdowns

Nathan Scheelhaase – QB – Illinois

A freshman in 2010, Scheelhaase struggled to acclimate to the passing game on the college level, throwing for less than 2,000 yards in a full season as the starter. But his legs had no trouble getting accustomed to the higher level of competition, as he totaled 868 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground, giving him the potential to be a valuable fantasy commodity in 2011, provided his passing improves.

But with a full-season as a starter under his belt, Scheelhaase should be ready to improve as a passer under center. Because he entered last season so inexperienced, the Fighting Illini let running back Mikel Leshoure carry the load on offense, as he finished the season with more carries (281) than Scheelhaase had pass attempts (264). But With Leshoure now in the NFL, Scheelhaase will be expected to carry a bigger load in 2011, giving him ample opportunity to improve on his 1,825 passing yards and 17 touchdowns from 2010. Add in his high-end rushing ability, and the Illinois sophomore should make for an intriguing sleeper pick on draft day.

2011 Projection: 2,400 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, 950 rushing yards, eight touchdowns.

Marcus Coker – RB – Iowa

Coker was a pleasant surprise for the Hawkeyes last season, finishing 13th in the conference in rushing yards despite playing in just seven games. He started the year as an unused backup to starter Adam Robinson, but after his arrest and subsequent dismissal from the team due to marijuana possession, Coker took over, finishing the season with a 219 yard, two touchdown performance against Missouri in the Insight Bowl.

Though Robinson is fighting for a chance to again be a part of the Iowa program, Coker will enter the 2011 season as the Hawkeyes unquestioned starter and will look to continue his momentum from the latter half of the 2010 season. In the seven games he played in, Coker amassed 622 yards and three touchdowns, numbers which could double with full-time role in 2011. The Hawkeyes will be adjusting to a new starting quarterback following the departure of Ricky Stanzi to the NFL, so Coker should be a focal point on offense this season.

2011 Prediction: 1,250 yards, 10 touchdowns

Jeremy Ebert – WR – Northwestern

With his quarterback entering the season as one of the conference's top passers, it seems likely that Ebert, Persa's favorite target, will enter the season with a chance to become one of the nation's top pass catchers. A 6-1 senior for the Wildcats, Ebert improved dramatically following his first two seasons, where he posted just 387 combined yards, to catch 62 passes for 953 yards and eight touchdowns in his junior season.

And those numbers should be easy to improve upon, provided that Persa is at full health entering the season. Prior to Persa's injury, which cost him the last three games of the season, Ebert had averaged nearly 85 receiving yards per game and went over 100 yards three times. But without Persa under center, Ebert averaged a mere 34 yards per game, never totaling more than 43 yards in one contest.

Persa's health is still somewhat of a question mark heading into the season, but if he can return to form, expect Ebert to climb up the fantasy receiver ranks.

2011 Projection: 1,100 receiving yards, 11 touchdowns

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