Mike Clay

Offseason Low Down

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Sittin’ pretty... for now

Monday, April 16, 2012


When the first round of the 2012 NFL draft kicks off in 10 days, there will be quite a few current players sitting on the edge of their seat. Of course there are those players who will get bumped down to the roster bubble, but there are also players currently sitting in a position that would bring them a healthy dose of snaps if the 2012 season began this weekend. Players in such a position are what we might call “fantasy relevant”. Those considered to have upside or who were recently signed or promoted into a bigger role inevitably end up on sleeper lists.

Today, I’ll take a look at ten of these currently-relevant sleepers on the offensive side of the ball and let you know if they’ll still be on your fantasy radar when the draft concludes on April 28.

Browns RB Montario Hardesty

Peyton Hillis signing with Kansas City was good news for Hardesty, as it promoted him to No. 1 tailback on the Browns’ depth chart. How long he’ll stay there is another question. Cleveland’s second-round pick back in 2010 struggled to a 3.0 yards-per-carry mark on 88 carries this past season, but it’s worth noting that he was unlikely to be running at 100-percent after a torn ACL cost him the entire 2010 season. His only current competition for snaps is Brandon Jackson, who missed the entire 2011 season with a toe injury, and Chris Ogbonnaya.

Post-draft outlook: Ugly

The Browns are extremely likely to take a tailback with one of their first three picks, which would put Hardesty, at least, in a committee. If Cleveland takes Trent Richardson with pick 1.4, you can forget about seeing Hardesty more than a dozen snaps per game. Hardesty still has a ton of potential, but he won’t be reprising the bellcow role Hillis had the past few seasons.

Panthers WR Brandon LaFell

A third-round pick back in 2010, LaFell has yet to emerge as a force across the field from Steve Smith that Carolina was hoping for. Last season, LaFell was relegated to second-string behind Smith and underwhelming Legedu Naanee. Panthers’ management does seem to still like LaFell’s potential, which means his fantasy football upside hasn’t dried up quite yet. Still, he’ll have his hands full with David Gettis and any additions the team makes in the draft.

Post-draft outlook: Ugly

There’s still some promise here, but it will be more ugly than pretty. Carolina is going to want to do everything they can to get Cam Newton another toy and that toy will be an early-to-middle round wide receiver. LaFell hasn’t stood out enough to convince us he can beat out a day-two pick, so the odds favor him entering a rotation with both Gettis and, at least, one rookie. Can he emerge in year three and become an every-down player? It’s possible, but he’s not worth picking in standard-sized leagues.

Raiders RB Mike Goodson

Goodson immediately hit most people’s sleeper list as soon as Oakland snagged him from Carolina for lineman Bruce Campbell. He immediately steps into the No. 2 job behind the fragile Darren McFadden – a role that allowed incumbent Michael Bush to rack up 256 carries in 2011. Goodson’s only current competition for snaps behind a back who has eclipsed 113 carries only once in his career is the inexperienced Taiwan Jones. We’ve already seen Goodson successfully handle an every-down role (three games in 2010) and a full-time passing down role (the entire 2010 season), but all eyes will on the hamstring that cost him most of the 2011 season.

Post-draft outlook: Pretty

I might not feel as strongly if Oakland had a pick before the fourth round, but they don’t, which means they aren’t going to be adding serious competition for Goodson on draft day. They could still bring a veteran free agent like Joseph Addai or Ryan Grant into camp, which would chip away at Goodson’s upside should McFadden get injured, but, for now, he’s still looking like one of this upcoming season’s top handcuffs.

Broncos WR Andre Caldwell

When Peyton Manning was with the Colts, his top-four pass catchers were always fantasy relevant: the starting X, Y, and Z receivers and, of course, the top tight end. Right now, Caldwell sits as Denver’s No. 3 wideout, and most Broncos’ analysts feel he or Brandon Stokley would work the slot in between Demaryius Thomas and the team’s 2011 slot man Eric Decker if the season started today. That information in itself is enough to put Caldwell on your radar. However, although the Manning-led Colts went heavy with three-wide receiver sets, it’s up for debate if Denver will do the same after they signed both Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme at tight end. If the coaches try to keep both on the field, it would mean more snaps for Tamme in the slot, and a lesser workload for Caldwell.

Post-draft outlook: Pretty

The Broncos will certainly draft a wide receiver or two and just signed Manning’s good buddy Stokley, but unless they grab an impact player at the position, Caldwell has to remain on your radar. If he’s the clear-cut No. 3 receiver, draft him late and stash. If not, just keep an eye on his targets.

Giants WR Jerrel Jernigan

With Mario Manningham off to San Francisco, Jernigan is the favorite to land the No. 3 job in New York. This is a role that allowed Manningham to accrue 52 receptions and seven touchdowns on 94 targets in 16 games a season ago. Jernigan is raw, having seen only two targets in his rookie season, but he was a third-round pick just one year ago. That being the case, he should have an edge for the job over Ramses Barden and Domenik Hixon.

Post-draft outlook: Pretty

There is an outside chance the Giants could pounce on a wide receiver with pick No. 32, but it’s unlikely. Management has already suggested that they’d like to replace Manningham in-house and Jernigan is a top the list. The speedster figures to see quite a bit of work in the slot, which would push Victor Cruz out wide in three-wide receiver sets. Note that 77 of Victor Cruz’s 103 receptions in 2011 came while lined up in the slot, making Jernigan a major sleeper this year.


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Mike Clay is a football writer for Rotoworld.com and the Founder/Managing Editor of Pro Football Focus Fantasy. He can be found on Twitter @MikeClayNFL.
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