Words of Ingram: Sleepers Deux – Four more gems
Welcome yet again to the tenth edition of “Words of Ingram”! As always, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to read some of my prognostications. This week, we’re going to take one more look at a few players whom I believe epitomize “sleeper”. When I talk about sleepers, I’m referencing a player whose value exceeds their draft position. These are the players you take late in your draft to a raised eyebrow, but find yourselves playing them more often than not. Sleepers are an investment and, as with some investments, they take time to payoff. The players I want to discuss may not provide immediate dividends on your investment, but since the investment is so low there is very little downside. Being successful in fantasy sports is all about doing your research, having a little luck, and taking a chance on something you believe in.
However, at this point in the story it’s time to cut the rhetoric and get straight to the players I know will be the perfect fill in for a bye week, or provide on your team.
QB: Andy Dalton
I know considering Dalton a sleeper is a bit of a stretch while, instead, I could be discussing someone along the likes of Joe Flacco (he’ll rebound in a big way) or Teddy Bridgewater (fear the Vikings offense…no really); but I want to talk about a QB who will not be considered a top 10 talent and in some smaller leagues may even be passed on. I’ve spent the past few years trying to figure out why exactly people are so down on Andy Dalton. Statistically, he has improved in each of his past 3 seasons. He had career high numbers in passer rating (88.8), yards (4293) and touchdowns (33, up from 27 in 2012). He did see a slight increase in interceptions (20 from 16 in 2012) but 40 more attempts most likely had an influence. To his credit, Dalton is even throwing the ball much more with 586 attempts in 2013, (opposed to 528 in 2012). If you need another selling point, Dalton finished 5th last year for fantasy quarterbacks! He is surrounded by one of the best receivers in all of the NFL, a tremendous player with huge upside at WR2, and a running back who has the potential to be elite. This is a team that knows how to win, and knows how to score. The Bengals ranked 7th in the NFL in points scored, 10th in total yards, and 8th in passing yards. These rankings cannot be ignored when looking at players in a world based on statistical output. So why, I must ask, is everyone so down on Dalton. I’ve yet to find a single a fantasy analyst who puts Dalton in their top 15 and have been digging endlessly for downside. Finally, it dawned on me. The downside is Hue Jackson.
Hue Jackson, the new offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals, who spent time with the Bengals in multiple coaching roles, has a very specific mindset for the Bengals offensive scheme, and that mindset is to run. Jackson has the philosophy that an increased focus on the run game will result in more wins for the Bengals. It’s an odd thought, considering the Bengals went 11-5 and won the AFC North, however they were once again bounced from the playoffs. Many people point to the lack of diversity in the offense as part of the reason the Bengals lost last year in a 27-10 thrashing against the surprising Chargers. A more balanced attack could be exactly what is needed to push Cincinnati over the edge.
Despite this desired increase in rushing, the team has stated they still want to be a vertical threat. A more balanced attack will result in a noticeable decrease in attempts, but the yardage should continue to climb for Dalton. I think that Andy Dalton is a clear top 10 QB and as such, you should not be afraid to load up your team at other skill positions and take Dalton late. My projection: 4650 yards, 382 completions, 37 TD’s, 18 interceptions.
RB: Pierre Thomas
If you would have told me that I would be discussing a Saints RB as a sleeper I would call you a liar and unfriend you on Facebook. The truth of the matter is, Pierre Thomas led all running backs with receptions last year (77) and finished 20th in points for running backs. This is, of course, predicated on playing in a PPR league; but if you’re not playing in a league where running backs receive points for receptions; you need to rethink your leagues! I’m not trying to bash your league, but players should be rewarded for their output. If you feel otherwise, I would love to hear your rationale in the comments section. Anyway, let’s get back to talking about Mr. Pierre Thomas. Thomas has always been a guy with breakout potential, and had two fantastic years in 2008 and 2009. Thomas has shown the ability to produce, but he is a victim of one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL. With Drew Brees at the helm, the Saints spread the ball in a way that we very rarely see. Because this distribution and the Saints love of passing; Thomas has not been able to duplicate the big rushing numbers from early in his career. This year will represent a world in which Thomas does not have touches taken away from him by Darren Sproles. Sproles, as a footnote, accounted for 71 receptions last season! These are staggering numbers when, combined with Thomas, the running back tandem accounted for 148 receptions, which were 33% of Drew Brees total completions. Now, it would be foolish to assume that 148 passes will go to Thomas, but there is no real reason to believe we’ll see a regression from his 77 receptions in 2013. On the contrary, I very much believe that we will see an increase in receptions which will greatly enhance his value. The Saints will always be a team which prefers to air the ball out but, have stated they wish to reduce some of the strain on Brees and focus a bit more on the ground game. Some believe that Mark Ingram will benefit greatly, but I very much believe the ship has long since sailed on my namesake. Most believe the primary benefactor will be the unproven Khiry Robinson, however the word out of NOLA is the Saints believe him to be a future all-star and thus want to bring him along slowly. These various notes, as well as the Saints signing Thomas to a 2 year contract, are a clear indicator that the Saints believe Pierre Thomas is their current answer at running back. My projection: 724 yards, 5 rushing touchdowns, 87 receptions, 400 yards, and 2 touchdowns.
WR: Doug Baldwin
Baldwin is a player was greatly undervalued going into the playoffs and Super Bowl last season. Despite this underestimating, Baldwin put up 202 yards, a touchdown and made a number of key catches. Statistically, Baldwin had a great rookie year in 2011, then a pedestrian 2012, and finally a great 2013. He had 50 receptions, 5 touchdowns and 778 yards. He did this while battling for catches against Sydney Rice and Golden Tate (who I think is dramatically overrated). With Tate heading to Detroit, the Lions share of receptions in Seattle will be split between Percy Harvin and Doug Baldwin. It’s hard to believe Harvin will not flirt with injury in 2014, which again, gives immense value to Doug Baldwin. Some people believe that Sydney Rice, who is looking to regain some semblance of his 2009 outing in Minnesota, will become a favorite target of Russell Wilson. I, for one, cannot see this in any scenario. Rice represents a bit of a better value vertically than Baldwin, but the Seahawks are not known for being a vertical threat team. Rice also has only seen complete seasons in 2 of his 7 years.
The stars have seemingly aligned for Mr. Baldwin, and while a top 30 season is not in the stars, Baldwin will represent a fine #3 WR on your team. My projection: 70 receptions, 950 yards, 7 touchdowns.
TE: Jace Amaro
It’s no shock to say that the Jets have never been known as a team who places a high value in their offense. Sure, there was a time when Curtis Martin and Keyshawn Johnson were causing defenses to lose sleep, but in the past few years there just hasn’t been much to talk about. Last season, the Jets finished 31st in passing yards and yards per game. They ranked 29th in points scored and had a tumultuous season with the very inconsistent Geno Smith. This season, the Jets placed a heavy focus on revitalizing their offense with a number of notable signings. Michael Vick, Eric Decker, Jacoby Ford, Chris Johnson and Breno Giacomi. These signings will allow the Jets to stretch the field and hopefully make good decisions with the ball. What seems to be lost in the shuffle, was the drafting of Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro. While in college, Amaro set a single season FBS record for the most receiving yards for a tight end. This is a record that simply cannot be ignored. Some may point to Zach Sudfeld and Jeff Cumberland as players who may take reps from Amarao, but I certainly don’t see that happening in the case of Sudfeld. Cumberland, on the other hand, represents more of a threat to Amarao’s fantasy value. Cumberland had a respectable year in 2013 with 26 receptions, 400 yards and 4 touchdowns; but the Jets know that Jace Amaro represents a bigger, stronger and faster player at the position. Amaro will most likely not add immediate value to your team, but he’s a player that you should keep your eyes on as the season progresses. Since the QB position will still be in flux (Vick will start and get hurt, Geno will remain inconsistent) the opportunities for a big safety net should be plentiful. My projection: 30 receptions, 500 yards, 5 touchdowns.
Next week, the rankings begin!