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Don't Sleep on These Guys
It's happening, isn't it? You're starting to feel different. You can't check your email without also hitting one of your favorite Web sites. Your competitors are already talking smack, and you've even started plotting strategy in your dreams. Can't concentrate as, uh, clearly.
It's OK, my friend. You're not alone. It's fantasy football time, and all is right in the world once again!
Today begins a series of preseason columns designed to get you ready for your all-important draft. As fantasy football veterans know so well, there's no more important two-hour period in your season — perhaps in your entire year — than your draft. Whether you do it the "right" way (in a sports bar trading insults with your best buddies) or the efficient-yet-impersonal way (via the Internet), it's absolutely essential that you do your homework and go into the draft with a plan — and stick to it.
I'll do my best to help you get ready, starting with this week's subject: sleepers. These are the players that will significantly out-perform their draft positions, and that you should make every effort to select for your team. Some, like Michael Bennett, will perform at an elite level, yet can be nabbed as late as the fifth or sixth rounds. Others you can scoop up at the end of your draft, but will be producing beyond expectations by mid-season or earlier.
And since anything can happen between now and your draft, this Top 10 Sleepers column and other helpful draft aids, updated at least weekly throughout the preseason, here at latimes.com.
The following players will bring great joy to you this season if you are savvy enough to draft them:
Carson Palmer, QB, Cincinnati: This time last year, Bengal fans were furious that Jon Kitna wasn't starting for their promising team. Now they're celebrating because Palmer has a full year under his belt and is poised for a very special season. He's a borderline fantasy starter out of the gates, but there's little doubt that by mid-season he'll be ready to lead your team to a championship.
Drew Brees, QB, San Diego: Brees shocked most of us with his terrific outing in '04, and there's no reason to think he won't build on that success this season. He still has arguably the league's best RB and TE, and his WR corps is underrated. Residing in the AFC West, you better believe he'll be involved in some serious shootouts.
Michael Bennett, RB, Minnesota: A flurry of injuries, disagreements with his head coach and a crowded backfield have kept Bennett from building on his stellar 2002 performance, but he's running well in training camp and his biggest competition for carries, Onterrio Smith, has whizzed away his season. Mark my words: Bennett will use his lightening-fast speed to be a Top 10 fantasy back in '05, and you can get him in the fifth round or later.
Travis Henry, RB, Tennessee: Tough, healthy, rested and in the prime of his career, Henry will supplant Chris Brown as the Titans' starter no later than mid-October and will likely get the bulk of the goal-line carries immediately. Simply too talented to ride the pine, Henry will be a fantasy star once again.
Ricky Williams, RB, Miami: Sure, there's the Looney Tunes factor to consider, but Ricky is just one lazy, hazy year removed from the league's rushing title. A back with that kind of potential doesn't just waste away on the bench. The Dolphins selected Ronnie Brown with the second-overall draft pick, so they're committed to his success. He'll also get a head start on locking up the starting job while Ricky serves his four-game suspension. When the inevitable happens and Williams is traded to a team desperate for healthy legs (e.g., Jacksonville), his value will skyrocket.
Keenan McCardell, WR, San Diego: At 35, he's past his prime, but McCardell still has the tools and the size to make a major fantasy impact. After a full off-season working with Drew Brees, he should hit the ground running in '05 with defenses focused on LaDanian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates, and will be a quality No. 2 receiver for your team.
Laveranues Coles, WR, NY Jets: Reunited with the quarterback who made him rich and famous, Chad Pennington, Coles should quickly erase his one-touchdown nightmare of 2004 and return to fantasy studliness. Another mid-round pick that could finish the year in the top 10.
Dallas Clark, TE, Indianapolis: Clark put up decent stats in '04 despite being slowed by minor injuries and sharing the load with Marcus Pollard. Pollard is now a Lion, leaving Clark as Peyton Manning's full-time tight end. Brandon Stokley's shoulder injury raises his position in the pecking order even higher. Cha-ching!
Sebastian Janikowski, K, Oakland: Remember way back in 2002 when the Raiders had an offense to be feared? The '05 model should be similarly explosive, which is great news for one of the NFL's biggest boomers. Janikowski will get plenty of opportunities to showcase his massive leg, provided he can stay out of the pokey.
Minnesota defense: It will take all the new faces some time to gel, but no team did more to improve its defense than Minnesota this off-season. Darren Sharper and Fred Smoot are ballhawks in the secondary, the linebacker corps was upgraded and the addition of Pat Williams will make their defensive line one of the league's best. Against below-average offenses, the Viking D should dominate.
Syndicated columnist Ladd K. Biro can be reached at email@example.com. You can read more of his columns at latimes.com/fantasyfootball.