Passed Out at Your Desk: Finding Sleepers in Week 1
Denver was better than expected passing the ball in 2009, finishing the season ranked 13th in the league. The biggest part of the passing offense was Brandon Marshall, now with Miami. With their former No. 1 receiver gone, someone has to step up.
Gaffney didn't have a remarkable season last year. He had just 33 catches for 450 yards and no TDs through 15 weeks last season. Week 16 (aka Championship Week) saw him haul in seven catches for 69 yards and two TDs at Philadelphia. Marshall didn't play in Week 17, and Gaffney's true fantasy potential rose to the surface, as the new Bronco No. 1 WR caught 14 passes for 213 yards in a home game against the Chiefs.
You may expect the Broncos to play more conservatively with Marshall gone, yet the team finished fifth in passing yards per game this preseason. When one accounts for the points the mediocre Denver defense will allow to opposing offenses, the passing game should get plenty of work in 2010. Expect a big year from Gaffney, starting with a 100-plus yard game against the Jaguars in Week 1.
It's the first week of the season, so your roster should be at full strength. If for some reason you need to dig deep into the sleeper pool already, here are nine other widely available players that could explode in Week 1.
Jason Campbell, QB, OAK (at TEN)
Don't sweat his injury, as Campbell guaranteed he'll play on Sunday. The Titans provided a pretty easy matchup for opposing QBs in 2009 -- though part of that was thanks to four games against Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub -- and they were especially bad against tight ends, one of which is the leading receiver in Oakland. Look for 280 yards and two TDs from Campbell in his first game.
Derek Anderson, QB, ARI (at STL)
It's a pity for Matt Leinart that he couldn't win the starting job in Arizona, because a trip to St. Louis in Week 1 is enough to make any quarterback look good. Teams passed on the Rams at will last season, and Anderson should be able to continue the trend in Week 1. I wouldn't bench anyone in regular-sized leagues to play Anderson, but expect at least 250 passing yards and a TD in Week 1.
Fred Taylor, RB, NE (vs CIN)
Like it or not, Taylor is the starting running back for the New England Patriots. Even with that title, he's still largely unowned in fantasy leagues. His long-term outlook might not be stellar, especially with Bill Belichick's history of shuffling running backs in and out the lineup, but Taylor is worth picking up and playing if he gets 15-plus carries, which he should. Mark him down for 90 yards on Sunday.
Peyton Hillis, RB, CLE (at TB)
Hillis is expected to serve in a goal-line capacity for the Browns this year, and his opponent in Week 1 is a team that surrendered 16 rushing TDs in 2009. His only value comes as a RB3 or flex play if your normal guys have bad matchups, but don't be afraid to use him and pick up a vulture TD in the process. I'm looking at 40 yards and a score in Week 1 from Hillis.
Kareem Huggins, RB, TB (vs CLE)
My favorite running back sleeper of the 2010 preseason, Huggins has already ascended to the No. 2 role in Tampa Bay, meaning he's just a few weeks away from replacing an injured Cadillac Williams as a starter. Even with Cadillac receiving 15-plus carries this week, Huggins still should receive 10-12 touches, which is enough to gain 60-plus yards and score a TD against the Browns.
Mike Williams, WR, TB (vs CLE)
Both Mike Williamses will likely wind up on this list frequently in 2010 -- at least, until they're snapped up in a majority of fantasy leagues -- and for this week, I'm taking Tampa Mike to have the better game. Cleveland had plenty of problems stopping No. 1 receivers last year, and as the team's top receiving option, Williams should be able to grab at least seven catches for 100 yards. Kellen Winslow is also primed for a monster game.
Legedu Naanee, WR, SD (at KC)
Kansas City had plenty of trouble covering No. 2 receivers in 2009 but did a good job against No. 1 options. They'll likely keep Malcom Floyd and his big play potential in check, and if they expound the rest of the defense's energy shadowing Antonio Gates, Naanee will be open to move the sticks on several occasions. A prime PPR breakout for Week 1, I expect nine catches and 100 yards from Naanee.
Tony Scheffler, TE, DET (at CHI)
Don't bother acting on this sleeper prediction in Week 1, as there are about 10-12 guys I'd play over Scheffler this week. However, he has a great matchup against Chicago and is projected to be the Lions' receiving threat at the tight end position this season. I think the Lions can go into Chicago and win their first game, earning a bit of sleeper buzz along the way, and a TD or two from Scheffler would be huge for a potential win.
Miami Dolphins, TM, MIA (at BUF)
Defense is a position for which you shouldn't reach in drafts, and this is why. There will always be a waiver wire defense with a great matchup waiting for you to snatch up in standard leagues. This week's best play is Miami, who face a one-dimensional offense with probably the league's least-talented quarterback. If the Dolphins focus on stopping the Buffalo RBs, they'll be free to blitz Trent Edwards all day. They should be started in all fantasy leagues.