In this article KFFL breaks down the fantasy football sleepers of the week. We will avoid marquee names because players of that caliber are rarely benched, regardless of their matchup. Instead, we will focus on the players that make your fantasy lineup decisions stressful each week. Read on to learn which midrange to low-end players you wouldn’t necessarily consider that you need to get into your lineup.
Note: All statistics are from Week 1 through Week 16, unless otherwise stated.
Fantasy football sleepers: Running backs
This Kevin Smith: not so silent
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Carolina Panthers
Fantasy value: Midrange No. 1
- We know you are going to start Martin anyway, but this endorsement is reflective of just how good his matchup is this week.
- The rookie goes against one of the worst run defenses from 2011, a group that hasn't markedly improved on paper. New head coach Greg Schiano is of the ground-and-pound mentality. Martin is a three-down back with tremendous upside in his first NFL game.
- The Panthers, as mentioned, were flat-out awful against the run last year. They gave up 24.1 standard fantasy points per game to the running back position. That was the second worst performance of any defense in the league.
DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Fantasy value: Midrange No. 2
- Williams is part of a three-headed monster at running back (four- if you included Cam Newton). The big-play rusher has a solidified role on the first two downs in this offense - one that will remain committed to the ground game, as long as their defense permits. Jonathan Stewart (ankle) could be limited or even miss the game after a late preseason injury.
- DAW has four multi-touchdown games against the Buccaneers in his career, including a two-score effort in Week 16 last year.
- The only defense worse against running backs than the Panthers last year was the Bucs. Tampa Bay should be a little better, but their personnel hasn't really improved. They will use a more aggressive, downhill style of defense, but that can also pave the way for huge holes to be exploited. This defense will also have to keep tabs on Newton.
Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions vs. St. Louis Rams
Fantasy value: No. 2 or flex
- Smith (ankle) is a little nicked up but should be fine. Mikel Leshoure is out via suspension, and Detroit put Jahvid Best (concussion) on the PUP list. PPR owners should also look to Smith, as Detroit uses the short-passing attack as an extension of their running game.
- The versatile veteran should see enough touches to matter as a low-end RB2 or a great flex candidate. Expect a lot of room to run as the Rams will have their hands full with Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Titus Young and Brandon Pettigrew in the passing game.
- St. Louis allowed an average of 21.1 fantasy points per game to the running back. That tied them for the third most permitted. While they improved up front with rookie Michael Brockers, who suffered a late preseason leg injury, an adjustment period is to be expected, particularly with a new coaching staff.
Le'Ron McClain, San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders
Fantasy value: Flex or bench
- This one is really more of a flier recommendation, as you can see by the borderline bench rating. McClain could see time on screen passes and in short-yardage situations with Ryan Mathews (clavicle) unlikely to play. The bruising fullback could be a sneaky play this week.
- Division-rival Oakland had to learn yet another system on defense this offseason. They were among the 10 worst teams last year against the position, giving up an average of 19.1 standard fantasy points per contest.
About Cory J. Bonini
Cory is KFFL's General Manager. In late 2002, he joined the KFFL staff as a research analyst and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1996. A member of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, as well as Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Bonini has been featured in print, on radio and on scores of websites. Bonini co-hosted Big Lead Sports on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio from 2011 to 2012.
Bonini was recognized with the 2010 Best Article in Print Award from the FSWA and was a finalist for the same award in 2011. In '11, he finished first overall in the FSWA NFL experts challenge that featured 60 of the industry's best competitors.
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