Fantasy football sleepers: Wide receivers

by Cory J. Bonini and Tim Heaney on September 8, 2010 @ 12:15:48 PDT's analysis of fantasy football sleepers for the 2010 season will be updated weekly throughout the offseason. We have separated our sleepers and undervalued players this year, so be sure not to confuse the two.

Sleepers are also undervalued players in some cases. Yet, you can still have a hidden gem on your hands, even if appropriately drafted, as long as you identify the right characteristics that go into making up a sleeper. No one likes doing the dirty work, so let do it for you! Be sure to check for weekly updates.

Note: All average draft position (ADP) figures are based on 12-team, non-PPR leagues unless specified otherwise.

Wide receivers

Malcom Floyd | San Diego Chargers | ADP: 6th round

Floyd has caught the eye of many fantasy owners. He's 6-foot-5, 225 pounds and offers San Diego a competent deep threat to replace Vincent Jackson (suspended, holding out). We believe V-Jax will be traded, and if he decides to report to the Chargers he could miss up to six games.

The fifth-year veteran set career highs last year in receptions (45) and yards (776). He makes for a quality red zone threat and has the confidence of quarterback Philip Rivers.

Fantasy value: The Chargers will reel in their vertical offense a degree without Jackson, but you can still find a quality option in Floyd. If you're looking for a No. 3 deep threat with red zone skills, Floyd is your man. His sixth-round ADP is fair but doesn't afford much wiggle room in the event of a letdown.

Johnny Knox | Chicago Bears | ADP: 8th round

The Abilene Christian product enjoyed a quality rookie season, catching 45 passes for 527 yards and scoring five touchdowns. Quarterback Jay Cutler has confidence in Knox, and the second-year receiver is entrenched as a starter.

Devin Hester will move from outside to the slot, depending upon the package, but Knox should remain out wide. Given Hester's struggles tracking the ball over his shoulder, the cornerback-turned-wideout isn't the best option on the team for the long ball. That's where Knox comes in. Don't be fooled by his 11.7 yards-per-reception average in 2009 ... it was a product of the Ron Turner-directed offense. 

Fantasy value: While fantasy owners are focusing on Devin Aromashodu, Knox is flying under the radar. There is legit sleeper status here. Since Aromashodu should be a possession receiver and red zone threat; Knox's receptions will probably remain low. With an increased per-reception average, he could be a quality No. 3 fantasy receiver that you can generally land as a fourth. 

Bernard Berrian | Minnesota Vikings | ADP: 9th round

The lengthy recovery of wide receiver Sidney Rice (hip) will force Berrian into the spotlight. He is a deep threat and has averaged 14.9 yards per catch throughout his career. As long as he remains healthy, last year's 11.2 per-reception average is certain to substantially increase (20.1 the year before).

Quarterback Brett Favre didn't have much of a chance to build a rapport with Berrian in 2009 (injuries played a part), and the receiver still caught 55 balls. Rice's receptions have to go somewhere, and Berrian is the most logical bet to receive the majority of them. More looks could be freed up, too, if Percy Harvin (migraines) is forced to the sidelines. Berrian will be hit or miss some weeks, though, and the addition of Greg Camarillo (Dolphins) could eat into his touches. With Berrian, it's all about what he does after the catch.

Fantasy value: PPR owners shouldn't value Berrian as highly as those in leagues that don't award points for catches. The addition of Camarillo is a little disheartening, but the former Dolphin has to learn the offense and ascend the depth chart before his contrasting style of play has a chance to impact Berrian's fantasy value. Draft Berrian as your No. 3 in non-PPR and as a low-end third or strong fourth in point-per-reception setups.

Jacoby Jones | Houston Texans | ADP: 14th round

The Texans are looking for Jones to step up in a big way. At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, with excellent speed, Jones is an imposing threat for defenders. Houston needs a playmaker to help take some pressure off Andre Johnson, and wide receiver Kevin Walter is just average.

We figure Jones and Walter will alternate the No. 2 role at times, with the other moving into the slot when this happens. The biggest problem standing in Jones' way is Walter's five-year, $21.5 million contract ($8 million guaranteed) from this spring. The Texans may feel financially obligated to get the most out of Walter this year.

If tight end Owen Daniels (knee) doesn't recover as well as expected from his third anterior cruciate ligament tear, Houston's No. 3 receiver could be counted on frequently. 

Fantasy value: Temper your expectations of Jones this year, but don't entirely discredit him. Snag him as a late-round flier, but be prepared to cut ties if he doesn't see a lot of work early in the season since Daniels should only become stronger as the year wears on. 

Devin Thomas | Washington Redskins | ADP: 18th round

Entering his third year in the NFL, Thomas is in position for a breakout season. It's easy to get excited about his potential, especially with quarterback Donovan McNabb now in charge. At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, the Michigan State product has excellent size and a good amount of speed.

Washington Redskins WR Devin Thomas
Thomas ready to break out

Wide receiver Santana Moss (knee), who is undervalued, has drawn praise from the coaching staff and doesn't seem to show any ill effects from May cleanup surgery. In other words, there isn't pressure on Thomas to be more than a complementary receiver. McNabb has shown a penchant for spreading the ball around, too. We've seen Mike Shanahan offenses produce more than one quality fantasy receivers, even while having production from the tight end position.

Thomas needs to improve the minor aspects of his game to take it to another level. His work ethic has been in question since his rookie year, which he has reportedly improved this offseason.

Fantasy value: It's almost absurd how much of a bargain he has been in early drafts. Fantasy owners should consider him a potential No. 2 with a No. 5 price tag. In best-case scenario, you have a playmaker in what could be a prolific offense on your hands, or you cut him after a few weeks. Roll the dice when others are reaching for players without as much potential.

Nate Burleson | Detroit Lions | ADP: 19th round

Someone has to take pressure off Calvin Johnson, right? The Lions inked Burleson to do just that as their No. 2 wideout. The 29-year-old bounced back effectively from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in '08, hauling in 63 passes for 812 yards last season with the Seattle Seahawks. Burleson is just two seasons removed from a nine-touchdown year with Seattle, as well.

The vet logged at least five receptions in seven of his 13 games played last year, too. He isn't typically explosive but can at least chip in five to 10 fantasy points on a consistent basis in the right offense for point-per-reception setups. Despite his rookie struggles, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has the raw ability to take advantage of polished wideouts. The second-year slinger has a cannon.

Burleson's finest season came in '04 (68-1,006-9) with the Minnesota Vikings under offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who now holds that position in Detroit. There is some familiarity here.

Fantasy value: Count Burleson as a No. 5 PPR wideout that won't command a stiff price and will offer stable depth. He should benefit from having an elite wideout playing across from him, which should once again mean a ton of cheap one-pointers for Burleson in PPR leagues. Burleson might achieve No. 3 status in those formats this year.

Dexter McCluster | Kansas City Chiefs | ADP: 22nd round

Everyone loves a late-round sleeper candidate! McCluster figures to be the slot receiver for the Chiefs. Quarterback Matt Cassel isn't known for having a rocket arm, so you can count on a lot of underneath work. A do-all player at Mississippi, McCluster has the moves to rack up yardage after the catch. He has already drawn praise for being the fastest guy on the team, and the creative mind of head coach Todd Haley will figure out ways to get him involved, even as a running back. McCluster is best suited for the slot role, from where he'll play out of most often.

KC should remain a run-first offense, but we've seen a shaky relationship between No. 1 receiver Dwayne Bowe and Haley play out over the past year. Wideout Chris Chambers is serviceable, but there is a reason fantasy owners aren't drooling over him and defenders aren't scared of him. There could be plenty of looks for the youngster. Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis excels at designing routes to take advantage of mismatches.

Fantasy value: Take a shot on the dynamic rookie. We're usually not very high on first-year receivers, but there's the potential for something special here. Without feeling compelled to reach for him, don't forget his name on draft day. In point-per-reception leagues, McCluster's value increases some. His 22nd-round ADP climbs to a 17th-rounder in PPR setups. He's not likely to be much of a factor in touchdown-heavy setups, though.

Louis Murphy | Oakland Raiders | ADP: 24th round

Hear us out. Receivers on the Raiders aren't generally prime commodities, but Murphy flashed some dynamic ability last season despite a 34-521-4 line. One note, three of those scores came with Bruce Gradkowski - not JaMarcus Russell - behind center.

Oakland Raiders WR Louis Murphy
Will Murphy's Law prevail?

Jason Campbell, Oakland's new QB, is an upgrade from both and has a strong enough arm to take advantage of both Murphy's skills and the Raiders' planned vertical growth under new OC Hue Jackson. Murphy, who posted a respectable 15.5 yards per catch last year, has certainly shown more with his deep ball skills than first-round disappointment Darrius Heyward-Bey, who remains raw. Chaz Schilens (knee) is out indefinitely, too, which should open up more time for Murphy.

Fantasy value: Murphy can be had as a No. 6 or a No. 7 in most setups, so the price of taking a chance offers little risk. His ADP isn't all that accurate since he is usually drafted as a late flier in leagues of 18 teams or less. He has the ability to perform as a No. 3 if the Raiders' offense explodes; with their yearning for a deep threat and their newfound access to reach them via Campbell, Murphy could nudge his way into more looks. More realistically, he probably has a ceiling of being an occasional flex play this year, which isn't bad for a bench option.

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Also See:
Sleepers: QB | RB | WR | TE | PK | DT
Busts: QB | RB | WR | TE | PK | DT
Undervalued players: QB | RB | WR | TE | PK | DT
Overvalued players: QB | RB | WR | TE | PK | DT

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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