Week 1: Sleepers of the Week
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Week 1: Sleepers of the Week

These lesser-known players deserve to start this week due to matchup or other circumstances. Profiled players include E.J. Manuel, Brandon Weeden, Kenjon Barner, Danny Woodhead, and Darrius Heyward-Bey.

True fantasy football nerds know almost every player, even the backup's backup. We dig deep! What becomes difficult is identifying which overlooked players have the potential to crack your starting lineup. Point being, for the fantasy-inclined, is there really such a thing as a sleeper? Such philosophical musings will require a resolution at a later date. For now, let's just focus on Week 1.

There are a lot of juicy matchups this week. Atlanta at New Orleans could be a shootout featuring high-powered offense and less-than-stellar defense. Minnesota at Detroit features two of the more high-profile fantasy studs in the game: Calvin Johnson and Adrian Peterson. A 2012 postseason rematch featuring Green Bay at San Francisco. The list goes on. In each of these cases, it's possible you are overlooking a stud who can fill in for a dud.

(NOTE: Sleepers are here-in defined as a player who is owned in less than 25-percent of fantasy leagues on ESPN. I understand that not everyone uses ESPN, but since it is currently the most popular league host on the web, it makes sense to use their ownership numbers as a baseline. Thank you.)

Two years ago, there were skeptics about Cam Newton's talent. Last season, very few thought Robert Griffin III would make an instant fantasy impact. Now in 2013, there's another rookie QB who could potentially shock the NFL. E.J. Manuel doesn't have Newton's cannon arm or Griffin's fleet of foot, but he does have plenty of haters. Manuel was a winner in college and while he has his shortcomings (long release, average accuracy), NFL coaching can go a long way. The Bills host the Patriots in Week 1 and New England finished 2012 with the 29th-ranked fantasy defense against QBs, allowing 23.3 fantasy points per game. If Buffalo opts to use Manuel as a weapon around the goal-line, he could make a serious leap into high-end QB2 territory. He is a sleeper not only this week, but for the season as well. Manuel is listed as questionable, so be sure he is cleared to start before adding him to your roster.

Brandon Weeden looked improved in the preseason, having completed 30 of 50 passes for 334 yards and you can add-on three TDs with no INTs. He will face a solid, but underwhelming Miami defense that relies heavily on edge pressure to affect the quarterback. The Dolphins finished 27th against the pass last year, giving up 248.4 yards per game. Another reason to consider Weeden is new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. With all due respect to one of the great coaches in NFL history, he is an even better OC. Turner has done wonders, while at OC and not HC, for guys like Troy Aikman, Phillip Rivers and even Alex Smith. He gets the most of out of his running backs, which will be very important for Cleveland and Trent Richardson. Weeden has weapons too. TE Jordan Cameron is a popular sleeper candidate. WR Josh Gordon will blossom once he returns from suspension and WR Greg Little has all the potential in the world once he cleans up his drops. Weeden is a great fit as a second or third QB in two-QB leagues. Also, if you perhaps waited a little too long to draft a QB and are looking around for second-options, Weeden is a guy to monitor moving forward.

Maybe it's a little early to dig this deep on the waiver wire for talent considering all the options available in most leagues. That said, the mediocrity of DeAngelo Williams is well-documented. The Panthers desperately need a spark on offense and that can be provided by Kenjon Barner. He was electric in his senior year at Oregon, accounting for over 2,000 total yards and 23 touchdowns. Carolina certainly won't remind anyone of the Ducks' offense though. With Jonathan Stewart out multiple weeks, Barner figures to see some playing time when Williams needs a breather. It won't be an easy matchup against Seattle unfortunately. The Seahawks allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to RBs last year (15.3 per game) and just seven RB TDs all year. If you're adding Barner though, exercise some patience while they groom the rookie for more and more responsibilities. Barner is currently questionable for Week 1. Double-check he has been medically cleared to play before adding him to your roster.

Most fantasy owners are already highly skeptical of Ryan Mathews, especially his inability to stay healthy. The former Fresno St. back went down in Week 1 last year and the Chargers' offense never fully recovered. With or without an injury to Mathews, Woodhead figures to see a healthy portion of snaps and production. He is tougher running up the middle than many assume and he could become a Darren Sproles-clone, racking in tons of receptions and short gains. Week 1 doesn't present a great matchup for the Chargers though. They must face the Houston Texans and they finished third in points allowed to RBs. For the first ten games of 2012, Houston didn't allow a RB to find the end zone. Luckily though, Woodhead's fantasy impact will come primarily from yardage and receptions, making him more appetizing for PPR leagues.

Darrius Heyward-Bey isn't really the Colts' No. 2 receiver, but he will likely line up outside with T.Y. Hilton manning the slot. With defenses heavily focused on containing Reggie Wayne and bottling up the underappreciated Ahmad Bradshaw, Heyward-Bey figures to see a good deal of one-on-one coverage which plays right into his strength: deep routes. Andrew Luck has no problems letting it fly and although the Colts likely won't air-it-out as often as they did under Bruce Arians, Indianapolis will happily use play action and the occasional seven-step drop to attack Oakland downfield. This is a perfect payback scenario with DHB facing his former team. Oakland didn't give up a ton of yards (since teams could afford to just run out the clock), but they did give up 18 WR TDs last season, tied for eighth-most. The Raiders' defense doesn't appear much improved either with an aging Charles Woodson at safety and cornerback Tracy Porter on his third team in three seasons.

 
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