Week 2: Sleepers of the Week
If you took my advice last week, there were a couple hits and a few misses. Julius Thomas provided a ton of watercooler chatter and I know some of you didn't need any suggestion because you already drafted him. Kudos to you. Not nailing every selection is the nature of digging deep on the waiver wire. Between playing the matchups and the whims of the game, production can push a player up or down statistically. I'll keep trying harder.
In order to spread the love among the weekly FFToolbox articles, I've decided to alter my personal definition of a sleeper in order to better serve you, the real fantasy football fans of the world. In my Week 1 piece, a sleeper was defined as a player owned in 25-percent or less of ESPN leagues. Admittedly, that's digging a little too deep since we already have a SUPER sleepers article written every week by our very own Jeb Gorham. So from here on out, I will only include players currently starting in 25-percent or less of ESPN leagues. This is a huge leap forward, but if you're looking for waiver wire additions (and not sleepers), check out our "Pickups of the Week" article. A sleeper should also include players who might be on your bench that weren't considered starters at first glance.
Week 1 was unkind to the Tampa Bay Bucs. For those that caught the final minutes of their game against the Jets, you saw Josh Freeman lead his offense down the field in the waning seconds for a field goal that put the Bucs up two with only 34 seconds left to play. A big Geno Smith pass to Kellen Winslow and an untimely penalty by Lavonte David led to a game-winning field goal by Nick Folk, giving New York the surprise victory. As the game concluded, Freeman was shown multiple times dejected on the bench by himself. It was far from a pretty sight. The odds are already stacked against him too. Freeman is in a contract year with a rookie behind him on the depth chart. Tampa is in a very difficult division and most view Freeman's talents as unreliable and too often inconsistent. Week 2 provides a great opportunity to get back on track against division rival New Orleans. The Saints defense was historically bad last year and didn't appear that much better last Sunday. Doug Martin should have no problems running the ball, which should set up play-action to Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Freeman has a favorable matchup and the offensive firepower to conduct an excellent game.
Like the aforementioned Josh Freeman, Philip Rivers was and could continue as an afterthought for fantasy owners. The Chargers did themselves no favors by giving away the win during their regular season opener on Monday night. They had a big lead and allowed the Texans to steal away the victory. Not many people expected San Diego to keep it so close though. Rivers was on point too, connecting on four TD throws. Currently the eighth-ranked QB, Rivers is only owned in 21.4-percent of ESPN leagues. The truth is, most people have made up their mind that Rivers is done, cooked, washed up, etc. You can probably add him uncontested and he may even slip through waivers untouched. His longevity and talent are obviously of conern, but he can still outperform expectations and he nearly took down what is supposed to be a playoff-bound or even Super Bowl-bound club. Winning can cure all ailments. This matchup leans in Rivers' favor despite the very few people taking him seriously. Grab him for your QB2 spot and try to exercise a little patience because if he has another good game, he'll begin repopulating all of your leagues.
Arizona has a lot of work to do in order for Rashard Mendenhall to produce like a legit fantasy starter. The Cards only gave Mendenhall 35 snaps (out of 71 total), so that number needs to increase moving forward. That said, the former Pittsburgh Steelers' runner did carry the ball 16 times for 60 yards and added a reception for good measure. Not much to write home about, however that came against a very underappreciated and highly-talented St. Louis defensive front. Running should be a bit more malleable against the Detroit Lions, who are currently ranked 31st in fantasy points allowed to RBs. Granted, they did face the one and only Adrian Peterson in Week 1, but you could also argue they knew what was coming against the Vikings. Arizona is capable of a more balanced style of play, led by Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald. Mendenhall has another week to heal from a bothersome knee injury and to shape himself into a more formidable back in Arizona's home opener.
It has been expected for some time now that Daryl Richardson would be the featured back in a crowded backfield. That's still possible; however D-Rich was the definitive leader, carrying the ball 20 times for 63 yards. Only one other back carried the ball - rookie Zac Stacy - and he had just one touch. Rather than consider Richardson some kind of RB2 stud, think of him more as a flex play if you're in a pinch. The Rams looked improved, but should still be thought of as a work-in-progress on both sides of the ball. What's also encouraging is that Richardson caught five passes for 33 yards. That's more than one-fifth of all the receptions he had last season. If that trend continues, he has Top 25 potential by the end of the year, although let's just focus on a game-by-game approach. Isaiah Pead is scheduled to make his return this weekend from a one-game suspension and it is unclear how the Rams and head coach Jeff Fisher will divide the carries. Pead didn't do much during the preseason to assert himself. For now, Richardson is trending up as a flex in PPR formats and certainly someone worth watching in standard formats as well.
Stevie Johnson isn't the type of player who can be found buried on waivers. He should be drafted and owned across all formats. With this in mind though, not many owners were willing to give him the starting nod last Sunday. He was only plugged into the starting lineup in 21.7-percent of ESPN leagues. Johnson had a decent game too by catching three passes for 39 yards for a touchdown. E.J. Manuel played well enough to keep the game close and as he continues to improve, Johnson's stock as a WR3/flex will rise. In Week 2, the Bills host Carolina. The Panthers rank near the bottom of the NFL in fantasy points allowed to wide receivers. They gave up 15 catches for 226 yards and a TD to WRs last week and must improve. If you're in need of a new starter due to injuries or a shoddy first game, Johnson is a great fill-in with a sufficient track record, which further validates his talent.