Although the best wide receivers in the league will be quickly drafted in early rounds, many more productive receivers will go undrafted or fall into later rounds. Depth is integral to having a successful fantasy season, and although they may not put up as exciting numbers as top players, picking up successful sleeper players can make the difference between winning and losing in close matchups. Here are six sleepers for the 2012 fantasy football draft that will have major contributions next season.
The top receiving threat for the Chargers last season was Vincent Jackson, but after being traded to the Buccaneers it is Michael Floyd’s time to shine. Floyd led the league in average yards per catch with 19.9 yards, and also ranked highest on the Chargers in yards per game with 71.3 yards per game. Floyd’s high average has labeled him as an inconsistent deep threat, but a closer look shows that most of his receptions came from 11-20 yards, with only two receptions over 40 yards (both of which were touchdowns). Floyd’s average yards per catch has also increased steadily since 2008, and has averaged over 16 yards per catch in 5 of his 7 seasons in the league. Philip Rivers also had a difficult season, throwing the most interceptions of his career, his lowest completion percentage in four years and the most fumbles but Floyd produced career high numbers. Floyd faces competition from Vincent Brown and Robert Meachem, and although Brown showed promise last season he was outperformed by Floyd. Meachem will also need to adapt to a new offense, and has never seen more than 45 receptions in his NFL career.
The Seahawks had some of the worst offensive production in the league last year, ranking 22nd in passing yards and 21st in rushing yards. Nevertheless, Baldwin caught 51 passes for 788 yards and four touchdowns and 15.5 yards per catch. The Seahawks also bought in veteran backup Matt flynn to compete with Tarvaris Jackson for the starting quarterback role and revitalize the offense. Matt Flynn spent four seasons as an understudy to Aaron rodgers, had an incredible week 16 performance as a backup against the Lions (480 yards and 6 touchdowns), and has already formed a bond with Baldwin, driving from his home in Louisiana to Pensacola FL just to work out with him. Receivers Mike Williams (not to be received with the Buccaneers receiver) and Golden Tate are both coming off injuries, and Baldwin has the best shot to compete for the second job behind featured receiver Sidney Rice. With more targets Baldwin’s numbers should increase in 2012.
In his rookie season last year, Torrey Smith proved that he has explosive potential as a deep threat receiver. He caught 50 passes for 841 yards and seven touchdowns with an average of 16.8 yards per catch, finishing only 46 yards and 10 targets behind the Raven’s leading receiver Anquan Boldin. He had a few problems with dropped balls last season, but with a full offseason of work he should improve his fundamentals. Smith should continue to stretch defenses next season and validate his position as the Raven’s second wide receiver.
As a star at Texas Tech, Crabtree has had some difficulty living up to the lofty expectations that were placed on him coming into the NFL. While his numbers have not always been exciting, he continues to put up respectable numbers and has steadily improved with each season. In 2011 Crabtree caught 72 passes for 874 yards and 4 touchdowns. His 114 targets were the most of any 49ers receiver, and with the success of last season Crabtree and quarterback Alex Smith should be confident that they can continue to improve in 2012. The addition of Mario Manningham and Randy Moss will reduce his total number of targets, but should also provide him with more open looks and space in the secondary. Crabtree may not have lived up to the hype in his first three seasons, but in 2012 he should quietly become the elite receiver that he was always projected to be.
Williams regressed slightly from his fantastic rookie season to post 65 receptions for 771 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2012, Vincent Jackson’s move to Tampa Bay should open up lots of open looks for him. With LeGarrette Blount’s inconsistency last season the Buccaneers developed into one of the second most pass heav offense in the NFL at 64.18%. Josh Freeman also had a dissappointing season in 2012, but Williams’ production despite the Buccaneers’ offensive shortcomings has shown that he has the ability to become a key contributor in the Buccaneers passing game. By drafting Doug Martin the Buccaneers have shown that they are commited to revitalizing their run game, and as Freeman continues to develop Williams will become an integral component in the Buccaneers offense.
The drop in passing production after last season’s injury to Andre Johnson proved that wide receiver is a big concern for the Texans. Behind Johnson is Kevin Walter, who has been reliable but has never proven to be a legitimate threat as a second wide receiver. Both Walter and Johnson are in their 30s, and for the third wide receiver spot the Texans are relying on 9 unproven wide receivers. Lestar Jean was a camp favorite last year before suffering a season ending shoulder injury and with Jacoby Jones’ departure, Johnson’s health concerns, and the inexperience of the receiving corps, Jean is the likely candidate for the third wide receiver job. With only two preseason games under his belt Jean isn’t exactly experienced either, but with limited options at wide receiver the Texans need Jean to step up. Jean earned praise from coaches throughout OTAs, and should contribute to the Texans’ passing game this season.