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By Jeff Saukaitis, TSN Contributor - Archive - Email
These fantasy sleepers could be worth targeting
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With NFL teams in training camps and the exhibition season now under way, it's time to step up preparation for fantasy football drafts.

Anyone who follows the game even a little bit knows that Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Ray Rice and Calvin Johnson would be good guys to target in the first round.

Knowing how to best utilize later-round selections, though, is not as easy a task. Here's a look at some sleepers who could be in line for bigger seasons than most people expect.

JAKE LOCKER, QB, TENNESSEE TITANS

He has to win the starting job first, but Locker has the upside to become a fantasy football QB1 by the end of this season.

Locker has a stronger arm and more athleticism than Matt Hasselbeck, the man he's battling for the job, although Hasselbeck's advantages in experience and accuracy could land him the starting nod for the Titans' brutal early season schedule. In the first four weeks, Tennessee faces New England, San Diego, Detroit and Houston.

Even if Locker doesn't initially win the job, he is likely to gain it at some point this season. After all, Hasselbeck is a poor bet to stay healthy for 16 games, and the current front office and head coach were responsible for picking Locker No. 8 in the 2011 draft. It's only a matter of time before he gets the keys to the car.

While Hasselbeck has been efficient in West Coast offenses throughout his career, Titans coordinator Chris Palmer's system is more of a vertical offense that should play to Locker's strengths. He only threw 66 passes in parts of five games last year, but Locker averaged a healthy 8.2 yards per attempt and didn't turn the ball over.

If Kenny Britt (knees) stays relatively healthy and doesn't miss too many games because of an NFL suspension he will likely receive soon, he will head a list of speedy targets that also includes Nate Washington, first-round draft pick Kendall Wright and tight end Jared Cook. Locker also has good scrambling ability and will contribute more rushing yards than the typical quarterback.

JOSH FREEMAN, QB, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

When he led the Buccaneers to the playoffs in 2010, Freeman was viewed as one of the league's brightest young star quarterbacks. During that season, he threw 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions.

Last season, Freeman slipped badly, finishing with 16 touchdown passes and 22 interceptions.

A couple of personnel changes could help Freeman rebound. First, the addition of free agent wide receiver Vincent Jackson will give the Bucs the consistent deep threat they had been lacking. His presence will also help the other starting wide receiver, Mike Williams, who probably won't see many double-teams anymore.

Second, the drafting of running back Doug Martin will provide a nice safety valve out of the backfield for Freeman. Likely to beat out incumbent LeGarrette Blount for the starting running back job, Martin will be an all-around threat at the position. Blount has been a decent enough runner, but he's contributed next to nothing to the passing game. He caught just 15 passes in 2011.

Tampa Bay also has a strong offensive line, so Freeman should receive ample protection. He should be able to get his career back on the right track. Don't forget, he's still only 24.

ROY HELU, RB, WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Sometimes the best philosophy is to avoid running backs on Mike Shanahan teams - not because they don't produce, but because it seems you never know from week to week who will be the featured runner.

Helu was a rookie last season, and he took over the starting job at midseason when starter Tim Hightower went down with a torn ACL. From weeks 12 through 14, Helu reeled off three consecutive 100-yard rushing performances before suffering toe and knee injuries in a Week 15 win over the New York Giants.

At one time appearing poised to claim the starting job from Week 1 this year, Helu is now fighting for the position along with Hightower and Evan Royster. He's currently third on the depth chart behind those two.

Shanahan has reportedly questioned Helu's durability, which apparently was the impetus for the club re-signing Hightower. Rookies, it should be noted, often wear down because of the length of the NFL season. One would expect Helu to be better prepared for the long grind this year.

Helu is the best fit for the Redskins' rushing scheme. Although Shanahan is said to like Hightower for his pass protection skills, a recent study by Pro Football Focus revealed that Helu graded out as the NFL's fourth best running back in pass protection last season. As for Hightower, he ranked in the bottom 15 of the league.

Helu might not win this job in time for Week 1. At worst, he'll see third-down work. Eventually, one would figure, his talent will win out and he'll be the Redskins' No. 1 back. Don't draft him too high, though, because a Shanahan back is tough to rely upon. Still, take advantage of him currently sitting third on the depth chart and steal him in the late rounds.

ISAAC REDMAN, RB, PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Starting running back Rashard Mendenhall suffered a torn ACL in the Steelers' final regular-season game last year, and he's expected to sit out at least the first six games this year while on the physically unable to perform list.

Redman, an undrafted player from NCAA Division II Bowie State, isn't a household name, but don't let that prevent you from calling out his name on draft day.

Elevated into the starting role for the Steelers' playoff game against Denver last January, Redman rushed for 121 yards on 17 carries. At 230 pounds, he runs with power. On 110 carries last season, he had an impressive 4.4-yard average.

There's no guarantee that Mendenhall will be at 100 percent at any time this season. Even if he comes back strongly, Redman should still earn his share of carries because the Steelers may run the ball a little more frequently with new offensive coordinator Todd Haley in charge.

For at least the first six weeks, though, Redman should have most of the workload to himself. He is expected to remain on the field on third downs, too, and three-down backs are difficult to find these days.

KENNY BRITT, WR, TENNESSEE TITANS

If you don't like to gamble, don't draft Britt. He clearly comes with baggage. A DUI arrest in July was his eighth police-related incident since the Titans drafted him in 2009. A suspension to begin this season appears likely, as he met Monday with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

That's not the only thing that makes Britt risky. He's also coming off surgery on both knees, and he has opened training camp on the physically unable to perform list.

If you don't mind rolling the dice, though, Britt could prove to be worth the risk. He averaged 18.5 yards per catch in 2010, and 17.0 yards per catch before sustaining a season-ending knee injury in the Titans' third game.

A big target with exceptional speed, Britt has the tools to be a WR1 if he can get healthy and stay out of trouble. If you're not spending too early a pick, Britt's upside could potentially make his a draft-day steal. Just make sure you have a viable starter to fill in for him early in the year.

SANTANA MOSS, WR, WASHINGTON REDSKINS

He's 33 and he's coming off one of his worst seasons. Injuries limited Moss to 12 games last year, and he managed just 46 catches for 584 yards and four touchdowns.

Many fantasy owners are going to expect Moss' production to continue to fade. However, he re-dedicated himself, lost about 15 pounds during the offseason and gave himself a chance to become one of Robert Griffin III's favorite receivers.

Let's face it: RGIII is going to finally bring stability to the quarterback position in Washington, and he's going to be a considerable upgrade from the Rex Grossman/John Beck combination. That's going to help the Redskins' receivers.

While Moss probably won't match his outstanding 2010 campaign (93 catches, 1,115 yards, six touchdowns), there's a good chance his 2012 numbers will be closer to those than to his disappointing 2011 stat line.

JARED COOK, TE, TENNESSEE TITANS

A big-play threat at the tight end position, Cook didn't make a major impact in the first half of last season. Basically, he wasn't on the field as much as he would have wanted because his blocking has been a work in progress. That's not a surprise, since the 6-foot-5 tight end's playing weight is just 248 pounds.

Cook really came on at the end of last season, posting a combined 21 catches for 335 yards in his final three games. He finished the campaign with 49 receptions for 759 yards and three scores. His 15.5 yards per catch was an impressive figure, and he could threaten to be a TE1 in deeper leagues by the end of this season.

Cook had touchdowns of 80 and 55 yards last year. Particularly if/when Jake Locker takes over as the starting quarterback, the Titans will take advantage of his ability to get downfield.

LANCE KENDRICKS, TE, ST. LOUIS RAMS

A popular sleeper heading into last year, Kendricks responded with a forgettable rookie season. He managed just 28 catches for 352 yards and failed to get into the end zone.

So, why is he on this sleeper list again? It seems that new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is making him one of the focal points of the attack. When Schottenheimer ran the New York Jets' offense, tight end Dustin Keller was often the most targeted receiver. Keller and Kendricks have a similar skill set.

Expect the Rams to use plenty of two-tight end sets, with Kendricks getting plenty of targets. If quarterback Sam Bradford can stay healthy (he missed six games with a high ankle sprain last year), Kendricks can easily double last season's production.



Jeff Saukaitis is a former Sports Network writer/editor who has been a professional sports writer since 1985.