Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller (21) runs past Chicago Bears' defender D.J. Moore (30) during the first half of an NFL football game at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, on Sunday, Nov. 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Updated: November 20, 2011 2:20AM
At this time of year, fantasy
enthusiasts tend to obsess about their first-round draft pick. Do you go with Adrian Peterson or Chris Johnson with the top pick? What about Arian Foster? Is the middle of the round too early for Aaron Rodgers? Should you grab an elite receiver at the end?
While these decisions are impor-
tant, you’d be better served expending more mental energy on the middle rounds, where championship fantasy rosters are built. After all, while it’s interesting to debate whether Foster merits a top-three pick this year, many of those who stole him in the fifth round or later last year rode him all the way to a fantasy title.
Fantasy veterans know the secret
to great drafting isn’t simply selecting the best players available; it’s taking them no earlier than necessary. You might share my belief that Jacoby Ford is on the verge of a breakout season, but you’re hurting yourself — and, worse yet, begging for ridicule from your opponents — if you pull the trigger too early.
Who will be the hidden gems this year? Let’s take a look at my Sleeper Picks of 2011, broken down by
(Note: ADP means ‘‘average draft position’’ and indicates where the player typically is selected in standard leagues, according to mock-draft websites. Compare this to their value in my Top 100 rankings, where applicable.)
Ladd Biro was named the 2010 Football Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. Follow all his advice at the Fantasy Fools blog (fantasy-fools.blogspot.com), on Facebook and via Twitter
Josh Freeman, Buccaneers (ADP: 70, Top 100: 33): There should be nothing sleepy about the seventh-best fantasy quarterback in 2010, but Freeman still is flying under the radar in many circles. With a sterling touchdown-to-interception ratio and a talented group of young
receivers, he has elite
status in his sights.
Kyle Orton, Broncos >> (ADP: 148, Top 100: 66): First he was headed to the Dolphins, then to the bench in favor of Tim Tebow. Now he’s locked into the starting job that made him a fantasy stud in the first half of last season. Though John Fox will run a more conservative offense, Orton should be money again early on, if not all season.
Austin Collie, Colts (ADP: 67, Top 100: 27): He was sitting atop the 2010 receiver rankings when he was concussed in Week 6. The threat of another blow to the head has
depressed Collie’s value significantly, but those who take the risk might be rewarded with an elite receiver.
Mario Manningham, Giants (ADP: 73, Top 100: 58): With Steve Smith wearing an Eagles jersey, Manningham ascends to the No. 2 job in a passing attack that has produced
valuable fantasy receivers consistently.
Mike Sims-Walker, Rams (ADP: 113, Top 100: 69): With the dearth of talent and experience among Rams receivers, Sims-Walker easily can become Sam Bradford’s go-to guy. Given Bradford’s
potential, that might be a lucrative job.
Plaxico Burress, Jets (ADP: 122, Top 100: 78): He is the presumed starter opposite Santonio Holmes, and he quickly could
become the Jets’ most prolific red-zone target. Burress should make an immediate impact in this offense.
Lance Moore, Saints (ADP: 118, Top 100: 79): While your competitors might be locked in on Robert Meachem, Moore is positioned to be the true No. 2 receiver on the Saints. And Marques Colston’s gimpy knee might give Moore a shot at the lead role.
Jacoby Ford, Raiders (ADP: 112, Top 100: 84): Ford showed flashes of
brilliance last season, and he is the only Raiders receiver worth drafting. If he gets decent quarterback play, he could vault up the ranks.
LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers (ADP: 33, Top 100: 15): He had a breakout rookie season, but Blount still represents excellent value at his
current draft position. He faces virtually no competition now that Cadillac Williams is gone, and he’s a bruising runner who should find the end zone nearly every week.
C.J. Spiller, Bills (ADP: 105, Top 100: 92): Spiller (below) disappointed a lot of
owners who wasted an early pick on him after his sensational preseason run last year. But with only Fred Jackson standing in the way, he will get every chance to earn a full committee share, if not a starting job.
Bernard Scott, Bengals (ADP: 210, Top 100: N/A): Cedric Benson isn’t the runner he once was, and his understudy has been assured more touches this season. A changing of the guard is under way with the Bengals, so Scott is more than just a handcuff. He’s the future.