The term ‘sleepers’ is so degraded that no one really knows what it means anymore. By the time the 2013-14 NFL Season kicks off, everyone from C.J Spiller to Phil Dawson will be titled a sleeper by some fantasy football analyst. The purpose of this article will be to outline five talented players who are deeply buried on various depth charts. These players have certain skills, but just haven’t received an opportunity; these are not players to draft, but rather players to monitor and perhaps preemptively add when we think they may get a chance. This first run will be five running backs and the next article will be wide receivers.
Travaris Cadet, New Orleans– Coming out of Appalachian State, Cadet was signed by the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent. Those familiar with Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas know that the Saints have an eye for undrafted running back talent. In fact, the Saints loved Cadet so much that they began to convert him to wide receiver to keep him on the roster. Cadet had only one carry for five yards, but had 2.10 yards per route ran on 8 targets. Cadet was impressive receiving the ball in college as well, averaging 9.8 yards per catch in his senior season. The reason that Cadet is so interesting is based on how the running back position functions in the Saints offense. Cadet is basically a Darren Sproles injury away from becoming a real fantasy factor. Mark Ingram is not a pass catching back and neither is Chris Ivory. That leaves the brittle Pierre Thomas to try and fill Sproles shoes, something I don’t think he can do incredibly well. Cadet is buried on a very deep depth chart, but has a real ability to contribute.
Micheal Smith, Tampa Bay– While D.J Ware and LeGarrette Blount are theoretically ahead of Smith on the depth chart, Ware is a career backup and Blount is closer to out of the league than earning a starting job. Smith, on the other hand, is the owner of a blazing 4.33 40 time and averaged 7.6 yards per carry his senior year at Utah State; despite that speed, Smith still was able to bench the standard 225 pounds an impressive 23 times. He was never a full time starter in college (sharing time with Robert Turbin), but was electric whenever he did get the ball, averaging over 11 yards per carry twice in his three years. Smith didn’t receive any NFL touches in the 2012 and with Doug Martin playing the way he did, there was no reason for him too. However, if Martin does down with an injury in 2013, I don’t expect D.J Ware or Blount to pick up the slack. Smith is a very unknown quantity but with his speed and power combination, there is a chance he can blossom at the NFL level the same way that Robert Turbin was able too. Turbin was a very raw runner but the Seahawks coaching staff made him better. Smith has this same potential in the case of a Doug Martin injury.
Jewel Hampton, San Francisco– In front of Hampton is a very old Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, who is recovering from a terrible Achilles injury, a scat back in LaMicheal James and a fullback style player in Anthony Dixon. If Frank Gore finally does break down, there is no real telling what would happen in the backfield. If Hunter wasn’t totally healthy, he would like be ineffective or get reinjured from over compensation. James has never profiled as a featured runner, and Anthony Dixon just isn’t an NFL quality runner. Hampton was an undrafted free agent that tore both ACL’s in college before being signed by the 49er’s; Hampton then spent most of the season on the PUP list after needing to have bone spurs removed after a final college season where he accrued 1,121 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. An impressive physical specimen, Hampton ran a 4.47 40 yard dash and did 26 standard bench reps. Hampton reportedly received significant interest from many teams, but chose the Niners because they showed the most interest in developing him as a player for the longterm. An incredibly deep name, Hampton will only become fantasy relevant if pandemonium occurs in San Francisco; if it does however, keep his name filed away.
Jeremy Stewart, Oakland Raiders– Micheal Bush and Mike Goodson are gone. Taiwan Jones is now adjusting his position to become a defensive back. Jeremy Stewart, a 5’11 218 pound power runner, is Darren McFadden’s backup. I don’t need to tell you that McFadden is possibly the most injury prone running back to ever be consistently drafted in the first round. This creates insane value for his backup. Now, it is reasonable to assume that the Raiders draft a running back at some point; it is however, unreasonable to assume that a rookie will automatically be qualified to back McFadden up, especially considering the Raiders need to fill other positions with skilled players. When McFadden goes down, Stewart will have a shot to chip in. Despite being a bigger back, Stewart posted a better elusive rating than McFadden, sitting at 35.4 and caused 4 missed tackles in only 33 touches. Stewart ran a 4.55 40 at his Pro Day and did 23 bench reps, finishing his career backing up Toby Gerhart at Stanford. There isn’t anything to suggest that Stewart is exceptional, but he isn’t a total plodder either. Given the Raiders tenuous offensive backfield situation, Stewart shouldn’t even be this deep of a sleeper.
Chase Reynolds, St. Louis Rams– It occurred to me the other day during a mock draft that no one really knows whats happening in the St. Louis backfield. We assume that Daryl Richardson or Isiah Pead is going to be starting, but we really have no idea. Pead had a decent career at Cincinatti, but nothing incredible. Richardson was reliable for the Rams last year, but did nothing to suggest that he was a future star. Sitting 4th on the depth chart behind those 2 and journeyman Terrance Ganaway is an intriguing prospect named Chase Reynolds. Reynolds played his college ball at Montana, and was an absolute star. He set the school record for touchdowns at 22 as a freshmen, was a finalist for the Walter Payton award as a sophomore and broke his own touchdown record as a junior before entering the draft. Reynolds ran a 4.58 at his pro day before being signed by the Seahawks and finally has ended up with the Rams. Jeff Fischer should approach the running back situation with an open mind, and if Reynolds gets his foot in the door, he is a name worth monitoring.