September 07, 2009

It's tough enough to find sleepers in standard, 10- and 12-team fantasy leagues. Want a bigger challenge? Try finding some upside at the end of a 14- or 16-team league drafts.

The late rounds of deep leagues are where true elite fantasy owners thrive. Whether it's taking a guy with incredible talent or finding someone who is going to get a chance to blossom in the right situation, identifying sleepers in deep leagues is a huge key to a successful season.

Jason Campbell

There's a lot not to like when taking a look at Campbell's stats from last season. His 13 touchdowns were 21st in the NFL and his 202.8 passing yards per game were 19th. However, he did throw only six interceptions, tied for league-best among starters. What this tells me is he is feeling the pressure to perform and is hesitant to make a mistake. He's also had to change offensive systems in every season of his career. This year will mark the first time he had an offseason to spend improving instead of learning a new system. Clinton Portis is a year older, the 'Skins have two promising young wide receivers (Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas) and Campbell is playing for a new contract. The motivation is there and Campbell will succeed in his second year in the Jim Zorn offense.

Chad Henne

Chad Pennington's career year in '08 gives the false impression that he is the Dolphins quarterback of the future, or at least 2009. Truth is, Henne is that man and he may just get the chance to prove his worth as early as this season. Pennington hasn't strung together successful campaigns in any of his nine NFL seasons. It's no secret he has a noodle arm and that doesn't match with the team's potential No. 1 wide receiver, Ted Ginn Jr. What he needs is a strong, laser-rocket armed QB. Henne fits the bill. He started four years at Michigan, so he has plenty of game experience. Scouts drooled over his ability to manage the game and he was arguably the best drop-back passer available in the '08 draft. Some owners are gambling on Pat White, whom the Dolphins drafted in the second round, but Henne is the better investment. Those in dynasty leagues should grab Henne if they still can.

Byron Leftwich

Leftwich was brought to Tampa Bay to serve as competition to Luke McCown and rookie Josh Freeman. Freeman has the brightest future of the bunch, but it was determined he will begin the season in a backup role. That left Leftwich or McCown, who threw one pass in 2008, and it was an incompletion. In fact, McCown has nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his career. He's also incredibly indecisive in the pocket, getting sacked 27 times in 12 career starts. Leftwich was pretty effective in limited action last season and has been named the starter. In Week Nine of 2008 he filled in for an injured Ben Roethlisberger and completed 7-of-10 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown in one half of play.

Bernard Scott

If you're a talented running back with a troubled past you can bet your bottom dollar there is a certain team in Cincinnati that will bring you aboard. The Bengals drafted Scott out of Abilene Christian in the sixth round. He's incredibly fast and has up-the-middle toughness that makes him a chore to take down. His athleticism is freakish and he's the type of player that makes it to the highlight reel on a weekly basis. The nice thing is Scott can be had late in drafts (he's usually not even drafted at all) and he could wind up being the starter if a few things fall his way. If you can't say no to upside, Scott is your man.

Jamaal Charles

Charles averaged an impressive 5.3 yards per carry in his rookie season. He was also a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield with 272 reception yards on 27 catches. Larry Johnson is past his prime and his lack of blocking and ineffectiveness in the passing game will allow Charles to be the third-down running back from the start. Charles has big-play ability and he's one Johnson injury away from stepping into the lead role.

Michael Bush

Bush enters the 2009 campaign coming off the most rousing performance of his young career. In last year's Week 17, he received 27 carries and burst out for 177 yards and two touchdowns. He's clearly muddled in a three-way committee with Darren McFadden and Justin Fargas, but he's proven to be the most durable of the group. McFadden has a shot to win the lead role, so Bush may slide to fullback like he did last season. Either way, Bush will get plenty of goal-line opportunities and six to eight touchdowns is not out of the question.

Glen Coffee

Coffee was a third-round selection out of Alabama and is Frank Gore's backup for sure after an impressive preseason. Coffee doesn't have the elite size or speed that many feature backs possess, but he was considered a leader of the Crimson Tide squad and he simply found ways to score. Gore and health go together like Jon and Kate, so at some point in the season we should see a backup get significant carries. The 49ers are dedicated to improving their ground game and Coffee has an excellent chance to prove doubters wrong.

Earl Bennett

Bennett was a project his rookie season and an unsuccessful one at that. He didn't catch one ball in 2008 and it was reported that he had trouble understanding the playbook. Things changed when the Bears acquired Jay Cutler in the off-season. Cutler and Bennett spent one season at Vanderbilt together and they formed quite a connection. Now that the two are reunited, the Bears hope Bennett can line up opposite Devin Hester and become a reliable wide receiver. Fantasy owners hope he can catch five-plus touchdowns and catch 60 passes. For someone who is going undrafted in standard leagues, Bennett is precisely the type of player to be targeted in deep leagues.

Chris Henry

Personifying the bad boy image the Bengals can't seem to avoid, Henry gets another chance to prove he is worth a spot on fantasy rosters. With Chad Ochocinco and Laveranues Coles on board, Henry has some work to do to gain the attention of Carson Palmer. Fortunately for Henry and his owners, Palmer seems to like him, evident by his six touchdowns in 2005 and nine in '06. With his size and speed he could excel in three-wide receiver sets and at 26 years old, still has plenty of upside. Think of him as a backup, but don't be surprised if he becomes a WR3.

Marcedes Lewis

Lewis' yards and receptions have increased in all of his three NFL campaigns. Last season he caught 41 passes for 489 yards and two touchdowns. He hasn't been a red zone threa yet, but there have been positive signs. He has the build to be an ideal goal-line target so the Jaguars may opt to utilize that skill at some point. Still, if Lewis improves for a fourth straight year you can expect 50 receptions and 550-600 yards. At a thin position, Lewis' upside makes him worth the pick.

Travis Beckum

Beckum has superb route-running skills and excellent hands despite not having the prototypical body of an NFL tight end. His blocking needs work, so the Giants will exploit him for his speed and pass-catching abilities. That is good news for fantasy owners as Beckum can catch passes while Kevin Boss blocks. Boss is still a solid red zone target, so Beckum will have to make big plays if he wants to find the end zone. Regardless, you have to keep an eye on pass-catching tight ends, and Beckum is someone to monitor.

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