by Russ Bliss (2/1/2011)


I know, it's early. We haven't even gotten to the Super Bowl yet and most of us are focusing on that. There are concerns about whether the owners and players can agree on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement so we can have a NFL season in 2011. And while the NFL Draft will go on as scheduled, we haven't really dedicated ourselves to dissecting it yet and the potential fantasy impact of the rookies. But it's never too early to look into the crystal ball and start projecting who some of the potential 2011 fantasy football sleepers are. Last year amongst my early sleeper picks were Pittsburgh Steelers WR Mike Wallace and Buffalo Bills RB Fred Jackson. Focusing just on the potential deep sleepers in 2011 at the WR position, I came up with the following 5 players to keep a close eye on.

1) Danario Alexander, St. Louis Rams: Alexander enters his second NFL season in 2011 and looks to build on the promise he showed at times as a rookie. Alexander has all the measurables to be the Rams #1 WR: size, strength, leaping ability, and good speed. He also comes with major durability concerns though. He's had 5 surgeries on his knee dating back to 2007, including repairing the same ACL twice. He had a minor procedure done on the knee in October but returned to finish out the 2010 season so there's hope he can hold up. The Rams brought in Josh McDaniels to take over as their offensive coordinator and his offenses are well documented for producing big numbers from QB's and WR's. Alexander is in a great position with Sam Bradford to take a major step up in production in 2011, providing he stays healthy.

2) Jacoby Jones, Houston Texans: Jones is actually a free agent heading into 2011 and depending on the new CBA could end up going to another team. Jones has always been a fantasy tease thru his 4 year NFL career, but has finally shown signs of being able to take his game to the next level. His game is starting to come together and he possesses the right combination of size, speed, and playmaking ability desirable in a #1 WR. In 2010 he started to assert himself as a better WR than Texans teammate Kevin Walter and finished with the same amount of receptions as Walter despite being the Texans #3 WR. Even if Jones ends up staying in Houston, it's a good bet he'll continue the upward trend over Walter and become a starter opposite Andre Johnson. No matter where Jones ends up, he is primed to put up his best numbers yet in 2011.

3) Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers: It's not often a team's #4 WR gets noticed, but despite that distinction, Nelson only caught 5 fewer passes than much more well regarded teammate James Jones during the 2010 season and currently he has caught twice as many passes than Jones in the post-season as the Packers head into Super Bowl 45. Nelson heads into 2011 in the final year of his contract and plays on a prolific passing offense that is likely to be phasing out aging veteran WR Donald Driver to bring up both Jones and Nelson into more prominent roles. The biggest difference between them is that while Jones has more flash to his game, Nelson has more substance and is the more reliable of the two. Also, Jones is a free agent and may not be back with the Packers. If Jones departs, Nelson will skyrocket up 2011 fantasy football rankings by the time summer comes around.  

4) Brandon Tate, New England Patriots: Entering his 3rd season, Tate is in a prime position to take his game to the next level and push Deion Branch for a starting role. Tate still needs some refinement as a route runner and show more willingness to get the ball in traffic, but he has the size and speed the Patriots lack with their other WR options. More was expected of Tate when the team traded away Randy Moss in 2010, but Tate wasn't ready. Branch has one more year left on his contract, and simply isn't a playmaking WR. Tate has a much higher upside and providing he dedicates himself during the off-season to improving his physicality and classroom study, he could surprise in 2011 in a big way.

5) Jacoby Ford, Oakland Raiders: Ford lacks size, but he's an explosive playmaker and the only 2 things that could prevent him from stepping up and being a legitimate fantasy producer are his great skills in the return game (not many starting WR's are their team's primary kickoff return man), and the potential  stubbornness of the Raiders to continue to start Darrius Heyward-Bey in the attempt to save face. Ford is small, but makes plays and has shown a real ability to be the big play weapon in the Oakland offense. But the presence of Heyward-Bey, Louis Murphy, and Chaz Schilens all are threats to prevent Ford from making the step up in his second year. But if he can get by them, he has the biggest fantasy upside of the group.

Check out Russ's 2011 Fantasy Football Sleeper Quarterbacks

Check out Russ's 2011 Fantasy Football Sleeper Running Backs