by Russ Bliss (3/2/2011)

Every year we fantasy enthusiasts are desperately searching for sleepers to target in our fantasy football drafts. By the time we get to August, practically everyone has heard of the most popular fantasy football sleepers and I know I rush to see where our fantasy football draft analyzer has ranked my favorite sleeper candidates.

I've already completed my early 2011 wide receiver fantasy football sleepers and also the fantasy football sleeper running backs, and this time I turn my attention to the Quarterback position. Just like at other positions, we all know who the big studs are, and we know that we're not all going to be able to get all those studs. Therefore, identifying the potential fantasy football sleepers becomes paramount in executing successful fantasy football draft strategies. So who should you be looking for after the top QB's are gone? Who are the likely candidates to be surprise QB's who place high in final 2011 fantasy football rankings for the position? I could have gone with a couple of guys like Eli Manning or Joe Flacco, but both are guys who are that borderline QB's 9-13 and both are not what I would consider to be true "sleepers". I'm looking to focus on guys who do not immediately come to mind as probable fantasy football starters in fantasy leagues, but rather are going to be drafted as fantasy backups. Here are five players who are currently not in the top 10 QB's taken in fantasy football mock drafts who are primed to be sleepers in 2011:

1) Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Freeman is ranking just outside the top 10 QB's and while his buzz could continue all the way thru the off-season, I expect that when we actually get to real fantasy drafts it's going to be hard for someone to be confident enough in the Tampa Bay QB to consider him a top flight every week starter. Midway thru 2010, we had Freeman pegged as a top acquisition for the fantasy football playoff projections due to his schedule in weeks 14-16. There's no denying Freeman finished the 2010 season in a strong way on route to throwing for 3,451 yards, 25 TD's, and only 6 interceptions (along with 364 rushing yards, good for second most by a QB) and that he did it with no receiver having 1,000 yards. He really had only 1 good WR (Mike Williams), and a good, but not great TE (Kellen Winslow). The WR corps is as young as Freeman himself for the most part with Williams, Arrelious Benn, and Dezmon Briscoe all entering only their second NFL seasons in 2011. But it gives him a capable core group of young players to develop with. And as they get better, Freeman should get better. Tampa Bay is poised to be an offensive force and considering the high flying offenses in the NFC South with New Orleans and Atlanta to compete with, I think you can expect Freeman to have plenty of opportunities to air it out in 2011. 

2) Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams: Bradford's rookie season showed enough to me to make me a believer in his ability to become an elite NFL QB. Expecting it to happen in only his second year is probably asking a bit much though. He's going to have to learn a new offensive system, and someone at WR is going to have to step up and become a reliable playmaker. There's a long list of candidates at that position, and it's likely the Rams add a top WR in the NFL draft. On the plus side for Bradford is that the new offensive system he's going to learn has a proven track record of being very fantasy friendly for QB's. Josh McDaniels was the offensive coordinator for New England when Tom Brady had his record setting season. McDaniels also got much more production out of Kyle Orton in Denver than anyone thought possible. There's a high bit of risk with Bradford due to his youth and having to learn another offensive system in only his second season, but there's also a ton of upside for a guy who completed 60% of his passes as a rookie and threw for 3,512 yards. 

3) Matt Stafford, Detroit Lions: I like Stafford a lot for his potential, but each of his first two seasons have been cut short by injury. Shoulder injuries to be specific. His body of work is incomplete and therefore grading him is more difficult since there is no full season to get a good gauge on him. But the weapons are there for him to succeed in 2011 with Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler, and Jahvid Best. If we look at the only two games Stafford managed to get all the way thru in 2010, his stat line of a combined 452 yards, 6 TD's, and only 1 interception show a solid baseline of what he could be able to do IF he could stay healthy. Stafford's shoulder injury is fully expected to be healed up by the time training camp comes around and providing he has no setbacks, he could fly under the radar at fantasy drafts. Bottom line on Stafford is that he needs to stay healthy. If he does, he's primed to be a big fantasy surprise in 2011.

4) Jason Campbell, Oakland Raiders: Now that the QB carousel has been officially put to rest in Oakland with the hiring of Hue Jackson as the new Raiders head coach, Campbell will finally be able to grow and work thru the consistency issues that plagued him in 2010. Campbell's always had consistency issues, but he's also been on a merry-go-round when it comes to offensive systems he's had to learn and execute throughout his career. I'm optimistic to see what he does a second year in the same offensive system (Jackson was the Raiders offensive coordinator in 2010 and will keep the same style of offense as head coach). Campbell may never be a 4,000 yards and 30 TD guy, but I'm not writing him off for having the potential. I just wish his receiver options were better. There's potential there with Jacoby Ford, Louis Murphy, and maybe Darrius Heyward-Bey, and two of them need to step up. Zach Miller is an outstanding TE, and the development of Darren McFadden as a legitimate pass catching option out of the backfield could really help Campbell take a step up in his fantasy production. Campbell's barely an afterthought currently in the current mock drafts so he could make a nice very late round selection for someone as a backup with some upside to surprise as a fantasy sleeper.

5) Donovan McNabb, Unknown: As of this writing, McNabb is still with the Washington Redskins, but it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that he will not be with the team by the time training camps roll around. The relationship between him and Mike Shanahan has deteriorated beyond repair and I am positive McNabb will be given a chance to compete for the starting job elsewhere in 2011. His numbers in 2010 were very disappointing (3,377 yards, 14 TD's, 15 interceptions) but considering this represented the fewest TD's and most interceptions he's ever thrown in a season, and it was his first season with a team other than Philadelphia, and the lack of great weapons to throw to he had, and I'm willing to cut McNabb a little slack. Are his skills in decline? Probably, but not as bad as these numbers suggest. Imagine what McNabb could do in an offense like in Minnesota, Arizona, or Tennessee? There's a chance McNabb could rebound from a poor showing in 2010 to a solid statistical performance in 2011. His situation needs to play out, but it's early, and I think the right fit for McNabb could mean he is fantasy relevant again.