by Russ Bliss (7/16/12)

The Quarterback position has taken off in recent years for producing fantasy points as more teams are throwing the ball with success than ever before. In 2011, 3 quarterbacks threw for either over 5,000 yards or 40+ touchdowns. But not everyone can draft one of the stud quarterbacks and while there are plenty of excellent starting fantasy QB's to choose from after the elite are gone, it's important to pay attention to those who could surprise. Of the following 4 QB's I list here as fantasy football sleepers, Matt Ryan is the one with the best chance to make the jump up to joining the elite at the position. In standard scoring systems, he finished 2011 as the 8th highest scoring fantasy QB, and his arrow is clearly on the rise. The other 3 are being drafted as fantasy backups, and each is in a position to exceed expectations and possibly be either quality starting QB's, or high upside backups that can be used as trade bait during the season when injuries start to pile up to other owners in your fantasy football leagues.

1) Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: Ryan finally lived up to his hype in 2011 throwing for over 4,000 yards and a career high 29 TD's. The plan in 2012 is for the Falcons to open up their passing attack more under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and there's good reason for it. The emergence of Julio Jones as one of the most dangerous WR's in the game, the presence of already established veteran pass catchers Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, and the expected diminishment of RB Michael Turner's skills all provide the impetus needed for Atlanta to join the ranks of near elite passing attacks. Ryan is entering the prime of his career in his 5th NFL season and with the way the arrows are pointing, there's no reason to expect him to not better his 2011 stats. Considering his current ADP has him going off the board as the 76th selection in 12 team leagues (4th pick of round 7; 11th QB off the board), Ryan is one of those great options for those who chose to bypass the QB position in the early rounds and still get solid fantasy production. On the 2012 fantasy football quarterback top 10 rankings article I wrote back in June, Ryan actually checks in as the 7th ranked QB overall and I think he's a steal as the 11th QB being taken in fantasy football drafts.

2) Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens: I always like players in a contract season to put up their best numbers of their career. Flacco, like Ryan, is entering the prime of his career and his 5th NFL season. For the last few years the Ravens have looked to improve the weapons he throws to, and with second year WR Torrey Smith emerging as the sure deep threat, Flacco may finally be ready to step up his game to the next level. For the last 3 seasons Flacco has flashed potential averaging 3,615 passing yards and 22 TD's, but has been handicapped by mediocre WR play. The expected emergence of Smith, along with the steady play of Anquan Boldin, the addition of Jacoby Jones, a pair of solid young pass catching TE's in Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, when added to a contract year for Flacco all spell the likelihood of this being his best fantasy season yet. Flacco is getting very little love in fantasy drafts currently checking in with an ADP of around the 150th player selected (mid 13th round; 21st QB selected) in 12 team leagues. If Flacco performs as I think he will, he will be one of the biggest fantasy sleepers in this year's draft.

3) Carson Palmer, Oakland Raiders: Palmer wasn't bad in 2011 after being acquired by the Raiders in a much maligned trade with Cincinnati. If you throw out his first appearance (4 days after being acquired; and only because Kyle Boller had been AWFUL for the first 2 1/2 quarters), Palmer finished a 9 game season with 2,637 passing yards, 13 TD's and 13 interceptions. Considering he had less than 3 weeks from the time he was acquired (out of retirement) to stepping into a brand new offense, that's not bad. Granted, he'll be learning another new offense this season, but at least he has a full off-season to get to know it. The new system is more run oriented under new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, but it's hoped that the emerging young WR's will benefit from the west coast passing attack, taking advantage of their run after catch abilities. Currently, Palmer is going off the board around the 125th pick (16th QB selected, in round 11), and I think he represents some great value there as he has proven to be capable of big numbers in the past; is a couple of years removed from that elbow surgery that seemed to take some his arm strength away; and has a great supporting cast around him. If the Raiders defense (which was ranked 29th in both yards and points allowed) doesn't improve significantly, there could some potential for games where Palmer is forced to pass a lot as they will behind in games.  

4) Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears: After disappointing fantasy owners the last couple of seasons, Cutler looks to rebound in a new offensive system that will emphasize protecting him better than he was in former offensive coordinator's Mike Martz's spread attack. But while the offense will likely have a higher reliance on the rushing attack, a less skittish Cutler should improve his stats even though he may attempt fewer passes. The addition of a big time WR in Brandon Marshall (who had great seasons while in Denver with Cutler) fills a badly needed offensive playmaker at WR. Cutler isn't likely to have huge upside in 2012, but he should prove to be a top level backup fantasy QB who could have some really big games when Chicago gets into shootouts. His current ADP is as the 101st player off the board in 12 team leagues (2nd pick of round 9; 14th QB selected) and that could be a bit below his 2012 value if the Bears can keep him upright.

Check out the 2012 Fantasy Sleeper RB's
Check out the 2012 Fantasy Sleeper WR's