by Russ Bliss (6/20/12)

As the 2012 fantasy football draft season approaches, it's time to focus on the players and what we think about them. I recently posted our STARTERS Draft Analyzer's top 10 fantasy football WR rankings, and I invite you to check those out. But here I want to focus on a few of the 2012 fantasy football sleeper WR's. These are guys that due to their fantasy football stat projections within the Draft Analyzer they are expected to out-produce their current Average Draft Position (ADP). With that in mind, here are 3 sleeper WR's to keep an eye on.

1) Brandon Lloyd, New England Patriots: Lloyd doesn't really deserve to be listed as a "sleeper" as he has proven to be capable of putting up some big numbers. But when I see his ADP currently being between the 23rd and 27th WR taken, I think he qualifies. Especially since he has top 10 fantasy WR potential in the Patriots high powered passing attack. Lloyd has enjoyed great success in Josh McDaniels' offense in prior stops with Denver, and even in St. Louis. McDaniels has returned to the Patriots as their offensive coordinator and Lloyd made it a priority to make sure he signed with them as a free agent. In 2010 while with McDaniels in Denver, with Kyle Orton throwing him the ball, Lloyd had 1,448 yards and 11 TD's. In 2011, after being traded to the Rams, Lloyd caught 51 passes for 683 yards and 5 TD's in 11 games. That was despite the often woeful QB play of the combo of Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley, and Kellen Clemens. Those 5 TD's were more than half of the Rams passing TD's for the entire season. The step up in QB play from those QB's to Brady is huge and should translate into an easy 1,000+ yards and 10+ TD's. Sure, the Patriots have other weapons like Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez for Brady to throw to, but Lloyd is a big step up at WR opposite Welker from any they had last year and the chance for a lot of single coverage against opponents because of Welker and the TE's, gives Lloyd a great chance to really have a big season and represent tremendous fantasy value. Especially when you consider an ADP between them 56th and 68th player taken.

2) Robert Meachem, San Diego Chargers: Meachem is a former first round pick by the New Orleans Saints back in 2007. Injuries prevented him from realizing his potential early on and then when he finally was able to stay healthy, Drew Brees' ability to spread the football around prevented Meachem from being a primary target. There's some wealth distribution that goes on with the Chargers as well as they have TE Antonio Gates, along with WR's Malcom Floyd, Eddie Royal, and Vincent Brown all capable of threatening opponents, but Gates is no longer in his prime, Floyd is streaky, Royal is likely to man the slot, and Brown needs more polish before being ready to challenge to be a #1 WR. Meachem will step into the Vincent Jackson role (a role that landed Jackson over 1,000 receiving yards in 3 of the last 4 seasons) and has proven capable of big games and scoring TD's (20 in the last 3 years despite being part of a time share). There's some risk with Meachem as he isn't proven to be consistent, nor has he had to worry much about being double teamed by opponents, but he has the size and speed to succeed, and has shown the ability when healthy. But the rewards are potentially very high in this offense. In the prime of his career, Meachem should be ready to step up and produce like a true #1 WR in the NFL and a solid fantasy football starter. His current ADP is between the 80th and 88th selection as the 31st-34th WR off the board. Considering the upside he represents, Meachem could make a draft savvy fantasy football owner very happy in 2012.

3) Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers: I can't believe I'm saying this as I have always been one of Crabtree's biggest doubters going back to when he was a rookie, but I was actually impressed with Crabtree in 2011. Despite battling various injuries all thru training camp and the season, Crabtree led the 49ers in both receptions (72) and receiving yards (874). He topped 80 yards receiving in 4 of the last 7 games. And other than Vernon Davis there wasn't another quality WR on the team to take any pressure off of him. While Alex Smith is limited in upside, Smith should be at least a little bit better in a second year in Jim Harbaugh's system. The 49ers brought in both Randy Moss and Mario Manningham to upgrade the WR corps and no matter what they represent a big upgrade over what San Francisco had last year. As long as one of these two can take some of the heat Crabtree usually faces, it should open up things a bit more for Crabtree in 2012. I doubt that Crabtree has 1,200 yards and 10 TD upside this upcoming season, but about 1,000 yards and 6-8 TD's are quite realistic. This is well beyond what the perceived value of Crabtree is as his most recent ADP is as the 118th player selected and 45th WR off the board. For a 4th WR to likely produce like this is just a great example of how using Average Draft Position can help you find the value players when you go into your fantasy football drafts.