Who Sleeps in Fantasy Football?

Back in the old days, you'd say a "sleeper's" name at a Fantasy Football draft and maybe one person in your league would groan as they too had identified that player as a sleeper. But now.
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During my recent book tour, I found myself at Bloomberg prepping for an interview about sports entrepreneurs (which I suppose I qualify as). As we discussed the interview, the producer gave me a preview of the questions he was going to ask.

Although most centered on my blackjack story, previous company and new book, The House Advantage, the last question was a bit of a non sequitur.

"Who are your fantasy football sleepers for this year?" he asked.

Given it was the first week of August and I'd been on the road for a better part of a month, this question took me by shock. My brain raced and came up with nothing.

"Jerry Rice was in here last week and we asked him for his sleeper and he said, 'Larry Fitzgerald'," the producer said as he cackled at Rice's idiocy.

"So I'm guessing Andre Johnson isn't an acceptable answer," I joked, trying to buy myself some more time.

It worked as the producer walked away saying, "I'm sure you'll come up with something good."

So there I sat, waiting for the camera crew to set up, contemplating my fantasy sleeper. See I've played fantasy football for over 20 years and have seen the evolution of the game. What started as nerds sitting around calculating stats from the newspaper by hand, has become big business with major media outlets like ESPN, Yahoo, and the NFL devoting huge marketing budgets to acquiring customers.

And with that increase in attention and technology has come an increase in information access and in many ways the "Death of the Sleeper".

See a fantasy sleeper used to be someone that no one else in your league knew about and you, being the fantasy expert, had spent hours reading every magazine, newsletter and fax (yes, fax) that you could get your hands on to learn about this "sleeper", this player that would go undrafted by your competitors but was sure to flourish this season due to a new coach or new role or new found skills.

Back in those days, you'd say the "sleeper's" name at the draft and maybe one person in your league would groan as they too had identified that player as a sleeper.

But all that has changed. Doing a quick Google search with the words "2010 fantasy football sleeper" you will see hundreds of different lists of sleepers. And then scanning these lists you will see many of the same names. This year the All-Sleeper team features Eagle Kevin Kolb at QB, Raider Michael Bush at RB and Buccaneer Mike Williams at WR. Your All-Sleeper MVP is Tight End Zach Miller from Oakland. These four players appear frequently in the different sleeper lists. Miller attains MVP status by appearing nearly 90% of the time.

Obviously with all this exposure as "sleepers" how can any of these players remain "undervalued"? Has the efficient market theory made its way to fantasy football? Has the information become so easy to attain that there are no longer any real sleepers?

Of course not.

The term sleeper has simply taken on a new meaning and sleepers themselves are a bit harder to find. The problem with many of the "sleepers" mentioned above is that too many people share the opinion that they are undervalued and in order for you to get them in the draft you will have to "reach" to draft them, making them overvalued.

My friend Brandon Funston who writes for Yahoo once called this "the guys that get too buzzy" -- basically a player that gets too much attention for being undervalued and soon becomes overvalued. Clearly those types of players (see Zach Miller) cease to be sleepers.

So then what is a sleeper.

Well let's simply define a sleeper as a guy that you have a truly contrarian viewpoint and think objectively will be value where you draft them.

Here are my sleepers for this season...

Kareem Huggins, RB, TB: By all accounts he is a burner and has only an untalented and hurt Derrick Ward and an injury prone, surgically constructed Cadillac Williams in front of him.

Eric Decker, WR, DEN: Immensely productive in college, he has very little in front of him. Jabar Gaffney is productive but small and Eddie Royal is more of the same. Decker is 6'3", athletic and will be a great red zone target.

Jonathan Dwyer, RB, PIT: Conventional wisdom says he's both too big and too slow to compete at this level, but here's a guy who had close to 1400 yards and 14 TD's in a BCS conference. Not a big believer in Mendenhall and there's isn't a lot else there.

Who are yours?

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