Ryan Fitzpatrick (Photo Credit: Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Every year, the marquee names dominate the early rounds of fantasy football drafts. But avid (and informed) competitors know these leagues are often won in the later rounds, with shrewd selections and by owners who exercise savvy self-control. With so many knowledgeable fantasy fanatics out there, getting a leg up grows more challenging each season. Everyone in your league might be ahead of the curve, so you have to think not one, but two steps ahead of them.
Here are five fantasy reaches and sleepers to help you join the ranks of the fantasy football summa cum laude.
1. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Quarterback, Buffalo Bills
As soon as Buffalo gave Fitzpatrick that big extension, the Bills started to look more like an Ivy League unit than the team that shocked the Patriots. Even though Buffalo has shown a willingness to throw the ball, Fitzpatrick may not be the signal-caller if his decline persists. And there's no reason to believe he'll duplicate his early performance again. Stay away.
2. Drew Brees, Quarterback, New Orleans Saints
In the days of French chivalry and musketeers, being branded with the fleur-de-lis marked you as a criminal forever. Now, Brees wears that same symbol on a disgraced Saints squad, reeling from Roger Goodell's condemnation and stunted without its cream-of-the-crop coach. Considering that it would be almost impossible for Brees to duplicate his historic production from last year, you're better off letting someone else snag him early in the first round.
Reggie Bush (Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
3. Reggie Bush, Running Back, Miami Dolphins
The former Heisman winner-turned-USC-scapegoat seemed absolutely cooked in the first half of last season. Challenged by rookie tailback Daniel Thomas, he appeared to have lost a step. Bush then he responded with a staggering 519 rushing yards in December alone, en route to a 1,000-yard season. This, of course, has caused many to catapult him up their draft boards, but his frightening injury history and likelihood of regressing make him a questionable pick. Let someone else take that gamble while you opt for a more secure selection.
Jerome Simpson (Photo Credit: Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)
Simpson scored perhaps the most phenomenal touchdown in NFL history when he executed a front-flip over a defender into the end zone. Lots of people saw that highlight and started salivating about his freakish athleticism. Don't fall for that. This is the NFL, not Ringling Bros. Just because he was acrobatic in Cincinnati doesn't mean he'll dominate in Minnesota.
5. Denver Broncos Defense
This unit played way above its head last year, and started to show some serious cracks near the end. The Broncos should also find themselves playing at a faster pace, thanks to the Peyton Manning addition. And teams may air the ball out more against them if they fall behind early. Tebow's clock-killing, ball-control offense may not have produced quick points, but it did keep the defense off the field.
1. Tim Tebow, Quarterback, New York Jets
How is it possible for the most polarizing, over-analyzed player to slip under the radar? Amazingly, Tebow has, thanks to the plethora of pundits who undervalue his skill set. They were more caught up with the circus at Jets camp than the production we'll see from No. 15. Tebow is already slated to get 30 percent of the Jets' snaps, with a decent probability of becoming the starter by midseason. More importantly, his best attributes are posting rushing yards and punching it in the end zone, both of which can pile up the points. This sleeping giant can go from slumbering to lumbering faster than Rex Ryan can down a Happy Meal.
2. Carson Palmer, Quarterback, Oakland Raiders
Palmer nearly retired before being shipped to Oakland, and his performance since emigrating from Ohio has been mediocre at best. You may be thrown off by his 13 touchdown-16 interception ratio last season, but so will everybody else. A workable schedule, combined with a full offseason to learn the offense, should afford him the chance to return to his old form. Tuck him away as a strong QB2 possibility.
3. Jonathan Dwyer, Running Back, Pittsburgh Steelers
With Rashard Mendenhall's health in question, Isaac Redman has become a popular name to get carries in the Steelers' smash-mouth system. In the midst of this, everyone seems to have forgotten about Dwyer, who owns lightning-quick breakout speed and could easily become Pittsburgh's feature back. He's the true definition of a sleeper; if given the opportunity, he will boost your team significantly. Grab him in a late round if you can.
4. Julio Jones, Wide Receiver, Atlanta Falcons
Jones made quite a splash in his rookie season out of Alabama, but he still didn't get nearly the attention he deserved. Don't be fooled by the lack of receptions; Jones averaged 17.8 yards per catch, and he should become even more potent with a year's experience under his belt running deep routes. Pick him and smile as he matches stats with elite receivers taken before him.
5. Eric Decker, Wide Receiver, Denver Broncos
With Peyton Manning leading the huddle, old codger John Fox will have to abandon his run-run-run-and-run ways for an aerial attack. That means Denver receivers should benefit significantly, especially Decker — who proved competent enough when thrown to last season. Remember how incredible Manning made Reggie Wayne look all those years as the second receiver to Marvin Harrison?