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2012 Sleepers Series - The No Names

Written By: Luke Hoover on 7/2/2012 1:35 AM
The eighth and final installment for the 2012 Sleepers Series will conclude the series with the same category as last year's did—The No Names. As promised, I covered more groups and many more players than in 2011 (57 players last year versus 117 this year—that’s right more than double the names to remember).

Hopefully some names stuck with you, but if not I recommend revisiting the series during the preseason as a reference for any names that stand out to you when the pads go on. Before getting into what is the lengthiest category in the series, here’s a quick look at the best and worst of last year’s nobodies:

BestKahlil Bell, who was not only the most productive but came through in the clutch with 267 total yards and a score between Weeks 15 & 16 while helping me to a Super Bowl title with 159 of those yards on Christmas day against the Packers.

Worst – Where to begin? Six of the 15 names from last year didn’t even make a practice squad, but one stands out among the rest of the stinkers. DeAndre Brown, despite dripping with size and athletic potential, was waived from the Eagles less than two weeks after signing with them and before a single preseason game.

* As a reminder, I will provide a list of my personal sleeper targets in early August.

The No Names – these are your undrafted practice squaders, your buried on the bench guys, your faded into obscurity washouts—essentially, the guys with the least chance of doing anything. They are here simply so that, like Arian Foster after he went undrafted, you at least know their names.

-    Eric Page, WR, Denver Broncos (5-10, 180 ; age 20)

This do-everything, Swiss army knife of a receiver could very well be Peyton Manning’s slot weapon of choice as soon as this year. Page piled up more than 3,400 yards and 300 catches in just three seasons at Toledo with 25 receiving touchdowns, five return, one rushing and four passing scores. He runs in the 4.5’s, is ultra quick and shifty and above all he just has an amazingly natural feel for the game. Whether he’s running a route or juking would-be tacklers, Page just looks smooth. Andre Caldwell is simply not as dynamic and Brandon Stokley is about a year away from coaching high school football. Page may not do much as a receiver this year, but he should make the team based on his return skills alone. I really cannot fathom how this mighty mite went undrafted and lucked into Denver’s lap, but keep a close eye on him because sooner or later he’s going to be snagging a lot of balls from Manning.

-    Patrick Edwards, WR, Detroit Lions (5-9, 175 ; age 23)

After injuring a quad muscle during the senior bowl, Edwards was forced to skip the combine and gritted his way through a disappointing 40 time at his pro day. The poor time and concerns about his size led to him going undrafted. Now healthy, he’s back to the typical 4.3-speed that helped him amass a ridiculous 1,752 yards and 20 scores as a senior at a whopping 19.7 yards per grab. Boasting a similar game to DeSean Jackson but with more polish on his routes than Jackson had as a rookie, the former walk-on has a very legit chance to steal the final receiver spot in Detroit’s wide open passing attack. If Ryan Broyles begins the year on the PUP list, Edwards may even see the field early as a return man and deep-threat specialist. Keep your eyes peeled for this burner during the preseason.

-    Curtis Brinkley, RB, San Diego Chargers (5-9, 208 ; age 26)
When the Chargers allowed Mike Tolbert to sign with Carolina, it opened the door to a new handcuff for the routinely banged up Ryan Mathews. And while San Diego signed veteran fullback Le’Ron McClain and the geriatric Ronnie Brown to compete for carries behind their star, it could be Brinkley who takes the job. In a very limited role last year Brinkley showed flashes, most notably in a Monday Night matchup with the Chiefs in which he totaled 67 yards on just 13 touches and added a score and a 2-point conversion. Though not the biggest back, Brinkley displays good balance and vision, and if a sizable workload presents itself he could be a solid spot starter in a similar way that Kahlil Bell was for Chicago at the end of 2011.

-    Brandon Saine, RB, Green Bay Packers (5-11, 220 ; age 23)

With 4.4 speed, Saine is the fastest of the Packers backs, and after filling in decently late last year for a banged up James Starks, he’s the favorite to land the No. 3 spot behind Starks and Alex Green. His good acceleration and soft hands out of the backfield make him a nice fit for the Green Bay offense, and with the suspect durability of Starks, it’s possible he could see extended action in his second year. Green will be coming back from a torn ACL and might not be 100% to start the season, so the health of the backs ahead of Saine could make him a hot waiver commodity in September or October.

-    Bilal Powell, RB, New York Jets (5-10, 204 ; age 23)

After being selected in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, Powell will battle with Joe McKnight this summer to replace LaDanian Tomlinson as the team’s primary backup to Shonn Greene. Though his 13 carries for a paltry 21 yards last year leave an awful lot to be desired, the young back still offers a solid blend of quickness and vision. If he can establish himself as the top backup, Powell could make some fantasy noise if Greene were to go down, even if only as part of a committee. And he could become especially useful if the Jets turn to the Tim Tebow option attack.

-    Ladarius Green, TE, San Diego Chargers (6-6, 238 ; age 22)

Green was drafted to be the heir apparent to Antonio Gates. The only problem is Gates is not done and is reportedly feeling great. And it’s also possible Green will be the third tight end behind Randy McMichael. So despite his exceptional physical gifts (4.5-speed anyone?), the oversized wideout will likely have to wait a year before becoming a prominent target of Philip Rivers. But yet, there’s still that chance he picks up the offense quickly, presents a huge mismatch for defenses and gets an opportunity if Gates continues to struggle with his health. So keep him on the radar.

-    John Clay, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers (6-1, 248 ; age 24)

A pure power back, Clay scored on his first career carry last season as an undrafted free agent for the Steelers. With Rashard Mendenhall likely to begin the year on the PUP list and just Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer in front of him, Clay could carve out a significant role in the offense if either gets hurt during the summer or in September. Even if he remains the No. 3 back, Clay could become a goal line specialist behind the much-improved Steeler line. He was a battering ram in college, piling up 41 scores in three seasons for Wisconsin. Keep on eye on him since few backs in the league can deliver a blow like Clay going between the tackles.

-    Armanti Edwards, WR, Carolina Panthers (5-11, 182 ; age 24)

In two seasons with the Panthers Edwards has yet to amount to anything. Taken in the third round of the 2010 draft because of his tremendous athleticism and football smarts, he’s had a difficult time making the transition from college quarterback to pro receiver. With Kealoha Pilares and Joe Adams both being added in the past two drafts respectively to compete for slot work, it’s truly put up or shut up time for Edwards in training camp. He has the natural ability to develop if he can adapt to the position, and if Cam Newton continues developing, there could be room for as many as four relevant fantasy weapons in the Carolina passing attack, meaning the winner of the slot role has good upside.

-    David Ausberry, TE, Oakland Raiders (6-4, 245 ; age 24)

The Raiders severe lack of depth at tight end could open the door for Ausberry, a former wide receiver, to establish himself as the team’s starter. With a deep receiving corps that might not mean much, but Ausberry could force Carson Palmer to look his way often based on the matchup problems he creates for a defense. His sub-4.5 speed makes him a very difficult cover for most linebackers and safeties, especially when you add a 36-inch vertical to his list of physical attributes. If he can adjust to his new position in his second season, Ausberry could emerge as a giant receiver masquerading as a tight end and potentially the Raiders’ best red zone target.

-    Clyde Gates, WR, Miami Dolphins (5-11, 197 ; age 26)

The Dolphins were undoubtedly drawn to Gates in the 2011 draft by his 4.3-speed and big-play abilities in both the vertical passing game and as a returner. But a torn groin sapped him of that speed as a rookie and limited him to just returning kicks and catching only two passes. Finally healthy though, he now has a chance to show off his blazing speed to a new head coach in Joe Philbin that knows how to get the most out of his receivers. If Philbin can integrate him quickly into his west coast attack, Gates could emerge as the top playmaker in a super thin Miami receiving corps.

-    Tori Gurley, WR, Green Bay Packers (6-4, 216 ; age 24)

The Packers are so deep at wideout that it would require them making an unusual move and keeping six receivers for Gurley to have any chance to shine in Green Bay. But if they end up waiving him, it’s hard to imagine the lanky, smooth route runner staying available for long. He turned down an opportunity late in 2011 to join the Vikings active roster in favor of staying with the Packers’ practice squad, but it’s highly unlikely he’d be willing to sit in the Green Bay shadows another year. If he lands with a team that’s thin at receiver, keep an eye on his playing time.

-    Lonyae Miller, RB, Oakland Raiders (6-0, 232 ; age 24)
Miller is one of just a couple guys to return to The No Names after making the list last year and I haven’t given up on him primarily because his situation has changed. He was signed by the Raiders this offseason after failing to hang on amidst the Cowboys crowded 2011 backfield. In Oakland he’ll enter training camp as the fourth back and fight for reps with Mike Goodson and Taiwan Jones as a potential backup to Darren McFadden. With his size (by far the biggest back on the roster) and 4.4-speed combo, Miller could be an effective replacement for Michael Bush if given a chance. And with McFadden, Goodson and Jones having missed 45 of a possible 128 combined career games, Miller might just see some action this year.

-    Da’Rel Scott, RB, New York Giants (5-11, 210 ; age 24)

With Ahmad Bradshaw, rookie first rounder David Wilson and veteran D.J. Ware all locks to earn rosters spots ahead of him, Scott may not clear waivers to get back on the Giants’ practice squad. Though he didn’t get to show off his 4.3 track speed during the regular season, he did flash it in the 2011 preseason with blazing touchdown runs of 97 and 65 yards. When considering that he’s by no means a tiny back that could make Scott an intriguing commodity should he hit the open market. Though he may not land on an active roster immediately, he could choose to join the practice squad of a team with shaky running back depth or injury prone runners. If some road leads to him burning defenses in the regular season, keep his name in mind.

-    D.J. Williams, TE, Green Bay Packers (6-2, 251 ; age 23)

Although the Packers threw for an amazing 5,161 yards and 51 scores as a team last year, Williams caught just two passes for 13 yards in his rookie season. Nevertheless, there’s reason to believe the 2010 Mackey Award winner could carve out a larger role in 2012. The Packers use a lot of spread formations and could line up the speedy (sub-4.5 in the 40) H-back all over the field. So even though the Pack are exceptionally deep at receiver and already boast a stud tight end in Jermichael Finley, an injury or two could be all that separates Williams from a more involved role in the league’s top passing attack. After all, Finley has missed 16 games in his first four years and Donald Driver is pushing 60 in football years.

-    Dorin Dickerson, WR, Buffalo Bills (6-2, 227 ; age 24)

I actually placed Dickerson in The Unrealized Potential category entering last season. My primary motive for listing him within that group was the opportunity in a thin Houston receiving corps combined with his immense physical abilities. Dickerson failed to make the final roster however and bounced between the Steelers and Patriots practiced squads before Buffalo snatched him up this spring. After playing receiver, linebacker and tight end in college, Dickerson seems to have struggled to master the nuances of being a receiver at the pro level. If his understanding can catch up to his remarkable blend of size and athleticism, he could quickly rise up the depth chart in a Buffalo receiver position full of question marks. Dickerson boasts great size, 4.4-speed and an impressive 43-inch vertical to go with sticky hands. Those are not traits to be ignored.

-    Marc Tyler, RB, Green Bay Packers (5-11, 219 ; age 23)

The Packers have a lot of questions at running back and given that they have yet to add a free agent to provide insurance for the routinely nicked up Starks or Green as he returns from an ACL injury, it appears they will try to develop their young players. And Tyler makes for an intriguing project. When Tyler committed to USC out of high school he was widely considered the No. 2 running back in the country. Unfortunately he could never quite distinguish himself as the man while playing in a crowded Southern Cal backfield. Though he’s a bit of a plodding runner with sub-par speed, Tyler has the strength to run through tacklers with just enough burst to excel in the one-cut zone attack employed by the Packers. In order to have a chance he’d have to beat out Saine for the third spot, which may be a longshot, but the undrafted free agent could just be one preseason injury away from relevance in an elite offense.

-    Tandon Doss, WR, Baltimore Ravens (6-2, 205 ; age 22)

Behind Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, the Ravens had just eight passes caught by wide receivers in 2011, and none by Doss. To say it’s troubling for Doss’ future prospects is certainly an understatement. The lack of a third receiver should have led to at least some shot, particularly given his strong preseason, but Doss was inexplicably inactive virtually the entire season and did not even register a target. He’ll enter training camp no better than fourth on the depth chart—also behind Jacoby Jones—but there’s still a chance he could emerge as the chain-moving slot receiver he was in college. After all, smooth route running and sure hands can only go overlooked for so long, can’t they?

-    Jordan White, WR, New York Jets (6-0, 210 ; age 23)

Sometimes guys excel despite physical limitations and White is definitely one of those players. Despite average athleticism (4.69-speed, 14 reps on the bench at the combine), White was unbelievably productive his final two years at Western Michigan and turned in a jaw-dropping 140 catches, 1,911 yards and 17 scores as a senior in 2011. Even though a fractured foot in mid May forced him to miss most of OTA’s and the team’s minicamp, White could surprise during the preseason. He’s an incredibly smooth and savvy route runner with excellent hands that could develop into a premier possession receiver at the next level if he can win the chance to see the field. With few polished route runners on the team, White could step up for the Jets and fill a major need.

-    Robert Hughes, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11, 235 ; age 23)

Hughes is a perfect Greg Schiano type of player. He’s a hard-nosed, physical runner who fights for every inch. As an undrafted rookie he totaled 95 yards and two short touchdown runs in the Bears’ final preseason game before being cut and eventually scooped up by Tampa. With no experienced backup behind first-rounder Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount, the job is there for the taking in training camp. Hughes’ main competition will be rookie seventh-round pick Michael Smith, who is pretty much the opposite of Hughes as a smallish blazer. If he can win that battle however, Hughes would be just an injury away from being the No. 2 in a run-heavy offense.

-    Patrick Turner, WR, New York Jets (6-5, 220 ; age 25)

With the drafting of Stephen Hill (6-foot-5) and the signing of Chaz Schilens (6-foot-4) the Jets have really stockpiled giant receivers. Turner is obviously no exception, and though he’s done little to take advantage of his hulking frame, his opportunity has never been better than it is entering training camp. Hill should get plenty of field time but he’s extremely raw as a route runner coming from a triple option collegiate offense and Schilens has been constantly banged up throughout his career with a variety of leg injuries. Add in the unpredictable diva behavior of Santonio Holmes and you have a recipe for someone to step up. Turner has strong hands, deceptive quickness and that big body. He screams possession receiver and if the former third-rounder can catch his mental game up to his physical traits, he could become a go-to for Mark Sanchez.

-    Ricardo Lockette, WR, Seattle Seahawks (6-2, 211 ; age 26)

A deep-ball burner with good hands and the hunger to contribute, Lockette flashed as a vertical threat late in 2011, snagging passes of 44 and 61 yards in the final two games with the latter going for a score. Given the lack of stability among the Seahawks receivers, it’s conceivable that Lockette could work his way into the regular rotation. Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin figure to log heavy minutes sharing slot duties and splitting out wide as the No. 2, but if Sidney Rice cannot stay healthy once again (would anyone be surprised if he didn’t?) and Mike Williams continues to struggle with his own health and work ethic issues (again, wouldn’t be shocking), Seattle will badly need someone to step up. That man could be Lockette.

-    Lestar Jean, WR, Houston Texans (6-3, 215 ; age 24)

After showing off nice hands and the ability to get behind coverage in the Texans’ first preseason game of 2011, Jean went on IR with a shoulder injury, wiping out his rookie year. His combination of length, overall athleticism and soft hands should throw Jean, now healthy, right back into the mix for possibly the No. 3 receiver spot behind Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter. He’ll compete with rookies DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin in the preseason to claim the role, and if he can earn it, the possibility is there for him to make some noise. Defenses will have to give so much focus to Johnson and the elite run game that a guy like Jean could burn them for big gains.

-    Cyrus Gray, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (5-10, 198 ; age 22)

With over 4,000 yards from scrimmage and 38 total touchdowns at Texas A&M, Gray was a highly productive college back. Unfortunately the rookie finds himself buried behind possibly the best 1-2 running back punch in the league in Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis. There is reason for optimism however if you’re Gray. Charles may not be 100% coming back from a torn ACL and Hillis’ bruising style lends itself to injury (as evidenced by the six games he missed in 2011). And since both need a complimentary back to keep them fresh, if either goes down Gray will have an opportunity in a one-cut scheme that perfectly fits his best attributes—vision and quickness.

-    Jeremiah Johnson, RB, Denver Broncos (5-9, 210 ; age 25)

Johnson fell under this category last year and will remain here until he either contributes further or fades away altogether. When he came into the league as an undrafted free agent with the Texans (at the same time as Foster), I pinpointed him because he was touted as Steve Slaton Lite. For those of you that may have forgotten, Slaton had just concluded a spectacular rookie year for Houston. As an ultra-quick, explosive playmaker, I saw Johnson excelling in the zone-blocking scheme in Houston. And last year he finally showed some flashes in the option attack Denver assumed with Tebow. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry on his 14 attempts and also turned seven catches into 62 yards. Though it’s unlikely Johnson will remain in Denver following the drafting of Ronnie Hillman and the expected return of Mario Fannin, if he finds himself in the mix elsewhere, he’s worth watching. Running back injuries pile up every year, and you never know when an unknown like Johnson could get an extended opportunity.

-    Bryce Brown, RB, Philadelphia Eagles (6-0, 223 ; age 21)

Brown is a project player if ever I’ve seen one. Coming out of high school in 2008 Brown was rated by as the top overall recruit in the country, the first time a running back held that regard since some guy named Adrian Peterson in 2004. But then Brown played basically one year of college ball, backing up Montario Hardesty as a true freshman at Tennessee. He ran for 460 yards and three scores that year before then transferring to Kansas State and ultimately leaving their program his junior year after sitting out the transfer season. A tremendous blend of size and speed (once clocked at a 4.32 in the forty-yard dash), Brown has the physical tools to make an impact in the pros if he’s matured enough to earn the chance. That opportunity is unlikely to happen in Philly, where he’ll come into camp behind LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis and possibly Chris Polk, but he’s worth watching to see if he lands on an active roster. The stud pedigree is certainly there.

-    Juaquin Iglesias, WR, Houston Texans (6-1, 202 ; age 24)

A former third-round pick of the Bears, Iglesias has done nothing noteworthy in his three seasons between Chicago and Minnesota. Nevertheless, he has good quickness and reliable hands and there’s a slight chance he could still develop into an effective slot receiver if given the chance. With Houston having absolutely zero experienced receivers behind Johnson and Walter, it’s possible that Iglesias could get a crack at the rotation in training camp. He’d have to beat out one of their rookie picks and the more skilled Jean, but an impressive preseason or an injury could open the door a peak.

-    Jonas Gray, RB, Miami Dolphins (5-10, 230 ; age 22)
Prior to a torn ACL that cut short his senior year in November, Gray was on an eight game scoring streak (with 12 in that span), averaging 6.9 yards per carry and looking like a mid-round draft pick. He is an impressive blend of power and speed (he ran a 4.5 forty-yard dash just four months after tearing his ACL) with enough acceleration to get into the secondary quickly through the line or break a run outside and get the corner. Though a longshot to stick with Miami—especially if he cannot play in the preseason—Gray is an ideal fit for the zone-blocking scheme they will employ. If he can show enough during August to land on a practice squad, keep an eye out in case he’s called up to an active roster. Gray has all the tools to be a productive pro back once he returns to full health.

-    Vidal Hazelton, WR, Cincinnati Bengals (6-3, 213 ; age 24)
The league is full of players who took circuitous routes to stardom. They all somehow beat the odds to reach their full potential and with a guy like Hazelton, the one thing that is for sure is that he hasn’t reached his full potential. A highly ranked recruit entering college, he fought injuries and flamed out at USC after one good season only to transfer to Cincinnati and tear his ACL in his first game as a Bearcat. He has the size, body control, athleticism and hands to become a playmaker in the NFL, but Hazelton has a long hill to climb to improve his understanding of the position and gain a team’s trust. With a lot of competition in Bengals camp, there’s a good possibility that Hazelton gets spit back onto a practice squad somewhere. But if his potential ever meets an opportunity, he could become one of those lucky few.

By ItsOnlyaGameFocker, 7/2/2012 8:39 AM
Luke, Great Job i have been reading all of you sleeper Series, I must say everyone should read this if they want to comptete or win their league. I keep re reading it because its a lot to digest. best in the biz: dynamite job!

By Luke Hoover, 7/2/2012 10:57 AM
ItsOnlyaGameFocker - Thanks. I really appreciate that, and I'm glad you see value in the series. Feel free to throw any questions my way during training camps and the preseason.

By JB_0826, 7/6/2012 2:48 PM
Very nice read, I have not heard of most of these guys.

By Luke Hoover, 7/8/2012 3:16 PM
JB - Glad you enjoyed this piece. These are definitely some of the furthest under the radar guys. Keep an eye on them during the preseason.