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Sneaky fantasy pickups entering Week 1

9/7/2012

You've read our rankings and blog entries and chats and other good stuff and presumably are all ready for the rest of Week 1 in this sure-to-be fine 2012 fantasy football season. But have you begun to prepare for the rest of September? What about October, when the bye weeks get awfully annoying, or your December playoffs? In this Friday blog entry staple, we're not looking to the immediate Sunday like everyone else, but future Sundays with sneaky pickups to secure before everyone else knows about them.

Consider this scenario: Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, hardly known as the Cal Ripken Jr. of his sport when it comes to durability, injures something in the first half of Sunday's game at Cleveland. Perhaps you planned properly with a strong backup quarterback option, perhaps not. Chances are pretty good that Philly's backup is available in your league, and while I'm hardly touting a rookie passer -- there are already five others scheduled to start this weekend! -- or handcuffing a quarterback, the fact is Nick Foles will start looking pretty good by next Tuesday, when every team in your league will know his name.

The practice of sneaky pickups works best not at quarterback, where most fantasy teams have strong enough starting options and the usual capable backups such as Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matt Cassel, but when paying particular attention to -- you guessed it -- the running backs and wide receivers. Over the past month, I was often asked about deeper sleepers, but in reality it depends how one defines the term. Detroit Lions wide receiver Titus Young is a sleeper, but he became popular and owned in nearly all leagues. Sneaky pickups aren't popular. Not yet.

The first name that jumps to mind when it comes to this topic is Lions running back Mikel Leshoure. You won't see Leshoure this weekend or next, because he's serving a two-game suspension. You will see him in Week 3, assuming health and no other off-field problems get in the way. Kevin Smith is the starting running back, but I think that's short-lived. Leshoure is owned in 21 percent of ESPN standard leagues, up from 12 percent in the past week because people like me keep touting him -- it makes my choices late in drafts difficult when opponents read my work! -- and well, it seems obvious he will get opportunity.

Let's go position by position for other names on my mind. Remember, if you're thinking about adding someone such as Denver Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman today, whether because you like him or own Broncos starter Willis McGahee, do it before Sunday's games start. If McGahee gets hurt and Hillman pulls a Kevin Ogletree, come Tuesday it's too late. Everyone's in on the fun and you might not get him.

Quarterback

The best backup quarterback in the NFL, at least for fantasy purposes, unless there's a Kurt Warner lurking, is Tim Tebow. Look, it's true. When Tebow played last year he was a top-10 quarterback, easily. The offensive weapons and air and lots of stuff are different in North Jersey, but the point is, if Mark Sanchez stinks Sunday -- and I actually think he'll be very good and put some of this nonsense to rest -- then Tebow becomes popular. Currently, Tebow is owned in fewer leagues (24 percent) than Russell Wilson. The other quarterbacks who should be more popular are Jake Locker, Sanchez (9.2 percent for last year's No. 10 quarterback scorer) and John Skelton. Look, I'm not saying Skelton is Peyton Manning, but having Larry Fitzgerald make plays for him is going to help.

Running back

Let's keep the flex position options to fewer than 10 percent owned. Alfred Morris and Taiwan Jones are the obvious ones. Morris could actually start in Washington, but then again so could about three other guys or someone who hasn't actually been signed to a contract yet. Yes, free agent Ryan Grant could literally walk off the street and start for Mike Shanahan in two days. It wouldn't shock me. Jones is the speedy backup fighting with Mike Goodson for love when Darren McFadden goes down. I want to be positive, but let's be realistic, too. Hillman, Isaiah Pead, Bernard Pierce, Dion Lewis and Alex Green are just a few handcuff options who come recommended, not only if you own the starter, but if you have room. Do you really need four bench wide receivers if your three starters all made our top 20? Chop one for running back depth.

The other name to watch is San Diego Chargers fullback Le'Ron McClain; sure, Ronnie Brown starts with Ryan Mathews out, but I don't think Brown has much left, and McClain should get goal-line looks immediately and perhaps keep them whenever Mathews returns. Plus, add McClain today in case you own Marshawn Lynch, who might or might not suit up in one of the three Sunday late afternoon games. If Lynch sits and you don't own Robert Turbin, you can plug McClain in and expect something Monday night.

Wide receiver

Using Detroit's Leshoure as our example, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jerome Simpson is very talented, and also suspended for the first three games. You're recall Simpson was the fellow that did the goal-line, forward flip over a defender last year, one of his four touchdowns. There's opportunity for Simpson in Week 4 to step up and matter. There's potentially a more immediate need in St. Louis with that other Steve Smith; the Rams play the Detroit Lions, a team that again figures to be leaky in the secondary. That's not to say Smith is a great Week 1 play, but if he plays great, you could wish you had secured him in advance. Wide receiver is so deep, but among the names owned in fewer than 3 percent of leagues that interest me are Mohamed Sanu, Josh Gordon, Rod Streater, Greg Salas, Chris Givens (I heard a Torrey Smith comparison there) and Brian Hartline. Former Patriots Deion Branch and Jabar Gaffney, currently free agents, also interest me, as each could find meaningful work right away. Don't just load up on rookies on fantasy benches. Veterans like Ogletree come from nowhere to produce as well.

Remember, nobody's saying you must be proactive and save a spot or two on your bench for an upside guy, and plenty of these names will be irrelevant soon, but if you took that shot a year ago on Victor Cruz, it certainly worked out. It only takes one guy working out to make a big difference, so use the bench wisely and always plan ahead.

Have a great weekend and best of luck the rest of Week 1!