Erin Skelley, aka "Erin the Fantasy Girl" on SportsRadio 610 AM in Houston, will write a weekly fantasy football column this season for HoustonTexans.com.
Oh, fantasy football, how much I've missed you! It's been seven long months for me, even longer for those who missed the playoffs. I have pined, I have yearned and I have given many helpless looks at my empty stat tracker. And now you're finally here. My sweet precious!
This year is especially sweet as I join the HoustonTexans.com lineup. For the last five years, I served as Erin the Fantasy Girl on SportsRadio 610 as a blogger and weekly guest of the morning show. Three seasons ago, I joined the Texans pregame radio show, giving last-minute sit-start-add-drop-laugh-cry advice. I also have held the dubious distinction of managing Marc Vandermeer's fantasy team (countless men are shaking their heads right now, Marc. But before you judge, please note we fared quite well: Three Super Bowl appearances, one championship ring, and one season I want to forget. I blame Chris Johnson.).
What can you expect from me this year? Pure fantasy goodness. I'll help you prepare for your draft, prime you for Opening Day, and find those hidden gems throughout the season. And if you can't get enough here, catch me on Houston Texans Radio on SportsRadio 610, both pregame and during the week. For those who need a little tutoring or prefer the 140-character version, follow me – and send me questions relentlessly – on Twitter @erinskelley.
As your Texans march through training camp, you have your own preseason preparation to fulfill as a fake general manager. It's a big job. But relax, I've done a little homework for you already.
Anyone can follow a draft cheat sheet. That's what most GMs do. Sure, that's a fair start. But the key is locating the secrets, the scratch-and-dents, the steals. That's how you gain your edge, both in drafting and the day-to-day management. Good news, my friends: I have these secrets. Take a listen as I whisper a few of my favorite sleepers.
Eric Decker, WR, Denver Broncos – Tim Tebow ruined his 2011 season. In his first five games, Decker caught 22 passes for 217 yards and 4 touchdowns. Post-Kyle Orton, the he caught 22 passes the rest of the season. The rest of the season! Denver's extreme quarterback makeover resulted in the one-and-only Peyton Manning, who should give Decker yummy stats. Projecting 900 yards and 7 TDs. Solid sixth-round pick.
Isaac Redman, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers – Redman is the favorite fill-in for Rashard Mendenhall, who will start the season on the bench, potentially on the PUP list for six games. This provides prime opportunity for Redman, who has a lot of pieces falling into place. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley is looking to reinvigorate the sad Steelers offense, which ranked 21st in the league last year. Pittsburgh is expected to run more, which is why the team invested high draft picks on its O-line. Redman should impress – as he did late last season with 127 yards and two TDs vs. Denver in the playoffs – and maintain at least 10-15 touches when Mendenhall returns. Best-case scenario, Redman remains the starter. Smart pick in the seventh round.
Stevan Ridley, RB, New England Patriots – I was hesitant to include Ridley. After all, aren't all Patriots running backs sleepers? Belichick loves to keep opposing teams – and fantasy owners – guessing. However, Ridley is the early favorite, practicing with the first team. The second-year pro from LSU is a good goal-line back to help finish off Tom Brady's hard work. Ridley would be a nice option to target as your No. 3 RB or flex, as he has the potential to become a very strong No. 2. Draft with confidence in Round 9. Actually, let me rephrase that. Draft with confidence, with the understanding Bill Belichick could easily change his mind.
Brandon LaFell, WR, Carolina Panthers – The Panthers wideout is expected to win the team's No. 2 WR position. LaFell reported to camp in good shape and has a better grasp of the playbook this year. With Steve Smith's 2011 renaissance season, LaFell took the table scraps. Cam Newton should spread the ball around this year, giving LaFell a good chance at 800 yards and 5 TDs, and making him a good value in the seventh round.
Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens – Seven touchdowns as a rookie isn't bad. Keep in mind, Smith didn't play in 2011 until Week 3. He showed the ability to burn receivers as a dangerous downfield threat. His biggest challenges were Joe Flacco's ability to get him the ball and his rookie route sense. Plus, Smith played without the polish of most top receivers. But he's a sophomore now, and experience should go a long way for this budding star. Expect Smith to surpass Anquan Boldin this year as the top Baltimore target and reach the 900 yard-mark. His recent ankle sprain doesn't sounds serious. Currently drafting in the sixth round. Bargain.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers – With Mike Wallace contract talks going sour and the retirement of Hines Ward, Sanders is a solid No. 2 WR in Pittsburgh, perhaps even competing with Antonio Brown for the No. 1 slot. His injury history concerns me, but not enough to overlook him in the ninth round.
Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee Titans – Call this a super sleeper, as Matt Hasselbeck appears locked in as the starter in Tennessee. But an aging Hasselbeck gives Locker a good chance to take over. And although it was brief, Locker showed poise, agility and accuracy last year when forced to play (542 yards, 1 TD). He'll be fantasy-relevant, perhaps sooner than expected. Dynasty leagues take note: He's worth a late-round grab. All others, watch the Titans' season with your hand on the keyboard.
Any New York Jets running back not named Shonn Greene – Another season of average Shonn Greene production. Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell are next in line.
Other notables: Randall Cobb, Denarius Moore, Jacquizz Rodgers, Isaiah Pead, Doug Baldwin, Vincent Brown, Ryan Williams.
*Erin Skelley joins Houston Texans Radio every week on SportsRadio 610. Follow her on Twitter @erinskelley. She'll babble fantasy to anyone who will listen. *