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Fantasy Football sleepers and busts

Ahhh, September. You got your chips, your beverage and your Sundays off. You’ve drafted your fantasy teams and are on the hunt for the next big sleeper.

But if you’re stuck between Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt. I’ll help you out there: neither.

Big names may dominate the cyber-sport of fantasy football, but nothing beats landing the biggest sleepers while staying away from the biggest busts.

In fact, it’s the bust that kills a team — and it’s sleepers that win you a championship. So that’s what we take a look at here.

Quarterback busts

Peyton Manning – Manning returned from neck surgery this time last year to find masses of criticism and plenty naysayers. Well, he certainly proved them to be fools.

This year however, Manning finds himself atop the bust list — even with the most potent receivers in football surrounding him.

The reasoning is simple with Manning: No NFL quarterback has ever managed to maintain top fantasy stats past the age of 38. Sure, he’ll probably be pretty good in real life. But this is fantasy, the furthest thing from reality.

Andrew Luck – Luck is not going to regress as a signal caller. He does, though, find himself in a predicament.

With Bruce Arians leading the Arizona Cardinals, Chuck Pagano will be calling the plays. The two coaches have very different philosophies.

Arians likes to pass, while Pagano’s tendencies are conservative. This is the sole reason that Luck will not put up the type of numbers that he did last year, even with upgrades all around him.

Quarterback sleepers

 Colin Kaepernick – Everyone knows his name, but most are under-evaluating the young stud QB.

Many question the receivers around him. Anquan Boldin, Jon Baldwin and Mario Manningham are solid players, and there looks to be a fair amount of depth behind those guys.

Some wonder if teams have actually discovered an answer to the read option, as seemingly all defensive coordinators have claimed. Those same coordinators spent their summer with college coaches, none of which have found an answer.

Moreover, Kaepernick is larger than most linebackers and faster than a lot of defensive backs, so good luck trying to tackle him. Rush yards and passing touchdowns will come in droves for Kaepernick.

Michael Vick – Before Vick was sent to prison for two years, he was busy setting the world ablaze.

Vick was using his legs much like Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III, and had a decent amount of help around. Chip Kelly’s blur offense is something that will keep defenses on their heels and wiped out, and allow for Vick to run and pass at will.

Vick should have a very nice year — just after Matthew Berry decided not to put him on his sleeper list.

Running back busts

CJ Spiller – Spiller was a rushing maniac last year. Many analysts didn’t think it could last. Then he lasted until your final playoff week.

Last year Spiller also had a quarterback. This year, Buffalo has uncertainty. Lots of it.

There’s a good chance defenses will stack the box in an effort to force EJ Manuel to make some mistakes. Young quarterbacks tend to make many. For Spiller, this creates too many issues to consider him a first-round fantasy pick.

Alfred Morris – Morris’ place on this list has a lot to do with Mike Shanahan. Well, Shanahan and Roy Helu, who the Redskins still say they really like.

Shanahan running backs are a fantasy owner’s nightmare. He’ll say one thing, then do the complete opposite, as in 2012 when he named Tim Hightower the starter — just before releasing him. He’s done it his entire career.

Morris is a very talented player and has insane upside, but taking him in the first round and then hearing that Helu is getting the nod would devastate a team.

Chris Johnson – Several owners continue to hold out for CJ-sub-1k. Just a few seasons removed from being a fantasy monster, Johnson will not bounce back in any case. He just doesn’t have it.

Johnson’s legs are beat up, his supporting cast with the Titans is less than ideal and his offensive line certainly doesn’t help much either. Just don’t draft Johnson.

Running back sleepers

Chris Ivory – Remember Shonn Greene? You know, the guy who was picked at the end of the eighth round last year and proceeded to dominate despite playing for the New York Jets?

Greene rushed for 1,063 yards on 276 attempts and scored eight times. Greene is in Tennessee now and Ivory is taking his spot in New York.

All the Jets can do is run the ball and Ivory is far more talented than Greene ever was. His legs are fresh after playing a part of the Saints three-headed-monster, where he averaged 5.1 yards per carry over the past three seasons.

Steven Jackson – A household name for years, Jackson is finding himself in a very different scenario than he was when he played for St. Louis.

Now with Atlanta, Jackson will see the red zone carries that Michael Turner once did. Except even at 30 years old, Jackson is still a bruiser with the ability to shake defenders out of their shoes. Julio Jones and Roddy White will only help make the veteran a potent fantasy back.

Wide receiver busts

Reggie Wayne – Wayne is entering the phase of his career that many before him have been through. He is turning 35 this year, isn’t as fast as he once was and is playing in an offense that doesn’t favor his strengths.

Now also competing for looks with Darrius Heyward-Bey on top of T.Y. Hilton, Wayne would be lucky to see 80 targets and 60 receptions. He is being taken late in the third round, early fourth, and shouldn’t put up numbers better than a sixth round wide-out.

Victor Cruz – Salsa-dancing maniac Cruz just signed the biggest contract of any slot receiver in NFL history.

Even then, there is no suspicion of a drop-off in production, but rather a lack of complimentary weapons as the oft-injured Hakeem Nicks is the only other proven receiver on the roster. Once Nicks goes down, defenses will have no one other than Cruz to focus on and David Wilson is hardly the running back than a healthy Ahmad Bradshaw was.

Wide receiver sleepers

Golden Tate – Seattle has a stable of young receivers in Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin and Tate. But Tate gets the better matchup and his targets have risen steadily in his past three seasons.

Now finishing out his rookie deal and in his second year playing with Russell Wilson, Tate should hit the lottery. He had 45 receptions and seven touchdowns last season, a serious uptick from his 35 catches and three touchdowns in his sophomore campaign.

Alshon Jeffery – Matt Forte, Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. That’s what defenses have to worry about when facing the Chicago Bears.

Jeffery, who was initially thought of as a possession receiver, showed flashes of brilliance during his 2012 rookie season and will see the most favorable defensive matchup of any player on the team.

Mark Trestman also took over for Lovie Smith as Chicago’s head coach and will do everything he can to lighten the heavy load that Brandon Marshall has carried for so many seasons. (Marshall was targeted 194 times in 2012 compared to Jeffery’s 48 times.)

Keenan Allen – Going undrafted in nearly all fantasy leagues, Allen has become a starter in San Diego following an ACL tear to Danario Alexander and the release of veteran Robert Meachem.

Drafted out of Cal in the third round — much to the dismay of draft analysts — Allen had one of the worst quarterbacks in the NCAA and still put up record numbers.

One fear scouts had was Allen’s 4.71 40-yard-dash time, which he clocked while recovering from a PCL sprain. You know who else ran a 4.71 40-yard-dash? Jerry Rice.

Allen has impeccable hands and plenty of experience shaking defenders while coming back to help the quarterback, a trait that will come in handy when Phillip Rivers scrambles in the pocket with his awful offensive line.

Follow @SFBay and @JLeskiwNFL on Twitter and at for full coverage of fantasy football.

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