Don't neglect later rounds in fantasy football draft

Texans QB Matt Schaub: A bargain as a backup. DAVE EINSEL / Associated Press
Texans QB Matt Schaub: A bargain as a backup. DAVE EINSEL / Associated Press
Posted: September 03, 2012

This time of year, fantasy enthusiasts tend to obsess over their first-round draft picks. Do you go with Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy, or Ray Rice with the top overall pick? How early should you jump on Aaron Rodgers and Calvin Johnson?

Is it still funny to claim you're taking a kicker with your first pick? (Answer: For the love of all things sacred, no. Please, stop!)

While these decisions are important, you'd be better served expending more mental energy on the middle and later rounds, where championship fantasy rosters are built. After all, while it's interesting to debate whether Rob Gronkowski merits a second-round pick this year, many of those who stole him late in last season's draft rode him all the way to a title.

Fantasy veterans know the secret to great drafting is not simply selecting the best players available, but taking them no earlier than necessary. You may share my belief that Torrey Smith is on the verge of a breakout season; but you're hurting yourself - and, worse yet, begging for ridicule from your opponents - if you pull the trigger too early.

So who are this year's hidden gems?

Let's take a look at my sleeper picks of 2012 - several players poised to outperform their current average draft position and help lead you to fantasy glory.

Matt Schaub, QB, Texans. It's not that Schaub is an unknown commodity - it's that he once again has been saddled with the "injury-prone" label that he had nearly shed after playing every game of the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Available as late as the 10th round, he's a bargain as your backup QB with starter potential.

Mark Ingram, RB, Saints. Ingram was the hot rookie pick last season, but assorted injuries conspired to ruin his inaugural campaign. He has the talent to be one of the top rushers in the league, which is why New Orleans used its first-round selection on him. Look for Ingram to provide high returns on the team's investment this year, especially in the red zone.

Kevin Smith, RB, Lions. Jahvid Best is likely headed to the physically unable to perform list due to lingering concussion concerns. Mikel Leshoure missed his rookie season with an Achilles injury and faces a two-game suspension thanks to a pair of marijuana arrests. Smith is poised to start the season as the Lions' primary back and, if he can just stay healthy, could hold on to the lucrative job all year.

Ryan Williams, RB, Cardinals. A torn patellar tendon cost him his rookie season, but Williams looks sharp heading into his second year. He is an explosive runner who can easily supplant the injury-prone and underachieving Beanie Wells as Arizona's primary back.

Torrey Smith, WR, Ravens. The second-year speedster flashed his sky-high potential several times last year. With Anquan Boldin on the decline, Smith should assume the role of Joe Flacco's go-to receiver. A top-10 finish is within his reach.

Titus Young, WR, Lions. The freakishly talented receiver scored four TDs in the final five games of his rookie season. Lining up opposite Calvin Johnson, Young should see plenty of single coverage. If he simply grows up and eliminates his immaturity issues, he could be a star.

Danny Amendola, WR, Rams. Often compared to Wes Welker, Amendola has great rapport with Sam Bradford. He's fitting in beautifully with the new West Coast-style scheme being installed in St. Louis, and he holds extra value in point-per-reception leagues.

Randall Cobb, WR, Packers. He distinguished himself in his rookie season as an electrifying kick returner, and now he is quickly seizing the No. 3 receiver job. With Aaron Rodgers at the controls, that can be a productive role.

Jacob Tamme, TE, Broncos. Reunited with Peyton Manning, who first made him fantasy-relevant in Indianapolis, Tamme will benefit from instant rapport with his signal-caller.

Randy Bullock, K, Texans. Provided he wins the kicking competition with free agent Shayne Graham, this rookie will assume mop-up duties for one of the highest-scoring offenses in the league. Bullock is worth a last-round flier.

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