This is the 38th in a series of opinionated fantasy football columns that will be posted daily in July and August, providing fantasy owners with some insights to consider as they prepare for their drafts. You can get an in-depth preview of the upcoming fantasy football season with the purchase of the Yahoo! Sports / Pro Football Weekly Fantasy Football Guide 2010, available now in newsstands and bookstores, or online at PFWstore.com.
It's a pretty safe bet nobody was predicting a year ago at this time that Vernon Davis would tie the single-season league record for most TD catches by a tight end. But it turned out the Niners' former first-round draft pick took full advantage of his freakish athletic ability with a freakishly successful fantasy campaign.
While there do not appear to be any NFC West skill players ready to burst out of the woodwork the same way Davis did in 2009, there is a handful of intriguing sleepers more than a little worthy of fantasy-flier consideration. What follows is a rundown of the top NFC West fantasy sleeper candidates by position:
Alex Smith / 49ers — At the very least, Smith should be considered a solid fantasy backup. No longer looking bothered by the injury to his throwing shoulder that hindered him the previous two seasons, the first overall pick in the 2005 draft registered a career-high 18 TD passes in 2009 despite only 10 starts. Should Smith continue that pace over an entire season, he could end up flirting with a 30-TD campaign in 2010. Entering his contract year, he certainly figures to be motivated to the max. It also won't hurt that Smith will have the same offensive coordinator (Jimmy Raye) in back-to-back seasons for the first time in his career. Daily team observers took special note of Smith's command and leadership in early offseason practice sessions, as it appeared he was no longer preoccupied with learning his own assignments. Working for an entire offseason with 2009 No. 1 pick Michael Crabtree, who was out of the mix last summer because of injury and contract concerns, also should help. The run-oriented, smashmouth philosophy favored by head coach Mike Singletary could be a drawback. But with targets like Crabtree and Davis, Smith still might prove to be a very viable fantasy option.
Supersleeper: Sam Bradford / Rams
Justin Forsett / Seahawks — With the Seahawks surprisingly cutting the cord with trade acquisition LenDale White, the elusive Forsett probably offers the most fantasy potential at running back. While a time-share situation with Julius Jones appears in the offing with new head coach Pete Carroll preferring to use multiple backs, there are several reasons why Forsett could develop into a surprisingly effective fantasy heavyweight. The biggest reason is the big-play ability he displayed as a runner/receiver/returner in '09. Carroll hasn't stopped raving about Forsett's 5.4 yard-per-carry average in '09. Forsett twice ran for 100 yards when Jones was sidelined with injuries in '09. It would not be a shock to see him steal Jones' thunder in 2010 while racking up huge yardage totals both running behind an improved offensive line and catching passes out of the backfield.
Supersleeper: Anthony Dixon / 49ers
Laurent Robinson / Rams — Acquired in a trade from Atlanta in exchange for fifth-and sixth-round picks in April 2009, Robinson was off to a very impressive start (13 catches for 167 yards) before suffering a season-ending fractured leg and ankle sprain against Green Bay in Week Three this past season. The Rams have quite a crowd at wide receiver, as well as a likely starting QB in Sam Bradford who figures to have major growing pains. But there's reason to believe the Rams will go out of their way to open up the attack a bit this season with Bradford at the helm, and Robinson could be the biggest beneficiary of that game plan, provided he can stay healthy.
Supersleeper: Golden Tate / Seahawks
Ben Patrick / Cardinals — Patrick might have been much more of a fantasy factor had he not started off last season with a four-game suspension for taking a banned substance. When he has managed to get on the field — he also has had his share of injury problems, such as the bruised kneecap that has recently sidelined him — Patrick has proven himself to be a very reliable red-zone target (remember his nifty TD catch in Super Bowl XLIII against the Steelers?). In an offense that figures to have a new look and style with Matt Leinart replacing Kurt Warner, Patrick could be a surprisingly productive weapon.
Supersleeper: Michael Hoomanawanui / Rams
Jay Feely / Cardinals — Feely shapes up as a solid replacement for the departed Neil Rackers after making 30-of-36 FG attempts for the Jets in '09, including a 55-yarder. With Leinart under center replacing Warner, the likelihood of more field goals and fewer touchdowns is considerable. Don't be surprised if the desert air really agrees with Feely, who team insiders tell us has wasted no time making a very strong impression on his new teammates.
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