It's nice to have a stud running back like Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens or an elite wide receiver such as Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions on your fantasy football team. However, as often as not, it's not your first-round picks that win fantasy football leagues.
Instead, it's the middle-round draft picks that come from nowhere to post big numbers.
Finding one of those "sleeper" players is the sort of lottery ticket that can turn a contending fantasy football squad into a championship team. Here are a few players who, for whatever reason, would seem to have a solid shot at outperforming their draft position in 2012.
Alex Smith, QB, San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith finally showed some signs of life last year in his seventh NFL season. The former first overall pick threw for a career-high 3,174 yards and 17 touchdowns while leading the 49ers to within one game of a berth in Super Bowl XLVI.
Smith's numbers weren't eye-popping, and neither was his 15th-place finish among quarterbacks in fantasy points. However, that came with perhaps the worst set of wide receivers in the NFL.
San Francisco has retooled the position with the likes of Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and rookie A.J. Jenkins. Therefore, with the 49ers set to make another playoff run, Smith has an excellent chance of bettering last year's numbers and providing excellent value for his fantasy owners.
Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints
Just as was the case this year, this running back from Alabama was the first player at his position selected in the 2011 NFL draft. However, the Cleveland Browns will be hoping that Trent Richardson has a much more successful rookie campaign than his predecessor Mark Ingram, who struggled with injuries en route to gaining less than 500 yards for the New Orleans Saints in 2011.
That being said, the table would seem to be set for a bounce-back sophomore season for Ingram. The departure of wide receiver Robert Meachem in free agency and the suspension of head coach Sean Payton could take some air out of the New Orleans aerial attack, which will cause Drew Brees to rely more on the ground game.
A healthy Ingram should be able to establish himself as the lead option in the Saints backfield, and with the former Heisman Trophy winner also the favorite for goal-line carries, the potential exists for top-25 production that will easily outpace his price tag.
Malcom Floyd, WR, San Diego Chargers
It was an up-and-down eighth NFL season for wide receiver Malcolm Floyd of the San Diego Chargers a year ago, as Floyd missed four games and parts of others with an assortment of injuries. However, he still managed to haul in 43 passes for 856 yards and five touchdowns.
The departure of Vincent Jackson elevates Floyd to lead receiver status in San Diego, at least until newcomer Robert Meachem gets acclimated. This should mean additional targets for a player who averaged nearly 20 yards a reception last year.
Floyd has played in 16 games only once in his career, so durability is a concern. However, given the modest cost required to acquire him, Floyd's potential for production far outweighs his injury risk.
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