Most people understand that drafting a fantasy football team takes more than just your average player knowledge. It also takes patience, which most of us do NOT have. It takes a bit of flexibility on your part—usually required AFTER the fit you throw when the guy ahead of you grabs the ONE player you've been waiting for—and the ability to look where others are likely NOT to look in any given draft.
It's in the nether regions of any given fantasy football draft that we often find one or two options that wind up surprising the living hell out of us with a ton of unexpected value—I believe I have five!
Let's check it out.
Arizona Cardinals D/ST
I'll make this short and sweet: This is a very underrated defense, and you'd be wise to watch them throughout the summer and even consider drafting Arizona in Yahoo! leagues, and other leagues utilizing team defenses.
In 2011, Arizona was ranked 18th overall (17th against the pass, 21st against the run and 7th in total sacks). This team finished the last six games of the 2011 season 5-1, and they were led by a solid defensive performance with 6 total turnovers in as many games.
The Cardinals wisely signed Calais Campbell who finished last season with 51 solo tackles, 22 assist tackles, 8 sacks and 3 blocked field goals. They already have Patrick Peterson, William Gay and Greg Toler, and third round rookie sensation Jamell Flemming (CB, Oklahoma) has already begun to turn heads in camp with many initially feeling he could give Gay and/or Toler a run for their money.
The Cardinals can only get better defensively in 2012, but they are still a team that isn't getting much attention. I really believe this team is not only underrated, but also a solid value D/ST pick.
Put them on your radar, pencil them in on your cheat sheets, and keep a close eye on this unit during training camp You'll eventually see.
Leonard Hankerson, WR, Washington Redskins
The wide receiver battle in Washington will be a long battle for many fans to keep track of. Pierre Garcon is pretty much a given at the one end, but there is still the question of who will play opposite of him.
Josh Morgan was also brought in, but figures not to be the guy. Santana Moss is having a "one-last-go" at the job, but figures to be relegated to specific duties if he even makes the team.
Hankerson is still on the mend from his hip injury that ended his season last year, but he has already seen some work out of the slot during OTAs and minicamp, and let's not forget this was the apparent heir to Moss' throne on the outside. We saw flashes of what Hankerson brings to the table last season as he did manage 13 catches for 163 yards in just four games.
His four years at Miami (FL) yielded 134 catches for 2,160 yards, 22 TDs and 16.1 ypc
Bottom line, the kid needs to be on your radar now since he is barely being projected as a late-round flier at best, and if he comes on strong in training camp, you could very easily consider drafting him towards the back end of your draft and wind up with a solid value pick.
Hankerson is a strong receiver that creates mismatches and is even willing to play over the middle—a job that many receivers are tentative about. I'd seriously consider locking in on him.
Jared Cook, TE, Tennessee Titans
Cook is a guy who many feel is a three-year bust heading into his fourth year of service. This sentiment comes from the fact that many felt Cook was going to break out in 2011. His 49 catch, 759 yard, 3 TD performance in 2011 is, however, a bit underestimated.
By the end of the season, we began to watch Cook gain a surmountable amount of confidence. Cook hauled in 21 catches for 335 yards and a single TD in his last three games which raised a few eye brows.
Cook is certainly a guy who you want to begin watching now as camp progresses. Cook's current 142 ADP suggests he could even wind up as waiver wire fodder this year, but I believe if he does continue to progress, taking a chance on him at the tail-end of your draft could wind up paying quality dividends.
Steve Smith, WR, St. Louis Rams
Remember this guy? Did ya even know he now plays for the St. Louis Rams? No? Well did you further know that Smith is a legitimate contender for one of the open wide-out positions in St. Louis?
Everyone is naturally assuming that rookies Brian Quick and Chris Givens will just automatically start this season as the primary wide-outs, and to be honest, there's a good chance of that. Steve Smith, on the other hand, can still very much take over one of the rookie sensations, or even wind up slitting time with one of them at the very least.
Putting guys on your radar NOW gives you the necessary supplemental information you need when deciding who to target at the end of your draft. Smith is definitely one of the guys to keep your eye on. Smith has already impressed during OTA's and minicamps—according to a report from stltoday.com—and let's not forget this was the guy in New York who caught 107 balls for 1,220 yards and 7 TDs in 2009.
Peyton Hillis, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Everybody loved this guy in 2010, and everyone learned real quick how to hate him in 2011. Well, Hillis now has a new home in Kansas City and is projected to be the primary backup to Jamaal Charles.
So why put him on your radar?
We still haven't heard any updates concerning whether or not Charles will be cleared for training camp (as of June 25th), but he is "expected" to be available. In the meantime, Peyton Hillis has been taking first-team reps and has looked very sharp thus far. Hillis is a 1,000 yard capable back—remember that—and should at the very least be put on your radar. If you're drafting Jamaal Charles in your fantasy football draft, I would certainly grab Hillis (79.2 ADP) as a handcuff.
Be sure to check out our various Top 50 or better player rankings below: