Inevitably there is always a ton of talk around draft time about which players are sleepers. Well, that got me to thinking, what makes a player a sleeper? I’m going to attempt to answer that question all while giving some insight into some of the draft strategies we like to use at Fantasy Draft Proxies.

By definition, a sleeper would be a player that is not widely expected to be a top performer, yet surprises most people and performers at a much higher level than expected. That is fine and well, but that knowledge doesn’t help you one bit in drafting a better team. I believe there is a time and place to draft sleepers, and I believe there is a formula to identifying the sleepers with the best chance of performing.

In any fantasy football draft you are dealing with uncertainties. We all wish we had the sports almanac from Back to the Future part 2, but we don’t (If you do have the almanac please e-mail me). That being said, start every draft with as little of risk as possible. We want “sure things” in the early rounds of a draft. I frequently see people draft a sleeper early in a draft instead of taking a more proven player with less risk. If you like Danny¬† Amendola as a sleeper this year, you don’t have to draft him in the fifth round, instead draft Reggie Wayne or Jeremy Maclin. There is a time and a place to go after higher risk higher reward players; that time is after you have a solid base of a lineup. In every draft I like to focus on building a solid dependable team that I can reasonably count on fairly consistent production. After I have accomplished that, I look for value and sleepers.

When looking to identify a sleeper what should you look for? I believe the key components for a sleeper’s potential are talent and opportunity. First, let’s evaluate talent. I am not a pro football scout, but with today’s media coverage it is not hard to find out what scouts and coaches think. When the Oakland Raiders coaching staff said positive things about wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey this spring, that to me became an indication of talent. Read what coaches, scouts, and fellow players are saying.

Talent alone does not mean Heyward-Bey become a player that will help you win in fantasy football. Next, we need to look at opportunity. Does the player have the likelihood for playing time or chances to make plays and score you points. For Heyward-Bey, the answer is, yes. He will be a starter and should stay in that role all year. Another great place to find opportunity is at the backup running back position. Already this year, Cleveland running back Trent Richardson has had minor knee surgery. All accounts are that he will be ready for the regular season, but this is still a cause for concern. If we believe that Richardson is a guy that may have trouble staying healthy that creates opportunity for backup Montario Hardesty. Once you have a solid starting roster, looking for guys like Hardesty or CJ Spiller and Ben Tate becomes a good idea. These players may not be projected to score as many points as other options now, but they are positioned to become high performance players given the right opportunity.

Another consideration when evaluating a sleeper candidate is, what team does he play for? Looking for a wide receiver sleeper on a team with a terrible quarterback does not present your players with great opportunities. Washington Redskin running back Evan Royster is a popular sleeper for some people, but if we know anything about the Washington Redskin running game it is that we don’t know who coach Mike Shanahan will let carry the ball each week. This is a situation to avoid if you can.

So in a nutshell, don’t go crazy over buzz you heard about a sleeper. Be patient, draft safe players early, then gamble where you can find opportunity and talent.