What is the true definition of a fantasy football sleeper?

Being in the fantasy football business for nearly a decade now (man, I’m getting old!), I’m finding the more experts and analysts that are online and on television, the more widened the definition of a sleeper has become.

I actually had a conversation about this topic with my good pal from ESPN, Tristan Cockcroft, while we wrote our respective columnsĀ  (and kept an eye on our beloved Yankees) this afternoon.

Is Carson Palmer REALLY a fantasy sleeper for 2009? (David Kohl/Associated Press)

Is Carson Palmer REALLY a fantasy sleeper for 2009? (David Kohl/Associated Press)

Based on our chat, I’m starting to think I take a more hard-line approach on the term than some others in the business.

Case in point: Tristan thinks Carson Palmer is a sleeper this season. What’s more, fellow NFL.com fantasy editor Adam Rank thinks Chad Ochocinco is a sleeper, too.

I don’t consider either Palmer or Ochocinco a sleeper for a few reasons. First, both players are only one season removed from being fantasy stars. Palmer had two straight 4,000-yard seasons (2006 and 2007) and averaged better than 28 touchdown passes in the three seasons before 2008.

OK, so Palmer missed most of last season because of an injured elbow, but does one poor season transform him from a star to a sleeper? Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

In the case of Ochocinco, he’s only a sleeper if you didn’t know he used to be named Chad Johnson! The controversial wideout had six consecutive seasons with at least 1,100 yards and was considered a No. 1 fantasy receiver as recently as last season.

How in the world is he a sleeper? I don’t think he is, not in the least.

I think Palmer and Ochocinco could be nice draft values in this “what have you done for me lately” fantasy world, but sleepers they are not. In fact, I think you’d have to have been asleep for the last decade to consider Ochocinco a sleeper!

My definition of a sleeper is more strict. It’s those players who you’ve rarely heard of and come out of nowhere to make an impact, or guys who are seeing more prominent roles for their respective teams and have never had truly good seasons in the past.

I think Tyler Thigpen was the epitome of a sleeper last season. No one could have predicted his impact during the preseason, but he was a sleeper nonetheless. Ryan Grant and Earnest Graham were sleepers in 2007. Anquan Boldin was a sleeper in his rookie season.

That’s why you have pre-draft sleepers and in-season sleepers. A sleeper can just as easily be taken in the draft as he is plucked off the waiver wire.

Anthony Gonzalez is a nice sleeper this season. So is Felix Jones. And Ray Rice. You already know their names, sure, but are you guaranteed to get the sort of increased overall production that you or I might expect?

No, that’s why they’re sleepers!

Anyways, I would really love to get your feedback on this topic. Am I too harsh in my opinion of what makes up a sleeper? What is your definition? Can you make me a legitimate argument that Palmer or Ochocinco are sleepers?

Send me an email to AskFabiano@nfl.com and put “Sleepers” in the subject field, or leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Include your full name, city and state, and I’ll post the best responses in an upcoming blog!

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