SLEEPERS are the most popular topics of preseason conversations and are the most rewarding picks on draft day - when they pan out, that is.
Fantasy fans crave sleepers: obscure players who develop into productive starters.
Texans running back Arian Foster was easily the top sleeper of 2010. His average draft position, according to The Sporting News, was 48th, which would put him right around the fourth or fifth round in most leagues. That's pretty sweet value for a guy who enters the final week of the regular season leading the NFL in rushing yards (1,436) and rushing touchdowns (14).
Though his numbers have slipped the last 2 weeks, Foster was arguably the most productive running back for much of the season. As such, he was included among the Daily News nominees for MVP and best running back category. We went with three other nominees just to spice things up.
Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Williams wound up winning the Daily News' Top Sleeper award. The rookie has 924 receiving yards, tied the team record with 10 touchdown catches and is a terrific option as a No. 2 wide receiver. Not bad for a guy TSN said was picked 125th and who the Daily News said was worth "a late-round flier" back in August.
He edged out Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who could be a top-five wide receiver in next season's draft, but is unlikely to play Sunday with a toe injury. Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles was third. Charles has split carries with veteran Thomas Jones and is still second in the league in rushing.
Some other award-winners, according to fan voting:
* Most valuable player: Michael Vick routed Tom Brady mostly because of the value Vick provided for where he was selected on draft day: an average of 187th overall. Vick was a monster for most of the season with his arms and legs. Unfortunately, his legacy for the year might be in coming up small during many fantasy championships in Weeks 16 and 17.
* Least valuable player: Hey, we finally found something for Randy Moss to celebrate in 2010. Moss talked and sulked his way off two teams (New England and Minnesota) and was invisible for a third (Tennessee). He has six catches over the last 9 weeks (Eagles fullback Owen Schmitt has eight) and won the LVP easily over Brett Favre.
* Best quarterback. This is where Tom Brady got his due from DN readers. Brady has 34 touchdowns and four interceptions, for Christmas' sakes. Vick finished second.
* Best wide receiver. Atlanta's Roddy White, who leads the league in catches (109) and is second to Denver's Brandon Lloyd with 1,327 receiving yards won this award over Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe. Bowe leads the league with an astounding 15 touchdowns (on only 67 catches!), but lost some votes when he started December with only three catches in three games.
* Worst quarterback. If Donovan McNabb thinks getting benched was the most disrespected he's ever felt, he better not look to fantasy fans for sympathy. The move from the Eagles to Washington was supposed to invigorate McNabb's fantasy value. Instead, it only aggravated those who took a chance on him. Speaking of sad, Brett Favre being the runner-up might be the fantasy football equivalent of Willie Mays stumbling around the outfield for the Mets in 1973.
CONTEST WINNERS: The three readers who participated in the voting and were randomly selected to win a Daily News fantasy football T-shirt are Garry Moore, Terry Seeley and Adam Gilkas. The Daily News appreciates all of those who took the time to play along.
THE FULL RESULTS (and percent of vote):
Most Valuable Player: Michael Vick, QB, Eagles 71.1; Tom Brady, QB, Patriots 26.2; Arian Foster, RB, Texans 2.7.
Least Valuable: Randy Moss, NE/Minn./Tenn. 57.7; Brett Favre, QB, Vikings 34.2; Shonn Greene, RB, Jets 8.1.
The Best ...
Quarterback: Tom Brady, Patriots 55.7; Michael Vick, Eagles 36.2; Drew Brees, Saints 8.1.
Running Back: Arian Foster, Texans 36.3; Michael Turner, Falcons 32.2; Peyton Hillis, Browns 31.5.
Wide Receiver: Roddy White, Falcons 59.5; Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs 24.3; Brandon Lloyd, Broncos 16.2.
Sleeper: Mike Williams, WR, Bucs 38.3; Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants 32.9; Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs 28.8.
The Worst ...
Quarterback: Donovan McNabb, Redskins 59.1; Brett Favre, Vikings 30.2; Matt Schaub, Texans 10.7.
Running Back: Beanie Wells, Cardinals 45.6; Shonn Greene, Jets 34.2; Ryan Mathews, Chargers 20.1.
Wide Receiver: Randy Moss, NE/Minn./Tenn. 73.7; Brandon Marshall, Dolphins 15.5; Michael Crabtree, 49ers 10.8.
Injury: Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys 51.0; Ryan Grant, RB, Packers 33.6; Kevin Kolb, QB, Eagles 15.4.
Quarterback: It might be a little chilly, but weather otherwise should be fine for San Diego's visit to Denver. This is especially good news for Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who will be looking for a bounce-back game against a Broncos secondary that might be without star cornerback Champ Bailey . . . Feel free to play Kevin Kolb Sunday against a Dallas defense that has gotten lumped up lately by such secondary QBs as Rex Grossman, Shaun Hill and David Garrard .
Running back: Tampa Bay's LeGarrette Blount has run for 100 yards in three of his last four and is approaching legendary status for his performances during fantasy playoff season. He's this year's example of why you should never stop scanning the waiver wire . . . Love that Jamaal Charles has his eyes on the rushing title. The Chiefs still have some playoff jockeying to do, so Charles should see plenty of work against Oakland's 29th-ranked rushing defense.
Wide receiver: It would be a shame if Houston's Andre Johnson (ankle) can't play against Jacksonville. Johnson had 9-146-1 against the Jags earlier this season. His availability could be decided today . . . With Minnesota's Sidney Rice ailing, get Percy Harvin in your lineup against the Lions. Harvin was targeted eight times by quarterback Joe Webb and will get even more looks with Rice (concussion) shaky at best.
* Baltimore's Derrick Mason needs two catches to become the third player with at least 60 catches in at least 11 consecutive seasons. Tony Gonzalez (13 seasons) and Jerry Rice (11) are the others.
* If Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace gets 100 yards receiving Sunday at Cleveland, he will tie John Stallworth's 1984 team record with seven games in a season. *
Ed Barkowitz, whose team almost certainly will be playing against Kevin Kolb in a championship game this weekend, has been writing about fantasy football in the Daily News since 2001. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.