2007 NFL Sleeper Picks
by Jordan Adams - 09/04/2007
With a fantastic opener slated for Thursday night between the Saints and Colts, as well as a full schedule on Sunday, the new season is upon us and all week we'll be geared up to scrape and dig for answers to find out who could be this year's New Orleans. Every year it seems there are several surprise teams that rise to the surface without anyone seeing them coming. And on the other side of the spectrum we'll witness the mess of one or two teams that bomb their season and fail to live up to any and all expectations (see 2006 Carolina Panthers). Here is a look at several 2007 NFL sleeper picks that could turn some heads this fall.
San Francisco 49ers
The consensus pick for the team most likely to further improve off their strong finish to last season, not to mention a wonderful draft class brought in this past April. Quarterback Alex Smith could vie for one of the three Pro Bowl spots, as he has finally matured to an ample option under center with weapons around him. Frank Gore missed the preseason because of a broken hand, but the third year tailback is coming off a terrific season in which he tallied 1,695 yards on the ground and eight scores. Smith's aerial attack will feature tight end Vernon Davis, a physical specimen with all the tools, as well as wide out Darrell Jackson who was brought over from division rival Seattle in the off-season.
The defense again will show strong improvement, especially up front. The linebacking corps sees Manny Lawson in his second year from N.C. State, while first round pick Patrick Willis is a tackling machine in the middle. Nate Clements was the team's biggest summer signing, inking the ex-Buffalo Bill to sure up the team's secondary and lock down one of the corner spots.
St. Louis Rams
Another team sure to strengthen the NFC West as the top division in the NFC, the Rams boast one of the top offenses in all of pro football. By now you know of Marc Bulger, Torry Holt and Stephen Jackson, but St. Louis brought in some other key weapons to keep defenses off balance. Drew Bennett, the tall WR from Tennessee will add depth to the receiving corps, while the team's trade for Dante Hall in the summer will undoubtedly help the special teams and return game.
While the defense is certainly a weak point, St. Louis does have talent and promise on this side of the ball. Defensive end Adam Carriker was highly touted out of Nebraska and his skills surely warranted him as their top pick in the draft at number 13. He'll jumpstart the pass rush with veteran end Leonard Little, while the back four holds a lot of speed in corners Ty Hill and Jonathan Wade, albeit their lack of experience.
This team certainly won't sneak up on anyone, but considering their consistency for disappointment and them missing the playoffs last season, they should be mentioned in list with a great shot to dethrone the Colts as division champs.
The defense is one of the NFL's best, and again we'll see stout run defense and a stingy secondary led by one of football's top shutdown corners Rashean Mathis. Middle linebacker Mike Peterson is the leader of the defense and he is ready for a sensational campaign.
Offensively is where the biggest and most recent change will be seen. Byron Leftwich, last season's starter, was cut this past week to make way for a new option in the multi-dimensional David Garrard. The combo of Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor will again be formidable, having the chance for both to rush for 1,000 yards if healthy. The Jags also come in with one of the more underrated wideout groups, having a pair of physically gifted players in Matt Jones and Ernest Wilford. Reggie Williams and the newly acquired Dennis Northcutt are also very capable players.
Other non-playoff teams to look out for as possible NFL sleeper picks: