- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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Initial thoughts on those NFC West players (or teams) listed as potential 2012 sleepers by at least one of 13 ESPN fantasy panelists:
Golden Tate, WR, Seattle Seahawks: Tate made progress last season. He had 35 receptions, three for touchdowns, with no drops. A hand injury has sidelined him recently. There are still questions about Seattle's passing game in general. Coach Pete Carroll will want to feature the ground game. Tate stands out to me as a player to watch, but I'd be a little nervous about relying upon him for consistent fantasy production, particularly over more established alternatives. Seattle also could funnel more passes through its tight ends, Zach Miller and Kellen Winslow. Doug Baldwin is a big factor. Sidney Rice will become a bigger one, health permitting.
Alex Smith, QB, San Francisco 49ers: Smith might be too prominent for sleeper consideration after his relatively strong 2011 season. I made him a late-round pick a year ago. There were some dismissive laughs from others in the league. The choice worked out better than expected. Smith appears to have superior weapons this season. He'll be more familiar with the offense, as will Vernon Davis and others. One question is whether Smith can maintain such low interception numbers. He does avoid bad decisions. The 49ers love his smarts.
Randy Moss, WR, 49ers: Here's hoping your fantasy draft falls nearer the regular season. We'll have a better idea how Moss projects once the 49ers get through training camp. He's an intriguing consideration at this point.
St. Louis Rams defense/special teams: This one scares me even though the Rams should improve, particularly against the run. The Rams have the youngest specialists in the league. They have the youngest roster overall. They're an unknown. Rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins does add possibilities to the return game. The Rams will not be rebuilt overnight, however.
Michael Crabtree, WR, 49ers: Crabtree took a step forward last season. That's easy to forget after the 49ers' receivers disappeared during the playoffs. Crabtree appears healthier this offseason than in the past. He's gotten better offseason work as well. Crabtree needs to produce after coach Jim Harbaugh called Crabtree's hands the best he's ever seen. How many passes will go to Moss and Mario Manningham?
Ryan Williams, RB, Arizona Cardinals: It's good to see Williams getting recognition. The Cardinals are eager to get him involved in their offense. They love his talent and attitude. There are concerns. Beanie Wells is the starter. Wells is coming off a 1,000-yard season with 10 touchdowns. Williams is coming off reconstructive knee surgery. He might not be full strength early in the season. But if Wells' durability remains an issue, Williams could get ample opportunities -- perhaps even to start.
Arizona Cardinals defense/special teams: Good choice here. The Cardinals finished strong on defense last season. They should continue to grow within coordinator Ray Horton's system. Arizona brought back nearly all its defensive starters. Patrick Peterson, already a dynamic force in the return game, will probably score on defense this season as well, in my view.
Kevin Kolb, QB, Cardinals: Kolb still has to win the starting job. There are no guarantees that Kolb is even the favorite to do so. He deserves a mention, however, because the 2011 season devastated Kolb's value. There's definitely upside to this selection if the value is right. Kolb should be better this season as he figures out the offense.
Brian Quick, WR, Rams: Steven Jackson apparently agrees with this selection. He let it be known publicly that St. Louis was counting on Quick to provide the top-flight receiving talent missing from the Rams. It's possible, however, that Danny Amendola and even Steve Smith could put up bigger receiving numbers.
Jay Feely, K, Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals do play 11 games indoors this season. Feely is usually good for one or two field goals from 50-plus yards. His overall percentage fell off some last season.
Back in a bit with thoughts on potential fantasy busts from the division.