Drafting solid core players in the early rounds paired with the ability to pick players that will outperform their draft position in the later rounds is the formula for any successful 2012 fantasy football draft. While the definition of a sleeper is open to debate and opinion, for the sake of this article we’ll define a sleeper simply as a player that will outperform their draft position.

Eric Decker DEN | WR

The arrival of Peyton Manning to the Broncos has the entire fantasy world speculating on who is going to benefit from his presence. For the price of where they are going in the draft my money is on Decker. Demaryius Thomas has a big upside as well, but he is going to be drafted much earlier than Decker in most cases. Last year Decker proved he has the potential for big plays, and the potential to find the end zone. Decker is a guy that should go in the late middle rounds, but I think he has the potential to offer early round value.

Mike Williams TB | WR

Williams really struggled last year during his sophomore season, but I like the potential for a bounce back this year. The Bucs now have Vincent Jackson and Dallas Clark to help take some off the pressure off Williams, and I think this should open the door for him to have some big games. Tampa Bay has added a lot of offensive weapons this year, and they should be able to put a lot more points on the board.

Darrius Heyward-Bey OAK | WR

Heyward-Bey is my favorite wide receiver sleeper heading into 2012, and I am hoping for big things. It’s been a while since a Raiders receiver has had a lot of fantasy value, but their offense has some potential this year with Palmer entering his first full season for them. In only 15 games last year Heyward-Bey had just under 1,000 yards, and I think this former first rounder could be in line for a breakout year.

Donald Brown IND | RB

The Colts offense was terrible last year, and while I am still not expecting big things I think they should be better. Addai is officially gone and I have little faith in Carter, so by default I think Brown should get a ton of touches. Fantasy football isn’t always about getting the best players in football, it’s sometimes about getting a decent player that should be asked to do a lot for their team. The Colts will ask Brown to be their featured guy this year, and he will certainly have a chance to show us what he can do. His numbers I doubt will be through the roof, but for where he is going to go in most drafts he should offer a lot of bang for the buck.

Roy Helu WAS | RB

There are a lot of reasons to be afraid of Helu on draft day. He is battling Hightower and Royster for carries, he also has to deal with the fact that you can never count on who is going to get the majority of the carries on a team coached by Mike Shanahan. Even with all that being said we still like the upside of Helu, and also the potential value for where you can get him in the draft. There is going to be a lot of negative news on Helu this preseason, and all that is going to do is lower his average draft position and make him less of a risk on draft day.

Ronnie Hillman DEN | RB

Hillman is one of the most interesting rookie running backs this year, and he could be a steal for where you can get him in the draft. With McGahee getting older it’s only a matter of time before he starts to break down, even if McGahee does stay healthy we expect Hillman to be a decent part of that offense. However, if McGahee does get hurt I think Hillman could be a top 15 fantasy running back. Peyton just has a way of making players around him better, and I fully expect the Broncos offense to put a lot of points on the board this year.

James Starks GB | RB

The numbers for Starks last year were far from impressive, but don’t forget that Grant got a lot of touches as well. With Grant out of the way Starks should be in line for a lot more carries this year. The Packers like to get creative on the goal line so I don’t expect Starks to get a lot of goal line touches, but his touchdown totals should go up. There are no other great options for the Packers this year at running back, so this makes Starks a very interesting pick in the early middle rounds.

Daniel Thomas MIA | RB

Thomas battled injuries early in his rookie year, but at times he showed a lot of promise. As the year went on he lost more and more carries to Reggie Bush, but we expect him to be a big part of the Miami offense this year. Even if Bush stays healthy the entire year we still expect Thomas to handle a lot of the early down work. Thomas is going to go fairly late in most drafts, and for where he is currently getting drafted we think he is a great gamble.

Shonn Greene NYJ | RB

The numbers for Greene have gone up every year he has been in the league, and I could see them going up again in 2012. With L.T. completely out of the way, Greene should be in line for another giant workload. The thing that really excites me about Greene is how much he has improved with his pass catching, he had 30 catches a year ago and I see no reason why that number doesn’t go up.

Jahvid Best DET | RB

There has never been a question of how talented Best is, the main question has always been can he be durable enough to be a consistent fantasy running back. Honestly I am not sold that he can be, but if he is able to stay healthy he could be a top 5 running back. He averaged well over 100 total yards last year in the 6 games he played in, and if he stays healthy I see no reason why he can’t get close to 2,000 total yards. Even with LeShoure coming back and potentially taking carries away from Best, I still love his potential value for where he is going in drafts.