All fantasy football players are familiar with the concept of a sleeper: the guy who can be drafted late and still be a valuable contributor under the right circumstances. Finding one or two can make the difference between a decent team and a championship squad.
There are sleepers in the world of football cards too, guys who go unnoticed by many collectors while the spotlight shines on players drafted in the first two rounds. Their cards never carry high price tags right off the bat, but they can experience dramatic surges in activity once they get a chance to show what they can do.
Success at the NFL level usually comes from an intersection of talent and opportunity, and it's never easy to predict exactly which players possess the former and will get the latter. That's why holding on to any rookie cards from a given season for a few years is a good idea.
Still, it's possible to make an educated guess at a few players who might be able to work their way out of commons bins and into the hearts of collectors. Here are five 2009 rookies, all drafted in the third round or later, who may be able to pull off the trick if given a chance:
Glen Coffee, RB, San Francisco 49ers - 3rd round, 74th overall
Coffee was a workhorse at Alabama, and he was one of the stars of the first half of the 2009 preseason, racking up 196 yards in two games. He has a nice blend of speed and power and figures to get the first crack at carrying the load for an improving 49ers team if Frank Gore goes down to injury.
Javon Ringer, RB, Tennessee Titans - 5th round, 173rd overall
Though on the small side at 5-foot-9 and just over 200 pounds, college defenses had a hard time stopping Ringer when he was at Michigan State. The Titans are loaded at running back with 2008 rookie sensation Chris Johnson, bruising LenDale White and former second round pick Chris Henry, but if Ringer can make plays in games that count like he has in the preseason, Tennessee may have to find a role for him.
Tom Brandstater, QB, Denver Broncos - 6th round, 174th overall
It's doubtful the Broncos expected the tall, strong-armed Brandstater to do anything but carry a clipboard in 2009 when they plucked him from Fresno State at the top of the sixth round. But Kyle Orton hasn't even looked like the second coming of Jay Cutler, much less John Elway, and Chris Simms is already hurt, so you never know.
James Davis, RB, Cleveland Browns - 6th round, 195th overall
With Jamal Lewis nearing the end of the line, the Browns have to think about the future of their running game. Jerome Harrison has shown flashes, but Davis had a terrific college career before his senior year and ripped off one of the preseason's most impressive runs with an 81-yard touchdown against the Lions.
Sammie Stroughter, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 7th round, 233rd overall
Not too many players were picked after Stroughter despite the numbers he put up while at Oregon State. He's on the smaller side, but his ability to contribute in the passing game and on kick returns will make it hard for the Bucs not to keep him on the roster come the start of the regular season.