2014 Draft Prep: Sleepers, 3.0
Our Jamey Eisenberg has been talking up sleepers for months, but he's landed on a final dozen. He explains why he likes each and shares some deep sleepers heading into 2014.
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For our Sleepers, 3.0, we decided to take my favorite players from the 24 we listed in the first two columns to give you sort of an All-Star list heading into the third week of preseason action. Well, let's hope they're All Stars -- at least for my sake. I guess for your sake as well since you'll hopefully target these guys with mid- to late-round picks.
Let's see who has improved through training camp and the start of the preseason and who still needs room to grow once the season starts. But for the 12 guys listed here, I'm all in.
Also, you'll notice at the bottom of the column some deep sleepers, which includes players being drafted in Round 10 or later based on Average Draft Position on CBSSports.com. Many of those guys have emerged during the preseason and are worth late-round picks in the majority of leagues.
Ben Roethlisberger , QB, SteelersRoethlisberger was in the first version of the column because I anticipated him getting drafted as a backup, and he has the chance to be a Top 12 quarterback this year. His ADP is No. 112 overall, and he's being drafted after Cam Newton , Philip Rivers and Russell Wilson . I go back and forth between Roethlisberger and Newton, but I definitely would draft him ahead of Rivers and Wilson. Roethlisberger was No. 10 in Fantasy points last year and would have been No. 9 in 2012 if he played 16 games, so he's clearly capable of a quality season. And he closed last year on a tear with at least 20 Fantasy points in five of his final seven games. He's among the best value picks this year, and he's a great quarterback to settle for if you miss on an upper-echelon target earlier in the draft.
Carson Palmer , QB, CardinalsThree offenses I like a lot this year are the Cowboys, Falcons and Cardinals. Part of the reason is their defensive woes. While that might seem obvious for Dallas and Atlanta, Arizona's defense was supposed to be a strength, but losing Daryl Washington , Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett will be tough to overcome. That should lead to a lot of throwing, which coach Bruce Arians will love. Palmer was No. 11 in pass attempts last season with 572, but he could be Top 5 in attempts this season. And he has the weapons to shine with Larry Fitzgerald , Michael Floyd , Andre Ellington and rookie John Brown , who is having a strong preseason. I love the idea of drafting Palmer as a No. 2 quarterback at his ADP of No. 126 overall. He could emerge as this year's Philip Rivers as a veteran quarterback with a late draft pick, who ends up as a Top 10 option.
Pierre Thomas , RB, SaintsThe Saints are going to use all three running backs in their stable with Thomas, Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson , and Ingram is having a solid preseason. But the skill that separates Thomas from his teammates is his receiving ability, and last time I checked the Saints are still a pass-first team. Thomas led all running backs in receptions last season with 77, and he was also the No. 23 running back in standard leagues. With Darren Sproles gone, the Saints will lean on Thomas even more this year. Now, he's 29 years old, and his rushing attempts will be limited, especially if Ingram and Robinson hold up with their end. But Thomas still has the most upside of this group, and he's a great value pick in standard leagues at No. 84 overall. He will get drafted sooner in PPR formats, but this could be a big year for Thomas if he can stay healthy.
Terrance West , RB, BrownsFantasy owners are nervous about West since Ben Tate is having a strong preseason. His ADP has dropped to No. 103 overall, and his sleeper appeal has lost its luster. That's OK, and if you target West you want his value to continue to decline. The later you can get him, the better off you'll be. Tate has struggled with injuries during his career, and he might not survive Cleveland's run-heavy approach. The Browns are counting on West to play a pivotal role, and don't be surprised if the production in this backfield is split by the end of the season. He's a great stash candidate who could be a starter by the middle of the year. West has the chance to challenge Bishop Sankey as the best rookie running back this season.
Devonta Freeman , RB, FalconsFreeman, like Tate, lost any momentum he had prior to training camp since he's been running fourth on the depth chart in preseason action. Even with Steven Jackson (hamstring) out, the Falcons have used Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith ahead of him. But if you watch Freeman play then you can see he's a difference maker, and that's something lacking in Atlanta's backfield, even when Jackson is healthy. Freeman's ADP is No. 111 overall, and I love drafting him in Round 10 with the idea of stashing him until A) he's needed or B) Jackson gets hurt, which could lead to a combination of both scenarios. It won't be long until Freeman is ahead of Rodgers and Smith, and the Falcons have to find a way to get Freeman on the field to maximize their offensive potential.
Bernard Pierce , RB, RavensWe know Pierce is the starter for the first two weeks of the season with Ray Rice suspended. The key for Pierce is what happens when Rice comes back. If Pierce does well to open the year against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, which will be no easy feat, the Ravens will have a hard time taking him off the field. Rice isn't going to lose his job, but this could be a 50-50 split with the workload. Pierce has looked good in the preseason with a touchdown against the 49ers in the opener and seven carries for 55 yards in the second outing against Dallas. I'd rather pass on Rice with his ADP at No. 55 overall and wait for Pierce at No. 116. While Rice is still the better Fantasy option as of now, the value for Pierce makes him the better buy.
Justin Hunter , WR, TitansI was in a recent analyst's draft where Hunter went at No. 97 overall, and the comment in the draft room was "America's sleeper." Everyone is now all over Hunter after his big game against the Saints in the preseason with four catches for 111 yards and two touchdowns. We had Hunter in the first sleepers column in March because the potential was evident that he could be a viable contributor, and he just needed the chance to play. And coach Ken Whisenhunt is ready to give it to him. He's still No. 3 on the depth chart behind Kendall Wright and Nate Washington , but Hunter is well ahead of Washington for Fantasy owners. We hope Hunter didn't already have his best game of the season with his preseason performance, but he has Top 30 upside if the Titans use him as expected. He's a great receiver to target with a mid-round pick.
Brandin Cooks , WR, SaintsWe have yet to see Cooks on the field with Drew Brees since Brees has battled an oblique injury through the first two preseason games. That has led to Cooks having some up and down performances. In the first game against the Rams, Cooks had five catches for 55 yards and a touchdown. In the second game against the Titans, Cooks had just one catch for 16 yards. This is a good sample size of what happens with rookie receivers, especially ones in crowded offenses. Cooks will be inconsistent, but his upside is immense with Brees and Sean Payton. I'd rather have Cooks at his ADP of No. 95 overall than Sammy Watkins at No. 90. Watkins loses value with EJ Manuel , but Cooks should shine in this system. The Saints will lean on him to replace the departed Darren Sproles and Lance Moore , and he's going to have a sensational rookie campaign.
Kelvin Benjamin , WR, PanthersWe listed Benjamin as a sleeper prior to the preseason just based on need. Who else was Cam Newton going to throw to after Greg Olsen ? The Panthers drafted Benjamin for a reason, and we're getting a glimpse of it in the preseason. He caught a touchdown in the first preseason game against Buffalo with Newton resting his surgically-repaired ankle. Then in the second preseason game against Kansas City we saw Newton just miss on a huge play to Benjamin on an overthrow down the left sideline. As those two continue to develop a rapport, they should connect on a few of those during the year. And Benjamin has the chance to lead all rookie receivers in touchdowns, which is what makes him appealing. His ADP is No. 120 overall and rising, and he could easily finish as a Top 30 receiver this season.
Jarrett Boykin , WR, PackersWe have yet to see Boykin do anything in the preseason with just three catches for 21 yards on four targets. And Boykin is trying to hold off rookie Davante Adams for the No. 3 role behind Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb . The Packers are keeping Boykin in his spot, but he needs to improve his play, which is something we're expecting. The Packers need a capable No. 3 receiver with James Jones and Jermichael Finley gone, and he played well last season when Cobb and Jones battled injuries, with at least eight Fantasy points in seven of 11 games, including double digits in points four times. Boykin had at least six targets in eight of those games, and he did the majority of his production with Aaron Rodgers (clavicle) hurt. We'll see how he does this year, but I'll gamble on him at No. 143 overall whenever possible in any format.
Kyle Rudolph , TE, VikingsWe liked Rudolph back in March after the Vikings signed Norv Turner as offensive coordinator, and his history with tight ends speaks for itself after working with the likes of Jay Novacek, Antonio Gates , Vernon Davis and Jordan Cameron . Rudolph showed everyone what he's capable of with his performance against the Cardinals in the second preseason game with four catches for 89 yards and a touchdown, and his ADP is on the rise from No. 95 overall. Now, if you're the type of Fantasy owner who wants to pass on Jimmy Graham , Rob Gronkowski and Julius Thomas , then Rudolph is a tight end to wait for. This should be the best year of his career thanks to Turner, and we just hope the hype following the Cardinals game doesn't push up his ADP to an unrealistic range.
Heath Miller , TE, SteelersMiller has the chance to be one of most surprising Fantasy options this year, especially with his ADP at No. 129 overall. Miller is finally healthy after his torn ACL at the end of the 2012 season, and we're expecting him to play close his pre-injury form. That year, Miller had a career season with 71 catches for 816 yards and eight touchdowns, and he was the No. 4 Fantasy tight end behind Graham, Gronkowski and Tony Gonzalez. He actually wasn't bad last year since he was less than 100 percent with 58 catches for 593 yards, but he scored just one touchdown. This season, the Steelers need him with Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery gone, and those receivers combined for 113 catches, 1,346 yards and 16 touchdowns. While the Steelers will spread that production around, Miller will be needed in the red zone, where he scored seven touchdowns in 2012. I like targeting Miller late whenever possible as the No. 12 tight end on my rank list.
Here are 12 players being drafted at No. 120 overall or later, and they have the chance to significantly outperform their ADP this season.
, RB, 49ers: He could be special if
Andre Williams , RB, Giants: Rashad Jennings is a shaky starter at best.
Jeremy Hill , RB, Bengals: He'll surprise as the backup to Giovani Bernard .
Mark Ingram , RB, Saints: A strong preseason has Ingram's stock rising.
Ronnie Hillman , RB, Broncos: If Montee Ball fails, Hillman could shine.
Jonathan Grimes , RB, Texans: Arian Foster handcuff and a lottery ticket.
Lance Dunbar , RB, Cowboys: He'll be a surprising piece of a big offense.
Kenny Britt , WR, Rams: He's being hyped as the top receiver in St. Louis.
Jordan Matthews , WR, Eagles: He'll be needed in a revamped WR corps.
Marqise Lee , WR, Jaguars: He could easily be Jacksonville's No. 1 WR.
Ladarius Green , TE, Chargers: Like Miller, he's a TE to target late.
Dwayne Allen , TE, Colts: He could lead the Colts in receiving touchdowns.
Travis Kelce , TE, Chiefs: He might be Kansas City's best receiving option.
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