Draft Prep: Sleepers, breakouts and busts

The difference between a Fantasy Football championship and the first-round pick in next year's draft could come down to finding the right breakout players and sleepers and avoiding potential busts.

Just look at last year. Were you lucky enough to draft Drew Brees or Philip Rivers ? What about Frank Gore or Chester Taylor ? Maybe you ended up with Javon Walker or Lee Evans ?

Well, your Fantasy team was probably pretty good because those players did much better than expected.

Or your Fantasy team could have gone in a different direction. Did you draft Edgerrin James or Cadillac Williams ? Kurt Warner or Trent Green ? Joe Horn or Santana Moss ? Those were some of the bigger busts.

It's a good idea to target certain players on Draft Day as guys who fall into the breakout and sleeper category, and if they land in your lap in the middle or late rounds snatch them up and hope you were right. You might also want to make a list of guys you wouldn't touch unless the price is right.

Because if you draft a bust early -- someone like LaMont Jordan or Kevin Jones -- it will make for a long season.

It takes some luck to avoid having your first-round pick become a dud, but here's a list of some potential breakouts, sleepers and busts to help you prepare for the upcoming draft.


Cedric Benson , RB, Bears
2006 stats: 647 yards rushing and six TDs; eight catches for 54 yards
Comment: Thomas Jones is now running for the Jets, so Benson becomes the starter for the Bears. Last year the two shared carries and rushed for a combined 1,857 yards and 12 touchdowns. Benson should be a candidate for 1,300 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. He averaged about 11 carries a game last year, so expect close to 25 carries a game this year and consider him a solid No. 2 Fantasy RB.

Reggie Brown , WR, Eagles
2006 stats: 46 catches for 816 yards and eight TDs
Comment: Brown is entering his third year in the NFL, which is typically the breakout season for standout wide receivers. Some examples include Roy Williams , Javon Walker , Chad Johnson , Terrell Owens and Steve Smith -- and Brown has the potential to join that group. If Donovan McNabb (knee) is able to start the season as expected, Brown will thrive. Consider Brown a No. 2 Fantasy WR with room to grow.

Jay Cutler , QB, Broncos
2006 stats: 1,001 yards passing, nine TDs and five INTs; 18 yards rushing
Comment: Cutler started the final five games last season and showed why the Broncos traded up to draft him in the first round. He has the potential to be a star and a No. 1 Fantasy QB. Cutler has a plethora of weapons with Javon Walker , Rod Smith , Brandon Stokley , Brandon Marshall and Tony Scheffler . Oh yeah, and Travis Henry is there, too.

Vernon Davis , TE, 49ers
2006 stats: 20 catches for 265 yards and three TDs
Comment: Davis showed his skills after coming back from a broken leg with 14 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns in the final five games last year. He hopes to pick up where he left off this year, and he should do just fine. QB Alex Smith is expected to improve this season, and Davis should benefit from the addition of WR Darrell Jackson . Davis has the potential to be one of the best tight ends in Fantasy Football.

Brandon Jacobs , RB, Giants
2006 stats: 423 yards rushing and nine TDs; 11 catches for 149 yards
Comment: Jacobs did well as a short-yardage back last year with Tiki Barber as the starter. With Barber retired, Jacobs will see an increase in carries, and he should excel. At 6-foot-4, 264 pounds, Jacobs will be hard to tackle. His yardage total will definitely improve with the extra carries, and his touchdown total should also go up. Jacobs should be used as a No. 2 Fantasy RB and be drafted around the third round.


Marshawn Lynch , RB, Bills
2006 stats: Not in NFL
Comment: Adrian Peterson was the first rookie RB drafted, but Lynch will be in the better situation. Peterson will have to share carries with Chester Taylor in Minnesota, but Lynch appears to be the starter in Buffalo and only has to worry about Anthony Thomas . During the Bills final minicamp in June, Lynch was working with the first team and is trying to improve his receiving skills. Consider him a No. 2 Fantasy RB. He's looking that good already.

Vincent Jackson , WR, Chargers
2006 stats: 27 catches for 453 yards and six TDs
Comment: In case you didn't know, Jackson is now the No. 1 WR in San Diego. He is also entering his third year in the NFL, which is typically the breakout year for a good WR, which Jackson is. With teams focusing on LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates , expect new coach Norv Turner to increase the passes thrown to Jackson, who is a big target at 6-foot-5, 241 pounds. Consider Jackson a No. 3 Fantasy WR with a lot of upside.

David Martin , TE, Dolphins
2006 stats: 21 catches for 198 yards and two TDs
Comment: The Dolphins let Randy McMichael go because Martin has the potential to be a solid TE. He is now playing for a coach in Cam Cameron who likes to utilize the tight end, which he did in San Diego with Antonio Gates . And he has a QB in Trent Green who thrived playing with Tony Gonzalez in Kansas City. The Dolphins don't have too many weapons, so Martin is someone who could be targeted a lot. Consider him a No. 2 Fantasy TE to start the season with a chance to be a starter down the road.

Vernand Morency , RB, Packers
2006 stats: 434 yards rushing and two TDs; 17 catches for 118 yards
Comment: Twice last year Morency had two games with over 10 carries, and he averaged 100 yards in those two games. He should get plenty of opportunities to carry the ball this year with Ahman Green now in Houston. Morency will compete with rookie Brandon Jackson for the starting job, but Morency has the inside edge. He should be considered a No. 3 Fantasy RB with the chance to be in your starting lineup before the year ends.

Alex Smith , QB, 49ers
2006 stats: 2,890 yards passing, 16 TDs and 16 INTs; 147 yards rushing and two TDs
Comment: This could be the year Smith either shines or is considered a bust. My guess is he shines because of the talent he has around him. With the addition of Darrell Jackson from Seattle, Smith now has a solid WR, TE ( Vernon Davis ) and RB ( Frank Gore ). He also can make plays with his legs, which adds to his value. Draft him as a No. 2 Fantasy QB, but don't be surprised if you end up starting him for a couple of weeks.


Marques Colston , WR, Saints
2006 stats: 70 catches for 1,038 yards and eight TDs
Comment: Coltson had one of the best rookie seasons for a WR in the history of the NFL last year, but he has to live up to unrealistic expectations of duplicating that performance. And he now assumes the role of No. 1 WR for New Orleans with no proven WR playing across from him. He still has a stud QB in Drew Brees and proved he could be successful, but don't be surprised when his numbers slip this year.

Maurice Jones-Drew , RB, Jaguars
2006 stats: 941 yards rushing and 13 TDs; 46 catches for 436 yards and two TDs
Comment: Jones-Drew had an outstanding rookie season last year, all while sharing carries with Fred Taylor . He will share carries with Taylor again this year, but Greg Jones is now in the fold after missing last year with a knee injury. Jones is expected to get the short-yardage touches, so Jones-Drew could lose some touchdowns. He will still be able to produce, but consider him more of a No. 3 Fantasy RB than a No. 2 option.

Eli Manning , QB, Giants
2006 stats: 3,244 yards passing, 24 TDs and 18 INTs; 21 yards rushing
Comment: Manning has now posted back-to-back years with 24 touchdown passes. But the loss of Tiki Barber , the injury status of Amani Toomer (knee) and a diminished offensive line will hurt Manning this year. Brandon Jacobs should do well in Barber's absence, but Barber was a huge factor in the passing game. If you draft Manning as a No. 2 Fantasy QB, he will be fine, but don't count on him as a solid starter.

Chester Taylor , RB, Vikings
2006 stats: 1,216 yards and six TDs; 42 catches for 288 yards
Comment: Taylor had a breakthrough season last year in his first as a starter. But he started to break down as the season went on, and the Vikings decided to draft Adrian Peterson this year. Taylor will still get plenty of carries, but he goes from a No. 2 Fantasy RB to a No. 3 or 4 option now. He still has the potential to help your Fantasy team, but because of Peterson his value will take a tremendous hit.

Jason Witten , TE, Dallas
2006 stats: 64 catches for 754 yards and one TD
Comment: Witten has plenty of name recognition, which will attract Fantasy users to draft him earlier than he should go. The addition of Terrell Owens last year dropped Witten from six touchdowns in each of the previous two years to one. Witten is, at best, the third option in the passing game behind Owens and Terry Glenn , but he must compete with Patrick Crayton and Marion Barber also. You'd be better off using Witten as a No. 2 Fantasy TE and a potential spot starter.

Do you have a draft question for one of our experts? You can e-mail us your Fantasy Football questions to DMFantasyFootball@cbs.com. Be sure to put Attn: Draft Prep in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state. Be aware we do not guarantee personal responses to all questions.

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