Offseason Extra: Early sleepers for 2014
The offseason has just started with free agency and the NFL Draft getting closer by the minute. Rosters are far from set, but we can still begin planning for your 2014 Fantasy drafts.
We're starting early with our sleepers, breakouts and busts, and these lists will change as news warrants and the offseason progresses. But for now, here are some sleepers to digest and consider over the next few months.
Some other guys I'm keeping an eye on this offseason for this list include Ryan Tannehill and Sam Bradford at quarterback, Jordan Todman and Shonn Greene at running back, Jeremy Maclin and Aaron Dobson at receiver and Travis Kelce and Levine Toilolo at tight end. One or two of those guys might make the next version of this column when we update it over the summer.
Robert Griffin III
, QB, Redskins
Griffin was a bust last season coming off his knee injury in 2012. He was drafted as the No. 10 quarterback in Round 5 but finished as the No. 19 quarterback in standard leagues. Former Redskins coach Mike Shanahan benched him for the final three games, but we're expecting a resurgence under new coach Jay Gruden. For starters, Griffin should be healthy this season now that he's a full year removed from the knee injury. Not everyone is Adrian Peterson and can come back at 100 percent right away. Gruden has already said he wants Griffin to run more, which is a great sign, and Gruden also helped Andy Dalton finish as a Top 12 Fantasy quarterback the past two seasons. Griffin has two standout weapons in Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed , and we're expecting a more pass-friendly system. He's excellent value as a No. 2 quarterback since he could finish as a Top 10 Fantasy passer if he stays healthy for 16 games. We love Griffin with a pick in Round 10 or later as a high-end backup.
Will likely be drafted round: No. 122-127 overall
I'd take him ahead of: Ben Roethlisberger , Andy Dalton , Alex Smith
, QB, Steelers
Roethlisberger was quietly the No. 10 Fantasy quarterback last season, and he's been solid for the past two years. He was No. 16 in 2012, but he missed three games. If you project his stats over a full season he would have been No. 9. His receiving corps is likely headed for a mini-makeover this year if Emmanuel Sanders leaves as a free agent, but he'll also get a healthy Heath Miller for a full season. And Markus Wheaton is someone who could step in and fill the void if Sanders is gone. Things clicked for Roethlisberger in the second half of the season last year when he was able to become more of a playmaker in a no-huddle offense, and getting Le'Veon Bell in the mix was definitely a big part of that. His offensive line should also improve in 2014, and like Griffin, Roethlisberger is a high-end No. 2 Fantasy quarterback you can draft with a late-round pick. I like the idea of pairing Griffin and Roethlisberger with a shaky No. 1 quarterback like Nick Foles or Jay Cutler , because if they falter these two backups can pick up the slack.
Will likely be drafted around: No. 145-150 overall
I'd take him ahead of: Andy Dalton , Alex Smith , Eli Manning
, RB, 49ers
Lattimore is expected to play a role for the 49ers this season after sitting out his rookie year in 2013 from the horrific knee injury he suffered in his final year in college at South Carolina. It could be a prominent one. Some thought he might never play again, but now we could see Lattimore as at least the No. 2 running back for the 49ers. Frank Gore is expected back as the starter barring something unforeseen, but he'll be 31 in May with a lot of wear and tear. He has 1,026 touches over the past three seasons -- including the playoffs -- and that could eventually catch up to him, opening the door for Lattimore. Kendall Hunter could stand in the way of Lattimore getting more work, but we'd bet on him taking on a big role if healthy. He's someone you want to target as a No. 4 Fantasy running back, and he's obviously better suited for dynasty and keeper leagues since Gore is a free agent after this season. But if the 49ers want to ease the workload for Gore, or if he finally starts to breakdown, then Lattimore's value could rise. He's definitely someone to monitor closely during offseason workouts to see how he's doing with his recovery.
Will likely be drafted around: No. 90-95 overall
I'd take him ahead of: Kendall Hunter , Bernard Pierce , Bryce Brown
, RB, Raiders
If the season started today, Murray would be the No. 1 running back for the Raiders. Darren McFadden and Rashad Jennings are free agents, and Murray would have the best chance at the starting job. Now, clearly, the Raiders are going to address the position, whether through free agency or the draft, and bringing back Jennings makes a lot of sense. But Murray should still play a prominent role, and he was showing promise last offseason before he hurt his ankle. The Raiders did well getting Fantasy production from their running backs last season, which should help Murray excel. McFadden opened the year with three games in a row with double digits in Fantasy points and had four games total, and Jennings had five games with double digits in points. You'll want to keep an eye on who the Raiders bring in to compete with Murray, but the Contra Costa Times has already labeled Murray as a sleeper for 2014, and we agree. He's looking like a No. 4 running back to draft with upside, especially if he can win the job as the starter.
Will likely be drafted around: No. 95-100 overall
I'd take him ahead of: Darren McFadden , Rashard Mendenhall , Knile Davis
, RB, Saints
It's anyone's guess what the Saints will do at running back this offseason with all four guys -- Darren Sproles , Pierre Thomas , Mark Ingram and Robinson -- currently under contract. But the Saints could save nearly $3 million by cutting Thomas, which would open the door for an Ingram/Robinson split on rushing downs and Sproles in his usual role on passing downs. Robinson did a nice job in the playoffs with Thomas out with a rib injury with eight carries for 45 yards against the Eagles and 13 carries for 57 yards and a touchdown and one catch for 13 yards against the Seahawks. The Saints aren't going to change their identity, meaning it's throw, throw and throw some more. But if Thomas is gone then Robinson could be a nice late-round target, even ahead of Ingram, who has struggled to stay healthy in his first three seasons. This is a situation to monitor this offseason, but keep Robinson on your radar. His value is higher in dynasty and keeper leagues -- Sproles, Thomas and Ingram are all free agents after this year -- but he could pay dividends in 2014 if things go his way.
Will likely be drafted around: No. 120-125 overall
I'd take him ahead of: Pierre Thomas , Mark Ingram , Shonn Greene
, RB, Seahawks
We've already documented how Marshawn Lynch could struggle this season after 400-plus touches in 2013. That should allow the backup running backs in Seattle to take on more work, and we like Michael over Robert Turbin . I would still expect Michael and Turbin to share touches if Lynch got hurt, but Michael has the higher ceiling. He didn't play much as a rookie last year since he was a healthy scratch for 13 regular-season games. But he showed tremendous potential in the preseason (he had 16 carries for 89 yards in one preseason game and 11 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown in another) and is the more dynamic runner than Turbin, who would be better on passing downs. The Seahawks can obviously run the ball with a lot of success, as Lynch has shown, so we'd love to see what Michael can do in a featured role. Make sure he beats out Turbin for the No. 2 job, and he's worth a late-round flier in all leagues and a definite handcuff option for Lynch. Michael is someone I plan to target in all leagues this season.
Will likely be drafted around: No. 130-135 overall
I'd take him ahead of: Robert Turbin , Jonathan Stewart , Bryce Brown
, WR, Titans
Hunter didn't do much as a rookie in 2013 with only 18 catches for 354 yards and four touchdowns. He flashed some of his skills in Week 12 at Oakland with six catches for 109 yard and a touchdown and Week 14 at Denver with four catches for 114 yards and a score. But he is expected to see a much bigger role in 2014. Nate Washington , who is owed $4.8 million this year, could be released. And we know Kenny Britt isn't coming back. Even if Washington stays with the Titans you can count on Hunter getting more than just 42 targets for the season. New coach Ken Whisenhunt, who has a good history with receivers in Arizona ( Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin ) and San Diego ( Keenan Allen ), should use Hunter as his deep threat. We'll find out if Jake Locker (foot) is ready to go for the start of the season, which will definitely help Hunter's cause, and we like Hunter with a late-round flier in all leagues. And if Washington is gone then Hunter's value will only continue to rise.
Will likely be drafted around: No. 145-150 overall
I'd take him ahead of: Nate Washington , Harry Douglas , Rod Streater
, WR, Steelers
Wheaton had a rough rookie season in 2013 because of a lack of playing time and dealing with a couple of broken fingers. He finished with just six catches for 64 yards, and he only saw targets in five games for 13 total targets for the year. But the Steelers will rely on Wheaton a lot this year, and he could open the season as the starter opposite Antonio Brown . Sanders is a free agent and isn't expected to return to Pittsburgh, so unless a veteran is signed via free agency or he struggles to hold off likely No. 3 receiver Jerricho Cotchery , Wheaton will see an increase in targets and production. Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert said at the NFL combine that the team has high hopes for Wheaton in 2014. "We're hoping he has a nice year next year," Colbert said. We agree, and Wheaton is like Hunter in that he's worth a late-round flier based on his potential with the chance to be a No. 3 Fantasy receiver in the majority of leagues.
Will likely be drafted around: No. 135-140 overall
I'd take him ahead of: Santonio Holmes , Miles Austin , Brandon LaFell
, WR Packers
The Packers aren't expected to bring back free agent James Jones , which should allow Boykin to become the No. 3 receiver on a permanent basis behind Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb . Last year, Boykin stepped up when Cobb and Jones battled injuries, and he had at least eight Fantasy points in seven of 11 games with double digits in points four times. Boykin had at least six targets in eight of those games, so coach Mike McCarthy wasn't afraid to rely on him despite little experience. Boykin may never produce like Jones, who has scored 24 touchdowns the past three seasons, but we like receivers who get playing time with elite quarterbacks like Boykin will with Aaron Rodgers . He's also entering his third season in the NFL, which is when receivers tend to have a breakout campaign, and this could be a big year for Boykin. He's a great receiver to target with a late-round pick.
Will likely be drafted around: No. 150-155 overall
I'd take him ahead of: Steve Smith , Greg Jennings , Steve Johnson
, WR, Saints
Stills was inconsistent as a rookie in 2013. He had four games with double digits in Fantasy points and 11 with four points or less. He never had more than six targets in a game, which happened one time, but the Saints need to get him more involved as a sophomore in 2014. They need more speed with Marques Colston and Lance Moore slowing down, and Stills is a solid deep threat. We'd like to see him get more targets and not just fall into the Devery Henderson role for Drew Brees , but like we said about Boykin and Rodgers, you want receivers who have the chance to play with outstanding quarterbacks. Stills is someone to target with a late-round pick, and his value (for now) is better in standard leagues than PPR formats. We hope the Saints start to incorporate their younger talent like Stills and Robinson, because otherwise this offense could start to slow down as guys like Colston, Moore and Sproles get older.
Will likely be drafted around: No. 140-145 overall
I'd take him ahead of: Mike Williams , Brian Hartline , Golden Tate
, TE, Vikings
Rudolph had a down year in 2013 due to injury and poor play. He missed eight games with a fractured foot and finished with just 30 catches for 313 yards and three touchdowns. Inconsistent quarterback play hurt his production, but he needed to score touchdowns to be productive like he was in 2012 when he had nine. This year, we expect Rudolph to become more of a weapon for the Vikings and Fantasy owners with Norv Turner as the offensive coordinator. Turner just helped Jordan Cameron have a breakout season in Cleveland, and he's done a good job coaching tight ends with Antonio Gates and Vernon Davis in previous stops. Quarterback remains an issue for Rudolph and the Vikings, but Turner got Cameron to play at a high level with a combination of Brandon Weeden , Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer . We hope Turner can get the starting quarterback in Minnesota to focus on Rudolph, and he should be considered a low-end No. 1 option heading into the season.
Will likely be drafted around: No. 110-115 overall
I'd take him ahead of: Martellus Bennett , Delanie Walker , Coby Fleener
, TE, Lions
Fauria had some impressive production last season as a touchdown maker for the Lions. He scored seven touchdowns but had just one game with double digits in Fantasy points, which was Week 6 at Cleveland when he scored three times. Brandon Pettigrew could leave the Lions as a free agent, which would open the door for Fauria in a starting role. New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who worked with Jimmy Graham in New Orleans last season, has already said he wants to use Fauria in a similar role in Detroit. That has Fauria excited. "I have a similar background to (Graham) with basketball and similar height and the way we play," the 6-foot-7 Fauria said to the Lions official website. "I'm not calling myself Jimmy Graham, but I strive to have the kind of production he has. I think I can contribute very similarly to how he has with the Saints." Fauria should not be drafted as a No. 1 Fantasy tight end, but he's a high-end No. 2 with sleeper appeal. Don't be afraid to gamble on him with a late-round pick.
Will likely be drafted around: No. 152-157 overall
I'd take him ahead of: Antonio Gates , Timothy Wright , Charles Clay