2014 Draft Prep: Sleepers for Draft Day
Everyone likes a good sleeper, right? Our Dave Richard has 10 of them, each of which can be had late in Fantasy drafts of any shape or size.
Some of my favorite things: Watching football, chowing down on pizza, playing cards and picking sleepers. Some of my least favorite things: Watching baseball, dieting, losing at cards and missing on sleepers. After my horribly horrible 2012 sleeper picks, I promised to redeem myself last year and I did -- five of the 10 sleepers were helpful to Fantasy owners as Top 24 options at their positions or better, especially Andy Dalton and Zac Stacy . Let's just forget about Matt Schaub , Bryce Brown , Ronnie Hillman and Tyler Eifert .
This year the goal remains the same: Pick a bunch of players we can get at a great value in drafts and auctions who will help our Fantasy teams. What kind of value? Nobody named in this column should be taken before Round 8. That way you can focus on landing quality players with your first seven picks and use the back-half of your draft to load up on sleepers.
Plus there's no real risk to spending a pick in Round 8 or later on a sleeper. What's the worst that will happen? You cut the guy after a couple of weeks for someone on waivers? No big deal.
Here are this year's sleepers.
, QB, Rams: Bradford was on pace for a career
year, averaging 20.3 Fantasy points per week, when he tore his ACL at
Carolina in Week 7. The rehab's gone well and he should be fine for the
start of the season. Better yet, his young receiving corps is a year
wiser, his offensive line has been re-stocked and the running game is
even more of a strength than it was coming into 2013. Last year proved
Bradford's not a fluke even though he's never hit 4,000 yards or more
than 21 touchdowns in a season. This year he'll prove he's one of the
best young field generals in the league. Fantasy owners can invest a
late pick in him and either hang on to him as a capable bye-week
replacement (we love pairing him as a bye-week quarterback with
or ship him off soon after his bye week for roster help. He's the backup
Fantasy quarterback I'd chase if I couldn't get
I'd take him ahead of: Ryan Tannehill , Eli Manning and any rookie quarterback
, RB, Saints: When Sean Payton was asked in
March who would replace
in the offense he said there were a "number of ways" and then only
mentioned one guy: Cadet. Since then the Saints added rookie receiver
to potentially take some of the targets that might have
otherwise gone to Sproles but Cadet received rave reviews in minicamp
and seems to have a shot to work as the Saints' passing downs back. This
is a role that could just as easily be filled by veteran
, especially if breakout candidate
lands the primary rushing downs role, but Cadet's a
bigger-than-expected back with hands just as good as Thomas and better
speed. If the coaches gain more confidence in Cadet during camp then
this is the Saints back to have in PPR leagues and probably the
second-best back in standard leagues. Best of all is that he's off a lot
of Fantasy owners' radars, so landing him in Round 11 or 12 might be too
I'd take him ahead of: James Starks , Roy Helu , Marcus Lattimore and Mark Ingram
, RB, Falcons: This is a vote more against
than it is a vote for Freeman, though he's certainly a talented back who
is more of a physical rusher than a passing-downs player. Then again,
the Falcons view him as a possible three-down back of the future.
Jackson has well over 2,500 career carries and has shown signs of
slowing down over the past couple of seasons (declining rushing average,
injuries). Rodgers has been given plenty of opportunities over the past
two seasons to shine and aside from some nice receiving totals he really
hasn't proven to be a great overall pack. Freeman's a short but thick
runner who can run the ball inside and probably evolve into a good
receiving back, too. Anyone who gets nervous over taking Jackson should
simply look past him and check out Freeman, who would go from a
seven-touch-per-game back to more than double that if Jackson were to
miss time again.
I'd take him ahead of: Chris Ivory , Stepfan Taylor and Jeremy Hill
, RB, 49ers: Everyone's talking about Hyde
becoming an impact player in 2015. Why wouldn't it happen sooner?
has 2,327 career carries and has to be facing a season
with a lightened workload after all the backs the Niners have drafted. A
run-heavy team like San Francisco could still roll out Gore 15 carries
per game and still have about 10 left over for Hyde (they averaged 25.1
running back carries per game last season). And if Gore doesn't hold up
for whatever reason, Hyde is the future in waiting. It's obvious that
the Niners picked Hyde for the future, especially with such a big pick
(57th overall), but his powerful combination could be too overwhelming
for the coaching staff and he could get opportunities we might not
expect. It'll take a Gore injury for Hyde to have a 1,000-yard kind of
season but he's potentially a 50-60 yard per week rusher with some
touchdowns sprinkled in -- the kind of player you could start in a pinch
as a third back or one-week replacement. Hyde's available late in drafts
and is a heck of a bruising back.
I'd take him ahead of: Andre Williams , Shonn Greene and Andre Brown
, RB, Seahawks: Michael is a talent worth
being enamored with. At Texas A&M he averaged 5.3 yards per carry over
529 reps and 7.3 yards per catch over 44 receptions with 35 total
touchdowns -- in 40 games including missing time with a torn ACL in
2011. When the Seahawks took him in Round 2 of last year's draft it
raised eyebrows since the team already had
. This could be the year that pick makes sense -- Lynch is
coming off a season with 366 carries and 37 catches and has racked up
1,002 carries and 92 catches over the past three seasons. That's a lot
of work and typically a red flag for a running back, especially one who
is 28 years old. Lynch is also creeping toward the 2,000 career carry
mark with 1,877. Michael, meanwhile, flashed a little bit in his first
year and almost seems pegged to have a bigger role in 2014. It'll take
Lynch missing significant playing time for Michael to be an asset for
Fantasy but the bet is that at some point the Seahawks will need him.
You should target him in Round 9 if you draft Lynch with a first-round
pick because if you don't then someone else will take him a round later
and hold on to him all year long.
I'd take him ahead of: David Wilson , Jonathan Stewart and Roy Helu
, RB, Buccaneers: Read between the lines: The
Buccaneers' new coaching staff had no reason in the world to spend a Top
70 pick on a running back when they had
already on the roster, and they did anyway. Reminds me
of the Rams grabbing
year. Coaches think differently than Fantasy owners and when they target
someone in the draft, they do so with plans for using them, not letting
them sit on the bench. We know new Bucs coach Lovie Smith loves to run
the ball, and we've heard a number of times from Buccaneers offensive
coordinator Jeff Tedford that the team will use multiple backs. Martin
will get his work but Sims, who isn't the fastest back among the rookie
rushers but is among the most versatile, should be next in line provided
he does well in camp. And just in case Martin doesn't regain his rookie
year form or gets injured, Sims would be the guy the Bucs should put on
the field more than any other back. This is an easy low-risk,
high-reward pick owners can make in Round 10 or later whether they own
Martin or not.
I'd take him ahead of: Bernard Pierce , Darren McFadden and Dexter McCluster
, WR, Patriots: For four seasons in Carolina,
LaFell was always the guy with good size and plenty of potential. He
averaged just over 14 yards per catch but never had more than 677 yards
or five touchdowns per season. But now LaFell is going from the Panthers
to the Patriots, a team desperate for a receiver like him. Sure, they
have second-year guys
Dobson has been sidelined with a foot injury and Thompkins and Boyce
need to earn larger roles. LaFell has experience and versatility on his
side -- combining his big frame and decent quickness with his
willingness to line up anywhere, run any route and do anything on
offense including block makes him appealing to the coaching staff. He
can create mismatches like a tight end they used to have there and can
help an offense that really needed some capable receivers last season.
LaFell is more than just another flexible receiver for the Patriots,
he's one with height and durability (missed four games in four seasons).
It's unlikely he'll end up with 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns, but
he's the perfect kind of late-round receiver to gamble on over the first
few weeks of the season. If he can't get anything going against the
Dolphins, Vikings and Raiders then he's waiver-worthy before Week 4.
I'd take him ahead of: Jerricho Cotchery , Jarrett Boykin and Andrew Hawkins
, WR, Eagles: Rookie receivers typically
don't get major stats, but 6-foot-3 rookie wideouts typically don't get
fast-tracked to three-receiver sets in fast-paced precision passing
offenses either. While
all going to get taken ahead of Matthews in just about every draft,
Matthews might end up being the best rookie value since he'll get taken
a round or three later. Matthews himself is a polished route runner and
fast enough receiver in addition to being big. Hands aren't an issue --
he became the SEC's all-time leader in receptions and yardage while at
Vanderbilt, totaling 262 catches for 3,759 yards. Lining up in the slot
won't be new for Matthews, nor will playing with a third receiver be new
for the Eagles (Philadelphia used three or more receivers on 754 of
1,054 plays according to the NFL). And according to
ProFootballFocus.com, Eagles quarterback
attempted more passes, completed more attempts and had
more yardage throwing to the middle of the field than outside the
numbers. That speaks volumes to Matthews' potential, especially since
he'll take on nickelbacks, linebackers and safeties instead of typical
outside cornerbacks week after week. This is a tremendous opportunity
for Matthews, making him the perfect fourth or fifth receiver for
Fantasy owners to roll the dice on beginning in Round 10.
I'd take him ahead of: Danny Amendola , Cecil Shorts and any Raiders WR
, WR, Colts: Maybe this is an easy call because
there's nowhere for Nicks to go but up after scoring as many touchdowns
as my grandma did in 2013. Or maybe it's a tough call because Nicks is
going to a new team where he isn't necessarily the top target in the
offense. But that could end up changing as the Colts should employ
plenty of three- and four-receiver sets that will involve Nicks on the
outside, a problem area for Indy last year. Nicks won't draw double
coverage and still
has the chops to upend tight single coverage even though his
speed is suspect.
that about him. The Colts could have desperately used Nicks on the
outside last season, especially when
got hurt. And Nicks could have been better in the Colts' offense last
season, especially after
melted down behind a pathetic offensive line. Injuries are a factor with
Nicks but the price tag of a pick starting in Round 9 or later make
Nicks appealing as great receiver depth. When the position gets thin,
Nicks is a direction to go in.
I'd take him ahead of: Kenny Stills , Odell Beckham , Tavon Austin and Reggie Wayne
, WR, Bills: There's plenty of attention on
, the Bills' No. 1 pick and likely top receiver. But
Woods might have had the quietest 40-catch season of any receiver in the
NFL last year, compiling a 14.7 receiving average at the same time. The
Bills offense is expected to be run heavy but they can just as easily
draw defenses in with the ground game and then hammer them through the
air. Woods is the most well-rounded veteran wideout in Buffalo despite
playing in only his second season. He'll see plenty of playing time and
likely a bump in targets -- hopefully along with it he'll catch more
than the 47.1 pct. of passes thrown his way. He's also sure to receive
single coverage exclusively so long as Watkins draws attention. Woods is
a sleeper for PPR league owners as well as deep, 14-plus-team standard
league owners. We're talking about taking him with one of your last two
or three picks.
I'd take him ahead of: Jerricho Cotchery , Jarrett Boykin , Marqise Lee
, TE, Panthers: While
is behind the 8-ball in building chemistry with his new
receivers thanks to being limited this offseason, the one guy he's got a
built-in relationship with is Olsen. Only
caught more passes than Olsen over Cam's first three
years in the league, and last year he had more than Smitty. The thinking
here is that the Panthers will lean on Olsen now more than ever since
the only real threat in their pass game is rookie
. Defenses won't be quick to smother Olsen outside of
the red zone because he's not a gamebreaker the same way Benjamin is.
That should lead to a bevy of targets for the tight end, likely more
than the 6.8 per game he averaged last season. We're not predicting a
Jimmy Graham-like season for Olsen but there's a good shot he'll top his
career-highs in catches and yards (73 rec., 843 yards) while landing at
least six scores (he's had at least five each of his last six seasons).
Make Olsen your tight end if you miss out on the elite options over the
first four rounds or so).
I'd take him ahead of: Dennis Pitta , Jordan Reed and Zach Ertz
, TE, Vikings: You're probably expecting some
sentences about how great Norv Turner is with the tight ends he coaches
up. Let's just save time and skip that truth and focus on Rudolph. The
Gronk-sized tight end missed half of last season with a foot fracture
but participated without incident during the spring minicamps. He also
averaged 3.5 catches for 33.6 yards and 0.5 touchdowns per game over his
last 24 -- not mind-blowing numbers but one touchdown every two games on
average isn't bad. Plus Rudolph is a huge target for a young passer
, to lean
on. If Turner's offense remains the same, Rudolph will play a lot and
receive more than the 5.9 targets per game he's had over those last 24
games. That's the number to count on as the more targets he gets, the
more passes he'll reel in, especially if they come from Bridgewater.
Expect him to go soon after Olsen in every single draft.
I'd take him ahead of: Eric Ebron , Antonio Gates and Heath Miller
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