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2011 Draft Prep: Buy-low candidates for Draft Day

Senior Fantasy Writer
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You never want to go into Draft Day hoping a player selected with a late-round pick ends up becoming a starter for your Fantasy team. But it happens every year.

Here's a good example of players who were drafted in Round 10 or later based on their Average Draft Position in 2010, and all of them played well for significant stretches last season: Ben Roethlisberger and Josh Freeman at quarterback, Darren McFadden, Peyton Hillis and Fred Jackson at running back, Mike Williams (Tampa Bay), Dez Bryant, Santonio Holmes, Austin Collie and Mario Manningham at wide receiver and Rob Gronkowski at tight end.

This does not take into account players who weren't drafted like Michael Vick, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Lloyd, but for this exercise we're looking at players you can take with a late-round pick this season who could pay dividends. Call them buy-low candidates or Draft Day bargains.

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Editor's note: Average Draft Position data as of Aug. 26.

Quarterback

Matt Cassel, Chiefs
Average Draft Position: 121 overall (Round 10)
Cassel isn't someone you target on Draft Day, but if you have to settle for him as your No. 2 quarterback then all you have to do is hope he plays like last season when he finished with 3,116 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The Chiefs have a tougher schedule this year, but Cassel might be asked to throw more this season if Kansas City is playing from behind. He also had eight touchdowns and one interception in his first four AFC West matchups against San Diego, Denver and Oakland, and that could be when his best production comes again in 2011.

Mark Sanchez, Jets
Average Draft Position: 125 overall (Round 10)
Sanchez played great in the second preseason game against the Bengals and he might have the chance to throw more this year if the Jets back up what they're saying about opening up the offense. He also might have the best receiving corps of his career with Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, Derrick Mason and Dustin Keller. Sanchez was terrific in the early part of the season in 2010 before tailing off and he finished with 3,291 yards, 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. But he could be poised for a breakout campaign in his third year in the NFL, and he's a solid No. 2 quarterback to target on Draft Day.

Kyle Orton, Broncos
Average Draft Position: 143 overall (Round 11)
I'm not sold on Orton starting for the entire year, and the loss of Josh McDaniels will hurt his overall value. But it's hard to argue with Orton's production the past two seasons, and he could still be a capable quarterback if he's allowed to make plays. Orton only started 13 games last year, but he was on pace for 4,496 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and 11 interceptions before he was injured and replaced by Tim Tebow. He's still worth drafting as a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback, and he could be a useful starter if needed. Orton was also quite successful at home with 1,833 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and two interceptions in six games.

Colt McCoy, Browns
Average Draft Position: 147 overall (Round 12)
McCoy has been fun to watch this preseason with four touchdowns through two games against Green Bay and Detroit. He has spread the ball around to a variety of his receivers with Josh Cribbs, Greg Little, Brian Robiskie, Evan Moore and Benjamin Watson. It's not an overwhelming group, but McCoy has shown he's already confident in coach Pat Shurmur's West Coast offense. The Browns also have a favorable schedule against Houston, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Seattle, Arizona and St. Louis, and McCoy should post quality stats in those matchups.

Cam Newton, Panthers
Average Draft Position: 157 overall (Round 13)
Newton is going to have plenty of growing pains as the No. 1 overall pick playing for a rebuilding team like the Panthers. But he's also going to be asked to do a lot with a lack of talent around him. His weapons are limited with DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Steve Smith and Greg Olsen, but Newton has enough ability to get them involved. It wouldn't surprise me if he has plenty of turnovers in his rookie year, but he's also going to have to make plays with his legs. The potential for 20 total touchdowns is there, and with his rushing ability, he could increase his overall Fantasy value.

Running back

Pierre Thomas, Saints
Average Draft Position: 109 overall (Round 9)
No one wants to draft Thomas after the Saints added rookie Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles this offseason. But Thomas is still being listed as the starter, and Ingram now has swelling in his knee, although he should be fine. While Ingram clearly has the higher ceiling, Thomas should still get plenty of touches. And if you're looking for a No. 4 or 5 running back with upside then take a flier on Thomas. Remember, it was Thomas who helped the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV, and he's been a great Fantasy option when healthy. If something happens to Ingram then Thomas could re-emerge as a star.

Michael Bush, Raiders
Average Draft Position: 113 overall (Round 9)
Bush is one of those running backs who could be a star if he played on a different team since he's the No. 2 option behind Darren McFadden. And the good thing for Bush is McFadden tends to get hurt often since he's missed 10 games over three seasons. We've also watched Bush post quality stats even when McFadden is healthy, and he had seven games with double digits in Fantasy points in standard leagues in 2010. He could easily reach that mark again this season, and his value would skyrocket if McFadden suffered a significant injury.

Willis McGahee, Broncos
Average Draft Position: 116 overall (Round 9)
We know that Knowshon Moreno is the starter for the Broncos and the better Fantasy option, but there will be times this season where McGahee will be more valuable than Moreno. For starters, Moreno is injury prone. He's only missed three games in two seasons, but he has yet to prove his durability since he has just 12 games with more than 20 touches. New coach John Fox also prefers to use two running backs, and the Broncos plan to feature McGahee at the goal line. He scored 12 rushing touchdowns in Baltimore in 2009 and has at least six total touchdowns in every season since 2006. And if Moreno goes down with a significant injury then McGahee could turn into a Fantasy starter.

LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets
Average Draft Position: 118 overall (Round 9)
I'm buying Shonn Greene as the starter for the Jets this season, but I still expect Tomlinson to have his moments this year. Remember, Tomlinson was headed for a reserve role in 2010 before he outplayed Greene, and he's still someone to target in leagues where receptions count. He had six games with double digits in Fantasy points last season, and he could reach that mark again. And if Greene fails to deliver like he did early last year, then the Jets could give Tomlinson increased touches. He's obviously not the player he used to be, but even at 32 he could still make an impact if needed.

Ryan Torain, Redskins
Average Draft Position: 122 overall (Round 10)
It's clear heading into the season that Tim Hightower is the No. 1 running back for the Redskins, and his ADP is 99 overall (Round 9). But don't discount the fact that Torain will be in the mix for the Redskins this year, as well as rookie Roy Helu, who is being drafted at 138 overall (Round 12). Torain was a key member of the Redskins offense last season, and Mike Shanahan obviously likes him since he took him from Denver to Washington. And if Hightower struggles or continues to fumble then Torain's touches will definitely increase. Helu also is worth a late-round flier since Shanahan is notorious for using a committee backfield when he has talented options.

James Starks, Packers
Average Draft Position: 140 overall (Round 11)
We still expect the Packers to go with Ryan Grant as their starter for this season, but there's a report in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that suggests Starks will be the No. 1 running back for Week 1. That makes his value on Draft Day significant even if he were going to split carries with Grant. Starks showed last season that he was a capable replacement for Grant, and he's worth drafting with a late-round pick even if Grant returns as the No. 1 option in the backfield. We'd be shocked if Grant was benched, but the Packers clearly believe in Starks. Fantasy owners should follow suit.

Rashad Jennings, Jaguars
Average Draft Position: 151 overall (Round 12)
We're all aware of Maurice Jones-Drew and his knee problem coming into the season, but don't feel like Jennings is just a handcuff option. You should target Jennings on your own because even if Jones-Drew starts in Week 1 and plays well it's no guarantee his knee will hold up for 16 games. The Jaguars clearly like Jennings based on his play in 2010, and he could easily emerge as a Top 24 running back if he gets the chance for increased carries. You should begin to look for Jennings as early as Round 10 in the majority of formats.

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DeMarco Murray, Cowboys
Average Draft Position: 167 overall (Round 13)
The Cowboys plan to give Felix Jones every opportunity to be the catalyst of their backfield, but Jones hasn't been dominant as a starting rusher. In fact, his yards per carry have declined each year as his workload has increased, and he has just eight touchdowns over four seasons. If Jones struggles or gets hurt then the Cowboys could turn to Murray, who also isn't the picture of health and has struggled to stay on the field during training camp. But Murray has plenty of potential, and if he ends up getting increased touches for the Cowboys this season then he could be a valuable Fantasy running back.

Marion Barber, Bears
Average Draft Position: 177 overall (Round 14)
Barber struggled last season with the Cowboys, and Dallas was quick to get rid of him. But heading to Chicago could be a good landing spot if the Bears can find running room behind that offensive line. Chicago doesn't want to run Matt Forte into the ground, and he remains the best running back for the Bears and someone to target in Round 2. But Barber could work in goal-line situations and reprise the role he had with the Cowboys early in his career. Remember, Barber once scored 28 touchdowns in 2006-07, and he is a solid running back to keep on your bench if the Bears use him the right way.

Ben Tate, Texans
Average Draft Position: 181 overall (Round 15)
Gary Kubiak has already said Arian Foster will remain the workhorse for the Texans, but Tate is someone to draft whether you own Foster or not. And don't worry too much about Derrick Ward and his role because if Foster gets hurt then Tate would be the best running back in Houston. Last year, Tate was expected to be Foster before he was injured in the preseason and lost for the year. He played well in the second preseason game against New Orleans, and it's clear he has plenty of ability. Just keep him on your radar if you're looking for someone to take with a late-round flier.

Montario Hardesty, Browns
Average Draft Position: 192 overall (Round 16)
Peyton Hillis remains the starter for the Browns, but he's already dealing with a hamstring injury and showed last year that he struggled at the end of the season with only one game in his final seven outings where he scored a rushing touchdown. If he can't handle the rushing load again this year or gets hurt then Hardesty should take over. The Browns also have Brandon Jackson, but he's dealing with a toe injury. And if Hardesty can stay healthy, which is an issue since he missed last year with a knee injury, then he could be a steal if he ends up getting significant playing time for the Browns in 2011.

Wide receiver

Danny Amendola, Rams
Average Draft Position: 110 overall (Round 9)
Amendola is one of my favorite players this year, and he has the potential to be a starting Fantasy option in all leagues, especially in point per reception formats. He already had 85 catches in 2010, and he could easily reach 100 this year playing for offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Last season, Amendola had 123 targets, but McDaniels is known for calling pass plays at will, and Sam Bradford will continue to look in Amendola's direction. He's a steal as a No. 4 Fantasy wide receiver in standard leagues, and he should be considered a No. 3 option in all PPR formats.

Lee Evans, Ravens
Average Draft Position: 117 overall (Round 9)
Evans got his escape from Buffalo, and he goes to a team with the Ravens where he can thrive as the No. 2 receiver opposite Anquan Boldin. He has arguably the best quarterback of his career in Joe Flacco, and the Ravens play a favorable schedule this season. Evans may never return to his glory days in Buffalo when he had 24 touchdowns in his first three seasons from 2004-06 and two 1,000-yard campaigns in 2006 and 2008, but he will definitely improve on last year's dismal performance when he finished with career lows in catches (37), yards (578) and touchdowns (four).

Deion Branch, Patriots
Average Draft Position: 126 overall (Round 10)
Wes Welker and Chad Ochocinco are the two best receivers for the Patriots, and we know Tom Brady is going to spread the ball around to all his targets. But don't write off Branch as an afterthought now that he's not a starting option. The Patriots will use three receivers often during the year, and Branch and Brady have a great rapport. When Branch came back to New England in Week 6 last year he had four games with at least seven catches and scored five touchdowns. He will be involved, and he provides tremendous value as someone to draft with a late-round flier.

Mike Sims-Walker, Rams
Average Draft Position: 128 overall (Round 10)
Sims-Walker struggled with the Jaguars last season and found the free agent market this offseason a little frigid. He settled on the Rams, and it's a great landing spot because of the system he will play in. St. Louis plans to open up the passing game, and Sims-Walker should see plenty of targets as the No. 3 receiver behind Amendola and Brandon Gibson. Bradford is also the most talented quarterback Sims-Walker has played with, and keep in mind that McDaniels is the same coach who turned journeyman Brandon Lloyd into the No. 1 Fantasy receiver last year. He could do wonders in working with Sims-Walker.

Johnny Knox, Bears
Average Draft Position: 131 overall (Round 11)
Knox might not have a starting job entering the season, but Roy Williams doesn't appear to have a firm grasp on the position either based on his lack of conditioning and not being ready for the first two preseason games. That has allowed Knox to get back into the discussion of the best Bears receiver for this year, and he's someone to stash on your roster. Look, Jay Cutler needs playmakers, and while Williams might be useful, Knox was Cutler's go-to receiver last season. If I have to take a late-round flier on a Chicago receiver I would go with Knox since he has more upside.

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Davone Bess, Dolphins
Average Draft Position: 141 overall (Round 11)
Bess benefited from all the single coverage he got last year thanks to Brandon Marshall. In his third year, Bess had a breakout season with 79 catches for 820 yards and five touchdowns. He is among the best slot receivers in the NFL, and Chad Henne relies on him as a security blanket. Bess is obviously better in PPR leagues than standard formats, but you should take a chance on him in all leagues. If he plays like last year then he could be a potential starter, especially if he somehow manages to increase his production.

Jacoby Ford, Raiders
Average Draft Position: 142 overall (Round 11)
The Raiders lost Zach Miller as a free agent to Seattle, and Louis Murphy is out for Week 1 with a leg injury. That leaves Ford as their best receiving option, and he's fallen on Draft Day because of a hand injury in training camp. Ford has a lot to prove as a receiver after a solid rookie campaign in 2010, but he has plenty of speed and could help in all facets of the game. He worked hard this offseason with former NFL star Cris Carter, and Ford has the desire to be great. If he's the No. 1 target for Oakland then he could easily be a No. 4 Fantasy receiver in all formats.

Nate Burleson, Lions
Average Draft Position: 146 overall (Round 12)
The Lions offense has the potential to be explosive this season, especially if Matthew Stafford can stay healthy for 16 games. We know Calvin Johnson, Jahvid Best and Brandon Pettigrew should be the best weapons in the passing game, but Burleson will definitely be involved a lot. He played well last season with 55 catches for 625 yards and six touchdowns, but he should improve on those stats with a full year playing with Stafford. Since Johnson will see plenty of double coverage, Burleson has the chance to be an excellent second receiver in this offense.

Greg Little, Browns
Average Draft Position: 193 overall (Round 16)
The Browns need someone to emerge as the leader of this receiving corps, and Little might be able to fill that role as a rookie. He could be just as explosive and talented as Julio Jones and A.J. Green, but Fantasy owners can draft him with a late-round pick. As we pointed out with McCoy, the Browns have a favorable passing schedule with matchups against Houston, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Seattle, Arizona and St. Louis. And since the Browns could be throwing a lot if they are trailing late in games, Little could see plenty of targets in his first season.

Antonio Brown, Steelers
Average Draft Position: 206 overall (Round 17)
Brown continues to play well this preseason and should be given the chance to be the Steelers' No. 3 receiver behind Mike Wallace and Hines Ward. Emmanuel Sanders could challenge Brown for playing time, but Brown appears to have more upside. He might not be a consistent threat for the Steelers, but he could play like Wallace did as a rookie when he was the third option behind Santonio Holmes and Ward. We'd spend a late-round flier on Brown in standard leagues, and keep in mind that Ward is on the downside of his career. Brown could turn into a sensational sophomore in 2011.

Tight end

Brandon Pettigrew, Lions
Average Draft Position: 129 overall (Round 10)
Pettigrew should be the No. 2 target in the passing game for the Lions this year behind Johnson. He played well last season with 71 catches for 722 yards and four touchdowns, and that was with Stafford out for most of the year. Stafford should look for Pettigrew plenty over the middle, and he should be considered a No. 1 tight end on Draft Day. Pettigrew is the type of player to target if you pass on a tight end and build your team another way with quality running backs, receivers and possibly two quarterbacks.

Greg Olsen, Panthers
Average Draft Position: 137 overall (Round 11)
Olsen is one of my favorite sleepers this year since he should re-emerge as a No. 1 Fantasy tight end after being stuck in Martz's offense last year with the Bears, which is like purgatory for the position. Prior to Martz running Chicago's offense, Olsen had 60 catches for 612 yards and eight touchdowns in 2009, and Olsen could easily reach those stats again this year. He should be drafted as a starter, and his ADP will likely rise, but for now he's tremendous value if he's falling to Round 11.

Brent Celek, Eagles
Average Draft Position: 139 overall (Round 11)
Celek told me in a recent phone interview that he knows 2010 didn't go well for him, but he's looking forward to playing better this year. "I have to get open," Celek said. "I have to do my job. I think it will all fall into place." Michael Vick said he plans to get Celek more involved this year, and he hopes to use Celek like he did when he was in Atlanta and had Alge Crumpler. We don't see Celek getting back to his 2009 totals of 76 catches for 971 yards and eight touchdowns, but he should be better this year and could return as a starting option.

Dustin Keller, Jets
Average Draft Position: 160 overall (Round 13)
The addition of new offensive consultant Tom Moore should only help Keller since Moore was responsible for helping to develop Dallas Clark with the Colts. Keller got off to an amazing start last year with 19 catches for 254 yards and five touchdowns in his first four games, but he didn't score again and finished with 55 catches for 687 yards. He could improve this season if Sanchez can keep Keller involved for a full year, and he's worth drafting with a late-round selection.

Jared Cook, Titans
Average Draft Position: 221 overall (Round 18)
Cook showed his potential in Week 16 last year at Kansas City with five catches for 96 yards and a touchdown. The Titans have wanted to get Cook more involved each of the past two seasons, and this year should be a breakout campaign. The Tennessean predicts that Cook could lead the Titans in receptions, and he should benefit if Kenny Britt is suspended for a lengthy period of time. Matt Hasselbeck will likely have to rely on Cook, who should emerge as a sleeper tight end in all Fantasy leagues.

Lance Kendricks, Rams
Average Draft Position: Not being drafted
Kendricks isn't showing up on the ADP yet, but that will change by the time we get to Labor Day weekend. The Rams are excited for his potential, and Amendola told me in a recent phone interview that he will be a featured part of the offense. "He is a big, strong, physical guy that is fast," Amendola said. "Once he learns the ins and outs of the offense then he can do it all. He is so gifted." We like the way Kendricks has looked in the preseason, and he should definitely be drafted as a sleeper.

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