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2013 Draft Prep: Early sleepers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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We all want to look good on Draft Day. It's fun to brag at the end of the year that you predicted before the season started that Robert Griffin III, Stevan Ridley and Randall Cobb would be stars -- and it comes true.

Figuring out who the next standout players are going to be might be the best part of our Draft Prep work. It's great to call someone a sleeper, and at the end of the year you realize you were right.

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Last season in this space, I had Cobb and Kyle Rudolph as sleepers, and they were both fantastic. Of course, I also listed Peyton Hillis and Robert Meachem -- and now it's time to change the subject. It just shows that when you gamble on players it doesn't always work the way you hoped.

That's why they are called "sleepers." If we knew they were going to be stars this column would be called "guarantees."

With that in mind, here are 10 sleepers for you to mull over in advance of training camp. We'll be taking another stab at this prior to the start of the season to give you an updated version following preseason action.

Eli Manning, QB, Giants: Let's imagine the perfect scenario for Manning. Hakeem Nicks is healthy and signs a contract extension, and Victor Cruz gets a new contract as well, bringing both into training camp on time. Brandon Myers plays like he did in Oakland last year, and the offensive line is again dominant. Rueben Randle also proves to be more than capable as the No. 3 receiver, and David Wilson injects a different dimension of speed out of the backfield. It's really not that much of a stretch for Manning to have all these things happen. Keep in mind that prior to last year's debacle -- he had four games with five Fantasy points or less -- Manning had consecutive seasons of at least 4,000 passing yards and 30 total touchdowns and was a Top 10 Fantasy quarterback. He could easily creep back into the Top 12 and you can draft him this season with a late-round pick.
I'd take him ahead of: Michael Vick, Jay Cutler, Ben Roethlisberger

Andre Brown, RB, Giants: The Giants are banking on Wilson being the lead running back in this tandem, and so are we. That doesn't mean Brown won't have a role -- and a significant one at that. He led the Giants in rushing touchdowns last year with eight, and he had a five-game scoring streak before suffering a broken leg in November. Coach Tom Coughlin told me at the owners meeting that health is the key for Brown, who has struggled with injuries throughout his career. "The thing with Andre is he's got to come roaring back and fight his way through an entire season in the NFL and stay healthy," Coughlin said. Wilson should start, but he is unproven in his second year. We envision Brown sharing carries with Wilson and working at the goal line. He could reach double digits in touchdowns, and 1,000 total yards isn't a stretch (he averaged 5.3 yards per carry last year). Health is an issue, but since you can draft Brown with a mid-round pick, he's worth the gamble.
I'd take him ahead of: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Jonathan Stewart, Mark Ingram

Giovani Bernard, RB, Bengals: I wasn't a big fan of the Bengals signing BenJarvus Green-Ellis to be their starter last year. Now, he was a pleasant surprise with 1,094 rushing yards and six touchdowns and, more importantly, seven games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league. But he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and has limited receiving skills (his 22 catches last year were a career high). Bernard will work in tandem with Green-Ellis, and he could easily overtake the veteran if he plays to his potential. He ran for more than 1,200 yards and caught at least 45 passes for at least 350 yards in each of his two seasons at North Carolina, and he was the first running back drafted this season in the second round. He is projected to work on passing downs and be a change-of-pace rusher for Green-Ellis. Don't be surprised if and when Bernard surpasses Green-Ellis as the featured rusher.
I'd take him ahead of: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bernard Pierce, Bryce Brown

Pierre Thomas, RB, Saints: The top Fantasy producers in the New Orleans backfield this season should be Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram. After all, Sproles plays on passing downs in this pass-heavy offense, and Ingram should be the one working at the goal line. That doesn't mean Thomas will get left out, and he's a great buy with a late-round pick. There have been three times in Thomas' career where he's had at least 110 carries (2008, 2009 and 2011). Each time he's had over 900 total yards and six touchdowns. Chris Ivory is gone, meaning an injury to Ingram (he's battled knee problems) or Sproles (he missed three games last year) gives Thomas an increased workload. And during offseason workouts Thomas worked with the starting unit. He's a key reserve this season with the chance to be a spot starter if things go his way.
I'd take him ahead of: Fred Jackson, Vick Ballard, DeAngelo Williams

Ben Tate, RB, Texans: In 2011, Tate was a Top 30 Fantasy running back despite starting just two games. He had over 1,000 total yards and averaged 5.4 yards per carry with four touchdowns. Tate was healthy that season and able to showcase his skills in somewhat of a shared role with Arian Foster. Last year, Tate struggled with injuries and had just over 300 total yards and averaged 4.3 yards per carry with two touchdowns. Coach Gary Kubiak told me at the NFL owners meeting in March that Tate will be a significant contributor this year. "He's a fine young player when he has been healthy," Kubiak said. "He has played very well for us. All signs are that he's back and ready to go." The key for Tate will be workload, and Foster is coming off a busy year in 2012 when he had over 450 touches, including the playoffs. Foster might suffer a breakdown or the Texans could scale back his work. Either way, Tate should benefit.
I'd take him ahead of: Isaiah Pead, Ronnie Hillman, Vick Ballard

Josh Gordon, WR, Browns: Gordon was expected to be a breakout candidate in 2013, but his two-game suspension for violating the substance abuse policy put a damper on his full potential. Now he's falling to a range where Fantasy owners can gamble on him with a mid-round pick and still get great production even with the games he'll be out. The Browns have a new offensive system in place with coach Rob Chudzinski and coordinator Norv Turner, and the passing game in Cleveland should benefit. "Josh is a talented guy," Chudzinski told me. "He has all the tools to be a solid receiver, a solid No. 1 receiver in this league." We agree, and we hope he can stay out of trouble. Draft him as your No. 3 or 4 receiver this year, and don't be surprised if he is a fixture in your starting lineup once he gets back on the field and playing at a high level.
I'd take him ahead of: Anquan Boldin, Miles Austin, Denarius Moore

Michael Floyd, WR, Cardinals: Floyd closed last season with 14 catches for 213 yards and a touchdown on 22 targets in his final two games against Chicago and San Francisco with Brian Hoyer at quarterback. This year, Hoyer is gone, as well as the other lesser options under center in Arizona, replaced with a significant upgrade in Carson Palmer. The Cardinals also get a huge boost in Bruce Arians as head coach, and he's ready to make Floyd into a star. Arians has already said Floyd is "making leaps and bounds getting better," and he's ready to assume the No. 2 receiver spot opposite Larry Fitzgerald. That should mean plenty of single coverage, and we like Floyd as a late-round pick in all leagues. If you want to make a comparison to the Colts offense Arians ran last year, then consider Floyd this year's T.Y. Hilton. Last year, Hilton had 50 catches for 861 yards and seven touchdowns, and Floyd has the potential for similar results.
I'd take him ahead of: Sidney Rice, Justin Blackmon, Kendall Wright

Ryan Broyles, WR, Lions: Broyles is trying to come back from a second torn ACL in as many seasons, which makes him a risky commodity. But when he's been on the field he's been productive (he had 349 receptions, 4,586 receiving yards and 45 touchdowns at Oklahoma). Last year, once Broyles got back on the field for the Lions, he had double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league in three of six games. He suffered the second knee injury in December, but he was back on the field for offseason workouts. Some in Detroit consider him a breakout candidate, and we agree since he will see plenty of single coverage thanks to Calvin Johnson. Broyles will likely open as the slot receiver for the Lions, but he's going to see a boatload of targets. Matthew Stafford threw an NFL-record 727 passes last year, and he will love using Broyles when he's on the field. He's a great late-round pick in all leagues.
I'd take him ahead of: Cordarrelle Patterson, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon LaFell

DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans: There are several rookie receivers to like this year, from Tavon Austin (you'll see him in my breakout column) to Aaron Dobson. Hopkins is another potential standout. He is expected to start this season opposite Andre Johnson, and Kubiak has already called him "special" and compared him to former Broncos star Rod Smith. The Texans needed to inject some life into this passing game since Johnson and Owen Daniels can't do it all on their own. In three seasons at Clemson, Hopkins caught 205 passes for 3,009 yards and 27 touchdowns, including 18 in 13 games in 2012. He won't post those kind of stats as a rookie, but he will get plenty of single coverage and should be somewhat polished in his first year. He's a good late-round pick in the majority of leagues.
I'd take him ahead of: Emmanuel Sanders, Santonio Holmes, Brian Hartline

Jermichael Finley, TE, Packers: I had Finley as a bust last season, and for the most part he was. He did have a career-high 61 catches, but he managed just 667 yards and two touchdowns. He also had just two games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league, with one of those coming in Week 1. This year, Finley should rebound and might be in line for a career season. He's playing for a new contract, and the offseason reports have been glowing. He's lost weight, he's going to see more time in the slot and coach Mike McCarthy said Finley looks "excellent." The last time Finley was in a contract year he had 55 catches for 767 yards and eight touchdowns in 2011. He's capable of those stats again, and he's a great target with a late-round pick if you miss on your tight end of choice. The Packers have a loaded receiving corps with Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones, but someone will have to help replace Greg Jennings. Finley is going to help in that regard, and he's a good bounce-back candidate this season.
I'd take him ahead of: Owen Daniels, Brandon Pettigrew, Brandon Myers

Off the radar: 10 deep sleepers of varying degrees
Jay Cutler, QB, CHI Coach Marc Trestman and a contract year should bring out the best in Cutler.
Bernard Pierce, RB, BAL Ray Rice remains the starter, but Pierce will get enough work to be a potential flex.
Joseph Randle, RB, DAL DeMarco Murray has missed nine games in two years. Randle is the new backup.
Johnathan Franklin, RB, GB Someone has to lead this backfield, and Franklin could end up winning the job.
Daryl Richardson, RB, STL Starter could be Zac Stacy or Isaiah Pead, but Richardson has the most experience.
Mike Gillislee, RB, MIA Might be third on the depth chart now, but he could emerge if Lamar Miller falters.
Rueben Randle, WR, NYG If something happens to Nicks or Cruz then Randle will become a star.
Chris Givens, WR, STL Givens is getting overlooked because of Austin, which is a mistake.
Vincent Brown, WR, SD A broken ankle ruined last year's season, but he's healthy and could play a big role.
Aaron Dobson, WR, NE The receiving corps is wide open, and Dobson will be catching passes from Tom Brady.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @JameyEisenberg .

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Player News
Eagles coach Chip Kelly: Tim Tebow not just a camp arm
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:15 pm ET) Eagles coach Chip Kelly thinks Tim Tebow could eventually develop into a quarterback and isn't just a camp arm, as Mark Sanchez said last month, according to NFL.com.

Tebow was signed in April as the fourth quarterback on the roster after the team traded for Sam Bradford and re-signed Sanchez.

"No, I think everybody here that we bring to our organization is here to compete for a job," Kelly said. "That's what Timmy is going to do. He's an unbelievable competitor. ... If we were just going to have guys throw drills, we'd take (Mike) Mayock in the offseason and bring him down here and let him throw to them."

Tebow hasn't played in the league since 2012.


Cowboys RB Darren McFadden maybe used as kick returner in 2015
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:11 pm ET) Cowboys running back Darren McFadden could see an expanded role next season, as a kick or punt returner, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Wide receiver Dwayne Harris left during the offseason for the Giants, leaving a vacant spot in the return game.

"We have some guys we feel who can go return right now both punt returners and kickoff returners," coach Jason Garrett said. "And hopefully we'll get a chance to bring some guys in college free agent type guys we targeted as well. We like the guys we have and we feel like we can go play right now with them and also create some competition with some younger guys."

McFadden was a kick returner for the Raiders in 2014 where he had three returns for 59 yards.

"He certainly could," Garrett said. "He's done it in his past."


Jersey No. 11 holds significance for Texans WR Jaelen Strong
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(7:24 pm ET) Texans wide receiver Jaelen Strong was pegged as a potential first-round pick entering the 2015 NFL draft. 

However, he had to wait quite a while in the green room to hear his name called. In the third round, the Texans took Strong, a productive wideout at Arizona State. Strong, surprised at the fall in the draft, picked a jersey number to remind himself of what happened to him. 

Strong was the 11th receiver selected this past weekend. Therefore, 11 is the jersey number Strong will wear this season, to remind himself that 10 other receivers were selected ahead of him. 

"Number 11 to remind me that 10 receivers were taken before me in the Draft," Strong wrote on his Instagram page. "So much hunger in my heart. Thanks Houston!"


Jaguars agree to terms with 9 UDFAs, including Nick Marshall
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5:16 pm ET) The Jaguars announced they will sign nine rookie undrafted free agents, including former Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall.

Marshall will move to cornerback as a professional football player.

As Auburn's starting quarterback in 2014, he threw for 2,532 yards and 20 touchdowns. In 2013, Marshall led the Tigers to the BCS National Championship, where Auburn lost to Florida State. 

Marshall has some experience with the Jaguars. At the Senior Bowl, where he played as a corner, he was coached by the Jaguars' coaching staff. 

The Jaguars will also bring in Miami linebacker Thurston Armbrister , Syracuse defensive tackle Eric Crume , Auburn running back Corey Grant , Oregon State tight end Connor Hamlett , Minnesota-Mankato guard Chris Reed, Maryland linebacker Matt Robinson , Pittsburgh linebacker Todd Thomas and Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters


Lions unsure if Travis Swanson will start at center
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3:26 pm ET) When the Lions drafted Travis Swanson a year ago, the idea was for him to emerge as a starting center for the franchise by 2015. 

There's now some doubt, at least that's what the Lions themselves are saying after acquiring veteran Manny Ramirez in a trade on Thursday during the NFL draft. 

"I don't know," Lions offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn said, via the Detroit Free Press. "And I'm not trying to be evasive, I just don't know. What is it, May 2, 3rd? The depth kind of develops itself, which is a nice thing. Going through OTAs, mini-camp, training camp, it always takes care of itself."

Swanson is still the favorite to start at center, though it does appear the Lions want to put him in a competitive situation. 


Panthers not concerned with Devin Funchess' 40 time
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3:06 pm ET) Panthers rookie receiver Devin Funchess didn't impress scouts too much when he ran a 4.7 40-yard dash time at the NFL scouting combine this past February. 

But that didn't stop the Panthers from selecting him the second round on Friday during the NFL draft. The Panthers were impressed enough in Funchess, based on his big-play ability and size at 6-5, 230 pounds, to add him to their roster. 

"People are going to talk about his 40 time in Indy, but the kid plays fast, and he ran fast at the pro day at Michigan (4.48 40-yard dash)," Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said, via the team's official website. "Like with Kelvin (Benjmin) last year, you can't coach size. He plays fast. He's a smooth and fluid big man. We really like that about him, and he's a very smart kid."


Browns GM: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu can be a starting cornerback
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(1:34 pm ET) Former Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu was considered a first-round prospect before tearing an ACL this past December, which sidelined him for the first-ever College Football Playoff. 

Due to the uncertainty of his injury, Ekpre-Olomu experienced a substantial fall from potential first-rounded to the seventh round. The Browns ended up grabbing Ekpre-Olomu with the 241st overall pick.

Assuming Ekpre-Olomu can rehab his knee back into shape, Browns general manager Ray Farmer said Ekpre-Olomu has a great future in the NFL. 

"We felt this kid can be a starter if he’s 100 percent," Farmer said, via ESPN.com


Matt Jones' arrival won't change Redskins RB Alfred Morris' role
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(1:00 pm ET) It doesn't hurt to have more than one quality running back to tote the ball in the NFL. But when a solid runner is taken in the first few rounds of the draft, it can be an ominous sign for a back used to being the primary ball carrier. 

That's not the case with Redskins running back Alfred Morris. Though the Redskins drafted Florida's Matt Jones in the third round, coach Jay Gruden said there are no plans to change Morris' role in the offense. 

"Alfred won't be affected," Gruden said, via ESPN.com. "Alfred's still the running back here. He's had three great seasons and that won't change. But to add another guy that can come in here and pound the rock a little bit doesn't hurt anything. It'll help Alfred in that regard, taking some carries off him. For the most part Alfred will be getting the bulk of the carries and Matt will get some too, obviously."

In a tough season for everyone on the Redskins, Morris ran got 1,074 yards and eight touchdowns. Jones provides some insurance as a big-bodied 6-2, 226-pound back that could actually help Morris this season. 

"He's a little bit different than what we've had around here," Gruden said. 


Falcons waive tight end Kyle Miller
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(12:53 pm ET) The Falcons announced on Sunday that they have waived tight end Kyle Miller

Miller was with the Falcons' practice squad in 2014. He was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Jaguars in 2012. 


Packers QB Brett Hundley's fall in draft 'blessing in disguise'
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(12:39 pm ET) Former UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley admitted disappointment after falling to third day of the NFL draft. 

When Hundley declared for the draft he was considered a first- or second-round pick. But as the pre-draft process continued, Hundley's game was scrutinized to the point where he fell down lots of draft boards. 

All of a sudden, Hundley found himself still available in the fifth round. With the 147th overall pick, the Packers selected Hundley, even though starter Aaron Rodgers is poised to remain as one of the greats in this league for many years to come. 

For Hundley, he's looking at the opportunity as a way to prove his critics wrong. 

"It's a blessing in disguise," Hundley said via the Green Bay Post-Gazette, "and you know I have a chip on my shoulder, and I'm coming in to work, and that's what I've come down to. I'm just coming in, I've got my opportunity. That's the way I look at it. It's a blessing in disguise.

"You always have expectations of going No. 1 or high in the draft, but everything happens for a reason, and that's how I look at it. If I'm supposed to be here, this is where I'm supposed to be, and I'm going to make the most of it."


 
 
 
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