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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
'Possibilities are endless' with Dwayne Allen's return
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(9:43 am ET) Colts tight end Dwayne Allen played just 32 snaps last season before suffering a season-ending hip injury. His loss took a lot of unique formations out of Indianapolis' playbook as they intended to use a lot of two-tight end sets and feature Allen, the official team website reports.

However, with Allen healed and ready to start training camp, the site says the "possibilities are endless" in how the Colts use Allen and teammate Coby Fleener this season. 

"It makes us a better football team," tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts said of a healthy Allen. "Getting him back is like getting a brand new player."

The Colts expect to be more creative on offense with Allen back in the fold.


LaRon Landry dealing with 'soft-tissue' injury
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) Colts safety LaRon Landry missed voluntary workouts and mandatory minicamp with what the team called a "soft-tissue" injury, reports ESPN.com. He's coming off a disappointing first season in Indianapolis in which he made 87 tackles and no interceptions.

The website said the Colts need a big year from Landry after the departure of fellow safety Antoine Bethea.

"The thing with LaRon is and I know [coach] Chuck (Pagano) alluded to it, he's a guy that his throttle is always full-bore," general manager Ryan Grigson told the website. "He's out there in parts unknown working out. We trust him in the fact that we know he's going to go harder than anyone."


Marquise Goodwin ticketed for change-of-pace role
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) The Bills view speedy receiver Marquise Goodwin as a change-of-pace option behind Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Mike Williams, according to WGR550.com. A former track star, Goodwin averaged 23.6 yards on his 17 receptions last year, scoring three touchdowns.

Mike Williams expected to be No. 3 receiver
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods are projected as the Bills' top two receivers, with Mike Williams expected to see the field in three-receiver sets, reports WGR550.com. Still, coaches view Williams "as a potential instant contributor and someone who could help EJ Manuel in both the red zone and as a player with high-pointing ability on all areas of the field," the report said.

Kendall Wright working out with Robert Griffin III
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) Titans receiver Kendall Wright returned to Baylor to work out with his former college quarterback, the Redskins' Robert Griffin III, reports the Tennessean. Wright posted a picture of himself with Griffin and another former Baylor wideout, the Cowboys' Terrance Williams.

"Good grind session with my bros … where it all started at BU," wrote Wright, who caught 94 passes for 1,079 yards and two touchdowns last season.

Aaron Rodgers talks up tight end Richard Rodgers
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) The Packers are unsettled at tight end, which means rookie Richard Rodgers could emerge as an option. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers certainly liked throwing to the 6-4, 257-pounder in the spring, and Richard Rodgers could be the starter "sooner rather than later," reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

"When we made the pick, some of the so-called experts on the draft channel said he was a late sixth-round pick ... which is pretty laughable when you watch the talent he's got and the ability," Aaron Rodgers said. "You have to be excited about his body type and the hands.

"He's made some incredible catches, makes it look easy. I think he's going to push for some playing time if he can transfer what he's done in the spring now to the fall and have the potential to be an impact player."

Richard Rodgers ran a 4.87 forty coming out of California, two-tenths of a second slower than Jermichael Finley ran back in 2008, and often lined up in the slot in college, the paper said.


Jermichael Finley still hoping to return to Packers
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) Free agent tight end Jermichael Finley told ESPN.com he's working as hard as he can to return to the Packers. While Finley said this is the best he's felt "during this entire crazy process," he has yet to be cleared by team doctors.

Finley underwent neck fusion surgery last fall.


Ryan Kerrigan planning to stay with Redskins long-term
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan is under contract through 2015 after the team picked up his option. The 2011 first-round pick envisions staying in Washington beyond that.

"I’ve worked hard these past few years to be the best I can for the team and for the organization," he told the Muncie Star Press of Indiana. "I’m going to be a part of it for at least an additional year and hopefully after that, even longer."

Kerrigan has 24.5 sacks over his first three years.


Byron Bell, Nate Chandler competing for left tackle job
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) With Jordan Gross' retirement, the Panthers will have a new left tackle in 2014. The team's website says the competition is between Byron Bell, who started 14 games at right tackle last year, and Nate Chandler, who started six games at guard and two at right tackle.

Chandler is a converted defensive lineman who went undrafted out of UCLA in 2012.


Baylor coach wants to help Josh Gordon
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) Baylor coach Art Briles told Sirius XM NFL Radio he wants to help troubled Browns receiver Josh Gordon, a former Baylor standout who's staring at a long suspension by the NFL.

"Everybody’s different in the world and that’s what makes it so unique and everybody’s got special talents and gifts," Briles said. "Josh certainly has a tremendous amount of physical talent and intellectual gifts. We all just hope and pray that he’ll be able to get through everything and finally reach his full potential. The thing about Josh that’s so unique is he’s still young, he just turned 23. His future is ahead. He’s going to be judged by everything that’s happened, but he still has a great future ahead and that’s the way he needs to approach the situation. When you’re in our family, you’re always in so we’ll do whatever we can do to help him be successful in his life."


 
 
 
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