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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
Rob Gronkowski 'doesn't look' like he had a torn ACL
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(11:59 am ET) Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski "doesn't look like someone coming off a torn ACL/MCL," reports the Boston Globe. He's "firing off the line, planting hard, cutting and catching passes from [Tom] Brady."

It's another indication Gronk is on track to be ready for the season opener.


Case against Lorenzo Taliaferro dropped
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(11:42 am ET) Prosecutors dropped a misdemeanor case against Ravens rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro, who was charged with destruction of property and being drunk in public, reports the Baltimore Sun.

Tony Romo unsure if he'll play in preseason opener
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(11:35 am ET) Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will play during the preseason at some point, but it might not be in the Aug. 7 opener against San Diego. He's seven months removed from back surgery.

"I want to make sure it’s progressing and continuing to go forward," Romo told the Dallas Morning News. :They’re going to try and have me sit out more than I want to. But that’s also because they’re smart and they know what they’re doing."

Romo practiced Wednesday and declared himself 100 percent, the paper said. The team has held him out of multiple practices.

"You just want to take every rep and do everything," Romo said. "And you feel good. And you’re like, ‘I feel good. Let’s go.’ But at the same time you feel good until you don’t. There’s not a lot of history doing this over and over and over again. It’s a little different than most injuries because we don’t have 10 other guys who have gone through this in the last three years. We’ve just kind of got to be real smart. We’ve just got to be smart with it."


No sign of Joique Bell's injury
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(11:17 am ET) Lions running back Joique Bell missed offseason workouts while recovering from a knee injury, but "you wouldn't know it" by the way he looks in training camp, reports MLive.com. "Bell cut and accelerated with ease" during team drills, the report said.


Brent Urban suffers serious knee injury
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(11:04 am ET) Ravens rookie defensive end Brent Urban, a fourth-round pick out of Virginia, suffered "a longterm injury to his right knee," reports the Baltimore Sun. Urban was carted off the field Wednesday and was taken for an MRI.

He was unable to put weight on his right leg.


Earl Wolff supplants Nate Allen as starting safety
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(10:57 am ET) The Eagles moved safety Earl Wolff to the first team Wednesday, demoting Nate Allen, reports CSNPhilly.com. Wolff hasn't locked up a starting job opposite Michael Jenkins, but he "has undeniably made plays through the first four days of camp," the report said.

Wolff played in 11 games as a rookie, making 45 tackles and an interception.


Calvin Pryor returns to non-contact drills
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(10:50 am ET) Jets rookie safety Calvin Pryor, who sustained a concussion last Saturday, participated in non-contact drills at practice Thursday. The first-round pick is a projected starter.

If Jordan Reed can stay healthy...
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(10:44 am ET) Redskins tight end Jordan Reed missed seven games last season, six due to a concussion. He had durability issues in college. But coaches and teammates know that if Reed can stay on the field, he'll do special things, reports ESPN.com.

"He’s always been a natural route runner," offensive coordinator Sean McVay said. "He just gets it. You don’t have to overcoach him. He just naturally separates."

The 6-2, 237-pound Reed is one of the team's top basketball players and has a killer crossover move he's adapted to football, the website said.

"The way he can move his body and be in total control all the time is really special," fellow tight end Logan Paulsen said. "He does a lot of things that receivers can’t do and that will make him so special for a long time. I have never seen anyone run routes the way he runs them. I’m not exaggerating at all when I say that. He’s a special talent. He’s just wired in an explosive athletic way. You see a guy cross somebody up in basketball; he has that move. Even though you know it’s coming he still gets guys to bite. It’s incredible."

Coach Jay Gruden called Reed a fluid athlete who still has a lot to learn.

"He’s effortless the way he runs and very smooth and very difficult to cover and he can stop on a dime and get out of cuts," Gruden said. "He’s very sudden, and he’s got a good feel for the zones. It’s just a matter now of perfecting his craft, both in the passing game when he has to protect and in the running game. So, you know that takes some time. He’s only in his second year and this is a new system, new terminology for him and he’s doing a good job but he has a ways to go before we mention him with the great tight ends in the NFL."


Josh Gordon's appeal set for Friday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(10:36 am ET) Browns receiver Josh Gordon indeed will have his appeal hearing before the NFL on Friday, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports. Schefter reported earlier the hearing would be delayed until next week.

Gordon will argue that his one-year suspension is unwarranted, Schefter said.


Jags update Blake Bortles' progress
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(10:28 am ET) Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said No. 3 overall pick Blake Bortles showed "quality retention of the scheme" coming off the five-week break into training camp, reports the Florida Times-Union.

"One of the things we asked of him was to come in here and not just start from Day One again," Fisch said. "We didn't want Groundhog Day. We didn't want a repeat performance. We didn't want it to be like nothing has changed from the day before. So, how much does he know and recall? What he showed me is he actually dug deeper into the plays."

Fisch said Bortles, who remains the No. 2 quarterback behind Chad Henne, has a good grasp of the system.

"One of the things you worry about is how does a guy handle something he's never done before," Fisch said. "He's had OTAs and minicamp. Now, he's got four weeks to figure out what he's going to do. I thought he really prepared, so he came back ahead of where I thought he was going to be."

The Jaguars are using the 6-5, 230-pound Bortles on rollouts, according to the paper. 

"I love the fact that when Blake moves, he's a strong, tough guy to bring down," Fisch said. "He also throws the ball nicely on the move. It's something clearly he's done throughout his career in college. That's part of our system, so they have to do that."


 
 
 
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