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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
Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall not sure if he'll be ready for camp
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:47 pm ET) Redskins veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall hopes he has recovered enough from a torn Achilles tendon to be 100 percent for the starting of training camp. But he's making no guarantees.

"I know they're going to monitor me," he told 106.7 The Fan. "I know they are not going to just throw me out there and [have me] take all the reps with the [first team].

"I'm just going to get out there and see how the body feels ... I'm at the mercy of the trainers and coaching staff. They're going to kind of wean me back in slowly."

Hall, who lost all but three games last season to the injury, also missed OTAs and minicamp, but has recently begun ramping up his workouts.


Saints WR Nick Toon seeks to seize best opportunity of career
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:32 pm ET) The path is clear for Saints wide receiver Nick Toon to earn more playing time than ever. But he realizes that he must get on that path and stay on it through superior performance.

The offseason losses of Kenny Stills, Jimmy Graham and Robert Meacham should result in more reps for Toon, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He has been buried on the depth chart, though he did catch a career-high 17 passes last year.

He believes that now is the time for him to step up and break out.

"Pressure is not something that I've every worried about or thought about," he told the New Orleans Advocate. "I just try to be consistent. Anything outside of that is out of my control, so do what you've got to do to put yourself in the best position for things to work out."

Toon has a shot at the third receiver role behind Brandin Cooks and Marques Colston.


Giants WR Victor Cruz believes he'll be back in action for camp
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:22 pm ET) Giants standout receiver Victor Cruz believes he can avoid starting the season on the PUP list despite continuing to deal with his recovery from a patellar tendon tear.

"The plan is to be ready for training camp and I feel good," he told SiriusXM NFL Radio.

Placing Cruz on the PUP list would give the Giants roster flexibility if he is not ready by training camp. If he lands on the regular-season PUP list, he would be forced to miss the first six games.

Cruz has experienced weakened production every year since his breakout season of 2011. But he was limited to just six games in 2014.


Report: Packers have no plan to release TE Andrew Quarless
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:28 am ET) The Packers have no intention of releasing tight end Andrew Quarless despite his arrest on July 4 for allegedly shooting off his gun in public, sources have told ESPN.

Quarless was charged with a misdemeanor after firing two shots into the air outside a parking garage in Miami Beach, per police reports. He was seen arguing with two women before the incident.


Report: Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul can forget long-term deal
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:25 am ET) The Giants will not take back their one-year franchise tag offer of $14.813 million to defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul in the wake of a fireworks accident that resulted in a hand injury and hospitalization, a source has told the New York Daily News.

But the source added that there is "no chance" the Giants will now work on a long-term contract for Pierre-Paul. 

Giants officials made the trek to South Florida on Tuesday to see how he is recovering, sources have told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Pierre-Paul is coming off his best season since 2011. He contributed to 77 tackles and racked up 12 1/2 sacks.


Eagles LB Brandon Graham could be on verge of breakout year
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(9:29 am ET) Eagles linebacker Brandon Graham feels the optimism of a guy coming off his best season.

"I'm feeling the best I've ever felt," he told the team website.

It's no wonder. He recorded career-highs in tackles (36), tackles for losses (13 1/2), assists (11) and sacks (5.5) in 2014. He earned significant playing time in a rotation at that position. And with Trent Cole off to Indianapolis, those reps could increase this year.

Graham has toiled feverishly to improve his game and adapt to a new defensive system. The result was a new four-year contract with the team.

"I understand the game and the league and what it takes to get it done here," he said. "I think I've grown up. I'm serious about being a great player. I want to be the best."


Giants pulling long-term contract offer to Jason Pierre-Paul
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(7/6/2015) In the wake of a Fourth of July fireworks mishap, the Giants on Monday pulled their long-term contract offer to defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who remains hospitalized in Miami, per NFL.com insider Ian Rapaport. 

The Giants had applied the franchise tag to Pierre-Paul this offseason, but the player has not yet signed it, technically leaving him not under contract with the team. The Giants move to yank the longer deal is a bit of gamesmanship, since according to Rapoport, Pierre-Paul was not going to sign the $60 million deal anyway. 


Bills sign veteran tackle Wayne Hunter
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(7/6/2015) The Bills took another step to shore up their offensive line, signing veteran tackle Wayne Hunter to a one-year deal Monday, per the National Football Post. 

Hunter, who has not played in the NFL since 2012, did spend three years with the Jets under new Bills coach Rex Ryan from 2009-2011. 

Hunter's deal is reportedly worth $870,000.


RB Khiry Robinson could be odd man out in Saints backfield
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(7/6/2015) Running back Khiry Robinson is a fan favorite with the Saints, but the third-year pro, who once was viewed as a breakout candidate for the team, may find his role squeezed by the presence of Mark Ingram and C.J. Spiller, per ESPN.com. 

Robinson dealt with a broken arm last season, which limited him to 12 carries and 32 yards over the final 10 weeks of the year. The Saints then re-upped with Ingram and brought in Spiller to replace Pierre Thomas, meaning Robinson will have to fight hard in training camp to establish a role. 

"I just gotta keep working," Robinson said. "It's all love in the backfield. We all work together, try to help each other. So I think it's a good thing we've got a full backfield again. So if anybody goes down, we've got another player right up there to do the same thing."


Report: Giants Jason Pierre-Paul hurt in fireworks accident
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(7/5/2015) Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul reportedly hurt his hand in a Fourth of July fireworks accident in Miami, according to the Daily News

The paper reports that the injury is not considered career-threatening, but that varying accounts of what happened have been reported. The Giants have not confirmed nor denied the incident. 

The Giants applied the franchise tag to Pierre-Paul this offseason, but the 26-year-old has not yet signed it as he seeks a long-term deal, meaning that he technically is not under contract. 

Pierre-Paul had 53 tackles and 12 1/2 sacks last year for New York. 


 
 
 
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