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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
Chip Kelly not fully committed to Nick Foles for 2015
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:52 pm ET) Asked about his quarterback situation heading into 2015, Eagles coach Chip Kelly expressed support for Nick Foles but did not fully endorse him as the team's quarterback of the future, reports Philly.com. Kelly said he needs to make a decision on Foles based on his limited body of work.

"The reality is the reality," Kelly said, referring to the broken collarbone that ended Foles' season after eight games.

"I can't say, 'Hey, let's not make a decision because I need to see him play 16 more games.' In certain times we're going to have to make decisions, so you have to make it based on what you have. We don't have any control over the injury."

Foles threw 13 touchdowns against 10 interceptions this year after sparkling with 27 touchdowns and two picks last season. Foles has one more year on his contract at $660,000, while replacement Mark Sanchez is scheduled for free agency. Matt Barkley is signed for two more years but has thrown one pass this year.

Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur sounds like a believer in Foles.

"I think we know what we have in Nick, and we've seen a guy that I think, by last count, he's 14-4 as a starter," Shurmur said. "So that's really how you judge a quarterback."


Eagles OLB Trent Cole plans to play Week 17
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:32 pm ET) Eagles outside linebacker Trent Cole, who sat out Week 16 with a hand injury, practiced fully Wednesday and said he plans to play Sunday at the Giants, reports the Delaware News Journal. Cole has 48 tackles, 6.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in 14 games.

'No plans on how long' QB Logan Thomas plays Sunday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(10:39 am ET) After earlier saying Cardinals quarterback Logan Thomas would play at least the first half Sunday at San Francisco, coach Bruce Arians said there are "no plans on how long" the rookie will play, reports ESPN.com. Thomas will be making his first start after Ryan Lindley predictably flopped Week 16 against Seattle.

Thomas has appeared in two games, completing 1 of 9 passes. That completion was an 81-yard touchdown to running back Andre Ellington.

Quarterback Drew Stanton (knee) isn't expected to be ready until the playoffs, so Lindley is the only option behind Thomas. Lindley has zero touchdowns and eight interceptions in 225 career pass attempts. Arizona has not scored a touchdown in its past two games.

A 6-6, 250-pounder out of Virginia Tech, Thomas had a "shaky" start to Wednesday's practice before finishing "pretty strong," according to Arians.

Arizona is a 6-point underdog Sunday. The line opened at 4.5 before bettors pounced on the 49ers.

Despite their offensive struggles, the Cardinals can win the NFC West with a victory and a Seattle loss to the Rams.


Seahawks WR Jermaine Kearse not practicing
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(10:12 am ET) Seahawks wideout Jermaine Kearse, who injured his hamstring Week 16, did not practice Wednesday as the team prepared for Sunday's game against St. Louis. Kearse also would not have been able to participate had the team practiced Thursday.

If Kearse sits out, rookie Paul Richardson would start in his place. Seattle is a 12.5-point home favorite.


Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams practices fully
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9:30 am ET) Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams, who's missed three straight games with a hand injury, practiced fully Wednesday and is on track to return Sunday against the Falcons.

However, coach Ron Rivera has indicated he'll stick with Jonathan Stewart as the starting tailback. Stewart has run for 437 yards over the past four weeks.

Carolina is a 4-point underdog at the Georgia Dome.


Chuck Pagano 'hopeful' T.Y. Hilton will play Week 17
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9:21 am ET) Colts wideout T.Y. Hilton put in his second straight limited practice Wednesday, with coach Chuck Pagano saying he's "hopeful" Hilton will play Sunday at Tennessee. Hilton sat out Week 16 with a hamstring injury -- the first game he's missed all season -- and Indy got destroyed 42-7 at Dallas.

Hilton leads the Colts with 82 catches for 1,345 yards and seven touchdowns. Indy is a 7-point favorite over the 2-13 Titans.


Ravens RT Ricky Wagner undergoes foot surgery
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9:12 am ET) Ravens right tackle Ricky Wagner underwent successful surgery to fix a Lisfranc foot sprain, reports the Baltimore Sun. He suffered the injury in the Week 16 loss to Houston.

Wagner, who allowed two sacks and drew high marks from coaches in his first season as a starter, is expected to be ready for next season, the report said.


Bears sign DE Austen Lane
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) The Bears have signed defensive end Austen Lane, Pro Football Talk reports.

Lane will fill the roster spot of defensive end Willie Young, who was placed on injured reserve Tuesday. Lane was with the Bears during the preseason but didn't survive the final cuts. He's managed three sacks in 30 career games.


Cardinals' Thomas starts practice 'shaky,' finishes 'pretty strong'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Cardinals coach Bruce Arians indicated that Week 17 starting quarterback Logan Thomas was "shaky" at the beginning of Wednesday's practice but finished "pretty strong" as he developed an understanding of where to throw his passes, ESPN.com reports.

"He's worked, fundamentally, extremely hard and gotten much better," Arians said. "But putting those fundamentals to use in the offense, that's two totally different things."

Thomas has just three days of practice before facing the 49ers in a game that has the possibility of landing his team with a first-round bye with a win and help from other results.

"It wasn't the greatest, but as it went on, it got better and better," Thomas added. "It just comes with reps and comes with time."

The Cardinals are a 6-point underdog in San Francisco Sunday.


Seahawks' Russell Okung, Max Unger practice Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung (lung) practiced in full Wednesday, while center Max Unger (ankle) was able to return to practice in a limited fashion.

Okung is on track to return in Week 17 after missing last week's game with a bruised lung. Unger hasn't played in any of the team's last five game due to a high ankle sprain. The Seahawks will earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a win Sunday, and it's possible Unger suits up for the crucial game.

The Seahawks are a 12 1/2-point favorite at home against the Rams in Week 17.


 
 
 
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