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2013 Draft Prep: Sleepers for Draft Day

Senior Fantasy Writer
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My sleeper list last year included Mikel Leshoure, Tony Gonzalez and ... well, I'll be a man about it and say it wasn't my best year.

Okay, fine, the list stunk. I stunk. I'm the guy who hyped up a bunch of bums before the preseason got going. I mean it's not even close.

So it's time for redemption.

What you're about to see is my early look at sleepers heading into 2013. Some of these names could change once the preseason games start and I get a feel for how these teams are thinking heading into Week 1.

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Regardless, this is a list I want you to remember to check back on before your draft. Write down the names, commit them to memory, save this page on your CBSSports.com mobile app, whatever, and pick one or two guys to call your own on Draft Day.

Most of the names on this list won't cost you much -- nothing higher than a pick in Round 8 -- so the risk involved isn't going to capsize your roster if a player fizzles out.

Let's do this.

Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals: There are two ways a quarterback can be great in the NFL -- they can either use their amazing talents to lead their teams or they can combine their good talents with great teammates to put up victories. Dalton is the latter; he's not going to win any quarterback skills challenges but he's good enough to win so long as he has help. Exhibit A is his back-to-back playoff appearances with the Bengals. The team realized Dalton needs help and got him some with rookies Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert (both of whom I really like) and they're bringing back stud receiver A.J. Green, fourth-year tight end Jermaine Gresham and complementary wideouts Mohamed Sanu, Andrew Hawkins and Marvin Jones. Tack on an offensive line loaded with good talent and Dalton is in one of the sweetest spots a quarterback could ask for. Dalton improved in every significant passing stat from 2011 to 2012 and there should be another jump in 2013. After Eli Manning, he's the best No. 2 Fantasy quarterback you could ask for. Funny, because last year he actually finished as a Top 12 choice.
I'd take him ahead of: Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer

Matt Schaub, QB, Texans: We did a draft this offseason where Schaub was not a late-round pick -- he wasn't even picked! Is it an injustice, a reflection of who he is or simply a commentary on the depth at quarterback this season? It's probably the latter since he had a good enough season in 2012 to prove he's not a terrible passer. He completed 64.3 pct. of his passes, threw 22 touchdowns and even got over 4,000 yards. When comparing his stats to previous years he managed to have his third-best season despite having only one decent receiver. Houston's addition of DeAndre Hopkins (who I also consider a sleeper) should do wonders for Schaub's stats. When Schaub was a stat monster in 2009, attempting 583 passes, he had one receiver besides Andre Johnson catch 50 passes and another catch six touchdowns. Hopkins should at least catch 50 passes and six touchdowns, so if he delivers and Johnson is himself and the other pass game weapons step up, Schaub could be a pleasant surprise. I like him as a safe Fantasy backup worth drafting late.
I'd take him ahead of: Josh Freeman, Jay Cutler, Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco

Bryce Brown, RB, Eagles: Brown really is a man in the right place at the right time. Philadelphia's hire of Chip Kelly as head coach means the team will be more running back-oriented in a fast-paced offense. In a study I did during the offseason, running backs in Kelly's offenses the last three years at Oregon averaged between 35.8 and 39.1 rushes per game with a sizable cut in the passing game. Even Eagles starter LeSean McCoy said Brown should expect to get a lot of work because he knew then he wouldn't be able to handle the full workload of what's being asked. Brown could begin the year with a dozen or so touches per game -- not bad for a backup. And if McCoy happens to miss time, Brown would become the primary back in that offense and see way more work. He's an electric runner who has improved his ball security this offseason. You don't need to draft McCoy to have goo-goo eyes for Brown on Draft Day.
I'd take him ahead of: Ben Tate, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Vick Ballard

Zac Stacy, RB, Rams: There's no denying that Daryl Richardson is the most appealing name in the Rams backfield in the early days of training camp, but questions about whether or not he can fill the role of a full-time back persist. He had nearly 200 carries in his first year of work in college but fell under 150 carries the other two seasons and last year had 98 carries -- including only 16 over his final five games. He seems like a passing downs back while Stacy has the build of a bowling ball and had just over 200 carries in each of his last two years at Vanderbilt, averaging at least 5.5 yards per carry. Stacy's pass protection has been complimented this summer and it could come to pass that he overtakes second-year man Isaiah Pead for the rushing downs role. Ultimately, it's Stacy's talent that has me enamored -- he's got good quickness to go with a big body and good enough hands. Finding him with a pick in Round 8 or 9 should pay off; if you want to play it safe and get Pead a round later, that's also an option.
I'd take him ahead of: Isaiah Pead, Jonathan Stewart and Johnathan Franklin

DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers: Williams isn't your typical 30-year-old running back. You can thank the Panthers and their weird running back philosophies for that -- Williams has 1,181 career carries over seven seasons, topping 200 carries just twice (and none since 2009). It suggests he has gas left in his tank, which the Panthers sound like they'll need because of fellow rusher Jonathan Stewart's ankles keeping him from practicing with no definitive return date in sight. Williams had just five games last season with 12-plus carries, posting over 4.2 yards per carry in four of them. He also finished off the year with a touchdown and at last 100 total yards in three of his final four matchups, flashing some long speed in the process. As of this writing Williams is getting picked, on average, in Round 10 of standard drafts! He's better than this. When you're looking for the last-gasp at running back before it gets really nasty, Williams should be in your line of sight.
I'd take him ahead of: Mark Ingram, Fred Jackson, Vick Ballard

Ronnie Hillman, RB, Broncos: Montee Ball will be the first Broncos running back to go in drafts but it doesn't mean he'll be the best. In the early days of training camp it's been the second-year back impressing in all facets -- finding the creases in the zone-blocking scheme, catching passes out of the backfield and even improving in pass protection. Hillman gives the Broncos a gamebreaker in the backfield; last year he had three of the team's seven 20-yard runs and he barely played. Ball isn't a slouch either as he ripped off long runs in college all the time. But John Fox has never truly trusted a rookie to handle every-down work and does have a track record of using multiple backs in a rotation. Hillman put on muscle this offseason and, per Fox, finally has a "pro body" to handle the rigors of the league. Hillman's the better value pick on Draft Day, worth the Top 70 choice as a flex candidate. Keeping in mind a plan to take Ball if he slips to Round 5 and Hillman in Round 6 or 7 could pay off in a major way. After all, Peyton Manning's running backs tend to be productive.
I'd take him ahead of: Any Saints, Rams or Panthers running back

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Anquan Boldin, WR, 49ers: Boldin simply has to be productive for the Niners to win games this year. Given the chance to have a leadership role, Boldin has already taken to coaching up San Francisco's young receivers while leading by example on the practice field. Colin Kaepernick has connected with him already and will have to lean on Boldin as a chain-mover if he's going to have even a good year, at least until Michael Crabtree is recovered from a torn Achilles. Boldin's experience and good route running makes him a threat against single coverage and his work in the playoffs last season (22 catches, 380 yards, four touchdowns) proves he's not an over-the-hill wideout. He'll probably be more helpful in PPR leagues than standard but he's the kind of late-round pick to target as a very good fifth receiver. Keep his name in mind late in drafts.
I'd take him ahead of: Sidney Rice, Greg Little and Brandon LaFell

Michael Floyd, WR, Cardinals: Last year, Andre Roberts led the Cardinals with five receiving touchdowns while three other receivers other than Larry Fitzgerald had 45 catches or more. Two years ago, two receivers other than Fitzgerald caught 50 passes. There are plenty of passes to go around and that goes double when Bruce Arians is calling the shots on offense. A Cardinals team expected to play from behind often and with Carson Palmer under center should mean big stats for the top receivers. That's receivers -- plural -- and in this case it means Floyd along with Fitzgerald. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound second-year man has wowed coaches all offseason and has been off to a great start in training camp. Palmer went as far as to say Floyd has "it" when it comes to receiving skills and nuances that the typical second-year player doesn't have. Floyd's draft average as of this writing is a laughable 128th overall -- expect that number to rise in the coming weeks and for him to be a great fourth receiver for your Fantasy team with a pick before the end of Round 9. After all, Floyd was one of those three receivers that had 45 catches in 2012 for 'Zona.
I'd take him ahead of: Lance Moore, Emmanuel Sanders, Aaron Dobson

Rueben Randle, WR, Giants: Hakeem Nicks has played 13-plus games every year of his career but really had a hard time playing well at less than 100 percent in 2012. He's already tweaked a groin in training camp this summer and a few reports suggest Nicks is playing cautiously to avoid suffering a major injury and costing himself a big contract after this season. There have been more than a few reports highlighting the work Randle has put in through the spring and in camp thus far. Coach Tom Coughlin is pleased with his weight and effort and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride thought Randle has been working "like a guy that has been here for five or six years" and promised he'd play a lot. If Nicks gets hurt (or stays hurt since he's already a little gimpy), Randle will be pushed on the field for a huge workload. He's a nice late-round stash pick for Fantasy owners.
I'd take him ahead of: Denarius Moore, Greg Little, Darrius Heyward-Bey

Tyler Eifert, TE, Bengals: You don't have to go back too far to find a rookie tight end that makes an impact in Fantasy. Rob Gronkowski immediately became a matchup problem for the Patriots' opponents and he charged his way to 10 touchdowns as a rookie, including seven scores in his last nine regular-season games. That would be on the high side for Eifert to get in 2013 -- he's not playing with Tom Brady, after all -- but he has the tools to be the next Gronk, something the Bengals are hoping for. He's huge (6-6, 251), has great hands and has been used in a number of spots on the field in college and through his short time in practices with the Bengals. Expect some growing pains in the early going but eventually he'll develop into a must-start. The training camp practice reports have been glowing and there's just so much potential for him to be useful to Fantasy owners. Either plan on spending a late pick on him (even if he's your second tight end) or aim to snatch him up off waivers in the first couple of weeks of the season.
I'd take him ahead of: Owen Daniels, Brandon Pettigrew and Marcedes Lewis

Editor's Note: We will provide another sleeper list for those of you in deeper drafts and/or dynasty leagues later this month.

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

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Player News
Gavin Escobar a threat to Jason Witten?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:13 am ET) Cowboys rookie tight end Gavin Escobar, who entered the day with just four catches all season, wasn't highly targeted Week 7 against the Giants, but he made the three targets he did get count, scoring two touchdowns, including one on an impressive 26-yard grab between two defenders in the third quarter.

In all, he had three catches for 65 yards -- numbers that would be easier to overlook if not for the two touchdowns and the fact that fellow tight end Jason Witten, to this point a mainstay in Fantasy, had only two catches for 27 yards. And it's not like he and quarterback Tony Romo were just failing to connect. Witten was targeted only twice the whole game.

Witten's production hasn't been up to his usual standards this season -- in seven games, he's averaging 3.3 catches for 38.0 yards -- but just based on their history together, you figured Romo would have a need for him sooner or later. Now with the emergence of Escobar, it's no longer so clear.

Escobar himself isn't worth adding except in deep leagues of 16 teams or more that don't have enough tight ends to go around. In those formats, he's the new Timothy Wright. But in leagues of 12 teams or fewer, Witten may be on the outs. He deserves a couple more weeks given his history, but keep an eye out for the next big thing at the position.


Larry Donnell here to stay?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:55 am ET) After catching just one pass in his previous two games combined, Giants tight end Larry Donnell got back on track Week 7 at Dallas, catching seven passes for a season-high 90 yards.

Considering it was the Giants' first game without star wide receiver Victor Cruz, Donnell was expected to play a bigger role in the passing game, but a resurgence of this magnitude should remind us all how he came to be owned in 83 percent of Fantasy leagues in the first place. Over the first four weeks, he averaged 6.3 catches for 59 yards, scoring four touchdowns.

One potential pitfall for Donnell is that he lost two fumbles in Week 7, giving him three fumbles lost for the season, but with so few tight ends capable of his kind of production in a given week, the Giants would have to suggest his playing time is in jeopardy for me to pass on Donnell in Fantasy.

His production fell when rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham entered the mix in Week 4. Now that Cruz is out of the mix, Donnell's production figures to rise again.


Odell Beckham shows he's worth adding
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:42 am ET) Only three games into his career, Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham has emerged as one of quarterback Eli Manning's favorite red-zone targets, which is especially good news with another one of his favorite red-zone targets, Victor Cruz, lost for the season with a knee injury.

Beckham didn't have a lot of chances Week 7 at Dallas, but he made the most of the ones he got, scoring on catches of 9 and 5 yards. In all, he had four catches for 34 yards. His six targets were third-most on the team, behind wide receiver Rueben Randle's nine and tight end Larry Donnell's seven.

The six targets were a season high for Beckham. He has yet to catch more than four passes for more than 44 yards, but because he keeps getting looks in the end zone, he's worth adding in Fantasy even if it's just to stash him on your bench until you're ready to put your trust in him.


An encouraging performance for Eli Manning
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:34 am ET) Playing his first game without star wide receiver Victor Cruz, who's out for the season with a torn patella tendon, Giants quarterback Eli Manning still managed to bounce back from arguably his worst game of the season with one of his best Week 7 at Dallas, completing 21 of 33 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns.

It was his fifth game in six with multiple touchdown passes and his second with at least three. And he did it against a defense that had generally kept quarterbacks out of the end zone, recording nearly as many interceptions (seven) as it had allowed touchdown passes (eight) prior to Week 7.

Though two of his touchdown passes went to rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham, who wasn't even available to him the first four weeks, Manning did a nice job of spreading the ball around. None of the touchdowns went to his two leading receivers, Larry Donnell and Rueben Randle.

Judging by this performance, Manning knows how to make use of the weapons the Giants have and doesn't need Cruz to remain successful in Fantasy. His bad games can be really bad, but his good games have been frequent enough for you to give him another shot when he returns from a bye Week 9 against Indianapolis.


Andre Holmes comes back down to earth
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:26 am ET) Raiders wide receiver Andre Holmes, who blew up for 121 yards and two touchdowns Week 6 against San Diego, took a long time to get going Week 7 against Arizona, catching his first pass about midway through the fourth quarter. Not surprisingly, he finished with just three catches for 34 yards. 

It's not like he was invisible before then. He nearly had a great catch on a long pass along the sidelines in the second quarter, but it was ruled incomplete. He did have only two targets apart from his three receptions, though.

Clearly, it was a disappointing showing, but it's not like quarterback Derek Carr forgot about him. Only James Jones and Darren McFadden had more targets, tying for the team lead with eight. Holmes spent much of the game covered by Patrick Peterson, who remains one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. Holmes still has incredible play-making ability and will have better days.

But this performance shows why you can't trust him on an every-week basis yet. His matchup Week 8 against Cleveland is another tricky one because of cornerback Joe Haden, who has struggled at times this season but limited the Jaguars' Cecil Shorts to three catches for 12 yards in Week 7. You might want to leave Holmes on your bench for this one.


49ers' Phil Dawson makes 1-of-2 field-goal attempts in Week 7
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:22 am ET) 49ers knicker Phil Dawson made only one of his two field-goal attempts in Week 7, adding two extra points in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos.

Dawson couldn't deliver from 51 yards out in the first quarter, pushing the attempt wide left, but was true from 22 yards out in the second quarter. He's 13 of 16 on field-goal attempts this season but had been 10-for-10 in his previous three games coming into Week 7. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


49ers TE Vernon Davis catches two passes in Week 7 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:20 am ET) 49ers tight end Vernon Davis caught just two of his five targets for 21 yards in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

Davis was coming off an ugly Week 6 performance in which he dropped two passes, and he didn't fare much better in the team's blowout loss against the Broncos. He has 14 receptions for 142 yards and two touchdowns heading into the team's Week 8 bye. The 49ers will face the Rams after the week off.


49ers WR Michael Crabtree held to 27 yards in Week 7 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:16 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree caught four of his seven targets for just 27 yards in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

While the 49ers averaged 11.1 yards per reception as a team Sunday, top options Crabtree (6.8 YPC) and Anquan Boldin (7.1 YPC) could find no room to work, leading to disappointing performances despite the offense dialing up 46 passes in the loss. Crabtree hasn't topped 50 yards in any of his last four games, and he owns 32 receptions, 322 yards and three touchdowns in seven games this year. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


Anquan Boldin catches seven passes in 49ers' Week 7 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:13 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin caught seven of his 10 targets for 50 yards in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

Boldin had at least one bad drop in the game and was unable to find much room to work downfield. He came into the week average 12.4 yards per reception but managed just 7.1 YPC against the Broncos. Boldin has collected 39 receptions for 447 yards and one touchdown in seven games. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


49ers WR Steve Johnson scores touchdown in Week 7 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:10 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Steve Johnson caught five passes for a team-high 79 yards and one touchdown in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

Johnson hauled in a four-yard score in the back of the end zone with only 11 seconds left in the first half to send the 49ers into halftime with a 21-10 deficit. The Broncos took over from there, scoring three touchdowns in the third quarter. Johnson has reached the end zone in three of his last four games, and he's up to 25 receptions, 315 yards and three scores on the season. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


 
 
 
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