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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
Texans' O'Brien: WR DeAndre Hopkins can 'be one of the best'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(12:28 am ET) Texans head coach Bill O'Brien is very encouraged by the performance of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins last season, per ESPN. O'Brien went as far as to say that Hopkins can be one of the best.

"He had a really productive year," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "The thing that we really like about Hop and that we want him to continue to do is his work ethic. He’s a hungry player. He works every single day. He came into the spring a year ago and he was learning the offense and thinking out there, then all of a sudden you could see all the work he put in and learning, he just took off."

Due to the departure of wide receiver Andre Johnson, the progression of Hopkins will be under the microscope as he is now the focal point of the passing offense.

"We just want to see him continue and progress," O'Brien said. "We think he can be one of the best, we think he is one of the best. We have a lot of confidence in him and we’re looking forward to seeing him progress when the offseason program starts."

In two years with the Texans, Hopkins has reeled in 128 receptions for 2012 yards and eight touchdowns.


Giants won't rush WR Victor Cruz back to the field
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(12:12 am ET) Although Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is hopeful that wide receiver Victor Cruz will be ready by training camp, the team will not rush him back, reports ESPN.

"I shouldn't say this, because medically I really don't have a definite answer, but by training camp hopefully, even if it's just to bring him," Coughlin said. "We're not going to just throw him to the wind. He'll work his way through. But I hope that would be the target."

Cruz tore his patellar tendon in week six of the 2014 season, causing him to miss the rest of the year. Coughlin is hopeful that he'll return to be the player that he was before the injury.

"I think he'll be the player that he was, and hopefully better," Coughlin said of Cruz. "But as far as when, I would be careful of what I would say there. Hopefully it's the first game. But if it isn't, you know we've done that one before. We just went through it. But I'm hoping it would be."

The former undrafted free agent has tallied 264 receptions for 3,963 yards and 24 touchdowns.


Lions QB Matthew Stafford to take more chances through the air
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was in new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's system for the first time last season. The team plans on taking more chances down the field in Stafford's second season in the new offense, Lombardi said, according to the team's official website.

“In his second year (in the offense) he’s going to be that much more comfortable,” Lombardi said.

“We’ll be able to tailor the offense a little bit more to what he likes and what he’s good at. I thought he played smart football and sometimes to a fault. We’ll look for him to maybe take a few more chances this year with the football.”

Although Stafford didn't take many shots down the field, he did throw a career-low 12 interceptions in 2014. 

The former first overall draft pick has thrown for 21,714 yards with 131 touchdowns and 85 interceptions during his six-year career.


Colts OLB Robert Mathis plans to be ready for training camp
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis is not ready to run yet, he told Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL. Mathis added that he plans to be ready for the start of training camp.

“It’s not going as fast as I would like to, but we are getting well and we should be clicking in camp,” Mathis told Sirius.

Mathis was suspended for the first four games of last season due to violating the league's substance abuse policy. He then suffered a torn achilles, forcing him to miss all 16 games of the 2014 season.

During his 11-year career with the Colts, Mathis has collected 487 total tackles, 111.0 sacks, 15 passes defensed and 48 forced fumbles.


Lions TE Eric Ebron has been working out with Matthew Stafford
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said that tight end Eric Ebron has been working out with quarterback Matthew Stafford in Atlanta this offseason, reports the Detroit News. Lombardi also said that the plan is to have Ebron be the No. 3 weapon in the passing game this year.

Ebron, 21, finished his rookie season with 25 catches for 248 yards and one touchdown. 


Cowboys' Tony Romo: DeMarco Murray asked me to take a pay cut
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Eagles running back DeMarco Murray was really hoping to remain with the Cowboys this offseason. So much so, he asked quarterback Tony Romo to take a pay cut to remain with the team, Romo said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday, per the Dallas Morning News.

"DeMarco ended up asking me, 'Why don't you take a pay cut?' I said, 'I will. I would take a pay cut to go do this,'" Romo said. "I was like, 'They're going to restructure me.' That's the same thing in some ways, just for the salary cap purposes. He was like, 'OK, now we're back to being friends again.' I would take $5 million less if meant getting him back.

"He knew that. It was just funny how he was literally worried about that part of it for a week. I'm like, 'That's not the reason.' I'm like, 'Obviously I'll restructure. I would even take a pay cut.' He was like, 'OK, we can be friends again.' It's amazing what you think about in those moments."


Giants QB Eli Manning wants to take offense 'to another level'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Giants quarterback Eli Manning is entering the second year in offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's system. Manning is ready to take the next step now that he is familiar with the system, reports the NY Daily News.

““This year will be a much easier transition, knowing that we have been through so much of it already,” said Manning, who recently had been working out at Ole Miss with some of their receivers and alumni. “It’s definitely a different starting point. I feel good about it. I feel that I have a good understanding of it.

“But there is still room to grow and that is why I try to keep it as fresh in my mind as possible. Looking at old game-plan sheets and calling plays in my head – throwing routes with receivers trying to call out plays to myself, so you don’t let it slip away. It was new last year and it wasn’t something I have been doing for 10 years, so you want to keep it fresh and go through your reminders and all your checks. So when we come back I haven’t taken a step backwards and have to re-learn things. It is still all there. There will be new stuff and we will be taking it to another level.”

Manning has started all 16 games in each season since 2005, throwing for 39,755 yards with 259 touchdowns and 185 interceptions.


Saints TE Josh Hill wants to grow into new role
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) After trading trading Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks, tight end Josh Hill is ready to step into his new role with the Saints, according to the team's offical website.

“I think it might open a few opportunities for me as I continue to grow in my role and just do everything they ask me to do,” Hill said when asked about the trade of Graham to the Seahawks.

Hill recognized that Graham helped him transition from college to the professional level.

“It’s a big difference, especially coming from a smaller school and a smaller city," Hill said. "He was always there for me. We became pretty good friends over the past few years so it will definitely be different without him.”

Head coach Sean Payton believes that Hill is ready to step up.

“Josh Hill is a player that we value a lot," Payton said last week at the NFL annual meeting. "He’s not on anyone’s fantasy first three rounds, I promise you, but he’s a real good tight end. He’s versatile in the running game, in the pass receiving game, a special teams player.”

Hill, heading into his third year in the NFL, has recorded 20 receptions for 220 yards and six touchdowns. 


Cowboys QB Tony Romo excited about this offseason
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is excited about what the offseason holds for him, according to ESPN.

“This is the first offseason where I’ve been able to kind of get after it this early and be able to kind of improve in a lot of different areas that I think you aren’t able to until you get healthy enough to attack it,” Romo said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday. “I’m just excited about that, really.”

Romo, 34, is encouraged by the fact that he is able to do a lot of different things during the offseason process while working out.

“Now I’m able to do that while actually doing functional strength training through different versions of squats,” Romo said. “I’m not putting anything on my back and doing stuff like that but you are doing a lot of single-leg stuff and different things that I started getting into during the season that helped a lot. Now it’s nice to be able to do that in the offseason.”

Romo has thrown for 33,270 yards with 242 touchdowns and 110 interceptions in his 12-year career. 


WR Dwayne Bowe looks to revitalize himself with Browns
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is looking to revitalize his career now that he has joined the Browns, reports ESPN. Bowe was cut by the Chiefs in the middle of March.

"I have a chance to revitalize myself," Bowe, 30, told ESPN.com via telephone Tuesday. "Just sit back and watch."

Browns general manager Ray Farmer has familiarity with Bowe from their time with the Chiefs. The two sat down and watched tape from the 2010 season when he racked up 15 touchdown receptions.

"Him knowing what I can do, seeing me in practice, making crazy plays, splitting the safeties, he knows I still can do that," Bowe said. "I couldn't showcase that last year. He was pulling up old plays, saying, 'We are going to use you just like that.' Moving around, going on motion, trying to hit the deep ball, trying to break plays."

The 30-year-old wideout appreciated his time with the Chiefs and he has no regrets.

"It's been up and down, but it's been fun," Bowe said. "I don't regret nothing. People can talk about the NFL and playing wide receiver -- I feel I still have a good four more years in me."

Over his eight-year career, he has totaled 532 receptions for 7,155 yards and 44 touchdowns.


 
 
 
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