Some of my favorite things: Watching football, chowing down on pizza, playing cards and picking sleepers. Some of my least favorite things: Watching baseball, dieting, losing at cards and missing on sleepers. After my horribly horrible 2012 sleeper picks, I promised to redeem myself last year and I did -- five of the 10 sleepers were helpful to Fantasy owners as Top 24 options at their positions or better, especially Andy Dalton and Zac Stacy. Let's just forget about Matt Schaub, Bryce Brown, Ronnie Hillman and Tyler Eifert.
This year the goal remains the same: Pick a bunch of players we can get at a great value in drafts and auctions who will help our Fantasy teams. What kind of value? Nobody named in this column should be taken before Round 8. That way you can focus on landing quality players with your first seven picks and use the back-half of your draft to load up on sleepers.
Plus there's no real risk to spending a pick in Round 8 or later on a sleeper. What's the worst that will happen? You cut the guy after a couple of weeks for someone on waivers? No big deal.
Here are this year's sleepers.
Sam Bradford, QB, Rams: Bradford was on pace for a career year, averaging 20.3 Fantasy points per week, when he tore his ACL at Carolina in Week 7. The rehab's gone well and he should be fine for the start of the season. Better yet, his young receiving corps is a year wiser, his offensive line has been re-stocked and the running game is even more of a strength than it was coming into 2013. Last year proved Bradford's not a fluke even though he's never hit 4,000 yards or more than 21 touchdowns in a season. This year he'll prove he's one of the best young field generals in the league. Fantasy owners can invest a late pick in him and either hang on to him as a capable bye-week replacement (we love pairing him as a bye-week quarterback with Colin Kaepernick or Ben Roethlisberger) or ship him off soon after his bye week for roster help. He's the backup Fantasy quarterback I'd chase if I couldn't get Cam Newton or Carson Palmer.
I'd take him ahead of: Ryan Tannehill, Eli Manning and any rookie quarterback
Travaris Cadet, RB, Saints: When Sean Payton was asked in March who would replace Darren Sproles in the offense he said there were a "number of ways" and then only mentioned one guy: Cadet. Since then the Saints added rookie receiver Brandin Cooks to potentially take some of the targets that might have otherwise gone to Sproles but Cadet received rave reviews in minicamp and seems to have a shot to work as the Saints' passing downs back. This is a role that could just as easily be filled by veteran Pierre Thomas, especially if breakout candidate Khiry Robinson lands the primary rushing downs role, but Cadet's a bigger-than-expected back with hands just as good as Thomas and better speed. If the coaches gain more confidence in Cadet during camp then this is the Saints back to have in PPR leagues and probably the second-best back in standard leagues. Best of all is that he's off a lot of Fantasy owners' radars, so landing him in Round 11 or 12 might be too soon!
I'd take him ahead of: James Starks, Roy Helu, Marcus Lattimore and Mark Ingram
Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons: This is a vote more against Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers than it is a vote for Freeman, though he's certainly a talented back who is more of a physical rusher than a passing-downs player. Then again, the Falcons view him as a possible three-down back of the future. Jackson has well over 2,500 career carries and has shown signs of slowing down over the past couple of seasons (declining rushing average, injuries). Rodgers has been given plenty of opportunities over the past two seasons to shine and aside from some nice receiving totals he really hasn't proven to be a great overall pack. Freeman's a short but thick runner who can run the ball inside and probably evolve into a good receiving back, too. Anyone who gets nervous over taking Jackson should simply look past him and check out Freeman, who would go from a seven-touch-per-game back to more than double that if Jackson were to miss time again.
I'd take him ahead of: Chris Ivory, Stepfan Taylor and Jeremy Hill
Carlos Hyde, RB, 49ers: Everyone's talking about Hyde becoming an impact player in 2015. Why wouldn't it happen sooner? Frank Gore has 2,327 career carries and has to be facing a season with a lightened workload after all the backs the Niners have drafted. A run-heavy team like San Francisco could still roll out Gore 15 carries per game and still have about 10 left over for Hyde (they averaged 25.1 running back carries per game last season). And if Gore doesn't hold up for whatever reason, Hyde is the future in waiting. It's obvious that the Niners picked Hyde for the future, especially with such a big pick (57th overall), but his powerful combination could be too overwhelming for the coaching staff and he could get opportunities we might not expect. It'll take a Gore injury for Hyde to have a 1,000-yard kind of season but he's potentially a 50-60 yard per week rusher with some touchdowns sprinkled in -- the kind of player you could start in a pinch as a third back or one-week replacement. Hyde's available late in drafts and is a heck of a bruising back.
I'd take him ahead of: Andre Williams, Shonn Greene and Andre Brown
Christine Michael, RB, Seahawks: Michael is a talent worth being enamored with. At Texas A&M he averaged 5.3 yards per carry over 529 reps and 7.3 yards per catch over 44 receptions with 35 total touchdowns -- in 40 games including missing time with a torn ACL in 2011. When the Seahawks took him in Round 2 of last year's draft it raised eyebrows since the team already had Marshawn Lynch. This could be the year that pick makes sense -- Lynch is coming off a season with 366 carries and 37 catches and has racked up 1,002 carries and 92 catches over the past three seasons. That's a lot of work and typically a red flag for a running back, especially one who is 28 years old. Lynch is also creeping toward the 2,000 career carry mark with 1,877. Michael, meanwhile, flashed a little bit in his first year and almost seems pegged to have a bigger role in 2014. It'll take Lynch missing significant playing time for Michael to be an asset for Fantasy but the bet is that at some point the Seahawks will need him. You should target him in Round 9 if you draft Lynch with a first-round pick because if you don't then someone else will take him a round later and hold on to him all year long.
I'd take him ahead of: David Wilson, Jonathan Stewart and Roy Helu
Charles Sims, RB, Buccaneers: Read between the lines: The Buccaneers' new coaching staff had no reason in the world to spend a Top 70 pick on a running back when they had Doug Martin, Mike James and Bobby Rainey already on the roster, and they did anyway. Reminds me of the Rams grabbing Zac Stacy last year. Coaches think differently than Fantasy owners and when they target someone in the draft, they do so with plans for using them, not letting them sit on the bench. We know new Bucs coach Lovie Smith loves to run the ball, and we've heard a number of times from Buccaneers offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford that the team will use multiple backs. Martin will get his work but Sims, who isn't the fastest back among the rookie rushers but is among the most versatile, should be next in line provided he does well in camp. And just in case Martin doesn't regain his rookie year form or gets injured, Sims would be the guy the Bucs should put on the field more than any other back. This is an easy low-risk, high-reward pick owners can make in Round 10 or later whether they own Martin or not.
I'd take him ahead of: Bernard Pierce, Darren McFadden and Dexter McCluster
Brandon LaFell, WR, Patriots: For four seasons in Carolina, LaFell was always the guy with good size and plenty of potential. He averaged just over 14 yards per catch but never had more than 677 yards or five touchdowns per season. But now LaFell is going from the Panthers to the Patriots, a team desperate for a receiver like him. Sure, they have second-year guys Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce but Dobson has been sidelined with a foot injury and Thompkins and Boyce need to earn larger roles. LaFell has experience and versatility on his side -- combining his big frame and decent quickness with his willingness to line up anywhere, run any route and do anything on offense including block makes him appealing to the coaching staff. He can create mismatches like a tight end they used to have there and can help an offense that really needed some capable receivers last season. LaFell is more than just another flexible receiver for the Patriots, he's one with height and durability (missed four games in four seasons). It's unlikely he'll end up with 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns, but he's the perfect kind of late-round receiver to gamble on over the first few weeks of the season. If he can't get anything going against the Dolphins, Vikings and Raiders then he's waiver-worthy before Week 4.
I'd take him ahead of: Jerricho Cotchery, Jarrett Boykin and Andrew Hawkins
Jordan Matthews, WR, Eagles: Rookie receivers typically don't get major stats, but 6-foot-3 rookie wideouts typically don't get fast-tracked to three-receiver sets in fast-paced precision passing offenses either. While Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks are all going to get taken ahead of Matthews in just about every draft, Matthews might end up being the best rookie value since he'll get taken a round or three later. Matthews himself is a polished route runner and fast enough receiver in addition to being big. Hands aren't an issue -- he became the SEC's all-time leader in receptions and yardage while at Vanderbilt, totaling 262 catches for 3,759 yards. Lining up in the slot won't be new for Matthews, nor will playing with a third receiver be new for the Eagles (Philadelphia used three or more receivers on 754 of 1,054 plays according to the NFL). And according to ProFootballFocus.com, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles attempted more passes, completed more attempts and had more yardage throwing to the middle of the field than outside the numbers. That speaks volumes to Matthews' potential, especially since he'll take on nickelbacks, linebackers and safeties instead of typical outside cornerbacks week after week. This is a tremendous opportunity for Matthews, making him the perfect fourth or fifth receiver for Fantasy owners to roll the dice on beginning in Round 10.
I'd take him ahead of: Danny Amendola, Cecil Shorts and any Raiders WR
Hakeem Nicks, WR, Colts: Maybe this is an easy call because there's nowhere for Nicks to go but up after scoring as many touchdowns as my grandma did in 2013. Or maybe it's a tough call because Nicks is going to a new team where he isn't necessarily the top target in the offense. But that could end up changing as the Colts should employ plenty of three- and four-receiver sets that will involve Nicks on the outside, a problem area for Indy last year. Nicks won't draw double coverage and still has the chops to upend tight single coverage even though his speed is suspect. Andrew Luck will love that about him. The Colts could have desperately used Nicks on the outside last season, especially when Reggie Wayne got hurt. And Nicks could have been better in the Colts' offense last season, especially after Eli Manning melted down behind a pathetic offensive line. Injuries are a factor with Nicks but the price tag of a pick starting in Round 9 or later make Nicks appealing as great receiver depth. When the position gets thin, Nicks is a direction to go in.
I'd take him ahead of: Kenny Stills, Odell Beckham, Tavon Austin and Reggie Wayne
Robert Woods, WR, Bills: There's plenty of attention on Sammy Watkins, the Bills' No. 1 pick and likely top receiver. But Woods might have had the quietest 40-catch season of any receiver in the NFL last year, compiling a 14.7 receiving average at the same time. The Bills offense is expected to be run heavy but they can just as easily draw defenses in with the ground game and then hammer them through the air. Woods is the most well-rounded veteran wideout in Buffalo despite playing in only his second season. He'll see plenty of playing time and likely a bump in targets -- hopefully along with it he'll catch more than the 47.1 pct. of passes thrown his way. He's also sure to receive single coverage exclusively so long as Watkins draws attention. Woods is a sleeper for PPR league owners as well as deep, 14-plus-team standard league owners. We're talking about taking him with one of your last two or three picks.
I'd take him ahead of: Jerricho Cotchery, Jarrett Boykin, Marqise Lee
Greg Olsen, TE, Panthers: While Cam Newton is behind the 8-ball in building chemistry with his new receivers thanks to being limited this offseason, the one guy he's got a built-in relationship with is Olsen. Only Steve Smith caught more passes than Olsen over Cam's first three years in the league, and last year he had more than Smitty. The thinking here is that the Panthers will lean on Olsen now more than ever since the only real threat in their pass game is rookie Kelvin Benjamin. Defenses won't be quick to smother Olsen outside of the red zone because he's not a gamebreaker the same way Benjamin is. That should lead to a bevy of targets for the tight end, likely more than the 6.8 per game he averaged last season. We're not predicting a Jimmy Graham-like season for Olsen but there's a good shot he'll top his career-highs in catches and yards (73 rec., 843 yards) while landing at least six scores (he's had at least five each of his last six seasons). Make Olsen your tight end if you miss out on the elite options over the first four rounds or so).
I'd take him ahead of: Dennis Pitta, Jordan Reed and Zach Ertz
Kyle Rudolph, TE, Vikings: You're probably expecting some sentences about how great Norv Turner is with the tight ends he coaches up. Let's just save time and skip that truth and focus on Rudolph. The Gronk-sized tight end missed half of last season with a foot fracture but participated without incident during the spring minicamps. He also averaged 3.5 catches for 33.6 yards and 0.5 touchdowns per game over his last 24 -- not mind-blowing numbers but one touchdown every two games on average isn't bad. Plus Rudolph is a huge target for a young passer like, say, Teddy Bridgewater, to lean on. If Turner's offense remains the same, Rudolph will play a lot and receive more than the 5.9 targets per game he's had over those last 24 games. That's the number to count on as the more targets he gets, the more passes he'll reel in, especially if they come from Bridgewater. Expect him to go soon after Olsen in every single draft.
I'd take him ahead of: Eric Ebron, Antonio Gates and Heath Miller