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2014 Draft Prep: Sleepers, 2.0

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Breakouts, 2.0 | Busts, 2.0

Back in March, when we did the first version of this sleepers' column, it was before the start of free agency and well before the draft. Some of the choices we made then still hold, while others are not worth mentioning.

To recap, here are the Sleepers 1.0:

Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers
Marcus Lattimore, RB, 49ers
Latavius Murray, RB, Raiders
Khiry Robinson, RB, Saints
Christine Michael, RB, Seahawks
Justin Hunter, WR, Titans
Markus Wheaton, WR, Steelers
Jarrett Boykin, WR, Packers
Kenny Stills, WR, Saints
Kyle Rudolph, TE, Vikings
Joseph Fauria, TE, Lions

Of that group, the players I still believe in strongly are Griffin, Roethlisberger, Robinson, Michael, Hunter, Boykin and Rudolph. I'm OK with Wheaton and Stills, but they are just late-round fliers at best.

As for the rest, Lattimore was essentially replaced by Carlos Hyde during the NFL Draft, and the Raiders brought in free agent Maurice Jones-Drew, which impacts Murray in a negative way. And you can forget about Fauria now that the Lions added Eric Ebron in the first round of the NFL Draft.

For this version, we have a much better idea of how each player should perform this season. We will be updating this column a third time toward the end of the preseason, but hopefully many of these players will remain sleepers heading into your Draft Day.

Carson Palmer, QB, Cardinals

I'm a big fan of Bruce Arians' offense, and I'm expecting big things for the Cardinals' skill players this year. It's why Andre Ellington was a breakout in March, and Michael Floyd will be a Breakout 2.0. Palmer showed last year after Arizona's bye week that he appeared to finally grasp Arians' system. In his final eight games, Palmer had four outings with at least 24 Fantasy points, four games with at least 300 passing yards and five games with multiple touchdowns. He had a full offseason to master the offense, and all the reports are glowing. The offensive line is better, and Palmer has the chance to be this year's version of Philip Rivers as a quarterback you draft late but surprises as a Top 5 option. I plan to target him with a late-round pick in all leagues.
Will likely be drafted ... Pick No. 135-140 overall
I'd take him ahead of: Philip Rivers, Andy Dalton, Johnny Manziel

Pierre Thomas, RB, Saints

The popular sentiment with the Saints is Darren Sproles was the best running back catching passes out of the backfield, and for the most part that was the case – except for last season. Most Fantasy owners would be surprised to know Thomas led all running backs in receptions in the NFL with 77, which was six better than Sproles. This is now at least 50 catches for Thomas in two of the past three seasons, and he could take on a bigger role in the passing game with Sproles gone. While Thomas won't dramatically increase his reception total, another season with 70-plus catches is likely. He will lose production on the ground to Khiry Robinson and Mark Ingram, and Travaris Cadet could also help replace Sproles. But Thomas should still be the best running back for the Saints, and he is worth drafting with a mid-round pick. Keep in mind that last year, Thomas was No. 23 in Fantasy points in a standard league and is capable of repeating that production in 2014.
Will likely be drafted ... Pick No. 75-80 overall
I'd take him ahead of: Maurice Jones-Drew, Fred Jackson, Knowshon Moreno

Terrance West, RB, Browns

This is the one player for the Browns I'd be fine drafting based on his Average Draft Position, which should be around Round 8. I have no interest in Ben Tate in Round 5 or even Jordan Cameron in Round 5. Cleveland, which is expected to be without a suspended Josh Gordon, is going to be run dominant. And while Tate will start, he should share touches with West, who was drafted in the third round out of Towson. Tate missed time during offseason workouts and has proven to be injury prone, and while he was out West got a chance to showcase his skills. He is familiar with the zone-blocking scheme the Browns will use, and he could be Cleveland's best running back this year. He should be considered the second-best rookie running back this season behind Bishop Sankey, and he's worth drafting as a No. 3 running back with flex potential.
Will likely be drafted ... Pick No. 85-90 overall
I'd take him ahead of: Khiry Robinson, Devonta Freeman, Knowshon Moreno

Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons

I got the chance to spend some time with Freeman this offseason when he was preparing for the NFL Draft with noted trainer Tony Villani in South Florida. I asked Freeman to describe his game, and he said he's a combination of Sproles, Ray Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew with "wiggle like Chris Johnson." It's an impressive combination, if accurate. "I'm physical, I'm tough, I love to block," Freeman said. We expect Freeman to get quite a bit of playing time with Steven Jackson, 30, on the downside of his career and an injury risk. If the Falcons are moving toward a passing team -- and they should be with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White -- then giving Freeman an expanded role makes sense. He won't score a lot of touchdowns, but he could gain 1,000 total yards and five touchdowns. Like West, he's a No. 3 running back with flex potential.
Will likely be drafted ... Pick No. 110-115 overall
I'd take him ahead of: Darren Sproles, DeAngelo Williams, Danny Woodhead

Stepfan Taylor, RB, Cardinals

As stated above with Palmer, I like the Cardinals this season, and Taylor is someone I plan to target with a late-round pick in standard leagues. Ellington will shine as a breakout candidate, but Taylor should be the "big back" running between the tackles. He'll have to prove he's better than free agent-signee Jonathan Dwyer, but if he gets the No. 2 job as expected, he could help replace Rashard Mendenhall, who had 217 carries for 687 yards and eight touchdowns. I think the touchdown total is possible, and I wouldn't be surprised if he has more rushing yards than Mendenhall behind a revamped offensive line. Taylor is a great handcuff for Ellington, but he can also be a potential starting option on his own. As long as Dwyer doesn't get in the way, Taylor will surprise a lot of Fantasy owners this year with a late-round pick.
Will likely be drafted ... Pick No. 135-140 overall
I'd take him ahead of: Tre Mason, LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles

Lamar Miller, RB, Dolphins

I never expected to consider drafting Miller this season. He was a disappointment last year, the Dolphins added Knowshon Moreno this offseason and Miller would, at best, be a late-round flier. But then Moreno showed up to offseason workouts out of shape and ended up having knee surgery. He's expected to be ready for Week 1, but Miller will now have an entire offseason working as the starter for new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, which gives him an opportunity to impress. And for all of Miller's troubles last season, he still managed at least eight Fantasy points in five of the seven games where he had at least 12 touches. He had double digits in carries just eight times, so hopefully he gets more work this year if Moreno is out. You can draft Miller with a late-round pick, and the Dolphins offensive line should be improved as long as Mike Pouncey (hip) isn't out long. There's now a reason for optimism with Miller heading into training camp.
Will likely be drafted ... Pick No. 95-100 overall
I'd take him ahead of: Tre Mason, Jeremy Hill, Carlos Hyde

Bernard Pierce, RB, Ravens

We were still awaiting word on how long Rice could be suspended. Depending on how long he's out, Pierce could have an expanded role, which could even continue when Rice is active. The Ravens want to become more of a committee backfield after Rice struggled last season, and Pierce along with Justin Forsett and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro will all be fighting for touches. Pierce wasn't so great last season either with 152 carries for 436 yards (2.9 yards per carry) and two touchdowns and 20 catches for 104 yards. But the hope is the addition of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and an improved offensive line can breathe life into this running game. If Pierce looks good in training camp, his value will rise, depending on how long Rice is out. He's easily worth a late-round pick in all leagues.
Will likely be drafted ... Pick No. 115-120 overall
I'd take him ahead of: Darren Sproles, Danny Woodhead, Darren McFadden

Jeremy Maclin, WR, Eagles

Maclin is returning from last year's torn ACL, and all reports are he's back to 100 percent. He should be the No. 1 receiver for the Eagles this year. In two of the previous three seasons, Maclin was the best receiver for the Eagles, finishing with more Fantasy points than DeSean Jackson in 2010 -- he was the No. 12 receiver that year -- and 2012. We hope Chip Kelly's offense can help Maclin reach career highs since he's never had more than 70 catches or 965 yards in a season, but he could best those marks this year. Don't expect him to be Jackson because they have a different skill set, but he's a better gamble than Riley Cooper if you're looking at Philadelphia receivers on Draft Day. We would target Maclin with a mid-round pick as a No. 3 Fantasy receiver with starting potential.
Will likely be drafted ... Pick No. 75-80 overall
I'd take him ahead of: Marques Colston, T.Y. Hilton, Eric Decker

Brandin Cooks, WR, Saints

Rookie receivers rarely make an impact for Fantasy owners right away, but Cooks could be an exception since he landed in New Orleans with Drew Brees and Sean Payton. The Saints traded up to draft Cooks in the first round at No. 20 overall, and he could help replace Sproles and/or Lance Moore. There's a role that should be carved out for Cooks, and Brees is excited to work with him in training camp. "From all indications, this guy can do a lot of things for us, and he's eager to fill a role that we need him to on offense," Brees said this offseason. Don't plan on drafting Cooks or any rookie receiver as a starter, but he should be considered a No. 3 or 4 option with a late-round pick. He will compete with Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans for the No. 1 rookie receiver this year.
Will likely be drafted ... Pick No. 100-105 overall
I'd take him ahead of: Mike Evans, Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Bowe

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Panthers

I have minimal expectations for Benjamin this season. But let's face it, someone has to catch the ball for the Panthers this year after Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn all left. Greg Olsen remains the top target and is likely the only receiving option worth drafting in Carolina, but Benjamin is worth consideration with a late-round flier, especially over his counterparts in Jerricho Cotchery or Jason Avant. Cam Newton should find it easy to connect with Benjamin, who is a giant at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds. Benjamin had 54 catches for 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns last season at Florida State, and it wouldn't be a surprise for him to lead all rookie receivers in touchdowns. I'd consider him as a No. 4 receiver with a pick in Round 10 or later.
Will likely be drafted ... Pick No. 150-155 overall
I'd take him ahead of: Marvin Jones, Anquan Boldin, Cecil Shorts

Rod Streater, WR, Raiders

If Streater were on a different team Fantasy owners might have more optimism heading into this season, but because it's the Raiders he's going to get overlooked. But Streater is entering his third year, and a breakout is definitely possible. His stats are trending in the right direction from 39 catches, 584 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie in 2012 to 60 catches, 888 yards and four touchdowns last year. We hope he will continue to progress this year, and the upgrade at quarterback with Matt Schaub should definitely help. The Raiders will likely be trailing in a lot of games, which means a lot of passing, and Streater should be the best receiver in Oakland ahead of James Jones, Denarius Moore, Andre Holmes and Greg Little. I have no problem gambling on him with a late-round flier.
Will likely be drafted ... Pick No. 180-185 overall
I'd take him ahead of: Danny Amendola, Odell Beckham, Steve Smith

Heath Miller, TE, Steelers

Miller had a career year in 2012 with 71 catches for 816 yards and eight touchdowns, and he was the No. 4 Fantasy tight end behind Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Tony Gonzalez. He suffered a torn ACL in Week 16 that year and never looked like himself in 2013. Well, Roethlisberger said this offseason "the old Heath" is back, and he is worth drafting with a late-round pick if you miss on a Top 10 Fantasy tight end and don't like your other options. I put Miller in the same category as Eric Ebron, Martellus Bennett and Ladarius Green, and Miller might have the best year of that group. The Steelers have to replace Emmanuel Sanders and Cotchery, and Miller should be No. 2 on the pecking order behind Antonio Brown. Miller could easily return as a Top 10 tight end this season.
Will likely be drafted ... Pick No. 140-145 overall
I'd take him ahead of: Ladarius Green, Antonio Gates, Delanie Walker

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Player News
Patriots fairly healthy heading into Super Bowl Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:10 pm ET) The Patriots will be at nearly full strength for Sunday’s Super Bowl as the following players have been listed as probable: Tom Brady (ankle), Dont’a Hightower (shoulder), Chris Jones (elbow), Akeem Ayers (knee), Darrelle Revis (non-injury-related) and Sealver Siliga (foot).

All except Brady were limited participants in practice Friday. The only question mark is center Bryan Stork, who is questionable with a knee injury and was limited in practice Friday.

The Patriots are currently 1-point favorites against Seattle.


Seahawks unveil final injury report in preparation for Super Bowl
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:09 pm ET) The Seahawks have listed the following players as probable for the Super Bowl on Sunday: J.R. Sweezy (ankle), Justin Britt (knee), Marshawn Lynch (back), Earl Thomas (shoulder), Richard Sherman (elbow) and Kam Chancellor (knee).

Chancellor was a late addition to the injury report, when he fell on the next-to-last play of practice and missed the last play. He was not limping on his way off. All other players were full participants in practice Friday.

The Seahawks are currently 1-point underdogs against New England.


Saints tight end Jimmy Graham to avoid surgery on shoulder
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5:34 pm ET) Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said Friday he will avoid surgery on his shoulder after testing it at the Pro Bowl. 

"I’ve been doing rehab and I’m going to start back on my rehab Monday and really there’s going to be no surgery," Graham told SiriusXM radio. "I’m just going to do rehab, strengthen the area. That’s what’s best — not having to take six months off and try to heal up with a surgery, but now have those six months to work on all things I need to to try and hopefully get to a place like (the Super Bowl) next year."

Graham, who had 85 catches for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014, fought off the injury for most of the season. He was still unsure about having surgery before the Pro Bowl last week.

"It was something that really needed some rest and unfortunately it wasn’t able to get that during the season," he said. "It happened early and then you have about 10 straight weeks of trying to make it to the game. Now after having about three or four weeks and last week kind of testing it at the Pro Bowl, it feels great."


Vikings' Greg Jennings: We all want Adrian Peterson back
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:26 pm ET) Vikings veteran wideout Greg Jennings said during a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview on Friday that embattled running back Adrian Peterson is wanted back by everyone in the organization, per ESPN.

"I don't know if he'll be back. I can't answer that question," Jennings said. "But what I do know is that if he does come back, he'd be accepted with open arms. As an organization from the Wilfs on down, we all want him back. So, I mean, it's a touchy subject and he's been the franchise player -- face of that team -- for eight years. So it will be a loss, a huge loss, if we can't get him back, and that's the nature of this business."

In November, Peterson was suspended by the league without pay for the rest of the season, making him ineligible for reinstatement until at least April 15. The move came after Peterson pleaded no contest to recklessly injuring his 4-year-old son last May. He is under contract with the Vikings for next season, and is set to earn $12.75 million.

It's unclear at this point if Jennings has talked to Zygi and Mark Wilf about the Peterson situation. What is clear is that the team is not allowed to communicate with Peterson during his suspension.


Eagles' Maclin believes contract will take care of itself
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:08 pm ET) Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin believes he will be back in Philadelphia in next season. His representatives and the Eagles are in the process of negotiating a new contract for the 27-year-old, who will become a free agent in March unless he is re-signed.

"I'm excited about what the future holds," Maclin said on Friday. "Once again, both sides have made it known what we want to do. I think it will take care of itself."

He could be franchise tagged if a deal is not signed. The tag number for wide receivers is yet to be determined.

Maclin had 85 catches in 2014 for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns in Philadelphia.


Bears sign LB DeDe Lattimore to two-year contract extension
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:03 pm ET) The Bears have signed linebacker DeDe Lattimore to a two-year contract extension. He appeared in 10 games as a rookie in 2014, recording five special teams tackles.

Jaguars' Khan 'very optimistic' about WR Blackmon being reinstated
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:46 pm ET) Jaguars owner Shahid Khan said Friday he is "very optimistic" about wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who missed the 2014 season after being suspended indefinitely for a third violation of the league's substance abuse policy, being reinstated to the NFL.

"I think he's paid his dues and I think he's got his life together," Khan said, per The Florida Times-Union.


NFLPA president Eric Winston: New conduct policy 'violates CBA'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:43 pm ET) After the union field a grievance last week against the NFL over changes to the NFL personal conduct policy, Players Association president Eric Winston said Thursday the new policy "violates the CBA in several ways and we're going to be grieving this as far as we can."

NFL owners unanimously approved the changes in December.

"We have an agreement with the league and they have an agreement with us," Winston said, per the Associated Press. "We're going to hold them to that agreement. Many aspects of this policy fall outside of the CBA and we're going to continue fighting it going forward."

Following former Ravens running back Ray Rice's domestic violence case and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's child abuse case, a more extensive list of prohibited conduct was included in the policy, as well as criteria for paid leave for anyone charged with a violent crime. A suspension of six games without pay for violations involving assault, sexual assault, battery, domestic violence, child abuse and other forms of family violence will be in effect.

"The league's revised conduct policy was the product of a tremendous amount of analysis and work and is based on input from a broad and diverse group of experts within and outside of football, including current players, former players, and the NFL Players Association," the league said in a statement last week.

"We and the public firmly believe that all NFL personnel should be held accountable to a stronger, more effective conduct policy. Clearly, the union does not share that belief."


Eric Decker 'pushing' for Demaryius Thomas to sign with Jets
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:38 pm ET) Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is set to become a free agent in March, unless he agrees to a contract extension or Denver uses the franchise tag on him. If he does become a free agent, former teammate Eric Decker hopes Thomas would consider joining him on the Jets roster.

Decker spent a few days in Arizona this week with Thomas filming a commercial.

“I’ve been pushing for the entire year now,” Decker said in a telephone interview with The New York Post. “It was just another opportunity to talk to him about it. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. I think it would be tough for Denver to let him go. So whether they franchise-tag him here in the next month or give him a long-term deal, he’s just one of those premier players in this league.

"If he happens to make it to free agency, I would love to sign him because playing alongside him for four years and especially the last two years made it a lot of fun and made it a lot easier. He’s just one of the great players in this league.”

Thomas recorded a career-best 1,619 receiving yards in 2014. It was his third straight season of 1,000-plus receiving yards. He also had at least 10 touchdowns for a third straight season.


49ers CEO York: 'Defenses are not going to want to play against us'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:32 pm ET) 49ers CEO Jed York confirmed the promotion of quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst to offensive coordinator during an interview with NFL Network on Friday. York is particularly excited about Chryst, who has been the quarterbacks coach since 2011, continuing to work with quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“With Kap, you got a guy in Geep Chryst who knows him better than anybody else,” York said, per CSNBayArea.com. “You have a great guy in (quarterbacks coach) Steve Logan who is coming to come in to work with him on fundamentals and allow us to put together a system that’s going to put Kap in the best position to make plays.

“How many quarterbacks in this league can run 90 yards for a touchdown? I can’t think of many. But you have to put Kap in a position where he can make those plays. And put Kap in a position where we can run the ball (and) we can throw the ball in ways that allow him to be successful and let him be the absolute stud that he can be on the field. And I think that’s what you’re going to see from us next year. Defenses are not going to want to play against us because you’re not going to know where we’re going to hit you.”


 
 
 
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