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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
Eagles release starting CB Cary Williams
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(11:53 am ET) The Eagles released cornerback Cary Williams, who started all 32 games during his two-year tenure in Philly. Williams recorded 127 tackles, five interceptions and 24 passes defensed since joining the Eagles.

Williams, 30, was scheduled to make $6.5 million this season with a cap hit of $8.1 million.

>> Want more NFL offseason? >> Mock drafts | Free agency tracker


Falcons sign LB Nate Stupar to one-year deal
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(11:30 am ET) The Falcons signed linebacker Nate Stupar, a special teams standout, to a one-year extension for the minimum, $585,000, reports ESPN.com. Stupar ranked second on the team with nine special teams tackles, seven solo, while appearing in 15 games last season.

Report: WR Torrey Smith likely gone unless he gives discount
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(10:39 am ET) It's unlikely the Ravens will re-sign receiver Torrey Smith unless he gives the team a hometown discount, reports the Baltimore Sun. Owner Steve Bisciotti recently expressed pessimism about the team's chances of retaining Smith.

Smith, 26, caught a career-high 11 touchdowns last season.


Report: Ray Rice received $1.6 million in wrongful termination case
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(10:09 am ET) The Ravens and former running back Ray Rice settled his wrongful termination grievance in January for $1.588 million, sources told the Baltimore Sun. The financial details were not disclosed until now.

In the grievance, Rice had sought $3.529 million in back pay. The Ravens cut him Sept. 8, hours after the release of a video showing Rice knocking out his then-fiancee in a casino elevator.

Rice hasn't visited any NFL teams, but he's working out regularly and hoping to latch on with a team this season, the paper said.


WR Brian Hartline visiting Browns
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9:48 am ET) Free agent wideout Brian Hartline, who's spent his entire six-year career with Miami, is visiting the Browns on Tuesday, reports Pro Football Talk. Hartline posted 1,000-yard seasons in 2012 and 2013 before dipping to 474 receiving yards last season.

He's never caught more than four touchdowns in a season.


Saints S Jairus Byrd close to 100 percent after knee surgery
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9:27 am ET) Saints safety Jairus Byrd, who underwent surgery in early October to fix torn meniscus, is on schedule in his rehab, coach Sean Payton told The Advocate.

“He’s doing well," Payton told the paper. "He’ll be cleared for minicamp. We’re really looking at about two or three weeks away from him being 100 percent.”

Byrd had 22 tackles and a forced fumble in four games last season.


Sean Payton hopeful about retaining RB Mark Ingram
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9:18 am ET) Despite the fact that New Orleans is $22 million above the salary cap, Saints coach Sean Payton expressed optimism about the team's chances of re-signing free agent running back Mark Ingram, per The Advocate.

“I spoke with him today," Payton told the paper Monday nght. "The good thing about Mark is that we’re real close with his agent. We work a lot with Joel (Segal). [GM] Mickey [Loomis] will talk with him quite a bit. Obviously he’s someone that we want to keep. Hopefully we can do that.”

In 13 games last season, Ingram ran for 964 yards and nine touchdowns while catching 29 passes for 145 yards.

According to NFL.com, it's unlikely the Saints can afford to bring back Ingram.


Patriots' Devin McCourty: There's a 'chance that I might not be back'
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) With the Patriots deciding to use their franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski, safety Devin McCourty knows his time in New England could be coming to an end. 

In an interview with ESPN's Josina Anderson, McCourty said he didn't have much information on what the Patriots would do and was going off of various media reports that came down to the organization deciding whether to franchise him or Gostkowski. 

Now that Gostkowski is ineligible from hitting the free agent market, McCourty will test the waters beginning on March 10. 

"I guess it's more realistic now that [there's] a chance that I might not be back there," McCourty said. "Or there's still a chance that I will, but I guess [there's] more of a chance now with the franchise tag going to Steve that I could be playing in a different place. Still, keeping an open mind and trying to enjoy the process."

In 2014, McCourty recorded 68 tackles and two interceptions. 


Report: Texans' Andre Johnson given permission to seek trade
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) Wide receiver Andre Johnson has been given permission by the Texans to seek a trade, according to a report from the Houston Chronicle

The Texans told Johnson that he'd have a reduced role this upcoming season opposite of DeAndre Hopkins. Therefore, Johnson wanted out of his deal. If a trade cannot be made with a suitor, Johnson will be released

Johnson was the third overall pick in the 2003 NFL draft and is the greatest player in the history of the Texans. He's recorded 1,012 catches, 13,597 yards and 64 touchdowns in his career.

A trade could be difficult, however, based on Johnson's upcoming $16.1 million cap figure and $10.5 million base salary for the 2015 season. 


Colts RB Vick Ballard (Achilles) 'on schedule' with recovery
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) Running back Vick Ballard is poised to be back in the Colts' plans for the 2015 season. 

Ballard, who has missed almost all of the previous two seasons due to injuries, hasn't suffered any setbacks with his recovery, according to the Colts' official website. Ballard tore his ACL in 2013 and suffered an Achilles tear before the 2014 season. 

“Vick’s doing well. He’s going through rehab right now. He’s on schedule,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "He’s been working his tail. When the doctors say he’s 100 percent and ready to roll, then we’ll get him back on the field.”

Ballard led the Colts in rushing as a rookie in 2012 with 814 yards and two touchdowns. He only played in one game in 2013 before tearing his ACL in a practice the following week. His Achilles tear came during the 2014 preseason. 


 
 
 
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