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2014 Draft Prep: Sleepers, 3.0

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Editor's note: FanDuel.com is hosting a one-week long $100,000 Fantasy Football contest for just Week 1. It's only $10 to join and first prize is $10,000. Starts Sunday, September 7th at 1 p.m. ET. Enter now

Breakouts 3.0 | Busts 3.0 | Draft Averages | Draft Prep Index

Our first sleepers column was done in March. Our second version was completed just before training camp. Now, it's time to see what's changed.

For our Sleepers, 3.0, we decided to take my favorite players from the 24 we listed in the first two columns to give you sort of an All-Star list heading into the third week of preseason action. Well, let's hope they're All Stars -- at least for my sake. I guess for your sake as well since you'll hopefully target these guys with mid- to late-round picks.

Let's see who has improved through training camp and the start of the preseason and who still needs room to grow once the season starts. But for the 12 guys listed here, I'm all in.

Also, you'll notice at the bottom of the column some deep sleepers, which includes players being drafted in Round 10 or later based on Average Draft Position on CBSSports.com. Many of those guys have emerged during the preseason and are worth late-round picks in the majority of leagues.

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers

Roethlisberger was in the first version of the column because I anticipated him getting drafted as a backup, and he has the chance to be a Top 12 quarterback this year. His ADP is No. 112 overall, and he's being drafted after Cam Newton, Philip Rivers and Russell Wilson. I go back and forth between Roethlisberger and Newton, but I definitely would draft him ahead of Rivers and Wilson. Roethlisberger was No. 10 in Fantasy points last year and would have been No. 9 in 2012 if he played 16 games, so he's clearly capable of a quality season. And he closed last year on a tear with at least 20 Fantasy points in five of his final seven games. He's among the best value picks this year, and he's a great quarterback to settle for if you miss on an upper-echelon target earlier in the draft.

Carson Palmer, QB, Cardinals

Three offenses I like a lot this year are the Cowboys, Falcons and Cardinals. Part of the reason is their defensive woes. While that might seem obvious for Dallas and Atlanta, Arizona's defense was supposed to be a strength, but losing Daryl Washington, Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett will be tough to overcome. That should lead to a lot of throwing, which coach Bruce Arians will love. Palmer was No. 11 in pass attempts last season with 572, but he could be Top 5 in attempts this season. And he has the weapons to shine with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Andre Ellington and rookie John Brown, who is having a strong preseason. I love the idea of drafting Palmer as a No. 2 quarterback at his ADP of No. 126 overall. He could emerge as this year's Philip Rivers as a veteran quarterback with a late draft pick, who ends up as a Top 10 option.

Pierre Thomas, RB, Saints

The Saints are going to use all three running backs in their stable with Thomas, Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson, and Ingram is having a solid preseason. But the skill that separates Thomas from his teammates is his receiving ability, and last time I checked the Saints are still a pass-first team. Thomas led all running backs in receptions last season with 77, and he was also the No. 23 running back in standard leagues. With Darren Sproles gone, the Saints will lean on Thomas even more this year. Now, he's 29 years old, and his rushing attempts will be limited, especially if Ingram and Robinson hold up with their end. But Thomas still has the most upside of this group, and he's a great value pick in standard leagues at No. 84 overall. He will get drafted sooner in PPR formats, but this could be a big year for Thomas if he can stay healthy.

Terrance West, RB, Browns

Fantasy owners are nervous about West since Ben Tate is having a strong preseason. His ADP has dropped to No. 103 overall, and his sleeper appeal has lost its luster. That's OK, and if you target West you want his value to continue to decline. The later you can get him, the better off you'll be. Tate has struggled with injuries during his career, and he might not survive Cleveland's run-heavy approach. The Browns are counting on West to play a pivotal role, and don't be surprised if the production in this backfield is split by the end of the season. He's a great stash candidate who could be a starter by the middle of the year. West has the chance to challenge Bishop Sankey as the best rookie running back this season.

Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons

Freeman, like Tate, lost any momentum he had prior to training camp since he's been running fourth on the depth chart in preseason action. Even with Steven Jackson (hamstring) out, the Falcons have used Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith ahead of him. But if you watch Freeman play then you can see he's a difference maker, and that's something lacking in Atlanta's backfield, even when Jackson is healthy. Freeman's ADP is No. 111 overall, and I love drafting him in Round 10 with the idea of stashing him until A) he's needed or B) Jackson gets hurt, which could lead to a combination of both scenarios. It won't be long until Freeman is ahead of Rodgers and Smith, and the Falcons have to find a way to get Freeman on the field to maximize their offensive potential.

Bernard Pierce, RB, Ravens

We know Pierce is the starter for the first two weeks of the season with Ray Rice suspended. The key for Pierce is what happens when Rice comes back. If Pierce does well to open the year against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, which will be no easy feat, the Ravens will have a hard time taking him off the field. Rice isn't going to lose his job, but this could be a 50-50 split with the workload. Pierce has looked good in the preseason with a touchdown against the 49ers in the opener and seven carries for 55 yards in the second outing against Dallas. I'd rather pass on Rice with his ADP at No. 55 overall and wait for Pierce at No. 116. While Rice is still the better Fantasy option as of now, the value for Pierce makes him the better buy.

Justin Hunter, WR, Titans

I was in a recent analyst's draft where Hunter went at No. 97 overall, and the comment in the draft room was "America's sleeper." Everyone is now all over Hunter after his big game against the Saints in the preseason with four catches for 111 yards and two touchdowns. We had Hunter in the first sleepers column in March because the potential was evident that he could be a viable contributor, and he just needed the chance to play. And coach Ken Whisenhunt is ready to give it to him. He's still No. 3 on the depth chart behind Kendall Wright and Nate Washington, but Hunter is well ahead of Washington for Fantasy owners. We hope Hunter didn't already have his best game of the season with his preseason performance, but he has Top 30 upside if the Titans use him as expected. He's a great receiver to target with a mid-round pick.

Brandin Cooks, WR, Saints

We have yet to see Cooks on the field with Drew Brees since Brees has battled an oblique injury through the first two preseason games. That has led to Cooks having some up and down performances. In the first game against the Rams, Cooks had five catches for 55 yards and a touchdown. In the second game against the Titans, Cooks had just one catch for 16 yards. This is a good sample size of what happens with rookie receivers, especially ones in crowded offenses. Cooks will be inconsistent, but his upside is immense with Brees and Sean Payton. I'd rather have Cooks at his ADP of No. 95 overall than Sammy Watkins at No. 90. Watkins loses value with EJ Manuel, but Cooks should shine in this system. The Saints will lean on him to replace the departed Darren Sproles and Lance Moore, and he's going to have a sensational rookie campaign.

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Panthers

We listed Benjamin as a sleeper prior to the preseason just based on need. Who else was Cam Newton going to throw to after Greg Olsen? The Panthers drafted Benjamin for a reason, and we're getting a glimpse of it in the preseason. He caught a touchdown in the first preseason game against Buffalo with Newton resting his surgically-repaired ankle. Then in the second preseason game against Kansas City we saw Newton just miss on a huge play to Benjamin on an overthrow down the left sideline. As those two continue to develop a rapport, they should connect on a few of those during the year. And Benjamin has the chance to lead all rookie receivers in touchdowns, which is what makes him appealing. His ADP is No. 120 overall and rising, and he could easily finish as a Top 30 receiver this season.

Jarrett Boykin, WR, Packers

We have yet to see Boykin do anything in the preseason with just three catches for 21 yards on four targets. And Boykin is trying to hold off rookie Davante Adams for the No. 3 role behind Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. The Packers are keeping Boykin in his spot, but he needs to improve his play, which is something we're expecting. The Packers need a capable No. 3 receiver with James Jones and Jermichael Finley gone, and he played well last season when Cobb and Jones battled injuries, with at least eight Fantasy points in seven of 11 games, including double digits in points four times. Boykin had at least six targets in eight of those games, and he did the majority of his production with Aaron Rodgers (clavicle) hurt. We'll see how he does this year, but I'll gamble on him at No. 143 overall whenever possible in any format.

Kyle Rudolph, TE, Vikings

We liked Rudolph back in March after the Vikings signed Norv Turner as offensive coordinator, and his history with tight ends speaks for itself after working with the likes of Jay Novacek, Antonio Gates, Vernon Davis and Jordan Cameron. Rudolph showed everyone what he's capable of with his performance against the Cardinals in the second preseason game with four catches for 89 yards and a touchdown, and his ADP is on the rise from No. 95 overall. Now, if you're the type of Fantasy owner who wants to pass on Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Julius Thomas, then Rudolph is a tight end to wait for. This should be the best year of his career thanks to Turner, and we just hope the hype following the Cardinals game doesn't push up his ADP to an unrealistic range.

Heath Miller, TE, Steelers

Miller has the chance to be one of most surprising Fantasy options this year, especially with his ADP at No. 129 overall. Miller is finally healthy after his torn ACL at the end of the 2012 season, and we're expecting him to play close his pre-injury form. That year, Miller had a career season with 71 catches for 816 yards and eight touchdowns, and he was the No. 4 Fantasy tight end behind Graham, Gronkowski and Tony Gonzalez. He actually wasn't bad last year since he was less than 100 percent with 58 catches for 593 yards, but he scored just one touchdown. This season, the Steelers need him with Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery gone, and those receivers combined for 113 catches, 1,346 yards and 16 touchdowns. While the Steelers will spread that production around, Miller will be needed in the red zone, where he scored seven touchdowns in 2012. I like targeting Miller late whenever possible as the No. 12 tight end on my rank list.

Late-round fliers

Here are 12 players being drafted at No. 120 overall or later, and they have the chance to significantly outperform their ADP this season.

Carlos Hyde, RB, 49ers: He could be special if Frank Gore gets hurt.
Andre Williams, RB, Giants: Rashad Jennings is a shaky starter at best.
Jeremy Hill, RB, Bengals: He'll surprise as the backup to Giovani Bernard.
Mark Ingram, RB, Saints: A strong preseason has Ingram's stock rising.
Ronnie Hillman, RB, Broncos: If Montee Ball fails, Hillman could shine.
Jonathan Grimes, RB, Texans: Arian Foster's handcuff and a lottery ticket.
Lance Dunbar, RB, Cowboys: He'll be a surprising piece of a big offense.
Kenny Britt, WR, Rams: He's being hyped as the top receiver in St. Louis.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Eagles: He'll be needed in a revamped WR corps.
Marqise Lee, WR, Jaguars: He could easily be Jacksonville's No. 1 WR.
Ladarius Green, TE, Chargers: Like Miller, he's a TE to target late.
Dwayne Allen, TE, Colts: He could lead the Colts in receiving touchdowns.
Travis Kelce, TE, Chiefs: He might be Kansas City's best receiving option.

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Player News
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. 


Report: Jaguars looking for help at RB this offseason
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) It appears Jaguars running back Toby Gerhart will have new role in 2015. 

According to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, the Jaguars are planning to move Gerhart around on offense at H-back in addition to running back. This also means the Jaguars will be in the market for additional help at running back. 

Gerhart was plagued by injuries in 2014, which paved the way for Denard Robinson to assert himself as a potential starting running back down the road. Robinson, however, is injury prone himself, which goes back to his days as a standout quarterback in college at Michigan.

Robinson's 2014 season ended on injured reserve with a mid-foot sprain.

Gerhart's season ended with just 326 yards and a patry 3.2 yards per carry average. Robinson emerged late in the year and ran for 582 yards and held a 4.3 yards per carry average.  


Report: Titans parting ways with safety Bernard Pollard
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) The Titans will release veteran safety Bernard Pollard, according to a report from The Tennessean

Pollard had previously requested for the Titans to release him. He's coming off a season that ended prematurely due to an Achilles tear in early October. He was slated to earn $3.5 million with the Titans this year if he stayed on. 

In the five games he appeared in during the 2014 season, Pollard recorded 27 tackles and one sack. 


Report: Browns looking to add another quarterback
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) The Browns are not done just yet in their search for quarterback talent, according to ESPN.com. Cleveland is reportedly looking to add at least one more quarterback through the draft or free agency.

The Browns made their signing of Josh McCown to a three-year deal official last week, but appear to want another to go along with him and Johnny Manziel.


Report: Redskins will pursue Ndamukong Suh as free agent
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) After the Lions chose not to use the franchise tag to retain DE Ndamukong Suh, it became more likely that he'll become an unrestricted free agent on March 10. 

When Suh hits the market, the Redskins will be interested in signing him, reported Dianna Marie Russini of DC's NBC 4, citing sources within the organization. 


Browns don't use franchise tag on Jordan Cameron
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) The Browns won't use their franchise tag on any player, meaning that TE Jordan Cameron will become a free agent on March 10. 

Cameron had 24 catches for 424 yards and two touchdowns last season, at a salary of $1.431 million.


No franchise tag for Broncos' Julius Thomas
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) The Broncos will not use their franchise tag on TE Julius Thomas. The team instead tagged WR Demaryius Thomas. 

Julius Thomas will be able to become a free agent on March 10. He had 43 catches for 489 yards and 12 touchdowns last year. Thomas made $645,000 salary last year. 


Report: Bills do not apply franchise tag to linebacker Jerry Hughes
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) The Bills reportedly chose not to apply their franchise tag to linebacker Jerry Hughes Monday, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.

Buffalo has been working on signing Hughes to a new, long term deal for the past month. The veteran linebacker racked up 10 sacks and totaled 54 tackles in all 16 games in 2014 for the Bills. 


 
 
 
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