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2014 Draft Prep: Sleepers, 2.0

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Breakouts, 2.0 | Busts, 2.0 | Draft Averages | Rankings | Draft Index

Well, well, we're already off to a bad start trying to find sleepers.

Since I wrote my first version, sleeper quarterback Sam Bradford tore his ACL for the second season in a row and rookie rusher Charles Sims messed up his ankle. Not the smash-hit start I was hoping for.

So we needed to re-load some sleepers for this go-round. Like the last time, I wasn't interested in sleepers who would cost you a pretty penny in drafts and auctions. All of my sleeper picks will be available in Round 8 or later ... at least they should be.

But what was interesting this time around was the appeal of younger players. There are four this time with four other players entering their second or third seasons. Naturally, going young is a good way to go when you're shopping for high-upside value on Draft Day.

The other change is the number of running backs -- a total of seven. It's not like these guys will go all Alfred Morris on you and deliver Top 10 stats while being picked in the back half of drafts. I mean, they might. But I doubt it.

Instead, consider practicing patience with these guys -- if you put them on your roster, commit to them for at least five games. If by five games they're drawing flies, then it's over. Cut them. Until then, don't fall into the trap of being short-sighted and cutting one of these guys unless it's for someone you want to really invest in (read: a breakout player or a backup running back that found regular playing time).

Through three preseason games, here's who we're not sleeping on.

Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers

Rivers finished last season as Fantasy's fourth-ranked quarterback -- and nobody seems to remember. Rivers' Draft Average is nearly at the 100th pick, which would be the most outrageous quarterback freefall if not for Andy Dalton, who was Fantasy's third-ranked quarterback and is going over 15 picks after Rivers. But unlike Dalton, Rivers is going to have a shot at finishing in the Top 10 in 2014 because the Chargers offense should end up being more pass-oriented than it was last season when they averaged 34.0 pass attempts per game (21 teams threw it more often on average). That's because their schedule is tougher and it should mean relying on Rivers. Plus, his receiving corps could be on the cusp of being amazing with Malcom Floyd back, Keenan Allen stepping up in his second year, tight end Ladarius Green landing a little more work and Antonio Gates dominating in the red zone. Rivers is worth taking as your starter in drafts.
I'd take him ahead of: Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger

Benny Cunningham, RB, Rams

Zac Stacy is still the Rams running back of choice in Fantasy drafts, but Cunningham has put together a very good preseason. How good? He's had five carries in each game and has posted 24, 24 and 32 yards in each for a cool 5.3 rushing average. Fine, that's a nice number, but it's still on five carries per game. Cunningham won't start for anyone if that's his weekly workload. But he does have a limited sample size of putting up big numbers even when Stacy was doing his thing, as there were games he and Stacy both ran as part of the St. Louis offense. Now that Sam Bradford is out, that game plan could happen more often than not. Plus if anything were to happen to Stacy, Cunningham would be up for a huge dose of handoffs. He's not just someone to handcuff Stacy to.
I'd take him ahead of: Chris Ivory, LeGarrette Blount, Darren McFadden

Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons

The preseason should have been Freeman's time to shine because Steven Jackson was sidelined with a hamstring injury. But Freeman barely got work with the Falcons starting offense, registering a 4-yard carry and a 10-yard catch -- all in Week 1 of the preseason -- while playing with Matt Ryan. He did see snaps with the offense in other games but didn't get any touches. So how is this guy still a sleeper? Because in his work with the second- and third-team offenses, he scorched opponents for 92 yards on 20 carries and 101 yards on six catches, and that doesn't include a 23-yard touchdown scamper where he showed quickness, speed and the ability to break out of tackles ... and was nullified by a penalty. Jackson isn't likely to hold up for long. Jacquizz Rodgers had a tepid preseason following two years of tepid play. Antone Smith is slow. It's a matter of time before Freeman gives the Atlanta ground game a real jolt.
I'd take him ahead of: Bernard Pierce, DeAngelo Williams, Steven Jackson

Jonathan Grimes, RB, Texans

If you're nervous about Arian Foster staying healthy for 16 games then Grimes has to be on your shopping list. The third-year back has pieced together a nice preseason for himself, leading the Texans in rushing and Texans running backs in rushing average. And he's even shown off some moves in the passing game. Might it be enough for him to cut into Foster's workload when the games start to count? Maybe a little, but the move to make with Grimes is to draft him late and then wait. Wait until Foster pulls a hamstring or tweaks his back or wait until the Foster owner in your league (assuming it isn't you) offers you a deal for him.
I'd take him ahead of: Jonathan Stewart, Dexter McCluster, Darren McFadden

Carlos Hyde, RB, 49ers

Yet another rookie running back? You bet, though this one might have the most potential to be a No. 1 Fantasy back if he ever had every-down duties. Hyde's preseason has been awesome, posting 88 yards on 15 carries and looking the part of a powerful runner in every game he's played in. The coaches have noticed and have to think about using Hyde to spell Gore throughout the season, especially since Gore has surpassed 2,300 career carries and has hit some red flags that make him ripe for a breakdown. Hyde could end up with enough work to begin the season as a Flex option and if anything happens to Gore, watch out.
I'd take him ahead of: Jeremy Hill, Shonn Greene, Christine Michael

Robert Turbin, RB, Seahawks

In the first sleeper go-round Christine Michael was listed as a big-time sleeper, but in order for him to really kick in as a Fantasy stud, Marshawn Lynch will have to get banged up. That's obviously a possibility, as backs that take on 400 touches and/or play in a Super Bowl are at risk to underwhelm the following year. But Turbin is just as much in the mix as Michael and can be had with a very late pick in drafts. This preseason Turbin has 23 more rushing yards than Michael on one fewer carry while Michael has pulled away in receiving numbers. If Lynch gets hurt the Seahawks will employ both backs, but Turbin has the look of a physical back who could land goal-line work on top of a split in reps with Michael. And even if Lynch doesn't get hurt, Turbin should end up seeing a few touches regularly. Even I'll admit I'll draft Michael first, but Turbin has the mega-value.
I'd take him ahead of: Ahmad Bradshaw, Lance Dunbar, Ronnie Hillman

Andre Williams, RB, Giants

While the Giants pass game might take a little time to become effective, their run game is already in good shape. Rashad Jennings is a breakout candidate and should easily get over 1,000 total yards, but his work at the goal line and other snaps throughout the game will be taken by Williams. The rookie led the nation in rushing at Boston College last season and has already shown plenty of potential in the pros with a 4.6 rushing average. Here's the juicy part -- if Jennings were to miss time or begin to fall off, Williams would become the every-down back for the Giants. This means he has a good role with potential to help Fantasy owners right now and he could end up being a key part of the Giants offense if things shake out his way. Besides Bishop Sankey and Terrance West, this is my favorite rookie rusher to draft. I'd gladly take him in Round 8.
I'd take him ahead of: Trent Richardson, Bernard Pierce, Khiry Robinson

Danny Woodhead, RB, Chargers

Either people forget about Woodhead or people think there's no chance he does as well as he did last season, when he totaled over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns. Maybe people think he's too small to last in the NFL -- even though he hasn't missed a game in two years and missed one game in three years. Here's the truth: the Chargers love him. They don't mind using him in any situation as a rusher and Philip Rivers is always ready to throw the ball in his direction. He made a ton of plays last season and has already made an impression this preseason. He's at least worth a pick at his 106th overall draft average, if not a full round higher.
I'd take him ahead of: Darren Sproles, Christine Michael, Steven Jackson

Jordan Matthews, WR, Eagles

Matthews was on the previous sleepers list because of his size/speed combination and fit with the Eagles offense. He's worked with the first, second and third units of the Philadelphia offense this summer and has posted 15 catches, albeit for just 134 yards and no touchdowns. Matthews figures to be a pretty decent part of the offense, hauling in a few passes per game, but he's also a key figure in the receiving corps in case Jeremy Maclin or Riley Cooper get hurt (which has happened to both already this summer). If one of those guys goes down he'll end up seeing a ton of snaps, which means a lot of targets. He's a really good receiver who might make a nice contribution statistically.
I'd take him ahead of: Jarrett Boykin, Cecil Shorts and any Raiders receiver

Hakeem Nicks, WR, Colts

Nicks was on quite the Fantasy roller coaster ride since the initial sleeper list was published. Coaches questioned his conditioning and his stock tanked. Then he took on his former team in the preseason and looked pretty good. Then he played the first eight snaps (out of 10 total) with the first-team offense with Reggie Wayne on the field in the Colts' third preseason game. He might be the team's third receiver but that's a formation they'll be in quite a bit. So Nicks still holds water as a sleeper, especially since he's once again in a "prove it" year and playing in a much better offense than last year. He's worth a late-round flier.
I'd take him ahead of: Kenny Stills, Odell Beckham, Tavon Austin, Anquan Boldin

Kenbrell Thompkins, WR, Patriots

The Patriots do a good job of being unpredictable, but one consistent member in their first-team offense this preseason has been Thompkins. In three preseason games he's notched six catches for 78 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown that ended up as a two-man celebration with Tom Brady hugging him in the end zone. Brady has expressed confidence in Thompkins, enough that it doesn't seem like lip service. Thompkins has been in the Patriots system for some time now and should have an opportunity at the beginning of the year to play regularly in the offense. Every year I like to target one deep sleeper in drafts -- it's sort of by default, but Thompkins tops the list this year.
I'd take him ahead of: Kenny Britt, Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson

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: Greg Olsen, Antonio Gates, Heath Miller

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Player News
Browns WR Gordon feels alienated by some in organization
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:15 am ET) Browns All-Pro wideout Josh Gordon told friend and fellow receiver Nate Burleson in an interview for NFL Network that he has felt alienated by some in the organization since being suspended for 10 games for violating the league's drug policy.

Gordon returned to action in Week 12 to catch eight passes for 120 yards and key a critical victory in Atlanta.

"The lowest point of all this I think was the disassociation from a lot of friends you thought were close or you thought were kind of cool with really not checking on you anymore, [not] hitting you up anymore, [not] wanting to hang out," Gordon said. "As far as even people in here (with the Browns), I don't want to throw names around, but I can see it.

"I'm definitely really observant so I see how people might just be more standoffish (than) they were before. It's kind of like a disease. People they want to see it, but they don't really want to touch it."

Gordon and the Browns are at Buffalo on Sunday.


Giants WR Odell Beckham (back) will not be limited in practice
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:12 am ET) Giants coach Tom Coughlin said wide receiver Odell Beckham will practice in full Wednesday. Beckham injured his back Sunday against the Cowboys, but was able to return to the game.

Beckham will aim for his fourth 100-yard performance in his last five games Week 13 at Jacksonville. Beckham has totaled 31 catches for 503 yards and two touchdowns in four November games. The Jaguars are yielding 257.5 passing yards per game, which is the sixth-highest average in the NFL, and have allowed 19 passing touchdowns in 11 games.


Bears LB Lance Briggs might be out 'a few weeks' due to injury
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:28 am ET) Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said Tuesday night during a television interview the groin injury he suffered Week 12 against the Bucs could sideline him for "maybe a few weeks," per The Chicago Tribune

Briggs' comment contradicts coach Marc Trestman's statement Tuesday that Briggs is considered a game-time decision for Thursday's contest against the Lions.

Briggs said he was injured Sunday while trying to jam Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans on a short passing route.

"I think I somehow got locked in on him," Briggs said. "I got twerked a little bit and pulled out. It kind of felt like I did the splits. When I fell and tried to get up, I knew something was wrong."


Colts WR Wayne: I didn't beg for streak-extending targets
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:17 am ET) Colts veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne has scoffed at the notion that he asked for two late targets Sunday against Jacksonville that allowed him to extend his streak of consecutive games with at least three catches to 81.

Chuck Pagano called for those passes, which totaled two yards.

"I guarantee you nowhere in there did I say I wanted two more catches to extend the streak," Wayne said on his radio show. "I'm never going to beg for catches, especially when we're winning."

Wayne departed the locker room without answering questions from the media following the game, but cited home obligations for leaving quickly.


Megatron contends he's still the 'same guy' from record-breaking year
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:07 am ET) It's quite evident Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson's production in 2014 has not been up to par. Johnson has missed time this season due to an ankle injury, but when he has been active, he has averaged just 72.3 receiving yards per game, which is his lowest average since 2010. He had averaged more than 100 receiving yards per game from 2011-13.

Johnson said Tuesday he is still the "same guy" from 2012, when he totaled 1,964 receiving yards, which is an NFL record. Quarterback Matthew Stafford suggests Johnson's drop in production is because defenses are doing a better job "keying in" on the star receiver.

"He’s the best receiver in the league, and they know that," Stafford said, per The Detroit News. "It’s on me to just throw him better balls and make sure we’re on the same page."

Stafford added it's tough to tell if Johnson is still hobbled by the ankle injury.

"It was a long time that he was out," Stafford said. "Even when he was in early on in the season, there were a couple games he played where he wasn’t himself. It’s always a long process coming back."


Vikings sign J'Marcus Webb after Phil Loadholt placed on IR
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:44 am ET) The Vikings placed offensive tackle Phil Loadholt on injured reserve Wednesday due to a torn pectoral muscle, which he suffered Sunday against the Packers, according to The Star Tribune. The team signed offensive tackle J'Marcus Webb to take his roster spot.

Report: Patriots sign Matthew Slater to two-year contract extension
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:41 am ET) The Patriots have signed wide receiver Matthew Slater, who primarily plays on special teams, to a two-year, $4 million contract extension, sources told ESPN. The contract runs through the 2016 season.

Jets make the change at QB -- Smith will replace Vick as starter
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:19 am ET) Despite speculation Michael Vick would start Week 13 against the Dolphins, Jets coach Rex Ryan informed his quarterbacks Wednesday morning Geno Smith would be returning to the starting role Monday. 

Vick, who entered the starting lineup Week 9 against the Chiefs, was replaced by Smith in the third quarter of Monday's game against the Bills. Smith will be facing a Dolphins defense yielding 220.6 passing yards per game, which is the eighth-lowest total in the NFL. The Dolphins have allowed 20 passing touchdowns through 11 games.


Chargers going with rookie after losing three centers
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:54 am ET) The Chargers have lost three starting centers this season, including Rich Ohrnberger, who went on IR on Tuesday with a back injury. Rookie Chris Watt, a third-round pick out of Notre Dame, will start Sunday at Baltimore against the tough Ravens' front.

Watt played guard his entire college career.

"It's definitely very surreal," Watt told the team's website. "I knew I would have the opportunity right away to learn center, but who would have thought we would be down this many people this quickly. I'm happy I've been preparing the way I have and I'm ready to make the most of it."

Watt said he's learned from all three starters before him -- Ohrnberger, Doug Legursky and Nick Hardwick -- and has built a good relationship with quarterback Philip Rivers. Watt has played in eight games this season, but mostly at guard.


'Crazy' how far Justin Forsett has come
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:37 am ET) Justin Forsett played in nine games last season for the Jaguars, rushing for 31 yards. Jacksonville let him go in the offseason.

Now he's leading the Ravens -- his fourth team in four seasons -- to a possible playoff berth. Forsett ranks third in the NFL with 903 rushing yards and leads the league with 5.8 yards per carry.

"It's crazy, man," he told the Seattle Times. "You think about where I was this time last year, mostly doing a lot of scout-team work and coming in to play every once in a while. To just get the opportunity when I thought I would never get it again, it's a blessing."

Quarterback Joe Flacco said Forsett is "not letting the guy tackle him in the hole with his arms or anything like that. He's breaking those little things."

Forsett, who leads the league with 12 rushes of 20-plus yards, plays the Chargers in Week 13.


 
 
 
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