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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