Getting a stud running back or one of the top 3 quarterbacks is usually what most people aim for when conducting their fantasy draft. After all, you need those consistent weapons to produce if you want to have a shot at the playoffs. However, to have a shot at a championship you need to hit on some of your late round picks as well. Last year we saw the emergence of players like Victor Cruz, Jordy Nelson, Steve Smith, Darren Sproles, Reggie Bush and Rob Gronkowski, to name a few, that could have been had for a late round draft pick or for free as they hit the free agent pool to start the season. I’ve personally witnessed a team that was fighting for a playoff spot go on to win the league due to the strong performances of Nelson, Cruz and Gronkowski down the stretch. Now here is my list of guys who present good value this year and could end up separating a great team from a good team.
Josh Freeman – Tampa Bay
Projected Stat Line: 3700 yards, 21 TD, 15 INT, 250 rushing, 2 TD
Josh Freeman was a huge disappointment last year after a great sophomore year. However, he had very little help around him. This year is a different story. First up the Bucs addressed the offensive line but getting one of the best guards in the game, Carl Nicks. They also gave Freeman a legitimate #1 receiver, Vincent Jackson. They also drafted running back Doug Martin out of Boise State who figures to get a ton of work as a 3rd down back and should help out Freeman in the passing game. The Bucs as a team are much better as the defense has improved as well. Look for them to make some noise this year and that starts with their quarterback who is on average getting picked in the 12th round behind quarterbacks like Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton.
Matt Schaub – Houston
Projected Stat Line: 4100 yards, 23 TD, 13 INT, 50 rushing
Matt Schaub used to be one of the best fantasy quarterbacks to own. The Texans had an explosive big play offense and fantasy owners would overlook his injury issues just to have a part in those 400+ yard games. Well, Schaub got hurt again and the Texans are relying on the run game more than ever. However, Schaub is still a pretty good quarterback and is certainly a bargain in the 10th round. He could still put up low-end QB#1 numbers.
Projected Stat Line: 750 yards, 9 TD, 15 receptions, 100 yards
Mark Ingram was disappointing in his rookie year. He struggled to stay healthy and averaged just 3.9 yards per carry when he was on the field. This year he’s 100% heading into the season and while he will still battle Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles for carries, he figures to be the favorite to be the “workhorse” of the group. His fantasy value comes from his potential touchdown totals as the Saints have already been using him in pre-season at the goal-line. He’s got good upside for a 9-10th round pick.
Stevan Ridley – New England
Projected Stat Line: 800 yards, 10 TD, 10 receptions, 80 yards
Stevan Ridley managed an impressive 5.1 YPC last year but was second fiddle to Green-Ellis. With BJGE now gone, Ridley is the Patriots starting back. True, he’s part of a committee that features Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead but Ridley is favored to be the main back. If BJGE can put up double digit touchdowns, so can Ridley.
Kevin Smith – Detroit
Projected Stat Line: 750 yards, 6 TD, 25 receptions, 200 yards, 1 TD
Kevin Smith is the best back on the Detroit Lions. Jahvid Best can’t stay healthy and now it looks like he will be out for at least the first 6 games of the year. Besides the injury trouble, Best is a very overrated back. Leshoure has his own issues, both on and off the field, and is no more than a back-up at this point. Smith is the starter and should be able to keep his job for most, if not all, of the season. He’s an excellent value pick considering his ADP is 132.
Ryan Williams – Arizona
Projected Stat Line: 600 yards, 4 TD, 30 receptions, 240 yards, 2 TD
Ryan Williams is coming off of a nasty knee injury but reports out of camp have been very positive. At this point in the year Williams may not look like an attractive fantasy option. However, his value comes from the fact that he plays behind a very injury prone Beanie Wells. Williams is the more talented back so if/when Wells goes down, Williams should be able to put up great numbers. He’s certainly worth a stash in deeper leagues and he should still make an impact week-to-week as he is an excellent receiver and change of pace back.
David Wilson – New York Giants
Projected Stat Line: 800 yards, 6 TD, 35 receptions, 280 yards, 1 TD
I have two former Hokies on my sleeper list and I was a big fan of both of them in college. Wilson may be in a more favorable situation because he’s on a much more talented offense, he’s healthier, and he was a 1st round pick that the team is anxious to show off. He’s also playing behind an injury prone starter and should get his shot at some point this year. When he does, he has the potential to go off as he is a huge home run threat.
Mike Williams – Tampa Bay
Projected Stat Line: 70 receptions, 880 yards, 6 TD
Vincent Jackson was the big off-season move for the Bucs at receiver but Mike Williams may end up out-producing the new addition. Williams has taken this off-season more seriously in hopes to rebound off a “poor” 65 catch, 771 yard season. Josh Freeman will take some time to get used to Jackson which should allow the much more familiar Williams to get more targets. A 1000 yard season is not out of the question but Williams continues to be drafted behind the likes of Randy Moss, Devin Hester, and Laurent Robinson.
Reggie Wayne – Indianapolis
Projected Stat Line: 80 receptions, 1000 yards, 6 TD
The Colts receivers are being drafted too low. Reggie Wayne had a tough season last year because his quarterback play was terrible. An argument could be made that he’s slowing down as well due to his age. This certainly makes him more injury prone but he’s in a far better situation this year. Andrew Luck is a much more competent quarterback than guys like Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky. He’s already proven that through 2 pre-season games. Luck also looked for Wayne quite a bit in pre-season action and the vet still looks good. There’s no reason why he can’t at least replicate last years numbers, but it’s more likely he betters them.
Titus Young – Detroit
Projected Stat Line: 60 receptions, 800 yards, 6 TD
Titus Young has been phenomenal in camp and could move ahead of Nate Burleson in terms of targets this year. The 2nd year receiver is an explosive playmaker who quietly had over 600 yards and 6 touchdowns as a rookie. Those numbers should improve and if Calvin Johnson suffers an injury, he’ll be in for an even bigger role.
Jonathan Baldwin – Kansas City
Projected Stat Line: 55 receptions, 720 yards, 4 TD
Baldwin is one of the hottest receivers in camp and he’s generated quite a buzz. Despite this, he’s still a borderline draft pick in most leagues. He’s limited by poor quarterback play and a run heavy offense but he should be behind only Dwayne Bowe in terms of targets. He’s a high upside late round flier that is definitely worth a low risk gamble.
Kendall Wright – Tennessee
Projected Stat Line: 50 receptions, 700 yards, 5 TD
Kendall Wright was my #1 ranked receiver in the 2012 draft so I definitely expect him to make an impact. He’s already developed a good rapport with Jake Locker and has been climbing up the depth chart. Even when Kenny Britt gets back, Wright should still see a lot of looks. He’s a big play threat and if Jake Locker improves his play, they could form an exciting duo.
Austin Collie – Indianapolis
Projected Stat Line: 75 receptions, 900 yards, 5 TD
Collie is emerging as Andrew Luck’s favorite target throughout the pre-season. He’s been moved outside to flanker and has looked good. The Colts will struggle this year so they’ll be forced to play catch-up by passing quite a bit. Andrew Luck certainly looks like an NFL quarterback and if Collie can stay healthy, which is a big if, he could end up being the Colts leading receiver.
Greg Olsen – Carolina
Projected Stat Line: 75 receptions, 900 yards, 7 TD
The Panthers have big plans for Greg Olsen. Ron Rivera stated that Olsen could put up Jimmy Graham/Rob Gronkowski type numbers this year. Now, I’m not so sure about that but his numbers should see a healthy bump after the departure of Jeremy Shockey.
Jared Cook – Tennessee
Projected Stat Line: 60 receptions, 850 yards, 5 TD
Jared Cook is ready for a breakout year after a strong finish last season. He’s athletic and an excellent pass catcher and could present some mismatches. There’s a lot to like about Cook and if you miss out on the top tight ends, he’s certainly worth a late round pick due to his immense upside.
That concludes my list of 15 sleepers to watch out for this year. All have upside and are great value picks. They’re gambles worth taking. Stay tuned for my Super Sleepers list. I’ll be taking a look at players that likely won’t even be drafted in your fantasy league but could end up making a huge impact down the road.