Every August, Fantasy Football players across the country gather ‘round their television sets during (mostly) meaningless preseason games, to watch them well into the fourth quarter hoping to gain an advantage over their competition. Sure, witnessing a fifth-string running back tear off a 60-yard scamper makes for good TV now, but does that really predict future opportunity and success?
Let’s take a look at some of the names that are still in that pre-hype phase, flying under the radar providing major draft day value to see if we can determine who might be quality sleepers that may breakout, and allow their owners to rest easy week after week.
Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears – Call it a gut feeling, call it intuition, call it whatever you want, but I think Cutler finishes as a Top-8 quarterback this season. He is currently the 14th QB off the board (ADP 101), and I can see him finishing ahead of at least six signal callers being taken before him. With an embarrassment of offensive weapons at his disposal, another year in Marc Trestman’s system, and a nice schedule, the pieces are there for a big season. Last year, before Josh McCown took the reins, Cutler was having a very solid 2013 campaign. Over 11 games, he had a 63 percent completion rate, over 2,600 yards, and 19 TDs. Also, check these numbers out: 33, 38, 30, 47, 33, 36, 40, 31, 35, and 24. Those are the pass attempts in each game Cutler started and finished, proof that these aren’t Ditka’s Bears – they’re going to throw, and throw often. I love the idea of waiting on a QB until the mid- to late-rounds to stock up on backs and receivers, and then picking up a guy like Cutler, and Tony Romo or Philip Rivers, and playing the hot hand week-to-week.
Khiry Robinson, New Orleans Saints – Everyone knows that the recipe they’re using for a spicy offense in the bayou has been working well. In 2013, the offense helmed by Drew Brees threw for the fourth most passing attempts/game in the league (40.2), and nearly 63 percent of their offensive snaps were called pass plays. With Darren Sproles now gone and Mark Ingram generally forgotten, Robinson has a great chance to spell Pierre Thomas in running situations if not take the lead back role outright. Robinson is a stout 6’0”, 220 lbs., and runs with purpose. He had a solid 2013 playoff run, delivering 102 yards on 21 carries for a 4.9 YPC in the Saints’ two games. With an ADP of 123, Robinson has a very high ceiling given the opportunity ahead of him, and enough of a sample size from 2013 to feel confident reaching for that lottery ticket, particularly in a dynasty or keeper format.
Andre Williams, New York Giants – The star-struck unit that lost their most talented player to a neck injury (David Wilson) may have their back of the future in this Boston College product. A cursory look at Williams (ADP: 142) may turn people off: a four year player at BC who finished the 2013 season with an eye-popping 355 touches, “He has a lot of wear on the tires,” they might say. What’s important to remember is that he had just 359 touches in the first three years of college combined. The 6’0”, 230 lbs. wrecking ball runs with a similar style and power to beloved former Giant, Ahmad Bradshaw. With the pedestrian Rashad Jennings ahead of him, and a decidedly washed up Peyton Hillis still lurking, Williams is the guy who has the most upside, and a very real chance to be starting games by Week 6.
Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles – Yes, Brent Celek is still in the picture, so it’s hard to know for sure what this situation in Philly will offer. Combined in 2013, the two TEs finished with 68 catches for 971 yards and 10 TDs, good for a Top-3 finish at the position. After a typically slow start for a first-year player, Ertz came on strong towards the end of the year, amassing 24 of his season’s 56 targets in the final six weeks of the season. The standout performance came in a Week 15 loss to the Vikings (six catches on nine targets; 54 yards and a TD), as he seemed to get on the same page with Nick Foles and Chip Kelly. Ertz is a quality player going late (ADP 121), and someone who could finish in the Top 8 at the TE position in 2014.
Dwayne Allen, Indianapolis Colts – Allen had a remarkable 2013, catching 50 percent of his targets, posting a 20 YPC average, and scoring on each catch he made! Don’t remember it being that great? Well that’s because he was injured in Week 1 and lost for the season after posting a 1-20-1 line. Entering his third year with the Colts, Allen will look to rebound in 2014, and he will be working with tight end guru Rob Chudzinski, who was hired by Chuck Pagano in February. Allen pairs with Coby Fleener for the Colts as sort of a 1-1A combo. Allen is known as the better in-line blocker, but he is also terrific in the red zone because of his ability to use his body to make catches and absorb hits while hanging onto the ball; Allen has never lost a fumble in his career. Despite an ADP of 229, I think Allen has the potential to be a Top-15 scorer at his position, but will be largely dependent upon touchdowns. Steer clear in PPR leagues, but if you’re in a standard scoring league with a deep bench or in a dynasty format, taking a flyer on Allen in the last few rounds could prove nice value down the road.
Kenny Stills, New Orleans Saints – He’s the second Saint on the list, and a prime candidate for a 2014 breakout. Most people are still fawning over rookie Brandin Cooks, but trusting rookie receivers to contribute right away is often a losing proposition, and you’ll likely have to reach for Cooks if you want him. Stills offers better value (ADP of 157) and will look to build on a 32 catch, 641 yard rookie campaign in his second season with Payton, Brees, and co. Stills booked four games of 75 or more receiving yards last year, and posted a gaudy 20 YPC average. He has the speed to be a deep threat, and will benefit from the absence of Lance Moore and Darren Sproles as targets are doled out. As the third or fourth option in this high-powered passing attack, Stills could be looking at a 50-900-6 type of year.
Rueben Randle, New York Giants – Randle was a shiny, if not a truly bright spot for the Giants during a lackluster 7-9 campaign last season. Randle finished with 611 yards and nine TDs on 41 catches, very solid numbers for a WR2-3. In a more simplified game plan developed by new O.C. Ben McAdoo, Randle will be asked to fill the WR slot vacated by Hakeem Nicks, and should start from Week 1. Double-digit TDs are certainly within reach, particularly if the Giants again struggle to establish a formidable rushing attack. His current ADP of 126 isn’t outrageous, but reaching for him in rounds 7-8 could pay major dividends during the season if he progresses as expected, possibly resulting in a Top-25 finish at his position.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The sage advice offered every year is to wait until your last two rounds to tackle the defense and kicker spots on your roster. Personally, I am a fan of streaming defenses based on matchups over a few weeks at a time until we can see what each team offers, and which players are injured or under-performing. Looking at the Bucs, there are a few intriguing facts to consider. First, Lovie Smith is their new coach. The former Bears HC enjoyed three seasons in which the Bears were a Top-3 ranked defense during his tenure. He brings defensive pedigree back to Tampa, which won their Super Bowl in 2002 largely because of the potency of that defense. Second, their 2014 strength of schedule is in the bottom-half of the league, with opponents having a .484 winning percentage last season. Finally, they made some aggressive moves to upgrade the defensive unit, signing safety/George R.R. Martin novel character, Alterraun Verner to pair with the hard-hitting Dashon Goldson, and grabbing former Bengals DE Michael Johnson to bolster that front seven anchored by Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy. Weeks 1 and 2 find them at home, hosting the division rival Panthers, followed by the St. Louis Rams. If you’re a fan of rolling the dice on Defense late, take a look at the Bucs as a potential Top-10 unit.