The 2013 NFL Draft is behind us, and that means it is deep Fantasy sleeper time. I am talking about the best kind of deep sleepers; rookies who were selected on the final day of the draft. Finding those types of gems is the real fun.
When looking for a later-round pick that could surprise and also be successful in Fantasy, we have to look at talent and opportunity. Is the guy talented enough to play in the NFL and will he ever get on the field for his current team? Obviously depth charts can change throughout the summer, as Alfred Morris and the Redskins proved last year.
Here are four rookie sleepers I will be watching closely in training camp and the preseason this year:
Johnathan Franklin, RB Green Bay Packers – A lot of people are excited that Green Bay drafted Eddie Lacy. While there is no doubt Lacy will have a prominent role in the Packers’ offense, the guy I am really excited about is Franklin.
The Packers use different running backs for different situations. Now there is no doubt in my mind that both rookies will elevate themselves over the bevy of average bodies already taking up space in Green Bay’s backfield.
I see Lacy being on the field when the Packers want to play power football and Franklin being on the field when Green Bay spreads defenses out more. I think both backs can play in the passing game, so those reps will be about split in my opinion. Either way, both guys are going to have significant roles in the Packers’ offense this season.
I loved Franklin coming into the draft and I was surprised that he lasted until Round 5. Again though, it all depends on where players end up and Franklin landed with a perfect team that will know how to utilize his skills correctly. That means a higher Fantasy ceiling.
I predict Lacy will get over-drafted this summer. Think about it; the guy’s toe injury concerned some teams to the point where they took him off their draft boards. Now, add the presence of Franklin, and Lacy is going to be the classic case of a rookie that gets drafted way too high because he is over-hyped all summer long.
Again, I am not saying Lacy won’t contribute for the Packers. I think he will have a big role but I have a hunch some people are just going to disregard the presence of Franklin. That will be a big mistake. Go watch Franklin play on film and tell me he is not the perfect fit for the Packers’ offense.
If nothing else, this looks like a Fantasy mess, instead of one guy getting all the touches. However, I would rather take a late-round flier on Franklin, particularly in PPR leagues, than reach for Lacy earlier in the draft. I see them both getting their share of touches in 2013.
Zac Stacy, RB St. Louis Rams – Stacy was one of my sleeper running backs and I was hoping he would go to a team where he had a chance to get on the field and contribute right away. I am thrilled that he was drafted by the Rams.
Stacy is only 5-8, but he is 216 pounds and built like a tank. At Vanderbilt Stacy really earned his money by running inside between the tackles. Now you look at the Rams’ running back situation and there is definitely an opening for someone to replace Steven Jackson as St. Louis’ power back. I believe Stacy can be that guy.
Last year the Rams drafted both Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead, and while Richardson showed promise backing up Jackson as a rookie, neither guy is really built to pound the ball between the tackles. This is why I think Stacy has a shot to be a Fantasy factor right away in St. Louis.
Stacy is a straight-ahead, downhill runner. Let’s look at Jeff Fisher’s past. He has coached Eddie George and Jackson, so I would say he likes backs that run inside, hit the hole hard and wear defenses down. Those are all things that Stacy does well. This is just a hunch, but my gut tells me Fisher is going to fall in love with Stacy once he watches him run in practices.
The Rams’ backfield has committee written all over it early in the year regardless of which guy is named the starter. However, watch Stacy closely in training camp and during the preseason. If he is already turning heads and setting himself up for carries early in the year, I think Stacy will be the best back to own in St. Louis over the long haul for your Fantasy team.
Kenny Stills, WR New Orleans Saints – I grew up a fan of the Wishbone offense and because of that I used to love those old Oklahoma teams. While I don’t really have a favorite college team today I still watch a ton of Oklahoma football. I have seen a lot of Stills since he was a freshman and the Saints may have gotten themselves a steal here.
There was a time when the thought of Stills being drafted in Round 5 was preposterous. Early on in his career Stills was considered a potential high round draft pick. Then a couple of things happened that caused Stills’ stock to drop. First, while Stills is talented on the field he needs to get his head on straight off it. He was arrested for a DUI in 2011 and Stills was known to have mental lapses and disappeared for stretches in games at Oklahoma.
The other thing that may have scared off some teams is Stills’ size. He is 6-1 and only 190 pounds but I don’t think that matters much in the Saints’ offense. New Orleans does such a good job of finding mismatches for their receivers, they are not going to ask Stills to go inside and take a ton of punishment. The Saints will utilize Stills’ speed and athletic ability by using him on vertical routes down the field.
If we look at the Saints receivers, they don’t have many established players at that position. We know what we are getting out of Marquise Colston and Lance Moore, but there is not a lot after those two. Some people like Joe Morgan as a sleeper but the guy caught 10 balls last year. I wouldn’t really be shocked if Stills emerged as the Saints No. 3 receiver this season over Morgan.
I believe Stills has the physical skills to produce in the Saints’ offense. What it comes down to for me is whether or not he has what it takes between the ears. If Stills comes to camp motivated and ready to play, he has a chance to be one of the steals of the draft. Make sure you have Stills on your radar this summer because the kid has talent.
Ace Sanders, WR Jacksonville Jaguars – I loved this pick for the Jaguars. I think Sanders has the potential to become one of the most productive slot receivers in the NFL, assuming Jacksonville finds someone to deliver him the football consistently.
I thought Sanders ranked only behind Tavon Austin in terms of explosive open field runners when it came to receivers in this draft class. Once Sanders gets the ball in his hands he doesn’t play like he is 5-8 and 175 pounds. He is much stronger than that his size suggests and I don’t care what he runs the 40 in, the guy has football speed, which is why Sanders is so dangerous in the open field.
Most believe Sanders will contribute as a return man as a rookie and that may be the case. I think he will step right in and be one of most productive returners in the league from Day 1. However, I expect him to have a much bigger impact in Jacksonville as a rookie.
Justin Blackmon was suspended for four games and I just don’t see a lot of other talented receivers Sanders has to beat out for playing time. After Blackmon and Cecil Shorts, I predict Sanders will slide right in as Jacksonville’s third receiver. If I am right that means Sanders will be a starter for the first month of the season while Blackmon serves his suspension. Sorry if Mohamed Massaquoi and Jordan Shipley don’t scare anyone, but I think Sanders will beat those two camp bodies out with ease.
I know Sanders is on the small side, but he was one of the players in college that made me jump out of my seat more than a few times. This guy is an explosive player and he is going to a team in desperate need of playmakers.
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