Five Post-Hype Fantasy Football Sleepers For 2014


jake locker

Jake Locker was playing very well until a hip injury ended his season. Photo Credit: Brian Hill

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By Brandon C. Williams, RotoExperts Staff Writer

“Don’t…..don’t, don’t. Don’t believe the hype.” – Public Enemy, “Don’t Believe the Hype”

Bless you. Bless all of us who bought into the hype of Trent Richardson last season.

Even as putrid as the Browns offense was in 2012, Richardson still managed 950 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie, numbers which (then) bred confidence that his second season would be more memorable. Oh, it was, but for all the wrong reasons; he torpedoed most of the Fantasy Football team owners who made the fateful error of selecting him in the first round.

Richardson rushed for 105 yards on 31 carries in two games with the Browns before a surprising deal to the Colts ushered hopes of a revival. Those thoughts were quickly dashed when he ran for 95 yards on 33 attempts in his first two games with Indy. No one would have thought that his 20-60-1 effort against the 49ers would turn out to be hisbest game of the season, a performance that led to the rapid sinking of his playing time, as he finished the year with 188-563-3.

Yet, there is life after the demise of an over-hyped player, even for Richardson. The memories of failure and lost opportunities are too fresh for owners, many of whom would rather gulp down a liter of flat soda before drafting said disappointing player. Yet, one owner’s stench is another’s smell of jasmine, which is why these previously over-hyped players stand a chance for a rebound this season and could even be considered sleepers.

1) Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins

The nationwide love affair with RGIII was doomed from the beginning of 2013, as his injury in the NFC Wild Card loss to the Seahawks caused him to miss the preseason and led to him opening the regular season coated with rust. Griffin was never in optimal form all year, as he threw just 16 touchdowns and failed to add a rushing score in his 89 attempts.

A new coach (Jay Gruden) and the addition of one of the game’s most explosive weapons (DeSean Jackson) is enough to harbor confidence for a huge rebound season, but the question of how Griffin fares under Gruden’s system — along with his health — is enough to create pause when considering whether to draft him. RGIII is not a QB1 entering the regular season; the potential is there, but I’d hedge my bets and make sure to draft a more reliable and consistent QB. He should be able to throw for 3,500 yards and 20-22 TDs, but how much he runs will be the difference between whether he remains a fun backup to have on your roster or a must-start whose dual threat skills can lead him up the mountain of top-tier Fantasy Football signal callers.

2) Trent Richardson, RB, Colts

Expecting someone else?

Look, Richardson will be viewed as a low-end RB2, or even a RB3 in most drafts. Few will have the guts to see him otherwise. Yet for all his frustration, Richardson will be the lead back in a productive offense, one that he has had a full offseason to digest. One also has to think the motivation of proving his detractors wrong will be a trigger point for Richardson as well. Most backs as talented as Richardson don’t suddenly forget how to perform at a high level, which is why I think there’s a good rebound season ahead for him. I won’t predict 1,000 yards, but I feel confident he’ll approach his rookie numbers with better yards per carry. He may also be a factor in the passing game, so let’s add about 30-35 receptions to the Comeback Kid of Indianapolis.

3) Jake Locker, QB, Titans

Speaking of motivation, Locker will be armed to the teeth with it since the Titans chose not to cash in his $14.9 million fifth-year option for 2015, presenting him an all-or-nothing opportunity to finally prove he can become a reliable (and healthy) starter. Locker showed signs of turning the corner last season, opening the season with an 8:1 TD:INT ratio in his first five starts before a hip injury limited him to just one more start and part of another game before his season was dashed.

New head coach Ken Whisenhunt turned both Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner into must-start Fantasy Football QBs, which is why I feel confident Locker is bound for a career year. He has weapons in rookie RB Bishop Sankey, two emerging talents in WRs Justin Hunter and Kendall Wright and a solid offensive line that should provide him ample time to get the ball down field. He’s also a fearless runner, a factor that should net him a touchdown or two on the ground. Locker enters the season as a QB2 in two-QB leagues, but there’s a 3,800-yard, 25 TD season waiting to happen.

4) Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers

Martin was a huge disappointment for his owners long before tearing the labrum on his left shoulder (it’s more painful than it sounds. Trust me, after two surgeries for the same injury, I know) in Week 7. He was averaging just 3.6 yards per carry and had just one touchdown prior to a premature vacation to Club IR. He will enter training camp as the starter, but Martin will have company in the backfield, as Mike James, Bobby Rainey and rookie Charles Sims join in the fun.

Keep an eye on how this situation plays out, but I do think Martin will emerge as the lead back in a revamped and intriguing Buccaneers offense. Don’t bank on him duplicating his 319-1,454-11 numbers from 2012; with the depth in the backfield, Martin looks like he’s set for 1,150-10 while also remaining a factor in the passing game. He’s a late first round to early second round selection, making him a solid RB1 or a RB2 with high upside and a sleeper either way.

5) Dennis Pitta, TE, Ravens

Following his impressive performance during the Ravens run to winning Super Bowl 46, Pitta was set for a breakout 2013 before a fractured hip cost him all but the final four regular season games. He did put together a 20-169-1 line while shaking off the rust during Baltimore’s ill-fated sprint to the postseason.

A healthy Pitta will also benefit from having Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator. Kubiak loved getting the ball to Owen Daniels during his head coaching stint with the Texans, so expect Pitta to be targeted frequently. He was targeted 93 times in 2012 (catching 61 passes), a number that is fairly conservative when projecting Pitta this fall. The arrival of veteran WR Steve Smith shouldn’t impact Pitta’s targets too much, which is why I can see him putting together a 65-700-8 season. He will be in the back of TEs that fall between the second and third tier.