One of the most common mistakes people make in fantasy football drafts is paying for past performance, rather than future achievements. Why burn a 3rd round pick on a player that’s past his prime, when you can get equal production, with potential for more, by drafting a younger player in the 6th round or even later? The name of the game is value in fantasy football, so here are 6 sleepers to target in your drafts:
1. Andre Ellington – RB – Arizona Cardinals: In 2013, Ellington used his stellar game to climb the Cardinals depth chart. Beginning the year as a 3rd down back with catching ability, he eventually took over as the top back in Arizona. Ellington continued to thrive as a starter, proving that his success was based in talent, and not just the result of defenses ignoring or underestimating him.
Ellington is entering the year as ESPN‘s 22nd ranked back, mostly because his 2013 counting stats only represent half a season of play as a starter. He should have no problem outplaying that ranking, and if things go exceedingly well, he can become a top 10 back this year.
2. Robert Griffin III – QB – Washington Redskins: Griffin had one of the more disappointing 2013 campaigns in his first year after major knee surgery. He was much less mobile in 2013, and appeared to be missing a step. He carried the ball 34 fewer times for 326 fewer yards. His longest run was only 26 yards, compared to his longest carry of 76 yards in 2012. His game lacked that dual threat edge, and the Redskins offense became predictable. This was especially bad because his receiving options were sub-par.
The insane part was that despite being so bad, he was still a top-10 fantasy producer early in the year. This year, he should feel more comfortable with the health of his knee, and hopefully that will manifest into a rejuvenation of his running game. The running game will open up the passing game, which should get a boost anyway with the signing of DeSean Jackson. Griffin isn’t a concrete QB1 again just yet, but his value is way down right now, and he can be a great QB2 with talent to utilize during bye weeks and spot starts, or to keep your team afloat if your starter gets hurt.
3. Jarrett Boykin – WR – Green Bay Packers: Boykin saw an increased workload last season with injuries to both Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley. By the end of the season, Boykin had become one of Rodgers more trusted receivers, and now that James Jones is out of the fold, Boykin will slot in as the number 3 receiver in a prolific offense that succeeds by spreading the ball around. Sure, the Packers drafted a few receivers, but Boykin has the experience and trust of Rodgers, so I wouldn’t expect any of the rookies to jump him on the depth chart before next season.
As the Fantasy Pros experts’ 58th ranked wideout, Boykin will be going late in drafts, if he’s drafted at all. The number 3 receiver in the Packers offense, especially now that Finley is out of the mix, is a valuable fantasy player that should put up consistent points. If Cobb or Nelson has another injury, Boykins immediately becomes a top 30 receiver.
4. Kenny Stills – WR – New Orleans Saints: Stills is a second year player with an opportunity. If he looks up at the depth chart, he sees two players that have passed 30 years of age. Colston and Moore aren’t at the end of their careers, or in severe decline, but they’re on the wrong side of 30, and trending in the opposite direction as Stills. He’s in a position to give a slowing pass-first offense a speedy boost, and emerge as Drew Brees’ wideout of the future. Last season, Stills wasn’t very involved, but managed a respectable 32 catches for 641 yards, good for 20 yards a carry. Expect more from him in 2014, with the potential to break out as a star. And hey, he couldn’t find himself in a better situation than New Orleans.
5. Khiry Robinson – RB – New Orleans Saints: Robinson is a pretty deep sleeper, as he only touched the ball 54 times last season. But with Sproles playing in Philly, the Saints’ running back corps consist of Pierre Thomas, mostly a backfield receiver, and the underachieving Mark Ingram. To be clear, I’m not particularly high on Robinson. I don’t expect any running back to make a huge impact with the Saints, but I do like his chances to take over the starting role. And in fantasy football, starting running backs are a very valuable commodity.
6. E.J. Manuel – QB – Buffalo Bills: Manuel’s 2013 numbers weren’t outstanding, but if they were, he couldn’t be on this list. He got off to a slow start, but ended up throwing for nearly 2,000 yards by season’s end, despite missing the final two games of the season. He compiled a 59% completion percentage, despite a lack of any real receiving threats. The improvement he showed from the beginning of the year provides optimism for his future, and should carry over into this season. He will be getting two incredible dangerous receiving threats in Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams. I love E.J. Manuel as a QB2 with the potential to become a QB1 by season’s end. If you don’t need him after your bye week, he could be great trade bait for the team that wound up with Tony Romo and the Cowboy’s perpetual second-half collapse.
*Photo Credit – Mr. Schultz