Draft day is quickly approaching and the NFL buzz is starting to spread. You know what that means: it’s obviously time to start prepping for your fantasy season!
Think I’m nuts? Probably.
But so are the other eleven-ish guys in your fantasy league. All of this will seem a lot less crazy when you’re dragging them through the mud next season. So, in no particular order, let’s check out some obvious and not-so-obvious sleepers for next season!
Rueben Randle––Giants WR
Randle was snatched up by New York in the second round of the 2012 draft. Aside from having a delicious first name, he has been described by analysts as “a cross between A.J. Green and Julio Jones” (Barry Every, Rivals.com). That much praise comes with a lot of pressure, which is why Randle has been eased into his receiver role with the Giants. Last season, he was slotted as the third receiver behind the likes of Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. This did not earn him a lot of attention as he usually only managed 2-3 passes per game from the smaller Manning.
Luckily, more times than not, he turned those few passes into 2-3 catches for roughly 40 yards and a touchdown. To say he is opportunistic is an understatement. With Nicks swiftly booted out of the picture, Randle will be sliding into a #2 spot and could easily see upward of 10 looks per game. If my math is correct (and it usually is) he should be averaging over 200 yards and 5 touchdowns per game….okay, not likely. But it isn’t out of the realm of the impossible to think Randle’s potential will shine through this season and net him a spot among the top 20 receivers.
Marcus Lattimore––49ers RB
This name is likely obscure to a lot of football fans, as this rookie running back has never played a single NFL game. The decorated college back unfortunately ended his varsity days with a dislocated knee that threatened to end his football career. However, he was so talented that San Francisco drafted him anyway to come in behind the undying Gore. With his recovery nearly finished, it is possible that Lattimore will come in to play the entire 2014 season. Gore, at 31, is bound to disintegrate at some point. Though Kendall Hunter still threatens to steal carries as the backup, expect Lattimore to pick up carries more and more as the season goes on. It wouldn’t at all be surprising to see him in a featured role before the end of 2014––even if Gore survives. Pick this kid up as a sneaky sleeper to stash on your bench.
Justin Blackmon––Jaguars WR
What? A Jacksonville receiver on any kind of relevant list? No, I haven’t been sniffing bath salts again. Despite Blackmon being on Jacksonville, and despite Blackmon missing last year’s preseason due to injuries, and despite Blackmon getting charged for substance abuse to start last season, and despite Blackmon only playing a few games and then getting charged for substance abuse (again) and missing the rest of the season, he is still worth picking up.
He may be as deeply troubled as Justin Bieber, but Justin Blackmon is packing some insane skill. In fact, in 2012 he led all rookie receivers in receptions and total yards. Also, after coming back from his first suspension in 2013, he caught 5 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. The very next game, the team changed their name to the Jacksonville Blackmons and fed him 14 catches for 190 yards against Denver. Blackmon’s suspension may extend into the 2014 season, and he may get suspended again; but use all of this negativity to your advantage. Blackmon’s fantasy stock will likely be rock bottom in the 2014 draft. On the flip-side, he has the potential to be a top 5 wide receiver (that isn’t a typo). Grab him late, stash him, and reap the rewards when he plays.
Joseph Fauria––Lions TE
This undrafted 2013 tight end was scooped up late by the Detroit Lions; this was likely due to their troubles with their long-running tight end Brandon “butter-fingers” Pettigrew. The latter, in a contract year, managed to improve his passing game significantly and was recently resigned by Detroit. What many fans probably don’t realize is that, although Pettigrew is notorious for dropping passes, he is arguably one of the best blocking tight ends in the league. This is why his resigning will not dampen the prospects of the emerging red zone star, Fauria.
Though he only finished the 2013 season with 18 catches, seven of them were touchdowns. It is pretty clear that Fauria’s big body and sure-hands became a favourite for Stafford in the red-zone. Detroit is currently lacking a very solid #3 receiver, so expect them to stick with tight end sets the majority of the time. Also expect Fauria’s role to extend beyond the red zone. He will likely alternate with Pettigrew: one for catching, the other for blocking. Due to his low catches last season and the presence of Pettigrew, his fantasy stock will probably drop further than it should. Take him as a low No. 1 tight end in next season’s draft!
Markus Wheaton––Steelers WR
This future Steeler stud comes with very little experience, but massive backing from his organization. In his rookie season, Wheaton managed only six receptions. Despite this, the team has released their stud receiver, Emmanuel Sanders, to free agency without an offer and have immediately placed Wheaton at the top of their depth chart. Apparently, the receiver’s finesse and hard work in college, along with his Mike Wallace-like speed, have assured the Steelers that he is the future for their organization. Pair that with the consistency of veteran quarterback Big Ben, and you have a winning combination.
As Sanders accounted for 67 of the team’s receptions last season, a lot of space has been opened up for Wheaton to provide a major fantasy impact. There aren’t professional stats to back him; you’ll just have to draft him on faith. I’d draft him as a mid-to-low No. 2 wide receiver knowing that he’s been setup and praised by his team as a potential No. 1.
Latavius Murray––Raiders RB
Bets are up for the length of time it takes for both Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew to shatter. My guess is that it happens swiftly to both of them in the very first game of the 2014 season. Either way, Oakland will need someone young and capable to step into a featured role. Surprisingly, they willingly threw away their breakout running back, Rashad Jennings, to the Giants in free agency. The last man standing to hug the pigskin is Murray. This running back, in a similar situation to the aforementioned Lattimore, suffered an ankle injury just after being drafted by Oakland last season. He therefore sat out his entire rookie season. Had it not been for the injury, Murray was actually expected to bump out Jennings as McFadden’s backup.
He’ll come back in 2014 incredibly healthy and ready to be fed the ball behind two fossils. This, of course, may be unfair to MJD as his NFL production has been fairly stellar right up until last season. He could be due for a breakout––but even so, he will be too fragile for Oakland to feature without some rest. With or without the other backs, Murray should get his fair share of carries. As a fairly unknown name, he should be good as a very late grab in the 2014 draft. Stash him on your bench until he inevitably gets his chance to shine!
LeSean McCoy’s two-year-old Son––Preschool
He’s not yet eligible for the 2014 draft, but keep your hopes up! McCoy was recently caught saying that his two-year-old was more talented than Tim Tebow (http://ftw.usatoday.com/2014/04/lesean-mccoy-tim-tebow-son/). Though Tebow isn’t a strong comparison, any “Shady” offspring is likely godly at the sport of football. If his name becomes eligible in the 2014 draft, pick him 2nd overall––just behind his dad.