Under-the-Radar NFL Players Who Could Break out in 2013
There's nothing more fun than being the guy who found a late-round sleeper in your fantasy football draft. That's why I couldn't resist putting together a list of guys who aren't garnering enough hype relative to the type of performances they can put on.
True, I'm allowing state secrets that could damage my season to leak, but this isn't just about fantasy football. This slideshow will highlight players on both sides of the ball who can take a huge step forward.
Some of the guys on this list will be getting a shot to shine now that their team's entrenched starter has left town. Others will simply continue their career arc, only this is the year they should make the leap.
Regardless, click through to discover this year's prime candidates for a bust-out season.
A.J. Jenkins, WR, San Francisco 49ers
A.J. Jenkins' rookie year didn't go according to the former first-rounder's plan. He only saw action in three games and failed to record a single reception.
But the young man has drawn inspiration from his difficult debut instead of wallowing in self-pity. According to the San Jose Mercury News, Jenkins hit the weight room with a vengeance and has spent two months building chemistry with quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Now that Michael Crabtree will be out of commission for a while, there is a pressing need for a second receiver to pair with Anquan Boldin. And it appears that Jenkins is primed to seize the opportunity.
Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams need to replace the departed Steven Jackson, and rookie Zac Stacy may be just the man for the job.
Stacy has a build similar to that of Ray Rice. He stands at just 5'8", but packs 216 pounds onto that frame. His strong legs make him a beast to bring down as he dashes through arm tackles with ease.
His hard-charging style is somewhat similar to presumed starter Daryl Richardson, but Stacy is the stronger of the two. Stacy has a real chance to unseat him on the depth chart, especially with Isaiah Pead being suspended for the season opener.
Cecil Shorts, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Cecil Shorts is known to a lot of fantasy football players. However, he plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars, so he still qualifies as under the radar.
Shorts put up 979 yards and seven touchdowns last year while catching passes from Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne. That's impressive.
His nine drops are troubling, though. If he can work on securing the ball better, Shorts has the potential to break big plays on a weekly basis.
In short, he could be a late-round steal in your fantasy draft.
David Wilson, RB, New York Giants
We already know what David Wilson can do. He averaged five yards per carry last season and accounted for five touchdowns on 75 offensive touches.
That's why the New York Giants drafted him in the first round. He's explosive and can make things happen when he has the ball in his hands.
Wilson will enter training camp as the starting running back since Ahmad Bradshaw has left town. With an increased workload in 2013, there's no reason Wilson can't end the year as a top-five running back.
Prince Amukamara, CB, New York Giants
We’ll stay with the same team, but move to the opposite side of the ball. While many might lament the aging core of a champion, the New York Giants have been restocking the cupboards.
Prince Amukamara is a talented corner whose sophomore campaign was hampered by a recurring hamstring issue. He still found a way to shine when healthy, though, giving hopes that he can ascend to the next level in 2013.
Amukamara is a solid tackler, but needs to make more plays on the ball. His two career interceptions leave him plenty of room to improve.
However, this could very well be the year he puts it all together.
Alshon Jeffrey, WR, Chicago Bears
I'm going down with the ship.
I've been pounding the table for Alshon Jeffery for two years now. He has prototypical-receiver size (6'4", 230 pounds) and respectable speed (4:48 40-yard dash)—it just hasn't translated to the field. Jeffery only caught 24 passes and failed to record more than three touchdowns.
But I'm banking on him emerging opposite Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett. He's too talented not to bust out.
Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns
There's a buzz starting to surround Josh Gordon, and it's completely warranted.
Gordon proved that he is a deep threat last year by posting a 16.1-yard average. Despite his lack of straight-line speed (4:52 40-yard dash), he is capable of routinely beating defensive backs and making plays on the ball.
And now the Cleveland Browns offense will match his skill set. The new regime is bringing in a scheme that will focus on throwing the ball downfield more often.
Granted, he still has to rely on Brandon Weeden to get him the ball and Gordon still has to serve his two-game suspension before he can have any impact. Yet, not even Roger Goodell and Weeden will keep Gordon from reaching his potential.
Kaluka Maiava, LB, Oakland Raiders
No one will blame you if you didn't pay attention to the Oakland Raiders' offseason. General manager Reggie McKenzie has been navigating a minefield created by poor drafting and even more ridiculous trades.
So it’s natural to assume you didn't notice the Kaluka Maiava signing. That's a mistake.
Maiava is entering his fifth season, but just started to realize his potential last season. He posted a 7.9 Pro Football Focus grade (subscription required) while playing less than half of the defensive snaps.
The Raiders brought him in to stabilize the middle of the defense. Here's betting they will get more than they bargained for since he's only getting $6 million over three years.