Danny Woodhead and the Top Deep Fantasy Sleepers of 2013
In fantasy football, it's not the early-round picks that win championships.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin is supposed to rack up the yardage on the ground. Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson is expected to do the same through the air. No one is stunned when New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees throws a boatload of touchdown passes.
However, when a player comes from nowhere to post big numbers and rises from the depths of the draft to become a weekly starter, those are the players that can put a fantasy squad over the top and bring home a title.
As such, every fantasy owner enters their draft on the lookout for late-round gems, the "sleepers" who can help lead their squad to fantasy glory.
Here's a look at a group of players available in the 12th round of drafts or later according to average draft position data at My Fantasy League, for whom the stage is set for big things in 2013.
Danny Woodhead, RB, San Diego Chargers
Average Draft Position: 13th round (pick 161, RB52)
Much has been made of the departure of wide receiver Wes Welker and the uncertainty surrounding their star tight ends, but the New England Patriots lost another important part of their offense in 2013.
Running back Danny Woodhead, who topped 700 total yards and scored seven touchdowns in 2012, departed the team in free agency, joining the San Diego Chargers.
Woodhead will serve as the third down back for the Bolts. While there may not be much fantasy upside to be had in that role there's reason for considerable optimism with Woodhead this year.
For starters, Woodhead's ability as a receiver (40 catches in 2012) quietly propelled him to a top-25 fantasy finish at his position in fantasy leagues that award a point for receptions a year ago.
Also, starter Ryan Mathews has shown exactly zero ability to stay healthy to this point in his career.
Add those factors together, and there's a good chance that Woodhead could be in for the heaviest workload (and best fantasy campaign) of his career.
Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals
Average Draft Position: 15th round (pick 174, QB24)
The Oakland Raiders paid a heavy price to acquire quarterback Carson Palmer from the Cincinnati Bengals in 2011, but after less than two years in the Bay Area, Palmer was shipped to the Arizona Cardinals in the offseason.
The 33-year-old finished outside the top 15 fantasy options at his position in 2012, but this season there's a good chance that Palmer will outperform both his draft slot and last year's numbers.
Palmer topped 4,000 passing yards last year for a moribund Oakland Raiders offense. That's a benchmark he should surpass again in 2013 in head coach Bruce Arians's vertical passing offense.
Toss in all-world wideout Larry Fitzgerald, and if Arizona's offensive line can do even a halfway decent job at pass protection, Palmer could serve as excellent value as a bye-week quarterback or platoon option.
Vincent Brown, WR, San Diego Chargers
Average Draft Position: 12th round (pick 133, WR50)
A broken ankle wiped out the 2012 season of San Diego Chargers wide receiver Vincent Brown, but heading into 2013 things are looking up for the third-year pro.
Brown alternated first-team reps with Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd in minicamp, drawing raves from the coaching staff for his route-running ability and earning the praise of head coach Mike McCoy according to Ricky Henne of the Chargers' website.
He's been great. We kind of laid out a plan for him early on, and he's one of those kids who want to go full speed and go 100 miles per hour every play. So we were kind of holding back a little bit when we first got on the field, and it's just a process we're going through to make sure we're doing the right thing with him. But he's on board 100 percent with us and he's done a great job.
The San Diego receiving corps is an unsettled bunch right now, and if Brown can keep this momentum up through the summer there's a good chance he could unseat Floyd as a starter by Week 1.
That role as starter would mean a considerable number of targets, and the ability to act as much more than the fantasy WR5 he's being drafted as so far this year.
Pierre Thomas, RB, New Orleans Saints
Average Draft Position: 15th round (pick 172, RB56)
This is just about an annual ritual with New Orleans Saints running back Pierre Thomas.
Every year fantasy draft season rolls around Thomas is undervalued.
On some level it's understandable, as the Saints aren't exactly a ground-and-pound team. That's evidenced by Thomas's RB32 finish in 2012 in PPR scoring systems.
However, even if Thomas only repeated those numbers he'd be a nice value at his current asking price.
It boils down to whether or not you believe that this is "the year" that Mark Ingram finally lives up to his first-round billing and takes a hold of the lead back job for the Saints.
Apparently, given Thomas's ADP, many fantasy drafters do.
If you're skeptical of that, and you believe that Thomas will once again serve as the Saints' most dependable ball-carrier, then Thomas is an absolute steal in the 15th round.
Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
Average Draft Position: 16th round (pick 182, QB26)
At first glance it's hardly surprising that Alex Smith isn't even being taken as a QB2 in 12-team fantasy football leagues in 2013.
After all, the 29-year-old has topped 3,000 passing yards only once in his career, and even in that season (2011) Smith barely finished inside the top 20 fantasy options at his position.
If ever there was a year to breakout for Smith, 2013 is it.
After being dealt to the Kansas City Chiefs in the offseason, Smith will play in head coach Andy Reid's West Coast offense, a scheme that would appear to suit Smith's skill set well.
Also, after being asked to be more of a game manager by coach Jim Harbaugh with the San Francisco 49ers, Reid is calling for Smith to be more aggressive in the passing game according to Adam Teicher of The Kansas City Star.
You want to get a feel for the offense now, particularly when you’re new at it (and) if there are close throws, challenge it, see what you can get away with. If it ends up being an interception, OK, it’s an interception. You learn from it. These are smart guys so they learn from it and once they get into the season, they’re not experimenting with it on game day and they know what they can get away with and know what they can’t.
Sounds like a recipe for the biggest numbers of Smith's career, and even if he makes a few more mistakes along the way the potential boost in yardage and touchdowns would be more than worth it to fantasy owners.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Average Draft Position: 12th round (pick 139, WR53)
Every season in fantasy football there are a handful of wide receivers who rise from obscurity to become weekly starters, or even stars.
His relatively low 44 catches for 626 yards and a single touchdown last year may not seem like much of an indicator that Emmanuel Sanders of the Pittsburgh Steelers is a candidate to do that this season.
However, look a little deeper and the story changes.
With Sanders it's all about opportunity. The departure of Mike Wallace in free agency leaves a hole in the Steelers' starting lineup, and Sanders is set for the biggest workload of his career in 2013.
Todd Haley's offense calls for a lot of quick passes, a scheme that fits Sanders's skill set as an intermediate, "possession-type" wideout.
The fourth-year pro has more value in fantasy leagues that award a point for catches, but it wouldn't be surprising at all to see Sanders emerge as at least a viable fantasy WR3 this season.
Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
Average Draft Position: 17th round (pick 198, TE27)
The uncertainty surrounding Rob Gronkowski's back and Aaron Hernandez's legal troubles has turned the tight end position on its head in fantasy football this year.
The asking price of Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints may well hit the first round this summer. He's by far the top option at the position now, and that's going to jack up the sticker price.
Fantasy owners leery of paying such a premium may want to invest a later pick in a middle-tier option, while tossing a late flier pick towards a "lottery ticket" player they hope will hit big.
If that sounds like your cup of tea, then rookie Travis Kelce is your lottery ticket.
Granted, as things stand right now Kelce sits behind veterans Tony Moeaki and Anthony Fasano on the depth chart.
Things aren't going to stay that way.
Kelce combines the receiving skills of Moeaki with the blocking ability of Fasano, and the smart money says that by Week 1 Kelce is starting in Kansas City.
If he isn't, you're out next to nothing.
If he is, you just got an athletic tight end in an offense that's friendly to the position for pennies on the dollar.