Injuries are never a good thing in football whether you're talking about fantasy or reality, but they often open the door for players who have been waiting for an opportunity. Training camp has already claimed its fair share of star players, so some lesser-known guys will have a chance to step up and show what they can do.
Among the biggest training camp injuries thus far are Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin, Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta and Philadelphia Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin. All of them are expected to miss a significant period of time, so their fantasy value is bound to be bestowed upon other players.
Here are three fantasy sleepers to keep tabs on throughout training camp and preseason as they are in line to see huge jumps in production this year.
Seattle Seahawks receiver Golden Tate is perhaps best known for catching the controversial, game-winning touchdown pass against the Green Bay Packers in Week 3 last season, which essentially led to the demise of replacement officials. Aside from that, though, Tate had a strong season, and seems to be on the verge of breaking out. His breakout will only be aided by the fact that No. 1 receiver Percy Harvin is currently nursing a hip injury, according to John Breech of CBS Sports.
Breech is reporting that Harvin may have to get surgery, which would result in him missing some time. It wouldn't necessarily be season-ending, but it would almost certainly result in Tate getting more looks. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was great last season, but he should be even better in 2013. That bodes well for Tate, as does the versatility that he has shown thus far in training camp, according to the Seahawks' official Twitter account.
Tate isn't as fast as Harvin, but he is a smaller receiver capable of playing outside and in the slot. That will essentially force head coach Pete Carroll to keep him on the field in all situations. Tate had the best season of his young career last year as he caught 45 passes for 688 yards and seven touchdowns. The Seahawks obviously want Harvin back in the fold as soon as possible, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Tate eclipse 1,000 yards in 2013 if Harvin is forced to miss most or all of the season.
Two seasons ago, it seemed as though Baltimore Ravens tight end Ed Dickson was ready to enter the class of fantasy starters at his position. Dickson took a big step back in production last season, however, due largely to Dennis Pitta's 669 yards and seven touchdowns. With Pitta out for the entire 2013 season following a hip dislocation and fracture, according to Dan Hanzus of NFL.com, Dickson will be called upon to step up for the defending champions.
At 6'4" and 255 pounds with top-flight athleticism, Dickson has all the tools necessary to be a great NFL tight end. That much was apparent in 2011 as Dickson caught 54 balls for 528 yards and five touchdowns in just his second professional season. Players often experience a sizable leap in production during their third season, but Dickson was usurped by Pitta on the depth chart. That resulted in Dickson tallying just 225 yards and no touchdowns. According to Samuel Njoku of CBS Baltimore, though, Dickson is the most physically gifted tight end on the Ravens' roster, including Pitta.
In addition to the loss of Pitta, the Ravens have to deal with life after Anquan Boldin. The Ravens lost a ton of starters during the offseason due to salary cap issues, but trading Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers may hurt the most. Aside from Torrey Smith, quarterback Joe Flacco now has very few targets to rely on. Even if Dickson doesn't necessarily play well, he is going to be given opportunities based on the fact that there are no other options. Because of that, Dickson should be a starting-quality tight end in 2013.
Entering his fourth season in the NFL, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper has yet to prove himself as a capable starter. Cooper may have no choice at this point, though, as Jeremy Maclin has been lost for the season due to an ACL tear, according to Marc Sessler of NFL.com. Big things were expected out of Maclin this season across from DeSean Jackson in head coach Chip Kelly's high-octane offense, but Maclin's loss is Cooper's gain as he will almost certainly step into Maclin's role.
While Cooper had just 23 catches for 248 yards and three touchdowns last season, he was buried on the depth chart, and there was a lot of uncertainty at the quarterback position between Michael Vick and Nick Foles. The latter remains true, but one can only assume that Vick will be given the starting nod since his skill set best fits Kelly's system. According to Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Kelly is likely to favor Cooper as Maclin's replacement due to the size and toughness he brings to the table.
Without Maclin in the picture, the Eagles don't have a proven possession receiver on the roster. Jackson is a dynamic player, but he isn't going to run many short-yardage routes. Cooper is courageous enough to do so, but he also offers a matchup nightmare on downfield throws. Since Kelly's offensive system is all about getting as many offensive possessions as possible in a game, Cooper will have plenty of chances to make an impact. He has a long way to go in terms of being a fantasy starter, but he is definitely worth a late-round flier.
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