Fantasy Football Players to Keep an Eye on in Deep Leagues

Jordan Heck@@JordanHeckFFContributor IIIAugust 7, 2013

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 11:  David Ausberry #86 of the Oakland Raiders catches a touchdown pass against the Arizona Cardinals at Coliseum on August 11, 2011 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With the preseason among us it's important to keep an eye on players who aren't the starters. The starters are already owned in leagues with deep rosters. People involved in deep fantasy football leagues  are looking for no-name players.

Sometimes these players are undrafted rookies. Sometimes they're young players who just haven't had an opportunity until now.

These players are for people who have deep benches, most likely a dynasty league. The players mentioned in this article aren't necessarily guys to target in common redraft leagues.

Even if these players don't emerge in 2013, there's a possible future for them in the upcoming seasons.

Jermaine Kearse

With Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin dealing with injuries, other receivers in Seattle have had to step up. One receiver taking advantage of his playing time is second-year man Jermaine Kearse.

As a rookie last year Kearse caught three receptions for 31 yards. That’s not enough production to draw a lot of fantasy football attention. The reason he’s on this list is because of what he’s been doing in training camp.

Kearse is an athletic wideout who was productive during his days in Washington. As a junior he caught 63 passes for 1,005 yards and 12 touchdowns. He went undrafted in 2012, but he has made tremendous strides since then.

Recently head coach Pete Carroll acknowledged Kearse’s improvements.

“He’s versatile. He’s got terrific quicks. His catching range is excellent. He can play all three spots, which is great. So he’s a vital part of what we’re doing right now. It’s all to him. He’s busted his tail and really come through. And he’s been tough as heck, too.”

Kearse is still a project, but it’s encouraging to hear things like that about a receiver. He’ll be someone to watch this preseason.

Luke Willson

Fifth-round draft pick Luke Willson is making a name for himself so far in Seahawks camp. With regular starter Zach Miller on the PUP list Willson has taken over. He’s listed as the starter for the team’s first preseason game.

Willson is a fun prospect. He’s 6'5" and ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash at Rice’s pro day. In fact, his numbers in the vertical jump, broad jump, short shuttle, three-cone drill, and bench press would have been in the top 10 in his position group at the combine.

While at Rice, Willson played with Vance McDonald, a second-round draft pick this year. McDonald overshadowed Willson while he was there.

Local reports have said that Willson looks “comfortable” in the team’s offense. Even when Miller returns from the PUP list, it may be too late. Miller wasn’t utilized a lot last year (38 receptions, 396 yards, three touchdowns) and the Seahawks may give the job to Willson if he continues to impress.

Russell Shepard

Some kid somewhere has a Philadelphia Eagles voodoo doll and is stabbing it repeatedly in the wide receiver spot. Jeremy Maclin and Arrelious Benn are done for the year with ACL tears and Riley Cooper is trying to earn the respect of his teammates after a racist remark.

Benefiting from all of this drama is undrafted rookie Russell Shepard. Shepard liked his chances with the Eagles so much that he signed with them before the draft was even over. The receiver from LSU went undrafted because he was rarely used.

He was actually a top quarterback prospect before he switched positions at LSU. During his four years there he caught just 58 passes for 570 yards and five touchdowns. He also added 716 yards with five touchdowns as a runner.

Shepard has now gone from being undrafted to running with the first-team offense opposite of DeSean Jackson. He still has a long way to being the starter on opening day, but he’s making the most of his opportunity.

Quarterback Mike Vick has taken notice of Shepard saying that he “runs great routes” and “he has a good set of hands.”

Adrien Robinson

There has been hype surrounding Adrien Robinson since he was a rookie. The hype was contained because he had little experience and his opportunity was limited. But when general manager Jerry Reese called him “the JPP (Jason Pierre-Paul) of tight ends” it caught people’s attention.

Reese was referring to Robinson’s raw ability as an athlete. Robinson played at Cincinnati, but only had 29 receptions for 434 yards in four years. His main priority in college was to block.

Since his stats don’t jump off the page, why did the Giants spend a fourth round pick on him in last year’s draft? They took him 127th overall because he’s 6'4", 264 pounds and ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash.

As a rookie, Robinson was active for two games but never caught a pass. Since then he’s been making a lot of strides. Reports from training camp are positive and it seems like his physical talent is finally showing. Tight end coach Michael Pope said Robinson will “absolutely” see the field this season.

Zach Sudfeld

Jake Ballard was originally thought to take over as backup tight end for the Patriots, but it is undrafted rookie Zach Sudfeld who has been impressive throughout camp.

Sudfeld is a giant at 6'7", 260 pounds. A team didn’t draft him because he had injury problems during his time in Nevada. So far in training camp, Sudfeld has remained healthy and has shown his skills as a receiver.

The Patriots tight end depth is full of uncertainty right now. Rob Gronkowski may or may not be ready for the season opener and everyone else has question marks attached to them as well.

Expectations for Sudfeld should be tempered. He is still a rookie and he’s still learning this new system. But it’s wrong to ignore all of the positives going for him. He has incredible size and is a threat in the red zone.

Chris Owusu

The Buccaneers have one of the best receiving duos in the league with Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. After those two, however, is a lot of uncertainty.

The battle for the slot position was originally believed to be between offseason acquisition Kevin Ogletree and incumbent Tiquan Underwood. But last year’s practice squad player Chris Owusu has entered himself in that competition.

Owusu went undrafted in 2012 because he was tagged as having too many concussions at Stanford. He had three in a 13-month span, which took him off the boards for many teams, even though he was medically cleared.

His talent was good enough to receive an invite to NFL Scouting Combine. It was there where the 6-foot wide receiver ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash time. He is now using that speed to make plays and turn heads at Bucs camp.

He still has a lot more to show to prove he deserves to be the third receiver for the Bucs, but so far he’s been doing everything right.

David Ausberry

David Ausberry is competing with Richard Gordon and rookies Mychal Rivera and Nick Kasa for the starting tight end position in Oakland. So far it looks like Ausberry is winning.

This 6-foot-4, 261-pound tight end has some interesting credentials. During his time at USC, Ausberry was a wide receiver. He ran a 4.48-second 40-yard dash coming out of USC in 2011. The Raiders selected him in the seventh round in 2011 and he’s seen limited playing time since then.

Now, he has an opportunity to take over the starting job in Oakland since last year’s starter Brandon Myers signed with the Giants. Since Ausberry has experience and some upside, he’s considered the favorite for the job.

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King labeled Ausberry as the “most impressive unknown player” he saw during the Raiders training camp.


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