Fantasy Football 2013: The Expert Consensus Fantasy Guide
With the 2013 NFL preseason underway in earnest, fantasy draft season is kicking into high gear. That means that for fantasy owners far and wide, hope springs eternal.
Every team is in contention for their league's championship right now. No squads have been done in by injuries or seen their title hopes torpedoed by a poor showing on draft day.
This time of year also means that savvy fantasy owners are doing their homework, poring over articles about sleepers, busts, reaches and steals in hopes of gaining an edge on the competition heading into their draft.
That can be a daunting task given the myriad fantasy football resources available online, but fear not, intrepid drafter.
For those who don't have the time (or energy) to go sifting through hundreds of fantasy articles, we've assembled the opinions of some of the industry's leading experts (well, and me) in one handy-dandy place.
On with the show!
Past performance is a big consideration when evaluating players, but truly wise fantasy owners take that one step further, looking for the players who could be on the cusp of a breakout campaign.
Here are some of the leading candidates for 2013.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Bleacher Report Fantasy Football Lead Writer Eric Mack sees big things on the horizon for Luck in his second NFL season. He writes:
Luck, directing one of the most pass-happy offenses in football, looks born and raised to be a 4,500-yard, 30-touchdown passer annually. It wouldn't take much for him to reach that level already, especially because the Colts have a defense that will force them into a lot of shootouts in Year 2.
Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
We're going to stick with Mr. Mack here, who has a very bold prediction regarding new Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith.
"Smith was forced out of San Francisco," writes Mack, "but his modest late-round draft position makes him a better fantasy value than the quarterback who replaced him, Colin Kaepernick. Seriously."
Mack believes that there's more than enough weaponry available in Kansas City for the 29-year-old Smith to emerge as a viable fantasy asset.
"With all those weapons, you could see Smith go undrafted in some leagues and yet perform like a fantasy starter week in and week out," writes Mack. "Reid will certainly put the ball in Smith's hands."
Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Catching lightning in a bottle at running back can be the difference between a good fantasy squad and a dominant one, and Dave Richard of CBS Sports believes that Le'Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers is an excellent candidate in 2013.
Richard writes that "Bell is in the mold of a Jerome Bettis: A big bruiser with surprisingly soft hands and good all-around skills." He goes on to peg Bell as "the last best No. 2 Fantasy running back you can spend a Top 40 pick on."
Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns
Many fantasy experts considered Richardson a top-five pick not so long ago, but a shin injury this year has raised red flags regarding the durability of a player who battled rib and knee problems last year. This has caused Richardson's stock to drop toward the back end of the first round, where he presents fantasy owners with an interesting dilemma.
Yes, the fact that the second-year pro is seemingly always nicked up is a concern, but Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer reports that new offensive coordinator Norv Turner intends to give Richardson over 300 touches this year.
If Richardson can stay healthy—and he touches the ball that many times behind a stout offensive line—there's a very real chance at a top-five fantasy season. That makes the former Alabama standout a classic risk/reward pick.
Michael Floyd, Arizona Cardinals
The second-year pro has been one of the big storylines of training camp in the desert, with Darren Urban of the Cardinals' website writing that "Floyd has been an important target during OTAs and minicamp and there is little question the coaches are prepping him to take on a large load."
Nicholas Minnix of KFFL expects that to carry over into the realm of fantasy football as well.
"If you draft a couple of reliable stud receivers and then later land Floyd," writes Minnix, "I think there's like a 78.3 percent chance you'll win your league."
Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville Jaguars
Shorts was one of the biggest fantasy surprises at his position last year, and entering the mythical third season, Jason and Justin Sablich of The New York Times see even better things in store for him, despite the iffy quarterback situation for the Jaguars.
From the Times:
Certainly Blaine Gabbert leaves a lot to be desired at the quarterback position, but he was good enough to help Shorts finish as the 22nd WR overall in standard fantasy formats last year, and even the slightest improvement from him this season would almost guarantee a Top 20 finish.
Jared Cook, St. Louis Rams
Cook joined the Rams in free agency after four up-and-down seasons in Tennessee, but Richard thinks this is the year that production finally meets potential, stating that he sees Cook "as a Top 6 Fantasy tight end."
Richard then goes on to explain, writing:
Every single report out of St. Louis talks about how Cook has replaced Danny Amendola as Bradford's security blanket and how the Rams intend to use Cook as a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. He's going to line up anywhere and use his 6-foot-5, 248-pound frame to battle smaller and slower defenders. ... Bypass the familiar tight end names on Draft Day and take a chance on Cook in Round 8.
Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
It may seem a bit strange to peg a player coming off a career year as a breakout candidate, but that's exactly what Sports Illustrated's Michael Beller is doing with Greg Olsen of the Carolina Panthers.
[Olsen] clearly enjoys playing with Cam Newton, as they've hooked up 114 times for 1,383 yards and 10 scores in their two years together. The pairing is one year stronger, and while the Panthers didn't really add any significant weapons this offseason, that could work in Olsen's favor.
Beller then adds that Olsen is "one of my favorite guys to go after at the position in the mid-to-late rounds."
"Sleeper" is a term that gets used pretty liberally in fantasy football, to describe everything from undervalued players to breakout candidates.
In my humble opinion, a true "sleeper" is a player who is drafted very late (or not at all), only to become a weekly starter by season's end, a la running back Alfred Morris of the Washington Redskins in 2012.
With that said, here's a look at some expert sleeper picks for 2013.
Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
Cutler hasn't been startable as a fantasy quarterback since his days with the Denver Broncos, and he isn't being selected inside the top 20 at his position in most fantasy drafts this summer.
However, Bleacher Report Fantasy Football Lead Writer Eric Mack thinks that could change this year. He writes:
Marc Trestman is one of the descendants of Bill Walsh and the West Coast offense. He should open up the passing game for the Bears. ... Cutler will drop back more than he has as a Bear and his big arm will be showcased more.
Mack suggests that fantasy owners should "leave a pick open after Round 10" for Cutler.
Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams
Ever since Sam Bradford was drafted first overall back in 2010, fans of the St. Louis Rams have been waiting for him to play like a number one pick. Fantasy owners, on the other hand, generally gave up hope some time ago.
However, Matt Lutovsky of The Sporting News (via the Rams' website) thinks this may finally be the year that Bradford becomes a fantasy-relevant passer.
As Lutovsky points out, 2012 will mark the first time in Bradford's career that he's had the same offensive coordinator in successive seasons, and the team has improved the offensive line. He goes on to write:
With play-making receivers like Chris Givens, Tavon Austin and Jared Cook on board, the only knock against Bradford is the Rams' tough schedule. Still, he has as much upside as any backup you can find in the late rounds.
Daryl Richardson, St. Louis Rams
The backfield situation in St. Louis is far from clear right now, but Dave Richard of CBS Sports thinks that cloudy situation can work in fantasy owners' favor where second-year pro Daryl Richardson is concerned.
"If he were to start out serving as just the receiving-downs back," Richard wrote, "Richardson would see a good amount of playing time and probably sneak in a surprising amount of carries with a good reception total."
Richard goes on to inform and advise fantasy owners:
Coach Jeff Fisher admitted that Richardson was the leader in the clubhouse to start in early August. It's likely he'll have to split the workload...but at the very least he's in that same range as other backs with quickness and good hands. The closer you can get him to Round 7, the better.
Danny Woodhead, San Diego Chargers
Any running back with a pulse has value in fantasy football, but Danny Woodhead's move from New England to San Diego, coupled with his role as a third-down back, has left the 28-year-old as little more than an afterthought in most standard-scoring leagues.
Bill Bender of Sporting News points out that many fantasy owners may be missing the boat with Woodhead, writing:
Woodhead's 747 total yards and seven touchdown were good for 24th among running backs in standard leagues [in 2012]. Not only was that total higher than Ryan Mathews, who finished 30th, but it also technically meant Woodhead bordered on RB2 value in 12-team leagues. He'll still be useful in San Diego.
Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh Steelers
Matthew Berry of ESPN is probably the most renowned expert in all of fantasy football. When he put together the sleepers edition of his "Love/Hate" column for 2013, one of the wide receivers who made the grade was Emmanuel Sanders of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Of the Patriots' attempt to sign Sanders in the offseason, Berry wrote:
When you've got Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger fighting over you, it means one of two things: You're a good wide receiver or you're the last piece of chicken. And the more I think of it, Ben and Tom don't really eat together all that often. And both are paid very well.
Berry continues, stating that "Emmanuel Sanders is another good fit for the [Todd] Haley offense and will benefit from [Mike] Wallace's absence and moving into Antonio Brown's role."
Golden Tate, Seattle Seahawks
The clock is ticking on the sleeper status of Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate, he of "Fail Mary" fame.
The hip injury suffered by Percy Harvin has thrust Tate back into the starting lineup for Seattle, and Tate's average draft position has already started to climb.
Still, Brandon Funston of Yahoo! Sports recently wrote that he was "certain [Tate] still won't come close to residing where he should on the list."
Funston went on to explain why he feels Tate is a great sleeper candidate:
In his contract year, Tate is being used in camp in every single Seahawks offensive package. While not on the level of Harvin's talent, Tate still has the versatility to lineup anywhere on the field. He's excellent after the catch, and as the Green Bay game showed last season, he's skilled at coming away with the ball in traffic. He's got top 30 WR upside.
Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron is a trendy sleeper pick entering his third NFL season, and among the fantasy experts who expect big things from Cameron in 2013 is senior editor John Paulsen of 4for4.com.
Paulsen states that "Cameron has all the skills to be a very good pass-catching tight end," and goes on to say that he's "excited about his prospects under Chudzinski and Turner, both in terms of development and usage."
Paulsen also believes that Cameron, who had a nice 30-yard catch-and-run in the preseason opener against the St. Louis Rams, is an excellent draft-day value, writing:
His ADP has been bouncing around in the 13th round for the last month, so he should be available in the 12th-13th rounds on draft day since he's already received his bump from the Chudzinski/Turner hires. I believe a breakout season is likely.
Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
After a standout career at the University of Cincinnati, the Kansas City Chiefs made Travis Kelce their third-round pick in April's NFL draft, and after a strong showing in training camp there's ample reason to think that Kelce will crack the starting lineup sooner rather than later.
The 6'5", 255-pounder is much more athletic than Anthony Fasano, and while Kelce admitted to The Kansas City Star that his pass protection could use some work, he's already better in that regard than Tony Moeaki.
Simply put, Kelce has a more rounded skill set than either Fasano or Moeaki, and if the youngster performs in the preseason as well as he did in camp, then Kelce will open the season as the Chiefs' starter.
That would portend more than a little fantasy upside, as Andy Reid's West Coast offense has featured the tight end quite a bit in the past. Toss in a meager asking price in fantasy drafts, and you have the makings of a textbook sleeper.
There's no more dreaded word in all of fantasy football than "bust."
Well, except for maybe "Sanchez."
No fantasy owner wants to be the person who spends a high pick on a player, only to see that player face plant and leave a fantasy squad reeling.
With that in mind, here's a look at some players who have made the "10-foot pole" lists of some fantasy experts in 2013.
Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took the NFL by storm in 2012, and given his average draft position of QB7 at My Fantasy League, many fantasy owners apparently still have visions of Kaepernick's record-setting performance against the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs fresh in their minds.
Jamey Eisenberg of CBS Sports thinks that those fantasy owners are making a mistake, as the loss of top wideout Michael Crabtree casts a pall over Kaepernick's fantasy prospects this year. As Eisenberg points out:
During his 10 starts, Crabtree had 61 catches for 880 yards and eight touchdowns. That accounts for 36.6 percent of Kaepernick's yardage and 57.1 percent of Kaepernick's touchdowns. He also targeted Crabtree 94 times. His next most-targeted receivers were Vernon Davis and Randy Moss, who tied at 39.
Eisenberg feels that Kaepernick will adjust to life without Crabtree, stating that "Kaepernick is a skilled runner, which boosts his Fantasy value." That's not enough to salvage his fantasy season, however, as Eisenberg reveals he wouldn't classify Kaepernick as a No. 1 fantasy quarterback.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Part of the "rookie invasion" that swept through the quarterback position last year in fantasy football, Wilson may have been the biggest surprise of the bunch. He went from being a third-round pick who was "too short" to the starting signal-caller for a playoff team.
Wilson was a big surprise in fantasy football as well. There wasn't a hotter quarterback in the league down the stretch, with Wilson posting top-three fantasy production from Week 11 on in 2012.
However, Bleacher Report Fantasy Football Lead Writer Eric Mack thinks that fantasy owners who draft Wilson expecting a repeat in 2013 aren't going to be happy with the results, and it's not just because wide receiver Percy Harvin got hurt.
Mack thinks the Seattle offense works against Wilson, writing:
The read-option is still a run-first NFL scheme. The quarterback takes the snap, reads a defender (usually the end) and either hands to the back, pulls it out and runs himself, or pulls it out and steps back to throw. Throwing it is third on the list there and...It just isn't conducive to huge passing numbers.
Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders
Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden is kind of like that crazy ex that everyone has. You know that they're no good for you, and yet somehow many of us end up going back to them, even after they break our TV and key our cars.
Sure enough, despite burning fantasy owners in each of the past two years, McFadden is being drafted as a fantasy RB2 in 2013.
I'll let ESPN's Matthew Berry provide the voice of reason where McFadden is concerned in 2013.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, stop the clock! On a terrible team, has never played all 16 games, was bad last season even when healthy. Maybe the Raiders' going to more of a power-run scheme will help, because, let's face it, it can't get worse. I'm fine with a flier based on hope. Just not when you're bypassing solid guys such as Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush.
And there you go.
David Wilson, New York Giants
David Wilson is certainly an explosive player, and given his not-inconsiderable talents and the departure of Ahmad Bradshaw, Wilson is being drafted with the expectation that 2013 will be a breakout campaign.
However, you'll find Wilson's name on nearly as many "bust" lists as "breakout" ones, and a pair of the staffers at Rotoexperts feel fantasy owners who select Wilson as an RB2 in 2013 are setting themselves up for disappointment.
For Tom McFeeley, it's the presence of Andre Brown that dings Wilson's fantasy prospects.
"No knock on Wilson," McFeeley wrote, "but Tom Coughlin is not exactly committed to individuals. Andre Brown performed better in many spots last year, and Wilson was in Coughlin’s very big doghouse for much of 2012."
Bobby McMann echoes those concerns, stating:
There is no questioning his explosiveness, but David Wilson is no sure bet to be the Giants bell cow all season long. In addition to the fumble issues, he will have Andre Brown right behind him looking for touches.
Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts
After a miserable 2011 season, many fantasy owners wrote off Reggie Wayne as "over the hill." Wayne responded by having one of the best seasons of his career, posting the second-most yardage and catches in his 12 years in the NFL.
However, Dalton Del Don of Yahoo! Sports feels that fantasy owners may be overreacting to Wayne's big 2012 just as badly as they did to his terrible 2011. He points out:
The soon to be 35-year-old faded badly over the second half (520 yards, two touchdowns over final eight games) and will be switching to a new offensive system. I wouldn't bank on another 195 targets (that resulted in only five touchdowns), that's for sure.
Mike Wallace, Miami Dolphins
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace hit it big in free agency this year, but that big contract hasn't translated to much love from fantasy experts.
There probably isn't a wide receiver being taken in the top 25 at his position who has appeared on more "bust" lists than Wallace. On ESPN's composite sleepers and busts rankings, Wallace was picked by four staffers. No other wideout made the list more than twice.
Here's what Berry had to say on the subject:
Because of the big contract and Ryan Tannehill's solid completion numbers on deep balls (37 percent, eighth-best among QBs with at least 35 attempts of 21 yards or greater), I know there are some people that are expecting big things in Florida this year. I'm not one of them. He's too inconsistent for me. He had seven different games last year with five fantasy points or fewer, including four games with zero or one point. Going from Big Ben to Tannehill is a downgrade, and when your yardage goes from 1,257 to 1,193 to just 836, you're heading in the wrong direction. Not a top-20 WR.
Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
Despite the fact that Kyle Rudolph of the Minnesota Vikings only finished 11th at his position in fantasy points last year, the third-year pro is being drafted well inside the top 10 at his position by owners apparently enamored by his nine touchdown grabs in 2012.
However, Rudolph also came up short of 500 receiving yards last season, and as James Quintong of ESPN reports, expecting a big jump from Rudolph this year just isn't very realistic.
The talent is definitely there, but the consistency is not. While the nine touchdowns last year were nice, he also had three games with no receptions and seven games with 2 points or fewer. With Greg Jennings around to catch more passes and Adrian Peterson doing his thing at the goal line, can Rudolph continue to be a red-zone/TD factor, especially with the quarterback situation still less than optimal?
With other, more consistent, less expensive options out there, such as Owen Daniels of the Houston Texans, it may be wise not to let Rudolph join in your team's reindeer games in 2013.
Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
It's not hard to see why New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is making an appearance on the "bust" list.
Yes, Gronkowski still managed to catch 11 touchdown passes and finish among the top five fantasy options at his position last year despite missing five games. However, last season's broken forearm (and the four surgeries that resulted from an infection) aren't even Gronkowski's biggest problem in 2013.
The 24-year-old had back surgery in June and started training camp on the PUP list. The question is whether the fourth-year pro will begin the regular season there as well.
Good luck getting a straight answer from the Patriots on that, and the silence from Foxboro has led to any amount of speculation regarding Gronkowski's health.
According to Rotoworld, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that there's "positive buzz" about Gronkowski's recovery, but both Ben Volin of The Boston Globe and Stephania Bell of ESPN believe there's a good chance that Gronkowski opens the season on the PUP list.
That would cost Gronkowski six games, or nearly half the fantasy football regular season. That makes Gronkowski's third-round asking price in fantasy drafts awfully hard to stomach.
If busts are a fantasy owner's archenemy, then overvalued players are that villain's plucky sidekick.
Sure, drafting an overvalued player may not leave the smoking hole in a fantasy roster that an all-out bust does, but it still puts your squad at a disadvantage. Success in fantasy football is all about value, and every time you overpay for a player, your odds of bringing home a championship diminish.
Here are some expert picks for players who are going earlier than they should in fantasy drafts in 2013.
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had a career year in 2012, setting personal bests in passing yardage and touchdowns while finishing as fantasy football's No. 5-ranked quarterback.
It's that career year that ESPN's Matthew Berry has a problem with. Berry writes that Ryan's fourth-round asking price in drafts at ESPN is "close to the ceiling for Ryan," and he goes on to point out a rather distressing fact about Ryan's 2012 production.
"As good a season as he had," Berry states, "at the end of the day, Ryan was less than two points per game better than Tony Romo, who is going in the eighth."
Robert Griffin, Washington Redskins
Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin was the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 and a top-five fantasy quarterback in points per game, but a season that began with a thrilling win over the New Orleans Saints ended with a torn ACL in a playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Reports regarding Griffin's rehab from the injury have been universally positive, and he's generally expected to be ready to go in Week 1.
With that said, Greg Brosh of Fantasy Knuckleheads feels that Griffin's playing style may make his injury the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Brosh sees a disturbing parallel between Griffin and another mobile quarterback.
"I liken Griffin to, just with a better arm," Brosh wrote. "Vick hasn’t played a full year since 2006. Is Griffin destined for the same fate? Time will tell, but he’s not off to a good start."
Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons
No active running back has more career rushing yards than Steven Jackson, and after years of toiling on bad teams in St. Louis, he will get the best chance of his career at a deep playoff run with the Atlanta Falcons.
Jackson's move to Atlanta has caused many fantasy experts to predict a big year for the 30-year-old, but Dalton Del Don of Yahoo! Sports is not among them.
[Jackson] looked good down the stretch last season and now enters a more favorable situation in Atlanta, but I just can't spend a top pick on a running back with a career 2,395 rushing attempts. Over the last four seasons, Jackson has averaged 337.0 touches and yet, he's also averaged just 5.0 touchdowns. More goal-line opportunities are likely to be in store with the Falcons, but it's not an area in which he's excelled throughout his career.
Montee Ball, Denver Broncos
Many fantasy owners have a nasty tendency to fall in love with the shiny new toys in fantasy football.
Rookies have a tendency to be overvalued in fantasy drafts, and in 2013 Del Don's colleague Brad Evans believes that to be the case with second-round pick Montee Ball of the Denver Broncos.
Evans says the reason is simple:
R-B-B-C. Curl up into the fetal position, prospective Denver backfield investor. Ball trucked over would-be tacklers at Wisconsin, but the Badgers’ offensive line was rock solid. The Broncos, down their starting center, have question marks in that department. Couple that with Ball’s sketchy pass protection skills and he could easily remain a complementary-only rusher. You’re living in a world of unicorns and leprechauns if you think he’s a RB2.
Andre Johnson, Houston Texans
Andre Johnson of the Houston Texans led the AFC in receiving yardage last year, hauling in 112 passes for nearly 1,600 yards.
With production like that, you might be wondering what the problem is, but Kyle Smith of FFToday sees a couple of potential pitfalls with drafting the 11th-year veteran as your top fantasy wideout.
It’s not that we think Johnson is going to be a bust, but the facts are these: he’s 32 years old, was previously plagued by injuries, and the Texans aren’t keen on tossing the football to score their points. He’s scored six times over his last 23 games, despite catching 143 passes during that time. Johnson will continue to be a productive receiver in 2013—of that we have no doubt. But this early in fantasy drafts, owners need to try to get more bang for their buck.
Wes Welker, Denver Broncos
There hasn't been a more prolific wide receiver in the NFL over the past six seasons than Wes Welker, who averaged well over 100 catches and 1,000 yards a year with the New England Patriots over that stretch.
However, Welker isn't in New England anymore, and his role with the Denver Broncos remains a question mark.
How Welker will fit in with Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas in Denver has been one of the more hotly debated topics in fantasy football this year, and Andy Behrens of Yahoo! Sports just isn't feeling the love, writing:
There's not much chance I'll land Welker in any format at his current price (ADP 44.9). I fully expect Thomas and Decker to dominate the red-zone looks, so Welker will need a huge yardage season to deliver top-20 value at his position. I don't see it happening, not with reduced targets.
Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
At this point, many readers will see Graham's name, shake their heads, skip to the comments section and proceed to call me all sorts of lovely adjectives.
Bear with me for a second.
Jimmy Graham is a phenomenal football player. He might be the best tight end in the league, and he's all but certainly the top fantasy option at his position in 2013.
However, he also carries a second-round price tag, and that makes him overvalued.
For Graham to justify that lofty sticker price, he doesn't just have to outscore every other tight end; he has to do so by a significant margin. If he doesn't, then the hole you dug at running back and wideout by taking Graham will only grow wider. Before you know it, it will swallow your team whole.
Ask Graham's fantasy owners in 2012. Yes, he was the No. 1 tight end, but by a very slim margin.
That margin didn't justify his asking price, and there's a very real chance that the same thing will happen this season.
Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers
With Michael Crabtree potentially out for the entire season, the San Francisco 49ers desperately need a downfield threat to stretch defenses.
Many fantasy owners expect tight end Vernon Davis to assume that role this year, especially after Davis exploded last year in the NFC title game and Super Bowl.
That has led to Davis being selected as a top-five tight end in many fantasy drafts, but Matthew Berry of ESPN isn't seeing it, largely due to the performance that came before Davis' postseason breakout.
Check out his fantasy point totals in the regular season when Kaepernick took over: 14, zero, one, zero, one, two, zero. He'll have five or six great games this year and stink for the rest. And you know who else will have that kind of season? A ton of tight ends going six rounds later.
If a bust can sink you and a breakout can save you, then the players on this final slide fall somewhere in between.
However, these are all names that fantasy owners should know.
As I mentioned on the previous slide, winning in fantasy football is all about value. It's simply a matter of selecting players who will outperform the draft slot that it took to acquire their services.
The players listed here may not be "steals," per se, but they're undervalued enough that fantasy experts are touting them as potential draft-day targets.
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford flirted with 5,000 passing yards for the second straight season in 2012, but after throwing 41 touchdown passes two years ago, that number plummeted by over 50 percent last year.
That, in turn, has caused Stafford's fantasy value to drop toward the back of the top-10 signal-callers, and ESPN's Matthew Berry feels that represents excellent value in that spot, writing:
23 times last season, a Lions pass-catcher was tackled inside an opponent's 5-yard line. Stafford threw it more than 720 times. They added Reggie Bush and get Ryan Broyles for a whole season. They are going to throw, throw, throw, and Stafford represents a great value if you miss out on the top QBs.
Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
In many 12-team fantasy football leagues in 2013, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is the last player drafted to be a starter, often in the eighth round or later.
That affords the teams that select him the opportunity to load up at running back and wide receiver early in their drafts, and K.C. Joyner of ESPN believes that's a very wise strategy.
Joyner points out that Romo "was only 33 points away from finishing among the top-five fantasy quarterbacks in 2012." He goes on to add:
[Dez] Bryant and Miles Austin both have extremely favorable schedules this year. It should give Romo a multitude of chances to hit the long pass. When that is added to many other positive factors, it gives Romo top-five caliber potential for what amounts to an eighth-round pick.
C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills
While doing the research for this article, one name kept popping up time after time on experts' "undervalued" lists at running back.
That name was C.J. Spiller of the Buffalo Bills, and we'll just shut up and let the experts explain:
This isn't your first rodeo, so you know he's fast (ran a 4.3-second 40-yard dash) and you know he has big-play ability (only Adrian Peterson had more 20-plus yard rushes last season), but did you know he's a tough tackle? Of running backs with at least 200 rushes last season, he was third in the NFL in yards after contact. Now, with a coach who wants to run the ball (Doug Marrone's Syracuse was in the top 25 in rushing attempts in the Football Bowl Subdivision last season) and isn't going to screw around with Spiller (who had six games last year in which he had single-digit carries!), Spiller is taking the leap into fantasy superstardom.
Spiller being chosen as in the latter half of the first round represents a unique opportunity for snake drafters to get an elite running back with a great amount of upside and also pair him with an elite WR along the lines of Brandon Marshall, A.J Green or Dez Bryant. Take advantage of the mistakes of the masses.
DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers
Finding a running back a bit later in fantasy drafts who has the potential to be a weekly starter can make all the difference in the world, especially for teams who take a quarterback or tight end early.
According to Brandon Funston of Yahoo! Sports, one of the leading candidates to fit that bill in 2013 is DeAngelo Williams of the Carolina Panthers.
DeAngelo...is looking De-lovely at his current ADP price. Jonathan Stewart's ankle continues to dog him, and Carolina plans to dial down the shotgun/read option packages in favor of a more traditional (run-heavy) approach. Williams should be in line for something close to 200 touches, and the last time he hit that number he rushed for 1,100-plus yards and 7 TDs.
Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants
According to Kyle Smith of FFToday, New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has an average draft position of 5.02. The ADP data at My Fantasy League has the 25-year-old as the 14th player at his position off draft boards this year.
Nicks has had more than his fair share of issues with injuries, including a broken foot last year, and those durability problems have apparently made many fantasy owners skittish.
Smith feels that wise drafters will take advantage of that reluctance, writing:
Fantasy owners are certain to have last year’s disappointment fresh in their minds. But with reasonable health he should easily outperform that status and get back to being one of the more productive receivers in football. Nicks has a unique combination of size, hands and body control—not to mention a perfect complement in fellow wideout Victor Cruz—that should help him re-attain his perch in the upper echelon of fantasy receivers.
Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
With Mike Wallace in Miami, Antonio Brown is now the top dog in the Pittsburgh passing attack. However, after topping 1,100 receiving yards two years ago, Brown's numbers fell off across the board last year, including a drop of nearly five yards per reception.
That down year hasn't done any favors for Brown's draft-day stock, but Scott Pianowski of Yahoo! Sports thinks a rebound could be in order in 2013, writing: "The Steelers knew what they were doing when they extended Brown last summer and eventually let walk out the door."
Pianowski continues, saying: "Throw in Heath Miller's injury concerns Brown appears to be a lock as Ben Roethlisberger's top receiver. He's still on the escalator."
Brandon Myers, New York Giants
Brandon Myers was the biggest fantasy surprise among tight ends in 2012, rising from obscurity to lead the Oakland Raiders in receiving. Myers parlayed that success into a free-agent deal with the New York Giants, but fantasy owners apparently aren't expecting a repeat performance.
Marcas Grant of NFL.com, who has a very catchy mantra for the tight end spot this year ("after Gronk and Graham it's a traffic jam") feels that Myers' average draft position of TE16 at My Fantasy League is low.
I've been a notorious shill for Brandon Myers, who last year outpaced both Dwayne Bowe and Ryan Mathews. Still, both of those other players (yes, Ryan Mathews too) are being drafted on average before Myers. This is even with the tight end moving from the woebegone Raiders to the much more tight-end friendly Giants.
Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
Grant is right in at least one respect. After a precious few elite fantasy options at the position, it gets muddied in a hurry at tight end.
That gives fantasy owners who acquire late-round upside options at the position a considerable edge, and that's where Tyler Eifert comes in.
The first-round rookie has been one of the stars of Cincinnati's training camp, with offensive coordinator Jay Gruden telling John Stossel of Fox News that Eifert is "just one of those guys that when he makes a play, you kind of look around and see if anybody else saw what he just did."
The 2012 Mackey Award winner will battle Jermaine Gresham for targets in the Bengals' passing game, but Eifert is a far better pass-catcher than Gresham, and teams don't spend first-round picks on players so they can sit.
Eifert is a great low-risk, high-reward pick late in drafts. He can be drafted as a fantasy reserve, but don't be surprised when Eifert is in your lineup on a weekly basis by midseason.
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