Fantasy Football Sleepers 2013: Unsung Players Who Will Yield Early-Round Value
Every fantasy football owner has a list of sleepers heading into his draft. While only a small handful of those players are likely to pan out, nabbing one or two of them could mean the difference between winning a championship and missing the playoffs. That is how important hitting on mid-to-late-round picks is in fantasy.
Anyone can take a guy like Adrian Peterson or Aaron Rodgers in the early going, but it takes an analytical owner to pluck some diamonds from the rough. Even though most owners like to think that they have everything nailed down prior to their draft, unheralded players inevitably make the jump from anonymity to superstardom on a yearly basis.
Here are three players who aren't receiving much attention right now, but will ultimately put up big numbers during the 2013 season.
It's no secret that the Dallas Cowboys have struggled from a wins and losses perspective in recent years, and quarterback Tony Romo has naturally shouldered much of the blame for that. While some of that is fair, it should have no bearing on his value as a fantasy quarterback.
Perhaps Romo isn't clutch, and maybe he comes up small in big games, but a touchdown in the first quarter is worth just as much as a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Statistically speaking, Romo has been a high-level producer over the course of his career, and that should continue this year.
Romo has surpassed 4,000 passing yards in each of the past four seasons in which he has played all 16 games. Romo had his best season in terms of yardage last year as he threw for more than 4,900 yards, while scoring 29 total touchdowns.
Those numbers are more than good enough for a championship fantasy team provided there is production at running back, wide receiver and tight end. Since Romo is being drafted 12th among quarterbacks in ESPN standard drafts, it allows owners who select him to load up at other positions early.
The fact that Romo is barely a starter in standard 12-team leagues is tough to fathom, but it makes waiting on a quarterback a no-brainer. Investing in a guy like Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning early ensures top-level production, but it hinders the ability to build talent elsewhere. With weapons like Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray surrounding him, Romo will unquestionably have a great fantasy season.
Starting running backs are like gold in fantasy football because there are only 32 of them, and a fraction of them are actually good. In fact, it can be argued that there are fewer than 32 because several teams employ a committee approach. The St. Louis Rams could be among those teams, but second-year man Daryl Richardson is in the driver's seat for the starting job. Head coach Jeff Fisher has said as much, and NFL.com fantasy expert Michael Fabiano believes that means Richardson is a player worth targeting this year.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher "thinks" Daryl Richardson will be his RB1. Whether he is long for the job or not, he's now the Rams RB to draft.— Michael Fabiano (@Michael_Fabiano) August 7, 2013
Very little was expected of Richardson as a seventh-round rookie last year, but he played extremely well in spot duty for Steven Jackson as he ended the season with 638 total yards. Jackson is now with the Atlanta Falcons, so the door is wide open for Richardson.
Isaiah Pead was supposed to be Jackson's primary backup last season as a second-round pick, but he was beaten out by Richardson and probably will be again. The fact that Pead is suspended for the first game of the regular season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy certainly doesn't help his case, but it does bolster Richardson's.
Richardson is being taken 38th among running backs in ESPN standard leagues, which is laughable. Guys like Mark Ingram, Johnathan Franklin, Giovani Bernard, Andre Brown and Shane Vereen among others are being taken before him. None of them are starters, and none of them are likely to match Richardson's production. In addition to Richardson's 4.8 yards-per-carry average last season, he was targeted 36 times in the passing game, so all the elements are in place for an all-around great season.
Detroit Lions wide receiver Ryan Broyles had a fantastic career at Oklahoma, but due to concerns stemming from a knee injury, he wasn't selected until the second round of the 2012 draft. The Lions seemed to have a steal on their hands as he started to develop into one of quarterback Matthew Stafford's favorite targets, but another ACL tear cut his rookie year short by six games. Although Broyles is being brought along slowly in his recovery, he will have every opportunity to be Detroit's No. 2 target across from Calvin Johnson.
Which unsung sleeper will have the best fantasy season in 2013?
The Lions have tried to find complementary receivers throughout Johnson's career, but they have had mixed success. Nate Burleson has been steady; however, it is time to move on from him as a No. 2 target.
Titus Young showed flashes of brilliance, but attitude issues resulted in him getting released. That leaves Broyles as the only true option, and provided he is able to stay healthy for an entire season, he should be able to put up borderline starter numbers at the very least.
Johnson had an NFL-record 1,964 receiving yards last season, and he was targeted an incredible 205 times. There is no doubt that Stafford will continue to throw in Johnson's direction as often as possible, but opposing defenses will eventually force other players to beat them. Broyles is capable of doing that. His explosiveness is questionable at this point, but he is as sure-handed as they come, and he could be a huge asset in point-per-reception leagues.
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