Fantasy Football Preview 2013: Top 5 WR Sleepers

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Fantasy Football Preview 2013: Top 5 WR Sleepers
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Even before all of the Chargers' preseason receiver injury woes, Brown was going to be a huge fantasy value at his draft position.

Receiver won't be the first position you draft—unless you're picking Calvin Johnson in the second half of Round 1. It won't be your most productive position either—again, unless you score Megatron.

It will be the position you draft the most. At least, you should.

The wide receiver position offers a wide range of options and potential in fantasy football, so consider this list of potential sleepers at the position one of the most important Bleacher Report draft previews to have with you as you pick. 

The depth of the position will make you want to score those players who outperform their draft position. It will give you a huge edge after you load up on running backs and lock up that big-time quarterback. 

 

1. Vincent Brown, San Diego Chargers

Average Draft Position
Yahoo! ESPN CBSSports SI Top 300
120.7 142.5 136.6 106

Why are we sleeping?

We haven't seen much of Brown, and what we know about him is he has missed a lot of time due to injury. He was out all of last season with a broken ankle that many believed would only keep him out until Week 12 under the first year of the active-IR that no longer forced a player to miss a full season. Still, Brown couldn't get his ankle right, and fantasy owners couldn't get a good look at him.

 

Why shouldn't we be?

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Despite whatever you think about Philip Rivers, you should know he is going to get the ball downfield—deep downfield. With the loss of Danario Alexander (knee) for the season and Malcom Floyd (knee) currently banged up, the Chargers' starting receivers are Brown, Eddie Royal and rookie Keenan Allen.

Royal has been an enigma since his rookie season in Denver, and Allen slipped in the draft because of his own injury woes, so expect Brown to be the target on the majority of those deep throws.

 

What should we expect?

Brown sets up nicely for Vincent Jackson-like numbers. He averaged 17.3 yards per reception in his 19 catches as a rookie in 2011 and is in that breakthrough third season for a receiver.

Royal might be targeted more frequently, but he will do the slot work. Brown will run the deeper digs, outs, posts and corners Rivers likes to throw. As a potential 1,200-yard, 10-touchdown receiving talent on the board after the middle rounds, Brown is going to widely outperform his draft position.

 

What should we do?

Brown is being drafted as a reserve receiver, even in three-receiver and flex leagues. You can consider him a potential second or third starter starting in Round 7—and we were planning to say this even before the Chargers' preseason injury woes with Alexander and Floyd. Brown's average draft position is multiple rounds later, but he offers a far higher ceiling than any other receiver being picked around him.  

 

2. Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens

Average Draft Position
Yahoo! ESPN CBSSports SI Top 300
49.6 71.3 68.6 51

Why are we sleeping?

We haven't seen Smith as his team's true No. 1 receiver, not with Anquan Boldin in Baltimore the past couple of years. So, it might be hard to imagine the possibilities. Also, with the added loss of tight end Dennis Pitta, there isn't much love for Joe Flacco and the Ravens' passing game. Some overthinkers will expect Smith to draw double coverage.

 

Why shouldn't we be?

Well, unfortunately for those bargain hunters, Smith went ahead and did something dumb like rip off a huge touchdown in preseason Week 2. That was a glimpse of the possibilities for his third season.

He is a No. 1 receiver now, so he won't merely be running those deep routes. He is going to run more slants and underneath routes, and anytime this burner gets the ball in his hands, he is a threat to score.

 

What should we expect?

Smith is going to be drafted around the top 20 wide receivers, but his ceiling is that of a top-10 guy, if not a top-five. We can't even imagine what he is capable of right now, because we haven't seen him run the go-to routes—he was merely running the go routes the past two seasons.

The Ravens are a run-heavy team, sure, but they will need to throw eventually, and the strength of their running game will allow Smith to get past those safeties creeping up for the run. Smith is an 80-catch, 1,300-yard, 12-touchdown fantasy monster in the making. Those are Julio Jones numbers, and Jones is going in the second round.

 

What should we do?

Carve a spot out for Smith in Round 4, if not late in Round 3. After running backs are picked over in the first couple of rounds, the receivers start flying off the board. Smith isn't one of the position's first 15 names on anyone's mind, but he should be. The 24-year-old, third-year breakout candidate is just scratching the surface.

 

3. Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants

Average Draft Position
Yahoo! ESPN CBSSports SI Top 300
46.3 56.2 64.2 48

Why are we sleeping?

Injuries have made Nicks an enemy to fantasy owners. The 25-year-old hasn't played a 16-game season in his four years, and most of the games he has played have come after being on the injury report all week and missing practices.

All that time missed affects not only his production for fantasy owners, but also his timing with Eli Manning. Also, Victor Cruz is the leading target for the Giants—if only because he has gotten the No. 1 work Nicks has missed out on.

 

Why shouldn't we be?

It is all about the money. Nicks is in a contract year. He is also the No. 1 receiver in the Giants' minds still—at least, that is what they were telling Cruz in his own contract talks this summer.

Nicks just has to stay healthy. Contract years tend to be a miracle cure for some players that were once always missing practice and games. Nicks is motivated to be his best yet, and he has looked like a top-10, if not a top-five, receiver at times.

 

What should we expect?

Nicks is going off the board just before Smith, but he has an equally high ceiling and a better passing offense in which to work. Kevin Gilbride was one of the run-and-shoot architects in the early '90s, and he has modified that passing attack to include a tight end. That helps split the middle of the field and open up Nicks on the outside and downfield.

Nicks has already approached 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns. His contract year could help him display his 1,500-and-15, fantasy-monster potential.

 

What should we do?

We are not going to sugarcoat it: Nicks' injury risk is legit. If it is not one injury, it is another. But you are going to want to draft five or six receivers who can potentially start in most leagues anyway, so snatch up the high-ceiling talent in Nicks anytime after the top 12 receivers are off the board and get your hands on a top-five talent at the position when he does play.

Just make sure your roster is covered with ample insurance policies at the position.

 

4. DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles

Average Draft Position
Yahoo! ESPN CBSSports SI Top 300
77.2 67.9 79.3 63

Why are we sleeping?

Jackson has failed to live up to incredibly high expectations in his five NFL seasons, leaving many of his previously hopeful fantasy owners bitter.

It hasn't just been injuries either—although that has contributed to the disappointment. Jackson hasn't been his team's No. 1 receiver since Jeremy Maclin's rookie season in 2009. He has also failed to play 16 games in a season since his rookie year in 2008.

 

Why shouldn't we be?

This is still one of the game's biggest breakaway threats. He has spent a number of years serving as a second option to Maclin, who is now out for the season after preseason knee surgery. Jackson is therefore going to step forward as the go-to man in Chip Kelly's uptempo attack.

It won't necessarily be a pass-happy system, but Jackson is a big-play receiver, and when teams are stacking the box to stop elite back LeSean McCoy, Jackson is going to sneak past run-thinking safeties and score some huge touchdowns—much like he did on the Eagles' first drive of the preseason (see the related video here).

 

What should we expect?

Jackson was a potential holdout last season amid a contract dispute, but he is paid now and should prove healthier—if only because he has to. He is the man for the Eagles at this point.

Jackson has already approached the 1,200-yard, 12-touchdown fantasy receiver Holy Grail, like Nicks, and the loss of Maclin will put him back in play for the type of season he posted in 2009 (1,156 and 10). 

 

What should we do?

As someone on the board after the top 20 receivers, Jackson is too good to pass up after Round 5. He is going to be drafted as your second or third wideout, but he is going to perform like your No. 1, perhaps no matter who else you pick.

 

5. Greg Little, Cleveland Browns

Average Draft Position
Yahoo! ESPN CBSSports SI Top 300
127.3 155.5 154.6 134

Why are we sleeping?

Little has been in the doghouse through two seasons in the NFL, and not just with fantasy owners—his team has also been frustrated with drops. Also, Little has fallen behind second-year breakout candidate Josh Gordon on his own team.

Little is a No. 2 receiver for a Browns offense very few expect to have a productive-enough passing numbers to support even one fantasy-starter-quality receiver, much less two.

 

Who will be a better draft value?

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Why shouldn't we be?

Little has myriad reasons to be hopeful. First, those drops tend to decline in Year 3 (ah, that third-year receiver breakout theory again). Second, Gordon is going to start the season serving a two-game suspension, so Little will open the year as the Browns' go-to man, a status he was going to have before Gordon emerged a year ago.

Little is talented enough to maintain No. 1 status even when Gordon returns in Week 3.

Finally, Brandon Weeden got off to a hot start in the preseason and seemingly has taken nicely to Norv Turner's system. The Browns are going to be throwing from behind a lot this season, and Turner has made stars out of some far lesser talents than Little.

 

What should we expect?

Little is a lot better than anyone expects he will be, and he will be on the board in Round 10 or later. Despite the seeming regression a season ago, Little has always been regarded as a future 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown receiver. No one should be surprised if he reaches those numbers, despite being drafted as a deep reserve receiver this summer.

 

What should we do?

Little is just lost in Cleveland a bit right now. Among all these guys on this list, he is the one you don't see coming. When you pick him in Round 10 and everyone pats you on the back and hands over their paycheck to you as fantasy champion, tell them where you heard this Little piece of genius first.

 

Other Emack sleeper favorites:

  • Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs—Alex Smith is one of the most accurate passers in NFL history, and Bowe has been a fantasy star at times with very inaccurate and incapable Chiefs quarterbacks. Also, Andy Reid is going to have a pass-friendly offense that can return Bowe to elite status among fantasy wideouts, despite barely being picked among the top 20.
  • Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers—He is coming off an injury-plagued year and is currently dealing with an injury that puts his Week 1 status in question. That is enough to allow Nelson to slip to the lower end of fantasy starters. Aaron Rodgers is arguably the most productive quarterback in football, and Nelson can still be his No. 1 guy once he proves healthy. (Yeah, we know, Randall Cobb—yadda, yadda, yadda). Nelson is a better downfield and red-zone threat, though, and that is where fantasy points pile up higher.
  • Justin Blackmon, Jacksonville Jaguars—It has been a bad offseason and an equally worse preseason for the immensely talented former first-round pick. Blackmon will serve a four-game suspension at the start of the season, and he will join one of the most poorly quarterbacked teams in the NFL once he returns. Blackmon showed his worth to fantasy owners down the stretch last season, though. Don't let him fall past the top 30 receivers in drafts.
  • Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns—We would be remiss if we didn't at least mention Gordon as a sleeper along with Little. Gordon is still the No. 1 guy once he returns from his own two-game suspension. He will still be capable of reaching 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns, despite being picked after the top 30 fantasy receivers.
  • Riley Cooper and Jason Avant, Philadelphia Eagles—Maclin's loss was Jackson, Cooper and Avant's gain. Michael Vick still has to prove consistently NFL capable, but Avant had solid numbers a year ago and Cooper can emerge as a legit PPR gem working out of the slot. Cooper and Avant are intriguing late-round picks for a position at which you need plenty of depth.

There are plenty more potential sleepers at this deep position, not to mention a bunch of breakouts. In order to appease the expected message board hate, here is a sneak preview of the top wide receiver breakout candidates: Cobb, Danny Amendola, Antonio Brown, Alshon Jeffery, Aaron Dobson, Keenan Allen, DeAndre Hopkins, Mohamed Sanu and Ryan Broyles. Any of those breakouts can also trump their draft position nicely as a sleeper, too.

 

Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this season. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game. You can also listen to him on his podcast that he deprecatingly dubbed the Fantasy FatCast.

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