One way to get a quality sleeper on draft day is to find a veteran who is coming off a terrible showing in 2012.
There are many things that cause a down year in the NFL. Sometimes injuries prevent a player from living up to expectations, while other times the team's overall situation could hold a star back. However, these types of seasons cause many fantasy owners to simply forget about the talent we once saw.
Peyton Manning missed the entire 2011 season and then became a fantasy steal in 2012 as he showed that he was as good as ever with the Denver Broncos.
Those looking to get top-quality players with great value should watch out for these men on draft day.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
As one of the most talented receivers in football, it will be impossible to completely overlook Larry Fitzgerald. As a result, his average draft position has been 33.8, which is ninth-highest among receivers.
However, he has a good chance of outperforming this expectation as he regains his place near the best players in the league at his position.
Last year, Fitzgerald only managed 798 receiving yards with four touchdowns, a far cry from his 1,411 yards and eight touchdowns from the season before. The problem was that he had no one to throw him the ball, as the Cardinals quarterbacks combined to rank dead last in the NFL in quarterback rating at 63.1.
This season, he will have a chance to connect with veteran Carson Palmer, who knows how to get the ball down the field. While he was inconsistent at times, the former Oakland Raiders quarterback threw for over 4,000 yards last season with a quarterback rating of 85.3.
Additionally, new head coach Bruce Arians has a reputation for throwing the ball down the field, which is certain to help out the talented Fitzgerald.
The Pro Bowler will not sneak up on anyone, but he can be even better than many anticipate from a fantasy perspective.
Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers
There are a number of running backs who are likely to have a better showing this season than last, including LeSean McCoy, Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashard Mendenhall.
However, none of these players will provide as good of a value as Ryan Mathews if he can find a way to stay healthy.
The former first-round pick only played 12 games last season and was not overly impressive when he was in the game. He ended the year with only one touchdown and an average of 3.8 yards per carry.
These stats—combined with the fact that he has not played in all 16 games in any of his three seasons—will cause many fantasy owners to avoid the running back at all costs.
Still, Mathews is certain to get a lot of touches this season both through the air and on the ground with little competition in the backfield. He has proven in the past an ability to be a quality receiver, which will keep his yardage total high on a weekly basis, and he should be able to get into the end zone at a higher rate.
Most importantly, San Diego should have an improved offensive line after a terrible year last year. Rookie D.J. Fluker provides help at tackle, and the rest of the group will simply be better with experience.
This will help clear up some space for Mathews, which will lead to a more productive season.
Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions
It is weird to say that Matthew Stafford had a down year, especially when he threw for just short of 5,000 yards. However, his touchdown totals decreased from 41 in 2011 to only 20 in 2012.
The Lions quarterback finished the season 10th among quarterbacks in fantasy points in standard leagues, and the infusion of young talent will cause many to not even consider him a starter at the position.
However, it is important to remember that the opportunities will be there for a lot of production this season. Stafford had the most passing attempts in NFL history with 727, and there is no indication this will slow down next season.
As long as he can continue chucking the ball up to Calvin Johnson, this will lead to plenty of yards and likely some more touchdowns.
Still, Stafford should be able to succeed this season thanks to additional receiving options. A healthy Ryan Broyles will give the quarterback a prototypical slot receiver, while the addition of Reggie Bush gives him an excellent pass-catcher out of the backfield.
The high number of pass attempts makes Stafford a safe option regardless, as he finished with double-digit points in all but two weeks last year. If he can cut down on interceptions and find the end zone, he will once again be elite.
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