With the NFL regular season now just a couple weeks away, fantasy football draft season is in full swing. While most owners seem to agree upon strategies this year, such as taking running backs early and waiting on quarterbacks, one thing that always seems to create plenty of debate is the discussion of which sleepers will emerge as stars.
Every fantasy owner is equipped with a list of guys that they plan on targeting late, and while some of them will pay off, most are likely to fall by the wayside. There are so many things to take into consideration when searching for sleepers, and that is what makes it so difficult to identify them.
Here are three potential sleepers who have been buried by more hyped players at their respective positions but will ultimately be very useful fantasy players during the 2013 season.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon essentially came from out of nowhere last season to become a key contributor to Cleveland's offense. Gordon was expected to be eased into action after being a supplemental draft pick, but he quickly ascended to the role of No. 1 receiver.
Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden seemed to form a nice rapport with Gordon, as the rookie pair became a formidable duo. Gordon's big-play ability became more and more evident as the season progressed, and he ended up with 50 catches for 805 yards and five touchdowns.
Because of that, most would probably expect him to take a big leap forward in his second season. Gordon is suspended for the first two games of the regular season due to a violation of the NFL's substance-abuse policy, though, so his draft stock has taken a major hit. In fact, his average draft position is 120.4 in ESPN standard drafts, and he is the 43rd receiver taken on average as well.
Despite that, Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner is very happy with Gordon's progress, according to Steve Doerschuk of the Canton Rep.
Norv: Josh Gordon has had a "really good camp." Think he was hiding superlatives on Benjamin, who's GOT to be big for Miami game plan.— Steve Doerschuk (@sdoerschukREP) August 18, 2013
Perhaps more important than that is the continued development of Weeden. The second-year quarterback has been excellent in preseason play thus far, and he has continued to connect with Gordon. As a 10th-round pick in standard 12-team leagues, Gordon is a third or fourth receiver on most fantasy teams. He's only going to miss two games, so he'll be an ideal bye-week replacement at the very least. His ceiling is immense, though, and he could easily become a fantasy starter even in shallow leagues at some point during the season.
San Diego Chargers running back Danny Woodhead has been underestimated throughout his entire career, so it should come as no surprise that people are sleeping on him currently.
Woodhead has never been a bell cow back in the NFL, and he isn't currently expected to be one for the Chargers, either. That role belongs to Ryan Mathews, but few players in the league are more injury-prone than the Fresno State product. Because of that, Woodhead is one of the best running back handcuffs available.
Which sleeper will have the best 2013 NFL season?
Mathews has yet to play a full NFL season, and there really isn't any indication that he'll be able to stay healthy this year.
Woodhead, on the other hand, has been a very steady contributor over the past few seasons. He was a weapon for the New England Patriots last year in particular, as he racked up over 700 all-purpose yards and scored seven touchdowns. He also reeled in 40 passes, which makes him an attractive option in point-per-reception leagues.
While there is a new regime in San Diego with Mike McCoy taking over as head coach, Darren Sproles had a couple big years for the Chargers before joining the New Orleans Saints. If the Bolts utilize Woodhead in a similar fashion, he could potentially have value even if he doesn't start. Rolling the dice on Mathews getting injured isn't a bad bet, either, so Woodhead's ADP of 145.1 makes him a major steal, especially in deeper leagues.
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon is in a very similar position to Gordon, as a suspension has made him an afterthought in the minds of fantasy owners. But Blackmon's situation is a bit more dire, as he will miss the first four games of the regular season due to a violation of the NFL's substance-abuse policy. However, that could potentially make him an even bigger steal. There is no doubt that there are some character concerns surrounding Blackmon right now, but he showed a great deal of ability as a rookie last season.
Blackmon's quarterback situation was awful. Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne were shuttled in and out of the lineup, but Blackmon still managed 64 grabs for 865 yards and five touchdowns. He'll be hard-pressed to equal those numbers in 12 games this season, but his statistics should be fairly impressive in prorated form.
Gabbert and Henne are still the quarterbacks who will be throwing him the ball, but Gabbert has actually looked very good during the preseason, and he seems to have some synergy with Blackmon, according to John Oehser of Jaguars.com.
Press box stats are still off, but I have Gabbert 11-of-12 for 139 yards. He's got some chemistry going with Justin Blackmon right now.— John Oehser (@JohnOehser) August 18, 2013
If not for the suspension, Blackmon would probably be a top-30 or top-35 selection at wide receiver, but he is currently the No. 53 receiver taken in ESPN drafts. He is being selected at 142.7 on average, which means he is a very late pick. Most of the guys who are taken at that juncture are nothing more than a lottery ticket. Blackmon has already proven that he is capable of producing at the NFL level, and his talent is undeniable.
Blackmon's price will be that of a fourth or fifth receiver at best, but he could very easily put up No. 2 wide receiver numbers by season's end.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.