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Fantasy Football 2013: 5 of the Most Criminally Underrated Players This Season

Nick CaronAnalyst IOctober 7, 2016

Fantasy Football 2013: 5 of the Most Criminally Underrated Players This Season

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    Fantasy football owners are always trying to be the smartest guy in the room.

    Whether it's reaching on a "sleeper" to secure him on our roster before the next guy or refusing to draft a former star simply because we're under the impression that he's suddenly going to fall off the face of the Earth, we have all made great picks and we've all made blunders that make us look like complete fools.

    As we head into the 2013 season, we all need to take a serious look at our preconceived opinions on players and be willing to reevaluate them based on ever-changing scenarios. One of the most surprising things I've noticed this year is the community overlooking some high-quality players who might be in a new system, on a new team entirely or just coming off of a big season that we deem to be nearly impossible to replicate. 

    Although each of these scenarios can cause a fantasy draft stock to tumble, it's our job, as crafty owners, to see these opportunities and capitalize on them. 

    In this list, we'll be taking a look at five of the most underrated players this season, all of whom have a good chance to outperform their average draft position or even break into the elite levels at their position.

    2013 Average Draft Position and 2013 Positional Rank are via FantasyFootballCalculator.com. 2012 Final Positional Ranking is via ESPN Fantasy. 

Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Francisco 49ers

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    2013 Average Draft Position2013 Positional Rank2012 Final Positional Rank
    71.0825

    In a season with so much high-quality depth at the quarterback position, it can be easy to overlook the potential fantasy difference-makers who play behind center. 

    Colin Kaepernick, a third-year quarterback with only seven career regular season starts, may very well be that kind of player. 

    He finished 25th at the quarterback position a year ago, but his average score per game of 18.0 (ESPN standard) would have made him the eighth-highest scoring quarterback in the league if he had started all 16 games—and that's for a quarterback who was in a completely new offense with receivers whom he hadn't spent much time practicing with. 

    The injury to Michael Crabtree certainly stunts what could have been a massive season for Kaepernick in 2012, but even without his top target, Kaepernick can still be a big-time contributor in 2013. 

    Running QBs who can also throw the ball efficiently are a hard thing to come by in the NFL, but Kaepernick fits that mold. He showed that in the 2012 divisional playoff round when he completely took over the game, rushing for 181 yards and two scores with 263 yards and another two scores through the air. 

    He's going low enough in drafts that you can still get premium players at other positions, but Kaepernick has the potential to be one of the highest-scoring players in all of fantasy football this season.

Eric Decker, WR, Denver Broncos

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    2013 Average Draft Position2013 Positional Rank2012 Final Positional Rank
    63.5248

    Perhaps it's a case of mistaken identity, but some seem to believe that the addition of Wes Welker to the Denver Broncos offense is somehow going to massively cut into the production of the fourth-year receiver.

    While I understand the idea that there are so many targets to go around, what I don't understand is the love that Demaryius Thomas, who remains ranked in the top six at the position, continues to receive while Decker drops all the way down to the point that he's being selected as a WR3 in many 12-team leagues. 

    Don't get me wrong—I'm as big on Thomas as anyone as he currently sits as my No. 4 WR—but I also still have plenty of confidence in Decker, who caught 13 touchdowns a year ago. 

    Despite the similar skin tone, Eric Decker is not Wes Welker, people. They are completely different types of receivers who fill completely different roles within the Denver offense. As a 6'3", 214-pound receiver, Decker towers over the craftier, sneakier Welker, who checks in at 5'9", 185 pounds. 

    If their big three are healthy, the Broncos will run as many three-receiver sets as any team in the league, and that should mean plenty of opportunities for Decker to exploit mismatches in coverage while teams try to stop Welker from picking them apart underneath. His numbers may dip a bit due to less total targets, but look for his production in the targets he does get to increase in 2013. 

James Jones, WR, Green Bay Packers

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    2013 Average Draft Position2013 Positional Rank2012 Final Positional Rank
    68.82716

    For a guy who led the entire league in touchdown receptions a year ago, Green Bay Packers wide receiver James Jones certainly isn't getting much love in fantasy circles. He's currently going off the board in the late-sixth round on average, and his positional ranking of 27 makes him a WR3 in most leagues. 

    His 14 touchdowns on just 64 catches a year ago make Jones an obvious candidate for the old, "he can't do that again" designation, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he can't still be an important part of the Packers' offense and subsequently your fantasy team.

    Like Eric Decker, Jones looks to be the third option in a crowded group of receivers for his team. But both of these players come from high-powered offenses with unbelievable quarterbacks who have been known to make use of all of their weapons in the past. 

    Critics of Jones' potential in 2013 point to the drop-off that fellow Packers receiver Jordy Nelson saw in 2012, when he caught just seven touchdown passes after a massive 15-score campaign in 2011. 

    But the biggest reasons for Nelson's drop-off in production were the emergence of Randall Cobb and James Jones, combined with the injuries that plagued him throughout the season. 

    With Nelson hurt again already this preseason, Jones looks to be a prime candidate for another big season in the Green Bay offense. 

Brandon Myers, TE, New York Giants

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    2013 Average Draft Position2013 Positional Rank2012 Final Positional Rank
    126.21210

    With injuries to Rob Gronkowski and Dennis Pitta along with the suspension of Aaron Hernandez, the tight end position is extremely thin heading into 2013. 

    One player who has been catching my eye in recent drafts, however, is the New York Giants acquisition, Brandon Myers. 

    Myers, who spent the first four years of his career in Oakland, broke out a season ago, finishing as a top-10 player at the position for the first time. 

    Playing in what can only be described as a horrifically bad offense, Myers caught 79 passes for 806 yards and four touchdowns. Those numbers might have been even better if the team wasn't playing musical chairs with the likes of Matt Leinart and Terrelle Pryor at quarterback. 

    Myers enters the 2013 season rejuvenated in a much better offense with a significantly better quarterback throwing him the ball in Eli Manning. On the surface, he appears to be a very safe tight end who has serious potential to finish in the top five if he can remain healthy and get clicking with Manning. 

    The biggest reason that Myers hits this list is because of the players like Kyle Rudolph who are being drafted two full rounds ahead of him.

    While Myers finished behind Rudolph in standard-scoring leagues a year ago, it was only by two points. If you compare them in leagues with PPR scoring, Myers outscored Rudolph by over a point per game—and one has to expect a regression in Rudolph's nine touchdown receptions. 

    If you miss out on the "elite" tight ends, Myers offers great value where he is being drafted right now. He may not have the sexy name, but he's the kind of player who will give you reliable production at a position where that can be hard to come by.

Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans

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    2013 Average Draft Position2013 Positional Rank2012 Final Positional Rank
    15.21213

    A former first-overall pick, Chris Johnson's fantasy value has seen better days. A season ago, he was considered a lock as a mid-to-late first-round pick. But after an absolutely dreadful start to the season that saw him put up just 23 total points (ESPN standard) through the first five weeks of the season, the luster had worn off and panic began to set in.

    Johnson was able to get things going after that, but many fantasy owners had already bailed on the former 2,000-yard rusher, vowing never to draft him again.

    When a player so brutally fails to live up to expectations, it can be a tough thing to forget. But it also opens the door for other owners to get that player at a significantly lower "price" than what his value really should be.

    Johnson ended up finishing the season as a top-12 running back. Although he still had a couple stinkers toward the end of the season, Johnson showed signs of improvement and flashes of the skills that made him the top-scoring running back in the league just a few seasons ago.

    Much has been made of the Titans' offseason acquisition of former Jets running back Shonn Greene, whom many believe will cut into Johnson's goal-line carries. To that, I ask—if Shonn Greene was such a good goal-line runner, wouldn't he have averages more than the 4.5 touchdowns per season he had as a Jet? 

    Greene is about as much of a threat to Johnson as Toby Gerhart is to Adrian Peterson. Stop worrying about it.

    The Titans' offseason acquisitions that you should be interested in, however, are the ones they made to the interior of their offensive line. 

    Andy Levitre, a former stand-out guard for the Bills, will join first-round pick Chance Warmack as the new starting guards in the Tennessee offense. We've seen them crush opposing defensive lines in the preseason, opening up huge holes for Johnson and Greene to run through.

    We've heard it many times in the past—if Johnson sees a lane, he can be gone in an instant. And it'll be hard for him to miss the lanes these two bruisers create for him in 2013.

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