Fantasy Football Sleepers 2013: Small-Name Players with Big-Name Value
Every fantasy football manager knows names like Adrian Peterson, Tom Brady and Calvin Johnson.
Flashy names like those have dominated the first two rounds of fantasy football drafts everywhere this year, but stars simply don't grow on trees.
Valuable depth and shrewd player pickups can be the difference in winning a fantasy football trophy or forking over your league fee with nothing to show for it in return.
Faced with the task of filling out an entire roster and jockeying with other league owners for players all season, it's the great managers who can designate sleepers as worthy before everyone knows their names.
You may or may not have heard of the names below, but it would be wise to add them to your fantasy vocabulary before the 2013 NFL regular season begins.
QB Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Not a "small-name" guy using the traditional definition of the word, Freeman has started at least 10 games for the Bucs in each of the last four seasons.
That being said, he's nowhere near the top of the list when it comes to selecting quarterbacks in the first few rounds of a fantasy draft.
As a backup QB in a deeper league, though, Freeman has significant fantasy upside this year.
Coming off a season in which he threw for over 4,000 yards, a quick glance at Freeman's stats would make him an easy candidate to put up big numbers on any given Sunday. A deeper manifesto reveals a player who was wildly inconsistent in 2012.
Despite the yardage total, Freeman had 10 fumbles, threw 17 interceptions and had a paltry completion percentage of 54.8 percent.
Despite a four-week stretch in the middle of the year when he had at least two touchdowns and zero interceptions each game, Freeman's line from the final three games of the year—two touchdowns, nine interceptions—killed fantasy owners who trusted him during league playoff games.
Andy Behrens of Yahoo! Sports took a closer look at Tampa Bay's fantasy options last week and the prevailing opinion is simple: A consistent Freeman is a dangerous Freeman, and there are plenty of factors at play to suggest that the fifth-year pro is ready to take a leap.
For starters, Tampa Bay used an early draft pick on QB Mike Glennon. He won't win the job, but it should be a wake-up call to Freeman that 54 percent passing and not taking care of the ball this year will result in his dismissal.
Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams have also had an entire offseason to mesh with their QB. In the second year of Greg Schiano's system, Freeman should be more familiar with the offense and what he needs to do to move his teammates down the field.
Oh, and there's that Doug Martin guy promising to give Freeman one-on-one chances with members of opposing secondaries.
Freeman isn't a starter and shouldn't be drafted like one. As a backup and spot-starter against a porous defense, though, his potential is off the charts.
RB Daryl Richardson, St. Louis Rams
D-Rich managed to help convince Jeff Fisher and the St. Louis coaching staff that Steven Jackson was expendable.
Let that sink in for a minute.
Richardson—a former Abilene Christian Wildcat—had only 638 yards from scrimmage in 2012, and most of his fantasy damage came in two games (Washington and Miami). He also failed to record a touchdown as a rookie for the Rams.
Fast forward to 2013, and Richardson was named the starter by Fisher on Monday.
He doesn't have the pedigree of the running backs who come off the board through the first two rounds of any given draft, but Richardson is a solid option as an RB2 or flex to start the season. There's a good chance he takes a bulk of the 260 carries Jackson received in his last season in St. Louis.
NFLVR tweeted in July that Richardson has the potential to be a poor man's C.J. Spiller:
You heard it here first! For 2013 NFL Fantasy Football purposes St Louis Rams RB Daryl Richardson is a Poor Man's CJ Spiller. @AustinDJordan— NFLVR (@NFLVR) July 10, 2013
He also bears likeness to Chris Johnson, who Fisher coached in Tennessee.
Isaiah Pead, Zac Stacy and Terrance Ganaway all pose threats to Richardson's fantasy relevance, but it's been clear throughout training camp that the job was his to lose.
Richardson has the speed to get the outside quickly and could thrive in the Rams' offense this year. He's not cracking the top 100 pre-draft rankings in some formats, but by the end of the year, that designation could come back to bite those who avoid taking a chance on his abilities as a starter.
It's acceptable to hold your breath until Richardson finds the end zone for the first time this year, but once that first TD comes through, there's a good chance more will follow with regularity. Even if you have to over-draft a bit, Richardson is a sleeper worth owning in all formats.
WR Vincent Brown, San Diego Chargers
The injury bug has decimated San Diego's wideout corp this year.
Between Eddie Royal, Malcom Floyd and Danario Alexander, the Chargers have been in the news for all the wrong reasons this preseason as the injuries to Philip Rivers' potential targets have piled up.
Brown, who missed the 2012 season with an injury after catching two touchdown passes as a rookie in 2011, is a candidate to have a huge year for the Chargers in new head coach Mike McCoy's offensive system.
As noted by San Diego Union-Tribune writer Michael Gehlken, praise for Brown's abilities in training camp hasn't been hard to find:
The secret may soon be out on Vincent Brown. Philip Rivers: "He's everything you'd want in a wide receiver" - http://t.co/AcKZ2hYOmj— Michael Gehlken (@UTgehlken) August 15, 2013
Heading into his third NFL season, the former San Diego State star steps into an advantageous position for his career and for fantasy owners. Injuries are never a good thing for any reason, but the show must go on both on the field and in the fantasy realm.
That means other players have to step up.
Floyd isn't expected to be ready until Week 1 at the earliest, Alexander is out for the season and Royal is dealing with bruised lungs and a concussion. Needless to say, now is a great time for Brown to establish chemistry with Rivers heading into the season and prove he can handle a larger role.
Antonio Gates will likely be Rivers' favorite target if he's healthy, but the Chargers will need to move the ball down the field in other ways than with just their running backs and tight ends. Not making much noise in early rounds, flag Brown and make him one of your flex/bench options in a later round.
TE Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns
Cameron has just one career touchdown and recorded more than four fantasy points in a game just twice in 2012.
In 2013, it should be a different story.
Not generally considered one of the top-10 tight ends in any format, Cameron could wind up being just that by the end of the regular season.
As Rob Chudzinski takes over in Cleveland, his offense will help the Browns score more points than they did in 2012. Between Chudzinski and Norv Torner, the potential for huge fantasy weeks from a number of Cleveland offensive players is there.
Cameron is one of those guys.
We've already seen the former USC TE shine in the preseason. He caught two touchdown passes in Cleveland's last preseason tilt with the Detroit Lions, bursting on the scene as a potential fantasy sleeper for owners who were watching the game on TV.
As Brandon Weeden continues to improve he will continue to value his TE as both a weapon in the red zone and a security blanket moving down the field. Cameron provides value as both of those things.
Sleepers are never easy to project, but heeding early warning signs that certain football players are poised for breakout seasons is always smart in fantasy football.
Hopefully these four guys bolster your lineup this year. If they fail to do so, don't worry—more sleepers will emerge as the 17-week regular season runs its course.
Follow B/R's Ethan Grant on Twitter.
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