Prior to every NFL season, there are some players who receive more hype than others. In many cases, there is good reason for that hype, but it tends to allow great players to fly under the radar. That is especially true when it comes to fantasy football, as there are always plenty of guys who should be drafted higher but end up slipping due to high expectations for others.
Finding those players can result in a one-way ticket to fantasy immortality. Whether it's because they're coming off a down year or they just haven't reached that superstar level quite yet, fantasy-winning players are going to be available outside the first round in your draft. All you have to do is take them.
Here are three potential studs who deserve to be drafted higher than they have been thus far and will give you a huge advantage over your competition.
No NFL team passed more than the Detroit Lions last season, and it is extremely likely that they will lead the league in that category once again this year. Because of that, quarterback Matthew Stafford has all the makings of a potential bounce-back candidate.
While Stafford had one of the most prolific passing years in NFL history last year in terms of yardage, he was largely considered a disappointment. Stafford set an NFL record with 727 attempts, and he threw for just under 5,000 yards, but with just 20 touchdowns as opposed to 17 interceptions, he took a big step back from his 2011 production.
Stafford was arguably the breakout fantasy star of 2011, as he threw for more than 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns. He only had slightly fewer passing yards in 2012 and threw just one more interception than he did the previous season, but his touchdown numbers were way down.
Also, Stafford was a less efficient passer, as his completion percentage was a tad below 60 percent. That doesn't necessarily mean much from a fantasy perspective, but it does indicate that Stafford was a bit off last year.
Stafford's drop in touchdowns is disconcerting, but ESPN fantasy expert Matthew Berry has been able to shine some light on the mystery. According to Berry, Lions receivers were tackled inside the 5-yard line 23 times last season, which was by far the most in the league. With a little better luck, Stafford should be well over 30 touchdowns this year, especially with a bump in rushing capability that saw him score four times with his legs last season.
Stafford is being taken 58th overall on average in ESPN standard drafts, but he has top-five quarterback ability.
In 2009, Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson was the toast of the league as he broke the 2,000-yard barrier and scored 16 total touchdowns. Things haven't been quite as easy for CJ2K recently, especially over the past two years.
Not only has his yardage total dipped, but Johnson has struggled to find pay dirt, as evidenced by his 10 total touchdowns in 2011 and 2012 combined. It remains to be seen if Johnson's touchdown ills will be remedied, but from a yardage standpoint, he should be in for a very big season.
After a brutal 2011 campaign that saw Johnson barely break 1,000 yards while averaging just four yards per carry, he was much better in 2012. Johnson's season got off to a brutal start, but he rebounded in a big way and ended the year with 1,243 yards and six touchdowns. That may not sound like much, but Johnson did average 4.5 yards per carry, which is an indication that he was running much better.
Things should only get better this year, as the Titans added guard Andy Levitre in free agency and drafted Chance Warmack. That has Titans fans excited, as evidenced by this video, courtesy of Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean:
While Johnson's rushing production may improve, there is some concern about his pass-catching. Johnson had just 36 catches for 232 yards last season, which were career lows.
With Jake Locker expected to start at quarterback for the entire year, though, there should be some continuity in the passing game, which should help him in that regard. Also, Johnson is one of the most durable backs in the game, as he has missed just one game due to injury during his career. That means there is very little risk involved.
Johnson is ranked as ESPN's No. 15 running back, and he is being taken at the end of the second round in 12-team standard drafts, but he is a prime candidate to yield first-round production.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown entered the NFL to little fanfare a few seasons ago, as he was a sixth-round pick out of Central Michigan. He has a couple of productive seasons under his belt, though, and he is in line to become a premier fantasy receiver in 2013.
Brown's 66 catches for 787 yards and five touchdowns in 2012 may not seem like anything special on the surface, especially since he had 1,108 yards the year before, but much of that had to do with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missing time due to injury. Big Ben is healthy now, though, and Brown should be his go-to guy.
The big thing working in Brown's favor is the fact that Mike Wallace is now with the Miami Dolphins. Wallace has been the Steelers' No. 1 receiver for the past few seasons, and while the extra attention he drew from opposing defenses helped Brown to a certain extent, he also attracted most of the targets.
Brown is "the guy" among Steelers receivers this year, however, and even Roethlisberger isn't afraid to say it, according to Rotoworld:
According to Berry, Brown dropped just 2.9 percent of his targets in 2012, which was sixth-best in the league among receivers with at least 105 targets. With Wallace out of the picture, Brown figures to get many more targets in 2013, and his sure hands will equal big-time numbers in all likelihood. The Steelers also have a conundrum at the running back positions, so they'll probably be a pass-first team.
Brown is ranked as the No. 23 receiver by ESPN, and he is being taken 67th overall on average, but he'll blow away those expectations this season.
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