Fantasy football managers everywhere will be looking for the next great sleeper this year.
Mid-round players who turn out to be stars by season's end would certainly qualify in that category.
Adrian Peterson, Aaron Rodgers and Calvin Johnson are a few of the the top NFL stars heading off the board at their respective positions this year. Elsewhere, Arian Foster, Ray Rice, Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Dez Bryant and A.J. Green are all expected to carry fantasy lineups in 2013.
The difference in missing the playoffs and contending for a league championship can hinge on your mid-round selections.
Don't be fooled—there's star potential outside of the first three rounds of a draft.
Keeping that in mind, here's a closer look at three sleepers with star potential that should be available in the middle rounds of your draft.
RB Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions
In PPR formats, Bush should be a running back you covet.
Even in standard leagues, the former USC standout is poised for a big year in Detroit's backfield. The Lions love to move the ball down the field through the air and have big-time weapons (Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew) for Matthew Stafford to work with.
Bush, coming off a strong season for the Miami Dolphins in which he racked up over 1,200 yards from scrimmage for the third time in his seven-year career, is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
Although it's still the preseason, Bush has looked strong in his first few chances to get out in the open field with the Lions.
Bush has never been a "carry the load" guy; plus, Mikel Leshoure serves as a touchdown vulture in Detroit because he is a bruiser and should be utilized around the goal line.
That being said, Bush did have six rushing touchdowns last year in Miami and added two more through the air from Ryan Tannehill in an offense nowhere near comparable to what Detroit is working with in '13.
FantasyGuru.com's Twitter account posed an interesting question for those mulling over Bush as a legitimate RB1 in all formats:
Could Reggie Bush catch 100 balls if he plays all 16 games? Legit question.— FantasyGuru.com (@Fantasy_Guru) August 23, 2013
While he probably won't put up the kind of rushing numbers necessary to justify using his talents in an RB1 slot, Bush's value in Detroit is as high as it's been since he first entered the league.
He should see at least 200 carries and has a chance to be a strong receiver out of the backfield for Stafford—maybe even to a point where he splits out as a receiver to create matchup problems with linebackers and to see what coverage the defense is running.
"Boom or bust" would be a great way to describe Bush this year, but there's little doubt he's in a situation where he has the potential to be a fantasy star.
WR Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville Jaguars
The former Mount Union star had a breakout year for the Jags in 2012, and found himself on a number of fantasy rosters as the playoffs approached last season.
With Justin Blackmon facing an early-season suspension this year and with Shorts now another year immersed in his relationship with Blaine Gabbert—and/or Chad Henne—the young wideout has all the tools to be a must-own in all formats this year.
Fox Sports' Peter Schrager agrees with that assessment:
Per the great @JohnOehser , Jags WR Cecil Shorts III is practicing today. Big news for Jags fans. "CSIII" is primed to make the leap in 13.— P. Schrager (@PSchrags) August 20, 2013
Shorts caught 55 passes for the Jags last year, but the numbers show that he was a favorite target of whichever QB was under center for the franchise. In eight of his 14 games in 2012, Shorts was targeted at least seven times. Six times, he was targeted at least 10 times.
Jacksonville's QB situation is particularly troubling for those who want to draft Jaguar receivers, but Shorts posted a season with nearly 1,000 yards receiving and seven touchdowns last year with the same consistency issues at the position.
As big-name receivers leave your draft board in the first few rounds, monitor the availability of Shorts.
If he's available in the fifth to seventh round of a draft in a 10-team format, you would be wise to pull the trigger if wide receiver is a position you're looking to stabilize.
TE Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
The injury bug has left Gates as more than just a starting-caliber tight end option in San Diego this year.
With Danario Alexander set to miss the season, Malcom Floyd out until Week 1 and Eddie Royal dealing with a concussion and bruised lung, Gates has an outstanding opportunity to produce the best numbers of his career since the 2009 season (79 receptions, 1,157 yards, eight TDs).
Gates reportedly dropped some weight this offseason in an attempt to counteract his growing age, a move that Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune discussed at length earlier this offseason.
Philip Rivers is going to have to throw the ball somewhere this year. Why not to his trusty tight end?
The Chargers upgraded their offense with Danny Woodhead and are expected to finally get a full year of production out of running back Ryan Mathews, but questions in the passing game abound. Vincent Brown is a wideout from whom San Diego expects big things, but he's yet to take on a significant regular-season role in his career.
Which player will have the best fantasy season?
Gates has been one of the best TEs in the league for the past decade. Entering his 11th NFL season this year, the 33-year-old will bless fantasy owners who choose to pass on top TE names (Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten) to nab other positional talent.
Health risks are there, but Gates is in position to have a renaissance year for the Chargers in 2013.
Like the players listed above, he's a sleeper who could turn into a star by the time Week 17 is here and another fantasy football season is in the books.
Follow B/R's Ethan Grant (@DowntownEG) on Twitter.