The 2013 fantasy football season is nearly upon us, with drafts happening in every city across the country. While the superstars may be going early, some of them aren't going early enough.
The question is, which stars should you take before the rest of the world wakes up and sees their value?
Certain players have the production to warrant a top-10 selection but lack the name recognition to make that jump. Others are stars, but the quality of their team seems to dictate the perception of their fantasy worth.
Do yourself a favor and ignore the common train of thought—these players deserve your pick.
Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears
Position: Wide Receiver
2012 Season Statistics
118 REC, 1,508 YDS, 11 TD
If you're playing in a point-per-reception league or not, Calvin Johnson is your top target at wide receiver. If he is off the board, or if you're just looking to create the best wide receiver tandem available, don't be afraid to stay in the Midwest.
Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall will be there to help carry your season.
In point-per-reception leagues, Marshall has significantly more value than the great Wes Welker—and that's saying something. After all, Welker was tied for second in the NFL with 118 receptions for 1,354 yards and six touchdowns, so how could anyone other than "Megatron" have greater value?
The answer is simple—Marshall was the player who tied Welker.
Not only did Marshall match Welker's 118 receptions, but he tallied 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns. That's more than 150 yards and five more touchdowns than Welker, and those number aren't likely to go down in 2013.
Jay Cutler is still a gunslinging quarterback, and Marshall remains his favorite target from his goal line to the back of the opponent's end zone.
Alshon Jeffery's progression as a receiver and Martellus Bennett's arrival at tight end should help alleviate the pressure on Marshall in 2013. With that being said, he had minimal aid in 2012 and still managed to catch more than 100 passes for upwards of 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Don't let his average draft position of 21.2, per ESPN, fool you into thinking he'll be available in the second round—someone in your league will take a wise gamble. You should be the one to do it.
LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
Position: Running Back
2012 Season Statistics
12 GP; 200 ATT, 840 YDS, 2 TD; 54 REC, 373 YDS, 3 TD
When a player is going as high as No. 12 in the average draft, it's hard to say that he's being underrated. With that being said, we're talking about one of the top five running backs in the league in LeSean McCoy.
Michael Vick carrying the ball more often in the read-option offense under Chip Kelly doesn't mean "Shady's" going to get less touches.
Players whom McCoy is currently behind include second-year backs Doug Martin and Trent Richardson and the guy who could be the next McCoy: C.J. Spiller. The question is, why would you take what could be over what already is?
Injuries or not, McCoy topped 10 points in 10 of his 12 games played with an Eagles squad that had no direction offensively and consistently played from behind.
Winning games is another topic entirely, but the most certain commodity in the NFC East is a Washington Redskins team banking on their quarterback recovering from a severe knee injury. For that reason, we're inclined to believe that, at worst, the Eagles will be losing games that they were in at some point.
Under Coach Kelly, you can all but guarantee that means close to 20 carries a game for McCoy.
Not only can he shine for you as a runner, but in point-per-reception leagues, he is absolute gold. He had 54 receptions in 12 games last season, which equates to 4.5 per game and 72 in a full 16-game season.
Tell me, why is this man slipping to No. 12?
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
2012 Season Statistics
3,869 YDS, 19 TD, 12 INT, 5 FUM; 127 ATT, 741 YDS, 8 TD, 4 FUM
Every fantasy football owner knows that the most valuable players are those who breathe versatility. While pocket passers and possession receivers are nice, the true stars can put up points in a variety of ways.
So why in the world is Cam Newton's average draft position 32.2, per ESPN?
Newton struggled during his first seven games, pairing monster outings—25 points in Week 2 and 30 in Week 4—with duds—less than 10 in Weeks 3 and 5. With that being said, he was in the second year of his career, facing a sophomore slump and being exposed to defenses that focused solely on him.
During his final nine games, he averaged 22.2 points per game in standard leagues.
Newton now enters the 2013 season with a drastically improved defense and a lethal punt returner, Ted Ginn Jr., who should help create quality field position. While the Panthers failed to add stars, they gave Newton a reliable target in Domenik Hixon to throw to out of the slot.
Hixon caught 39 passes for 567 yards in 2013, which was good for 14.5 yards per reception.
For all of the criticism he faced, Newton still picked up 3,869 yards passing and 19 touchdowns with 741 yards and eight touchdowns rushing the football. If that's not enough, he threw two total interceptions in his final seven games.