The best fantasy sleepers are often players who will not break out for a few weeks. If you have time to wait, the payoff could be huge.
There are a number of rookies and other youngsters across the league who have plenty of talent, but they are yet to earn a starting job on their respective teams. However, the circumstances for each person could change within a few weeks.
Each of these picks are currently risky due to an unknown role when the season starts. However, fantasy owners should grab these players for the long-term upside they possess. If things go right, they should be legitimate fantasy starters by the end of the year.
Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
As of now, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is the starting running back in Cincinnati due to his experience and solid production last season. The Law Firm rushed for 1,094 yards last season and had 30 touchdowns in the past three years combined.
However, the bulky running back rarely makes people miss and provides no threat of a big play from the backfield.
This is why the Bengals drafted Giovani Bernard in the second round of the NFL draft. The former North Carolina player has great quickness and agility that makes him a threat to score from anywhere on the field.
He will likely remain behind Green-Ellis on the depth chart to start the year as he learns the nuances of the NFL—especially pass-blocking—but it will only be a matter of time until he takes over as the primary running back in Cincinnati.
Bernard is already going ahead of Green-Ellis in average drafts on ESPN due to his potential. Make sure you can grab him when you get the chance.
Markus Wheaton, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
With Mike Wallace out of town in Pittsburgh, the Steelers will look toward Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders to take over as the primary receivers. However, No. 3 target Markus Wheaton could end up being the best of the bunch.
The rookie from Oregon State has been an impressive deep threat in the preseason so far. In the last two games, he totaled six catches for 106 yards and a touchdown.
Neither Brown nor Sanders have much size, so the only thing they hold over Wheaton is experience. Within a few weeks, this will not be an issue.
Watch for the quick player to showcase a greater consistency than his teammates in the first month, which will lead to many more targets down the stretch.
Fantasy owners who know what they are doing will draft Wheaton, so do not be afraid to grab him in the later rounds to set yourself up for the year.
E.J. Manuel, QB, Buffalo Bills
It is likely that E.J. Manuel finds himself on the waiver wire in most fantasy leagues heading into the season after the announcement that the Bills plan to start Jeff Tuel in Week 1 (via Mike Rodak of ESPN).
Manuel is currently dealing with a knee injury and will not be rushed back to the field before he is ready. Still, Buffalo drafted him in the first round to play him, and he will get a chance before too long.
When he does eventually get on the field, there is potential for him to be a quality fantasy starter. He has looked good in the early going of the preseason and has plenty of weapons around him like C.J. Spiller and Stevie Johnson to help him succeed.
Additionally, Manuel's running ability could help him get Russell Wilson-type numbers toward the end of the season.
Rookie quarterbacks are hard to trust in the early going, but Manuel represents enough upside to stash him on your team until he proves himself.
Quinton Patton, WR, San Francisco 49ers
This is the perfect example of what happens when talent meets opportunity. Quinton Patton has been under the radar his entire career while playing at Louisiana Tech and as a result was only a fourth-round pick.
However, the receiver has great natural instincts at the position and good enough hands to be productive at this level.
With Michael Crabtree out at least six games and likely more due to a torn Achilles, San Francisco has little depth at wide receiver outside of Anquan Boldin and will likely shuffle lineups early in the season.
Eventually, Patton will hear his name called and should be able to make the most of his opportunity.
The rookie caught a touchdown pass from Colin Kaepernick in his only preseason appearance against the Minnesota Vikings. This could be a sign for things to come for a team that desperately needs someone to step up.
Do not be afraid to draft the deep sleeper and wait for him to breakout during the year.
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