Fantasy gurus know that draft strategy is the difference between winning a league and falling well short, but it’s not the early rounds that matter.
It doesn’t take a genius to select quality players toward the beginning of the draft, and almost everyone receives a high level of production from those picks—barring unpredictable injuries, of course.
The real fantasy superstars are the owners who focus their efforts and research on the latter rounds, relentlessly identifying and unearthing players who are poised for breakout seasons.
If and when you own numerous players whose production far exceeds their average draft position, you are always going to have an advantage over your opponent—who probably randomly chose his late-round prospects based on name recognition or other biases.
Let’s take a look at a few studs who are in line to have solid 2013 campaigns who aren’t expected to come off the board until the end of the draft—if they do at all.
Terrelle Pryor, QB, Oakland Raiders
Pryor is the favorite to emerge from Oakland’s quarterback battle with the No. 1 job, as the former Ohio State star dazzled during the Raiders' third preseason contest.
Going into the offseason, Matt Flynn was widely projected to finally shed his status as a talented backup who couldn’t find a way to start ahead of top-tier quarterbacks.
However, he unraveled against the Chicago Bears, and Pryor—a dual-threat weapon—now looks like he could be the right man under center.
While head coach Dennis Allen’s offense had some issues last year, he wasn’t afraid to give Carson Palmer the green light to air it out if the Silver and Black fell behind. Pryor may not have perfect throwing mechanics, but he’s improved drastically in that area and can create while on the run.
Considering Oakland’s offensive line isn’t among the league’s best, he’ll often be asked to extend plays with his feet and make things happen when things break down.
This could result in huge gains both through the air and on the ground for Pryor, and the third-year pro could put up massive fantasy stats in 2013.
Select Pryor as a backup in two-QB leagues and even consider taking a gamble on him in standard format league with your last-round selection.
Markus Wheaton, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Now that Mike Wallace is running routes for the Miami Dolphins, the Steelers are just waiting for someone to step up and fill the deep-threat void the speedster left behind.
Wheaton is a candidate to separate himself from the rest of the mediocre receivers on the Pittsburgh roster and become a top target for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
How productive will Wheaton be this season?
The No. 79 pick in the 2013 draft has rapidly ascended up the depth chart and already caught seven passes for 114 yards and a score during the preseason.
Wheaton should start the year behind Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, but it would not be shocking if head coach Mike Tomlin gives the former Oregon State standout a heavy amount of snaps from the slot.
He still needs to officially best Jerricho Cotchery for the role, but the blazing fast wideout looks like he has what it takes and should make a major impact in the Steelers’ passing game.
Christine Michael, RB, Seattle Seahawks
There’s no doubting that Marshawn Lynch is going to go beast mode for the Seahawks this year, but his backup is making a splash this preseason and could get considerable playing time in 2013.
Christine Michael is an athletic specimen and clearly being groomed to be the back of the future in Seattle after being selected in the second round of this year’s draft.
He dominated the Green Bay Packers in an exhibition game last week, taking off for a 43-yard touchdown sprint on his way to 122 yards in the game.
The former Texas A&M Aggie ran a 4.43 40-yard dash during the combine and is an excellent change-of-pace option in comparison to the more bruising Lynch.
Now that Lynch is 27 years old and has recorded more than 1,452 regular-season carries during his prolific career, head coach Pete Carroll would be wise to keep his feature back fresh for an inevitable playoff run this winter.
Michael will be the beneficiary of any decreased workload and looks to be the main option if Lynch has to miss any time with injury.