So you’re still looking for fantasy football sleepers as the 2013 NFL season inches closer and closer. Hopefully you’ve been paying attention to injury situations around the league, because players that wouldn’t normally be contributors will undoubtedly make early impacts this season.
It’s not because they’re poor talents, but rather their respective places in their teams’ pecking order. Those situations are worth monitoring. If these guys can establish themselves as valuable commodities early on, they could earn more prominent roles even after injured starters return.
Here’s a look at a couple of these players and others who have shined in the preseason. They could surprise early and throughout the 2013 season.
WR Ace Sanders, Jacksonville Jaguars
Player Ranking: 141st WR, N/A overall
Fourth-round pick Ace Sanders has been turning heads all offseason at Jaguars camp. Twelve Jags veterans unanimously named him the team’s most impressive rookie, according to Ryan O’Halloran of The Florida Times-Union.
With Justin Blackmon set to miss the first four games of the season, he’ll have the opportunity to translate that early success into actual production on the field. Sanders is a guy who demands respect from defenses. He’s also an electric return man, which gives him added value in leagues that reward return yardage points.
Through three preseason games, the speedy Sanders has caught three passes for 49 yards and has shown a knack for making things happen after the catch. You’ll be able to wait until late to grab him, and he's definitely worth a valuable late-round flier, as he’s a sleeper your competition won’t have on their radars.
WR Nick Toon, New Orleans Saints
Player Ranking: 101st WR, 310 overall
Anytime you’re looking for a fantasy producer at the wide receiver it’s also important to interpret a players’ offensive situation. No other wide receiver group has as much potential to put up points than New Orleans' group does. Drew Brees is a points machine, and Nick Toon should benefit from that this season.
The Saints have been searching for a competent secondary option to Marques Colston on the outside for quite some time. He’s got plenty of other options in Lance Moore, Darren Sproles and tight end Jimmy Graham, but there is still a void on the sidelines. You’ve probably been burned, not literally, by counting on Devery Henderson to be that guy in the past.
But was Henderson ever compared to Colston and Tampa Bay’s Vincent Jackson? Toon has been drawing those comparisons this offseason, according to Katherine Terrell of The Times-Picayune. The 6’4”, 220-pound receiver is having a tremendous camp and has flashed incredible speed for a guy his size.
The Saints are so impressed that they released veterans Steve Breaston and Patrick Crayton, opting to roll with Toon and rookie Kenny Stills at the position. The two have been neck-and-neck this preseason and both have shined. Toon has collected six grabs for 133 yards, narrowly trailing behind Stills as the team’s most productive receiver.
RB Kenjon Barner, Carolina Panthers
Player Ranking: 89th RB, 330 overall
I’ve listed rookie running back Kenjon Barner on other sleeper lists this offseason, but there’s even more reason to be hopeful about his chance to breakout this season. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart’s injury is bad and he’ll miss some time to begin the season:
Even if he makes it back onto the field, Stewart is coming off of the worst season of his career in which he missed seven games and rushed for just 336 yards.
Head coach Ron Rivera said the team won’t bring in any new backs and doesn’t seem too worried the situation. “We feel good about the young guys that we have,” he said, per AP’s Steve Reed (via the Washington Post).
Score for Barner and anyone looking for a late-round steal for their fantasy football bench. Expect him to begin the season in a third-down role, but that could eventually change if 30-year-old DeAngelo Williams continues to struggle and Barner shines.
Fantasy player rankings are based on FantasyPros.com's ADP rankings for standard leagues.