A great strategy for winning your fantasy football league is to pick up rookies as sleepers in the final rounds of drafts, as the right situation and opportunity could make them valuable contributors to fantasy owners.
While top-talent guys like Tavon Austin (St. Louis Rams) and Giovani Bernard (Cincinnati Bengals) could go in the middle rounds of most drafts, picking up lesser-known rookies is the key to success. Stocking up on established talent in earlier rounds and banking on rookies later on has worked for countless owners.
With this draft class, there are several candidates that will help owners during the 2013-14 season. Picking these types of players is no easy task, though. Before selecting a rookie as a sleeper pick, an owner must analyze what his assumed role on his NFL team will be. They must analyze where on the depth chart the player ranks and how much playing time he figures to get.
For wide receivers, it's useful to look into which quarterback will be throwing him the ball. For instance, a rookie wide receiver could be starting as a No. 1 wide receiver. This makes him attractive. The fact that he plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars, though, makes him a receiver owners probably want to avoid.
The following guys are in good situations in their rookie seasons and are worth your late-round pick on draft day.
Kenbrell Thompkins, WR, New England Patriots
Kenbrell Thompkins may be the ultimate sleeper pick in this year's fantasy football drafts. The wide receiver went undrafted out of Cincinnati and signed with the New England Patriots afterwards. Since then, he has used training camp to showcase his skills.
This preseason, Thompkins has been a favorite target for Patriots quarterbacks. He had eight catches for 116 yards against the Detroit Lions and looked as if he was a veteran receiver with the way he was able to get open down the field.
Thompkins looks to have leapfrogged over several other receivers on the depth chart as a result and could start alongside Danny Amendola for the team's Week 1 matchup. Julian Edelman will provide Thompkins with stiff competition for that spot, but the young wide receiver has put himself in the discussion for best undrafted signing of the offseason.
Plus, it's never a bad idea to have a wide receiver catching passes from Tom Brady on your fantasy squad. Brady does like to share the ball and get everybody involved, but the job of a quarterback is to ultimately get the ball into the open receiver's hands.
With Thompkins showing his ability to get open, Brady should love throwing downfield to him. This makes him an attractive option in the final round or two of drafts, as most owners will look for established veterans looking for bounce-back seasons at that point.
Knile Davis, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs may have a first-round caliber running back in Jamaal Charles, but his inability to stay healthy should worry his owners and bring hope to those who are smart enough to take his backup—Knile Davis out of Arkansas.
The No. 96 overall pick entered training camp battling Shaun Draughn and Cyrus Gray for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart behind Charles, but his strong performance in camp has all but cemented his role there.
Davis may not see many carries at first, as Charles appears to be healthy and will be relied upon heavily in Alex Smith's game-managing offense. Charles is one of the fastest and most dynamic backs in all of football. He won't be coming off the field for many third downs, as he's by far the best playmaker on the team.
Should he get injured, though, Davis would step into a similar role. Davis uses a blend of agility and power to break tackles and get into the second level of defenses, and his ability to keep the chains moving would work well with Smith at quarterback.
Because the Chiefs lean on the run so heavily, and because Charles doesn't always stay healthy, Davis is worth a late-round selection. He may not help immediately, but the last thing owners want is to find out that Charles injured himself and that another owner picked up Davis first. If you can afford to stash him on your roster, then do so.
Kenny Stills, WR, New Orleans Saints
Again, grabbing a rookie wide receiver that catches passes from an all-world quarterback is always a great idea. Such is the case with Kenny Stills, the No. 144 overall pick out of Oklahoma.
Stills' preseason has given him a strong chance at winning the No. 3 receiver's job behind Marques Colston and Lance Moore. Quarterback Drew Brees loves to spread the ball around to all of his receivers, but being higher up in the depth chart will certainly pay dividends for Stills. He may not project as a possession receiver just yet, but his ability to go over the top of defenses and catch long passes makes him an attractive bye-week option.
Should either Colston or Moore sustain an injury—both of which are susceptible to getting dinged up, by the way—then expect Stills to step in. Guys who rank as No. 3 receivers on their own teams don't usually get drafted in fantasy football, but there's nothing wrong with selecting Stills.
He has potential as an explosive target for Brees, who loves throwing the ball downfield to his open receivers. Playing in such a pass-heavy offense certainly helps Stills' chances, too.
Picking Stills could be similar to selecting Davis. He'll put up points here or there, but it's his ability to fill in for injured players that makes him valuable. Stash him if you can, because you won't be disappointed when he plays.
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