For every place in the draft, there is an axiom. You won't win your leagues in the early rounds, but you can lose it there. Stay safe early, take chances late. And this year, wait on quarterbacks and wide receivers, positions with far more useful depth than running back.
As sleepers go, they are a mixed bag. Taking too many chances on potential sleepers can leave your team with little depth if you whiff on those selections, leaving your team thin for the bye weeks. But if you hit on a major sleeper or two, it can win you your league.
I won't promise the following four players will reach league-winning status. But each represents excellent value and could do big things for your team this year.
Chris Givens, WR, St. Louis Rams
Givens is a player who isn't being talked about a lot, can be had for fairly cheap (his average draft position in ESPN leagues is 116.3) and will likely see more targets than rookie Tavon Austin, according to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
As a rookie, he posted six games with at least eight fantasy points and had five catches of 31 yards or more, scoring three touchdowns on those plays. He's a burner who will stretch the field and give Sam Bradford a deep threat to keep defenses honest.
Jared Cook and Austin may be receiving all the buzz in the passing game, but Givens should end up being the most valuable receiver in this offense. Expect him to develop into a solid WR3 or even a low-end WR2, making his 11th-round projection in 10-team leagues an excellent value.
Vincent Brown, WR, San Diego Chargers
Brown is a bit of a deep sleeper, but with an ADP of 129.6 in ESPN leagues, the risk is minimal while the upside is very solid.
Brown was tipped for big things a year ago, his second year in the league, but a fractured ankle before the season began cost him his season. Now, he finds himself in a Chargers offense needing a playmaker in the passing game, with Antonio Gates declining, Danario Alexander out for the season and Malcom Floyd already missing two weeks in the preseason with a knee injury.
Remember, as a rookie he averaged 17.3 yards per catch. It looks as though he'll enter the season as Philip Rivers' top target and could end up being a very nice WR3 or low-end WR2 for owners at a cut rate.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Arizona Cardinals
Mendenhall is probably the "sleeper" you are most familiar with. But when you consider his ADP in ESPN fantasy leagues is 89.2, he's perhaps a player you should re-familiarize with.
Mendenhall is not going to win any fantasy titles between the 20s, but he has always been an excellent short-yardage runner and should not only be the Cardinals' No. 1 running back but also the team's best goal-line option.
Remember, Mendenhall scored 29 touchdowns from 2009-11. If he hovers around the 10-touchdown mark, you're looking at a low-end RB2 in the ninth round.
Not too shabby.
Martellus Bennett, TE, Chicago Bears
You probably shouldn't be drafting Bennett as your TE1, but with an ADP of 129.5 in ESPN leagues, you can afford to make him your second option at the position.
A very talented athlete, Bennett showed flashes of excellence with the New York Giants, scoring a total of 36 fantasy points in the first three weeks of last season. But as the Giants' offense stalled, so too did Bennett, scoring seven or more fantasy points just three times the rest of the way.
Still, the talent is here, and Jay Cutler can't throw every pass to Brandon Marshall. He's too risky to draft as your starter, but he has enough upside to make you look very smart if you wait on your tight ends and draft two in quick succession in the later rounds.
If you are going to wait on tight ends and draft a player like Jermichael Finley, you might as well double-dip on your high-risk, high-reward options and toss Bennett on the pile.
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