Every year a number of under-the-radar, unheralded players come from seemingly nowhere with a breakout performance. These studs dominate the NFL with great play and big statistical production.
Identifying these sleepers early is a key component in winning a fantasy football league, as the gurus that can correctly predict breakout players and draft them at the appropriate time have a huge advantage over their opponents.
Let’s take a look at a few players with relatively low expectations that could be poised for greatness in 2013.
Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams brass finally elected to overhaul the offense this offseason, allowing Steven Jackson to walk and putting a solid receiving corps in place around fourth-year quarterback Sam Bradford.
Chris Givens is back for another run as the No. 1 option, Tavon Austin was drafted with the No. 8 pick to add an additional playmaker that can line up all over the field and Jared Cook was brought over from Tennessee to provide Bradford with a big target in the red zone.
While the running game is a bit suspect, that should only add to the amount that head coach Jeff Fisher leans on his signal-caller.
For the first time in his career, Bradford has the tools in place to succeed. He has some stability at coach, a solid offensive system designed around his strengths and weaknesses and plenty of talent to catch his passes.
Don’t be surprised if he parlays this into a breakout season and helps the Rams make the playoffs coming out of the tough NFC West.
Jordan Cameron, TE, Cleveland Browns
Big things are expected from the Browns offense this year and no one may have a bigger hand in that turnaround than third-year tight end Jordan Cameron.
The former USC product is the benefactor of a new group of coaches that should have the Cleveland passing game clicking.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner and head coach Rob Chudzinski have overseen quite a few successful tight ends in their previous stops, which means Jordan will be expected to do great things this season.
He already showed some flashes of that greatness during the preseason, catching three passes for 42 yards and two touchdowns against the Detroit Lions. If Cameron can do that on a regular basis during the regular season, he’s going to be regarded as a top talent at his position.
At 6’5”, 245 pounds, there is no doubt that this 25-year-old has the raw size and skill to make a leap in a make-or-break season. As long as quarterback Brandon Weeden can find Cameron in the red zone and put the ball in vicinity, things should work out.
Shane Vereen, RB, New England Patriots
The Patriots passing attack is in the midst of a complete overhaul, with almost all of the top receiving options from last year gone.
Players like Shane Vereen—a running back with passing-catching skills—are now going to be required to step up and deliver in order to assist quarterback Tom Brady in leading this team back to the playoffs.
Although he’s not the top option out of his own backfield—that distinction goes to Stevan Ridley—Vereen has been split out wide and should receive plenty of snaps as a pass-catching back.
That was a role that Danny Woodhead played to great success in previous seasons, but he is now out of the picture as a member of the San Diego Chargers.
Owners in PPR leagues will especially want to keep tabs on Vereen, as he looks primed for a breakout campaign in his third year. There is no longer anyone holding him back and he figures to be a major part of the New England offense.