With the 2013 fantasy football year winding down, it’s time to start thinking about next year and the players you can’t pass on next draft season. The players in this slideshow (ranked in order of fantasy relevance) fully broke out this season, and as a result, they have played themselves into early-round consideration next summer.
So, don’t be the fool who misses out on these players. Stay ahead of the curve and make sure these guys are on your radar come next draft season.
After not doing much during his first two years in the league while overcoming injuries, Julius Thomas busted through the dam this year and certified himself as one the best options at tight end.
After an awe-inspiring performance in the season-opener against the Baltimore Ravens, in which he totaled five receptions for 110 yards and two touchdowns, Thomas continued to impress throughout the season. His 11 touchdowns rank third among tight ends this year. His receptions (49) and receiving yards (805) are not too shabby either.
While Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis should be drafted ahead of him, Thomas is clearly in place to be the third tight end taken in drafts next season considering Rob Gronkowski’s knee injuries. Think fifth or sixth round when speculating on drafting Thomas.
Drafted by the Chargers in the third round and coming off a knee injury in college, the thought was that Keenan Allen wasn’t going to make his impact felt in 2013 while adjusting to the speed of the NFL. In the early going, that was the case, as he recorded only three receptions for 30 yards in his first three games.
However, after shaking off the effects of the knee injury, Allen started to shine. In Week 4 against Dallas, Allen registered a solid stat line of five receptions for 80 yards. That was a precursor of things to come, as Allen absolutely went off in Weeks 5 and 6, compiling 15 receptions for 222 yards and two touchdowns.
For the year, Allen has 63 receptions for 931 yards and seven touchdowns—easily the best among rookie wide receivers.
With him having a great rapport with his quarterback, Philip Rivers, expect Allen to only get better in his sophomore season. He should be targeted in the fourth or fifth round.
If you play in a points-per-reception league, Shane Vereen holds a ton a value, as he has become a trusted weapon in the passing game for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Even if you’re not in a PPR-league, Vereen is someone who will get a lot of touches, as he has 43 receptions and 40 rushing attempts in just six games this season. So far on the year, he has 199 rushing yards (averaging five yards a carry) to go along with a rushing score, and he has also hauled in 43 receptions and an additional receiving touchdown.
While he may not be the workhorse back for the Patriots, Vereen will get his touches in this offense nonetheless, and he’s a solid back to target in the early rounds (think fourth or fifth round).
As long as Michael Vick doesn’t threaten his status as starting quarterback in Philadelphia next year—and there is no reason to think that he will—it can be argued that Nick Foles should be one of the top-five quarterbacks selected in drafts next summer.
In only eight games started this season, Foles has passed for 2,398 yards and 23 touchdowns, while only throwing two interceptions. He’s as proficient as it gets, as he also has a 62 percent completion rate. His 117.0 QB rating is also tops in the league.
With DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper, LeSean McCoy and Zach Ertz as his weapons, Foles should only get better in his third year in the NFL next season. You should target Foles in the first four or five rounds in fantasy drafts.
Leading up to drafts this summer, we were led to believe that either Montee Ball or Ronnie Hillman would be the featured back in Denver this season. But to everyone’s surprise, it was Knowshon Moreno who outlasted everyone. Once he got the job as the team's lead back, he took off and ran with it.
Moreno has emerged this year as a workhorse back and is on pace for a career high in rushing yards and has already topped his career high in touchdowns. At the moment, his 939 rushing yards rank 12th in the NFL and his 10 rushing scores place him within the top three in the league.
With his pass-catching abilities and advanced knowledge of the Broncos’ playbook, Moreno doesn’t look like he is going anywhere soon. As such, confidently select him in the second or third rounds of your draft next year.
Just like Moreno in Denver, Zac Stacy was an afterthought in the Rams’ backfield this summer. Incumbents Daryl Richardson (who was named the starter prior to the season) and Isaiah Pead were the ones who were supposed to lead the way, but the rookie out of Vanderbilt eventually took the reins as the primary ball-carrier for St. Louis halfway through the season.
In Week 1, Stacy received just one carry (for four yards) and didn't appear in a game again until Week 5. And ever since that game, during which he rushed for 78 yards on 14 carries versus Jacksonville, he has ruled the roost in St. Louis, rushing for 850 yards and six touchdowns while also chipping in with 21 receptions for 113 yards and a touchdown. That’s some major production for someone who was likely scooped up off the waiver wire this year.
Now that he has established himself as a legitimate running threat, Stacy should have the job as the lead back in St. Louis all to himself for the foreseeable future. He has to be considered a viable selection within the first three rounds in fantasy drafts next summer.
Although he was useful for fantasy purposes before (1,895 combined receiving yards over the previous two seasons), Antonio Brown has now arguably gone from a No. 3 wide receiver or high-end flex player to a No. 1 stud with the breakout season he enjoyed this year.
Among receivers, Brown ranks third in receptions (95) and receiving yards (1,307), while coming in tied for 14th in touchdowns (8).
With the season he is having, Brown has firmly entered the ranks of other No. 1 receivers, and you should target him in the third or fourth round of your draft next year.
This year will be known for the year of breakout receivers, as many have stepped up and took their games to elite levels in 2013.
One such receiver is Alshon Jeffery.
No longer will Jeffery have to play second fiddle to Brandon Marshall, as both can be viewed as No. 1 receivers going forward. This year, Jeffery has been good for 80 receptions (10th among receivers), 1,265 receiving yards (seventh among receivers) and seven touchdowns.
Just like Marshall, Jeffery should be an early-round receiver to target next year.
Probably drafted as a late-round flier, especially in lieu of his two-game suspension to start the season, Josh Gordon has gone above and beyond the call of duty by emphatically stating his case as being one of the great young receivers in the league.
Just look at the numbers for proof.
Gordon leads the league in receiving yards (1,467), is 15th in receptions (74) and is tied for 10th in touchdowns (9)—all despite missing the first two games of the season.
It doesn’t matter who is throwing him the ball, Gordon is elite and deserves late-first/early-second round consideration next year. He very well could be the second receiver taken off the board after Calvin Johnson.
It seems like every year, a few rookie running backs take the league by storm (consider last year and the success of Doug Martin, Trent Richardson and Alfred Morris). This year was no different, with Eddie Lacy leading the charge of elite rookie runners.
Lacy ranks seventh in the NFL in rushing yards (1,028) and is tied for fifth in rushing touchdowns (8)—both tops among rookies as well.
With Lacy entrenched as the Packers’ bell-cow back, he holds great value heading into the 2014 season and beyond—so much so that he should be thought of as a first-round draft pick.
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