Fantasy Football 2014: 2nd-Year Players Poised for Massive Sophomore Campaigns
With the NFL draft almost two months away, a lot of attention will focus toward some incoming rookies who could boost your fantasy football teams. However, there are quite a few second-year players also set to make a name for themselves and ones you should not give up on yet.
Whether it’s a player who shined down the stretch—i.e., a Montee Ball or Cordarrelle Patterson—or a player set for an increased role (Andre Ellington), the following 10 players (ranked in order of fantasy relevance) mentioned in this slideshow should be ready to break out in their sophomore seasons.
Excluded from this list will be second-year players who have already established themselves (i.e., Eddie Lacy, Le’Veon Bell, Keenan Allen, Giovani Bernard, etc.) in their rookie campaigns. So while these are not the sexiest names, they are primed to make some headway in 2014 and should be on your radar come draft day.
The following players also stand a chance to become fantasy factors, but for the most part, they don’t possess the upside of the 10 players mentioned in this slideshow.
EJ Manuel, Geno Smith, Justin Hunter, Terrance Williams, Joseph Fauria, Ace Sanders, Mike Glennon, Jordan Reed, Marlon Brown, Kenny Stills, Tim Wright and Mike Gillislee.
10. Robert Woods, Buffalo Bills
As you might expect, playing with a rookie quarterback (Manuel) for the majority of the time and at other times playing with less-than-stellar backups in Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel getting him the ball, Robert Woods didn’t exactly light it up in his rookie season.
Woods ended the year with 40 receptions for 587 yards and three touchdowns. But Woods ended the year on a strong note with nine receptions (on 17 targets) for 179 yards and one touchdown in his last three games.
If Woods can build on that, he can make for a legit fantasy performer. He should be a great No. 4 or No. 5 WR who could be had late in drafts. There is still a lot of untapped potential for the Bills’ 2013 second-round draft pick.
9. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
While his rookie stats (36 receptions for 469 yards and four touchdowns) were modest, Zach Ertz showed a lot of promise to end the season. In his last five games, Ertz recorded 17 receptions (on 22 targets) for 195 yards and three touchdowns.
Playing in Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense and with emerging quarterback sensation Nick Foles slinging him the ball, Ertz seems primed to bust loose in 2014. While incumbent tight end Brent Celek may still be around, it is clearly Ertz, the Eagles' 2013 second-round pick, who should be in line for the bulk of playing time. We have seen the best of Celek; it’s Ertz’s time now.
Although he might not make for a good, starting tight end option to start the season, Ertz has all the tools to be one at the end of the day. If you can afford drafting two tight ends, Ertz should be a stealth late-round pickup and one who could be a starter by year’s end.
8. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
Seeing as though the Bengals used their 2013 first-round pick on Tyler Eifert, they will ultimately want to see what they got in the second-year tight end out of Notre Dame.
Sure, Eifert’s rookie stats (39 receptions for 445 yards and two touchdowns) were pedestrian, but you can chalk that up to normal rookie struggles. While he doesn’t have the perfect conditions to thrive in, since he still has to split time with Jermaine Gresham, he is clearly the guy the Bengals want to showcase given the high draft pick they spent on him.
Just like Ertz, Eifert will make for a great No. 2 tight end and one with potential for much more.
7. Latavius Murray, Oakland Raiders
Latavius Murray comes into this season as a bit of a question mark considering he sat all of last season on the IR with an ankle injury. But you should get to know his name.
With Darren McFadden and Rashad Jennings free agents, Murray could be in a line for a good share of carries in Oakland this coming year. It’s all but a foregone conclusion that McFadden will leave, so Murray will have less competition in Oakland regardless if the team brings back Jennings or not.
Oakland loves Murray’s potential, and so should you. Granted he is nothing more than a late-round flier, but he’s the type of lottery ticket that could do wonders for your fantasy team.
6. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
DeAndre Hopkins’ rookie season wasn’t all that special. Not to say it was all that bad, either. After all, he ended the year with 52 receptions for a respectable 802 yards, but he only scored two touchdowns.
With Houston a dysfunctional group last year, and one with turmoil at quarterback, Hopkins did not have the ideal situation to succeed. With new coach Bill O’Brien now in charge, his offensive-minded ways should boost Hopkins’ value tenfold.
With the Texans having the first pick, they could draft a new quarterback (Johnny Manziel perhaps?), and that could help Hopkins as well. Nevertheless, Hopkins is a sleeper to target late in drafts as a high-end No. 4 WR.
5. Marcus Lattimore, San Francisco 49ers
Just like Latavius Murray, Marcus Lattimore enters the 2014 season basically a rookie, as he sat out all of last season on the reserve/non-football injury list with a terrible knee injury that he suffered in his final season at South Carolina in 2012 in which he suffered a dislocated right knee cap with three torn ligaments.
While there will be some question marks surrounding his health, Lattimore has been rehabbing intensely and actually practiced with the 49ers this past year. Although he still has to contend for carries with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter, Lattimore possesses the purest upside. This, after all, was a guy who had first-round talent before his gruesome injury.
If he can clear all the medical hurdles ahead of him, Lattimore should be a dynamite injury-risk sleeper to gamble on late in drafts. The reward is much greater than the risk here.
4. Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams
Amid much fanfare prior to his rookie season, Tavon Austin did not exactly live up to the hype in his initial season in the NFL.
While more explosive on special teams, Austin struggled last season en route to registering just 40 receptions for 418 yards and four touchdowns. However, in Weeks 10 and 12, Austin showed the promise most saw in him, when he recorded four receptions for 177 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for an additional 69 yards and a touchdown.
The talent is obviously there with Austin. Hopefully he puts it altogether in 2014, and if he does, the sky will be the limit for Austin.
3. Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings
With off-the-charts athleticism, perhaps no second-year player will enter the 2014 season with more intrigue than the Vikings' multipurpose threat, Cordarrelle Patterson.
While he did most of his damage last year on special teams, Patterson showed late in the season he will be a threat in the passing game, too. He scored in three of his last four games while becoming an integral part of Minnesota’s offense, while also recording 15 catches (on 25 targets) for 215 receiving yards in those last four games.
Expect Patterson to take a huge leap from his rookie year to his sophomore season, and you should target him in the middle rounds to be a high-end No. 3 WR. He certainly possesses the talent to be a top-20 receiver.
2. Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals
Since it seems likely the Cardinals will say goodbye to Rashard Mendenhall in the offseason, as CBSSports.com and Fox 910 (via Kerry Capps of the Anderson Independent Mail) reports, it appears imminent Arizona will hand the keys over to Andre Ellington to be the full-time back.
Ellington is a terrific east-west runner and great in open spaces. He just needs to add some bulk to his frame so he can be a dependable, every-down back.
Ellington dazzled in his limited playing time last year, averaging 5.5 yards per carry, and showed off all the athleticism that made him such a coveted prospect coming out of Clemson. Ellington will have to stave off fellow second-year back Stepfan Taylor for carries, but Ellington is the back to draft in Arizona this summer. He can make for a low-end No. 2 RB in drafts.
1. Montee Ball, Denver Broncos
After some early-season struggles, Ball got his act in gear toward the end of the year and finished the season rushing for 297 yards and one touchdown in his last five games. In all, Ball finished the season with 120 carries for 559 yards, which was good for a healthy 4.7 yards per carry. Ball also was good for four touchdowns.
In Denver’s prolific offense, Ball should be a beast beating teams up the middle rushing the ball while defenses have to still account for the high-octane passing game. With the role he’s expected to have, Ball should be viewed as nothing lower than a No. 2 running back and one to be drafted within the first four or five rounds in drafts.
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