3 Must-Own Sleeper WRs for Fantasy Football 2014: Who's the Next Josh Gordon?

James ParadisContributor IIMarch 26, 2014

3 Must-Own Sleeper WRs for Fantasy Football 2014: Who's the Next Josh Gordon?

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    Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

    If Josh Gordon or Alshon Jeffery ended up on your team’s roster last season, you hit fantasy paydirt and likely made your league’s playoffs. So, which wide receiver will be the Gordon or Jeffery of 2014?

    Every year there are players predicted by most to make a jump in fantasy value who then go on to greatly exceed almost everyone's wildest expectations. Players that begin the year as potential bye-week fill-ins suddenly become every-week starters. Gordon and Jeffery did it at the wide receiver position in 2013, while Knowshon Moreno did it at running back. These players single handedly shift the entire fantasy football paradigm during a given year, turning mediocre teams into playoff contenders and playoff contenders into league champions.

    With every passing week of the NFL offseason, the big picture of the upcoming year gradually comes into focus. Free agents and coaches continue to find new homes and each new contract adds a wrinkle to the composition of the fantasy world that will in some way impact how next year will play out. Now that we know the landing spots for most fantasy-relevant players, we can begin to dissect and project what 2014 will hold.

    Let’s take a look at three wide receivers that may be poised to make the leap from mid-round draft pick to fantasy stardom this coming season. To make this list, a wide receiver must:

    1)      Not be a rookie,

    2)      Be a starting receiver on their respective team, and

    3)      Never have finished a season top ten in fantasy scoring at the WR position.

    This is not a list of super-duper deep sleepers. There are no 2013 Zac Stacys on this list. Nor is it a list of former stars who fell off last year (i.e. Roddy White, Percy Harvin, etc.). Each player on this list will get drafted in leagues of all sizes and has a real chance to break into the conversation of “elite, must start” receivers. It is up to you to make the call on draft day—who will shock the fantasy world and win you your league?

    Honorable Mentions: Terrance Williams (DAL), Riley Cooper (PHI), Kendall Wright (TEN), Marvin Jones (CIN), Golden Tate (DET), DeAndre Hopkins (HOU), Kenny Stills (NO)

Michael Floyd, Arizona Cardinals

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    It’s with a heavy heart that I concede the following statement: Larry Fitzgerald is on the downside of his NFL career. It appears that age has begun to catch up with one of the most talented and fun to watch receivers in the history of the game. Meanwhile, there is a man on the other side of the field whose career is just beginning to blossom. That man is Arizona Cardinals third-year wide receiver Michael Floyd.

    At 6’2”, 220 lbs, Floyd has made steady progress his first two years in the league, and he could be on the verge of a breakout year. The former first-round pick out of Notre Dame seemingly has all the tools to be an elite receiver, but he has yet to put those tools together and produce like one. That could change this season.

    In 2013, Floyd began the year competing for the number two receiver role with former teammate Andre Roberts. He won that contest going away, more than doubling Roberts in receiving yards and touchdowns. He finished the year with the most receiving yards on the team (1,041) despite having 24 less targets and 17 less receptions than Fitzgerald.

    Due to Rashard Mendenhall’s early retirement, the Cardinals have big plans to highlight versatile second-year running back Andre Ellington in the run and pass game. With Ellington and Fitzgerald wreaking havoc in the short-to-mid field, Floyd should have plenty of opportunities to beat favorable coverage downfield and rip off some game-breaking plays.

    One potential threat to Floyd’s success this coming year is whether or not quarterback Carson Palmer can stay upright and make all the necessary throws. Palmer should have significantly better protection this year after the team signed free agent left tackle Jared Veldheer from the Oakland Raiders earlier this offseason. The team also expects to have its 2013 first-round pick, offensive guard Jonathan Cooper, fully recovered from injury to add some sorely needed talent to the Cardinals offensive line. These improvements bode well for Floyd's chances to have a huge fantasy year.

    The Projection

    Of all the players highlighted in this article, Floyd might be the most talented receiver with the most significant role in his team’s offense. His size, athleticism, and excellent route-running skills could help him supplant Fitzgerald as the team’s most dangerous red-zone threat. With pass-happy head coach Bruce Arians still drawing up the Xs and Os, watch out for Michael Floyd to light up the fantasy world in 2014.

    Projected 2014 Stats:84 receptions1,350 receiving yards10 touchdowns

Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Second-year wide receiver and kick return specialist Cordarrelle “Flash” Patterson made the Pro Bowl and earned AP First-Team All-Pro honors in his rookie season for his spectacular work on special teams. The first-round pick out of Tennessee showed off his explosive speed and versatile skill set in 2013, totaling nine touchdowns despite limited touches in the run and pass game—impressive production for a player who did not have more than three receptions or rushing attempts in a game until Week 12. 

    Patterson’s fantasy value is clearly tied to him breaking the big play—he can have a great fantasy day with just one touch. Many of the “big play” guys in fantasy hold significant risk, leaving fantasy owners with boom or bust production week to week. This risk should not be too great with Patterson. As he earned more snaps throughout his rookie year, the big plays seemed to come every week—he racked up six touchdowns in the final month of the season. In fact, Patterson set an NFL record last year as the first player to have a 100-plus-yard kickoff return touchdown, a 75-plus-yard receiving touchdown, and a 50-plus-yard rushing touchdown in the same season, according to CBS Sports.

    Major shake-ups in the Vikings coaching staff should also work in Patterson’s favor. Norv Turner signed on as the team’s offensive coordinator following the most recent organizational overhaul in Cleveland. Turner’s offenses typically employ a high-flying passing game, and he is known for getting the most out of his best offensive weapons—case in point from last season: Josh Gordon.

    As reported by Brian Hall with Fox Sports, when asked about his plans for Minnesota’s offense this coming year, Norv Turner said,  “we want to make big plays…we want to be an explosive offense.” He continued, “we went through it last year with Josh Gordon…it was phenomenal to take a young guy and watch and see how far he could go.” It seems Patterson and Turner could get along quite famously.

    The Projection

    When the Vikings traded away Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks for draft picks a season ago, it was hard to believe that the team would receive a full return on investment. While Patterson still has plenty of development left, it seems that he will make a more than worthy replacement for Harvin. Much like fellow teammate Adrian Peterson, if Norv Turner and the Vikings can find ways to get the ball in Patterson’s hands, good things should happen. Despite Minnesota’s highly questionable quarterback situation, expect the team to find ways to make Patterson a focus on offense.

    Projected 2014 Stats:76 receptions870 receiving yards360 rushing yards13 total touchdowns

Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos

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    Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

    Exit Eric Decker; enter Emmanuel Sanders. No, they are not the same player, but a couple facts will remain consistent between the two receivers heading into 2014 that should translate into a successful year for the former Pittsburgh Steeler.

    First, Sanders will undoubtedly receive a slew of targets. As B/R’s Christopher Hansen points out, Decker averaged 141 targets over the last two seasons, compared to 89 for Sanders in Pittsburgh over the same time period. Assuming Sanders will fill Decker’s number two wideout role opposite Demaryius Thomas, a boost of more than 50 targets is not unreasonable.

    Second, those targets will come from Peyton Manning. Even if Manning’s passing numbers dip in 2014, Sanders should still find himself with an incredible opportunity to produce. Per teamrankings.com, Denver led the league last year in red-zone scoring attempts and efficiency and passing touchdowns per game—basically, if there’s a 2013 stat favorable for wide receivers, you can bet that Denver topped the list or came pretty close.

    Sanders is a speedster who can make plays in space and use his explosive lateral agility to rack up yards after the catch. This type of skill set has worked out well for Demaryius Thomas in a Peyton Manning offense. His lack of size and physical strength are weaknesses when matched up against aggressive defensive backs, so there are times when he can be shut down.

    The Projection

    Like Decker in 2013, Sanders should have several huge games next season with a few stinkers mixed in. Despite those down weeks, Decker still managed to finish top 10 among fantasy wide receivers last year. He also could take on a roll in the kick return game now that Trindon Holliday is no longer on the roster. Knowing exactly when to start Sanders could be frustrating at times, but it will be hard to pass on his upside come draft day.

    Projected 2014 Stats:78 receptions1,180 receiving yards9 total touchdowns