Fantasy Football 2014: Sleepers Falling Too Far in Early Drafts

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Fantasy Football 2014: Sleepers Falling Too Far in Early Drafts
DENIS POROY/Associated Press

It's (insert month here), which means it's not too early to start your fantasy football preparation. 

Success in the fantasy realm comes down to many things: free-agent pickups, luck, building depth for bye weeks, luck, making the difficult lineup decisions, luck, avoiding injuries. 

Also, luck. 

However, nothing is bigger than nailing the draft and finding the gems in the later rounds. A lot will undoubtedly change between now and Week 1, but here's an early look at some potential steals. 

Note: Average draft position (ADP) comes from FantasyFootballCalculator.com, which takes data from recent mock drafts. 

 

Khiry Robinson, RB, New Orleans Saints (ADP: 100.8)

Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

Undrafted out of West Texas A&M, Khiry Robinson showed flashes of his talent last year but struggled to find consistent playing time. From Weeks 5 through 15, he received a total of just 20 carries. 

"(I was) basically just running, hoping I went the right way," he said, via ESPN.com's Mike Triplett

Finally, the looming breakout came in the postseason. Featuring an enticing blend of balance, power and burst, he racked up 102 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries (4.86 YPC) in two playoff games, leading the Saints attack against the stout Seattle Seahawks. 

Now, with a full year of NFL experience under his belt, Robinson is ready to take the next step. Sean Payton, via Triplett, talked about the youngster's development during OTAs: 

He is someone obviously that has more confidence now. You see him, just from an assignment standpoint, understanding the protections much quicker. That took a while for him last year. I think (with) a year under his belt, the overall understanding of all the things he needs to do at the running back position is a lot better.

He is a lot further along than he was this time last year.

He just needs to get a piece of the pie. Pierre Thomas had 224 touches (147 rushes, 77 receptions) out of the backfield last year, Mark Ingram tallied a career-high 4.9 yards per carry on 78 attempts, and we all know how Payton likes to spread out the offensive love. 

Still, Darren Sproles' departure frees up 124 touches, and the Saints have indicated that Robinson is the future at the position. They were open to trading Thomas in the offseason, and they declined Ingram's fifth-year option for 2015.

As Bleacher Report's Ian Kenyon argued, Robinson is the most talented back on the roster: 

Teammate Kenny Vaccaro backed up that praise: 

The potential backfield logjam presents a bit of a risk, but the reward is getting a burgeoning star—Bill Parcells recently compared him to Curtis Martin—who receives a majority of the carries in a dynamic offense. 

Getting him as your fourth running back (He's being taken, on average, No. 41 at the position.) is a steal. 

 

Markus Wheaton, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (ADP: 148.0)

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

Markus Wheaton's rookie season was a forgettable one. He rarely saw the field and collected just six catches for 64 yards and zero touchdowns. 

The talent is there, though, and much of that can be chalked up to multiple surgeries on his pinky finger that forced him to wear a splint. 

"It's tough to play wide receiver with broken fingers," head coach Mike Tomlin said at the NFL owners meetings in April, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac. "I look forward to him taking a significant step for us. I know that we need him to."

Who's your favorite WR sleeper (outside top 100 ADP)?

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They sure do. 

With Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery gone via free agency, Wheaton stands as Pittsburgh's most productive returning receiver behind Antonio Brown.

While that lack of experience may be scary for Pittsburgh fans, it's appealing for fantasy purposes. As long as Wheaton can hold off Darrius Heyward-Bey and Clemson rookie Martavis Bryant, he'll be starting opposite Brown. 

A disciplined route-runner with breakneck speed seeing single coverage in an up-tempo offense that threw the ball 584 times last season? Yes, please. 

 

 

Ladarius Green, TE, San Diego Chargers (ADP: 133.4)

Tom Uhlman/Associated Press

Ladarius Green is a popular sleeper pick, but as long as he continues to be drafted outside the top 10 tight ends (He's No. 13 right now.), I'll continue to tout him as underrated. 

Ken Whisenhunt and the Chargers were a bit gun-shy about unleashing the Louisiana-Lafayette product last year, playing him on just 21.2 percent of snaps through the first 12 weeks, per NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal. That number increased to 59.7 percent over the rest of the season, and the coaching staff would be wise to continue increasing that number in 2014. 

Rotoworld's Adam Levitan put it simply:

At 6'6" and 240 pounds with great hands and 4.5 speed, Green is a versatile physical specimen. He can line up as an in-line blocker, he can line up in the slot, he can beat linebackers deep (Nine of his 17 catches last year went for over 20 yards.), and he can out-physical or outjump cornerbacks in the red zone. 

Even with Antonio Gates still around, Green needs to be on the field. He's young and explosive, and he has one of the most tantalizing blends of size, agility and skill in the entire league. 

As long as he sees the field, he is this year's Julius Thomas. 

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