Under-the-Radar Players Who Could Make Fantasy Football Fireworks in 2014
Being a sleeper is one thing. There are dozens of players who can emerge from the late rounds to be productive fantasy starters for you next season. Heck, Bleacher Report broke down 25 sleeper names to know here this week. This next list is far more exclusive.
Having breakout from out of nowhere is what can really make a fantasy footballer dance come December. Julius Thomas, Alshon Jeffery, Knowshon Moreno, Jordan Cameron and Keenan Allen were last year's examples. If you had those guys on your roster, odds are your team did pretty well.
We give you five candidates who are not only sleepers this fall, but potential big-time breakouts as well. It is a select group, because it is not easy to hide such talent in the NFL and from fantasy football drafters. Again, there are dozens of sleepers but less than a handful can potentially go from nowhere to be great. Here are our high five...
Wide Receiver Danny Amendola, New England Patriots
Before you scoff because of the number of wide receivers the New England Patriots' Danny Amendola has to put in his dust, remember this: Julian Edelman was last year's nobody turned 100-plus catch receiver. It was supposed to be Amendola.
After Week 1 last year, Amendola was on pace for 160 catches and 1,664 yards. He finished 54-633.
The second year in a new home can be a lot more comfortable for free-agent signees. Amendola didn't look like he needed an adjustment period after Week 1, but we discovered he did. An incumbent roster-filler stole the show.
Now, the Patriots have developed—and added—loads of depth at the wideout position. Edelman is Tom Brady's clear favorite, but Amendola also has to contend with Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce and now free-agent signee Brandon LaFell for targets.
Oh, and Amendola also needs to prove healthy enough to make it through a 16-game season.
All this adds up to cloud the fact Amendola can be the Wes Welker producer he was signed to be. Or, as ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss wrote during OTAs: "Amendola once again looks like the player who caught the eye in these practices last year."
There is still 100-1,100-10 potential here, especially because head coach Bill Belichick loves to get defenses looking one way and then hit you with the under-the-radar guy you're not planning for.
Anyone who picks Amendola in the late rounds might wind up with a dominant No. 1 fantasy receiver, particularly in PPR formats.
Running Back Knile Davis, Kansas City Chiefs
We have to admit the only reason Kansas City Chiefs running back Knile Davis is going to be picked in drafts is because Jamaal Charles owners want to lock up his handcuff. Davis might not even go until the last round, if he is picked at all.
After all, he mustered just 242 yards and 3.5 yards per carry as a rookie. If those are fantasy fireworks, they are the imploding kind.
But, imagine the possibilities if Charles suffers another season-ending injury?
Head coach Andy Reid has made a career out of turning his backs into fantasy superstars. Reid likes to use his backs in his rhythmic short passing game, so Davis would not only emerge as a candidate for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns if he took over as a feature back—even with a sub-4.0 average—but he could add in 50 catches for 500 yards, too, if Charles' season tragically ends sometime in September, like it did in 2011.
If you need proof, just look at Davis' performance in the wild, Wild Card Game last January in Indianapolis. With Charles knocked out with a concussion, Davis rushed for 67 yards and added seven catches for 33 yards, scoring a touchdown rushing and receiving.
Charles has the slight build (5'11", 199 lbs) and injury history you like to see with your late-round reserve running back. Davis won't be the first handcuff off the board, but he might wind up the most explosive one because of the system he can potentially be featured in.
Running Back Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
Unlike Knile Davis in the slide before, Devonta Freeman is a potential feature back in the worst rushing offense in football...at least by 2013 standards. Davis has the system on his side, while Freeman seemingly does not. That doesn't mean he won't be an instant star for the Atlanta Falcons.
We already know full well how the 30th birthday is a fantasy football death sentence for running backs, so don't waste a mid-round pick on Steven Jackson. Instead, try to capture the lightning in the bottle that is Freeman many rounds later.
The Falcons were the worst rushing offense last year, but mostly because Jackson was banged up, Jacquizz Rodgers isn't a between-the-tackles runner and the defense was a sieve, necessitating a remarkable 659 pass attempts, third-most in the league. The Falcons added tackle Jake Matthews in Round 1 of the draft and guard Jon Asamoah from the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency. Asamoah is a run-game mauler, so he and Matthews should make for a lot better production in the run game this year, no matter what the defense, Jackson or Rodgers do.
Freeman is a feature back of the future. He can also get himself involved in a potent passing game for the Falcons and at the goal line, becoming a 1,000-yard, 40-catch, 10-plus touchdown threat if he beats out Jackson in training camp. ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure sees that as a burgeoning position battle after OTAs, writing:
They drafted Devonta Freeman in the fourth round with thoughts of grooming him as the three-down back of the future. If he looks as good in pads as he did in shorts, Jackson might have a battle on his hands. Even the battle for the third running back will be interesting with Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith in the mix. The running backs, as a whole, have an improved offensive line to run behind. Let's see whether that helps them.
Even if Freeman doesn't start the year as the Falcons' running back, he is a good bet to finish it as it. He can be an important piece to the fantasy football championship puzzle as a feature back in the waning weeks of the season...all for the price of a late-round selection.
Quarterback EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills
In EJ Manuel, we come to a player who didn't even make our top 25 sleeper names to know in fantasy drafts, which was just published Wednesday. So, how's that for under the radar? He didn't even make the cut to be a sleeper.
Manuel does have breakthrough potential, though, especially if first-round wide receiver Sammy Watkins is as good as advertised right away.
While we don't like Manuel's odds of becoming a worthwhile fantasy player, even we can admit there is a high Cam Newton/Robert Griffin III/Russell Wilson-like ceiling here. Manuel shouldn't be drafted outside of deep two-quarterback fantasy leagues. Still, he could be interesting off waivers—again, if the guys around him like Watkins come through.
If you take the leap of faith, Watkins is a 10-touchdown receiver as a rookie, while Mike Williams rejuvenates himself and young Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and T.J. Graham make strides, Manuel has enough weapons to surprise as a 25-touchdown passer in his first full season as a starter. Toss in the handful of rushing touchdowns Manuel is athletic enough to pick up, and you would have a starting fantasy quarterback available in the late rounds, if not off the waiver wire.
Again, we wouldn't go banking our fantasy season on it, but Manuel has a high ceiling he could reach as a sophomore. At least the price is right for that potential reward.
Tight End Ladarius Green, San Diego Chargers
We needed a tight end in this slideshow. After Julius Thomas, Jordan Cameron and Jordan Reed went from rags to riches at the position in 2013, we couldn't ignore the next young, potential fantasy monster here.
Ask anyone with fantasy marbles, Ladarius Green is the next big thing at tight end.
No, Antonio Gates is not retired, and he will still suck up starts and targets, but Gates is 34 and has never been a model of health. Green is just one Gates injury away from being one of the most important late-round picks in all of fantasy...if he even makes it to the late rounds.
There is so much love for Green right now, we debated even lumping him in as under the radar. We will explain that away by saying the Louisiana-Lafayette product is a backup with a mere 21 catches in his career.
Green plays behind the future Hall of Famer, so his 370 snaps a year ago ranked 49th among tight ends, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), but NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal wrote Green is one of the top players prepared to make the leap. Frankly, nearly everyone agrees.
Green can explode for 65 catches, 750 yards and 10-plus touchdowns like Orange Julius did a year ago.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, was the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this past season. He is now an NFL featured writer here. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.