Fantasy Football 2014: Identifying This Year's Biggest Potential Sleepers

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Fantasy Football 2014: Identifying This Year's Biggest Potential Sleepers
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

As the best of the best surely understand, the right sleeper can win a fantasy league outright.

A whiff, and the waiver wire becomes a necessary weekly affair, in tandem with pleading for deals on archaic message boards in the hope one of the other owners in the league has a brief bout with amnesia.

In other words, nailing down the proper sleepers to draft is quite the critical tightrope act mastered by the best, oft-times excruciating for the rest.

As information becomes more widely accessible, sleepers become more elusive. For those in need of an early leg up on the competition, here are a few currently undervalued names to scoop up in drafts.

 

Ladarius Green, TE, San Diego Chargers

Peter Aiken/Getty Images

There's a sleeping giant in San Diego, currently lost in the shuffle of the many potential sleepers at tight end such as Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce and Charles Clay.

But it is Ladarius Green who is set to take the fantasy realm by storm. Standing at 6'6" and 240 pounds with a degree earned after studying under one Antonio Gates for two years, the Louisiana-Lafayette product is a concise package of elite athleticism that perfectly fits with his offense.

The fact Gates has yet to hang up his cleats, in tandem with his humble sophomore numbers (17 receptions for 376 yards and three scores), has Green's average draft position floating around the 11th or 12th round.

Savvy owners will capitalize on the opportunity.

Gone is Ken Whisenhunt, who only used Green on 21.2 percent of the team's snaps last year through Week 12. NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal explains why this is so important:

Frank Reich is taking over, and NFL Media's Bucky Brooks revealed that the Chargers are installing many of the no-huddle principles Reich once employed under Marv Levy in Buffalo. The faster pace should benefit Green, who is a matchup nightmare for defenses that can't substitute.

In other words, the rare athletic specimen with 4.5-second 40-yard-dash speed who has already shown a propensity for making the tough catches in traffic will not even be the first priority of defenses as he receives passes from a quarterback who is capable of MVP-worthy numbers.

That quarterback, one Philip Rivers, is helping to spoil Green's sleeper status, via Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego:

The sky is still the limit for him. I think he's still figuring out how good he can be, … and he wants to be really good. That's the first thing. You have to have desire and ability. He has both. He is going to continue to improve. He's a guy like many we've had around here. He's, 'Just tell me what to do. I want to do it exactly how you want (me) to do it.' That's why he'll continue to develop.

There is an outside chance the staff in San Diego pull a Cincinnati and don't use two-tight end sets properly, but then again, Green isn't a rookie, and Rivers is certainly no Andy Dalton. Pull the trigger on Green much earlier than his ADP.

 

Kenny Stills, WR, New Orleans Saints

USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps most think Oklahoma product Kenny Stills is in for a sophomore slump.

After all, his ADP is hovering right around the 11th round, and he is the No. 51 receiver on Matthew Berry's big board over at ESPN

While true that No. 20 overall pick Brandin Cooks is in town, it can be easy to forget that Lance Moore and Darren Sproles are not—meaning there is a 90-reception void in Drew Brees' offense that needs to be filled. 

Also remember that as a rookie, Stills reeled in 32 receptions for 641 yards and five scores as the best deep threat in the NFL with a per-catch average of 20 yards.

USA TODAY Sports

“He’s someone that after looking at him last year, we have to find a way to get him the ball more,” said head coach Sean Payton, per ESPN's Mike Triplett.

That shouldn't be a problem considering Cooks is a rookie, while No. 1 wideout Marques Colston is 31 years old, has battled chronic foot issues and is a year removed from posting the lowest reception, yards and touchdown totals of his last four seasons.

Stills is on nothing but an upswing, and the addition of a high-profile rookie has driven his asking price down. All things considered, he's a major steal.

 

Chris Johnson, RB, New York Jets

Mel Evans/Associated Press

CJ2K is in a new locale, which means it's time to seriously reevaluate where he stands in the running back hierarchy.

While the popular narrative seems to be that Johnson is past his prime at 28 years old, joining what may very well turn out to be a committee with the bruiser Chris Ivory is nothing but a good thing for his numbers.

After all, we are talking about the back who scored the eighth-most points at his position last year and hit double-digit production in seven games in what was considered a "down" year with the one-dimensional Tennessee Titans:

SEASON GP ATT YDS AVG LNG TD
2008 15 251 1,228 4.9 66 9
2009 16 358 2,006 5.6 91 14
2010 16 316 1,364 4.3 76 11
2011 16 262 1,047 4.0 48 4
2012 16 276 1,243 4.5 94 6
2013 16 279 1,077 3.9 30 6

ESPN

There is no question Johnson has some miles on him, so a rotation that allows him to explode and make the big plays he is known for plays to his strength. Even he agrees (as he should) that once he gets hot, the ball won't just simply stop coming his way, as illustrated by NFL on ESPN:

In order to better protect the interception-happy Geno Smith and wear down defenses, Johnson is likely due for his typical numbers, which means those underselling his future production are going to be jealous indeed when slick owners scoop him up.

 

Note: All ADP info courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator. All scoring info based on ESPN standard leagues.

 

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