Fantasy Football 2014: Under-the-Radar Gems to Target on Draft Day

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Fantasy Football 2014: Under-the-Radar Gems to Target on Draft Day
USA TODAY Sports

Value. 

That's the name of the game when talking fantasy football drafts. Everyone knows who the big stars are. Even the most novice of fantasy players can tell you that LeSean McCoy is a player you can build your team around or that Jimmy Graham gives you a major advantage over your opponent every week. 

But finding players who turn out to be gold in the mid- to late rounds is where championships are won. 

With fantasy football draft season coming right around the corner, now is the time to stock up on knowledge and formulate your plan. Part of that plan should include more than one player you're going to target who others may be sleeping on. 

Here's a look at a few candidates before training camps get started. 

Note: Average draft positions based on ESPN.com numbers.

 

DeAndre Hopkins

USA TODAY Sports

Pos: WR

Team: Houston Texans

ADP: 113.5 (42nd WR)

You'll be pardoned if DeAndre Hopkins' rookie season didn't exactly stand out for you. San Diego Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen set the bar high for rookie wide receivers in 2013. 

But don't be surprised if Hopkins is right with Allen in terms of production this season. Michael Schottey of Bleacher Report recently made a convincing case for why the second-year receiver is the best wide receiver no one is talking about. 

Even in the midst of a 2-14 season with a miserable Matt Schaub leading the offense for most of the season, Hopkins was still a relevant receiver. He finished the season with 52 receptions for 802 yards and two touchdowns. 

Those are fine numbers but not exactly what you're looking for in a fantasy starter. But consider these factors that should lead to even more production for him in his second year. 

  1. Leading receiver Andre Johnson is clearly unhappy in Houston. According to Marc Sessler of NFL Network, the star receiver isn't even sure he will be at Houston's training camp. Johnson saw 181 targets to Hopkins' 93 last season. Whether Johnson suits up for the Texans this year or not, they'll need to start grooming Hopkins to be the No. 1 guy for the future.
  2. The Texans aren't under Gary Kubiak anymore. The zone-run oriented coach has been replaced with a much more pass-happy coach in Bill O'Brien. The last time he was in the NFL was as the New England Patriots offensive coordinator. They threw for over 5,000 yards that season.
  3. The team's leading rusher from 2013—Ben Tate—is now a Cleveland Brown. Arian Foster figures to return to that role in 2014, but someone will have to step up as a playmaker now that the Texans are down one more established playmaker. 

Hopkins isn't going to win your league as a WR1 or even 2. But if you're looking for a WR3 who can give you big upside every week, Hopkins is the man for the job.

 

Coby Fleener

USA TODAY Sports

Pos: TE

Team: Indianapolis Colts

ADP: 148.3 (No. 18 TE)

With the emergence of the elite tight end as a huge advantage in fantasy football, there's sure to be a big run on the position earlier than most years. If you find yourself on the wrong side of that run or simply want to find a TE2 with TE1 upside, Coby Fleener can be had in the 14th round of most 10-team leagues. 

It's understandable that Fleener isn't making headlines or generating buzz in drafts. With Dwayne Allen and Reggie Wayne sidelined last season he only managed double-digit fantasy points just four times last season. 

But just because those two should be back doesn't mean Fleener's numbers will necessarily take a hit. The addition of former Browns coach Rob Chudzinski to the coaching staff makes Colts tight ends a great target. Take a look at how Chudzinski-coached tight ends have done in recent seasons:

Rob Chudzinski Tight Ends
Year Player Team Rec. Yards TD TE Fantasy Rank
2013 Jordan Cameron CLE 80 917 7 4
2012 Greg Olsen CAR 69 843 5 6
2011 Greg Olsen CAR 45 540 5 17
2010 Antonio Gates SD 50 782 10 2

Stats and rankings via NFL.com

That's three out of the last four seasons in which a tight end Chudzinski has worked with was in the top 10 of fantasy football scoring for the position. It should be noted that Antonio Gates only played in 10 games of his massive 2010 season. 

Fleener has teased potential in his first two seasons. It's going to be tough to top Fleener for late-round value when looking for possible breakout candidates. 

 

Toby Gerhart

John Raoux/Associated Press

Pos: RB

Team: Jacksonville Jaguars

ADP: 77.6 (No. 30 RB)

A good running back is hard to find. Once Round 3 goes by the chances of snagging a player who is any kind of proven commodity are generally long gone. 

That's why having a guy in mind who will produce in the mid-rounds can be a huge boost to your draft strategy. With a current draft position that puts him somewhere in the sixth or seventh round, Gerhart is an excellent fallback plan for those who miss out on their targets early in the draft. 

After four seasons of playing second fiddle to Adrian Peterson, the 6'0", 231-pound back is finally set to take over as a featured back. 

Longtime backups are always a risk. As Mike Clay of Pro Football Focus points out, Gerhart's best running has come against a light box. How well Gerhart adjusts to being the main guy will depend on him running well against a stacked box:

Regardless of how well he plays, the true value in Gerhart will be the kind of workload he's going to get for a mid-round back. The back envisions himself as the Jaguars version of Marshawn Lynch in Seattle, per Jim Corbett of USA Today:

Gus comes from the Seattle Seahawks' model of playing good defense, relying on the run game where Marshawn Lynch was their 'Beast Mode' out there. Hopefully, I'll be the 'Beast Mode' down here for the Jaguars. I want to be a guy who helps turn this program around with a physical, punishing offense... I'm excited for the chance to be the guy and carry the load.

Even if you aren't a believer in Gerhart's ability, that's music to a fantasy owner's ears. Fantasy football is just as much about opportunity as it is ability, and Gerhart should have plenty of chances to score in Jacksonville. 

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