Keenan Allen has created a monster.
A fantasy football monster, that is. After falling to the No. 76 selection in the 2013 NFL draft, the California product lit the world of fantasy football on fire with 71 receptions for 1,046 yards and eight scores in 15 games.
Not that owners didn't dig deep to find sleepers in the past, but Allen's explosion has placed even further emphasis on finding that hidden gem who can single-handedly take a roster to the top.
With so many names at the position, it can be near impossible to sift through all of the data and decide when a player should be taken long in advance of his average draft position.
Let's remove the legwork part of the equation and highlight three players who can be 2014's version of Allen.
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
It can be forgiven that owners would overlook a sophomore wideout who was lost in a debut campaign on the hapless, eventual 2-14 Houston Texans.
But don't make the same mistake twice when it comes to Nuk.
DeAndre Hopkins garners comparisons to Atlanta's Julio Jones for good reason. At 6'1" and 218 pounds with elite speed, the 27th pick in the 2013 draft is, for all intents and purposes, the No. 1 receiver in Houston this season with veteran Andre Johnson apparently asking for a trade, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
This organizational rift has major implications in that quarterbacks Tom Savage and Ryan Fitzpatrick are getting critical time with Hopkins, who still has an ADP of just 10.04.
Yet Hopkins showed us what he can do with Johnson out of the picture in Week 2, when he caught seven passes for 117 yards and a score—good for 17 fantasy points, one of his two double-digit outbursts as a rookie.
Hopkins was used in a—to be frank—horrible manner last season, as the Texans illogically attempted to adhere to a two-tight end system and limit Hopkins to predictable routes. That he was able to come in second behind only Allen on the rookie list with 802 yards was a testament to his ability.
Even if Johnson returns for some reason (he's been at the stadium and in contact with the team), Hopkins has an offensive-minded coach in Bill O'Brien calling the shots now, and it is expected that his numbers will shoot through the roof this season.
Kenny Stills, New Orleans Saints
This can't be stressed enough—Kenny Stills is in for a huge year.
The addition of No. 20 overall pick Brandin Cooks is clearly scaring off owners, as noted by his 10.11 ADP, yet it's a completely misguided hesitation on the part of those not digging deep enough into the situation.
For one, and the simplest matter of the whole shindig, Cooks is just a rookie. A talented one, yes, but plenty of rookie wideouts have fallen flat on their face in the past.
Two, there is a 90-reception void in Drew Brees' offense going into next season, thanks to the departures of Lance Moore and Darren Sproles, and those targets have to go somewhere. It'll go to Stills before names like Robert Meachem, Nick Toon and Joe Morgan.
Especially when one takes into account comments this offseason by coach Sean Payton, per ESPN's Mike Triplett: "He's someone that after looking at him last year, we have to find a way to get him the ball more."
Despite fighting with a wealth of names for attention as a rookie, Stills was instantly a favorite target of Brees and wound up one of the best deep threats in the league with 32 receptions for 641 yards and five scores.
His per-catch average of 20 yards was easily elite, and he reached double-digit point production in four games—on 10 catches.
With attention on Jimmy Graham and even a high-profile rookie like Cooks, more than 100 targets and 1,000 yards seems like one of the safest bets of the entire season. Scoop up Stills early.
Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee Titans
As a rookie and second-round pick a year ago, Justin Hunter was a bit of a disappointment in most facets, although it is hard to throw blame entirely his way given the putrid quarterback situation.
Still, the Tennessee product had 18 receptions for 354 yards and four scores, good for a 19.7 per-catch average and a smooth 55 total fantasy points.
But there is a strong case to believe Hunter is one of the NFL's overall best breakout candidates next season. Jake Locker is still the quarterback, and yes, running back Chris Johnson is gone, but the numbers demand attention.
Hunter came on late last season and exploded for six receptions, 109 yards and a score in Week 12 (16 points) and caught four more for 114 and one touchdown (17 points) two weeks later.
The common trend? He was actually targeted those games, in fact, a minimum of six times.
Better coaching will always equal better results, so it's great news that Ken Whisenhunt is now in town and surely willing to use his 6'4", 203-pound physical specimen more than the previous regime did. Joe Dolan of FantasyGuru.com put it best:
Whisenhunt also happens to be the guy who oversaw Allen's breakout season.
In other words, Hunter's criminal 12.12 ADP is asking to be taken advantage of by those in the know.
The names above are the cream of the crop, but others deserve careful consideration, too.
|Anquan Boldin||San Francisco 49ers||10.12|
|Marvin Jones||Cincinnati Bengals||11.04|
|Jarrett Boykin||Green Bay Packers||11.08|
|Steve Smith||Baltimore Ravens||12.05|
|Greg Jennings||Minnesota Vikings||13.08|