Fantasy football has arrived once again. Draft season is starting to heat up in a major way now that training camp is underway. The early drafts are always a little more volatile because roles and outlooks are sure to change in the weeks ahead.
In other words, somebody who's a sleeper right now may become a hot commodity before the later drafts if he shines during the preseason. Jumping on the bandwagon of a certain player before it fills up can pay off in a major way down the road.
With that in mind, let's check out a trio of players who are flying below the radar with a little over a month until the regular season gets underway. These players should have little trouble outplaying their current draft placement.
Eli Manning (QB, New York Giants)
One of the main categories of sleepers is players who are coming off down seasons. That's the case for Eli Manning, who endured his worst full season as a professional. His touchdown and yardage totals dropped while his interceptions skyrocketed as part of a Giants offense that looked out of sync.
As a result, New York is working to revamp its offensive approach, which creates a terrific bounce-back opportunity for Manning. Dan Graziano of ESPN.com explains the team is trying to increase the tempo and cut down on deep balls:
The pace will be quick post-snap, too, as much of the offense is likely to operate near the line of scrimmage with a premium on getting the ball in the hands of playmakers and allowing them to do something with it. No longer will the passing game revolve around the deep ball, and on the ability of the wide receivers to choose the same read that Manning chooses from a complex pre-snap menu.
It sounds a lot like what Manning's brother Peyton does with the Denver Broncos. After he lost some of his arm strength due to injuries, his focus shifted even further to carving up defenses with quick, precise routes rather than trying to beat opponents over the top.
That doesn't mean owners should expect him to throw for 5,500 yards and 55 touchdowns, of course. But the durable—an underrated fantasy trait—Manning has a deep group of wide receivers and should provide starter value in 12-team leagues despite being drafted as a backup.
C.J. Anderson (RB, Denver Broncos)
Montee Ball entered last season with a lot of hype. He lost two fumbles within his first three games, and his role was reduced. Knowshon Moreno, who's now with the Miami Dolphins, proved he was the more reliable option for Manning and ended up being a top-five fantasy running back.
Which of these sleepers will provide the most 2014 value?
Anderson is unlikely to reach those heights but could be the beneficiary of a similar story. If Ball doesn't prove that his ball control has improved, he will once again lose snaps. And whichever running back moves into a bigger role becomes a huge asset.
The undrafted free agent out of California averaged more yards per carry during the preseason last year than both Ball and Ronnie Hillman. He didn't get a lot of touches during the regular season due to the crowded depth chart, though. Now he's focused on making his opportunity count:
Expect him to beat out Hillman for the No. 2 role. From there, he's one mistake or injury away from being a must-start player. Even if Ball remains the starter, he could possess flex value if he splits snaps. That's definitely worthy of a bench spot at a tricky position to forecast.
Justin Hunter (WR, Tennessee Titans)
There wasn't much to rave about during Hunter's rookie season. He made just 18 catches in 14 games with four touchdowns. That said, his potential was on display during a three-week stretch late in the season when he had two games with at least 100 yards and a touchdown.
With a year of experience under his belt, he should be ready to handle a bigger role within the offense on a weekly basis. Terry McCormick of Titan Insider notes he was one of the players new head coach Ken Whisenhunt has been impressed by so far:
Whisenhunt said he likes what he has seen of Chance Warmack and Justin Hunter.— Terry McCormick (@terrymc13) July 25, 2014
Draft him with the expectation that he'll be a matchup play with plenty of upside thanks to his big-play ability. After a couple weeks, it wouldn't be a surprise if he's showcasing the consistency necessary to become an every-week option as a No. 3 wide receiver.
His value could receive another boost if quarterback Jake Locker can stay healthy. He's missed time due to injury each of the past two seasons. A full season from him would really help the Titans offense as well as the value of his receivers like Hunter.