While early-round picks are the meat and potatoes of fantasy football teams, leagues are often won and lost based on decisions made in the latter rounds.
Finding a difference-maker near the end of a draft can give an owner a massive advantage over his opponents. Detecting and drafting those types of sleepers isn't always easy, but there are often telltale signs that a player is ready to break out.
Here are three players who will likely be available in the closing stages of your draft on whom you shouldn't hesitate to pounce.
Rookie wide receivers tend to be enigmas, since it usually takes them longer to acclimate to the NFL than it takes running backs. There are at least one or two debutants who make an impact every year, though, and Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Marqise Lee is in an ideal position to be one of those guys in 2014.
While Lee isn't being talked about as much as first-round picks like Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and Brandin Cooks, he could easily have a more productive season than all of them. Lee was selected in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft, but he is most definitely a first-round talent who was negatively impacted by unrest at USC.
The Jaguars don't represent the perfect franchise by any means, but Lee will have every opportunity to play early and often. Several Jags receivers are dealing with injuries or off-field problems right now, including Cecil Shorts, Allen Robinson, Ace Sanders and Justin Blackmon. As things currently stand, Lee is the surest thing going in Jacksonville's receiving corps.
In addition to that, Lee's ability is something to behold. According to Mark Long of The Associated Press, head coach Gus Bradley is extremely impressed by what Lee brings to the table:
Jaguars coach Gus Bradley on WR Marqise Lee: "He's freakish in his skill set. We hope it carries over."— Mark Long (@APMarkLong) July 30, 2014
That much is obvious based on the manner in which Lee has been utilized during training camp. He is a potential game-breaker, and the Jaguars have been coming up with imaginative ways to get the ball in his hands, per Hays Carlyon of The Florida Times-Union.
"The Jaguars are clearly putting Lee's abilities to use in a versatile fashion," Carlyon wrote. "Lee (6-0, 192 pounds) has lined up all over the field for the Jaguars so far in camp and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch is finding ways to feed him the ball."
Jacksonville's quarterback situation isn't ideal with Chad Henne as the incumbent starter and rookie Blake Bortles pushing him, but wide receivers have had good fantasy seasons on this team in recent years even with Henne and Blaine Gabbert sharing the starting job.
Someone has to rack up yardage and make plays in the passing game for the Jags, and Lee looks like the prime candidate to do so.
One of the most coveted positions in fantasy football is running back for the Denver Broncos. With quarterback Peyton Manning keeping defenses honest, Denver's running backs have the luxury of tons of running room. In addition to that, Broncos backs are often targeted in the passing game by Manning, so they are absolute gold in point-per-reception leagues.
Anyone who owned Knowshon Moreno last season can attest to that. With Moreno now playing for the Miami Dolphins, however, someone else will have to step up. Second-year man Montee Ball is the likely starter, but head coach John Fox didn't appear to have full trust in him last season. With that in mind, perhaps someone else will emerge.
The other backs of interest on Denver's roster are Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson. It seemed as though Anderson entered the offseason with the inside track, but apparently something has changed. According to ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold, Broncos running backs coach Eric Studesville has been extremely impressed with Hillman.
I love what Ronnie has done. From when we started this spring in April forward, he has been unbelievable. He's a completely different guy in the best possible way and I'm just excited about what he's doing, how he's approaching it, how he's making plays on the field. It's been great. It's been there the whole time, but we're finally seeing the maximum side of it. ... I didn't do a good job of bringing it out, but now we are, he's bringing it out.
With Studesville lauding Hillman, Brad Evans of Yahoo Sports seems to believe that he will slot in behind Ball rather than Anderson:
Hillman possesses blazing speed and is capable in the passing game, but he had trouble holding on to the ball with two fumbles on just 55 carries last season. If Hillman can fix that issue, then the sky is the limit as far as his fantasy potential is concerned.
Ball may be the main man in Denver right now, but injuries are always lurking around the corner. Hillman would probably be a top-15 running back at worst as a starter, so taking a flier on him late makes all the sense in the world.
Perhaps no position lacks depth more than tight end in fantasy football this season. While the elite players will put up receiver-esque numbers, there are only so many of them to go around. Fantasy owners who miss out on the upper tier are best off waiting. One potential gem who will be available late is Garrett Graham of the Houston Texans.
The former fourth-round selection out of Wisconsin didn't do much of anything during his first three NFL seasons, but he finally broke through in 2013. With Owen Daniels struggling through injuries, Graham had the best season of his career with 49 catches for 545 yards and five touchdowns. That isn't overwhelming production, but it is something he can build off.
Which sleeper will have the best fantasy football season in 2014?
That is especially true because Daniels signed with the Baltimore Ravens this offseason, leaving Graham as the unquestioned starter.
There was a great deal of unrest under center for the Texans last season with Matt Schaub and Case Keenum splitting time. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the likely starter in 2014, and even though he isn't a top-level quarterback by any means, he is more than capable.
While with the Buffalo Bills, Fitz took Scott Chandler from being a virtual unknown to a reliable target who tallied six touchdowns in both 2011 and 2012. Fitzpatrick doesn't hesitate to use his tight ends, which bodes well for Graham.
Another thing working in Graham's favor is the fact that head coach Bill O'Brien is using him as somewhat of a rover, per James Palmer of CSNHouston.com:
TE Garrett Graham says the formations he’ll be lining up in is the biggest difference from last year. Will be moved around a lot. #Texans— James Palmer (@JPalmerCSN) July 25, 2014
That should allow Graham to get open, since teams will have trouble keeping track of him. Also, they will be focused on players such as wide receivers Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins as well as running back Arian Foster.
Graham's biggest issue is consistency, as he was often a feast-or-famine player last year. If he can become a more consistent presence on a week-to-week basis in 2014, then he definitely has the potential to be a fantasy starter.
For those looking for a backup or even a starter late in the draft, Graham is a fantastic option.
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