Fantasy Football 2014: Identifying Sleepers from Early Stages of Training Camps

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Fantasy Football 2014: Identifying Sleepers from Early Stages of Training Camps
Seth Wenig/Associated Press

NFL training camp has a way of unearthing fantasy fool's gold and sleepers.

But it births duds to sleepers at a 10-1 ratio, because most players can look great in limited-contact practices, pads or not. As summer fades into fall, the hyperbole in the NFL realm is strong with every team a contender and every player a surefire producer.

A championship-caliber owner's job is to navigate these waters in the proper manner, which means tuning out the junk and marking down the legitimate info for use in drafts.

Let's do that below by picking out three legitimate sleepers who have come up in talk more and more because of strong showings in training camp.

 

Rashad Jennings, RB, New York Giants

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

At first glance, many fantasy owners surely cringe when it comes to Rashad Jennings.

After all, the Liberty product spent three years in Jacksonville as the backup to Maurice Jones-Drew, then traded in those humble beginnings for the silver and black of Oakland, of all places.

But really, the small-school stigma and even smaller NFL-franchises stink around Jennings is the only negative working against him. After all, he has proved to be quite productive when given an adequate workload:

Year Team G Rush Yds Y/G Avg TD
2009 JAC 15 39 202 13.5 5.2 1
2010 JAC 13 84 459 35.3 5.5 4
2012 JAC 10 101 283 28.3 2.8 2
2013 OAK 15 163 733 48.9 4.5 6

ESPN

Those numbers from a year ago really stick out, so all Jennings truly needed was to land in a favorable situation. He has done just that in New York, and he opened camp as the No. 1 back on the roster, per Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News:

The reviews have been nothing short of positive, although that is to be expected.

"I think we have some talented guys at that spot," Tom Coughlin said, per Dave Hutchinson of The Star-Ledger. "I think Rashad has done well. I think the young kid (Williams) has come along the more we have given him to do. Michael Cox has had his spots."

But here is where things get interesting—David Wilson is injured, and as it stands, the team is worried he may not suit up for New York again, according to ESPN.com's Dan Graziano.

Will Jennings see the most carries of any back in NY next year?

Submit Vote vote to see results

So behind Jennings on the depth chart is Peyton Hillis—who was only trusted with 73 totes in seven games last year—and a rookie in Andre Williams.

Now, it is important to note that Williams is a hawk who will steal scores near the end zone, but that is it. Jennings will get the load the rest of the time, and at running back, opportunities equal production. The staff will not fall into a predictable rut as it did a year ago, which got Eli Manning leveled, so the rock will continue to get pounded all year long.

Jennings has an average draft position of 4.12 and is hardly in the top 25, one season removed from producing six double-digit outputs—half of those went for 21 or more points—with the Raiders. He is about to explode in a much better situation.

 

Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

Consistency has been quite rare for Jay Cutler over the course of his eight-year career, but he is getting some of that at just the right time going into next season.

Cutler missed five games in 2013 but was serviceable enough in Marc Trestman's high-efficiency offense. The former Vanderbilt star says continued experience in the system is nothing but a positive, as captured by Larry Mayer of the Bears' website:

Going into my ninth year, I think this is only the second or third time I've been in an offense multiple years. We're still in the learning process, but guys have much more familiarity with what the concepts are and the formations and everything, so that's definitely going to be a help; less thinking and able to go fast.

He also points out that most of the weapons from a year ago are back. That includes the No. 3 scorer at running back last year (Matt Forte), the No. 10 scorer at tight end (Martellus Bennett) and the No. 5 and No. 9 scorers at wideout (Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, respectively).

As NFL.com's Michael Fabiano points out, Cutler would have been a top-six scorer himself last year had he not succumbed to injury:

By all accounts, Cutler has been sharp so far in camp, but more importantly, he has been healthy. Right now he is the No. 13 quarterback off the board with an average draft position of 9.03, behind names such as Nick Foles, Tony Romo and Colin Kaepernick.

While he is a bit of a gamble given recent health trends—he has not played in a full 16-game season since 2009—Cutler seems poised for a top-five year.

 

John Brown, WR, Arizona Cardinals

The No. 91 overall pick in the 2014 draft out of Pittsburg State, John Brown does not even register an ADP.

He's obscure, sure, but not for long.

Lots of hype out of camps can be ignored. This cannot—a rookie is having little issue torching a secondary that includes Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie. General manager Steve Keim told ESPN's Josh Weinfuss as much:

It seems as if Bruce Arians is something of a prophet. If fans will recall, he is the guy who proclaimed Brown was similar to two of his former receivers, as explained by Darren Urban of the Cardinals' website:

The rookie was compared to both Hilton, the Colts’ wideout, and Antonio Brown, the Steelers’ wideout, by Arians when he was drafted. And he looked solid all through the offseason. He did make mistakes sometimes, and there were multiple times when Palmer took Brown aside for a teaching moment. The quarterback doesn’t make that kind of effort unless Brown is going to play a role in what he is doing.

There is a ton to like about Brown as the regular season approaches. The fact his skills have translated to in-pads work means he needs to be under the microscope of owners around the globe during preseason action.

In a vertical-oriented Arians offense with Carson Palmer under center and wideouts Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd to cause distractions, Brown might just turn out to be the steal of drafts worldwide.

 

Honorable Mentions

Player Position Team Reason
Ladarius Green TE San Diego Chargers Extreme athleticism and increased usage.
Justin Hunter WR Tennessee Titans Ken Whisenhunt birthed Keenan Allen's elite year a season ago.
EJ Manuel QB Buffalo Bills Sammy Watkins and a second-year leap to get a rather potent formula.
Tre Mason RB St. Louis Rams Zac Stacy needs a complement.

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All average draft positions courtesy of FantasyFootballCalculator.com. All scoring info courtesy of ESPN standard leagues.

 

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