Fantasy Football 2014: Breaking Down Top Sleepers Based on Early Draft Rankings

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistAugust 8, 2014

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks (10) during their NFL football training camp in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Chris Tilley)
Chris Tilley/Associated Press

As the first full week of preseason action continues around the NFL the rankings are going to start shuffling for fantasy football. Players will emerge as potential assets based on their usage with the top offensive unit while others begin to fade.

Those taking part in early drafts could still find some nice bargains, though. As always, the key to any fantasy draft is finding value in the middle and late rounds to complement the star power drafted in the first couple rounds.

Let's check out a trio of players that deserve serious consideration after that initial wave of the draft is complete based on their current rankings and average draft position. All ADP information used is courtesy of ESPN Fantasy.


Chris Johnson (New York Jets)

Mel Evans/Associated Press

Johnson had what many considered a down year last season. The result was still over 1,400 total yards and 10 touchdowns. Yet, due to his overall lack of explosiveness (3.9 yards per carry) and a deep Jets backfield, his stock has dropped to a low-end No. 2 fantasy back.

While they definitely have the pieces for a committee ground game in New York, if Johnson returns to form, he's going to get the lion's share of the touches. And fewer carries between the tackles should actually help him remain fresher over the course of the season. 

It also sounds like the team is going to get him more involved in the passing game as a way to get him the ball in space. Darryl Slater of The Star-Ledger passed along comments from the veteran back about that possibility and he sounded excited:

We practiced that stuff in Tennessee, but pretty much when the game came, we didn't do a lot of it. But it seems like we'll be focusing on that a lot around here. I like it. That's just another way that Marty (Mornhinweg, the offensive coordinator) is going to have a chance to get me in space and get me in the open field. Whatever things he's got planned, I'm liking it right now.

More touches in space and less in the middle of the field equates to plenty of upside for Johnson. He's unlikely to ever reach his peak numbers again. That said, don't be surprised if he puts up borderline No. 1 running back fantasy stats this season despite the lack of hype.


Brandin Cooks (New Orleans Saints)

There's a strong chance Cooks will see his ranking and average draft position skyrocket before the late drafts right before the season. As for now, however, he's coming off the board around 50th among wide receivers, which represents a huge bargain.

The versatile wideout has been one of the standout players during Saints camp and is quickly working his way up the pecking order in the team's high-powered offense. Count Don Banks of among those starting to become believers:

Cooks can work on the outside or in the slot. He's got the pure speed to beat teams over the top but also the agility and short-area quickness to work over the middle. His ability to help in so many areas of the passing game should ensure he sees plenty of snaps.

The only major concern is his lack of size. Fortunately, he's working with a quarterback in Drew Brees that's proved throughout his career the size factor can definitely be overcome by talent. Cooks has plenty of that and should shine right away in New Orleans.


Zach Ertz (Philadelphia Eagles)

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 04:  Zach Ertz #86 of the Philadelphia Eagles celebrates after scoring a 3 yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles #9 in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints to take the lead 24-23 during their NFC Wild Card Playoff gam
Elsa/Getty Images

Tight end is perhaps the toughest position to forecast this season. Jimmy Graham and Julius Thomas seem like the surefire selections. Rob Gronkowski will be a great option if he can avoid the injury bug that's followed him around lately. Beyond that, it's really up in the air.

Ertz is a name to keep in mind if you miss out on those marquee names, which means an owner would likely draft two tight ends and play matchups. Sheil Kapadia of Philadelphia Magazine believes he's in line for plenty of red-zone targets:

Ertz had five touchdowns in the Eagles' last nine games last year. Four of those came in the red zone where guys have to be able to catch the ball in traffic and make contested catches. Ertz is going to be the most utilized pass-catching weapon the Eagles have in the red zone, and it would not surprise me one bit if he led the team in receiving touchdowns.

The second-year target won't be an every-down player due to the presence of Brent Celek, who's the better blocker. He should get most of the snaps on passing downs and in the red zone, though. That bodes well for his fantasy value.

He's currently being drafted in the 13th round for 10-team leagues. Jump on him one round earlier as a backup option and he should pay off. At a position with so many question marks, Ertz's consistent touchdown production will be welcome.