Fantasy Football 2014: 10 Super Deep Sleepers to Keep on Your Radar
If you want to go the extra mile to gain an edge for the 2014 fantasy football season, it’s wise to familiarize yourself with the players most owners have never heard about—the super-deep sleepers.
Internalizing every team’s starting roster and the primary backup options at each position is vital info, but it’s knowing the guy who’s behind the guy who’s behind the guy that will pay dividends in larger league formats and on the waiver wire.
The following 10 players are currently going undrafted in 14-team standard leagues, according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com.
Players that fell within this category last year include Zac Stacy, Nick Foles and Keenan Allen—all major difference-makers in 2013.
Every player listed has a realistic path to real fantasy value in 2014, though only a couple guys are likely to pop. Many, if not all, will go undrafted in all but the deepest of leagues, but simply having an awareness of these players’ potential could separate you from the other owners in your leagues.
Notable Deep Sleeepers
RB Alfred Blue, Houston Texans
Blue currently sits behind both Arian Foster and Andre Brown on the Texans RB depth chart, though the rookie out of LSU could potentially challenge Brown for the primary backup duties, according to a report from ESPN’s Tania Ganguli. If Foster misses any time, Blue could easily have value this season.
WR Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers
Bryant joins a Steelers team where he has one big thing going for him—he’s very big. At 6’4”, Bryant towers over the team’s other receivers—Markus Wheaton (5’11”), Antonio Brown (5’10”) and Lance Moore (5’9”).
It’s no surprise then that Pittsburgh plans to use Bryant as a weapon in the red zone, according to the team’s official website. Also possessing downfield speed, Bryant is a unique weapon who could carve out a valuable role for himself in 2014.
RB Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns
An undrafted free-agent rookie out of Alabama State, Crowell possesses an explosive skill set that has caught the eye of his coaches, according to a Fox Sports report by Zac Jackson. Like Blue, Crowell is the Browns’ No. 3 RB behind the perennially banged-up Ben Tate and fellow rookie Terrance West, but Crowell could have a role as a dynamic back on a team in need of playmakers.
TE Zach Miller, Chicago Bears
Miller jumped off the screen in the Bears’ first preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles, racking up six receptions for 68 yards and two scores.
First-string tight end Martellus Bennett just faced a team-imposed suspension for misconduct, and the team’s No. 3 wide receiver Marquess Wilson recently suffered a serious injury and should miss significant time. The door is open for Miller to continue to impress his coaches and earn a bigger role going forward.
RB Latavius Murray, Oakland Raiders
A massive running back (6’3”, 225 pounds) with fantastic speed (4.38 40-yard dash), Murray is certainly an intriguing player in a backfield that currently consists of two veteran backs with major question marks, Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew.
Murray dealt with a foot injury his rookie season, but he’s healthy now and performing well in training camp, according to Jerry McDonald of the Oakland Tribune. Though he’s third in the pecking order, Murray could have real value if Jones-Drew or McFadden should struggle.
TE Richard Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
A third-round pick out of California, Richard Rodgers is currently in the mix for that lead gig. And he’s helped his case this offseason by making a good impression on QB Rodgers, according to Rob Reischel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. No final decision has been made, but the rookie did start in the Packers’ preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans.
WR Tavarres King, Carolina Panthers
A fifth-round pick in 2013, Tavarres King began his rookie year on the practice squad for the Denver Broncos before being picked up on waivers midseason by the Carolina Panthers.
Though he’s yet to record an NFL catch, King is one of the longest-tenured receivers on the Panthers roster following the team’s offseason exodus of pass-catchers.
After Carolina made offseason moves to patch together its depleted wide receiving corps, King now sits fourth on the depth chart; however, he may not be as far from a bigger role than some may think.
To play behind first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin, a surefire starter from Week 1, the Panthers brought in veteran wideouts Jerricho Cotchery and career backup Jason Avant.
Cotchery had a nice year in 2013, totaling a four-year high in receptions (46) and receiving yards (602).
But where he really stood out was in the red zone. Cotchery’s 10 touchdowns last season were up from a nine-year career average of 2.2.
Though last season is almost certainly unrepeatable for the 32-year-old, King has little to no chance to pass Cotchery this season.
If there is room for upward mobility in Carolina’s wide receiving ranks, it’s moving ahead of Avant. Putting up consistently mediocre numbers over his eight-year career (37 receptions, 455 yards and 1.5 touchdowns), Avant is a decent possession receiver with minimal upside.
If King can show off some of his explosive skill set that allowed him to lead the NCAA in yards per reception (22.6) in 2012, there is definitely an opportunity for him to find some fantasy value among Carolina’s shoddy group.
And so far he’s off to a good start, impressing in training camp and working to secure his spot on the team’s final roster, according to Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer:
If you bought Tavarres King sto
ck just after minicamp, you should be pretty happy right now #PanthersTC— Jonathan Jones (@jjones9) August 1, 2014
Tavarres King has worked his way onto 53-man roster with performance this week, but he knows he's not a lock. Must remain consistent.— Jonathan Jones (@jjones9) August 2, 2014
King also made his presence felt in Carolina’s first preseason game against the Buffalo Bills:
Tavarres King standing out here in the second half. Now has 3 catches for 41 yards as third quarter comes to an end.— Max Henson (@PanthersMax) August 9, 2014
Doing all the right things to increase his playing time, King makes for a wise roster stash in deeper leagues and dynasty formats.
RB Juwan Thompson, Denver Broncos
Thompson is one of three undrafted free agents to join Denver’s backfield this offseason, along with Brennan Clay and Kapri Bibbs.
The 5’11”, 225-pound rookie has moved to the front of that trio in training camp, making his case to join Denver’s final 53-man roster, according to Mike Klis of The Denver Post.
Playing in Duke’s pro-style offense in college, Thompson brings solid pass-blocking and pass-catching skills to the table, giving him an edge over his fellow rookie competition.
In Denver’s first preseason game, a Super Bowl rematch against the Seattle Seahawks, Thompson made the most of an unexpectedly big opportunity.
With starter Montee Ball missing time due to appendectomy surgery and backup C.J. Anderson sidelined early with concussion-like symptoms, Thompson saw a decent chunk of playing time.
The rookie made himself noticed, taking six carries for 59 yards. Thompson ran hard, breaking several tackles and beating defenders around the edge for nice gains.
Though he faced a more vanilla defense than Ronnie Hillman, who started the game for Denver, Thompson looked the part of a potential lead back, a persona Hillman has failed to embody in his early career.
Though Hillman and Anderson still have the edge on Thompson to backup Ball, Thompson's strong preseason play certainly inserted his name into the conversation for the job.
Vic Lombardi of CBS Denver went as far to deem Thompson’s emergence as comparable to a certain Disney princess.
Every year a RB becomes a cinderella story in camp. This year it's Juwan Thompson.— Vic Lombardi (@VicLombardi) August 8, 2014
The starting running back job in a Peyton Manning-led offense is one of the most coveted fantasy opportunities in the NFL. Any player with even an outside shot for the gig is a rusher worth monitoring in fantasy.
Given the lack of pro-level experience and injury question marks between the three RBs ahead of Thompson, he is an important player to keep an eye on for the 2014 season.
WR Donte Moncrief, Indianapolis Colts
Selected in the third round out of Mississippi, Moncrief is seemingly buried under a pile of Colts wide receivers in 2014. And unlike King, the rookie’s competition is significantly stout, playing behind the likes of All-Pro Reggie Wayne, speedster T.Y. Hilton and newcomer Hakeem Nicks.
But Moncrief is a special talent who the team may not be able to keep off the field. An athletic specimen with a size-speed combination characteristic of many elite wideouts, the former two-time long jump state champ offers a dangerous skill set that is hard to ignore.
Already, Moncrief has moved ahead of receivers Da’Rick Rogers and Griff Whalen on the depth chart, according to ESPN’s Mike Wells. And with Wayne resting and Nicks nursing injuries during training camp, Moncrief has taken some starting snaps alongside T.Y Hilton.
Moncrief running with the first-team with Wayne out. Clearly ahead of Da'Rick Rodgers already.— Raymond Summerlin (@RMSummerlin) August 7, 2014
Wayne, now 35 years old, is coming off a season-ending knee injury.
Though he appears to be back to his old self in camp, the extent to which the team chooses to lean on Wayne on a week-to-week basis is yet to be seen.
The Colts are an AFC contender playing in a weak division, so there may not be too much incentive to push Wayne and risk a setback during the regular season.
Meanwhile, Wayne has served as a mentor to Moncrief this offseason, per Tom James of the Terre Haute Tribune Star:
Lots of Donte Moncrief buzz. Massive athletic upside, and have to love this: RT @TribStarTJames He is attached to Reggie Wayne's hip.— Sigmund Bloom (@SigmundBloom) August 4, 2014
As FootballGuys’ (subscription required) Sigmund Bloom notes, a tight-knit relationship between the two receivers should be beneficial for Moncrief, a raw player nearly 15 years the junior to Wayne.
Furthermore, it would not be shocking to see Moncrief slide his way past Nicks at some point during the season.
Indy brought in Nicks this offseason on a one-year, “prove-it” deal following back-to-back lackluster seasons and questions regarding the 26-year-old’s motivation and discipline.
On top of that, Nicks has also battled lingering injuries in his career, a trend that seems to be continuing into 2014. According to Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star, Nicks has failed to impress in camp and cannot seem to get healthy:
One guy I want to see tonite: Hakeem Nicks. He's had a pretty average training camp, honestly. But he's also had some nagging pains. #Colts— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) August 7, 2014
In the team’s first preseason game, Nicks ran with the first-team offense and recorded one catch for 15 yards.
The Colts want to give Nicks the chance to succeed and return to his 2010-2011 form when he was a top-15 fantasy wide receiver. But if Nicks continues on his downward trend, Moncrief could be the guy to reap the benefits.
Though he’s a longshot to be a major factor in offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton’s conservative passing offense, there is a potential path to fantasy relevance for Moncrief in 2014.
QB Brock Osweiler, Denver Broncos
There aren’t many backup quarterbacks worth a roster spot in even the deepest of fantasy leagues, especially on teams with an entrenched starter.
But Brock Osweiler is one of the few reserve passers worth consideration.
Sure, the success of the Broncos offense is due first and foremost to "The Sherriff," Peyton Manning. He is the souped-up engine that makes Denver’s Lamborghini of an offense run on all cylinders.
If Osweiler were to replace Manning, the unit would not perform at nearly as high a level, but it would still have all the other pieces that make up one impressive vehicle.
Though Manning, a five-time NFL MVP, is assuredly the best player on the team, his all-time prolificacy with the Broncos is buoyed by one of the league’s best receiving corps, a top offensive line and an innovative offensive coordinator in Adam Gase.
Throwing to a trio of Pro-Bowl studs in Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas, plus a dynamic duo of newcomers Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer, Osweiler should have no problem putting up respectable fantasy numbers with this group.
Knowing that a possible Osweiler era cannot be too far away, the Broncos gave the third-year passer a front-and-center stage in Denver’s first preseason game against the title-defending Seahawks.
In the game, Osweiler exhibited his growth as game manager and poised decision-maker, making several standout plays and limiting his errors. Most notably, Osweiler landed a 34-yard beauty of a game-winning strike to wide receiver Jordan Norwood in the fourth quarter.
With all-time greats Manning and general manager John Elway as mentors, it appears Oswelier is making some strides toward becoming a starting-caliber player.
For now, the 38-year-old Manning’s health appears to be in good order for another title run in 2014. Osweiler may not get his opportunity just yet, but he still makes for one of the highest upside backups in the league.
James Paradis is a fantasy football featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Be sure to check out his entire archive on fantasy strategy and analysis.