You can't win your fantasy football league without the right preparation.
Owners must familiarize themselves with the rankings and sleepers for each position before making a blind leap of faith on a player. There are often other players still available that have far more upside or are in better positions to succeed.
Sleepers aren't always rookies, either. Sure, a majority of the top sleepers you'll find heading into draft night are rookies with some uncertainty around them. That said, there are a few second-year players that have the potential to come into their own in 2014.
Every selection in fantasy football counts. From Round 1 to the final round, make sure your picks count. Finding sleepers in the late rounds is a great way to win your draft.
|Quarterback Rankings 2014|
|1.||Peyton Manning||Denver Broncos|
|2.||Aaron Rodgers||Green Bay Packers|
|3.||Drew Brees||New Orleans Saints|
|4.||Andrew Luck||Indianapolis Colts|
|5.||Tom Brady||New England Patriots|
|Sleeper||Blake Bortles||Jacksonville Jaguars|
|Sleeper||EJ Manuel||Buffalo Bills|
The typical names sit atop the leaderboard at the quarterback position, though it may shock a few owners to see Tom Brady's name drop down to No. 5 on the list. This is more a product of the talent around him, but his skills are in line for a small drop at this point in his career as well.
Owners need be wary of Peyton Manning. Despite a still-talented group of wide receivers, there's almost no chance he duplicates last year's success. Take the elder Manning early, but 35 touchdowns and 4,200 yards is probably what you'll get.
Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees are as steady as they come, and big things are expected of Andrew Luck this year. He has another weapon in Hakeem Nicks, plus Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton have already established great chemistry with their young signal-caller.
If you choose to pass on a top quarterback and want to take one with considerable upside, look no farther than Blake Bortles. Of course, you'll want to supplement this selection with a quarterback who is guaranteed to play early—like Alex Smith or Carson Palmer, for instance.
Bortles has looked good early this preseason, writes Jamey Eisenberg of CBS Sports:
The Jaguars weren't expected to have a quarterback battle with Chad Henne starting and rookie Blake Bortles expected to redshirt, but Bortles looks legit through two games. Not that Henne looks bad, but Bortles might not have to sit this year.
Henne was 12-of-17 passing for 130 yards and a touchdown, which was a 6-yard toss to rookie Marqise Lee. He did that against the first-team defense for the Bears and is now 16-of-24 passing for 160 yards and a touchdown in the preseason.
Bortles was 11-of-17 passing for 160 yards against the Bears, which was against mostly backup defenders, to put it in perspective. But he made strong throws and extended plays, and he's now 18-of-28 passing for 277 yards in the preseason.
If Bortles somehow starts Week 1, you don't want to be one of the owners who passed on him.
EJ Manuel started just 10 games in his rookie season for the Buffalo Bills last year, but he's a guy that could break out in a big way in 2014. He completed just 58.8 percent of his passes as a rookie, tossing 11 touchdowns and nine picks. Of course, he didn't have much in the way of firepower.
Now he has Sammy Watkins. That's going to change a lot of things offensively in Buffalo. Look for Manuel and Watkins to establish a strong relationship early. Manuel will be a solid quarterback in fantasy (and for the Bills) this year as a result of Watkins' ability to catch the ball in traffic and run crisp routes.
|Running Back Rankings 2014|
|1.||LeSean McCoy||Philadelphia Eagles|
|2.||Jamaal Charles||Kansas City Chiefs|
|3.||Adrian Peterson||Minnesota Vikings|
|4.||Matt Forte||Chicago Bears|
|5.||Eddie Lacy||Green Bay Packers|
|Sleeper||Terrance West||Cleveland Browns|
|Sleeper||Devonta Freeman||Atlanta Falcons|
If you have the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, then LeSean McCoy or Jamaal Charles better be your selection. In fact, McCoy has a step up on Charles at this point.
A lot about choosing the top running back is personal preference, but McCoy offers more to the Philadelphia Eagles. Plus, he's motivated:
Whether head coach Chip Kelly cares or not is irrelevant. Look for McCoy to make the most of his touches. Even if he doesn't get 2,000 yards on the ground, he'll get 2,000 yards from scrimmage.
Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte are two of the most consistent runners in the game, making it no surprise to see them at Nos. 3 and 4. Eddie Lacy is a newcomer to the top group, however, but he is primed for a big year after taking the league by storm as a rookie.
While those guys are locks for production (barring injuries, of course), the following two players have the potential to become rocks for your fantasy squad. Cleveland Browns rookie Terrance West and Atlanta Falcons rookie Devonta Freeman are in very good positions to find playing time.
West has long-time backup Ben Tate in front of him, though Tate's injury history should give West a chance early. On a team that probably won't have consistent play from its quarterbacks, West will be utilized. Expect Cleveland to run the ball a whole lot.
Freeman could also step into a big role if Steven Jackson finds himself on the shelf yet again. Even if Jackson stays healthy, Freeman will spell Jackson and likely be a part of more explosive packages. Freeman is the faster runner and offers more dynamic abilities to the offense.
|Wide Receiver Rankings 2014|
|1.||Calvin Johnson||Detroit Lions|
|2.||Demaryius Thomas||Denver Broncos|
|3.||Dez Bryant||Dallas Cowboys|
|4.||A.J. Green||Cincinnati Bengals|
|5.||Brandon Marshall||Chicago Bears|
|Sleeper||DeAndre Hopkins||Houston Texans|
|Sleeper||Michael Floyd||Arizona Cardinals|
No surprises here. The top wide receivers in football are undoubtedly Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, A.J. Green and Brandon Marshall. They're monsters in both PPR leagues and normal points leagues, making them guys owners want to target within the first two rounds of their drafts.
Finding capable wide receivers late in the draft is never too difficult. A wideout or two will often sneak into the middle rounds despite higher initial rankings. That said, it's hard to find big-time receivers late. That's why you need to look at DeAndre Hopkins and Michael Floyd.
Hopkins was just a rookie last season, and while he showed flashes of potential (52 receptions, 802 yards overall), the NFL hasn't seen his true colors yet. Quarterback play is still an issue in Houston, but Andre Johnson needs a definitive running man to play opposite him. Hopkins is now that guy.
The wideout grabbed just two scores last year. Look for him to up that total to six in 2014. Johnson has never been a big touchdown guy, so the Texans need someone to throw to in the end zone. That'll be Hopkins.
Floyd's rise to sleeper status is an interesting one. Sports On Earth's Dan Pompeii tweeted about the excitement surrounding the 24-year-old:
It's hard to imagine anyone but Larry Fitzgerald assuming No. 1 wideout duties in Arizona, but Floyd has potential. He topped 1,000 yards and grabbed five scores last season, and Carson Palmer loves to air it out. Don't be afraid to grab Floyd and invest a starter's role on him.
Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @KennyDeJohn_BR