One of the great fantasy benefits from the NFL's pass-happy offensive style is how easy it's become to rack up cheap points in points per reception leagues. No longer do you need to hope for one of the first five picks to ensure a player like Calvin Johnson ends up on your roster.
Of course, getting Megatron doesn't exactly hurt your chances of winning. It's just easier to find points and value later in the draft now because of the way teams run their offenses, using the shotgun and multiple wide receiver sets at alarming rates.
As fantasy drafts prepare to commence around the country, either on the Internet or in a sports bar where you can trash talk all of your friends' silly picks in person, these are the names to watch closely if you are in a PPR league.
Underrated Stars To Draft
Pierre Thomas, RB, New Orleans Saints
For reasons that aren't entirely clear, Pierre Thomas is listed third on New Orleans' running back depth chart, according to Katherine Terrell of The Times-Picayune in New Orleans. While that sounds like bad news for fantasy owners, it actually enhances his value.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees has gone on record calling Thomas the best all-purpose running back in the NFL. You can tell the trust Brees has in Thomas by looking at his reception total, which ballooned to a career-high 77 last year.
Lest you think Thomas is going to find himself losing carries in 2014, the 29-year-old tied a career high last year with 147 carries. The Saints don't run the ball much—they ranked 26th in rushes last year with 391—but Thomas has been the man Brees trusts the most out of the backfield.
ESPN.com has Thomas listed as the 77th-best player in PPR leagues and 29th-ranked running back, behind players such as Toby Gerhart and Chris Johnson. There isn't a better value running back in PPR leagues than the Saints' "No. 3" guy.
Shane Vereen, RB, New England Patriots
New England's offensive philosophy isn't as pass-happy as you might expect. Bill Belichick's team used to be known for a strong running game and complementary passing game early in Tom Brady's career, but when you have a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback, it's hard not to start throwing the ball around.
However, the Patriots have run the ball 993 times the last two years. Shane Vereen has been a big part of New England's rushing renaissance, despite being a backup player in his first three years. He is averaging 4.3 yards per carry on just 121 attempts since 2011.
Last year, though, Vereen became a bigger part of Belichick's passing offense. He caught 47 passes for 427 yards and three touchdowns.
With LeGarrette Blount leaving via free agency, Vereen's role in the running game could expand, though it hasn't happened in the preseason. Ryan Hannable of WEEI.com had this observation from New England's Friday night matchup against Philadelphia:
Unofficial RB snaps in the first half (includes penalties): Stevan Ridley - 16 James White - 23 Shane Vereen - 8 Brandon Bolden - 5— Ryan Hannable (@RyanHannable) August 16, 2014
While the rushing attempts and yards may not be there, the Patriots employ a scheme that utilizes a lot of screens. Vereen earned Brady's trust as a pass-catcher out of the backfield last year, so seeing his reception total increase seems like a given.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, Indianapolis Colts
A deep sleeper in fantasy leagues following a disappointing 2013 season, Hakeem Nicks is poised for a bounce-back year with Andrew Luck throwing him passes. ESPN.com has the Indianapolis star listed as the No. 46 receiver in PPR leagues and valued at $1 in auction drafts.
Which under-the-radar fantasy star will have the most impact in PPR leagues?
However, Nicks' issues last season were overblown. He didn't help fantasy owners in the touchdown department, but was still good for 56 receptions and 896 yards. His 16.0 yards per reception was tied for 10th in the league with fantasy studs Alshon Jeffery and Michael Floyd.
Getting Nicks away from Eli Manning, who was a turnover machine in 2013, and pairing him with Luck, who continues to grow into one of the best quarterbacks in the sport, only figures to enhance his fantasy production.
Victor Cruz, who played with Nicks for four years in New York, told Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com that the criticism put on his former teammate put him in a bad mental spot, but it's all in the past now:
I mean, anytime people say things like that and try to discuss your character, I think it takes a toll on anyone. I think it did for him, and I think it's something where he wants to prove people wrong. He wants to show that he's a team guy, show that he gives his all and everything for his teammates. And I think the fresh start for him in Indy is gonna be just that, so we'll see how it goes for him.
Being the No. 3 receiver/slot guy for the Colts, who know that T.Y. Hilton is going to command a lot more attention and Reggie Wayne is coming off a torn ACL, is an ideal spot for Nicks to get back to where he was from 2009-11 when he had 24 touchdown catches.
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