2014 Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: Top Sleepers and Advice for Owners

R. Cory Smith@@RCorySmithSenior Writer IAugust 20, 2014

A general view of atmosphere is seen NFL Fantasy Draft Week NFL party on August 22, 2013, in New York City. (Brian Ach/AP Images for NFL)
Brian Ach/Associated Press

The fantasy football draft is coming and you don't feel properly prepared, right? Don't worry, it's something nearly every owner feels ahead of the big day.

You watched the 2014 NFL draft, kept up with training camp battles, looked over rankings—only from Bleacher Report, of course—and did mock drafts until your fingers bled. Oh, you didn't? Then we've got some work to do—only kidding.

Regardless of how much work you put into getting ready, there always seems to be more to take in. The good part is we're here for you to make sure you know the ins and outs of all the components listed above.

Whether it's a rookie like Devonta Freeman or Carlos Hyde looking to overtake a veteran or DeAndre Hopkins or Markus Wheaton simply hoping to make a bigger impact, there are sleepers abound this season.

It's just knowing how to pick them and when to do so. They might not always work out, but they're called sleepers for a reason.

Before the season gets underway, here's a look at the top overall sleepers and sound advice for your fantasy draft.

2014 Fantasy Football Skill Position Sleepers
QuarterbackJay CutlerChicago BearsSee Below8.04
QuarterbackAndy DaltonCincinnati BengalsA new contract means a confident Red Rifle. With A.J. Green, Giovani Bernard and Marvin Jones, Dalton has multiple weapons.11.02
QuarterbackJosh McCownTampa Bay BuccaneersNew team, new opportunity for McCown. Options like Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans and Doug Martin give him fantasy value.14.02
Running BackBernard PierceBaltimore RavensRay Rice is suspended the first two weeks. If Pierce proves himself, look for a heightened role in 2014.7.11
Running BackCarlos HydeSan Francisco 49ersFrank Gore is an ageless wonder, but Hyde will push for snaps out of the backfield.8.08
Running BackDevonta FreemanAtlanta FalconsSee Below9.02
Running BackChristine MichaelSeattle SeahawksStill backing up Marshawn Lynch, Michael will steal carries away this season.11.07
Wide ReceiverKelvin BenjaminCarolina PanthersWithout Steve Smith, Benjamin is expected to take over the No. 1 receiver role.8.08
Wide ReceiverMike EvansTampa Bay BuccaneersA rookie with plenty of potential, look for Evans to break out alongside VJax.10.04
Wide ReceiverDeAndre HopkinsHouston TexansDespite quarterback uncertainty, Hopkins will be a viable flex option with WR2 potential in future seasons for keeper/dynasty leagues.10.06
Wide ReceiverMarkus WheatonPittsburgh SteelersSee Below12.03
Tight EndLadarius GreenSan Diego ChargersBehind an aging Antonio Gates, Green will rise to top-10 tight end potential in 2014.11.01
Tight EndCharles ClayMiami DolphinsSporadic player who will need more consistency, but explosive option for limited position.13.05
Tight EndTyler EifertCincinnati BengalsOption behind proven TE for owners. Has potential to produce, just needs more targets.N/A
Cory Smith's Rankings

*Average draft position according to 12-team league in standard-scoring format, per FantasyFootballCalculator.com.

Top Sleepers

Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons

After Steven Jackson missed four games last season due to injuries and took a huge step back statistically, Freeman is set to steal away carries.

Throughout two preseason games, Freeman has looked explosive out of the backfield. Using both his speed and great pass-catching abilities, he has been an all-around asset for the Atlanta Falcons defense.

While some value rookie Bishop Sankey in the first five rounds, Chris Wesseling of NFL.com likes Freeman early on:

Meanwhile, Jackson has been nursing a hamstring injury and posted career lows last season. With just 543 rushing yards and 3.5 yards per carry in 2013 for Jackson, Freeman will push the veteran all year for the starting role.

Though his value might be limited early on, Freeman has a chance to explode late in the season. When the games really count, Freeman has a chance to be a viable flex option for owners.

Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears

Need a reason to take Jay Cutler as a viable backup quarterback? How about three? Their names are Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte, three of the best at their respective positions.

Those are the options Cutler has at his disposal every time he drops back to pass. With both Marshall and Jeffery projected to be top-10 wide receivers and Forte proving he's one of the best pass-catching backs, Cutler should be a reliable signal-caller.

That exact thought process led Michael Beller of Sports Illustrated to believe Cutler should be a valuable option:

If we’re all right about Marshall and Jeffery -- and, to a lesser extent, Forte -- then at least some people are wrong on Cutler. Assuming Marshall, Jeffery and Cutler produce as expected, then Cutler should be looking at something like 4,000 yards and 32 touchdowns as floors.

With top options like Andrew Luck and Nick Foles that have limited offensive weapons, Cutler is a quarterback with a plethora of them. If he can simply produce, expect Cutler to put up similar numbers to Matthew Stafford last season.

Markus Wheaton, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

A mostly unknown commodity for his lack of playing time thus far, Markus Wheaton has shined thus far in training camp. Expected to replace Emmanuel Sanders, word out of Pittsburgh Steelers camp is that he is ready for the No. 2 role, according to Alan Robinson of TribLive.com.

Playing alongside Antonio Brown, Wheaton's production will likely be limited at the start of the season. But with time, he has a chance to blossom into a steady flex option in 10- or 12-team leagues.

As for his thoughts on the upcoming season, Wheaton is ready for the season, per Ken Laird of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Sanders was never a huge weapon for the Steelers offense, but he put up decent numbers for fantasy owners. With the speed that Wheaton has shown and his dynamic potential, nabbing him in a late round could pay dividends later in the season.

Fantasy Draft Advice

Wait On a Quarterback Outside of Top Three

JACK DEMPSEY/Associated Press

Fantasy owners already know the top three quarterbacks in the league. Outside of Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers, there are no other signal-callers worth taking in the top three rounds.

While Stafford put up monstrous numbers last year, his average draft position is still sitting at 4.07. Andrew Luck has now entered the top-five ranking, but still isn't worth going ahead of the fifth round.

Rather than taking a quarterback early that might not live up to expectations, waiting for a bargain pick makes more sense. One option is Matt Ryan, as Michael Fabiano of NFL Network notes:

The Atlanta Falcons now have a healthy tandem of Roddy White and Julio Jones returning. If Ryan can utilize his talented receivers, expect a comeback season from the signal-caller.

With the likes of Philip Rivers and Tony Romo also looking like great options late in the draft, there are plenty of quarterbacks to go around. They might not be Manning or Brees, but stocking up on running backs and wide receivers earlier can make for a more complete roster.

Follow Average Draft Position

Aug 8, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins (14) stands on the field prior to the start of the game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Every fantasy player believes they have a system. Then, just when the draft starts, everything goes out the window.

If someone jumps the gun and grabs Jordan Cameron in the third round, don't succumb to the pressure and take another tight end immediately. That's another player's mistake—don't make it your misstep too.

Following the average draft position of a position or player is a great way to remain on course during the draft. While you might completely buy the hype of Sammy Watkins as a star this season, snatching him in the fifth round is a terrible choice.

Another way of keeping up with the ADP of a player is by adding it to your big board. A player that has a higher ADP than the current round might be worth grabbing in later rounds to see if he materializes.

Lastly, remember that fantasy football is a long season. Championships are not always won or lost on draft days, but making great decisions now can pay off when the playoffs roll around. 

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