Fantasy football can be won in myriad ways throughout the season. While the first six rounds of a draft can shape the foundation of a team, the later rounds typically separate teams late in the season when the games count.
Taking fliers on players that might not have immediate value and stashing them away can pay huge dividends. Whether it's an injury, bye week or simply under-performing from top players, sleepers have a tremendous effect on the season.
Wide receivers are no doubt the deepest position this year, but there are players at every position looking to break out. Rookies at running back and tight end could see huge years and eventually overtake veterans ahead of them.
Before fantasy drafts get underway, here's a look at sleepers at every skill position with upside for the 2014 season.
Quarterback: Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals (ADP: 11.03)
Andy Dalton is certainly not the quarterback you want when a playoff game is on the line. But for owners in need of a bye-week replacement or a trusty backup to an injury-prone quarterback, Dalton might just be the man.
A simple look at the targets for Dalton makes any fantasy fan drool. With the likes of A.J. Green, Giovani Bernard and Marvin Jones surrounding him, Dalton has options in the passing game.
With those weapons and consistency in the offense, Dalton should put up good points on a consistent basis. Cris Collinsworth of NBC notes just how important Dalton has been to the offense this preseason:
Bengals looked great tonight until Andy Dalton left the game. Dalton contract looking better and better.— Cris Collinsworth (@CollinsworthNBC) August 17, 2014
Having great performances in the preseason doesn't always translate, but Dalton has looked impressive. Given the targets around him and the comfortability in the system will work out well for fantasy owners in deep leagues.
Running Back: Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers (ADP: 8.08)
Frank Gore is still the starter for the San Francisco 49ers, but Carlos Hyde is making some serious noise.
The former Ohio State running back has shown flashes of potential on the field and at times looked like Gore 2.0. In fact, Kirk Morrison of Fox Sports 1 compared Hyde to the veteran running back:
Carlos Hyde looks like a carbon copy of Frank Gore in 49er offense. Saw him pre-game working his feet the same way Gore does in the hole— Kirk Morrison (@kirkmorrison) August 17, 2014
Along with the similar tendencies to Gore, he's been quick to pick up the Niners' system. Just a rookie, Hyde has been successful at nearly everything the team has thrown his way despite being a third-round pick in the draft.
As for his knowledge of the system, coach Jim Harbaugh notes Gore has been a quick study, per Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee:
“Carlos gets football, understands football; it’s natural for him to understand the game, similar to Frank Gore,” he said. “And we’re seeing those things, and both are very good signs and bode well for us.”
Needless to say, the consensus is that Hyde will eventually take over the starting role. While it might not be early on in the season and might have to be stashed away until Gore slows down, Hyde is a great value in both keeper and Dynasty leagues.
Wide Receiver: Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers (ADP: 8.09)
Names such as Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks are hot around fantasy football, but Kelvin Benjamin has the most upside this season.
Thanks to the rapport that he's already built with Cam Newton, and the limited option around him, Benjamin has a chance to shine. His size was what boosted him into the first round for the Carolina Panthers, but his speed is surprising teams in the preseason.
Benjamin spoke about that speed earlier this week, per David Newton of ESPN.com:
After a mass exodus of the Panthers' wide receivers, including Steve Smith, Newton's weapons are depleted. Jerricho Cotchery is the projected No. 2 receiver with Greg Olsen being the only remaining passing target from the top-four receivers in 2013.
With Benjamin being given a chance to step in and produce right away, Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com believes he's an early candidate for Rookie of the Year:
Watkins, Cooks and Mike Evans have potential, but Benjamin is being asked to do much more. For fantasy owners that snag him around his 8.09 ADP, expect him to be an early flex option with WR2 potential late in the season.
Tight End: Ladarius Green, San Diego Chargers (ADP: 11.02)
Which sleeper has the highest value?
For those who haven't heard of Ladarius Green, get ready to hear a lot of his name this season.
Much like Hyde, Green has a veteran player ahead of him in Antonio Gates. But with Green showing huge-play potential last year, he has a chance to take several of those receptions away from Gates.
Michael Fabiano of NFL.com explains his stance on the third-year player:
"Boy, this kid is so athletic," Fabiano said. "I know Antonio Gates is still there, but I'm wondering if we're seeing sort of a passing of the torch there from Gates to Green. Green is someone that I like as a late-round pick. He's a No. 2 tight end with No. 1 potential."
Green has plenty of value for owners willing to take him in a late round. With an average draft position of 11.02 in a 12-team league, Green could go from backup to breakout during the 2014 season.
*All average draft positions courtesy of FantasyFootballCalculator.com.
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