Fantasy Football 2014: 10 Sleepers Who Can Make Late Climb This Weekend
With many fantasy football drafts occurring this weekend or shortly thereafter, this weekend's set of preseason games offers many fantasy players their last chance to scout key sleepers for the upcoming year.
Since this is the third preseason game for most clubs (excluding the Giants and the Bills, who have already played three games), this is usually the time first-stringers play for the majority of the first half (and sometimes into the second half). In other words, this is the so-called "dress rehearsal" for most teams, and it is one of the last times we'll get a good look at key players.
Here are 10 sleepers (ranked in order of fantasy value) who can make a climb up draft boards this weekend with good showings.
10. Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions
Eric Ebron hasn't exactly been lighting it up this preseason, as his immense hype has not matched the results on the field.
So far, he has just three receptions for 38 yards (no touchdowns) this preseason. Considering the Lions used their first-round pick (No. 10 overall) on Ebron this spring, he is expected to become an integral part of the Lions offense—and quick.
Blessed with tremendous size and speed, Ebron could be a magnet for Matt Stafford in the red zone. And with Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate getting looks on the outside, Ebron could be a beast in the middle of the field.
Hopefully, Ebron gets it in gear and shows off the promise that made him a high NFL draft pick while also encouraging fantasy players to give him a look late in drafts. Ebron and the Lions are set to take on the Jaguars on Friday.
9. Justin Hunter, Tennessee Titans
One player who has been using the preseason to springboard himself up the draft ladder is Titans wide receiver Justin Hunter.
In two preseason games, Hunter has registered five receptions for 116 yards and two touchdowns. The speedy receiver out of Tennessee was the Titans' second-round pick (No. 34 overall) in the 2013 NFL draft and appears headed toward a breakout season.
With a year of experience under his belt, as well as the tutelage of offensive guru and new Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt, Hunter could be in line for good things in 2014.
We'll get a good look at Hunter and the Titans when they take on the Falcons on Saturday.
8. Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks
Though not known for their passing attack, the Seahawks have an underappreciated receiver who can legitimately break out this year in Doug Baldwin.
Baldwin finished last season with 50 receptions for 778 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Remember, Baldwin also had five catches for 66 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl.
With Golden Tate now in Detroit, Baldwin could be in for a boost in targets, and when Russell Wilson wants to pass the ball, he can be very effective. Baldwin and the Seahawks are set to take on the Bears on Friday.
7. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There is a lot to like about Mike Evans.
He has jaw-dropping athleticism to go with a body that is ready-made for the rigors of the NFL, and how he adapts to the speed of the game will go a long way toward any success he has in 2014.
Playing opposite Vincent Jackson should allow Evans to get single-coverage looks, and with his size and playmaking abilities, that is a scary thought. He has just two catches this preseason, though, albeit for 52 yards with a fumble lost.
It should be interesting to see how the Bucs use him in Saturday's game against the Bills.
6. Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers
Kelvin Benjamin's value is tied to how Cam Newton plays on his surgically repaired ankle and how quickly the two can build a rapport. The results in Sunday's exhibition game against the Chiefs were spotty, to say the least.
Benjamin has great size and speed, making him a great asset in the red zone. After losing Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn in the offseason, the Panthers will need someone to catch the ball, and their first-round pick, Benjamin, makes the most sense. So far, Benjamin has hauled in three catches for 70 yards this preseason.
There will probably be some growing pains along the way, but Benjamin is an intriguing pick in all leagues, and how he does in Friday's game against the Patriots could foreshadow things to come.
5. Mark Ingram/Khiry Robinson, New Orleans Saints
The Saints have employed a running back by committee for a while now, and with the departure of Darren Sproles, both Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson have a chance to make names for themselves this year.
Ingram has looked good this preseason (13 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown) and is now a veteran of the league with three years under his belt. Robinson, on the other hand, is a wild card. He possesses more upside but has only rushed for 34 yards on nine attempts this preseason.
We have seen what Ingram can do, and the results have been mixed. However, we have not seen what Robinson can do if really given a chance.
While Pierre Thomas will be used a lot (mostly on third downs and in obvious passing situations), Ingram or Robinson will likely be used to run the ball up the middle. Saturday's game against the Colts may determine who the Saints favor for the bulk of the rushing load.
4. Andre Williams, New York Giants
With Rashad Jennings expected to get the majority of carries between the 20s for the Giants, rookie Andre Williams may be the guy used as a change-of-pace back in short-yardage situations and more so at the goal line.
Like Brandon Jacobs, the player before him in New York, Williams' power-style running could make him a popular player in fantasy circles. This bulldozing back is a great downhill runner who also happens to have a good set of wheels, so maybe he can become more than a touchdown vulture.
Friday's game against the tough run defense of the Jets will give us a good look at what Williams is made of.
3. Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins
While many people will talk about the arrival of Knowshon Moreno, Lamar Miller will not be entirely phased out and may actually be the better choice of the two for carries in Miami.
Saturday's game against the Cowboys could go a long way in determining how the Dolphins will divvy up carries between the two. With Moreno not having Peyton Manning to play alongside him, he may not be the productive back in South Beach that he was in Denver.
Granted, Miller underwhelmed last year (177 carries for 709 yards and two touchdowns). But with a revamped offensive line, perhaps he can sneak up on people this year. Saturday's game could tell us a lot about Miller and Moreno. And the hunch here is that Miller may be the better value on draft day.
2. Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills
Sammy Watkins has been turning heads while making awe-inspiring plays in camp, but we need to see that success translate to games—that is, if he can make it onto the field this week. He has not yet been cleared to play, reports Marc Sessler of NFL.com.
Equipped with elite athleticism and size, Watkins has all the attributes you want in a receiver. While he plays in a ho-hum offense, he has transcendent skills that can make him great no matter where he plays.
Remember, Bengals stud receiver A.J. Green thrived in Cincinnati his rookie year with rookie quarterback Andy Dalton throwing him the ball. Watkins could possibly produce in a less than ideal setting, just like Green did his rookie year. He's that good.
Watkins (if he plays) and the Bills will take on the Buccaneers this Saturday.
1. Bernard Pierce, Baltimore Ravens
With Ray Rice suspended for the first two games, Bernard Pierce has a real good chance of carving out a bigger role for himself in the Ravens offense this coming year. And how he finishes out the preseason could be paramount to his fantasy value.
Saturday's game against the Redskins could potentially be a big outing not only for Pierce but also for Rice. But Pierce is the one to watch here, as he could be in line for a good dose of carries regardless of Rice's situation. He has looked good in the first two preseason games, rushing for 92 yards and a touchdown on just 17 carries.
Under the guidance of new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who did well with backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate in Houston, Pierce may be poised to play at a higher level this year.
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