Fantasy Football Sleepers 2014: Top Hidden Gems at Every Fantasy Position
You can be as comprehensive as anyone in the fantasy football analysis industry, providing final rankings like we did here at Bleacher Report, but readers don't care.
They want buzz names. The sleepers. The hidden gems.
They want a way they can show they are smarter than everyone.
This slideshow gives you the latter-round picks that can make you fantasy owners look like draft-day geniuses. After all, who cares if you drafted a good team as much as scored the next big thing...at least some fantasy owners believe...right?
We water your thirst for these types, outlining the top hidden gems by position for this weekend's drafts.
Quarterback: Fantasy Value Is Coming Back for Colin Kaepernick
There is no such thing as a hidden gem at the quarterback position. These big names are headliners, even if they fall into the middle rounds of fantasy football drafts.
Every fantasy analyst in the world advises you to wait on picking your quarterback, so any number of viable starters can fall to you in a reasonable round. Even Super Bowl champion quarterback Russell Wilson is being picked as a fantasy backup in a standard 12-team league, according to FantasyPros.com's average draft position. Wilson is just 14th there.
There is great value in the middle-round quarterbacks, which is why so many tell you to draft a slew of running backs and wide receivers before your starting quarterback.
Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
This has been an awful preseason for the 49ers offense. Kaepernick was once the darling future star for fantasy owners. Now, he is a low-end option at the top-heavy quarterback position. Bleacher Report ranks him as a backup at No. 13.
After calling Kaepernick a potential bust a year ago at his draft position—and watching him rank just 18th in fantasy points per game among quarterbacks in 2013, per FFToday.com—we think this is precisely the right time to buy in. The love affair has subsided, but it hasn't run its course.
The 49ers are going to be more reliant on Kaepernick's talents this year, especially with veteran running back Frank Gore now the advanced age of 31. Gore just won't have the juice to carry the 49ers offense anymore, and rookie Carlos Hyde is going to require some learning curve.
Kaepernick has the first full season of being an NFL starter under his belt. Fantasy has stopped overrating his run-pass ability. The value is going to come back to us now. He is prepared to jump into fantasy stardom just when we have begun to look away.
A completely healthy Michael Crabtree is going to change the game for Kaepernick, along with the steadiness of Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. The field-stretching ability of Stevie Johnson should help, too. It should be reminded Kaepernick came on last year when a less-than-100 percent Crabtree returned from the Achilles surgery that might have knocked other players out for the season.
This should be Kaepernick's year, even if it looks like the hype might have passed him by.
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
Jay Gruden turned Andy Dalton into a 4,000-yard, 33-touchdown quarterback. Gruden is now calling the shots here.
Sure, RG3 has had a poor preseason like Kaepernick, but as The Washington Post's Liz Clarke reported, any quarterback controversy is overblown. If RG3 falls in drafts, look. An offense with Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, burgeoning star Jordan Reed, Andre Roberts, Alfred Morris and Gruden pushing the buttons promises to be dynamic for fantasy owners.
We cannot be sure how the also-ran quarterbacks are going come off the board in your league, but if the Kirk Cousins-starting talk helps RG3 slip into Round 8, look out.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Exit Golden Tate. Enter Percy Harvin...hopefully for something more than one reception. Harvin for Tate is a trade any fantasy owner would take, but they still are not drafting Wilson as a starter.
Wilson has thrown for 26 touchdowns in each of his first two seasons in the NFL. Year three can be even better. With an aging Marshawn Lynch less likely to be able to hold up for 300 carries, Wilson can assume even more of the load. He is a great value for those waiting on their starting quarterback.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
Speaking of third-year starting quarterbacks, Tannehill is well-positioned to break through for fantasy owners in two-quarterback leagues. The Dolphins have revamped their offensive line, so this should be Tannehill's best year yet. A season of 25 touchdowns and 4,000 yards is possible after the top 20 quarterbacks are off the board in drafts.
Running Back: Knile Davis Is the Most Important Handcuff in Fantasy
Running back is a position picked early and often in all fantasy leagues by all fantasy owners. There are very few secrets at the position we spend so much of our attention on.
After all the picks, fliers, sleepers and late-round targets, inevitably someone is going to come out of the woodwork like Knowshon Moreno did for the Denver Broncos a year ago. Short of going back to the well on Moreno now as a potential Lamar Miller backup for the Miami Dolphins, we break down some of the backs' names to call late in drafts and cross your fingers.
Knile Davis, Kansas City Chiefs
Like the law of conservation of energy, fantasy value may be neither created nor destroyed. It is merely rearranged.
Charles' loss will be Knile Davis' gain.
Davis, the 22-year-old, second-year back out of Arkansas, has value masked by Charles' excellence. Andy Reid's offense is running back friendly. Those same reasons Charles isn't expected to repeat as the highest-scoring fantasy back, per FFToday.com, are the reasons you have for picking Davis as the most important handcuff running back in fantasy.
When Charles exited last January's playoff game with a concussion, Davis took over, rushing for 67 yards and a touchdown, and adding another seven receptions for 33 yards and another score. Reid makes his feature back a fantasy monster. Davis will be plug and play when, not if, Charles goes down.
Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers
If Hyde wasn't the 39th-ranked running back in FantasyPros.com's ADP, we would have been inclined to feature him over Davis above. As it is, he is going to be a tough guy to get.
No one is expecting a 31-year-old Frank Gore to hold up for a full season. Hyde is going to assume a feature-back and goal-line role for one of the NFL's top rushing offenses. Hyde should be the first true handcuff off the board.
Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
Pierre Thomas might start for the Saints. He might even become the pass-receiving back in place of Darren Sproles. Khiry Robinson gets a lot of fantasy love. Everyone hates the first-round bust Ingram has been in three unsatisfying years.
These are precisely the reasons we like Ingram as a hidden gem. Ingram can still be a 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown threat for a potent Saints offense. He can be this year's Moreno.
Alfred Blue, Houston Texans
Those backs above might have names too common to fantasy owners for your liking. Blue is a guy, well, out of the blue, if you can excuse the pun. Blue was a timeshare back behind well-regarded Cincinnati Bengals rookie Jeremy Hill at LSU. Blue is also the third running back to Arian Foster and Jonathan Grimes on the Texans depth chart. He could wind up being their starter before too long if Foster's surgically repaired back doesn't hold up. That would make Blue a huge last-round asset in fantasy.
Wide Receiver: Carolina Panthers' Kelvin Benjamin Poised for Big Rookie Year
As tough as it might be to lock up the right late-round running back, it can be as easy to score value among young wide receivers in the depths of fantasy drafts. It is a numbers game. There is receiving talent waiting in the wings just about everywhere around this pass-happy NFL.
A great wide receiver draft class just added to the options for us in fantasy. We look past the first rookie wideouts who came off the board this past May—Sammy Watkins of the Buffalo Bills (No. 4 overall), Mike Evans (No. 7 overall) of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Odell Beckham of the New York Giants (No. 12 overall) and Brandin Cooks of the New Orleans Saints (No. 20 overall). There is a rookie wideout even better for fantasy owners to scoop as a reserve.
Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers
Rookie fantasy receivers can be a crapshoot. The hype tends to overrate them (see Tavon Austin a year ago).
There is a lot to love about the aforementioned rookies, but the 28th overall pick to the Carolina Panthers, Kelvin Benjamin, is in the best situation to star right away. Cam Newton is working with a revamped receiving corps that Benjamin now looks like he will lead as the primary target. That alone can make him the most productive of the rookie wideouts.
Cam Newton is going to will his way to 25 touchdowns and 4,000 yards passing somehow. Benjamin should be the No. 1 beneficiary and outside target.
He might be a raw route-runner, but the 6'5", 240-pounder is a physical threat who can be a monster in the red zone against smaller defensive backs. A 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown season from a player picked outside of the top 36 at his position is possible.
Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles
Here is another rookie receiver in an ideal situation. The Eagles are going to be a playmaking offense with Chip Kelly calling the shots and the running game drawing a lot of defensive attention. Matthews is a valuable third receiver for Nick Foles behind the oft-injured Jeremy Maclin and possession guy Riley Cooper. Matthews should get more targets than he does attention from defenses and fantasy owners in drafts.
Danny Amendola, New England Patriots
He was supposed to be the next Wes Welker for the New England Patriots' Tom Brady, not Julian Edelman. Amendola should be better in his second season with Brady, even if his true fantasy value might not come until Edelman is injured. Amendola is a nice bargain, particularly in PPR formats, after the top 40 receivers are off the board.
Mohamed Sanu, Cincinnati Bengals
Speaking of receivers who won't draw attention of defenses, Sanu is a third-year breakout candidate who will get to operate opposite the frequently doubled A.J. Green for the Bengals. Sanu is a big target at 6'2" who also benefits from Marvin Jones' (foot) loss for at least the first month of the season. Sanu is ridiculously good value as the 79th-ranked receiver in FantasyPros.com's ADP.
Tight End: The Next Julius Thomas Is out There; We Outline Those Candidates
After the huge breakthroughs we saw from the Denver Broncos' Julius Thomas and the Cleveland Browns' Jordan Cameron last season, fantasy owners are anxious to get in on the ground floor of the next big thing at tight end. We have a number of candidates.
It is yet another reason to wait on the position in drafts.
Ladarius Green, San Diego Chargers
If there is a rags-to-riches story on the board this year, it has to be San Diego Chargers backup tight end Green. He is stuck behind a future Hall of Famer in Antonio Gates right now, which helps Green slip into the late rounds of drafts.
Green is going to take over for the 34-year-old Gates at some point before long. Tight ends rarely hold up into their mid-30s, and Philip Rivers' Chargers have a tight end-friendly offense.
Green is a mere 17th among tight ends in FantasyPros.com's ADP. There should be only about 15 picked at this position in a standard, 12-team league. Backup tight ends are a dime a dozen.
If Green winds up being Rivers' primary tight end sooner than later, an 800-yard, 10-touchdown third-year breakout is possible. Those are Thomas-like numbers for a player you might similarly see available off waivers after Week 1.
Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
We would have hyped Reed over Green above if not for the fact everyone sees the second-year Reed as a burgeoning fantasy star. Reed is a top-10 tight end everywhere, including FantasyPros.com consensus rankings. The talent and potential in that offense clearly make Reed one of the position's sleepers if he falls to Round 8 or later.
Coby Fleener, Indianapolis Colts
The 6'6" red-zone threat just doesn't get enough love from the fantasy masses. We understand the return of in-line starter Dwayne Allen will stress Fleener's snap count, but Fleener is a seam-buster and a longtime Andrew Luck favorite. Seeing Fleener just 25th in the aforementioned consensus rankings makes him a great bargain.
Defense/Special Teams: Lovie Smith Set to Remake Tampa Bay Buccaneers
You draft your defense/special teams late, so they are all technically candidates to be considered sleepers. Still, we have some options to fall back on once you miss out on the lone certainty, the Seattle Seahawks.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
As we chronicled in B/R's D/ST Blueprint earlier this month, you want to draft a defense that has a defensive-minded head coach. New Bucs head coach Lovie Smith has made a career out of building an attacking, fantasy-scoring defense.
When Smith took over as the Chicago Bears head coach, his defense went from 28th in fantasy to fourth. It stayed productive most of his tenure there.
The Bucs are his next career rebuild. With linebacker Lavonte David and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to work with, Tampa Bay's defense has the potential to be really good. The Bucs are just 13th in FantasyPros.com's ADP. They will finish in the top five of fantasy and be this year's Carolina Panthers success story.
You had to figure the Ravens would need a rebuilding year to replace retired Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, the heart and soul of one of our generation's greatest defenses. It might have been merely a one-year hiatus. First-round middle linebacker C.J. Mosley and second-round defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan should help reignite a historically strong defensive franchise. The Ravens are a great value as the 16th D/ST in FantasyPros.com's ADP.
Kicker: Nate Freese Gives Us Another Promising Young Kicker
It is the kicker position, so you might not have noticed the youth movement around the NFL here. The Baltimore Ravens' Justin Tucker, Minnesota Vikings' Blair Walsh, Legatron Greg Zuerlein of the St. Louis Rams and the Miami Dolphins' Caleb Sturgis have injected young legs into fantasy in recent years.
It won't stop with that promising group either.
Nate Freese, Detroit Lions
The Lions promise to be a pretty good offensive team, and their kicker projects to kick more than half of his games indoors in climate-controlled conditions. Those are good reasons to like rookie kicker Nate Freese. Freese was a perfect 20-of-20 at Boston College last year, so his accuracy makes him fantasy-worthy as much as his situation.
Brandon McManus, Denver Broncos
Matt Prater's four-game suspension opens the door for another young kicker trying to make his way into the NFL and fantasy. McManus was cut by the New York Giants when he lost the job to Josh Brown, but McManus wound up on his feet in a great situation with the Broncos, a record-setting offense. McManus might be useful for only the four games Prater misses, but he is draft-worthy. You can replace your kicker and even get Prater off waivers, if you wanted.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.