Some might say that the beginning of your fantasy football draft is the easiest part. All the stars are available, and for the first few rounds there's likely to be somebody we feel good about taking. But what happens when you're looking at the boards and you can't find a single name to get excited about?
Handling the middle rounds of our drafts can often be the difference between winning and losing a league. If we're able to turn low-value picks into high-value production, it can give us a significant edge over opponents who neglected the middle rounds of their draft.
Though it's often impossible to predict who those players will be. For example, nobody would have thought that Knowshon Moreno could go from third on the Denver Broncos depth chart to a top-five fantasy runner in 2013, or that Josh Gordon would come off of his suspension and blitz opposing defenses for 1,646 yards and become the most valuable fantasy wide receiver.
But we can make educated guesses and do our homework on players that don't excite at the beginning of the season.
We'll look at a few overlooked veterans who could make or break your roster in 2014.
After a season-ending ACL injury, Jeremy Maclin's average draft position (ADP) has hovered comfortably in the sixth round, making him a relatively cheap No. 1 wide receiver.
The injury is certainly scary, but you won't find too many No. 1 WRs in the sixth round. Considering head coach Chip Kelly's fast-paced offense and the exodus of DeSean Jackson earlier in the year, Maclin should be a statistical beneficiary in 2014.
|2012 Stretch Vertical Production: Maclin vs. DeSean Jackson|
Specifically when it comes to stretch vertical receptions. Maclin caught 22 of them in 2012, while the Philadelphia Eagles attempted 70 such passes in 2013, tied for fifth most in the league (h/t ESPN.com).
Assuming Maclin's knee holds together, he's due to pick up a lot of those targets.
2. Reggie Wayne
Since Andrew Luck has been under center, Reggie Wayne has been targeted on nearly one-third of the routes that he's run, making him ninth in that category during that span. So even with the emergence of T.Y. Hilton, and the fact that Wayne is coming off a season-ending ACL injury, he's a decent pickup in the seventh or eighth round.
If the crowded WR depth chart for the Indianapolis Colts bothers you, let Wayne sit on your bench for a couple of weeks to see if he can pick up his old form.
|Hakeem Nicks 2013 Stats|
Keep in mind that part of the reason Hilton had such a good year in 2013 was because of Wayne's absence. And if you're worried about Hakeem Nicks taking touchdowns away from Wayne, you might want to check his 2013 stat sheet.
3. Dennis Pitta
With such a steep drop-off at tight end after Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas and Rob Gronkowski, Dennis Pitta might be a capable consolation prize. If you recall the 2012 version of Pitta, he hauled in 669 yards, seven touchdowns and was an instrumental factor in the Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl run.
An injury that kept him sidelined for nearly the entire 2013 season has him off the radar in most fantasy drafts.
If you miss out on a TE early, you can snag Pitta in the ninth or 10th round and hope that he gets back to 2012 form.
4. Eric Decker
It's tough to get excited about Eric Decker's fantasy value on a team with such an unsettled QB situation, but he does have the helpful distinction of being at the top of the New York Jets depth chart. That alone should set him up for a lot of targets, and if you get him in the eighth round, the value argument starts to turn in Decker's favor.
Yet you don't want to overreach with a guy like Decker and get overly optimistic about his production. The unproven and often unpredictable play of Geno Smith gives Decker an uncertain ceiling in New York, which will remain in place until we see Smith develop some consistency.
So like last year, Decker is a solid start as a FLEX, except now he comes cheaper because he doesn't have Peyton Manning throwing him the ball.
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