The end of the preseason means the 2014 NFL regular season is approaching fast, and fantasy football owners who are drafting on Labor Day weekend are analyzing the latest rankings, sleepers and positional cheat sheets.
Beating your friends, family and coworkers in fantasy leagues makes watching NFL football even more enjoyable, but the key to success is developing and executing an elite game plan on draft day.
Here is all the vital information needed to dominate your fantasy football league in 2014.
|Fantasy Cheat Sheet Rankings by Position|
|Rank||Top Quarterbacks||Team||Bye Week|
|1||Peyton Manning||Denver Broncos||4|
|2||Aaron Rodgers||Green Bay Packers||9|
|3||Drew Brees||New Orleans Saints||6|
|4||Matthew Stafford||Detroit Lions||9|
|5||Tom Brady||New England Patriots||10|
|Rank||Top Running Backs||Team||Bye Week|
|1||Adrian Peterson||Minnesota Vikings||10|
|2||LeSean McCoy||Philadelphia Eagles||7|
|3||Jamaal Charles||Kansas City Chiefs||6|
|4||Matt Forte||Chicago Bears||9|
|5||Eddie Lacy||Green Bay Packers||9|
|Rank||Top Wide Receivers||Team||Bye Week|
|1||Calvin Johnson||Detroit Lions||9|
|2||Brandon Marshall||Chicago Bears||9|
|3||Demaryius Thomas||Denver Broncos||4|
|4||A.J. Green||Cincinnati Bengals||4|
|5||Dez Bryant||Dallas Cowboys||11|
|Rank||Top Tight Ends||Team||Bye Week|
|1||Jimmy Graham||New Orleans Saints||6|
|2||Rob Gronkowski||New England Patriots||10|
|3||Julius Thomas||Denver Broncos||4|
|4||Jason Witten||Dallas Cowboys||11|
|5||Jordan Cameron||Cleveland Browns||4|
|Rank||Top Kickers||Team||Bye Week|
|1||Stephen Gostkowski||New England Patriots||10|
|2||Justin Tucker||Baltimore Ravens||11|
|3||Matt Prater||Denver Broncos||4|
|4||Mason Crosby||Green Bay Packers||9|
|5||Steven Hauschka||Seattle Seahawks||4|
|Rank||Top Team Defenses||--||Bye Week|
|2||San Francisco 49ers||--||8|
|Donald Wood's Rankings.|
Breaking Down Sleepers You Must Draft
One of the keys to finding success in a fantasy football league is deciphering which sleepers have the best chance to blossom into top stars at their positions. Finding a bye-week fill-in or even a late-season starter in the latter stages of a draft could be the difference between barely making the playoffs and winning a championship.
The first sleeper that must be mentioned is Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. As a former fantasy star, it’s hard to quantify Nicks as a sleeper, but after an injury-riddled end to his time with the New York Giants, he has a chance to start over with Andrew Luck.
Nicks is not getting the love he deserves due to the fact that he is buried on the depth chart behind Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton. Wayne is coming off a knee injury and Hilton has proved this preseason that he is inconsistent catching the ball—the stage has been set for the third-string receiver to get more targets as the season progresses.
The veteran could easily amass 60 or more receptions, 900 yards and four touchdowns, but those numbers could climb drastically if one of the other receivers in front of him on the depth chart goes down injured or falls out of favor.
Another sleeper to watch this season is Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman.
Fantasy owners are skeptical about the upside for Freeman after seeing little action with the first-team offense in the preseason (one reception and one carry), but he dominated with the second- and third-team units (20 carries for 92 yards and six receptions for 101 yards).
With Steven Jackson prone to injuries, Jacquizz Rodgers not showing anything special in his preseason action and Antone Smith posing no real threat, Freeman should see his role increase each week. If Jackson goes down later in the season, expect the rookie to carry much of the load.
The deepest sleeper of 2014 is Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Allen Hurns.
Fantasy owners are justifiably scared of drafting players from a team as bad as Jacksonville, but Hurns is a deep sleeper who could blossom into a star this season.
While he may be buried on the depth chart by Cecil Shorts, Marqise Lee and the injured Allen Robinson, he found a rapport with the team’s quarterbacks and became a reliable target during the course of training camp and the preseason.
Against the first-team defense of the Detroit Lions in Week 3, Hurns racked up seven receptions for 113 yards and one touchdown. At 6’3” and 195 pounds, he has the size and speed to be a serious threat in the Jaguars system. Hurns will likely still be available in the last three rounds of your draft.
Whether it’s Nicks, Freeman or Hurns, each of these players should be a consideration if they slip in your fantasy draft. Take the educated risk and look like a genius when the prediction comes to fruition.
*Stats via NFL.com.