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It’s about that time of year. The start to the 2014 fantasy football season is only a couple weeks away. Sundays, along with Monday and Thursday nights, are about to become relevant once again.
With the start of the season right around the corner, now is a good time to brush up on knowledge of potential sleeper candidates for the upcoming campaign. A quick refresher for those readers new to fantasy football: players who can bring a team good value in the later rounds of a draft are viewed as “sleepers“.
Although some people have varying definitions on what qualifies a player to be a true sleeper candidate, for the purpose of this article sleepers can be considered generally undervalued players.
Hopefully this list can serve as a helpful reference on draft day that will help you land a couple low-cost-high-reward players. Without further ado, I will begin with my list of potential sleeper candidates by position.
My stance on quarterbacks in this year’s group is consistent with other fantasy bloggers. If you don’t land one of the top three fantasy quarterbacks (Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, or Drew Brees) your best bet is to wait until one of the last rounds to grab a starter. The potential value with the mid-tier quarterbacks going after Manning, Rodgers and Brees is comparable with the group of guys rounding out the top-10.
So instead of grabbing a Matthew Stafford or Andrew Luck with one of your early-round to mid-round draft picks, waiting until the later rounds to grab a Jay Cutler, who could post similar fantasy point totals, would be wise. With Cutler’s premier group of receivers headlined by emerging star Ashlon Jeffery, the always-steady Brandon Marshall, talented tight end Martellus Bennett, and the more than capable pass catching back, Matt Forte, the tools are in place for Cutler to potentially finish among the top-5 quarterback rankings by season’s end. Marc Trestman’s offensive minded game plans don’t hurt Cutlers value either.
Steven Jackson is borderline washed up. His days as a fantasy stud are likely over after what we all witnessed over the course of his discouraging first year on the Falcons. Having only averaged 3.5 years per carry in 2013, which was the lowest of veteran’s career, and only eclipsing the 100 yards total once in the 12 games he played in, it is fair to assume that another back is poised to take the reigns as the Falcons “running back to own” for the upcoming fantasy season.
Rookie Devonta Freeman, out of Florida State, is the candidate most likely to replace the 31-year-old Jackson if he continues to struggle with injuries and his aging body. Freeman will battle with Jacquizz Rodgers for the No.2 spot on the depth chart during preseason. Rodgers hasn’t shown much of anything in his pro career up to this point, only averaging 3.6 yards per carry. The competition when it’s all said and done will likely result in Freeman’s favor.
At 6’4, Justin Hunter possesses great height at the receiver position, accompanied by a superb catch radius, a 39.5” vertical, and a 4.40 40-yard dash, Hunter has the mold of a star receiver in the making. We saw flashes of his potential last season, with his first two NFL catches coming as touchdowns along with other highlight-reel snags. Hunter has also has had an eye-opening preseason in which his potential as a vertical threat was on display.
In the Titans second preseason game against the Saints, Hunter accumulated four receptions for 111 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 27.8 yards-per-catch. Although Kendall Wright is the No.1 receiver for the Titans, Hunter has the possibility to come out of this year as an established No.2. He will battle with Nate Washington and Brian Robiskie for catches, but I like Hunter’s big-play upside as an up-and-coming talent in the league, especially if the Titans can find consistent play from the quarterback position.
For the past few years many have been wondering when it would be time to write off Antonio Gates. Inherently this makes us ponder who will be the successor to the Hall of Fame destined tight end. Ladarious Green is the starter in waiting, and once he takes the ropes from Gates, I don’t expect him to look back. Although Gates played well in every game for the Chargers last season, the production has been trending downwards for the 34-year-old.
It seems that Green’s upside as a physical specimen at 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, while being able to run a blazing 4.50 40-yard dash with his hulking frame, makes him the tight end to target on the Chargers over Gates. If Gates fails to stay healthy, or his age continues to catch up with his playing level, the younger and emerging Green could serve as a primary red zone target for Philip Rivers, given his massive size and the potential for matchup problems. The lack of depth among the receiving corps on the Chargers behind Keenan Allen, the aging Antonio Gates, and Malcolm Floyd, who’s coming back from a serious neck injury, opens up a big spot for Green to make an impact this season.
Last year’s unit was hard to watch at times. Everyone will admit it. Stopping the run seemed impossible at times for this group and their performance after the loss of Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, and Jerod Mayo surely left a bad taste in Bill Belichick’s mouth. Their pass defense wasn’t much prettier.
This season Wilfork is recovered from the torn achilles, which appears to be healthy, and Mayo will be returning from his torn pectoral muscle as the signal-caller for this defense. Chandler Jones is emerging as a force to be reckoned as a pass rusher and Jamie Collins is proving he can be a reliable in pass coverage from the linebacker position. Along with the additions of Derelle Revis and Brandon Browner at cornerback, this unit is shaping up to be the one of the best in Belichick’s tenure as head coach. I have this group finishing in the top-5 rated fantasy defenses this year. Some rankings have them surprisingly outside of the top-10, so for a final round pick New England’s defense/special teams unit deserves consideration.
The Vikings kicker has a monster leg and can make field goals from anywhere on the field. A couple years ago he drilled 10 field goals from 50 or more yards. Blair Walsh will get his fair share of field goal attempts in 2014. Adrian Peterson will do his job getting the Vikings down the field but it’s the uncertainty at the quarterback position that will benefit Walsh when it comes to seeing more field goal attempts. Currently rated outside the top-10 group of fantasy kickers, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Walsh crack the top-10 this year.