When it comes to fantasy, underrated and sleeper may sound synonymous. They’re not. A sleeper is a player you throw a dart at – an injury handcuff, an emerging talent with a shot in the dark, someone debatable to draft at all, even in the fifteenth round. An undervalued player will, for starters, be on the field. They inherently add value, but more than their current average draft position (ADP ) would suggest. Here are ten examples heading in to the 2014 season:
Jeremy Maclin (WR25, 5.12): If you average Maclin’s consistent numbers the three seasons before his ACL injury – 893 yards, 67 receptions, 7 TDs – he’d rank as just about the 25th best fantasy receiver. Fast forward to the present where Maclin is suddenly the no. 1 receiver in Chip Kelly’s explosive offense. The opportunities for Maclin to topple his previous numbers will be tremendous. Plus all indications suggest Maclin is having a stellar camp, even schooling Darrelle Revis in the Eagles/Patriots joint practice this week.
Bishop Sankey (WR22, 4.11)): Right now the Titans have two bright spots: Bishop Sankey and their offensive line, which most people who rate offensive lines consider in the Top 10. Rookies, especially the running back variety, are often unpredictable but given Sankey’s all-around abilities and projected usage, I’d be shocked if he doesn’t finish the season as a Top 15 back.
Frank Gore (RB21, 4.07): Currently occupying the ADP slot above Sankey, Gore inspires two schools of thought: A) Deteriorating 31-year with younger backs ready to supplant him. Or B) Mr. Reliable, who while experiencing a decrease in production in the second half of last year, hasn’t missed a game since 2010 and is still the soul of the team’s heart and soul– its ground game. I’ll take the latter for 100 yards and 2 TDs, Alex, at least during Week 1 when Gore gets a cushy matchup against Dallas.
Andy Dalton (QB16, 11.04) When seeing Dalton’s ADP, I had to do a double take: Yes, his new contract was inflated given his disappearing act in the playoffs, but isn’t he a stellar fantasy performer? Indeed, Dalton was a top 5 fantasy QB in 2013, though an inconsistent one. (To be safe with Dalton, find a league with an added total points prize.) It’s an ADP-crushing fact that he has been overshadowed by the focus on other QBS, like the projected fantasy comebacks of Aaron Rodgers and RGIII or the presumption that Colin Kaepernick is going to morph into Michael Vick of 2010.
Marvin Jones’ broken foot, which will keep him out at least a few weeks hurts but Dalton will still operate with plenty of weapons to be fantasy relevant. Another Top 5 fantasy year out of Dalton seems like a stretch but a drop down to QB16 seems silly
Give me some of this combo!
Cam Newton (QB10, 7.08) Newton was the third best fantasy quarterback in 2013. Are the losses of Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn really going to be that detrimental? If anything, having less pressure to regularly target Smith may help. Newton has matured as a passer, fine-tuning his decision- making and pocket presence last season. He’s much more methodical, yet still a scoring threat on his feet. Where you draft a QB is based on your own philosophy (I’m of the ‘wait because the depth is incredible’ school of thought) but if you end up with Newton in the late seventh round, as his ADP suggests, consider it a steal. If you’re thinking, ‘She’s crazy. Carolina has no weapons,’ please read on.
Marques Colston, (WR30, 6.11): This is basically a pick ‘em between Colston and Saints rookie WR Brandin Cooks who currently sits at WR29. With Darren Sproles and Lance Moore gone, there will be more targets for Drew Brees to dole out. I’m banking on Colston and his healed foot to be the biggest beneficiary after that WR/TE…oops, I mean TE/WR, Jimmy Graham. Cooks may be a special talent but as Pat Fitzmaurice points out, his hype train is out of control.
Greg Olsen (TE8, 8.01): Quick, name a Panthers WR. Not easy, huh? Lack of receiver weaponry is just one reason Greg Olsen will continue his climb in targets, yards and touchdowns. (Last season’s numbers were 73 receptions, 816 yards, 6 TDs.) Another is that Olsen is a physical beast with improved hands who has proven himself as a safety net for Cam Newton. OK, three other reasons. Gosh, I love Olsen!
Darren McFadden (RB44, 10.02): If McFadden stays healthy most of the year– the annual DMC question mark, I know – it’s hard to not imagine him as at least a Top 30 back. Yes, he’s feeble. Yes, he’s been technically relegated to Maurice Jones Drew’s backup. However, Oakland’s backfield is likely to be a shared one, with McFadden getting an extra boost as a receiving threat.
Stevan Ridley (RB30, 6.10): Despite all the James White buzz, I smell a bounce back year for Ridley who experienced a big drop in work due to some mighty slippery hands. Even if White and Shane Vereen are productive, Ridley still figures to be the goal-line back since LaGarrette Blount has departed. And the Patriots should continue to place more emphasis on the ground game
For Pat Fitzmaurice’s Top 10 Overrated Fantasy Players, click HERE.