Fantasy football sleepers can take your team to the next level, and I have chosen my favorites for the 2013 draft season.
Fantasy Football Sleepers
QB Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns: Improved weaponry. A big arm. Maturity. A pass-first offense. A rock-solid offensive line. A stud running back. Check to all. He's a second fantasy passer. Look for roughly 4,000 passing yards and a touchdown total in the low 20s -- good enough numbers to warrant occasional starts
QB EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills: He is a heady rookie with a potentially dangerous receiving corps and a sound running game to rely on. He will likely miss the rest of the preseason with a knee ailment and possibly even Week 1. It appears as though Manuel will assume the starter's role upon his return. Kevin Kolb (concussion) could have to call it a career, and it is clearly Manuel's job once he is ready to return. Manuel is a risky No. 2 quarterback.
QB Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings: Maybe, just maybe, Ponder can put it all together with the new weapons around him. Don't hold your breath, but he has the smarts and arm to make it happen.
RB Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams: Daryl Richardson may have been named the starter, but his frame doesn't suggest he can take an NFL pounding. Isaiah Pead is not cut out for the NFL, even as a change-of-pace player. Stacy has everything Jeff Fisher looks for in a workhorse back. At a minimum, Stacy will share carries by midseason.
RB Shane Vereen, New England Patriots: The decimation of the Pats' receiving targets will force Vereen into a heavy PPR workload. He should catch 60 balls or more this year.
RB Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals: This do-all rookie is fragile but offers so much more than the Law Firm to this offense. Could he steal the job outright? I wouldn't be shocked. At worst, he's a weak RB3 for PPR leagues.
RB Stepfan Taylor, Arizona Cardinals: Given the opportunity, the versatile Taylor should make a fantasy impact in 2013. Playing behind Rashard Mendenhall and the still-recovering Ryan Williams (knee) makes this a very attainable scenario. Taylor's value is solidified if Williams is indeed traded or released, with the latter seeming to be imminent.
RB Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos: Most owners are stoked about Montee Ball's future in Denver, and so am I, but just not immediately. Ronnie Hillman has done everything in his power to secure the starting job but fumbling and a lack of production has been issues. Ball's pass protection has been suspect. This offense was very balanced last year, but it appears to be ready for a shift toward the passing game. Considering the mild investment you'll have to make, Moreno could be a rock star in PPR leagues.
RB Danny Woodhead, San Diego Chargers: The veteran smurf could be a huge asset to the Bolts' passing attack in 2013. He has PPR steal written all over is miniature frame.
Don't discredit Moreno
RB Joseph Randle, Dallas Cowboys: Starter DeMarco Murray has proven to be anything but durable. Randle has more talent than any of the other remaining backs on roster and should see the ball even if Murray is healthy.
RB Kenjon Barner, Carolina Panthers: The placement of Jonathan Stewart (ankle) on the PUP opens the door for Barner to show how good he really is. Draft him in the middle of your selection process and expect serviceable numbers, perhaps a full year's worth, since J-Stew may not return. Barner has all of the tools to make fantasy owners smile.
RB Cierre Wood, Houston Texans: I have made it no secret that I don't care for Arian Foster this year, and if he falters, look for Wood to have a meaningful role in the offense.
FB/RB Chris Ogbonnaya and Brandon Jackson, Cleveland Browns: Trent Richardson has durability issues. Dion Lewis broke his leg and could miss the whole year. Montario Hardesty is already banged up and screams injury liability. Ogbonnaya was moved to fullback, which is a pass-catching, anything-but-conventional role in this offense. He has performed admirably in his limited service time and could share time with Jackson if Richardson goes down. On his own, Jackson is your PPR target out of this backfield. He'll spell T-Rich when needed, but the latter is a strong pass catcher in his own right.
WR Rueben Randle, New York Giants: Randle is in line to become the No. 3 receiver. He has all of the physical tools to star if he sees enough looks, and it never hurts playing behind Hakeem Nicks' feeble carcass.
WR Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns: This fantasy WR3 will miss two games because of a suspension but is poised to break out in Norv Turner's long-ball offense, especially with the big-armed Brandon Weeden keying in on him.
WR Kenny Britt, Tennessee Titans: He is healthy, determined, entering a contract year and, maybe most importantly, not in legal limbo. Jake Locker needs a go-to weapon, and I love Britt as a third fantasy wideout with strong WR2 potential.
WR Leonard Hankerson, Washington Redskins: Expect more passing from the 'Skins and a continued reduction in Santana Moss' playing time. Hankerson, a dynamic slot receiver, could surface as a viable fantasy option out of Washington's sketchy receiving corps.
WR T.J. Graham, Buffalo Bills: Looking for a final-round flier? Graham is having a great offseason and could win the job opposite Stevie Johnson. Even if he doesn't, he should be involved out of the slot. Speed kills, and Graham has more than enough of it.
WR Michael Floyd, Arizona Cardinals: Carson Palmer drastically improves the fantasy prospects of Arizona's offense, but Floyd's personal growth this offseason suggests marked improvement. Playing opposite of Larry Fitzgerald and having spent the offseason working with him will be huge. Safely, he is a WR4 with low-end No. 2 potential in best-case scenario.
WR Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears: The Chicago offense needs someone other than Brandon Marshall to step up, and Jeffery has the skill set to be that guy. Don't expect explosive numbers (modest flex target), however, but he does play in a weak defensive division and could have a few huge outings.
WR Mohamed Sanu, Cincinnati Bengals: Sanu is a red zone threat and sees single coverage opposite A.J. Green. Andy Dalton is only improving and should be even more comfortable with pushing the ball downfield in 2013. Count on respectable flex numbers from the second-year pass catcher.
WR Rod Streater, Oakland Raiders: Streater has done everything in the world to stand out as a WR1 for the talent-starved Raiders. Someone needs to step up, and he has taken it upon himself to be that guy. Most owners don't even know his name, so you could make the argument that he belongs in the deep sleepers category. Draft Streater as a WR5 and enjoy!
WR Kenbrell Thompkins, New England Patriots: The Pats appear to be giving Thompkins every opportunity to win a starting spot, and Tom Brady hasn't been afraid to look his way during preseason play. Thompkins is a somewhat risky WR4.
TE Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns: Look at what Norv Turner and Rob Chudzinski have done for tight ends in their respective coaching careers. Cameron has all of the talent needed to excel in an offense looking for pass catchers, just as long as he shakes off the injury bug.
TE Jake Ballard and Zach Sudfeld, New England Patriots: Ballard is nearly 100 percent healthy from a devastating knee injury. Sudfeld has been impressive in the offseason and preseason. The release of Aaron Hernandez and lingering recovery of Rob Gronkowski (back) should open the door for a meaningful role for duo in New England's offense. Both will see their roles diminish upon Gronk's return, however.
TE Luke Stocker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Stocker never will be higher than No. 3 in the pecking order, yet he has some upside. Look for streaky production, but owners in deep leagues or two-TE setups have to consider him an emerging option.
TE David Paulson, Pittsburgh Steelers: He could have a role with veteran Heath Miller recovering from a catastrophic knee injury suffered late last year. The Steelers may even look to using more two-tight end sets because of their expectedly weak receiving corps. Watch the waiver wire for Paulson.
TE Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals: The first-round rook should see the majority of passing-down targets in the Bengals' blossoming offense. Look for limited opportunities but a high TD-to-reception ratio from this red zone threat. He's a TE2 on draft day.
TE Rob Housler, Arizona Cardinals: Yet again, the Carson Palmer factor improves a player's worth. Bruce Arians has a history of impactful coaching of the position, too. This isn't a full endorsement, but Housler, if healthy, has modest value in larger formats. He is dealing with a high ankle sprain, which can linger, so consider him more of a waiver wire option for standard leagues.
PK Randy Bullock, Houston Texans: Place kickers have attempted 38 field goals in two of the last three seasons for the Texans, and the strong-legged Bullock may be an unknown to most owners after he missed his rookie season.
PK Caleb Sturgis, Miami Dolphins: It is uncommon for a rookie kicker to shine in the NFL, but Sturgis has the necessary components of a sound fantasy option and no longer has to deal with Dan Carpenter following the vet's release.
PK Ryan Succop, Kansas City Chiefs: Through four pro seasons, Succop has flown under the radar in what have been meager offensive outputs by KC. Head coach Andy Reid and QB Alex Smith should bring more consistency to the O, theoretically putting Succop in position for more makeable attempts.
DT/ST San Diego Chargers: The Bolts feature a young, fresh-faced defense that should be bent on taking away the ball in John Pagano's aggressive system. He returns as DC despite the head coaching change, which helps for consistency purposes, but this is largely a new San Diego defense in terms of personnel. Take a flier on them once the big names are gone.
DT/ST Cleveland Browns: This recommendation may be a year premature. Switching back to a 3-4 defense under super-aggressive coordinator Ray Horton could be huge. He made the Arizona Cardinals a playable defense (80 sacks, 55 takeaways, seven TDs in two years). They're a lethal combination of energetic upside and ferocious play-calling if it all comes together in Year 1.
DT/ST Minnesota Vikings: Defensive continuity within the coaching staff will help a younger group of players improve. This unit racked up a healthy 44 sacks in 2012 and bolstered their interior line with Sharrif Floyd in the NFL Draft. This D is best for owners in leagues that don't account for points allowed but focus on counting stats instead.
DT/ST St. Louis Rams: The Rams quietly notched 51 teams sacks, or just one off the league lead. They have a high-upside young front four and bolstered their linebacking corps. A formidable secondary complements the D-line. Jump on the bandwagon before your league mates do.
About Cory J. Bonini
Cory is KFFL's General Manager. In late 2002, he joined the KFFL staff as a research analyst and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1996. A member of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, as well as Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Bonini has been featured in print, on radio and on scores of websites. Bonini co-hosted Big Lead Sports on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio from 2011 to 2012.
Bonini was recognized with the 2010 Best Article in Print Award from the FSWA and was a finalist for the same award in 2011. In '11, he finished first overall in the FSWA NFL experts challenge that featured 60 of the industry's best competitors.
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