July 28 11am: Rachel And The Kings
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Last week, I discussed my top 10 fantasy football sleepers of 2013. One of the best secrets to winning fantasy championships is getting early-round talent in the latter portion of your draft (in rounds 9-16 to be exact). However, there is something that could give you an even bigger advantage over your opponents. The following under-the-radar players have the potential to surprise yet are only worth a shot with one of your final three to five picks. If you make the right call on one of them, you will land yourself the ultimate draft day steal that could propel you to a league title. Here are my seven fantasy super sleepers of 2013:
1. Zach Sudfeld (TE, New England Patriots): This undrafted rookie tops my list because he is going to be called upon a lot regardless of Rob Gronkowski’s medical status. Standing at a towering 6 feet 7 inches and weighing a hulky 260 pounds, Sudfeld possesses surprising speed for someone his size plus tremendous pass-catching ability. Moreover, the Patriots coaches have also been impressed with his blocking skills, which means he will probably see the field quite often. Even with Aaron Hernandez gone, expect New England to continue to rely heavily on two tight end sets because of their larger-than-ever commitment to the running game. Sudfeld has been asked to fill Hernandez’s shoes, plus his aforementioned skills make him the quintessential red zone weapon for Tom Brady. All of that aside, teams passed on Sudfeld in the draft because of an extremely alarming health history at college, where he underwent six surgeries. Still, he will be the Patriots best tight end on the field for the first few weeks of the season as Gronkowski continues to recover from a back procedure. Because of the Patriots history of developing unknown talent and their recent love for tight ends, Sudfeld could prove to be fantasy’s biggest steal in 2013. Consider him a high-end TE2 with massive TE1 potential.
2. Kenbrell Thompkins (WR, New England Patriots): Sudfeld isn’t the only Patriots undrafted rookie to make my list. Like the large tight end, Kenbrell Thompkins came out of nowhere and stole the show at Patriots camp this summer. According to beat writer Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, Thompkins and Tom Brady were “consistently on the same page” in practice, and he effectively beat out second-round draft pick Aaron Dobson for the starting “X” receiver spot early on. The 25-year old UDFA also translated his productivity on the practice field to the actual gridiron, hauling in 13 receptions for 142 yards in preseason play. More important, Brady targeted him more than any other Patriots receiver this past month. Playing alongside three china sets in Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski, and Zach Sudfeld, Thompkins has a rather excellent chance to end up among the top 20-25 fantasy scorers at his position.
3. Ryan Broyles (WR, Detroit Lions): As dependable a receiver as Calvin Johnson is, it is imperative for the Lions to find a consistent threat to line up opposite Megatron. Ryan Broyles, the all-time receptions leader in NCAA history (349), showed a ton of promise last season until he tore his ACL for the second time in as many years. His recovery has been almost superhuman and beat writer Chris McCosky (Detroit News) observed that on some days during training camp “you would never know” he was coming off such an injury. A superb possession receiver with a diverse route tree and a unique ability to get open, Broyles, if healthy, can catch 60-80 balls in the NFL’s most pass-heavy offense. He could be a tremendous asset to your PPR team.
4. Julius Thomas (TE, Denver Broncos): If you thought the Broncos offense became nearly impossible to defend with the addition of Wes Welker, Julius Thomas might make it indefensible. A former college basketball star, Thomas’s first two NFL seasons were basically wiped out due to an ankle injury. Now 100% healthy, he has been showing why the Broncos drafted him in 2011 throughout OTA’s and training camp. A freakish athlete, Thomas is a matchup nightmare for opponents because of his huge frame (6-5, 250), which allows him to box out smaller defenders for the football. Thus far in preseason, he has been getting most of the reps with Peyton Manning and the first-team offense because of the injuries to fellow tight ends Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen. If his blocking skills continue to improve, Thomas could wind up starting full-time for the Broncos this season. However, the Broncos plan on running an “11 personnel” offense this year (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers), a system in which tight ends rarely (if ever) post top-shelf fantasy numbers. That said, given the recent successes of tight ends with basketball backgrounds (Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham), Thomas can be a major bargain in dynasty and keeper leagues. I view him as a solid bye-week replacement with tremendous upside in standard and PPR formats.
5. Cordarrelle Patterson (WR, Minnesota Vikings): The 29th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, Patterson is as raw as he is supremely gifted. 2012 was his only experience playing Division I college ball as he spent the previous two years at Hutchinson Community College (Ks.), where he became the nation’s top-ranked JUCO product. In his first and only season at Tennessee, Patterson set the all-time school record for all-purpose yards with 1,858. He also found the end zone four different ways (five receiving TD’s on 46 receptions, three rushing TD’s on 25 carries, one punt return TD on four attempts, one kickoff return TD on 24 attempts) and is thus a threat whenever and however he touches the football. Although he needs to develop a better understanding of the pro game, Patterson has shown remarkable progress this summer for someone as inexperienced as himself. Vikings coaches believe he has quite a firm grasp of the playbook, plus he flashed his explosiveness quite a bit throughout preseason play. Although he will not begin 2013 as a starter, expect Minnesota to gradually increase his touches as the year goes on. Because of his home run hitting ability, Patterson is definitely worth a late-round gamble in 12-team (or larger) leagues, especially ones that award an individual player points for return touchdowns. He could also turn out to be gold in dynasty and keeper leagues.
6. Keenan Allen (WR, San Diego Chargers): After the Chargers lost playmaking WR Danario Alexander for the season with a torn ACL, the fantasy value of Vincent Brown skyrocketed. However, Brown is a major injury risk too, as he missed the entire 2012 season with an ankle injury and also encountered hamstring issues this past month. Should Brown be unable to elude the injury bug yet again, Keenan Allen could have a more productive fantasy year than most expect. The rookie from California was viewed by many as the best WR draft prospect in 2013, yet his stock slid due to an ankle injury and reports of failed drug tests. Former NFL general manager Bill Polian (Bills, Colts) believes Allen has Reggie Wayne upside given his fluid route running, wide catching radius and solid blocking skills. He could turn out to be a huge bargain down the road for the Chargers as well as your dynasty and/or keeper teams.
7. Joique Bell (RB, Detroit Lions): We all know that Lions running back Reggie Bush is expected to get his biggest workload since his days in New Orleans. However, as high as Bush’s fantasy ceiling is this season, history tells us he has a hard time staying healthy while taking on a workhorse-type role. Thus, it is quite possible that Joique Bell turns out to be one of 2013’s most surprising fantasy breakout stars. Thanks to a solid training camp and preseason, he has surpassed Mikel LeShoure on the depth chart to be Bush’s backup. Last season, Bell ended up fifth in receptions among running backs with 52, thus it can be said his PPR potential isn’t as far off from Bush’s as most think. Aside from Ben Tate, there might not be a better RB handcuff to own in fantasy this year. It is crucial for Bush owners to spend a late-round pick on this hard downhill runner with exceptional hands. That said, if you want to gain a potential edge over your opponent who has Bush on his/her team, nab Bell yourself and you might get the sweetest steal possible.