2013 fantasy sleepers - and what to look for in 2014
Now that fantasy playoffs are complete, dedicated fantasy owners are reflecting on this past regular season and beginning to project their fantasy rosters for 2014. This article is a combination piece that focuses on what some lesser-known guys on the fantasy radar accomplished in 2013 and how their performances might translate to 2014 fantasy prowess.
For the most part, this rookie runner was lots of fun and yet Ellington left owners wanting more. Over 11 games, he averaged 5.5 yards per carry and 9.5 yards per reception. However, Ellington did not receive more than 15 attempts in any one game and averaged just over 10 carries per game. Ellington's ability to play a solid role in the passing game makes him a great offensive threat and he is on the radar of many fantasy owners and experts. In fact, MMQB's Andy Benoit has called Ellington "a future superstar." Going into the 2014 season some might question Ellington's durability given that he is untested past 18 total touches per game, but most folks feel he can carry the workload associated with the lead backfield role. If he truly can handle the load and continues his role in the passing game, he will be a force next season.
The Cleveland backfield carried hype into the 2013 season thanks to Trent Richardson. Then the big trade, then a running back situation most fantasy owners did not want to touch with a stick. The feel-it-out as you go committee with Willis McGahee, Chris Ogbonnaya and Fozzy Whittaker was far from something the most discerning fantasy owners could trust. We had to wait nearly the entire season to see Norv Turner pull out his sleeper back, Edwin Baker, who in his Week 15 debut scored on eight attempts for 38 yards. Baker took the lead role in Week 16 with 64 yards and a TD against a stout New York rush defense. In the season finale, he rushed for 69 yards against Pittsburgh. Baker also played a solid role in the receiving game. He had eight receptions on nine targets for 57 yards over three games. The catch with Baker is the fact that the Cleveland front office is expected to select at least one solid running back in the upcoming draft with their seven picks over the first four rounds. Baker looked good in his starts and performed for some fantasy owners who gambled on him, especially in Week 16. When it comes to 2014, it comes down to the new coach and the new system. Baker might be part of the new plan, but it's unlikely he'll be the lead runner entering camp.
Cordarrelle Patterson ended up being my ace-in-the-hole in an eighteen-team league with return yardage points this past season. Patterson began the 2013 season as a guy for deep leagues only and saw little action outside his special teams play until he scored his first reception TD on November 7 vs. Washington. Patterson was again quiet until Week 13 when he started to become a double threat, playing a role in not only the passing game, but also the rushing attack. Over Weeks 13-17, he scored three rushing TDs and three reception TDs. His strong finish to his rookie year should be indicative of his future success. Patterson will likely be on WR2 lists going into 2014 and I think this is appropriate. The only wild cards in Minnesota will be the coaching scenario with Leslie Frazier probably on the way out and the QB situation.
Irrelevant most of the season, Andre Holmes joined the fantasy conversation in Week 13 when he busted out with seven receptions for 136 yards. From there he averaged 3.75 receptions and 57.5 yards per game with one score over four contests. Holmes has huge playmaking appeal and is in line for 2014 to be his true breakout season. However, with Terrelle Pryor at QB, Holmes has not seen the targets or receptions he would truly like. Going into next fantasy season, the QB situation in Oakland will likely be a deciding factor in how high Holmes is drafted. Not sure any Oakland WR can be put into the WR2 discussion until we know who is throwing the ball. Based on how he ended 2013, Holmes might have the best chance.
We've been waiting for a legitimate receiving threat opposite A.J. Green. At least in some weeks, Marvin Jones served in that role. His fantasy value was up again down again as he was inconsistent in his number of receptions and yardage, especially early in the season and just after mid-season. From Weeks 14 on Jones picked up his pace again and looks to be poised to continue next year as the second best threat in the Cincinnati passing game. Jones is a guy I am moving up my radar for next season's draft.
Jordan Todman was expected by many to have a much greater fantasy impact this season playing alongside an often ailing Maurice Jones-Drew who only rushed for more than 75 yards three times this season with one 100 yard-plus game. It was no surprise that Todman's one 100-plus yard games on the ground came in Week 14 when MJD was sidelined. Todman served as MJD's handcuff and changed pace nicely for a struggling offense, but to have 2014 value, Todman needs MJD to vacate the premises and Jacksonville to trust that he can fully carry a feature back workload. Even if MJD leaves before next season, Todman will face some tight competition for the primary role. 2013 was not Todman's breakout season and he is going to have to work hard to bein the running as a breakout performer in 2014. My guess is that Jacksonville's front office will not retain MJD as reports indicate and that Todman will be given a chance to shine.
The Josh Freeman ended before Week 3 with Mike Glennon starting the remainder of the season. His near 60% pass completion figure accompanied by his low number of INTs (9) compared to his 19 TDs was decent considering it was his rookie season and he did not expect to start. His average yards per pass were low at 6.2, but that should improve next season as he gets some of his starters back and healthy. The team sorely missed Mike Williams and Doug Martin the majority of this past season and Glennon was left with few weapons in his offense. Glennon appears to be the long-term QB solution for Tampa Bay. That said, there are questions that remain. Who takes over as head coach? Will Doug Martin and Mike Williams return healthy? Can TB add depth at receiver? Most fantasy experts see Glennon as a QB2 entering the 2014 season. I would not be surprised if he moves closer to the QB1 range assuming the Bucs upgrade appropriately elsewhere.
The 2013 campaign was parts exciting and frustrating. There were not always lots of opportunities available for Green playing behind an aging but capable Antonio Gates. But when given snaps and targets, especially around the middle of the season, the athletic TE flashed fantasy starter potential. As we enter next season, Green's natural ability to make plays should vault him into a more prominent role. He never had more than four receptions in a single game this season. In 2014, I expect to see Green breakout and be a tight end that is targeted 8-10 times per game and making 5-7 catches for significant yardage and TDs.
The veteran has been around the league since 2006 when he played for San Francisco. This season he signed with Tennessee and found himself putting up career-high numbers. Not a massive upside play, but Walker could continue his fantasy-relevance into next season. In most leagues, he's a TE2 with hope for more depending the matchup. Walker put up better numbers with Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB, but Jake Locker remains Tennessee's hope at starter. Walker's second half of 2013 was solid and I like the fact that he will likely slide in fantasy drafts and be an easy pick-up down the line.
Kenbrell Thompkins began the 2013 campaign as a deep league long shot on draft day in just about every fantasy league. His value received a big bump after Weeks 3 and 4 when he nabbed a total of 168 yards on nine receptions with three TDs. He was quiet in Week 5, grabbed one more score in Week 6, and then largely silence. He was sidelined for a total of five of his next nine games, disappearing from most non-dynasty rosters. In the season finale, Thompkins returned to action against Buffalo and did not record one reception. Looking forward, fantasy owners must consider the depth at the wide out position in New England and Tom Brady's tendency to spread the wealth. If Thompkins is on your radar for next season, he is likely to be available in most drafts until Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson go. Thompkins has big play appeal and you have to like his 14.6 yard per catch average, but be cautious on jumping the gun on him next season unless it is clear that he will have a larger role or one of the other three consistent targets will be out. I also worry that he might not be as durable a player given the games he missed this season.
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