I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…
You don’t win your league with your early picks. You win it with your late ones.
Sure, the sexier names towards the beginning of your drafts are much more exciting, and owners can tend to pay less attention to the later rounds. Don’t be that guy. Every single year we see guys who are either drafted extremely late or not drafted at all, emerge into very fantasy relevant commodities. Take Alfred Morris from 2012, for example. The guy was drafted in the sixth round of the NFL draft, and went practically undrafted in fantasy leagues. However, come season’s end, he was a top five fantasy running back. Trust me, there will be a Morris in 2013, you just have to make sure you take a chance on those fliers. So, here are some deep sleepers for you to consider taking a shot on towards the end of your draft.
Markus Wheaton, Pittsburgh Steelers: Wheaton is suddenly in a solid position to make some noise in fantasy land. The Steelers running back situation is ugly, which could result in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger dropping back to pass quite a bit. Of course, I’d love to see the offensive line look much, much better than it has during the preseason. Anyway, Wheaton is a small guy (5’11”, 182 lbs), but is a good fit for the style of offense that offensive coordinator Todd Haley wants to run. Wheaton will likely enter Week 1 as the team’s number three wide receiver, and as a rookie, runs very strong routes. Big Ben typically spreads the ball around, rather than just focusing on one wideout. Last season, both Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace saw 100 targets. The fact that Wheaton is off to a strong start this preseason should help boost the rookie’s confidence heading into the start of the regular season.
Stepfan Taylor, Arizona Cardinals: The rookie is doing everything he can to prove that he deserves a crack at the starting job. With both Ryan Williams and Rashard Mendenhall dealing with knee injuries, Taylor has carried the ball 26 times for 84 yards during the preseason thus far. Taylor has the pedigree during his time at Stanford, being the school’s all-time leading rusher with 4,300 yards. In my eyes, Taylor will get the first opportunity to start if Mendenhall and Williams, two guys who certainly have had their fair share of injuries, are sidelined. Of course, the Cardinals offensive line was horrible last season, and didn’t do too much to get any better this year. However, Taylor is more of a three-down back than speedster Andre Ellington, which may give him the edge. He is definitely worth a late round pick.
Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos: You know, it seems like fantasy players have a strong fascination in tight ends who were previously basketball stars. Guys like Antonio Gates and Jordan Cameron come to mind, but Thomas may be another tight end on the rise. With Joel Dreesen dealing with a knee injury and Jacob Tamme playing himself out of the job, Thomas has a legitimate shot at entering Week 1 as Peyton Manning’s number one tight end. At a whopping 6’5″, 250 lbs, Thomas presents himself in the Gates type of mold, but with all the attention the Denver receiving corp will get this year, Thomas could have some sneaky fantasy value. The tight end position has already taken massive hits this offseason, so as long as Thomas can get on the field, he’ll be very fantasy relevant. He may not be Dallas Clark, but during their time in Indianapolis, Manning targeted Clark 100 times in three straight seasons. There is definitely some upside here.
Christine Michael, Seattle Seahawks: Michael should be the backup to Marshawn Lynch, wish doesn’t sound very intriguing for fantasy football purposes. However, Lynch is a workhorse, having carried the ball 600 times over the course of the last two seasons, and has had some back trouble in the past. He’ll still be the lead guy in Seattle, but in a run-heavy offense, I think Michael will see some time. The guy is extremely athletic, holding the record for the best high jump in history among running backs, running a 4.54 and benching 27 reps. He’s off to a strong start in the preseason. On Friday night, he carried the ball 11 times for 97 yards and a score. Michael is a very versatile back, a guy that can pound between the tackles, bounce it outside and catch it out of the backfield. And if Lynch happens to go down. Michael can step in and be a top-20 fantasy back. Last season, the Seahawks led all of football in rushing attempts with 536. Their style of offense won’t change this year.
Terrelle Pryor, Oakland Raiders: Pryor stepped in at quarterback for the Raiders on Saturday night, and really provided a spark. He completed 7-of-9 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown, as well as 37 rushing yards and another score. After the game, head coach Dennis Allen stated that the quarterback competition is something “We’ve gotta look at.” While Pryor is horribly inaccurate and has lackluster receivers at his disposal, his running ability alone will make him a commodity in fantasy. We have seen guys in the past use strictly their legs to have strong fantasy outings, including Joe Webb back in 2011 when he finished as the number 40 fantasy quarterback. Sure, it doesn’t sound very impressive, but he hardly started any games at quarterback that year. Anyway, just like Carson Palmer finished 2012 as fantasy’s number 16 quarterback largely due to garbage time, Pryor will have the same opportunity to produce in garbage time, just as long as he starts. The Raiders are probably the worst team in football by a long shot right now, and will be playing a ton of catch-up. Obviously, you aren’t looking to grab him as your starter or backup, but in two-quarterback leagues, Pryor has upside as your third signal caller. The game is changing, and rushing quarterbacks are beginning to take over.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.