By Court Zierk @courtzierk on August 13, 2014
Every NFL season, there are second-year players who make the jump from promising rookie to full-fledged fantasy football studs. Equally as prominent are the number of players who fall into the dreaded sophomore slump and should be avoided at all costs. Here are 10 second-year players you can count on when drafting your team this year.
Manuel had a typically volatile freshman campaign, showing flashes of the potential that led to his high draft status, but also demonstrating some very questionable decision making at times. Looking at the potent weapons that now surround Manuel, I believe he will emerge as a top-end quarterback in terms of fantasy value. Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin should all be on the receiving end of his improved efficiency.
Reed only played in nine games his rookie season, but still managed to pull in 45 receptions, 499 yards and three touchdowns. Assuming he can stay healthy, and with one more year of experience under his belt, expect those numbers to increase significantly. It is often said that a tight end is a quarterback’s best friend, and that will especially be true this season as RGIII looks to reestablish his place among the NFL’s top quarterbacks.
Bell missed the first three games of last season, but once he returned, all he did was break Franco Harris’ record for most yards from the line of scrimmage for a Steelers rookie -- not a bad way to start a career. Expect Bell to continue that trajectory and insert himself into conversations regarding top-tier running backs. Adding LeGarrette Blount will only help Bell as he will have a true thumper to provide him extra relief.
Ellington’s rookie season was a mixed bag. He was clearly the Cardinals’ most dynamic running back, but was underutilized due to concerns over his ability to handle the grind of a full workload. Ellington has packed on significant muscle this offseason, and appears to be poised for a breakout year. Assuming Bruce Arian has confidence in increasing his carries, Ellington has true RB1 potential.
Wheaton didn’t see the field a whole lot his rookie season, but all signs point to a significantly increased role in the Steelers' offense. With the departure of Emmanuel Sanders, look for Wheaton to step into the No. 2 wide receiver role, across from Antonio Brown, and show true WR2 value. Brown is no longer a secret, which will result in more double-teams, which will lead to more targets for Wheaton.
Ball has been handed the starting job in Denver, and coaches have really made no qualms about it. He will be the workhorse for the Broncos, who are very thin at running back. Assuming he can stay healthy, he should be the touchdown machine he was in college. He is a legitimate RB1.
The Falcons lost a Hall-of-Fame tight end in the offseason in case you weren’t aware, and someone will be needed to fill the gaping hole left by Tony Gonzales’ absence. Enter Toilolo. He is still a risk given his inexperience, so avoid drafting him too high. If he is available in the late rounds of your draft, however, jump at the opportunity. He has incredible upside, and will certainly see his share of targets.
Allen had one of the best rookie seasons for a wide receiver in recent memory, perhaps only rivaled by A.J. Green and Julio Jones (71 receptions, 1,046 yard, eight touchdowns). I don’t expect him to regress at all, and in fact, having earned Rivers’ trust, he should be able to add to his 2013 stats by a wide margin. He is a surefire WR1, and you can take his production to the bank.
Dobson played in only 12 games last season, but flashed the type of deep-ball skills the Patriots haven’t seen since Randy Moss. He managed to pull in 37 catches for 519 yards, good for 14 YPC. He will take on an increased role in the offense this season, and Brady will look to him often on deep routes. He could be a hit-or-miss guy this season, but you won’t want to miss out on games where he goes for 100-plus yards and two touchdowns.
Hopkins established himself as the Texans’ clear-cut No. 2 receiver last season. Although Andre Johnson is still the man in Houston, the hubbub this offseason regarding his contract situation should make Johnson owners a bit weary about his motivation for this upcoming season. Hopkins is still hungry and should improve upon his rookie season by a substantial margin. Hopkins should be a slam-dunk WR2 for your league.
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