By Tony Meale
As much as people want to compare and contrast elite players at certain positions, the fact remains that – unless there’s an injury – you’re not going to win or lose your fantasy league because you took, say, Jamaal Charles over Doug Martin. Or vice versa.
Indeed, regardless of your early round draft strategy, most leagues are won in the middle-to-late rounds. Getting first-round production from first-round selections is great; getting third-round production from tenth-round selections is even better.
Thus, here’s a look at some sleepers that could pay dividends in your fantasy league. While it’s unlikely that any of these players will produce first-round numbers, each stands a solid chance of exceeding his ADP (average draft position) value.
Carson Palmer, Cardinals
Palmer probably won’t even be one of the top 20 quarterbacks drafted this year, which is unfortunate. He finished tenth in passing yards (4,018) last season and 15th in passing touchdowns (22). This year, he’ll be throwing to Larry Fitzgerald. Translation? Palmer should be one of the top backups in fantasy.
Alex Smith, Chiefs
Smith has never thrown for more than 3,200 yards or finished with more than 19 total touchdowns in a season. In Kansas City, however, he’ll be asked to assume much more responsibility, especially with pass-happy Andy Reid roaming the sidelines. Smith, at the very least, should be rostered in virtually all formats.
Ben Tate, Texans
After totaling 1,000+ yards in 2011, Tate was relatively quiet in 2012, rushing 65 times for 279 yards – a solid 4.3 yards per carry – and two touchdowns. Only 24, he has showed flashes of brilliance and remains the most valuable handcuff in fantasy.
David Wilson and Andre Brown, Giants
With Ahmad Bradshaw in Indianapolis, the running-back door is wide open for Wilson and Brown; one of them just needs to walk through it. It appears that Wilson will be the feature back, while Brown will get most of the work along the goal line. Still, either one is capable of carrying the load, and if one of them gets injured, the other could put up monster numbers.
Jacquizz Rodgers, Falcons
I like Steven Jackson a lot this year, but if the 30-year-old running back with eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons gets hurt, Rodgers becomes, at worst, a solid flex play.
Josh Gordon, Browns
Gordon is the best receiver in a “Well, they have to throw it to somebody” offense. Only 22, Gordon played all 16 games as a rookie, catching 50 balls for 805 yards and five touchdowns. With a modest step forward, Gordon could flirt with 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns.
Michael Floyd, Cardinals
Floyd’s last two games as a rookie were arguably his best; he recorded 15 catches for 200+ yards and a touchdown against Chicago and San Francisco. Now that he has a quarterback with some semblance of a track record, Floyd should fit nicely as Larry Fitzgerald’s complementary receiver.
Emmanuel Sanders, Steelers
Sanders has been the clear-cut No. 3 receiver in Pittsburgh for the last several seasons, but last year posted career-highs in catches (44) and yards (626). With Mike Wallace in Miami, Sanders should become Pittsburgh’s No. 2 receiver opposite of Antonio Brown. A 50-catch, 800-yard, five-touchdown campaign is realistic.
Rob Housler, Cardinals
Are you noticing the Arizona theme here? Yes, Housler has never caught a touchdown pass. Of course, neither had Brandon Myers before Carson Palmer got ahold of him, and Myers finished with four touchdowns and a whopping 105 targets last year. Housler might not be worth a roster spot on draft day, but keep an eye on his performance in Weeks 1 and 2.
Probably a bit of a stretch here, but Baltimore will be without Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, Pittsburgh will be without Mike Wallace and once again has a revolving door at tailback, and Cincinnati isn’t exactly an offensive juggernaut. Andy Dalton threw for 230 yards or fewer in eight of the Bengals’ final 10 games last season. In other words, Cleveland could find itself in a lot of low-scoring affairs.
Ryan Succop, Chiefs
Succop was perfect on PATs last year. The problem is, he only got to attempt 17 of them. That should change this season. And, as dreadful as the offense was last year, Succop still set career-highs in both field-goal attempts (34) and makes (28). That’s encouraging.
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