There are three types of football players that can help bring you fantasy football glory. The first type includes the stars — players like Adrian Peterson and Randall Cobb who we’ve all heard of and know to draft in the first few rounds. The second type consists of the breakout players — the guys who have familiar names to the average fantasy owner but have yet to produce star-worthy stats on the gridiron. The final type is comprised of the sleepers — those players who the average or even well-informed football fan may never have heard of prior to his fantasy football draft. This article targets the latter two categories, highlighting some individuals who are poised to leap onto every casual owner’s radar at some point this season.
First, let’s cover the breakout candidates. What are two NFL teams that fantasy owners didn’t touch with a 100-foot pole last year? If you guessed the Oakland Raiders and the Minnesota Vikings, you’d be right. Thus, it may come as a surprise that these two teams are ripe with potential fantasy breakout players. On the Raiders, rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper has been lighting it up in camp and during the preseason. If he can continue to solidify his already solid rapport with Derek Carr, he could be the next rookie wide receiver to generate huge dividends for his fantasy investors. Though he won’t replicate his junior-year stat line at the University of Alabama — in which he posted 124 receptions, 1700 yards and 16 touchdowns — he could be in line for over 1000 yards and seven to eight touchdowns. In the backfield for the Silver and Black is Latavius Murray, a running back who has drawn comparisons to stars like Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson. An elusive back, Murray is primed to take the league by storm, even though he may cede third-down duties to former Redskin Roy Helu.
For the Vikings, it all begins with the ascent of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater into stardom. He played well down the stretch last year and had the kind of preseason that is already making 29 general managers curse themselves for letting him slip to the 30th pick in the 2014 NFL draft. If you wait on drafting a quarterback, Bridgewater is your man. Often undrafted, he has top-10 quarterback upside with a restocked offense including Adrian Peterson, Mike Wallace and another breakout candidate, Charles Johnson. With no disrespect to Wallace — who is a fine receiver — Johnson is the guy to target on the Vikings. He can easily catapult himself into the WR3 discussion early on this year.
One final breakout player to highlight is second-year wide receiver Brandin Cooks of the New Orleans Saints. After facing the speedy Cooks in a preseason game this year, New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick heaped praise onto the emerging star, saying that he is “glad we don’t have to play [him] twice a year and he’s not in our division.” With Jimmy Graham gone to Seattle, Cooks has a chance to become Drew Brees’ favorite target and an absolute monster for fantasy owners.
Now, it’s time to dive into sleepers, which requires us to dig deep into the ranks of fantasy players. The Arizona Cardinals have two players from their roster on this list, starting with wide receiver John Brown. With Carson Palmer returning from an injury to man the quarterback position, this offense is bound to be potent, and Brown looks to be the primary beneficiary. With last year’s breakout candidate Michael Floyd currently injured and Larry Fitzgerald fading into the latter half of his career, Brown could be a blessing for fantasy owners. Going even further down the list of sleeper picks, I am a huge fan of David Johnson, the Cardinals’ rookie running back out of the University of Northern Iowa. Compared favorably to Matt Forte, Johnson poses a tremendous threat to starter Andre Ellington’s workload down in the desert. Keep an eye on him as this year’s Jeremy Hill, a rookie who will supplant his fragile competitor for carries and fantasy success.
A quick rundown of some other sleepers includes Tyler Eifert, the starting tight end on the Cincinnati Bengals. Though AJ Green and Hill will dominate touches in Andy Dalton’s offense, Eifert has the size and skill to be a top-five fantasy tight end this year. Two late-round wide receivers to keep an eye on are Eddie Royal of the Chicago Bears and Brian Quick of the St. LouisRams. Royal was a stud back in his rookie year in Denver when he last worked with Jay Cutler. Quick was quietly on his way to becoming a top-25 wide receiver prior to his shoulder injury last season, even with shoddy quarterback play. Even though Eifert, Royal and Quick aren’t necessarily big names, they have to the potential to be dominant forces for your fantasy team.
Until next time, fantasy lovers, play on.
Joe Lanzilla is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. Fantasy Football Corner appears every Friday.
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