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Potential Sleepers and Breakout Players for 2013
Jake Locker – To be honest, Locker really has nowhere to go but up. However, Jake doesn’t find himself on this list isn’t because he underachieved in 2012, but because of two other major factors.
First, the Titans plan on giving him every possible chance to be their franchise QB this upcoming season—which may very well include using his athleticism in a read-option/pistol type of offense. If the offseason shows it to work even half as well as it did for RGIII and Kaepernick, then Locker will be rising up the boards come draft time.
Second, the Titans simply have too much talent on the offensive side of the ball for a QB with Locker’s abilities to fail twice. Kenny Britt in a contract year and Kendall Wright with a year under his belt alone makes Locker a very intriguing sleeper for 2013.
Nick Foles – If Nick Foles can somehow beat out Mike Vick for the starting role this offseason, there’s no doubt he’ll be a fantasy force to contend with. Any QB in Chip Kelly’s (the Eagles new head coach) offensive system needs to be on your radar come draft time. However, if the rumors are true and Foles ends up traded out of town, then his sleeper-value pretty much leaves town with him.
Christian Ponder – The Vikings are 100% committed to Christian Ponder as their starter for 2013, which is of course a nice little boost to their QB’s confidence. His designation as a sleeper for next season, however, not only hinges on whether the Vikes are able to bring back Percy Harvin or not, but whether they can find another option to play opposite him as well. Jerome Simpson ain’t it, Michael Jenkins won’t be able to escape the door ramming his ass on the way out, and I have my reservations about Jarius Wright and perennially injured Greg Childs.
Lamar Miller – If Reggie Bush is allowed to walk (which its looking like he will), then Lamar Miller will take on the starting role for the Dolphins, not Daniel Thomas. Miller was possibly the most overlooked skill-position player in the 2012 NFL Draft, falling all the way into the fourth-round after being a borderline first-round pick due to durability and pass-blocking concerns. Well, turns out he’s an awesome blocker and can be a three-down back due to some surprisingly nice pass-catching hands. His 4.4 speed makes him one of the most explosive backs in the league as well. Watch out for this kid.
Bilal Powell – With Shonn Greene as good as gone, Powell will be the man to watch in the Jets backfield this upcoming season… at least for now. He showed to be an effective runner late in the season last year and is clearly more dynamic than the one-dimensional Greene ever was. With the Jets likely to ditch the predictable ground-and-pound approach as well, make sure to check in on Powell from time to time over the summer to see how well he’s fitting in. The potential is certainly there.
Vick Ballard – I have no doubt that Ballard will be the lead dog for the Colts heading into next season, especially after his work in the second half of 2012. Not only did the Colts go 9-2 once Vick took over for the underachieving Donald Brown in Week 7, but he also proved to be an above average running back in all facets of the game. Indy will likely bring in some competition for the 220-lb. fifth-rounder, but running back isn’t a big concern for them right now, so Ballard should still end up being their guy one way or another. In an up-and-coming offense like the Andrew Luck-led Colts have, Ballard could have some really nice fantasy value come draft time.
Ryan Williams – After a couple of injury-plagued seasons to start his career, Ryan Williams has (understandably) lost a bit of confidence in himself. However, the Cardinals new head coach, Bruce Arians, seems to have all the confidence in the world in him and has basically already anointed him the starter for next season. If Arians can turn this offense around and put all of Williams’ explosiveness to use—as most believe he will—then Ryan could climb into the mid-RB2 range by the middle of the summer.
David Wilson/Andre Brown – With Ahmad Bradshaw sent packing, it will be interesting to see how the Giants coaching staff directs the backfield combination of Andre Brown and David Wilson this offseason. Will the carries be close to even, as they were for Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs in 2011? Or will it be more like 2010 when one back received most of the early-down work while the other took on more of a “specialty role”? Watch this situation closely during OTAs and through the summer because both of these guys have the potential to breakout in 2013.
Daryl Richardson/Isaiah Pead – Richardson and Pead are on this list simply on the chance that Steven Jackson ends up off the Rams roster during the offseason. If Jackson stays, one or both of Richardson and Pead will be handcuffs in 2013. If S-Jax leaves town, however, you’ll want to keep an eye on the Rams camp to see which one emerges as the heir apparent. Whoever it is will deserve serious consideration as an RB2 in fantasy drafts next season.
T.Y. Hilton/LaVon Brazill – For obvious reasons, T.Y. Hilton is a strong candidate to have a breakout season in 2013, especially if the Colts let Donnie Avery walk. However, Hilton wasn’t the only 2012 rookie receiver with a chance to do some damage in 2013. LaVon Brazill, a sixth-round pick out of Ohio University, could very well end up the Colts slot receiver this season and be in a position to do a lot of what Hilton did in 2012. LaVon’s high-end speed and willingness to go over the middle make him a good fit in this offense, so make sure to keep an eye on his progress over the summer.
Rod Streater/Juron Criner – Both of these youngsters will compete for a starting job opposite Denarius Moore in 2013 and if the Raiders let Darrius Heyward-Bey go as is said they might, one of them will win it. Both stand 6’3” tall and did pretty well with limited playing time in 2012, particularly Rod Streater. Both require a bit of attention this offseason, but Streater is the one to focus on as a sleeper heading into the season.
Emmanuel Sanders – With Mike Wallace as good as gone, Emmanuel Sanders will become a full-time starter for the Steelers in 2013. Antonio Brown may be the de facto WR1 on the team, but Sanders could fill the role just as well and may have more downfield ability than Brown to begin with. Antonio has become a top-notch slot receiver over the last few years, so I’m not entirely sure the Steelers coaching staff will want to take him out of his comfort zone. If not, then Sanders will become Roethlisberger’s main downfield threat, which is a role that definitely puts Sanders near the top of the breakout season list.
Marvin Jones/Mohamed Sanu – The scenario the Bengals would most like to see happen in 2013 is for Marvin Jones to line up opposite A.J. Green while Mohamed Sanu mans the slot position. Both have the ability to make that happen, but Andrew Hawkins proved to be a nice little slot receiver in his own right, so it is entirely possible that Jones and Sanu end up fighting for the WR2 spot all the way up through the last preseason game. With the Bengals offense on the rise and A.J. Green demanding double-teams, whoever ends up winning the job could offer up some serious sleeper potential.
Kenny Britt/Kendall Wright – I see this as being more of a Kenny Britt AND Kendall Wright than an “either/or” situation. Both have the (superior) athletic skills enough to breakout in 2013, especially if QB Jake Locker makes his projected strides during the offseason.
Britt is a special case, as not only will he be playing for a contract this year, but the malcontent will also need to prove he’s not just an overgrown baby anymore. His skills are off the charts, as former teammates Randy Moss and Ray Rice can attest to as they both recently stated that they believe he can be a top five receiver in the game. It’s really just a matter of him putting it all together, which if he shows to be on the right track in doing this offseason, then he’ll be at the very top of the breakout season list by draft time.
Kendall Wright is a bit of a different story, though every bit the athletic specimen that Britt is. As a rookie last season, Wright’s playmaking ability and blazing speed seemed a bit misused by the Titans as he was limited to more of the short, underneath type of routes all year. However, 2013 could see Wright moved outside opposite Britt, a position that would maximize both his real-life and fantasy talents. Watch out for this kid because he wasn’t a first-round selection for no reason.
Rueben Randle – Both Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks will be back as the New York Giants starters in 2013, but that doesn’t mean Randle won’t be able to put up starter-like numbers. First, with WRs Domenik Hixon and Ramses Barden both gone, Randle won’t have much competition for the WR3 position, so the job will almost assuredly be his and his alone. Second, looking back at what the WR3 slot has been able to put up for the Giants over the last handful of years, the numbers are quite impressive. In 2012, Hixon, Badren and Randle combined for 72 catches, 1,085 yards and five TDs. 2011 was a bit of an off-year with Mario Manningham playing just 12 games, but he was still able to grab 39 balls for 523 yards and four TDs after putting up 944 yards and nine TDs on 60 catches in 2010. Hakeem Nicks had 790 yards and six TDs in 2009 as the third receiver, which was done in just 14 games as well.
Basically, besides his 6’3” frame and immense raw talent, Randle has a lot more going for him than most WR3s around the league normally would.
Alshon Jeffery – There are three reasons why Alshon Jeffery shouldn’t be overlooked come draft day this season. First, Jeffery will be the undisputed starter opposite Brandon Marshall from Day One, a role any receiver would kill for considering the amount of one-on-one coverage he’s likely to see. Second, the Bears new head coach Marc Trestman, runs an up-tempo style of offense that will likely put up a ton of points and yardage, which is always a good thing for fantasy players. Third, Marshall has already gone on record saying that Alshon has a chance to be an All-Pro player and will be teaching him everything he knows this offseason down in South Florida. With a 6’3” frame, 4.45 speed and a knack for the end zone, Jeffery could compete for Sleeper of the Year in 2013.
Ryan Broyles – If Broyles can come back from his second ACL surgery since 2011 (left ACL in 2011, right in 2012) in time to start the year on the active squad, then he definitely deserves sleeper consideration for 2013. He was just starting to turn it on last year when he fell to injury in Week 13 and worked really well opposite Calvin Johnson. Stafford seemed to like him as well, so make sure to check in on his progress this summer.
Joe Morgan/Nick Toon – Marques Colston and Lance Moore are the 1-2 punch in New Orleans right now, but with Devery Henderson gone, Drew Brees will need another guy out there to pull defenses deep. Joe Morgan flashed signs of being that guy by making a couple of the more impressive catches in the entire league last season, but I’m not sure his ceiling is high enough to be considered as anything more than a WR3/flex on fantasy teams next year. However, with Sean Payton back and Drew Brees still running the show, you never know, so he’ll certainly be worth a flier come August.
Nick Toon is intriguing as he was drawing rave reviews from the Saints coaching staff last summer before his college foot injury came back to bite him in the ass (eventually put on IR for the 2012 season). His size (6’4”, 218 pounds) and speed are outstanding and could propel him into a 2009-11 Robert Meachem type of role in the Saints offense this upcoming season (back when Meach was worth a lick). Watch the news coming out of Saints camp this summer because Toon has big-time deep sleeper written all over him.
Chris Givens/Brian Quick – The key to one of these guys going off is Sam Bradford, who looks to be on the verge of a bit of a breakout himself in 2013. If he can jump up a level, then one of these three receivers is going to jump up into fantasy-starter territory in 2013 and it’s just a matter of figuring out which one it will be.
After being taken in the second and fourth rounds of last year’s draft, Quick and Givens were looked at by the Rams brass as a possible 1-2 punch for years to come. Givens showed very nicely in his rookie season, while Quick went through a bit of an adjustment to the NFL level of play.
Jordan Cameron – With Ben Watson on the way out and no other real competition for the starting gig, Jordan Cameron may finally have a chance to strut his stuff in 2013. His athleticism and 4.55 speed at 6’5”, 250 pounds are outstanding for the position, so it will be interesting to see if the Browns coaching staff can incorporate him into the offense this offseason.
Taylor Thompson – Thompson is a converted defensive end for the Titans and is relatively unknown in the league… at least for the moment. If Tennessee ends up letting Jared Cook go, the 6’6”, 259-pound project may be thrust into the starting job sooner than later. With a sub-4.6 40 time and a 37” vertical, he’s obviously athletic as hell and has even been compared to Rob Gronkowski at times. He’s a dark horse as far as sleepers are concerned, but a name to keep in the forefront of your files regardless.
Tony Moeaki – The former third-round pick out of Iowa showed some big-time potential during his 2010 rookie year before tearing his ACL and missing the entire 2011 season. Last year wasn’t the best, either, but Tony was still able to flash that star potential from time to time despite having the worst quarterback situation in the NFL. With head coach Andy Reid on board, Moeaki might be able to jump back into the fantasy conversation and is worth monitoring over the summer.
Adrien Robinson – If Martellus Bennett returns to the Giants, you can keep Robinson on the backburner for another season or two. However, if Bennett walks, Robinson has everything you could want in a tight end-friendly Giants offense. He’s 6’5”, 267 pounds and runs the forty in 4.51 seconds. He also presents as a big-time red zone threat owning an insane 39.5” vertical. If everything falls into place, this guy has the chance to be the best player nobody has ever heard of next season.
Andrew Quarless – This one is simple. If the Packers let Jermichael Finley go, then Quarless could end up being the starting tight end in an Aaron Rodgers-run offense. If Finley stays, then he’s not.
Zach Miller – Miller was just starting to become a viable fantasy threat for Oakland when the Seahawks swooped in and signed him for five years, $34 million. Since then, he’s been a dud… until the last month of the 2012 regular season and two playoff games that followed. It was like a light suddenly clicked on in not only Zach’s head, but in Russell Wilson’s head as well. Once Wilson realized how good of a pass-catching/playmaking tight end Miller was, he couldn’t stop going to him. Miller’s eight catches for 142 yards and a touchdown in the Seahawks loss to the Falcons in the Divisional Playoff game might be all that was needed for the kid to become fantasy significant once again.
Rob Housler – Rob Housler isn’t quite a household name yet, but he’s likely a known commodity in most fantasy circles. He certainly has the talent to become a top-15 tight end, but the biggest obstacle he’ll face in 2013 will again be the Cardinals quarterback situation, as it was in 2012. If Arizona can somehow fix things offensively this offseason, Housler will be a guy to watch out for.
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