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Columns - Magazine

Sleepers and Undervalued

by Evan Silva
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:09 pm ET

SLEEPERS

 

1. Bernard Pierce, RB, Ravens

 

Ray Rice faces a suspension following the offseason assault of his then-girlfriend and now-wife, while fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro was arrested in May for destruction of property and public drunkenness. Although Pierce is coming off a poor season (2.87 YPC) and rotator cuff surgery, he's the best bet to open the season as new OC Gary Kubiak's feature back. A proven ground-game proponent, Kubiak's old Texans offenses were among the run-heaviest in the NFL.

 

2. Jeremy Hill, RB, Bengals

 

The Bengals wouldn't have used their second-round pick on Hill if they believed Gio Bernard was capable of workhorse carries. They simply don't. Installed ahead of BenJarvus Green-Ellis at OTAs, Hill is a power runner entering new OC Hue Jackson's power-run offense. As Green-Ellis handled 220 attempts last season and Jackson plans to increase Cincy's rushing volume, Hill has a higher ceiling than it appears. He'll also be the goal-line back, offering double-digit TD upside.

 

3. Ladarius Green, TE, Chargers

 

At 6-foot-6, 238 pounds with left tackle-like 34 1/2-inch arms and 10 1/8-inch hands, Green offers a huge catching radius and wide receiver-like athleticism. His 2012 Combine 40-time (4.45) would've ranked second among this year's draft-eligible tight ends, while his 10-foot-4 broad jump would've ranked third. Still only 24, Green's ceiling will skyrocket if the Chargers commit to him as Philip Rivers' No. 2 option in the passing game, behind Keenan Allen and ahead of Antonio Gates.

 

4. Brandin Cooks, WR, Saints

 

The Saints traded up to snag Cooks with the 20th overall pick, suggesting they see him as a plug-and-play volume receiver capable of handling a lot of touches right away. While Kenny Stills and Joe Morgan run perimeter clear-out routes, expect Sean Payton to feed Cooks the football on high-percentage passing plays and utilize him out of the backfield, as well. He'll help replace Darren Sproles and Lance Moore. Cooks should be a particularly attractive WR3 in PPR leagues.

 

5. Kyle Rudolph, TE, Vikings

 

Old Vikings OC Bill Musgrave had a minimal history of featuring tight ends in his passing games, yet Rudolph still scored 15 touchdowns in his first 32 NFL games (7.5 average per 16). Over the last decade, new OC Norv Turner's tight end-friendly offense has coaxed career years out of Randy McMichael, Antonio Gates and Jordan Cameron. It seems like Rudolph has been around forever, but he's only 24. Look for him to emerge as rookie Teddy Bridgewater's 2014 security blanket.

 

6. Christine Michael, RB, Seahawks

 

Seahawks starter Marshawn Lynch has averaged 334 carries over the last three years, including the playoffs. Never shying from contact, Lynch has absorbed an unruly amount of contact on those totes. At 28 1/2 years old now, Lynch is likely to break down sooner rather than later. A highly explosive and laterally gifted power runner, Michael will be Seattle's franchise back in short order.

 

7. Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers

 

Many fantasy owners immediately dismiss Stewart based on his injury history, which brings down his cost. He had an undrafted Average Draft Position as of early spring. Stewart quietly enjoyed the healthiest offseason of his career and is still only 27. DeAngelo Williams is 31. Deficient at wideout, the Panthers need more from their running game than Williams' annually declining yards-per-carry average provides. Stewart is worth a late-round flier to see if he can become the man.

 

8. Terrance West, RB, Browns

 

The Browns traded up to draft West late in the third round. They obviously wanted this guy. On college tape, West resembled a young Alfred Morris with a power back build (5'9/225) and highlight-reel open-field jump cuts. New Browns OC Kyle Shanahan coached Morris in D.C. West's only competition for carries in a run-based offense is injury-riddled veteran Ben Tate.

 

9. Jordan Matthews, WR, Eagles

 

A 6-foot-3, 212-pound smooth mover, Matthews played like a cross between Michael Crabtree and Marques Colston at Vanderbilt. Chip Kelly plans to employ Matthews similarly to Colston, where he'll work between Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, creating athletic and size mismatches against small slot corners and slow linebackers. As Maclin is coming off an ACL tear and Cooper is a role player, Matthews has an outside chance to become the Eagles' top wideout as a rookie.

 

10. C.J. Anderson, RB, Broncos

 

The Broncos were so enamored with Anderson's 2013 preseason play that they kept him on the 53-man roster despite a severe MCL sprain suffered in mid-August. They didn't want to subject his talent to waivers. We like Montee Ball's breakout chances, but Anderson will be there to step in if Ball endures further pass-protection woes or suffers an injury. A 5-foot-8, 224-pound bowling ball with respectable 4.53-speed, Anderson is a better prospect than scatback Ronnie Hillman.

 

 

UNDERVALUED

1. DeMarco Murray, RB, Cowboys

Murray is a first-round fantasy pick being selected in the second. An ideal fit under pass-happy new playcaller Scott Linehan, expect Murray to be in space far more often than grinding between the tackles, which could bode well for the historically injury-prone 26-year-old's chances of staying healthy. In Linehan's 2013 Lions offense, tailbacks Joique Bell and Reggie Bush combined for 107 receptions. In 2006, Steven Jackson hauled in a career-high 90 passes with Linehan calling St. Louis' plays. Murray is a sleeper to finish as the No. 1 running back in PPR leagues this year.

2. Julius Thomas, TE, Broncos

Thomas' Average Draft Position is in the third and fourth rounds, but he should be a borderline first-rounder from a value-based perspective. Just behind Jimmy Graham at the top of a thin, and ultimately weak, fantasy tight end class, Thomas is an ascending 26-year-old red-zone dominator whose stats project to improve with Eric Decker's 87-1,288-11 removed from Denver's offense. We'd start considering Thomas in the early portion of round two. He's a fantasy difference maker.

3. Toby Gerhart, RB, Vikings

Gerhart's career rushing stats are 276-1,305-4.7-5 with 77-600-3 in the passing game. Combined, those numbers would've placed him fifth among 2013 fantasy backs, behind only Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte and Marshawn Lynch. Signed to be Jacksonville's every-down back and a true bellcow, Gerhart is a sleeper to lead the NFL in rushing attempts. Yet he's still lasting until the fifth and sixth rounds of fantasy drafts. We'd snag him in round four as an ideal RB2.

4. Roddy White, WR, Falcons

Many 2014 fantasy drafters will be scared off by White's advancing age (32) and recent injuries. So he's likely to be a value pick. Shaking off his knee and ankle ailments late last season, White racked up 43 catches for 502 yards and two scores over Atlanta's final five games, good for a beastly 138-1,607-7 extrapolation over a full schedule. As a route-running maven in a pass-happy offense, White is the type of wide receiver who could remain productive into his mid- to late-30s.

5. Stevan Ridley, RB, Patriots

Ridley burned owners with his 2013 fumbles, but the arrow is pointing up on his 2014 outlook with LeGarrette Blount gone. In between two benchings, Ridley shredded the NFL for a combined 95-441-7 line in Weeks 4-11, averaging 4.64 YPC and playing like every bit the back who finished as fantasy's RB10 the season before. Now entering his contract season, the 25-year-old Ridley gets one last crack at New England's lead back role with Shane Vereen as his "passing-back" complement.

6. Jordan Reed, TE, Redskins

Prior to a year-ending concussion, Reed played a major role in Washington's 2013 offense for seven games, recording 45 grabs for 499 yards and three touchdowns. The numbers extrapolate to 103-1,141-7 over a full 16-game slate, which would've ranked Reed fourth among fantasy tight ends, behind Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis and Julius Thomas. New coach Jay Gruden brings a pass-happy approach to D.C., and perimeter burner DeSean Jackson will clear space over the middle of the field. Now healthy, Reed is the top breakout candidate among fantasy tight ends.

7. Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons

Ryan is the best bounce-back QB bet in fantasy football with Julio Jones and Roddy White returning from injury-plagued seasons. A top-eight fantasy passer in three of his last four years, Ryan remains under the direction of pass-first OC Dirk Koetter and has lost nothing off his fastball at age 29. He's a fourth- or fifth-round value who's lasting until rounds six and seven.

8. Marques Colston, WR, Saints

Bothered by last year's slow start, fantasy owners are all but washing their hands of Colston, letting him last until the seventh and eighth rounds of drafts. Forgotten is Colston's red-hot finish, as he compiled a 61-761-5 line over the final 10 games, including playoffs. It's a 98-catch, 1,213-yard, eight-score 16-game pace, which would've placed Colston 13th among fantasy wideouts, just behind Andre Johnson. Colston is still only 31. He should have at least two big seasons left.

9. Rueben Randle, WR, Giants

A number of negative offseason reports and New York's first-round selection of Odell Beckham torpedoed Randle's Average Draft Position all the way into the 11th round. We're still buying. New Giants OC Ben McAdoo, a former Packers assistant, plans to use Randle as his Jordy Nelson/James Jones, a high-scoring position in an otherwise smallish receiver corps where 6-foot-3, 210-pound Randle towers over his target competition. He has sneaky blowup potential.

10. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans

The quarterback position is unideal in Houston, but historically, rookie wideouts who produced as much as Hopkins (52 catches, 802 yards) have a high probability of second-year leaps. Texans No. 1 receiver Andre Johnson is entering his age-33 season, and Hopkins' short-to-intermediate skill set arguably better matches Ryan Fitzpatrick's popgun arm. Hopkins is currently being drafted as a WR4. There is reason to believe he could return WR2/3 production as a sophomore.

Evan Silva
Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .