Mike Clay

Going Deep

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Winner by Omission

Friday, June 13, 2014


Free Agency and the 2014 NFL Draft have come and gone. Voids were filled and new talent was injected into each and every club.

As is always the case, however, a few voids were surprisingly left unaddressed.

Today, I'll take a look at 10 of those offensive voids in an attempt to eye some sleepers for those of you in deep leagues. Note that all 10 of the sleepers listed are currently going undrafted in a majority of early drafts.

1. Giants No. 1 Tight End

Sleeper: Adrien Robinson

With incumbent starter Brandon Myers headed to Tampa Bay, the Giants will look to Robinson – a 2012 fourth-round pick – to pick up the slack at tight end. Myers handled 13 percent of New York's targets last season. He hauled in 47 balls for 522 yards and four touchdowns en route to finishing No. 19 among tight ends in fantasy points. Myers is a decent receiver, but not much of a blocker. Robinson is similar in that regard, but has a much higher ceiling from a fantasy standpoint. Once labeled the "Jason Pierre-Paul" of tight ends as a product of his freakish athletic ability, Robinson stands at 6'4/270 and ran a 4.56 40. Robinson has yet to catch an NFL pass for a variety of reasons (buried on the depth chart, injured), but he's only 25. Entering this season healthy, in shape, and in position for a big role, Robinson has "This year's Jordan Cameron" written all over him.

2. Steelers No. 2 Wide Receiver

Sleeper: Markus Wheaton

Pittsburgh lost both its No. 2 and No. 3 wideouts to free agency this past offseason. Emmanuel Sanders landed in Denver, while Jerricho Cotchery snatched up a big role in Carolina. Along with Antonio Brown, both Sanders and Cotchery were top-36 fantasy wide receivers last season. Denver was the only other club with three wideouts inside the Top 36. Sanders and Cotchery were obviously busy, combining for 113 receptions and 16 touchdowns. The duo handled 33 percent of the club's targets.

Enter sophomore Markus Wheaton. Standing 5'11/182, the speedy Wheaton is the odds-on favorite to snag what has been a fantasy-relevant No. 2 job in Pittsburgh. Wheaton – a third-round investment – sat fourth on the depth chart and only caught six balls as a rookie. He'll see competition from veteran Lance Moore (the logical fit to replace Cotchery in the slot) and 2014 fourth-round pick Martavis Bryant. There are a ton of intriguing sophomore wide receivers worth selecting in the mid-to-late rounds of your draft, but don't overlook Wheaton. There's a major opportunity for big-time production and Wheaton as the skills to convert said opportunity into a WR3 campaign.

3. Chargers No. 2 Wide Receiver

Sleeper: Malcom Floyd

Set to turn 33 this season, Floyd is undoubtedly one of the league's most injury-plagued players of the last decade. Around since 2004, he's appeared in all 16 games in a single season only once. He's missed a total of 25 games over the past four seasons, including 14 due to a neck injury in 2013. Still, Floyd has produced when active. Despite missing a total of nine games during the three years spanning from 2010 to 2012, Floyd finished Top 36 in fantasy points all three seasons. The Chargers did very little to upgrade at wide receiver during the offseason, leaving Floyd as the favorite to start opposite Keenan Allen. Eddie Royal and Vincent Brown will push for reps, but Royal only played 64 percent of the team's snaps last season and Brown has yet to develop into a starting-caliber player. Floyd is going to be undrafted in most formats, but he'll be on someone's bench by Week 1 or 2. Beat the rush and grab him late in your draft.

4. Rams No. 1 Wide Receiver

Sleeper: Kenny Britt

The St. Louis offense has primarily been operating with a mediocre wide receiver unit over the past few seasons. The club spent a first-round pick on Tavon Austin last season, but he projects better as an "offensive weapon" than an every-down, go-to No. 1 wideout. Chris Givens is best-utilized as a situational deep threat. Brian Quick and Austin Pettis haven't emerged despite being selected early in the 2012 and 2011 drafts, respectively. Stedman Bailey has shown promise, but will miss the first four games of 2014 due to suspension.

The Rams didn't invest much in the position during the offseason, but did take a high-upside flier on Britt. The 6'3/223 Britt showed flashes of elite ability in Tennessee, but off-the-field and injury woes led to disappointing overall production and his eventual departure. In 2010, at just 22 years old, he scored nine times en route to a No. 22 finish in fantasy points among wide receivers. He accomplished the feat despite missing four games. Of course, Britt is coming off a season in which he caught only 11 off 33 targets. He dropped more balls (seven) than he had total yards after the catch (six). Now 25, Britt still has age on his side. There's a major void atop the Rams' depth chart and we know he has the physical ability to take the job with force. He's worth a look in most leagues.

5. Bears No. 3 Wide Receiver

Sleeper: Marquess Wilson

Last season, a massive 88 percent of Chicago's targets went to four players: Brandon Marshall (29 percent), Alshon Jeffery (26), Martellus Bennett (17), and Matt Forte (16). That didn't leave many for incumbent No. 3 wideout Earl Bennett (8), who left for browner pastures in Cleveland. That leaves Wilson to compete with veteran Josh Morgan for the club's No. 3 job. We know this is a seldom-targeted position in Chicago, so why the hype? For the high ceiling, of course. Wilson won't be rostered in most leagues out of the gate, but imagine the rush to the waiver wire should one of Marshall or Jeffery miss some time due to injury. Wilson would be locked into a massive role in a strong offense. And there's reason to believe he has the tools to take advantage. A seventh-round pick last year, he only played 72 snaps as a rookie, 32 of which came in Week 17. The definition of a stick, Wilson is tall at 6-foot-4, but weighs only 184 pounds. He's still a bit raw at age-21, but Wilson has decent speed and is a high-ceiling handcuff option. He's worth a look in deeper leagues.

6. Broncos No. 2 Running Back

Sleeper: C.J. Anderson

Despite spending only a part of the 2013 season as Denver's No. 2 back, then-rookie Montee Ball racked up 139 touches and four touchdowns en route to finishing No. 41 in fantasy points among running backs. With workhorse Knowshon Moreno gone, unproven Ball was promoted to lead back, leaving intriguing Anderson to compete with underwhelming Ronnie Hillman and a host of undrafted rookies for Denver's primary backup job. Considering that we're talking about an offense fresh off a record-setting season, "No. 2 tailback" is a position worth discussing.

Anderson has only seven career carries to his name, but he's generated some hype since signing on as an undrafted free agent out of California last season. He isn't especially fast, but can get to the second level and hold his own on passing downs. Anderson is unlikely to grow into an NFL feature back role, but he's one injury away from big volume in an elite offense. He's worth stashing.

7. Falcons No. 1 Tight End

Sleeper: Levine Toilolo

First Ballot Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez has retired, which left Toilolo atop the Atlanta tight end depth chart. Of course, the two players don't exactly play the same position. Gonzalez was more of a wide receiver, lining up out wide or in the slot on two-thirds of his snaps last season, per Pro Football Focus. Toilolo played 181 snaps, working in-line or in the backfield two-thirds of the time. Consider that Gonzalez only saw one more target (nine) than Toilolo when lined up in-line.

Toilolo won't see anything close to the 120 targets Gonzalez handled this past season, but he's going to see enough to put him on the TE2 radar. Selected in the fourth round last season, Toilolo is a massive specimen at 6'8/265. He showed well from a receiving standpoint as a rookie, catching 11-of-14 targets, two of which were for touchdowns. His size is going to lead to plenty of looks near the goal line. Even in the 50-to-60-target range, a half dozen touchdowns would put Toilolo in the mid-pack TE2 discussion. Keep an eye on him in deeper leagues.

8. Chiefs No. 2 Wide Receiver

Sleeper: Donnie Avery

As was too often the case during his time in Philadelphia, Andy Reid (and friends) did very little to improve his porous wide receiver situation during the offseason. Dwayne Bowe is a competent No. 1 option, but Avery, A.J. Jenkins, Junior Hemingway, Kyle Williams, and Albert Wilson won't strike fear into any opposing defensive backfields.

The incumbent No. 2, Avery caught 40 balls for 596 yards, and two scores last season. I can't say he makes for a very exciting pick on draft day, but each and every year we see a handful of "boring" contributors who end up among the Top 50 fantasy wide receivers. Avery has already accomplished that feat three times in his career (2008, 2009, and 2012) and just missed the cut in 2013. Alex Smith is an extremely conservative passer, but it's hard to argue with Kansas City's offensive prowess down the stretch last year. The Chiefs averaged 4.0 offensive touchdowns per game over their final seven games. Consider that, after their Week 1 seven-touchdown performance against Baltimore, the Denver offense averaged 3.9 touchdowns per game the rest of the season. Again, Avery is far from a sexy pick, but the No. 2 option in Andy Reid's option should be on your radar in deep leagues.

9. Cowboys No. 3 Wide Receiver

Sleepers: Cole Beasley and Devin Street

Despite cutting loose heavily-utilized Miles Austin during the offseason, Dallas did very little to improve its receiving corps. Dez Bryant and sophomore Terrance Williams are locked in as every-down players, leaving Beasley as the favorite for slot duties. He'll face competition for reps from 2014 fifth-round pick Devin Street. The Cowboys tend to operate a pass-heavy offense and that trend is extremely likely to continue with Scott Linehan calling the plays.

Beasley is extremely undersized at 5'8/180, but showed well in a Danny Amendola-esque role last season. In on 230 snaps, Beasley caught 75 percent of his 52 targets and scored twice. Per Pro Football Focus, 92 percent of his snaps came in the slot. That's compared to 11 percent for Bryant and six percent for Williams. Street profiles as an outside receiver, which gives Beasley the early edge in three-wide sets. The rookie figures to only have fantasy value if Bryant or Williams miss time, but he could force his way on to the field with a strong training camp and preseason. Standing 6'3/198, he doesn't have a ton of speed, but does everything else pretty well. Both players are worth a look in deep leagues, especially the one who locks down the No. 3 gig.

10. Raiders No. 1 Tight End

Sleepers: David Ausberry or Mychal Rivera

Since losing Brandon Myers to the Giants prior to last season, the Raiders have invested very little in its tight end position. They spent a pair of sixth-round picks on Rivera and Nick Kasa last season and all but ignored the position this past offseason. Ausberry – a 2011 seventh-round pick and converted wide receiver – was expected to start last season, but a shoulder injury landed him on Injured Reserve. Rivera stepped in and caught 38 balls for 407 yards, and four touchdowns.

Ausberry is currently running with the first team, and thus the early favorite for the gig. One of my favorite 2013 deep sleepers, Ausberry stands at 6'4/243 and put up a 4.48 40-yard dash time at the 2011 Combine. Oakland figures to be throwing the ball quite a bit in the second half this season, and Matt Schaub targeted his tight ends plenty during his time in Houston. Ausberry has the tools to put up TE2 numbers in an every-down role. Of course, if Rivera – labeled a "foundation piece" by coach Dennis Allen back in May – emerges as the starter, he'd be the name to keep an eye on late in drafts. Blocking is an ongoing issue with Rivera, but he was effective as a receiver as a rookie. He's not particularly fast or big, however, which will limit his fantasy ceiling.



Mike Clay is a football writer for Rotoworld.com and the Founder/Managing Editor of Pro Football Focus Fantasy. He can be found on Twitter @MikeClayNFL.
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