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Don't sleep on these guys on draft day
By Jeff Saukaitis, Contributing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Some choices are easy on fantasy football draft day.
If you have the No. 1 pick in your upcoming draft, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson would be a good selection.
If you're targeting a quarterback with a high pick, the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers is probably near the top of your list. Calvin Johnson and Jimmy Graham, respectively, are probably the No. 1 wide receiver and tight end on most draft boards.
What usually separates the hardcore fantasy player from the casual one is the ability to identify "sleepers" in the later rounds who will be productive as injury and bye week replacements, with the opportunity to fill even more significant roles.
First, an explanation: Sleepers will be defined here as players who would be unlikely to open the 2013 season as starters in the typical 12-team fantasy league.
For instance, running backs like Chris Ivory of the New York Jets and Lamar Miller of the Miami Dolphins possess the talent to break out and outperform their average projections. Those players, however, would figure to open the year as No. 2 running backs in your league.
This is an attempt to uncover players who could be drafted later than that, yet possibly produce like No. 2 players at their respective positions.
SAM BRADFORD, ST. LOUIS RAMS: After watching rookies Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson perform at such an elite level last year, it probably makes St. Louis fans somewhat impatient when they track Bradford's development.
The 2010 No. 1 overall pick did so a bit under the radar last season, but he enjoyed his best year as a pro. He threw for 3,702 yards, 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He ranked 15th in the NFL in passing yards, which made him a middle-of-the-pack starting quarterback.
Heading into his second year with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, Bradford should improve more. The biggest change could be the addition of explosive first-round draft pick Tavon Austin at wide receiver. He will give Bradford the best big-play weapon he has ever had with the Rams.
St. Louis threw the ball a little less frequently last year, but Bradford increased his yards per attempt. The Rams also are unsettled at the running back position following the departure of Steven Jackson, so they might lean a bit more on the passing game. Bradford could reach the 4,000-yard mark, which would make him a great high-upside No. 2 fantasy quarterback.
CARSON PALMER, ARIZONA CARDINALS: It didn't result in a successful season for the Oakland Raiders, but Palmer quietly threw for 4,018 yards last season - the 10th-best total in the league. He did it with a wide receiver corps that was mediocre at best.
Palmer's receiving leader last year was tight end Brandon Myers, who caught 79 passes for 806 yards. In Arizona, Palmer will have a big-time No. 1 receiving threat in Larry Fitzgerald. He also will have a head coach (Bruce Arians) who prefers a vertical passing game.
Palmer threw for 22 touchdowns last year, but 30 ought to be an attainable number this season. One potential problem could be a suspect offensive line, but the Cardinals last week made a big upgrade by signing free-agent right tackle Eric Winston.
Palmer is the decent draft pick as a No. 2 quarterback because he has the upside to at least be a good matchup play.
SHANE VEREEN, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: He is unlikely to unseat Steven Ridley as New England's starting running back, so Vereen is not a great bet to be in many fantasy starting lineups early in the season. He has great upside potential, though, with the likelihood of seeing most of the third-down work in the Patriots' backfield.
Vereen more or less shared the change-of-pace role with Danny Woodhead last season, but Woodhead has signed with the San Diego Chargers. Now Vereen could have that role all to himself, and he has more overall ability than Woodhead.
Since the Patriots no longer have four of their top five 2013 receptions leaders on their roster, quarterback Tom Brady is going to have to find new targets. Vereen caught eight passes and rushed for 251 yards on 62 carries last season. Woodhead had 301 yards rushing and 40 catches.
With the loss of Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and Aaron Hernandez, New England could be expected to run the ball more frequently. It wouldn't be a stunner to see Vereen catch 40 passes and account for more than 1,000 total yards from scrimmage.
BRYCE BROWN, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Filling in when LeSean McCoy got hurt last season, Brown showed great explosiveness by rushing for 4.9 yards per carry on 115 attempts. If he could cut back on his fumbling, Brown would be the perfect complementary back.
Barring another injury to McCoy, Brown won't crack Philadelphia's starting lineup. New head coach Chip Kelly, however, is expected to bring an up-tempo offense to the Eagles. Instead of running the typical 65 or so offensive plays per game, a Kelly-coached offense might be able to run closer to 80 plays.
If the attack is balanced, the Eagles might run the ball as many as 40 times per game, especially after the passing game took a hit over the weekend when wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was lost with a torn ACL. The Eagles' running game should provide a big =-enough workload to ensure Brown a significant role. It would be somewhat surprising if he doesn't end up averaging at least 10 carries per game, and if he gets regular touches, he's going to break his share of big plays.
ANTONIO BROWN, PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Coming off a subpar season, Brown might
be undervalued on draft day. By default, though, he's going to be the No. 1 option in the passing game for Pittsburgh, following the departure of Mike Wallace to free agency.
Brown wasn't terrible last year, but he wasn't dynamic, either. After catching 69 passes for 1,108 yards in 2011, Brown slumped to 66 catches for just 787 yards in 2012 - a pedestrian 11.9-yard average. Some of the drop-off can be attributed to a high ankle sprain which kept him sidelined for three games and limited him in several others.
A change to offensive coordinator to Todd Haley resulted in the Steelers throwing the ball down the field less frequently. Still, the Steelers aren't likely to become a run-dominated team anytime soon. Ben Roethlisberger averaged 34.5 pass attempts per game last season.
Brown was targeted 8.1 times per game in 2012. With Wallace gone and tight end Heath Miller coming off an injury, Brown's targets could increase significantly. That would make a repeat of his outstanding 2011 stat line a possibility.
MICHAEL FLOYD, ARIZONA CARDINALS: A first-round draft pick in 2012, Floyd didn't make a big impact until very late in his rookie year. In his first eight games, Floyd caught just 13 passes. In his last eight, he made 32 receptions for 435 yards.
Much of the increased production later in the season can be attributed to increased playing time. Floyd was especially effective in the last two games, combining for 14 catches for 213 yards. He caught eight for 166 yards and a touchdown in the season finale against San Francisco, a game that Brian Hoyer started at quarterback.
With the Cardinals' miserable quarterback situation last year - it's hard to believe Ryan Lindley made four starts despite a 46.7 passer rating - no receiver was going to put up quality stats. Now with Palmer coming to the rescue to take over the starting quarterback job, Floyd seems poised to take a big step forward.
DUSTIN KELLER, MIAMI DOLPHINS: He's never been particularly flashy, but Keller has been a fairly productive receiving tight end during the first five years of his career, all with the New York Jets.
Never missing a game in his first four seasons, Keller averaged 53 catches and four touchdowns. His production fell to 28 catches and two scores last year, but that's because injuries limited him to just eight games.
Keller signed a one-year contract with Miami, so he'll be motivated in what will be another contract year. Last year's Dolphins tight end, Anthony Fasano, led the team with five touchdown catches. Primarily a blocker, Fasano did not possess nearly as much talent as Keller does as a pass catcher.
The Dolphins brought in free-agent wide receivers Wallace and Brandon Gibson to team with incumbent Brian Hartline. Keller could prove to be the best red zone option of the bunch.
BRANDON MYERS, NEW YORK GIANTS: Not too many people heard of Myers before
last season, but he came out of nowhere to catch 79 passes for 806 yards in Oakland. Now with the Giants, he ought to be able to put up big numbers again. Last year, Martellus Bennett had 55 catches for 626 yards and five touchdowns as the Giants' starting tight end.
Even though Myers will have to compete with elite receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks to get looks from Eli Manning, remember that Manning is averaging 28 touchdown passes over the past four seasons. There should be a good share of red zone opportunities for Myers, who should put up numbers similar to Bennett's from last year.
07/30 10:29:15 ET