As every fantasy football owner knows, most leagues are won on draft day and with the NFL season three weeks away most drafts are right around the corner.
There are the star players who contribute their usual 20 points a game, but the best owners find that rare player that everyone has overlooked. It can be someone coming back from an injury, a rookie that fell in the draft for non-football reasons, or a veteran that lands in an ideal situation.
The Adrian Petersons, Aaron Rodgers, and Jimmy Grahams of the league only go to a handful of teams. Instead an owner can piece together a solid squad with one or two stars and a few sleepers.
Below are players at each skill position that could be available in the later rounds, and help you steal your draft.
Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
Ingram is healthy, and Sean Payton is back. Given his size and quick feet, he’ll be asked to bash right into line of scrimmage as soon as the Saints build a solid lead. He can catch some passes, but most of those would go to Darren Sproles. If you are in a PPR league he might not have as much value to you, but otherwise he's a solid second or third round pick.
Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Bell's already been named a co-starter on Pittsburgh's unofficial depth chart with Isaac Redman, according to NFL.com via the Post Gazzette, but the starting job appears to be his. He’d be an excellent pick up in the fourth or fifth round. Should he slip lower Bell is worth the gamble.
Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
Bernard is slippery, and fleet of foot. He has a Chris Johnson-circa-2009 burst, and has a good pair of hands to boot. He’s somewhere in the middle of the pack of running backs in terms of mock drafts. Bernard might be gone by the fourth round in some keeper leagues, but if you lucked into some blue chippers with your first three picks, he could be better than a second receiver.
E.J. Manuel, Buffalo Bills
The last two years athletic rookie quarterbacks have run amok on opposing defenses (Cam Newton, RG3, Russell Wilson) and Manuel has the tools to make an immediate impact for Buffalo. He has solid accuracy for someone his age, and can scramble to extend plays. Also the Bills offensive line has been one of the best in the league the last two seasons, meaning Manuel should have plenty of time to make plays.
Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
Like most young passers interceptions were a big problem for Locker last season, but until his injury he was asked to carry more than his fair share of the offense. Running back Chris Johnson should have a bounce back year, and with No. 1 target Kenny Britt in a contract year after recovering from an ACL injury, Locker will have plenty of teammates looking to make big plays.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
The loss of Reggie Bush does hurt, but second-year back Lamar Miller is expected to be a solid contributor, while the addition of Mike Wallace gives him a top deep threat for long touchdown passes that fill up a fantasy score sheet. Similar to Locker, turnover-to-touchdown ratio was a big problem (13 INTs to 12 TDs), but he only tossed one pick to five touchdowns in the final five weeks of the season last year. If you have a two-QB league, consider taking Tannehill somewhere in the ninth or 10th round.
Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville Jaguars
The quarterback situation in Jacksonville might be the worst in the NFL, which would normally cancel Shorts fantasy value out. However he made the most of his opportunities with long plays, and nearly reached the millennium mark with 55 catches for 979 yards and seven scores. Shorts had five catches for more than 40-yards last year, and each resulted in a touchdown.
Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams
He’s giving teammate cornerback Cortland Finnegan fits in camp, and while the hype might be catching on, we have to remember he’s still a rookie and plenty of owners will still be skeptical. There’s a fifth or even sixth round pick with his name on it.
Ryan Broyles, Detroit Lions
A second ACL injury in as many years would be of concern, but he has the moves and stats (three-consecutive 1,000-yard, 10-plus touchdown seasons at Oklahoma) to be a late steal. Consider Calvin Johnson will draw the best corner from each team, and some double-teams. Detroit is working him back slowly, but he should be very useful when he makes his debut.
Justice Cunningham, Indianapolis Colts
You could go Dwayne Allen or Coby Fleener here, but both have had training camp injuries. Allen has a foot ailment and is listed as questionable, though the Colts have said its not serious. Fleener was diagnosed with a concussion recently, but returned to practice on Tuesday in full pads.
Should either go down again, Cunningham might see some action. He improved during his senior season at South Carolina with 23 catches for 324 yards, after just 27 total in the previous three years. He was the last pick in the draft, but the injuries to Allen and Fleener also translate to him making the team as cheap insurance.
Rob Housler, Arizona Cardinals
Consider new Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer’s leading receiver last year in Oakland was tight end Brandon Meyers. Arizona is going to throw a ton, and Housler could be a huge beneficiary. He caught 66 percent of his targets last year and Larry Fitzgerald will draw plenty of attention to leave Housler open, especially in the red zone.
Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
Prototypical size, excellent hands, and an accurate quarterback in Andy Dalton, make the Notre Dame product a must have. Depending on your league and with the exception of Jimmy Graham, the race for tight ends probably won’t start until the fourth or fifth round, and even later. Eifert is going to have an impact this season, and assuming he’s healthy the sky is the limit.