There are very few absolutes in life. What’s that they say about death and taxes?
Anyway, there is one thing in fantasy football that I am absolutely sure of this year, and that is there are going to more second year players making significant leaps from their rookie seasons due to the lockout-shortened offseason last year that left many rookies three months behind the usual curve. Not only that, these rookies were forced to learn on the fly when teams are usually installing their gameplans for the week, not teaching young players fundamentals.
While there were a select few who were able to overcome these long odds and make significant impacts last year (it puts Cam Newton and Andy Dalton in even more perspective considering that), many rookies were hampered by the accelerated push into live NFL game action. While I expect even bigger things from most of last year’s big names, A.J. Green, Julio Jones and later round picks such as Denarius Moore, there are many still under-the-radar names that are poised to take a big leap forward this year.
Some of these guys are worth snatching up from the waiver wire or impatient owners. Others are simply worth monitoring as the season goes along unless you are in a deep league or still have someone like Kordell Stewart hanging around on your roster (he finally retired – go ahead and drop him!). I’ve listed the round these guys were taken in last year’s draft in parentheses just as a reminder and because, parenthetically, I enjoy using the word “parentheses” (its true!).
Worth Finding Out the Cost
Ryan Williams, RB ARI (2nd)
His rehab from the torn patella tendon appears to be on schedule. The window to acquire cheaply may have closed somewhat with the news that Beanie Wells’ January 24 knee surgery was more complicated than previously disclosed; however, I would still test Williams’ owner to see how much of a believer he is. The Cardinals failure to draft a running back is very telling in their belief that Williams will recover to be, at the very least, effective.
Shane Vereen, RB NE (2nd)
Another guy whose window was probably just missed with the news that he’s been taking first team reps at OTAs. My guess is his price was probably too high anyway given the madness and inconsistency that will likely ensue in New England’s muddled backfield.
Leonard Hankerson, WR WAS (3rd)
Santana Moss looked like a man possessed in OTAs, consistently getting separation and making spectacular catches. See if you can sell that to an impatient Hankerson owner. Personally, I have zero confidence in Josh Morgan and Santana Moss is 105 years old, so Hankerson will crack the starting lineup sooner rather than later. He struggled with drops early on last year, but began to come on before his injury (8 receptions on 9 targets for 106 yards in Week ten), and has the speed to get downfield where RGIII can get the ball with a quick flip of the wrist.
Vincent Brown, WR SD (3rd)
Vincent Brown was my man-crush last year, and I was devastated when I missed in him in rookie drafts (this year my man-crush is Marvin Jones). He is a route running tactician and is generating great buzz in camp again. If somebody is looking to win now, see if you can flip an aging veteran for Brown who is technically fighting Eddie Royal for the Chargers WR3 role behind Robert Meachem and Malcom Floyd. Floyd is both injury-prone and an unrestricted free agent after this year. Meachem has never been a WR1 before, so Brown may get his chance sooner rather than later.
Alex Green, RB GB (3rd)
James Starks will have another chance at the Packers starting role, but he has been nothing more than inconsistent since bursting on the scene during their Super Bowl run two years ago. Green’s slow recovery from ACL surgery makes this a good time to acquire him on the cheap. You may end up lucking into a valuable running back on a prolific offense.
Kendall Hunter, RB SF (4th)
Now this is the guy I would go after. People are D-O-W-N on Hunter. The 49ers look at him as nothing more than a change of pace back. They drafted LaMichael James in the second Round this year. Without the benefit of a training camp, Hunter averaged a respectable 4.2 yards per carry (Frank Gore averaged just under 4.3) on 112 carries and saw 26 targets last year. Gore didn’t break 100 yards on the ground after Week nine and is reaching the sunset of his career. Although he signed that extension last year, the 49ers can still basically cut him with little to no cap ramifications. Don’t be surprised if the 49ers are rolling with an RBBC with Kendall Hunter as the lead back and James in the change of pace role in 2013.
Julius Thomas, TE DEN (4th)
Thomas is in a similar situation to Hunter. The Broncos signed Manning favorite Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen, who valuated above everyone’s favorite TE sleeper on the depth chart. While Thomas may be stuck on pine in 2012, neither of the those two contracts prohibit an emergence in 2013. I don’t like to carry more than one developmental TE, if any, unless I’m in a 1.5 PPR TE league, but if you have the roster room and can get Thomas from someone who is excited to get some value for him, I’d go for it.
Jacquizz Rodgers, RB ATL (5th)
Quizz has a real shot to emerge in Atlanta this year. The Falcons keep signing Jason Snelling to one year deals, the equivalent of the ten day contact in the NBA. Michael Turner is getting a little long in the tooth and another 300 carry season seems unreasonable. While I don’t love his 3.6 yards per carry average last year, I do like the 21 receptions on 27 targets for 188 yards and a score in limited playing time. With Atlanta looking like they are going to open up the offense with Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, if Rodgers can prove to be an adequate pass blocker, he could turn into a solid PPR Flex or even RB2 play on a weekly basis.
Grab ‘Em Off of the Waiver Wire
Jordan Cameron, TE CLE (4th)
Cameron may still be a year away from being a major contributor, but signs point to him getting on the field more this year. I believe it’s worth grabbing and stashing this raw, former basketball player now before he has a big game and the secret is out. The coaching staff clearly has no faith in Evan Moore and Ben Watson is a UFA after this season. On a team that is searching for difference making receivers, Cameron has the size and athleticism to become the next Gates/Graham if he can develop. He’s worth a roster stash in all but the shallowest of leagues.
Greg Salas, WR STL (4th)
Salas was a guy I loved coming out of Hawaii last year. He overcame his drop-filled Week two performance against the Giants and subsequent benching to put up good numbers in Weeks six through nine (27 targets, 22 receptions for 216 yards) before breaking his fibula. Now healthy, he has a shot to contribute with only rookies (Brian Quick and Chris Givens) , injury concerns (Steve Smith, Danario Alexander) and end zone adverse (Danny Amendola) players to compete with. I’m a fan of Salas’ toughness over the middle and route-running abilities, and I think it will win over Jeff Fisher too. I’ve grabbed him in a bunch of leagues, and I expect him to contribute as receiver bench depth this year.
Luke Stocker, TE TB (4th)
Stocker may already be gone of the waiver wire, but if he’s there, it certainly can’t hurt to grab him and see what happens this year. Dallas Clark is on his last legs and since he can’t block, will only be on the field for obvious passing downs. Stocker has good size and blocking ability and its worth seeing if his presence on the field translates into a low-end TE1 return. I just wouldn’t hope for anything more.
Charles Clay, RB/TE MIA (6th)
Recent reports have built on the legend of Charles Clay, and I’ve seen him drafted lately, especially in 1.5 PPR TE leagues where owners are hoping he gets a TE designation (as of the day I wrote this, MFL still has Clay listed solely as an running back). Playing more of the H-back role, he’ll have some value in PPR leagues, and could be a value play if he gains TE eligibility.
Look But Don’t Touch (Yet)
Clyde Gates, WR MIA (4th)
Someone has to emerge at WR for the Dolphins. Although its been reported that his roster spot could be in danger, Gates showed enough promise in college that the Dolphins spent a fourth rounder on him. I’d monitor his progress through training camp. He might be worth an add if it looks like he will make the team as a 3rd or 4th receiver.
Cecil Shorts, WR JAX (4th)
Shorts looks like he’ll be stuck behind Justin Blackmon, Laurent Robinson, Mike Thomas and Lee Evans on the depth chart. But injuries and poor play can change a lot. If he gets a chance to play, I’d rather roster him on the off chance he flashes than some veteran who’s likely to rot away on my bench.
Jeremy Kerley, WR NYJ (5th)
Kerley ended up with 29 catches on 47 targets for 314 yards and a TD last year, and also chipped in 5 carries for 28 yards. He should be the Jets WR3 behind Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill. While that doesn’t sound that appealing, keep in mind that Sparano does like to utilize athletic players in unconventional manners, and Holmes is a headcase and Hill is a rookie. I’ve actually grabbed Kerley in a few leagues. I liked what I saw from him in the Jets completely discombobulated offense last year.
Dwayne Harris, WR DAL (6th)
Harris is a burner and had a good preseason for the Cowboys last year, but ended up getting cut and then brought back. With Danny Coale breaking his foot, the opportunity for Harris is there. Reports out of OTAs are that UDFA Andre Holmes is the one who is currently impressing, but this is a job worth watching. The Cowboys WR3 has been a productive fantasy spot, and if Harris (or Holmes for that matter) looks like he is going to lock up the spot, be ready to pounce.
Follow Jarrett on Twitter – @EyeoftheGator