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Fantasy football 2014 draft preview: Mining late rounds for AFC sleepers

Fantasy football 2014 draft preview: Mining late rounds for AFC sleepers Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

“You can’t win your draft with your early picks, but you can definitely lose it.” While that’s true, safe early picks combined with excellent late picks can help you win your draft.

We’ve already discussed some possible AFC busts for the 2014 season, along with AFC breakouts -- players I consider to be good middle round picks this season who could end up being early round picks next season.

FANTASY FOOTBALL BREAKOUTS: AFC | NFC
FANTASY FOOTBALL BUSTS: AFC | NFC

Fantasy sleepers, in my book, are late-round players (or players who go undrafted altogether; the Average Draft Position below is after Round 10) who will outplay their draft position and become middle-round picks for next season.

Some examples of great sleepers in the past few seasons include: Knowshon Moreno (2013), Alfred Morris (2012), Zac Stacy (2013), Julian Edelman (2013), Michael Floyd (2013), Randall Cobb (2012) and Cecil Shorts (2012).

Jonathan Grimes, RB, Houston

With Andre Brown cut loose, Grimes is set to back up Arian Foster, who is coming off back surgery. Rookie Alfred Blue sits behind Grimes, and while he might be intriguing, Grimes is a more traditional sized tailback with the ability to work in the passing game, as well.

You likely won’t see Grimes listed in a lot of the offseason running back rankings because of his late ascent up the depth chart. He has played in five NFL games on two different teams, and he proved he was capable in Week 17 last season, when he rushed 16 times for 50 yards and a touchdown, along with six catches for 76 yards. Foster’s gimpy back (and his history of bumps and bruises) makes Grimes a good late sleeper.

Fantasy Draft Primer: Three late-round sleepers

Sports Illustrated's lead fantasy writer Michael Beller unveils three middle to late round sleeper picks that could help you win your fantasy football league this year.

Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Indianapolis

While there’s not usually a lot of optimism surrounding a player coming back from a neck injury, Bradshaw is a great example of a low-risk/high-reward sleeper.

Trent Richardson is expected to open the year as the RB1 in Indy, but considering his underwhelming performance last season, it’s easy to see the Colts making a move quickly if the former Alabama star stumbles again. Bradshaw is still just 28 years old, and he’s adept in both the run and passing game.

Markus Wheaton, WR, Pittsburgh

The second wide receiver spot in Pittsburgh has been quite productive in Fantasy Football leagues over the past few seasons. In ‘11, Antonio Brown scored 126 fantasy points behind Mike Wallace, and Brown also scored 109 in 2012. Once Brown became the No. 1 wideout in the Steel City, Emmanuel Sanders scored 111 points on the other side.

Wheaton looks like the No. 2 in Pittsburgh for 2014, after a finger injury stamped out his rookie season. He has great speed, much like the departed Sanders, and he’ll enter this year with two training camps under his belt.

The Steelers lost Jerricho Cotchery, but they get back a healthy tight end in Heath Miller (knee). Rookie Martavis Bryant could push Wheaton at some point, but Wheaton has had the better summer.

Marqise Lee, WR, Jacksonville

Hearing a rookie wide receiver in Jacksonville might be a sleeper won’t excite many people. But if you’re in fantasy leagues with deep rosters, or limited keepers, Lee certainly deserves consideration.

After his 2012 season at USC, Lee was considered a lock to be a top-15 draft pick, but quarterback Matt Barkley entered the draft and Lee stumbled to a disappointing junior year. As a result, Lee fell to the Jags in Round 2 at No. 39 overall.

The Jaguars are going to move him around a lot, and considering this team will likely be behind in most games, they’ll be passing a lot. Expect Jacksonville to turn the page on absurdly disappointing Justin Blackmon, and make Lee their top target in 2014. Cecil Shorts has a long injury history, including concussions, and Ace Sanders was suspended for four games because he violated the league’s substance abuse policy.

FANTASY POSITION PRIMERS:
QB | RB | WR | TE | K | DST

Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati

Eifert was the top rookie tight end entering last season, but he was drafted to a team that already had and underutilized Jermaine Gresham. That’s still the case this year, but as a sophomore tight end, Eifert stands a much better chance of breaking out than he did in his rookie year (when tight ends rarely do any fantasy damage). With a new offensive coordinator in town, there could be some changes in how much each tight end is used in the passing game. It’s a run-oriented offense, but they’ll preach ball control, which is good for a tight end.

Eifert will likely still share targets, but with the Bengals expected to let Gresham walk next offseason, Eifert should see more action in 2014.

Honorable Mention

LeGarrette Blount, RB, Pittsburgh: Had your draft taken place back in June, Blount would have been valued too high, but his value dropped in the last few weeks given an unclear role behind Le’Veon Bell. That makes his late-round value great, since it now it sounds like he’ll receive most of the goal-line carries for the Steelers.

Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee: The Titans will target the second-year player in the end zone, and there’s no doubt, the 6-foot-4 receiver can win some jump balls for touchdowns. Expect to see more Kendall Wright between the 20s, with Hunter in the paint.

Danny Amendola, WR, New England: While Edelman is Tom Brady’s favorite target underneath, and Aaron Dobson might have the best physical gifts in New England, it’s Amendola who could turn out to be a late-round treasure … if he can stay healthy.

Rod Streater, WR, Oakland: The Raiders quarterback situation is better than it was last season, but it’s by no means an average unit. Both Streater and James Jones could provide value late, and Streater offers youth and speed.

Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City: With Dwayne Bowe serving an early suspension and Alex Smith suddenly finding out he has no one to throw to, the athletic Kelce has the ability to become a high-target tight end in 2014. He’s coming off of a knee injury from his rookie season in 2013. The lesson here: Use your sleeper picks on young players with upside more than veterans with steady, albeit subpar, production.

Fantasy Draft Primer: Three players to avoid

Sports Illustrated's lead fantasy writer Michael Beller unveils three players to stay away from this year.

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