This originally ran in the Aug. 4, 2014 issue of Sports Illustrated.
Five breakout wideouts
Latch on: They'll catch on quick
Markus Wheaton, Pittsburgh Steelers -- With Emmanuel Sanders off to Denver, the 79th pick in the 2013 draft will be the No. 2 opposite Antonio Brown. Wheaton’s similar in stature to Sanders and should thrive in his place. He showed stat-busting potential in his last year at Oregon State: 91 catches for 1,244 yards and 11 TDs.
Jarrett Boykin, Green Bay Packers -- Undrafted in 2012, Boykin flashed some promise when injuries created opportunities last year; he caught 49 passes for 681 yards and three scores. He could flourish in a full season as the No. 3 receiving option for a healthy Aaron Rodgers.
Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints -- Fantasywise, it always makes sense to target a New Orleans target, and the team needs some new blood at receiver after losing Lance Moore in free agency. The Saints didn’t draft Cooks out of Oregon State with the No. 20 pick so that he could languish on the sideline.
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans -- Andre Johnson is unhappy, leaving a window this preseason for the second-year man out of Clemson to make the splash that many expected in 2013. Hopkins has the speed to stretch the field and, at 6' 1" and 218 pounds, enough size to be a weapon in the red zone.
Cody Latimer, Denver Broncos -- He may not get starter’s reps right away, but he’s bound to get plenty of work in Denver’s aggressive offense. A second-round pick, Latimer had 72 catches for 1,096 yards and nine scores as a junior at Indiana.
Five catch-all offenses
Pretty much anyone on these teams is worth the investment
Denver BRONCOS -- Peyton Manning set single-season TD and yardage records last year; Knowshon Moreno was among the most productive fantasy backs; and the offense scored 37.9 points per game, easily the NFL’s best. Montee Ball will replace Moreno; Emmanuel Sanders should slide in fluidly for Eric Decker. Spend heavily here.
Green Bay PACKERS -- Even with Aaron Rodgers missing seven games, Green Bay was eighth in the NFL in points scored. With arguably the best player in the NFL healthy, this O has plenty of fantasy lovin’ to spread around to the likes of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin and Eddie Lacy.
Chicago BEARS -- Chicago scored the second-most points in the league last year (27.8) and has potentially the best group of skill players with RB Matt Forte lining up alongside WRs Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. That leaves it all up to Jay Cutler -- and despite what you might think, that’s a good thing.
New Orleans SAINTS -- To death and taxes, add this: the Saints putting up crazy points. So long as Drew Brees is slinging in New Orleans, this is going to be a potent unit—even without a traditional running game. For at least one more season, fantasy owners should remain bullish on this attack.
Philadelphia EAGLES -- Year 1 of the Chip Kelly Experience was a success, with LeSean McCoy and Nick Foles (a midseason switch-up) leading Philly to 27.6 points per game. A healthy Jeremy Maclin will offset the loss of DeSean Jackson, and there’ll be valuable players beyond that top tier.
Five indispensable inside men
Favor the QBs who throw the most often near the goal line.
Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos -- He attempted 7.9% of his passes last year inside the 10-yard line, leading the league with 52 such tosses, and connected for touchdowns on 33.6% of his red zone throws.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers -- In eight games Rodgers threw 7.6% of his passes inside the 10 and was 29 for 46 with 11 touchdowns inside the 20. He’s long been one of the most efficient red zone passers, and don’t forget: He’s a threat to run it in, too.
Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys -- Romo had 36 attempts (7.3%) inside the 10. Given his propensity to throw near the goal line -- and his Stickum-handed targets, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten -- Romo is almost always a bargain.
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons -- Yes, 2013 was essentially a lost year for Ryan (7.1% inside the 10), but he’ll likely find his old form in ’14. Wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, both A-list red zone weapons, are healthy, which makes Ryan a top five fantasy quarterback.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers -- Expect Big Ben (6.7% inside the 10) to throw even more frequently near the goal line thanks to Le’Veon Bell, one of the league’s top pass-catching backs.
2014 Fantasy Football Sleepers
Knile Davis - RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Davis is about as important a handcuff as you’ll find in the league. Davis would impact fantasy standings if Jamaal Charles goes down at any point. Davis picked up 81 yards and two TDs on 27 carries when Charles was resting Week 17 last season.
Terrance West - RB, Cleveland Browns
The rookie will need to beat out veteran Ben Tate for touches, but his upside is enormous. Browns running back coach Wilbert Montgomery recently told reporters, ''He has that Ricky Watters, Walter Payton, lure-you-to-sleep-on-the-sideline move that I can accelerate or play like I’m going to accelerate and come back inside. Those are traits I haven’t seen in a while.''
Dri Archer - RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
It’s possible that the undersized third-round pick is restricted to kick return duty in his rookie year. It’s also possible that Archer emerges as a dynamic RB/WR who could score anytime he touches the ball.
Lache Seastrunk - RB, Washington Redskins
The Baylor product is behind Alfred Morris and Roy Helu on the depth chart and has developed a reputation for having awful hands. He actually dropped 10 balls and only caught nine during his two years in college. That said, Seastrunk’s running ability would make him a fantasy asset if Morris goes down with an injury.
Ka’Deem Carey - RB, Chicago Bears
Carey is an all-around running back who is capable of stepping in and producing for fantasy owners if Matt Forte gets hurt. He’s the type of rookie who would be a hot commodity if he were drafted by a team without an elite running back.
Devonta Freeman - RB, Atlanta Falcons
There is a legitimate chance that Freeman will eventually start over Steven Jackson; the rookie's average draft position will skyrocket with a dominant preseason. The former FSU back should see the field a lot if he can handle pass protection.
Christine Michael - RB, Seattle Seahawks
Michael is an instant stud if Marshawn Lynch goes down. Either way, the Seahawks have hinted at a committee approach and Lynch’s brief holdout may not have helped matters for the veteran running back. Michael has the skill set to provide RB1 numbers if he receives enough carries.
Carlos Hyde - RB, San Francisco 49ers
Anyone who saw Carlos Hyde at Ohio State knew he wouldn’t get buried in San Francisco, even with a crowded backfield. He’s arguably the most talented rookie RB and is one Frank Gore injury away from fantasy stardom.
Tre Mason - RB, St. Louis Rams
Many fantasy owners are high on Zac Stacy entering the season. But ask anyone who drafted Daryl Richardson in 2013 if Jeff Fisher is afraid to make a change at running back. The dynamic rookie Tre Mason is too talented to ride the pine forever and he’d turn into a nice fantasy option if given carries.
Chris Polk - RB, Philadelphia Eagles
Even with Darren Sproles in town, Polk would hold a ton of fantasy value if LeSean McCoy were to miss time at any point. Chip Kelly’s offense turns RBs into fantasy stars and Polk is the clear-cut backup to McCoy.
Charles Sims - RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The rookie from West Virginia is expected to be an immediate handcuff to Doug Martin for fantasy purposes. Smith should contribute in passing situations early, but could steal carries from Martin as the season progresses.
Markus Wheaton - WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Wheaton is expected to inherit a starting gig with Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders gone. The sophomore from Oregon State has big-play ability and could easily emerge as a must-start fantasy option on a weekly basis.
Marqise Lee - WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Lee is a candidate to lead the Jaguars in receptions as a rookie, but his competition isn’t exactly elite. He should be able to rack up catches and yards with Jacksonville expected to be playing from behind more often than not.
Kenny Stills - WR, New Orleans Saints
Stills has a ton of breakout potential coming off a rookie season in which he posted 641 yards on 32 catches with five TDs. He’s a big-play threat on ever possession and should easily surpass the 46 targets he received last season. He might only need 50 catches to score double-digit TDs.
Kelvin Benjamin - WR, Carolina Panthers
The 6-foot-5, 240-pound, No. 28 overall pick is a perfect red-zone target and he could help the Panthers win games immediately. For fantasy purposes, he’s merely a WR3 or a WR4 until he proves he can be more than just a TD-dependent gamble on a weekly basis.
Tavon Austin - WR, St. Louis Rams
As a rookie in 2013, Austin only caught 40 passes for 418 yards and never really found a true role. He’s admitted that the adjustment from college to the NFL took a toll on him and he continuously dropped passes early in the season. If things click in his second year, Austin has the skillset to be a star.
Justin Hunter - WR, Tennessee Titans
The second-year receiver showed signs of his high ceiling last season with a few big games down the stretch. Hunter has the tools to develop into a WR1 in his prime and should play a prominent role on young Titans’ offense.
Jordan Matthews - WR, Philadelphia Eagles
DeSean Jackson’s departure opens the door for Matthews to step up. The 2014 season could turn into a perfect storm for Matthews to succeed with Jeremy Maclin coming off a torn ACL and Riley Cooper coming off a career season.
Eric Ebron - TE, Detroit Lions
The Lions turned heads when they selected Ebron No. 10 overall in May’s Draft. It might take a season or two for the UNC product to reach his potential, but Ebron is an elite fantasy TE in the making. He’s been compared to Jimmy Graham and has the skillset to live up to his lofty expectations.
Ladarius Green - TE, San Diego Chargers
The 6-6, 237-pound Green is an obvious red-zone target and has the tools to be an impact fantasy option if he receives ample targets. Antonio Gates, the incumbent TE in San Diego, is 34 and slowed significantly down the stretch in 2013. Green caught 17 passes for 376 yards and three TDs last season, highlighted by a three-game stretch in which he caught nine balls for 206 yards and two scores.
Five bounce-back guys
Bums in 2013, ballers in '14
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Sure, he struggled before a shoulder injury in Week 7. But Tampa retooled its NFL-worst offense in the draft, which should help the Muscle Hamster get back on the productive course he set during a big rookie season. He was a top five pick in 2013 for a reason.
Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots -- That Brady was so -successful last year, with so many new weapons, is proof that he’s still got it, even at 36. His value in 2014 will hinge on the health of Rob Gronkowski, and while that’s always a risk, Brady will shoot right back into fantasy prominence if Gronk can play a dozen or so games.
Steve Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens -- The 35-year-old is clearly in the twilight of his career; he caught just four passes of 20-plus yards last year. But now he pairs with Joe Flacco, who, for all his failings as a quarterback, has always thrown a nice deep ball. This seems
like a perfect fit for both players.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, Indianapolis Colts -- >Nicks is just a few years removed from back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, and yet he had become an afterthought in New York. He should find a happy new home with Andrew Luck in Indianapolis.
C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills -- He has only topped 1,000 rushing yards or four rushing touchdowns once in his four pro seasons, yet Spiller’s talent is undeniable. He may never be an every-down back, but he doesn’t have to be if he’s getting 15+ touches per game.