Fantasy football roundtable: Which surprise player will swing leagues?
First-round fantasy talents get the most attention on draft day, but there's a reason holding one of the first picks doesn't always lead to league success. Every year, several players post surprising numbers after being overlooked or under-hyped in the offseason and turn into some of the draft's most valuable picks in the process. The most recent example: After middling numbers and injury issues in his first four years with the Broncos, Knowshon Moreno flourished in Denver's record-setting offense in 2013, finishing among the top point-getters at running back and frustrating fantasy owners who passed on him multiple times in the first half of their drafts.
Who will fill the Moreno mold this season and potentially swing leagues with their fantasy star turns? SI fantasy experts Alex Hampl, Bette Marston, Ben Eagle, Michael Beller, David Gonos and Eric Single make the case for players who could force their way into the fantasy spotlight and swing your league. (All average draft position rankings from FantasyPros.com.)
Alex Hampl: Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver Broncos. (ADP: 69th overall) If you drafted Sanders a couple weeks ago, before his ADP crept up into the earlier rounds, count yourself lucky. He’s going to be a top-10 wide receiver, and if you got him in the seventh or eighth round, that’s a season-changing steal. Even if Denver’s offense is a little worse than last year, volume alone will make Sanders a star, but he has enough talent to produce even if the Broncos don't replicate their video-game numbers from 2013. In his last preseason game, Sanders caught five balls for 128 yards and two scores in one half. And though his yards per catch dipped a bit last year, in 2012 he posted a 14.2 average, almost identical to Eric Decker’s 14.8 mark last year.
Bette Marston: Pierre Thomas, RB, New Orleans Saints. (ADP: 90th overall) The Saints have a crowded backfield, but owners who scoop up veteran Thomas will not be disappointed. Last year, he led his position with 77 receptions, making him an absolute beast in PPR leagues. And with Darren Sproles now in Philadelphia, there’s a chance that Thomas could see some of those targets in the New Orleans offense (on that same note, don’t sleep on Brandin Cooks, who may also see some of Sproles' workload). Despite the fact that he's listed as third on the Saints' depth chart, Thomas could get to 1,000 total yards this season, making him a steal at his current ADP.
Ben Eagle: Jordan Cameron, TE, Cleveland Browns. (ADP: 58th overall) Someone has to catch passes in Cleveland, right? Cameron is an unbelievable athlete, who should act as the focal point of the Browns offense whether it's Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel throwing him passes. He has the ability to be a week-winner -- even in Cleveland -- and he'll finish the season as the No. 2 TE behind Jimmy Graham.
Michael Beller: Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears. (ADP: 91st overall) If you waited on a quarterback, you were likely able to load up on the best running backs and wide receivers. If you did that and landed Cutler, there’s a good chance you’re the favorite to win your league’s championship. From the weapons (Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte), to the line, to the coach, everything is in place for Cutler to post a monster season. He has top-five quarterback potential that he will realize this season. Cutler will lead the Bears back to the playoffs this year, and he’ll also lead his owners to fantasy greatness.
David Gonos: Bishop Sankey, RB, Tennessee Titans. (ADP: 68th overall) My guess is it will be a running back, once again, that ends up being the out-of-the-blue superstar this season. A player like Sankey has the talent, the offensive line and the head coach to feature him once the rookie figures it out. Eddie Lacy, Montee Ball, Gio Bernard and Le'Veon Bell all found themselves as near-certain first- or second-round picks this season after breakout rookie years, and Sankey has that kind of potential. Shonn Greene will get early looks in the first couple games, but Ken Whisenhunt will feature Sankey sooner than later in this offense.
Eric Single: Chris Johnson, RB, New York Jets. (ADP: 62nd overall) Johnson is only a couple years removed from top-tier fantasy status, but he seemed doomed to under-deliver in his final seasons with the Titans. His offseason release was brought on by his contract more than his slight dip in production, and someone who has put up 1,000 yards every season of his career is no small fantasy luxury as the second or third option at a position loaded with uncertainty in the middle rounds. For risk-averse owners, the Jets’ dedication to the run should insure Johnson’s numbers against the continued emergence of Chris Ivory. For owners banking on catching fire in the playoffs, the Jets’ Week 15 trip to Tennessee is a textbook revenge opportunity for CJ2K.