Learning how to find fantasy football sleepers could make your season

Will Minnesota's Cordarrelle Patterson be the next breakout star in fantasy football?
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The term "sleeper" brings out different emotions for fantasy football owners. Some get super excited, knowing they're about to be handed the key piece to their 2014 championship. Many get mad because they're about to find out the sleeper they knew about is now being shared with thousands of people who didn't do their research. And then there are those owners who just roll their eyes with contempt because they know the term "sleeper" is different for owners in 10-team leagues, compared to those in 14-team, 3-WR and a flex, IDP dynasty leagues.

For many of us, however, the term simply indicates a player who should be available in the late rounds (or free agency) this year, but who could develop into a player that ends up being a mid-round pick in 2015.

Rather than just list off several sleepers for you, we'll teach you how to fish for fantasy sleepers. We'll rattle off all of our sleepers later this summer, but for now, we'll show you what you should look for.

Seven ways to find 2014 fantasy sleepers

These methods should help those that draft in June, and those that just prefer to do their draft prep three months early.

1. New Teacher? New Student

There are plenty of times when a new head coach or a new offensive coordinator comes into town with an entirely new offense and a player is suddenly awakened in a fantasy football sense. Nick Foles can attest to what a new head coach can do for a player, as Chip Kelly's offense helped make Foles an above-average fantasy quarterback in 2013.

In fact, Foles' former head coach, Andy Reid, helped make Jamaal Charles the highest-scoring running back last year. Sure, Charles wasn't a sleeper last summer, but Alex Smith was, and he had his best NFL season so far. There were 12 new play-callers last season (an NFL record), and players like Philip Rivers greatly benefited.

We enter 2014 with 11 new offensive coordinators calling the shots (for the most part, since some head coaches are still heavily involved).

• Bill Lazor, Miami
• Gary Kubiak, Baltimore
• Hue Jackson, Cincinnati
• Kyle Shanahan, Cleveland
• Jason Michael, Tennessee
• Frank Reich, San Diego
• Ben McAdoo, N.Y. Giants
• Sean McVay, Washington
• Joe Lombardi, Detroit
• Norv Turner, Minnesota
• Jeff Tedford, Tampa Bay

There are also seven new NFL head coaches:

• Mike Pettine, Cleveland
• Jim Caldwell, Detroit
• Bill O'Brien, Houston
• Mike Zimmer, Minnesota
• Lovie Smith, Tampa Bay
• Ken Whisenhunt, Tennessee
• Jay Gruden, Washington

Note that Whisenhunt, who helped Rivers wake up in San Diego last season, is now the head coach in Tennessee. Does that spell a Rivers-like season for Jake Locker? Or will Locker just end up with a Kevin Kolb-like season from when Whiz was in Arizona?

2. New Address? New Player

Much like players who find new head coaches and offensive coordinators holding the keys to their offense, players who end up changing teams and playing under different systems, with different teammates, brings out their awesome-ocity. (It's a word!)

Last year, Rashad Jennings parlayed a backup career with the Jaguars into a career season with the Raiders -- and now he moves on to the Giants with a big, fat contract. Tight end Jared Cook followed former head coach Jeff Fisher from Tennessee to St. Louis, and he ended up with a career-high five touchdown catches and a stellar 13.2 yards per catch.

Some notable free agents changing addresses include:

• QB Josh McCown, Tampa Bay
• QB Michael Vick, N.Y. Jets
• QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, Houston
• RB Knowshon Moreno, Miami
• RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Oakland
• RB Ben Tate, Cleveland
• RB Rashad Jennings, N.Y. Giants
• RB Toby Gerhart, Jacksonville
• RB Andre Brown, Houston
• WR Eric Decker, N.Y. Jets
• WR DeSean Jackson, Washington
• WR Golden Tate, Detroit
• WR Steve Smith, Baltimore
• WR James Jones, Oakland
• WR Emmanuel Sanders, Denver
• WR Lance Moore, Pittsburgh
• WR Brandon LaFell, New England
• WR Kenny Britt, St. Louis
• WR Andre Roberts, Washington
• TE Owen Daniels, Baltimore
• TE Brandon Myers, Tampa Bay

3. Movin' On Up the Depth Chart

Sometimes, one player changing addresses opens up opportunities for other players to step up and become excellent fantasy players. Meanwhile, we had only seen small windows of what that player could do as the backup for a few years, so his preseason value was a little unknown.

In 2013, some players who stepped up and became fantasy players to contend with after the starter ahead of them moved on, included Emmanuel Sanders, Julian Edelman and Charles Clay. Lamar Miller had a shot at being something special once Reggie Bush moved on to Detroit -- but he stunk up the joint, so the Dolphins had to bring in Moreno.

Here are some 2013 backups looking to be 2014 starters and quality fantasy contributors:

• RB Montee Ball, Denver
• WR Terrance Williams, Dallas
• WR Kenny Stills, New Orleans
• WR Markus Wheaton, Pittsburgh
• TE Levine Toilolo, Atlanta
• TE Andrew Quarless, Green Bay (if the Packers don't re-sign Jermichael Finley)

4. Late-Season Studs Very Few Noticed

Half the teams in your league make the fantasy football playoffs, which occur between Week 14-16 in most leagues, and very few people play in Week 17. That's about a full month of games that most of your league is paying less attention to because those owners aren't in the running.

If a player blows up in those final three or four weeks, he is not getting the full fantasy appreciation that he would have if it were in the first four weeks. So those players enter 2014 with great self-confidence, their coach's confidence, and a lower perceived value by many in your league.

Here are some players who blew up late in 2013, from Weeks 14-17:

• Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego: 476 rushing yards, 64 receiving yards, 3 touchdowns
• LeGarrette Blount, RB, New England: 354 rushing yards, four touchdowns
• Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota: 15 catches, 215 receiving yards, 129 rushing yards, five touchdowns
• Jerrel Jernigan, WR, N.Y. Giants: 19 catches, 237 receiving yards, two touchdowns
• Marvin Jones, WR, Cincinnati: 19 catches, 254 receiving yards, three touchdowns
• Marcedes Lewis, TE, Jacksonville: 13 catches, 216 receiving yards, three touchdowns

5. Healthy, Happy and How High Should We Draft Him?

Several players missed most or all of last season because of an injury, and now they're coming back relatively healthy -- or at least closer to being 100 percent.

Some candidates ready to rebound from a hobbled 2013 season include:

• E.J. Manuel, QB, Buffalo (knee)
• Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee (foot)
• Arian Foster, RB, Houston (back)
• Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay (shoulder)
• David Wilson, RB, N.Y. Giants (neck)
• Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta (foot)
• Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay (leg)
• Percy Harvin, WR, Seattle (hip)
• Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia (knee)
• Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis (knee)
• Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England (knee)
• Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota (foot)
• Dwayne Allen, TE, Indianapolis (hip)
• Owen Daniels, TE, Baltimore (leg)

6. Freshman Year Disappointments

Think back to this time a couple years ago, right after the 2012 NFL Draft, when we were super excited over the fantasy prospects of some rookies who ended up falling short, for whatever reason. Then, many of us dismissed them in our 2013 fantasy drafts, and they emerged into solid fantasy starters, including players like: Alshon Jeffery, Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright and Jarrett Boykin.

Rookies who disappointed us last year:

• QB E.J. Manuel, Buffalo
• RB Montee Ball, Denver
• RB Joseph Randle, Dallas
• RB Johnathan Franklin, Green Bay
• WR DeAndre Hopkins, Houston
• WR Tavon Austin, St. Louis
• WR Robert Woods, Buffalo
• WR Aaron Dobson, New England
• WR Josh Boyce, New England
• WR Markus Wheaton, Pittsburgh
• WR Quinton Patton, San Francisco
• TE Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati

7. Backup Beasts Waiting for a Chance

How many times throughout NFL history have we seen great players emerge after an injury to the starter ahead of them? Great players might even have to sit the bench a few years until the eventual retirement of a player, like Shaun Alexander with Ricky Watters in Seattle, or Steven Jackson with Marshall Faulk in St. Louis.

Last year, we saw a few players emerge from the second tiers of the depth chart to post solid fantasy stats after the starter ahead of them went down with injury, including Keenan Allen, Jarrett Boykin, Harry Douglas, Mike James and Riley Cooper.

Some standout secondary stars for 2014 could include:

• QB Kirk Cousins, Washington
• RB Christine Michael, Seattle
• RB Knile Davis, Kansas City
• RB Bernard Pierce, Baltimore
• RB Devonta Freeman, Atlanta
• RB Carlos Hyde, San Francisco
• RB Andre Brown, Houston
• RB Tre Mason, St. Louis
• WR Andre Roberts, Washington
• WR Brandin Cooks, New Orleans
• WR Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia
• WR Cody Lattimer, Denver
• WR Stevie Johnson, San Francisco
• WR Marlon Brown, Baltimore
• WR Kenny Britt, St. Louis
• TE Ladarius Green, San Diego
• TE Joseph Fauria, Detroit

As we head deeper into the fantasy football draft season, try to consider some of these factors while you get ready to fill out your late-round 2014 fantasy sleepers list.

David Gonos is a fantasy sports veteran of over 20 years and over 100 fantasy leagues. You can also follow him @davidgonos on Twitter.

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