2013 Sleeper Targets

This year, with an extremely deep crop of receivers and quarterbacks, I will be stockpiling running back talent early and often. Thus my focus on mid-to-late round sleeper targets will be primarily on high-upside receivers. My plan in all drafts this year is to grab an elite level quarterback early—Drew Brees in the second round, Peyton Manning in the third and Matt Ryan in the fifth or sixth are awesome values—and otherwise stash running back talent like no one else. Sure, it would be great to have a Dez Bryant, Julio Jones or Larry Fitzgerald as a No. 1 wideout, but I’m willing to wait and hope to hit on several of the following, just as I did in my NFFC draft when I waited until the fifth round to snag Torrey Smith as my top WR and later grabbed the top two off this list.

1. Golden Tate, WR (SEA)

You. Tube. Him. Watch Tate tear defenses to shreds when he won the Biletnikoff Award as a junior at Notre Dame in 2009 and then check out his 2012 highlights where you’ll see the same tackle-slipping, acrobatic-catching playmaker that could be poised to explode with Percy Harvin out of commission. Though it’s true that a run-first offense and a defense that will keep Seattle from having to play from behind often will limit Tate’s upside, the talent is evident. In a contract year, working with the highly mobile and accurate Russell Wilson, Tate will emerge as one of the league’s best after the catch. The yards and scores will follow.

2. Michael Floyd, WR (AZ)

Floyd’s value changed dramatically with the additions of Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer this offseason. The 2012 first-round draft pick is an ideal fit in an Arians scheme that will emphasize downfield passing with a quarterback in Palmer that is willing to let it rip and give the 6-3, 225-pound, Floyd chances to make plays over smaller defensive backs, just like Floyd did in a 166-yard effort against the Niners in the final week of his rookie year. And of course it doesn't hurt that having Fitzgerald opposite means single coverage all day for the former Golden Domer.

3. Ryan Broyles, WR (DET)

A second ACL tear is probably the only thing pushing Broyles down draft boards and into sleeper territory. If he could have finished the final five games of his rookie year we’d be talking about the clear No. 2 receiver in the league’s highest volume passing attack feasting off all the single coverage that Calvin Johnson’s presence provides. For those brave enough to take a leap of faith and trust the reports that he’ll be ready for Week 1 action, they could find themselves with a PPR terror that serves as Matthew Stafford’s top security blanket when Megatron is painted with defenders.

4. Chris Givens, WR (STL)

Tavon Austin is getting more of the hype but Givens is the real No. 1 in the Rams revamped passing game. With deep speed that is matched by few in the league, he has all the makings of a young Mike Wallace. He’s reportedly spent his offseason polishing his route tree so that he doesn’t become a one-trick pony, and if Sam Bradford continues making strides after a nice third-year campaign, Givens could be one of the cheapest 1,000-yard receivers in drafts this summer.

5. Vincent Brown, WR (SD)
Few ever mention that the play Brown badly broke his ankle on in the 2012 preseason was a beautiful 18-yard touchdown grab in which he blew by a corner’s jam and snatched the pass cleanly just as the safety coming over whiffed on an attempted knockout. Of course, it’s easy to forget the play when the injury wiped away his entire season. Entering 2013 though he’s in prime position to re-emerge as one of the top playmakers for the Chargers, especially now that his main competition has cleared due to the unfortunate ACL injury suffered by Danario Alexander and the knee sprain that is going to hinder Malcom Floyd.

6. Jordan Cameron, TE (CLE)

Count me among those buying into the hype after Cameron’s two-touchdown half in the second game of the preseason. Norv Turner offenses have always used their tight ends well and the case in point is Antonio Gates in San Diego, where the former college power forward posted at least seven scores in each season under Turner. Cameron also brings that basketball player dexterity and athleticism to the Browns after a brief collegiate career on the court. In a limited receiving corps, the 6-5, 245-pound tight end could become a best friend of Brandon Weeden’s and the team’s go-to red zone target.

7. Mark Ingram, RB (NO)

Over the final nine games of 2012 Ingram averaged 4.6 YPC and punched in four scores, finally displaying the physical, tackle-breaking style that made him a first-round draft pick in 2011. Though he remains in a committee that will see Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas involved, the Saints offense could badly use Ingram's bruising running style to balance the offense. He may no longer be a sexy pick by any means, but his deflated price tag makes Ingram well worth the chance that he takes a substantial leap forward in an elite offense and shoulders the load on first and second down for New Orleans.

8. Stepfan Taylor, RB (AZ)

The first skill player drafted in the Bruce Arians era in Arizona should easily enter 2013 as the top backup to Rashard Mendenhall, as the snake-bitten Ryan Williams just can’t stay healthy. Possibly the most pro-ready pass-blocker among all rookie tailbacks, the leading rusher in Stanford history is a true three-down player with the thick base and good vision to succeed between the tackles and the hands to make noise out of the backfield. An improved Cardinals line will make the run game finally click, and despite the brutal divisional schedule, Taylor has the tools to put up a lot of yards if Mendenhall’s health fails him again.

9. Sam Bradford, QB (STL)

Though the division is loaded with defensive talent, the Rams finally have the speedy weapons for Bradford to spread it around and watch them makes plays en route to his first 4,000-yard season. With a defense that also has the goods to keep other offenses off the field, Bradford’s opportunities will rise and the numbers will be there for the former No. 1 overall pick who posted an extremely quiet 3,700 yards last year with lesser playmakers.

10. Robert Woods, WR (BUF)
Woods is a technically sound receiver that is mature beyond his years. Sure, Steve Johnson is the team’s clear No. 1 in the passing game, but he’s dealt with a myriad of injuries over the past year and change, including a hamstring issue that’s limited him in the preseason. When Johnson is healthy he’ll regularly draw the top defensive back, leaving Woods, a highly skilled route runner with terrific hands to torment the lesser corners he’ll face. While much hinges on E.J. Manuel’s health and ability to handle NFL defensive schemes, it’s hard not to like Woods’ upside in the Bills’ new up-tempo system—one in which I would not be surprised to see him lead the team in receiving.


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