Aug 24, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) signals yardage needed for a first down against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Fantasy Sleepers Going Into 2013 Season: AFC Edition

Mohamed Sanu – Cincinnati Bengals

Giovani Bernard is the obvious choice among fantasy owners given how much the Cincinnati Bengals plan to use him this season, but their real hope is to find a secondary receiver to take some heat off A.J. Green. Instead of drafting or signing somebody new, they had faith that 2012 addition Mohamed Sanu could do it. So far in preseason that faith is being rewarded. Sanu looks like a different player, more consistent and effective. Andy Dalton is sure to look his way more often as the regular season gets underway. Fantasy owners should take stock of that knowledge quickly.

Markus Wheaton – Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger likes fast receivers. Otherwise he wouldn’t have argued so passionately for the Pittsburgh Steelers to keep Mike Wallace. It didn’t happen. Fortunately, the team didn’t wait long to add a potential replacement. Rookie receiver Markus Wheaton came out of the draft not for his speed but his intricate knowledge of the receiver position. He runs strong routes and works to run after the catch. It has shown in the preseason, and with the running game in shambles already, Big Ben will likely see a lot of passing action this season. That means Wheaton will see the field. If he plays up to his potential, the points should flow nicely.

Marlon Brown – Baltimore Ravens

After losing Anquan Boldin in a trade and then Dennis Pitta to a bad hip injury, quarterback Joe Flacco has landed in a compromising position with the Baltimore Ravens. He lacks any true target outside of Torrey Smith, which makes bringing along the youngsters on the depth chart that much more important. One who has stood out from the start is Marlon Brown. He leads the team in receptions and is second in yards for the preseason. At 6’5″ he is also a big, downfield threat. The same kind Flacco loves to use with his big arm. Brown is a rookie, but his physical potential alone is enticing. With a Super Bowl MVP throwing him the football, he has a chance to breakthrough right out of the gate.

Defense – Cleveland Browns

Usually it’s offensive players taking center stage during NFL fantasy draft. Yet once in awhile there is a certain team with a defense that bears watching. That rare phenomena has fallen upon the Cleveland Browns. The additions of coordinator Ray Horton along with pass rushers Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo have made an already decent unit very interesting. Cornerback Joe Haden is a considered a rising star with shutdown potential while inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson is a veteran leader and vacuum tackler. Perhaps the most under celebrated addition is rookie corner Leon McFadden, who possesses all the skills of a pro corner according to scouts but merely lacks slightly in height. Horton should get him up to speed quickly and the Browns will benefit.

Chris Ivory – New York Jets

The saying goes that running backs should go early in drafts because they impact fantasy leagues more than anybody. So finding a great sleeper can prove crucial. Chris Ivory has become one awfully fast with the New York Jets. After drawing considerable interest early on as a first round pick, an injury ended that idea. Suddenly he is an afterthought in the midst of yet another Jets fiasco on offense. Still, that doesn’t dismiss what he can do. In his limited chances with New Orleans he has never averaged fewer than 4.7 yards per carry and two touchdowns every six games.

Robert Woods – Buffalo Bills

The E.J. Manuel injury has clouded what was once brimming optimism for the Buffalo Bills prospects in 2013. However, he should return early in the regular season and until then head coach Doug Marrone can begin crafting his new offense that should get a serious boost from a solid draft class of receivers the team scooped up. At the top of the list is USC star Robert Woods. Overshadowed somewhat for his lack of “explosion,” Woods is still very capable of becoming a go-to receiver in any offense. He has good hands, can run any route well and knows how to get open. Expect him to become a consistent threat opposite Stevie Johnson.

Michael Egnew – Miami Dolphins

The Dustin Keller injury was tragic, especially since it appeared he was becoming a favorite target for Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Now his career is in jeopardy. However, veteran fantasy owners know that whenever a starter goes down it’s important to keep a close eye on his replacement. That would be Michael Egnew. The second-year player has quietly had a fruitful preseason, averaging 13.2 yards per catch. With Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline on the outside, he figures to become a nice big target in the middle of the field provided Tannehill trusts him enough.

LeGarrette Blount – New England Patriots

Trading for a player almost always means a team thinks he can help them win. That is apparently what the New England Patriots thought when they snared LeGarrette Blount from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Already the running back has made an impression. He leads the team in rushing for the preseason in both yards (137) and touchdowns (2). With the passing game the way it is what with so many new faces, Tom Brady is sure to lean on the rushing attack a little more than usual. That means plenty of carries for Blount and hopefully some serious points for NFL fantasy owners.

Ben Tate – Houston Texans

Arian Foster was perhaps the greatest gem discovered by any team since Tom Brady in 2000. Unfortunately his success has come at a price to his body for the Houston Texans. The need to have him on the field is quickly balancing out the need to have him healthy. That is why they are expected to turn more often to backup runner Ben Tate. After a tough 2012 and with his contract expiring, the young back is anxious to prove he can play for starter level money. His preseason has reflected that so far, which is great news for a Texans team eyeing Super Bowl or bust.

Jonathan Grimes – Jacksonville Jaguars

Offensive weapons aren’t hard to find if a team knows where to look. Yet somehow it has become a challenge for the Jacksonville Jaguars. While their quarterback problems are a key reason for their offensive struggles, they have need more consistency from the ground game. That is why running back Jonathan Grimes may have their attention. His preseason has gone largely unnoticed by the media but it hasn’t lacked production. Not only has he averaged 6.1 yards per carry but also has proven adept as a receiver out of the backfield with five catches for 33 yards.

Defense – Indianapolis Colts

The fantasy interest will obviously center around Andrew Luck and the growing Indianapolis Colts offense but several owners should take stock of what head coach Chuck Pagano is doing with his retooled defense. For the first time he has several pieces in place that fit his scheme including a surprising rookie linebacker Caesar Rayford who has five sacks in three preseason games. Pagano made his name on defense and after a solid free agency and draft periods, he has players who can actually execute his playbook properly.

Michael Preston – Tennessee Titans

Everybody knows about rookie Justin Hunter, but have overlooked Michael Preston. The 6’5″ second-year receiver out of Heidelberg College has made a serious impression thus far, leading the Titans with 144 yards receiving and two touchdowns. His quiet first NFL year wasn’t wasted as he seems intent on doing more than just making the roster. If Britt continues to tailspin, it won’t be long before Preston pushes for playing time.

Julius Thomas – Denver Broncos

The one position that haunted the Denver Broncos at times last year was tight end. Nowhere did it show up more than their heartbreaking defeat againstBaltimorewhen they struggled to attack the middle of the field. That should change in a big way this year. Wes Welker is of course the focal point but the team is just as excited about third-year tight end Julius Thomas. Considered talented but raw coming out of college, he seems to have finally settled into the game and it shows in his preseason numbers. Peyton Manning has already taken a liking to him, which bodes well for the diversity of the Broncos attack once the regular season gets going.

Alex Smith – Kansas City Chiefs

He was never a fantasy stud in San Francisco but Alex Smith might warrant some attention with the Kansas City Chiefs. For one, head coach Andy Reid likes to throw the football, either to the receivers, tight ends or running backs. With talents like Dwayne Bowe, Jamaal Charles and Anthony Fasano on board the possibilities are endless. Throw in a revamped offensive line with two solid tackles and Smith is poised for a big year.

Ryan Mathews – San Diego Chargers

Replacing a guy like LaDainian Tomlinson wasn’t what Ryan Mathews asked for when the San Diego Chargers drafted him. Since then the pressure to perform may have impacted him, either in the stat column or the tension in his body. For whatever reason Mathews hasn’t seemed right. Given the latest barometer this preseason, it seems head coach Mike McCoy finally has him pointed in the right direction. Mathews is the leading rusher on the team, is healthy and entering his prime. That bodes well for his fantasy value.

Terrelle Pryor – Oakland Raiders

It seems Matt Flynn’s shot with the Oakland Raiders is fading thanks to Terrelle Pryor. The former Ohio State star has come along fast since his rookie season, and his impressive showing against the Chicago Bears blew the door open on a quarterback controversy. Worst of all Flynn is nursing a sore arm. That means Pryor gets more action, and if he continues to flash his dual-threat ability, the Raiders can’t afford not to start him. Such is life in the NFL. Fantasy owners won’t want to wait scooping Pryor up should that happen.

Tags: Alex Smith Ben Tate Chris Ivory Kansas City Chiefs NFL

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