July 11, 2013

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Early 2013 NFL AFC Fantasy Sleepers

By: Matt Bowen

Football fever is in full force and now is the time to scout for your 2013 NFL fantasy team. Looking forward to having bragging rights around the office? Everyone knows that the Tom Bradys and Peyton Mannings of the fantasy world will put up gaudy numbers, but it’s the sleepers that will make you a champion.

The new NFL season brings excitement for all 32 NFL teams as they descend on their quest for greatness. Regardless of where a given team actually stands amongst the NFL power rankings, diehard fans believe this is the year for NFL superiority.

For that reason alone, here’s one sleeper from each AFC team that could turn the team’s fortunes forever.

Andre Johnson isn't the only Texans WR you want on your fantasy team.

AFC East:

Buffalo Bills: It’s hard not to make rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel this pick, but he won’t start Week 1 and may not start at all in 2013.

The Bills stocked up on wide receivers in the latest draft and rookie Robert Woods is their best fantasy sleeper this season. His steady hands will have him start the season as the No. 2 receiver behind Stevie Johnson. Woods is NFL-ready right now and the Bills will depend on him this season.

Miami Dolphins: Things are suddenly looking up in Miami. They have a ton of positive momentum heading into 2013 and rookie tight end Dion Sims will shine this season.

The Dolphins have an upstart offense led by quarterback Ryan Tannehill, a star receiver in Mike Wallace, and a possession receiver in Brian Hartline. Sims is said to be a block-first, catch-second type of tight end, but don’t be fooled by this analysis. Thanks to his massive size, Sims should see plenty of snaps in the red zone, which means he’ll be targeted in the play-action game.

New England Patriots: There’s an obvious choice for the New England Patriots this year—Shane Vereen is the key to the Pats offensive success this season.

He’s going to get the ball out of a variety of formations. As of now, fantasy fans may be skeptical about Vereen’s role, but by the time Week 1 kicks off, he’ll be all the fantasy rage.

The best part about Vereen; he may get RB/WR status, making him that much more valuable in the fantasy realm.

New York Jets: Want to be daring? Take quarterback Geno Smith with one of your last picks of your fantasy draft.

While quarterback Mark Sanchez will start Week 1 for the Jets, he may have the shortest leash of any NFL player this season. Smith will see playing time in 2013, just how much is to-be-determined. It may take some time for Smith to adjust to the NFL game, but anything is possible with the ball in his hands.

AFC North:

Baltimore Ravens: The defending Super Bowl Champions want to repeat and tight end Ed Dickson will become a utilized asset this season. His teammate, Dennis Pitta is highly touted right now due to his exceptional athleticism, but don’t forget about Dickson. The Ravens will often be targeting both tight ends this season and Dickson will be a nice addition to your squad.

Cincinnati Bengals: This one is easy–Mohamed Sanu is a no-brainer when it comes to the Cincinnati Bengals. Sanu took off in the middle of the 2012 season before a broken foot sidelined him for the rest of the season.

Given his health, Sanu is a ball magnet that will benefit from receiver A.J. Green stretching the field and slot-man Andrew Hawkins’ speed underneath. Sanu will be the team’s possession receiver in 2013.

Cleveland Browns: Davone Bess is a newcomer to the Cleveland Browns, but he’ll quickly become a fan favorite for his new team. The former Miami Dolphin is great at keeping a drive alive. His 130 catches on third down since 2008 is second behind Roddy White’s 146.

The Browns need Bess and was a great pickup in the offseason. He’ll quickly be the difference maker in Cleveland.

Pittsburgh Steelers: It’s not normal for a starting running back to be a fantasy sleeper, but Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Le’Veon Bell is just that.

The Steelers are known for their smash-mouthed style of pigskin and Bell fits the bill, but due to his rookie status, some may steer clear of him.

Don’t be afraid, Bell will carry the ball with regularity. Some Steelers fans may worry that the team is in a transitional period, but Bell will undoubtedly restore the faith.

AFC South:

Houston Texans: The Houston Texans need someone, anyone to compliment wide receiver Andre Johnson. That man will be DeAndre Hopkins this year.

The rookie receiver from Clemson has extra-large hands and is ahead of his peers when it comes to route running. It shouldn’t take long for Hopkins to make his presence known.

Indianapolis Colts: Remember Darrius Heyward-Bey, the former No. 7 overall pick by the Oakland Raiders in 2009? He’s now a member of the Indianapolis Colts. This is a win-win situation for both player and franchise. The Colts got him for a mere $3 million and Heyward-Bey no longer as much pressure on him.

At this time it’s as if he has been forgotten about, but don’t make that mistake. Heyward-Bey’s blazing speed will be put to use by quarterback Andrew Luck.

Jacksonville Jaguars: It’s not normal that a No. 1 receiver on a team’s depth chart is a fantasy sleeper, but it’s true in this case.

Cecil Shorts of the Jacksonville Jaguars is that man. Shorts nearly eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in 2012 should topple that number this season. Although undersized, he’s vastly underrated at his position. There may be questions surrounding the Jaguars passing game, but don’t pass on Shorts.

Tennessee Titans: Picking up Tennessee Titans running back Shonn Greene is a safe bet. Greene will be used goal-line situations, which means that he’ll treat fantasy owners with touchdowns.

Sure, starting Greene may only pay off if and when he reach pay dirt, but with risk comes reward. He should be around in the last couple of rounds. Don’t be afraid to roll the dice. Greene scoring double-digit touchdowns in 2013 is not far-fetched.

Denver Broncos: With all the attention going to the passing game in Denver, running back Ronnie Hillman is an interesting sleeper this season. Right now, rookie Montee Ball is slated to be the go-to-guy, but Hillman isn’t a bad selection.

The Broncos have always depended on multiple backs and Ball is good, but he’s a rookie that saw a plethora of carries in his time at the University of Wisconsin. The Broncos aren’t worried about Ball’s past workload, but the NFL packs a punch.

Hillman has put on muscle in the offseason and will make the most of his touches.

Kansas City Chiefs: The Kansas City Chiefs have new life after a disastrous 2012 campaign. Rookie tight end Travis Kelce will be a big part of the turn-around for the franchise this season.

Kelce has tremendous athletic ability, but has to put the work in to succeed in the NFL. He may not be a star from Week 1, but give him some time and he’ll pay dividends.

Oakland Raiders: Wide receiver Rod Streater will soon be the man in Oakland. The second-year receiver will be the No. 2 receiver and tasted success in his rookie season.

He had 39 receptions for 584 yards in 2012 and those numbers will rise this season. As the season nears pay attention to the relationship with between Streater and new Raiders quarterback Matt Flynn. Streater is a guy fans love to root for—he’ll show everyone why this season.

San Diego Chargers: His name is Vincent Brown—don’t forget it. Brown was set to break out last season before a broken ankle in the preseason derailed his season.

Now ready to hit the ground running, Brown will break out this season. He’ll put a smile on Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers‘ face throughout the season.

When he’s around in the later rounds, don’t think twice.

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