Fantasy owners are always looking for value when it comes to their draft picks. Finding a star in the later rounds of the draft can be great to give your lineup a boost or become a trade chip to land an elite player. Meanwhile, if you can dodge a highly-ranked player in the preseason who fails to live up to expectations, you're in good shape and don't have to panic about filling holes in the lineup.
It's with this in mind that we bring out our sleeper and bust picks for the 2013 fantasy football season.
For the purposes of this exercise, our sleepers are players not likely to be drafted as a starting option in most fantasy leagues, according to our consensus preseason rankings, but could be a solid contributor or even become a superstar this season. Conversely, our busts are players likely drafted as starting options, according to our consensus preseason rankings, but who will fail to live up to expectations. Great care was taken to avoid players appearing on both the sleepers and busts lists.
Our analysts (Matthew Berry, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Shawn Cwalinski, Ken Daube, Christopher Harris, KC Joyner, Eric Karabell, Keith Lipscomb, AJ Mass, Jim McCormick, James Quintong and Field Yates) were asked to provide one sleeper candidate and one bust candidate each at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end. Then, they each provided brief analysis on one sleeper and one bust pick.
Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals: Palmer posted 16 or more points in eight games last year. That per-game scoring pace is roughly the productivity level one seeks in a starting fantasy quarterback, and Palmer tallied those numbers on an Oakland Raiders offense that had across-the-board personnel issues in the passing game. He now joins an offense with a vertically inclined playcaller in Bruce Arians and a top-flight caliber wideout in Larry Fitzgerald. The schedule will preclude Palmer from being a QB1, but he will provide a strong spot-start/QB2 option for what will likely be an incredibly low draft-day price. (KC Joyner)
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins: Expectations for Tannehill won't be too high this season, but adding the young quarterback as your No. 2 or bye-week fill-in is a decent risk. Tannehill should cut down on his turnovers with a year of seasoning and added maturity under his belt, while the addition of Mike Wallace will give him a more permanent downfield passing option. (Dave Hunter)
Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers: The loss of his best wideout in Michael Crabtree, along with an already thin depth chart at that position, could make Kaepernick's first full season as the starter a bit more trying than his sensational first run through the league. I could still see some strong numbers emerge when you add up the ground production and dangerous playmaking ability, but given how amazingly deep quarterback is, I find it difficult to endorse Kaepernick as a top-eight option when guys like Andrew Luck, Tony Romo and Russell Wilson have more fertile statistical situations with similar -- or quite lower -- price tags. (Jim McCormick)
Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos: I'm not saying that Manning is a bad pick, but his value in fantasy is his relentless year-over-year consistency, not his ability to win you ballgames on his own. The problem, however, is that he's going to cost you the price of the latter; and in a year like this, rich in quarterback depth, that is not a smart buy. Manning is 37 years old and he had two sub-15-point fantasy games in his final four last year. It's fair to wonder if the age curve has sapped him of any future upside. (Tristan H. Cockcroft)
Justin Forsett, Jacksonville Jaguars: Remember when he once entered the season ranked near the top 20 among running backs? He's not there now, but he did average 5.9 yards a carry as a backup for the Houston Texans last year, and he's familiar with the zone-blocking scheme the Jaguars are looking to employ. With Maurice Jones-Drew still recovering from a foot injury, Forsett could be in line for chances and actually thrive, at least in short bursts. (James Quintong)
Joseph Randle, Dallas Cowboys: A highly productive collegiate career, soft hands and a nose for the end zone are just a few of the positives you'll find on Randle's scouting report. The most promising element for Randle's rookie season in Dallas, however, has less to do with his skill set and everything to do with the fragile back ahead of him on the depth chart, DeMarco Murray. Given Murray's issues staying on the field, the potential for Randle to earn a handful of starts in 2013, if not more, is pretty high here. (McCormick)
Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams: There are qualities of Stacy's skill set that are easy to like, but it's the potential workload that makes him particularly intriguing from a fantasy standpoint. Isaiah Pead, the player many project to start for the Rams, will sit out the season opener due to a suspension. Stacy should have a chance to fight for a chunk of the carries left over from Steven Jackson's departure to free agency and could even win the starting job over Pead and Daryl Richardson. (Field Yates)
Danny Woodhead, San Diego Chargers: Did you know that Woodhead had more fantasy points and more yards per carry than Ryan Mathews last season? Woodhead also had 194 more receiving yards on one more reception, too. Woodhead did all that with a top-10 fantasy back starting ahead of him; Mathews is not a top-10 fantasy RB. Woodhead might not be worth starting at RB every week, but he is at least a solid flex consideration. (Shawn Cwalinski)
Montee Ball, Denver Broncos: The ESPN.com NFL draft profile for Ball includes the following comments about his blocking ability: swings and misses a bit too often … doesn't anchor well … an average cut blocker. Ball must overcome those negatives to be the clear starter for the Broncos, who won't put Peyton Manning's health in the hands of a rookie running back who is lacking in pass protection. (Ken Daube)
Rashard Mendenhall, Arizona Cardinals: I think the relative success Mendenhall had with the Pittsburgh Steelers was mainly a byproduct of a system that naturally led to rushing touchdowns. Mendenhall is going to find a different game plan and a different offensive line in Arizona. Plus, Ryan Williams is ready to emerge, and if he can't, the Cardinals selected a pair of rookies in the draft. I think this team will throw a ton, but Mendenhall is bound to disappoint. (Eric Karabell)
C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills: Doug Marrone certainly is talking up Spiller as Buffalo's lead back. In an offense that won't shy away from the ground game, there's every reason to be excited about a guy who was pigeon-holed into being used only as a "role player" in the past. That said, I think the hype needle has gone too far in the other direction, and Marrone is just as likely to use Fred Jackson for quarters at a time. (AJ Mass)
David Wilson, New York Giants: Talent didn't limit Wilson to 75 carries as a rookie in 2012; reliability issues and veterans ahead of him on the depth chart did. And while he's the leading candidate to start for the Giants this season, we all know that Tom Coughlin has little tolerance for missed assignments as a pass blocker and fumbles. If Wilson has issues with either early (which he did last year), it wouldn't come as a surprise to see his role decrease. Andre Brown will also likely get the bulk of the goal-line carries, as he did last season. (Yates)
Vincent Brown, San Diego Chargers: I kept waiting for Brown to get healthy last season and it didn't happen, but he's been lining up with the first team on occasion this summer, a nod to his tremendous upside and clear health. Brown showed glimpses of his exceptional ability in 2011 and the broken ankle cost him 2012. Don't forget his name later in drafts, for there's room for a new No. 1 target to emerge. (Karabell)
Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears: Part of this is that I'm simply not a believer that Brandon Marshall can eat such a large slice of the Bears' receiving pie as he did last year; at 41 percent, Marshall's targets-per-route ratio last year was the highest of any receiver's in the past four seasons. The rest is that Jeffery is more than talented enough to be a viable No. 2 NFL wideout, having averaged 15.3 yards per catch in limited time in 2012. I think he could realize borderline WR2/3 potential, if he can just stay healthy. (Cockcroft)
Robert Woods, Buffalo Bills: His ceiling wasn't as high as Cordarrelle Patterson's, but Woods was perhaps the second-best (and most NFL-ready) wideout in this year's draft class (trailing Tavon Austin). As it relates to his rookie-season role, Woods is primed to assume the No. 2 receiver job in Buffalo, a spot that has produced fantasy-relevant wideouts in recent seasons. Yes, the Bills will turn to a run-heavier offense under new coach Doug Marrone, but optimism surrounds their young core, including Woods. (Yates)
Danario Alexander, San Diego Chargers: If I could get some kind of guarantee that Alexander would stay healthy, I wouldn't be so afraid of him. But he's had five knee surgeries, and we should remember that in his shocking 2012 campaign, he didn't have to play the full season. (He joined the Chargers in Week 9.) I don't deny his superb upside, but I can't draft him to be a fantasy starter. (Harris)
Danny Amendola, New England Patriots: Yes, he's inheriting the Wes Welker role in the offense, but he's no Wes Welker. He'll definitely catch his share of balls, but his seven career TDs in four years and the fact that he's missed 20 of 32 games the past two years don't inspire confidence as a No. 2 WR. (Keith Lipscomb)
Percy Harvin, Seattle Seahawks: What do you want from a No. 1 WR? Do you want someone explosive, someone who will rack up yards, someone you can count on playing every week? What if I tried to sell you on a wide receiver entering his fifth season, who has yet to top 1,000 yards in a season and 11.8 yards per catch for his career? Would you mind if he played in only nine games last year? If that is what you are looking for from your No. 1 WR, then go ahead and draft Percy Harvin, I am not taking him in the top 30, though. (Cwalinski)
Mike Wallace, Miami Dolphins: Because of the big contract and Ryan Tannehill's solid completion numbers on deep balls (37 percent, eighth-best among QBs with at least 35 attempts of 21 yards or greater), I know there are some people that are expecting big things in Florida this year. I'm not one of them. He's too inconsistent for me. He had seven different games last year with five fantasy points or fewer, including four games with zero or one point. Going from Big Ben to Tannehill is a downgrade, and when your yardage goes from 1,257 to 1,193 to just 836, you're heading in the wrong direction. Not a top-20 WR. (Matthew Berry)
Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns: Cameron has all of 26 catches in two NFL seasons, so he's far from a sure thing, but the pieces add up. He's big and athletic, and his new play callers are Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner, who've spent their NFL lives turning their tight ends into fantasy stars. Relying on Brandon Weeden may be a sucker bet, but in a deeper league, I like the idea of drafting Cameron late. (Harris)
Fred Davis, Washington Redskins: Don't listen to anyone who says Davis and RGIII didn't have chemistry last year. Through the first six weeks of the 2012 season, Davis averaged 52 receiving yards per game. Since Tony Gonzalez averaged just 60 receiving yards per game for the entire season, did he have lousy chemistry with Matt Ryan, too? Of course not. The chemistry misconception is due to the abnormality of Davis not having any touchdowns. That's not going to repeat; take advantage of the undervaluing of Davis on draft day. (Daube)
Rob Housler, Arizona Cardinals: I've just always liked him from a skill standpoint. He's 6-foot-5, athletic and moves fast for a big guy. His problem, of course, is that he's never had a quarterback. Now he does in Carson Palmer, who last year targeted Brandon Myers 105 times, the fourth-most targets of a tight end. If you decide to wait on tight end, a flyer at the end of your draft on Housler could pay big dividends. (Berry)
Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs: I loved Kelce at the University of Cincinnati. He's got the size and tenacity to take any reception and turn it into a huge payday. We all know Andy Reid's offense doesn't shy away from getting the tight end involved (Brent Celek, anyone?). Plus, Kelce is athletic enough to line up at wide receiver from time to time, as well as jump in as a Wildcat option under center should the mood strike. (Mass)
Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens: His No. 7 ranking in tight end fantasy points last year has some considering him as a starting-caliber tight end this year, but too much of his value is unlikely to be repeated. He scored 24 of his 103 fantasy points in one game (Week 15 against Denver) and two blown defensive coverages accounted for 13 of his fantasy points in other games. Take those two scoring bursts out of Pitta's 2012 season and he ends up with only 66 points, which is an unacceptable level for a starting tight end. The odds are just as good that he finishes up at this low end of the point-scoring spectrum, so look for a more consistent option at this position. (Joyner)
Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings: The talent is definitely there, but the consistency is not. While the nine touchdowns last year were nice, he also had three games with no receptions and seven games with 2 points or fewer. With Greg Jennings around to catch more passes and Adrian Peterson doing his thing at the goal line, can Rudolph continue to be a red-zone/TD factor, especially with the quarterback situation still less than optimal? (Quintong)
Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys: Is it a coincidence that Witten's TD production has gone down each season since 2010, while wide receiver Dez Bryant's has gone up? With increased looks toward Bryant and fewer red-zone targets for Witten, expect much of the same: good yardage totals with limited TDs. Use the draft slot where Witten would normally go on another RB or WR, and wait for a better value a few rounds later. (Hunter)