Dang it, Kenbrell Thompkins!
Why, oh why, did Thompkins have to show the goods so early in training camp? If he'd simply waited, he might've been a candidate for my annual "Super-Deep Sleeper" list. Alas, the undrafted rookie took New England Patriots camp by storm and now looks like a starting pass-catcher in Tom Brady's offense. That means he and fellow undrafted rookie Zach Sudfeld -- possibly the Pats' starting Week 1 tight end -- will be drafted in all fantasy leagues. And that means they're not eligible for this list.
Folks, this list is deep. In fact, outside of deeper dynasty leagues, it's doubtful any of the names I'm about to mention should be drafted. Instead, in redraft or shallow keeper leagues, these are names to file away. I think they're all talented, and all reside in situations with at least a bit of potential. Perhaps it'll take an injury to activate them. Maybe they're ready to assert themselves over a weak starter. But when a few of these names finally get bandied about by the mainstream public once the regular season begins, you'll remember them and be ready to pounce.
Some undoubtedly will amount to nothing. I mean, I'm listing third- and fourth-stringers here. In some cases, I might be listing practice squad candidates. But if history is a guide, some of these dudes will turn into players, this year or in the near future. Here's the list of all the men I've picked for this column. Many were duds, but some worked out swimmingly:
2008: Anthony Alridge, David Clowney, Will Franklin, Roy Hall, Tim Hightower, Jason Hill, Jalen Parmele, Antonio Pittman, Marcus Thomas, Mike Sims-Walker
2009: Andre Caldwell, Austin Collie, James Davis, Jermichael Finley, Arian Foster, Mike Goodson, Rashad Jennings, Marko Mitchell, Bernard Scott, D.J. Ware
2010: Andre Brown, Deon Butler, Kareem Huggins, Chris Ivory, Jeremiah Johnson, Steve Johnson, Legedu Naanee, Isaac Redman, Brian Robiskie, Keiland Williams
2011: Dezmon Briscoe, Delone Carter, Eric Decker, Jamie Harper, Kendall Hunter, Denarius Moore, Jordan Norwood, Julius Thomas, Johnny White, Damian Williams
2012: Bryce Brown, Jordan Cameron, Kellen Davis, Chris Givens, Alex Green, Lestar Jean, Jeremy Kerley, Mohamed Sanu, Michael Smith, Rod Streater
Let's get to this year's edition of the Super-Deep Sleeper list:
Kenjon Barner, RB, Carolina Panthers: Barner played the LaMichael James role in Chip Kelly's University of Oregon offense last year and scored 23 total TDs with 2,023 yards from scrimmage. At 5-foot-9 and 196 pounds with 4.4 speed, Barner faces the same question that's likely to plague James with the San Francisco 49ers: He's a great athlete, but can he be an every-down back in the NFL? After all, over the past decade, the only running back of a comparable size to Barner and James who posted a 1,000-yard rushing season is Warrick Dunn. Add the crowded Panthers backfield, where DeAngelo Williams will start and a rehabbing Jonathan Stewart is in the wings, and you understand Barner's apparent rookie limitations. Nevertheless, you couldn't watch Barner last season and not be excited by his wheels. He could play on third downs right away (especially if Stewart can't go), and could post a few highlight-reel long runs that get his career off to a strong start.
Michael Cox, RB, New York Giants: An unheralded kid from UMass goes to the Giants. How can it not work, eh, Victor Cruz fans? Listen, Cox still has time to get himself cut from New York's roster. He's a rookie compensatory seventh-rounder on a squad with two clear starters, David Wilson and Andre Brown. Plus Cox's collegiate numbers frankly stunk; he transferred from Michigan and played at UMass only in his senior year, averaging 3.6 yards per carry. But realize that UMass was severely overmatched in its first season in FBS. Cox was a terrific schoolboy runner in Massachusetts and runs a 4.5 40 at 220 pounds. I put Andre Brown on this list three years ago, and I see a lot of Brown in Cox. Even if Da'Rel Scott beats out Cox, I think the kid has an NFL future.
Patrick Edwards, WR, Detroit Lions: Edwards was a weapon for Case Keenum at the University of Houston, but went undrafted in '12 and spent last season on the Lions' practice squad. It's understandable: Edwards goes 5-9 and 172 pounds. At that size, it's obvious he'll only ever be a slot wideout in the NFL. But Edwards is a scary little dude in the open field: He's got great quicks, and a good amount of long speed, too. This former collegiate walk-on is used to playing the underdog role, and there's no question when you line him up alongside players such as rookie Corey Fuller and second-year man Kris Durham that he doesn't fill the uniform quite the same way. Plus, Ryan Broyles (one of my 2013 Flag Players) is already a great bet to produce out of the slot if he stays healthy. But Broyles is coming off a torn ACL, his second in two years. If he falters, I think Edwards will benefit. Matthew Stafford needs weapons that are legitimately dangerous, something that no longer can be said about Nate Burleson. Edwards might fill that bill; he reminds me a bit of T.Y. Hilton.
Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals: Figuring out where Ellington falls on the "smaller" RB scale is a challenge. Is his upside David Wilson, i.e., an electric change-of-direction player with a big back's penchant for contact? Could he be fellow Clemson alum C.J. Spiller, i.e., a straight-line burner who'll dance a little too much but also make huge plays? I would say no to both of those; he's not the freaky athlete Wilson is, and he's just not a sprinter. A better comparison might be Kendall Hunter, a favorite of mine a few years ago out of Oklahoma State who was coming into his own before a torn Achilles sidelined him last season. I see some of the same instinct and leg drive out of Ellington, although he definitely could be more decisive in his cuts and drift less. Anyway, I was shocked when Ellington lasted into the sixth round of April's draft, and he landed in a good spot for a young RB. I was ready to proclaim Ryan Williams a favorite sleeper this season, but he has been shelved already because of knee troubles and could be cut. Starter Rashard Mendenhall is a plodder who could use a dynamic complement, and that could be Ellington. Fellow rookie Stepfan Taylor is also on hand, but I prefer Ellington's dash to Taylor's ho-hum Mendenhall impersonation.
Jonas Gray, RB, Miami Dolphins: Gray tore his right ACL late in his senior year at Notre Dame and went undrafted in '12, essentially taking a redshirt rookie year with the Dolphins. A thick 223 pounds at 5-9, Gray is a scheme fit for Miami: He's a one-cut power back running behind the Fins' zone-blocking scheme. No doubt Lamar Miller is the starter in '13, and the team has talked up Daniel Thomas as the backup and short-yardage specialist. Plus, Mike Gillislee -- whom I like and think also has a viable pro career ahead of him -- is on this depth chart. But Gillislee is probably too big a name for the Super-Deep Sleeper list, as he probably could be drafted in 12-team redraft leagues. Gray shouldn't be drafted at all in any format except deep dynasty, but he's worth monitoring. Although Miller has claimed quite a lot of hype because of his speed, there isn't a proven commodity in this entire backfield.
Jermaine Kearse, WR, Seattle Seahawks: After Percy Harvin's hip surgery, the Seahawks' WR corps looks much the same as '12, with Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin starting. But Rice is already dealing with a sore knee and doesn't exactly have a clean health history. Kearse has started two exhibition games in Rice's place and produced a TD catch in each, indicating that this undrafted kid who spent last year on Seattle's special teams is improving. (He also returned a kickoff for a TD on Saturday night.) At 6-2 and 205 pounds, he has outside-receiver size, and he boasts 4.43 jets, too. I'm not so callow as to believe Kearse will jump ahead of any of the three veteran starters on this depth chart. But if any head coach is willing to reward on-field improvement and let it translate to increased playing time, it's Pete Carroll.
Quinton Patton, WR, San Francisco 49ers: For a Super Bowl contender, the state of this WR corps is ugly. Anquan Boldin looked like a glorified tight end last regular season (before his insane playoff run), and Michael Crabtree is out, leaving so-so options such as Kyle Williams, Jon Baldwin, Marlon Moore and Ricardo Lockette fighting for legit playing time. I like the Austin Collie signing as a high-upside, low-risk gambit for the Niners, but relying on him to be healthy all season might be folly. Patton is a rookie fourth-rounder who fractured a finger early in training camp and only recently was cleared for contact. He has yet to play in a preseason game, so it's probably wishful thinking to believe he will be in the Week 1 game plan. I really liked Patton's Louisiana Tech game tape, though. His college routes stand out for being pro-worthy, and his hands are consistent. He's not huge (6 feet, 204 pounds) or a burner, but he has enough size and speed to make it on the outside. There's a chance this WR corps will go looking for help early in '13, and Patton could wind up being an internal answer.
Aldrick Robinson, WR, Washington Redskins: Let's imagine everything goes perfectly for Robert Griffin III. He's able to play Week 1 and play effectively, including scaring the pants off defenses with his legs. The last piece for RG III and the Shanahans is to truly open up the offense. I know many folks have the idea that Griffin was a terrific deep thrower last year, but the truth is he didn't toss it deep often at all. He was 26th in the NFL in attempts that traveled 30-plus yards in the air (18 in 15 games), and 27th in attempts that traveled 20-plus yards. Of course I'm not saying he can't go deep; his arm is spectacular. But he didn't go deep in '12. Pierre Garcon is a burner, for sure, but how confident are you he'll stay healthy? Robinson has even more flat-out speed than Garcon (although Garcon is a thicker WR better suited to all-around play). A third-year player out of SMU, Robinson scored three TDs for the Skins in '12. Sure, a mess of guys are on this depth chart, including similar-sized Santana Moss. But lumbering Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan don't impress me much. Robinson, at least, can be a game-breaker.
Khiry Robinson, RB, New Orleans Saints: I'll go ahead and admit right now I'm not overly familiar with West Texas A&M, the school where this rookie played. His sizzle reel looks good, but so does everyone's, and Robinson is taking a more massive step up than most, going from Division II to the NFL. Not only that but the Saints are still frustratingly stocked at RB, with Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles. But Chris Ivory is gone to the New York Jets and Robinson evokes Ivory, in size and in power. In mop-up duty through two exhibition games, Robinson has jumped off the screen (albeit against scrubs) in a way similar to how Ivory did back in '10. There's not much breakaway threat in Robinson, but, at 6 feet and 220 pounds, he looks like a punishing player to tackle. As was the case with Ivory the past three seasons, it would take an injury to the players ahead of him for Robinson to be anything close to fantasy relevant. But the fact that some Saints followers have him jumping ahead of Travaris Cadet on the depth chart (remember Cadet's preseason hype last year?) is interesting. I don't rule out the possibility that Robinson will hit the practice squad, but at this point, I actually think he'll make the team.
Cierre Wood, RB, Houston Texans: A touted high school prospect who came to Notre Dame amid fanfare, Wood had a collegiate career that underwhelmed. He was significantly more productive as a junior than as a senior, as Theo Riddick asserted himself in the backfield last year after Wood was suspended for two games. (Riddick almost made this Super-Deep Sleeper list himself; he was a sixth-rounder taken by the Lions.) In Houston, Wood has a chance to win the third-string job behind Arian Foster and Ben Tate; he's battling fellow undrafted rookies Dennis Johnson and Ray Graham. Wood has the NFL-readiest frame of that trio, although he didn't always run like a power back in college. At 213 pounds, he sometimes danced too much for coach Brian Kelly's liking, something the zone-blocking Texans won't abide. But I do like Wood's raw talent. His acceleration is uncommon for a guy his size, and his vision is solid. You can legitimately imagine him being a serviceable No. 1 back someday, and, on a depth chart with a couple of fairly injury-prone veterans, who knows? Maybe Wood will get involved in '13. Of course, he has to make the team first, and, in addition to his fellow rookies, veteran Deji Karim could be a threat.