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Value-based Studs and Sleepers: Finding the Gems


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Generally speaking, no one wins their fantasy league in the first few rounds. Barring some bad luck due to injury ( Andre Johnson, Jamaal Charles), you’re still choosing among a pretty reliable group of guys. Arguments can be made for choosing one guy over another, but at the end of the day you’ll still have a solid player. As you get deeper into the draft, that’s when the true fun begins. Nothing feels better than pulling a big fish out of late-round waters. Seeing value where others don’t is where championships are won, and that brings us to our first value-based stud:

Darren Sproles: Sproles helped a lot of people win their leagues last year, and he was consistently drafted in and around the 11th round in most 12-team drafts. You’re not going to be getting him there this year, but it still seems that people aren’t completely sold on his ability to repeat his 2011 numbers. I think they’re wrong. With their defense in disarray and their head coach on the shelf, the New Orleans Saints are going to be in a lot of shootouts this year. Offensively, they will stick with what’s been working for them: throwing the ball. Sproles led all running back in targets (111), and his 86 catches would have put him fifth among receivers. If he was your WR1 you’d be pleased. Throw in his carries on top and you should be very pleased. However, if Drew Brees doesn’t get signed that changes everything.

Frank Gore: I understand the risks with Gore. He’s susceptible to injury, he’s getting older, and the San Francisco 49ers added enough running backs to fill out the cast of a Broadway show. That being said, I think people are overreacting and letting him slip past where they should. He’ll still get his touches, and, with the improved receiving core, he’ll have more room to run due to less loaded boxes. Consequently, he should be more productive on the touches that he does get. If he slips to the fourth round and you can get him as an RB2, I think he’s worth the risk.

Peyton Hillis: Worst case scenario for Hillis is that he’s in a pretty equal split running back by committee with Jamaal Charles. In 2010, Charles’ best season, Thomas Jones had 245 carries to 230 carries for Charles. In Hillis’ big 2010 season, he had 270 carries for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns. If he gets close to the carries that Jones got, he could very well get close to his 2010 numbers, especially with Kansas City’s solid offensive line leading the way. And if Charles hasn’t fully recovered from his ACL injury, Hillis could really go off. Right now Hillis is going around the mid-seventh round on average. For a guy who was going in the second or early third round last year, I’d say he’s a very good value.

Ronnie Hillman/Doug Martin: Trent Richardson is going first/second round right now, and, due to his talent combined with the volume of work that he will receive, I think he’s worth it. However, rookie running backs are traditionally a risky proposition. And while I really like Doug Martin, taking him in the third/early fourth round is too early in my opinion. If he’s your RB2, he might be worth the gamble, but I’d rather get him as an RB3. LeGarrette Blount will still get a fair amount of work and much of it will be at the goal line. It could play out like Ahmad Bradshaw/Brandon Jacobs for the New York Giants the last few years, but it’s still a lot to ask if you want Martin to step right in and put up big numbers for you. Hillman, on the other hand, can potentially offer very similar value but can be had much later in your draft. Hillman has talent, good hands and runs tough. With an aging Willis McGahee really the only thing in the way of Hillman seeing large amounts of carries, he could be well worth the risk in the 10th round.

Eric Decker : Most people are looking to Demaryius Thomas as the big breakout receiver for the Denver Broncos this year, and, as such, he’s getting drafted in the fourth round on average. Thomas very well might have a great year as he has all the physical tools you look for in a big play receiver. However, for my money Eric Decker is the better value. Decker got on the field early with Peyton Manning and started building a rapport. He runs smart, crisp routes, has good size, good hands and good intelligence. I think he might end up the Broncos’ No. 1 receiver, but even if he doesn’t it’ll be close. And you can grab him a few rounds later than Thomas in the sixth round.

Doug Baldwin: It’s always fun to take a late-round flier on a rookie wide receiver. It’s the potential that lures you in. The sense of the unknown. But you know on game shows where they say, “Do you want this top end blender or do you want what’s in the mystery box?” Well, more often than not, whatever’s in the box sucks. So it often is with rookie receivers. There are some intriguing ones this year though, with Brian Quick being my favorite (someone will take Justin Blackmon too high), but sometimes it’s better to go for the blender with upside. Doug Baldwin could be that blender. He quietly had 51 catches for 788 yards and four touchdowns last year. And that was with Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst throwing him the ball. With Matt Flynn potentially upgrading the quarterback position, Baldwin could get close to 1,000 yards and tack a few more touchdowns on to his total. Baldwin is going in the 14th round right now.

Joe McKnight: If McKnight was serious about putting on 20 pounds of weight by primarily eating McDonald’s, disregard this recommendation. But, if not, he could be a nice sleeper in the final rounds. If he gets LaDainian Tomlinson’s workload, he has the open field speed and explosiveness to make some noise. And after seeing the success that Tony Sparano had with Reggie Bush last year, McKnight might be in the right system to take advantage of his talents.

Jake Locker: This is the guy I really have my eye on. He’s going undrafted in a lot of leagues or at least very late. And he could be the real breakout at quarterback next year. Everyone is excited about Robert Griffin III, and rightfully so. He has mobility, a good arm, good smarts, good leadership skills. He’s the whole package. But so is Locker. And he has better weapons around him. In limited action last year, he went 34-of-66 for 542 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and he rushed for 56 yards and a touchdown. A small sample size, but impressive nonetheless. His average draft position might rise in August if he wins the job outright, but he could still be had late. If Griffin III slips to you as a QB2 in the mid-rounds, take him. But if you miss on him, wait for Locker late. If he starts on the bench, then stash him until he replaces Matt Hasselbeck. And if you do draft Griffin III, keep an eye on Locker. If it looks like he’ll get the reins, trade Griffin III for good value and grab Locker off waivers.

Until next time …