Now that training camps have begun and preseason games are right around the corner, it’s time for my 2014 fantasy sleepers. Everyone has a different definition of a sleeper. I’ve always been a stickler when it comes to sleepers. I believe to qualify as a sleeper, a player has to be getting drafted in the Round 10 area or beyond, on average. I know some would argue Toby Gerhart may qualify as a sleeper but he’s going to get 300 carries this season. I suppose if you’re calling for 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns from Gerhart, I can live with it, but it’s hard to nab a guy being drafted in the first three rounds as a sleeper.
I also wanted to mention again to check out Advanced Sports Logic’s The Machine software . I was asked to try this product out last year and loved it, especially all the predraft and draft day features. I play in four main leagues and now use The Machine in all of them. In 15 years as a fantasy writer, this is the only software product I’ve ever used and the only product I’ve ever endorsed, so I wouldn’t be recommending it to you unless I found it beneficial myself.
So this miserable summer is almost over and football will be on our TV screens again very soon. Speaking of TV, I was recently pushing my 3-year-old son on our swing set in the backyard and he said to me, “Daddy, can we get a TV outside? That way we can watch TV inside and outside.” It made me proud to know that I’m doing such a good job as a parent. The kid already has his priorities straight.
It’s sleeper time. Now on with The Fire Sale …
Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants – I’m all in on Manning and the Giants. I see a big bounceback year from them, especially Manning.
The main reason I love Manning is that old fossil Kevin Gilbride is gone. I’ve been a critic of Gilbride for 15 years. I know some people will argue that Gilbride has won two Super Bowls, but, in my opinion, those had little to do with him. If anything, his stale offenses and ridiculous playcalling actually held the Giants back in those years. I live in Upstate New York around many Giants fans and I know they all agree with me. Also, I listen to what players say and too many of them don’t like Gilbride. I can’t get into specifics about what Drew Bledsoe said about him but let’s just say he’s not Gilbride’s biggest fan. Finally, if you want to argue he has a couple of Super Bowl rings, that’s fine. Barry Switzer won a Super Bowl ring, too. Do you want him to coach your team?
Gilbride’s offense had gotten predictable and outdated. People can talk about injuries to the Giants offensive line last year all they want, but coaches can actually make adjustments. A couple of years ago the Dallas offensive line was decimated by injuries and even that moronic coaching staff figured out they needed to have Tony Romo get the ball out quicker. Romo still went out on to have a big year, despite all the injuries. Last season Gilbride made no adjustments. Instead, he just kept picking the same old plays out of his infamous 5,000-page playbook and Manning paid the price. The best thing Buddy Ryan ever did was punch Gilbride in the chops.
Enter former Green Bay quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo. McAdoo wants to do two things on offense: play fast and have Manning get rid of the ball a lot quicker. This is music to my ears and it should be music to the ears of Giants fans as well. My friends who like the Giants always ask why the team doesn’t use more no-huddle offense because Manning is good at running it. That’s easy. Because Gilbride is such a control freak he has to call all of the plays himself.
Have you ever noticed when you watched the Giants the last few years that the playclock gets down to one second virtually every time before the ball is snapped? It’s because despite being one of the better quarterbacks at reading defenses at the line of scrimmage, Gilbride gave Manning virtually no control. Well, that’s all about to change.
McAdoo is installing a fast, quick-hitting offense that fits Manning’s strengths like a glove. Some are still worried about New York’s offensive line but that’s not going to be a factor this year because Manning will be getting the ball out so quickly. Look at the Green Bay Packers in recent years. They were able to mask injuries along their offensive line because of smart playcalling.
The Giants also have the receivers to make this new system work successfully. Victor Cruz is a stud, Odell Beckham is a talented rookie and I’m expecting big things out of Rueben Randle and Jerrel Jernigan. Keep an eye Jernigan. I know people have forgotten about him but he’s a perfect fit for this new offense and I liked what I saw from him late last year. Gilbride has a history of keeping talented young players buried on the depth chart.
As a fan, the Giants are my most hated team in the NFL. I root for them to lose every week, so it takes a lot for me to be this invested in their success. However, as an analyst, I try to be objective and I’m expecting a successful season in New York. I have always been a big believer in Manning. I see the Giants winning at least 11 games, Manning in the mix for MVP honors and being a top-tier starting fantasy quarterback this season. Let’s see how it goes.
Rueben Randle/ Jerrel Jernigan, WR, New York Giants – I’m not going to talk much about these two because I already went into the Giants offense with Manning. However, I stated when he was drafted out of LSU that I thought Randle was always a prime candidate to be a third-year breakout receiver. Randle was talented but raw route runner who played behind two good receivers in New York. This is Randle’s year and he’s a bargain with an average draft position in the Round 9 area. I would make Randle one of my top targets in this year’s fantasy draft given where he’s going compared to the numbers I’m projecting for him. Randle is my Alshon Jeffery of 2014.
Jernigan is my deep sleeper this season. I like Beckham but don’t see him being in the same category as Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans in terms of making a major instant impact. Beckham will make plays as a rookie but I expect more out of him in the future. In addition, Beckham has been slowed by a hamstring injury early in training camp. Jernigan is going to get on the field and be much more of a factor than people think this season. I predict he’ll catch 60-plus balls. Even if you don’t draft Jernigan, remember him as a waiver wire pickup during the year.