It’s the time of year when fantasy enthusiasts obsess over draft order and which players will be available when the time comes to make that fateful first-round draft pick. Beast Mode or Shady? Megatron or A-Rod? Miller or Bud?
As important as your initial pick can be, it pales in comparison to the handful of selections you’ll make — or miss — several rounds later. After all, as happy as you may be to land Doug Martin or Alfred Morris this year, they won’t be the bargain they were to the savvy players that stole them late in last season’s draft and rode them to the postseason.
Fantasy veterans know the secret to great drafting is not simply choosing the best players available, but doing so no earlier than necessary. You may share my belief that T.Y. Hilton is on the verge of a breakout season; but you’re hurting yourself — and, worse yet, begging for ridicule from your opponents — if you pull the trigger too early.
Who are this year’s hidden gems? Let’s take a look at my Sleeper Picks of 2013 — several players poised to out-perform their current ADP (average draft position).
•Matt Schaub, QB, Texans:
In my book, there’s no better fantasy backup than Schaub, who’s seemingly always good for 4,000-plus yards and more than 20 TDs in a healthy season. This year, another play-making weapon (see below) has been added to his arsenal opposite Andre Johnson, promising even more upside.
•Daryl Richardson, RB, Rams:
The race is on to succeed Steven Jackson in St. Louis, and Richardson has the inside track. The second-year back has breakaway speed, a strong burst and good hands. He’ll almost certainly open the season as the starter. If he holds onto the job, he’ll blow away his current ADP.
•Chris Ivory, RB, Jets:
I’m not predicting stardom for the Jets’ new acquisition, but there’s no doubt the former Saint will be given every chance to excel in New York. His primary concern is durability; if he stays healthy, he will significantly out-perform his mid-round ADP.
•T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts:
Andrew Luck is the real deal. Reggie Wayne is getting up there. Hilton came into the league with his quarterback and showed all the signs of being poised for a breakout sophomore campaign. Don’t miss out on this high flier.
•Vincent Brown, WR, Chargers:
Danario Alexander is lost for the season and Malcom Floyd (knee) is out until Week 1 at best. Brown has locked down a starting job and will be given every opportunity to soar. Philip Rivers desperately needs a reliable target, and a healthy Brown fits the bill.
•DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans:
Make no mistake: Houston believes its first-round prize is the explosive weapon they’ve lacked for years opposite Andre Johnson. He should be fully recovered from his mild concussion by Week 1. Give Hopkins a couple more weeks to get his bearings and he’ll be ready to slot in as your WR3.
•Jordan Cameron, TE, Browns:
It’s hard to like anything associated with Cleveland’s passing game, but Cameron could be the exception. He’s had an excellent preseason and is clearly in sync with his quarterback. The over-sized, yet deceptively fast receiver should blossom in Norv Turner’s offense. Scoop him up late and enjoy the upside.
•Zach Sudfeld, TE, Patriots: He’s been turning heads in New England all preseason. With Rob Gronkowski in jeopardy of missing Week 1, Sudfeld is expected to step in right away. If he continues to impress, he could fill Aaron Hernandez’s role in the Patriots’ offense. That alone makes Sudfeld well worth a flier.