During the 2013 NFL training camps and preseason, several players have stepped up and become contributors to their teams, players who are not known yet on the national stage. These players are not projected to have big seasons by the fantasy football experts in their preseason rankings, and they will not likely be drafted in your fantasy football drafts, but they have been generating buzz this preseason and could become fantasy football’s hottest free agents once week one of the NFL Season is in the books. Let’s take a look at some players who won’t likely be selected in your fantasy drafts, but who will be fantasy football relevant during the 2013 season.
NOTE: These are players who are not being drafted in the vast majority of leagues, so those of you who had an owner draft one of these players in your league, this is a rare case. In most leagues these players have gone undrafted.
Stephen Williams – Wide Receiver, Seattle Seahawks – One of the most impressive stories of the preseason, Stephen Williams is an athletic, big target (6’5 210lbs) who has burst onto the scene in Seattle. In three preseason games, Williams has caught 6 passes for a ridiculous 186 yards (31.0 average) and three touchdowns, and quarterback Russell Wilson has developed confidence in him to make big plays. The depth chart at wide receiver in Seattle is thin, Percy Harvin may miss the season with a hip injury, and the health of Sidney Rice is always a question mark. The other top wide receivers on the roster are Golden Tate and Doug Baldiwn, both talented but smaller players, and Russell Wilson could really use a big target who can make plays downfield. Pete Carroll likes big, athletic players as we have seen so far during his time in Seattle and he will not be afraid to put Williams on the field. I do not expect Williams’ production to be a preseason fluke, there is a need for a player like him on the field in Seattle, as a big target for their young star quarterback.
Marlon Brown – Wide Receiver, Baltimore Ravens – The Baltimore Ravens lost several pass catchers from their Super Bowl Championship team, including wide receiver Anquan Boldin (traded to 49ers) and tight end Dennis Pitta (hip injury, out for season), and it is clear that some of the wide receivers who were projected to be on the bubble at training camp have been making an impression after the recent release of Tommy Streeter and trade of David Reed. The player that has been the most impressive, throughout Ravens camp and the preseason, has been Marlon Brown. Joe Flacco seems comfortable throwing to Marlon Brown, who had four catches for 59 yards and a touchdown from Flacco in the Ravens third preseason game, and the wide receiver is quickly climbing the depth chart for a team that needs help at the position. Brown is a big target (6’5 205lbs) who went undrafted out of Georgia after tearing his ACL in November, which left him unable to participate in the NFL combine, but he is talented and would have been selected if healthy. Expect Brown to make an impact with the Ravens this season, the team needs receivers, and they look like they may have found a gem in Brown. He has 6 catches for 90 yards and a touchdown in two games played this preseason.
Christine Michael – Running Back, Seattle Seahawks – You do not draft a player in the second round of the NFL Draft unless you expect him to have an impact right away, and while Marshawn Lynch is clearly the starting tailback in Seattle, expect rookie Christine Michael to get touches early and often for the Seahawks. Michael leads the NFL in rushing yards with 186 yards on 27 carries and a touchdown this preseason, while also taking his one reception for 25 yards, and has shown electric moves and an explosive burst with the ball in his hands. It is clear that Marshawn Lynch is the man at running back in Seattle, but it is going to be tough to keep the impressive rookie Michael off of the field for too long, at (5’10 220lbs) he seems to have already unseated Robert Turbin for the backup tailback job in Seattle.
Nick Toon and Kenny Stills – Wide Receivers, New Orleans Saints – We know that quarterback Drew Brees is going to throw the ball a lot for the New Orleans Saints this season, and Marques Colston and Lance Moore will be his most consistent targets in the passing game, but two young receivers have stepped up and shown that they can also make plays during this offseason. Nick Toon, the son of Al Toon, is in his second season out of Wisconsin and has contributed 6 receptions for 133 yards this preseason. Kenny Stills is a rookie out of Oklahoma, who fell into the Saints lap in the fifth round of the NFL draft due to character concerns, and has contributed 7 receptions for 140 yards and two touchdowns this preseason. There are already concerns about number one wide receiver Marques Colston’s health due to a lingering foot injury, and the Saints are very thin at wide receiver after Colston and Moore, so I expect Nick Toon and Kenny Stills to step up and become the next generation of excellent Saints wide receivers.
Aldrick Robinson – Wide Receiver, Washington Redskins – Star quarterback Robert Griffin III will likely be throwing the ball a lot more in 2013, as the team will limit his designed runs and scrambles, as they try to keep him healthy following a torn ACL in the 2012 playoffs. The Redskins need a receiver to step up opposite Pierre Garcon, with 34-year-old Santana Moss playing mostly in the slot this season, and it seems that Aldrick Robinson will be that guy. Robinson has not caught a lot of passes in his first two NFL seasons, but the former college track star has flashed big play ability, as three of his eleven career receptions have gone for touchdowns. This preseason, Robinson has stepped up his level of play, and he leads the Redskins with seven receptions for 112 yards. If his strong play continues, Aldrick Robinson should be making big plays for the Redskins offense this coming season.
Joseph Randle – Running Back, Dallas Cowboys – The Cowboys will start the very talented, but often injured DeMarco Murray at running back this season, but he has missed 11 games during his first two seasons in the NFL, and the odds that he stays healthy for the entire 2013 season are not good. Rookie Joseph Randle was a very productive player at Oklahoma State, and I thought that the Cowboys got lucky when he fell to them in the fifth round in the NFL Draft, because he is a back that can do it all. Randle is currently in a battle with Phillip Tanner for the Cowboys backup running back job, a job that will likely see a lot of action, but I think it is only a matter of time before Randle beats out Tanner and becomes the first back off the bench in Dallas. Randle is the second leading rusher in the NFL this preseason, gaining 168 yards and a touchdown on 45 carries. I really like the way Randle fits the Cowboys scheme, he is an excellent receiver out of the backfield and is capable of making the big play with the ball in his hands, I expect him to be a factor in Dallas this season.
Quinton Patton – Wide Receiver, San Francisco 49ers – The 49ers lost top wide receiver Michael Crabtree until at least November with a torn Achilles, and their other starter Mario Manningham will start the season on the PUP List as he recovers from a knee injury, and will be out until at least week seven. The 49ers need help at wide receiver in a big way, and I think that rookie fourth round pick Quinton Patton will be one of the players who answers the call. Patton was one of my favorite wide receivers entering the 2013 NFL Draft, I graded him as a second round pick, and was surprised when he fell into the 49ers laps in the fourth round. Patton almost led his Louisiana Tech Bulldogs to an upset win over the Johnny Football and the Texas A&M Aggies last season, when he had 21 catches for 233 yards and four touchdowns in one game. Read that back to yourself. Clearly Patton knows how to get open and how to find the end zone after a reception. After breaking a finger in training camp, Patton played in his first preseason game last night against the Minnesota Vikings, and caught four passes for 35 yards and a touchdown. This kid can play, and early in the season, he should have an impact for a 49ers offense that needs wide receiver depth.
Markus Wheaton – Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers – Star wide receiver Mike Wallace left the Pittsburgh Steelers for a lucrative free agent deal with the Miami Dolphins this offseason, leaving a huge hole on the depth chart behind starters Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. The Steelers have had a lot of luck getting wide receivers drafted in the middle rounds to produce in the past, and they are hoping that they hit on another third round pick when they selected Oregon State wide receiver Markus Wheaton. The former college track star has been one of the more productive Steelers players so far this preseason, catching seven passes for 113 yards and a touchdown, and he should receive early playing time in passing downs in Pittsburgh this season. With the depth chart thin at wide receiver for the Steelers, Wheaton should get plenty of opportunities to produce early in 2013.
Mike James – Running Back, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – A rookie sixth round draft pick out of Miami, James has impressed the Buccaneers coaching staff this preseason, enough to win the backup job behind starter Doug Martin. James has been one of the most impressive running backs this preseason, as he has gained 113 yards on 28 carries, and shown that he is capable of grinding out tough yards. Martin is a tough but smaller back, he can take a pounding, but will need to rest from time to time. James will get these carries right away, and if anything were to happen to Martin and he is forced to miss playing time, not only would the Buccaneers be in trouble but those carries would all go to Mike James. Doug Martin owners may want to think about handcuffing him with James, in case the worst possible scenario happens, and they lose their first round pick for a significant amount of time.
NOTE: I am getting a lot of feedback about “forgetting” Kenbrell Tompkins of the Patriots, but I did not forget him, he is getting drafted in almost every league now after his huge preseason.
NOTE: Ditto for Chris Givens of the Rams who is getting drafted in the twelfth round on average.