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Fantasy Football 2011: Second-year breakout players

08.24.11 at 6:52 am ET

This is one of our favorite groups to target on draft day. The Year 2 players often make great sleepers for psychological reasons. This is usually because they failed to break out as rookies. Some came close, like Jacoby Ford, but there are still questions surrounding these players. So, while many created excitement going into their rookie campaigns, they now reside among the large group of players who ‘€œhaven’€™t gotten it done.’€

This creates some nice opportunities for value.

Brandon LaFell, WR, Panthers

We like LaFell a lot as far as his ability goes. He hasn’€™t jumped off the screen as a pro, but he has flashed the skills we saw in college enough to make us think he will be hooking up with Cam Newton regularly at some point. Of course, for LaFell, after wading through the rookie waters in 2010, he will now have to deal with his QB doing the same thing. We like him as a deep sleeper, but his success will ultimately be tied to Newton, whom we think gets better game by game.

Eric Decker, WR, Broncos

We told you about him last year in our rookie report, and our opinion has not changed. What has changed is his situation. Decker now has a chance to cement himself as a staple of John Fox‘€™ new offense. Fox loves having a big receiver to block in his power running attack, and Decker fits the bill nicely. This will keep him on the field and we like him as a player between the 20s … but also in the red zone. Decker makes for a very nice deep sleeper in large redraft leagues. Few people are talking about him.

Arrelious Benn, WR, Bucs

He’€™s a far more popular player than LaFell or Decker, but since he is coming off a nasty injury, we’€™re a bit surprised. Still, he is very talented and he was forging a nice relationship with QB Josh Freeman before he went down. Benn should be a starter very soon and he could easily have WR3 value at some point in 2011. He’€™s a nice way to add depth in the later rounds.

C.J. Spiller, RB, Bills

The Bills are trying to give him a chance to take the job, but it’€™s been a bumpy ride for Spiller so far. We’€™re not writing him off. C.J. has too much speed and ability to be ignored in fantasy drafts. The problem the Bills have is that Fred Jackson has cleanly outperformed him. It’€™s always dicey for a team’€™s chemistry when they promote the unworthy. For fantasy GMs, Spiller could present some nice redraft value if he can be had as your 4th or 5th running back. Don’€™t reach for him, but don’€™t be afraid to nab him if he slips a bit.

Jacoby Ford, WR, Raiders

Ford is a player — pure and simple. He’€™s lightning fast, but what really caught our eyes is his tenacity and willingness to fight for the football. This kid has heart and rare ability and he is a great guy to target as a fourth or fifth receiver. If he starts (which we are still unsure of, amazingly) he is worth taking as your third or fourth receiver. We like him that much.

Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers

Does he really belong here? Yes. Mathews may go too early, but be prepared for him to fall as folks buy into Mike Tolbert. Don’€™t get us wrong, we’€™ve been on Tolbert all along, but Mathews still has half of the job and it’€™s still the San Diego offense. If Mathews plays well, they will find ways to use him. It’€™s actually the same story with this guy. It’€™s about health. He showed us his upside last year, but he didn’€™t show it enough and he killed the folks who drafted him. He’€™s now one of the RB3s you can draft who has legit real-deal upside. If you can get him as your third or fourth back, you should do it.

Jimmy Graham, TE, Saints

We pimped Graham large in 2010 and we are back for more. His potential in the Saints offense is sky high, and you can still get him as the seventh or eighth TE taken. That’€™s solid value. He’€™s the one Saints player, aside from maybe Marques Colston, who has a chance to stay on the field. Brees was looking for him a lot toward the end of 2010 and we expect that to continue.

Sam Bradford, QB, Rams

Bradford was a game-ready rookie, but his team lacked the weapons to make him more than a backup. St. Louis has made some modest improvements and we expect a better year from Bradford statistically speaking. He’€™s moved up about 10 spots in the ranking since the end of 2010. He represents good value in the second half of drafts.

Ben Tate, RB, Texans

Arian Foster‘€™s amazing 2010 has made folks forget about Tate. It’€™s understandable, but the former Auburn standout is healthy now and he’€™s flashing his old explosiveness. If the second-year back gets an opportunity, we expect great things. And, if you roster Foster, we strongly recommend a subsequent investment in Ben Tate. It could save your bacon down the line.

Jermaine Gresham, TE, Bengals

He needs some help from his rookie quarterback, but he showed promise in 2010. He’€™s just another example of the crazy depth at the TE position. We expect Gresham to get stronger as the year wears on.

Riley Cooper, WR, Eagles

Cooper is one of our favorites though he is buried on the Eagles’€™ depth chart. If Jeremy Maclin is slow to recover, Cooper will be a great add and he makes a very nice deep flier in big leagues, especially if you take an early gamble on Maclin.  Cooper has the skill set of a plus starter on the NFL level. It’€™s just a matter of time.

We’re now releasing fresh content everyday at We’ll be posting our updated rankings and cheat sheets later today!

Read More: 2011 Fantasy Football, Arrelious Benn, Brandon LaFell, Eric Decker



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