Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami Dolphins: He was so much better than I thought he would be as a rookie. That bodes extremely well for this season, where he finally has a true No. 1 wide receiver in Mike Wallace to help him produce. Brandon Gibson is a very good No. 2, and Dustin Keller is a huge upgrade at tight end. Throw in Lamar Miller taking over in the backfield and the Dolphins offense has become quite potent. Tannehill's completion percentage will go up, his touchdowns should at least double and he's more mobile than you think - running for over 200 yards and two touchdowns last year.
Stepfan Taylor, RB, Arizona Cardinals: Even though he may get the first shot out of the gate, I'm not a big Rashard Mendenhall fan. He's very pedestrian-like and eventually he'll lose his starting job to a more dynamic player, and that's Taylor. He looked great early in training camp, but took a bit of a step back as he got used to NFL competition early in the preseason. So Mendenhall will get his crack at it, but don't expect it to last. Taylor's true value won't be apparent for you until October in all likelihood, when he catches up to the pro game and Arizona is looking for a spark from their running game. You can take him as your last RB and wait a few weeks until he blossoms.
Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis Rams: Every year Bradford teases us by showing the potential he's had since the Rams drafted him No. 1 overall. But the issue isn't his talent, it's the talent around him. Bradford's not one of those quarterbacks who makes everyone better, but he's one who can be very good if his weapons are above average. Finally, they are. Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead will be both powerful and fast out of the backfield, as will the wideouts led by Tavon Austin. St. Louis will spray the football all over the field in an effort to be an explosive offense, and Bradford's numbers will go way up for 2013. I'd take him as my backup and be happy with the problem of two very good fantasy quarterbacks.
Latavius Murray, RB, Oakland Raiders: If there's one thing we know in fantasy, it's that Darren McFadden is fragile. The last two seasons, Michael Bush and Marcel Reece were the guys who became fantasy saviors as they put up big numbers in McFadden's absence. Murray was a sixth-round draft pick out of Central Florida who's really impressed Raiders coaches so far. He has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield which is an added bonus to his potential. He won't have a lot of value early in the season, but could be a huge boon if and when McFadden gets hurt.
Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers: While the Chargers receiving corps is deep (Malcom Floyd, Vincent Brown), it's not overly talented. Floyd was average and Brown is coming off a serious injury. Allen should be able to start right away in San Diego and be a big beneficiary of Philip Rivers' resurgence under Mike McCoy. He may have been a first-rounder were it not for a PCL injury that cost him the final three games at Cal last season. He has all the goods you want in a playmaking wide receiver and you'll be able to get him late.
Joseph Randle, RB, Dallas Cowboys: All I needed to hear was Jerry Jones talk about a potential time-share with DeMarco Murray and I was all-in on Randle for this list. Murray has two problems: he can't stay healthy and he doesn't score touchdowns. Randle will solve both of those issues. He's got the size to run inside and be the guy Dallas counts on inside the 20, where they've struggled recently. I like opportunity in a deep sleeper, and Randle will have loads of it for 2013.
Brandon LaFell, WR, Carolina Panthers: He showed glimpses last season of becoming a solid option for Cam Newton, and this is his year to show he's ready for the next step. Down the stretch of 2012 we got a glimpse of that despite LaFell being banged up by a myriad of injuries. It was good to see that explosion in the critical third pro season, where most players either take a huge leap or hit their peak. Head coach Ron Rivera has glowing praise for LaFell, and with Steve Smith turning 34 on his next birthday, Lafell's time is now.
|Matt Flynn is expected to start for the Oakland Raiders, but Terrelle Pryor is waiting in the wings. (Denis Poroy/Associated Press)|
Bilal Powell, RB, New York Jets: Yes, everyone loves Chris Ivory. I do too. However while he spent time recovering from his hamstring injury in camp, Powell has played his way into a huge slice of playing time for 2013. Last season he was used to spell Shonn Greene, and Powell played well. And while he'll still get his own series' to give Ivory a breather, he'll also find his way onto he field on third downs as so far this preseason he's shown a knack for producing in the passing game. Powell may be a decent bye week replacement or last-minute flex option, however if Ivory struggles at all either staying on the field or producing, Powell's value will be much greater.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans: The Texans search for a No. 2 wide receiver may finally be over. There's no way he's not the starting wide receiver opposite Andre Johnson this season. A big burst during the final few weeks of 2012 saved Johnson from a bigger fall on fantasy draft boards, as the first nine weeks of the season he was about as valuable as Larry Fitzgerald (translation: not valuable). Hopkins is pretty polished and will hit the ground running in 2013. With Houston's ability to score points in bunches, Hopkins could wind up being very valuable. This is one of those rare situations where talent meets opportunity.
Ryan Broyles, WR, Detroit Lions: The fact that Detroit didn't bring in another wide receiver in free agency or draft one until the sixth round tells you what they think of their current stable outside of Calvin Johnson - which is led by Broyles and Nate Burleson. Burleson is pretty pedestrian, but Broyles has major upside. He had a huge game on Thanksgiving against Houston but then suffered a knee injury the following week, putting him out for the remainder of 2012. His rehab is ahead of schedule and as long as that goes well, he'll surprise a lot of people in the NFL. You can grab Broyles as the final wide receiver on your bench and potentially get a very good flex player out of him.
Jason Smith writes fantasy and other pith for nfl.com. He hosts NFL Fantasy Live during the regular season on the NFL Network, and you can download the weekly NFL Fantasy Live podcast with him alongside Michael Fabiano and Elliot Harrison. Talk to him on twitter @howaboutafresca. He only asks you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.