If you haven't been following along to our esteemed "Around the League" colleagues' list of players who will make the leap in 2014, shame on you. The list concluded recently, and is chock full of players with loads of fantasy potential. Building off of ATL's stellar work, I'm going to take the same list and shed some light on whether or not these players will make the fantasy leap in 2014. Except for Josh McCown. Sorry, but 35-year-old, surprisingly athletic quarterbacks aren't allowed on this version of the list. Maybe he'll be included once he turns 40, and becomes a man. Maybe.
Christine Michael, RB, Seattle Seahawks
Michael has undeniable talent, that much is clear. He's a powerful runner with great speed and some shifty moves. However, his biggest roadblock to fantasy success is a little guy named Marshawn Lynch, a.k.a. Beast Mode. The ATL crew have Michael pegged for around 100 carries in 2014, which seems fair. However, unless he manages to vulture a number of touchdowns, he won't be a real fantasy commodity barring Lynch suffers an injury or is sidelined for some extended rest. He should be rostered, especially as a handcuff, but Michael is likely a year away from being a true fantasy difference maker.
Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee Titans
Adam Rank has already been trumpeting Hunter as a sleeper since the middle of the summer. I'm in line to believe the hype. Kendall Wright mostly stretches the field from sideline to sideline, and hasn't had a ton of luck finding the end zone thus far. Hunter is an exceptional athlete, and could become Jake Locker's No. 1 target both down the field and in the red zone. His 43.9 catch percentage is cause for concern, but that could be in due in part to his struggles adjusting to the pro game. With another full offseason of work and confidence, those mental errors could be replaced with spectacular plays -- and fantasy production. Hunter is a great target as a late-round, high-upside WR4 or WR5.
Markus Wheaton, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Speaking of high upside, I've been a fan of Wheaton all offseason and I'm not alone in that thinking. Wheaton is a speedster and sharp route runner who flashed loads of potential in the 2013 preaseson. Unfortunately a hand injury cost him four games and required surgery. Heading into 2014 a fully healthy Wheaton will be competing with Lance Moore and Martavis Bryant for the Steelers' No. 2 wide receiver role, and early indications are that Wheaton will win it out. He'd provide an excellent complement to Antonio Brown, but we've yet to see him appear in the NFL. He only had six catches last season, after all. Again, Wheaton is a worthy late-round target to stuff your fantasy bench with potential.
Khiry Robinson, RB, New Orleans Saints
If Bill Parcells is singing the praises of a running back, it's time for everyone else to pay attention. Robinson had all of 54 attempts on 76 regular season snaps, but still forced more missed tackles than Ray Rice did on 730 snaps, per Pro Football Focus. The running back situation in New Orleans is always a mess for fantasy owners, and even with Darren Sproles moving to Philadelphia, the situation isn't any clearer. Robinson should be rostered in all redraft leagues and is a good target in dynatsy leagues. Just temper expectations, as no Saints running back has rushed for more than 800 yards since Deuce McCalister did it in 2006.
Marvin Jones, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Jones surprised last season when he finished 21st in fantasy scoring among wide receivers. The asterisk of course is that over 26 percent of those points came in his Week 8 thrashing of the New York Jets when he posted 122 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Now, Jones played in just 48 percent of the Bengals' snaps last season, and he was far more productive than Mohammed Sanu which should lead to an uptick in playing time and thus, fantasy production. I snagged Jones as my WR4 in the 11th round of the latest NFL Fantasy expert mock draft, and couldn't have been happier (even if Michael Fabiano thought it was the worst pick of the round). A.J. Green is going to eat up double coverage, allowing Jones to feast on the scraps in what could be a breakout third-year campaign.
Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles
With DeSean Jackson out of the fold, there are a whole bunch of new targets to go around in Philadelphia. Earlier this year, head coach Chip Kelly said Ertz could be one of the key players to have huge role in 2014. As a rookie in 2013, Ertz endured his share of learning curves early on, but grew as the season progressed. He's a physical specimen at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds and flashed the ability to use his size to open up holes in coverage. Ertz is still a work in progress, and one that shouldn't be taken ahead of proven tight ends. However, if you're waiting on drafting a tight end this season, Ertz is an enticing late-round option. Tight ends have been prone to breakout in Year 2 (see Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates, etc.) and it wouldn't be a surprise if Ertz followed suit.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans
Hopkins was the 27th overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft, and despite the high pedigree endured an up-and-down season. Part of that was his own struggles learning the playbook and adjusting to the NFL game, and part of that was the dumpster fire that was the Houston offense. Hopkins has oodles of talent, and the biggest impediment to him having a breakout second season could be whomever lines up under center. Bill O'Brien's offense should help Hopkins get more targets and fantasy points, assuming he can pick up the system quickly (something he's already admitted having trouble with). Hopkins went in the 12th round of our latest expert mock draft, which seems just about right given his upside and risks.
Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins
Reed was one of RGIII's most trusted targets before a Nov. 17 concussion derailed the rest of his season. In just over nine games, Reed amassed 45 catches and 499 receiving yards, and appeared to be the next big thing for fantasy tight ends. With a fully healthy RGIII under center, and pass-happy head coach in Jay Gruden, Reed's fantasy potential is sky high. Tight ends haven't thrived under Gruden, as Jermaine Gresham failed to crack the top 10 in fantasy scoring at the position while working together in Cincinnati. Reed appears to be more gifted than Gresham, and could be in line for a monster season. Gruden will know where his offensive bread is buttered, and will find ways to feature Reed. He's worthy of a middle round pick this season, as his upside will continuously force him higher and higher up draft boards.
Ladarius Green, TE, San Diego Chargers
When considering what the future of the tight end position will look like, the answer is Ladarius Green. He can perform all of the traditional tight end duties, but actually looks like a wide receiver when he's in the open field. He had nine plays over 20 yards last season, and most of those were in the air and not after the catch. His biggest obstacle to a breakout fantasy campaign is the fact that an aging but highly-effective Antonio Gates remians ahead of him on the depth chart. Green went in the 12th round of our expert mock, and I agree with Fabiano that it might have been a tad early. Look for him in the later rounds of fantasy drafts, but don't get suckered into reaching for his potential too early if there are proven producers still on the board.
Toby Gerhart, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Veteran fantasy owners will remember fondly Michael Turner's 2008 campaign, when he finally escaped Ladainian Tomlinson's shadow and rushed for 1,699 yards as an Atlanta Falcon. All signs are pointing to a similar coming out party for Gerhart. After four years waiting behind Adrian Peterson, Gerhart is now the bell cow for head coach Gus Bradley in Jacksonville. Gerhart has proven in spot starts that he can carry the load, and he has the size-speed combination to punish opposing defenses for four quarters. Gerhart has soft hands, surprisingly shifty feet and -- most importantly from a fantasy perspective -- opportunity. Target Gerhart as an RB2, and hope he gives you RB1 output. His ceiling and floor are both relatively high for 2014.
Montee Ball, RB, Denver Broncos
Few players have caused an uproar quite like Montee Ball in fantasy circles this offseason. Some view him as a surefire first-round pick, others are less convinced. Ball has undeniable talent, but working more so in his favor is opportunity. Peyton Manning has produced a wealth of top-notch fantasy running backs while he is under center, and Ball is the top-option with little real threats behind him. The latest word out of Denver is that long-perceived handcuff target C.J. Anderson might not even make the team in 2014. Ball's only real obstacle to a monster fantasy season is himself. If he can avoid turnovers and make the most off of the Manning-created opportunities, then he very well could be putting up NCAA-like numbers for fantasy owners this fall. He shouldn't be left on the board after the second round of any fantasy draft.
Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Managing to finish 14th in fantasy scoring among running backs after missing the first three games of the season is no small feat. Yet that's exactly what Bell did in 2013. The Steelers offense was rejuvinated with the talented Michigan State product as a focal point, and they clearly want to build through him going forward. LeGarrette Blount will vulture a few touches and potentially some goal-line scores, but Bell has a combination of size, speed and shiftiness that is impossible to ignore on tape. He should be among the leaders in scrimmage yards in 2014, which will translate into big fantasy points, regardless of touchdowns. He's worth a late first-round pick in fantasy this fall.
Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals
While Ellington may be higher than Bell on the "Making the Leap" list, he shouldn't be drafted quite as high as Bell. Ellington is supremely talented (just watch some of his highllights), but many people have reservations regarding his slighter frame and if he can handle the workload Bruce Arians keeps forecasting. Ellington is a hot commodity in fantasy circles this fall, and if you're hoping to cash in on his potential you might need to reach a little early for him. He went at pick No. 26 overall in the middle of the third round of our recent expert mock draft, for instance. That seems a little too rich for my blood, but that's what happens when "sleeper" buzz starts so early in the offseason.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota Vikings
The darling of ATL's "Making the Leap" list is also the darling of many fantasy player's eyes. Patterson was a fantasy point machine down the stretch last season, and with Norv Turner now calling the shots (and admitting he's desinging plays specifically for Patterson) his draft stock is skyrocketing as we approach the kickoff of the season. Patterson's greatest assets are his ability with the ball in his hands, whether after the catch or as a running back. His route running is sure to improve, and if he can learn to better use his body and positioning to high-point and win contested catches, then the sky is the limit for the talented Tennessee product. You'll likely be hard pressed to find him available much later than rounds five or six come draft day.
-- Alex Gelhar writes fantasy pieces and other silliness for the NFL. You can follow him on Twitter @AlexGelhar for fantasy insight and other such silliness. His goal for 2014 is to cut down on the silliness, but he's not overly optimistic.