In every draft someone will get a hankering. Usually it's in the late rounds, but one owner or another makes a pick that leaves everyone in the room scratching their heads. Maybe they like that player's name. Or it's something about the depth chart situation. Whatever it is, there's just a feeling that one player or another could surprise a lot of folks over the course of the season. We call that a deep sleeper. So in the spirit of finding needles in haystacks, we have our list of players who could come from nowhere to open eyes in 2014.
Jarrett Boykin, WR, Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers is healthy. Randall Cobb is back. Jordy Nelson is still a factor. Eddie Lacy will have a bigger role. There's no room for Boykin, right? That could be precisely the reason the third-year receiver prospers. There's no way a defense can protect against everything. Yet a quarterback like Rodgers excels at using all of his weapons to the fullest. Boykin performed well in stretches last season. He could truly take off this season.
Markus Wheaton, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: It takes a strong belief to think that a player who caught all of six passes last year could be a star a year later. However, the Steelers suffered some notable losses at the wide receiver position (Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery) and will need someone to take the pressure off Antonio Brown. Wheaton is the man in line to fill that void and the former Oregon State standout has the speed to be a big-play receiver every time he touches the football.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles will once again be one of the NFL's most high-powered offenses. But it's also a team with a number of questions at wide receiver. Is Riley Cooper a flash in the pan? Is Jeremy Maclin fully recovered from his knee injury? In the meantime Matthews has shown that he can line up in the slot and on the outside and be productive. There will be plenty of targets to go around in Philly. Matthews should see a healthy number of them this season.
Andre Williams, RB, New York Giants: Williams showed well in his first two preseason games and appears suited to fill the role once held by Brandon Jacobs. The rookie's cause was helped when injuries forced David Wilson to retire in the midst of training camp. Rashad Jennings is Big Blue's undisputed starter in the backfield, but Williams could find some success as New York's go-to rusher in short yardage situations and around the goal line.
Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons:Jacquizz Rodgers has never become the type of player the Falcons would have hoped. Now it appears they've found his replacement. Freeman has drawn some comparisons to another former Florida State back who excelled in Atlanta -- Warrick Dunn. Freeman's role in a platoon with Steven Jackson might not afford him the type of opportunities Dunn had in his career, but his ability to catch the football means he's ripe for some unheralded fantasy production before the season is over.
Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs:Anthony Fasano could begin the season as Kansas City's starting tight end, but Kelce could make the choice difficult. The second-year tight end has shown an ability to make people miss and has scored a pair of long touchdowns in his first two preseason games. In an offense bereft of consistent pass-catchers, Kelce could fill a void and become a valuable late round pick.
Christine Michael, RB, Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks are going to run the football. A lot. They're also going to give it to Marshawn Lynch. A lot. But while Beast Mode is still beastly, Lynch has also carried the rock more than anyone else in the NFL over the past three seasons. Enter Michael, who is expected to challenge Robert Turbin for the No. 2 spot on Seattle's running back depth chart. The Texas A&M product could see a number of touches this season if Pete Carroll and company feel like they need to lighten the load for Lynch in 2014.
Jerrel Jernigan, WR, New York Giants: The Giants passing game was a mess in 2013. As such, some pieces were shuffled this offseason. Hakeem Nicks is gone. Mario Manningham returns and Rueben Randle moves up a slot. But few are mentioning Jernigan, who became a playmaker for Big Blue in the final three weeks of the season. As Eli Manning gets re-acquainted with the new-look receiving corps, that rapport with Jernigan could count for something. He might have to battle with newly drafted Odell Beckham, Jr., but Jernigan's experience could win the day.
Luke Willson, TE, Seattle Seahawks: Once you get all of the Owen Wilson jokes out of the way, this Willson started to find a rhythm with Russell Wilson late in the season and into the playoffs. Zach Miller might be listed as the top tight end on the roster, but his productivity has waned in recent seasons. There is certainly a void that could be filled in 2014. The fantasy tight end position is looking for some new heroes -- here's one that could be overlooked on draft day.
Latavius Murray, RB, Oakland Raiders: You're probably saying to yourself: "But the Raiders have Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew." And I would reply ... exactly! McFadden's injury history is well known while MJD has had his own problems staying healthy in the last couple of years. That could open the door for Murray to see plenty of carries in 2014.