Late-Round Keeper Sleepers

Seasonal fantasy owners are likely targeting guys such as Patriots WR Torry Holt, Bengals WR Antonio Bryant and even free agent Terrell Owens as late-round sleepers. Even Antwaan Randle El, who returned to Pittsburgh, and Donte’ Stallworth, who joins Anquan Boldin in Baltimore, might look intriguing. All are veterans who have switched teams this offseason.

At first glance, this seems logical. All three have been highly productive in the past and could excel in new environs. But if you’re a long-term owner, such players won’t help you much. Even if they do play well this season, their age and baggage make them unattractive for future seasons.

It’s in the best interest of keeper and dynasty owners to look in a different direction — specifically, to younger players who haven’t had their chance to shine yet. The following young wide receivers are much more worthy of late-round fliers than over-the-hill journeymen. If the following guys are available in your long-term league draft, consider them. If they are already on rosters, then target the rookies listed below them.

 

POTENTIALLY AVAILABLE NON-ROOKIES

Early Doucet, Cardinals. He’s behind Steve Breaston on the depth chart, but the third-year man from LSU is an Anquan Boldin clone who will eventually become a starter opposite Larry Fitzgerald. Doucet’s play in the postseason last year (14 catches for 145 yards and two TDs in two games) was definitely part of the reason the Cards cut bait with Boldin this offseason. The 24-year-old is a future fantasy star who can be had for a very low price.

Louis Murphy, Raiders. The 6-2 second-year man is extremely talented, yet overlooked because he plays for a perennial loser. As a rookie, he hauled in 34 balls for 521 yards and four TDs with JaMarcus Russell throwing him the ball for 12 of his 16 games. With the addition of quarterback Jason Campbell and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, the Raiders’ offense will be much improved in 2010, allowing Murphy to blossom. He showed the ability in his rookie year to separate himself from fellow young pass-catchers Darrius Heyward-Bey and Chaz Schilens and become a fantasy contributor.

Malcolm Kelly, Redskins. Although he hasn’t done much in his first two NFL seasons, the former second-round pick is a huge (6-4) target who now has Donovan McNabb throwing him the rock. He’ll compete for time with fellow third-year man Devin Thomas and could earn a starting gig opposite Santana Moss. Under Mike Shanahan, there are bound to be some offensive stars emerging in the passing game, and Kelly does bear some physical similarities to Brandon Marshall, who caught 100 balls in two consecutive seasons under Shanny in 2007 and 2008. He’ll be worth monitoring during the next few weeks.

Dwayne Jarrett, Panthers. Like Kelly, Jarrett will have an opportunity to earn a starting gig, but he isn’t in quite the same offensive situation. With Muhsin Muhammad gone, he’ll have only to beat out rookies Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards. Look for Jarrett to improve in his fourth season and potentially to develop good chemistry with starting QB Matt Moore.

 

ROOKIES TO TARGET LATE

Carlton Mitchell, Browns. I’m high on this guy. He’s under the radar but is in the perfect situation to make an impact earlier than most think. The Browns have no clear-cut WR1, and while Mohamad Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie might be the frontrunners to start, expect Mitchell to give them a run for their money. At 6-3 and 215 pounds, he’s a huge target who is being overlooked because he played at South Florida and was a sixth-round pick. Remember that guys such as Marques Colston and Brandon Marshall were late-round picks with very similar physical characteristics coming into the league.

Brandon LaFell, Panthers. The 6-2 LaFell was taken in the third round to compete with Jarrett for playing time and potentially take over the Panthers’ WR1 gig in the long term. While he might not yield return right away, LaFell will gain a solid chemistry on the second team with Jimmy Clausen, similar to the way Jay Cutler did with Brandon Marshall in Denver in 2006, which could yield great results in years to come. LaFell is a solid player who probably would have been drafted earlier had he been an early entry candidate in 2009.

Taylor Price, Patriots. You probably haven’t heard much about Price, a third-round pick from Ohio. I originally ignored the pick as well, mainly because the Patriots haven’t been very successful at drafting wide receivers recently. (See: Chad Jackson and Brandon Tate.) However, his size (6-0, 205 pounds), speed, route-running and versatility remind me a lot of Johnny Knox. Dynasty owners should consider him a solid late-round stash.

Paul Hickey is the lead contributor for Athlon Fantasy Football and operates the website NoOffseason.com, a 365-day resource for obsessive fantasy owners who eat, breathe and sleep fantasy football. While the site appeals to all fantasy heads, there is a special emphasis on dynasty formats and IDP leagues.

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