Every year it happens — some random guy seems to fall off the turnip truck to turn into a fantasy football star that leads anyone lucky enough to snag him off the waiver wire first to a championship. What a glorious feeling that is, if you’re that lucky guy. If not, it sucks. It really sucks. Just look at last year.
C.J. Anderson was an afterthought in the Broncos’ backfield. Sitting third on the depth chart behind 2014 “must-have” Monte Ball and change-of-pace back Ronnie Hillman.
What happened is fantasy football history. Ball was terrible (ruining many fantasy football teams that took him in the first or second round) and Hillman was great in his brief stint as the starter before he got injured. This left Anderson as Denver’s starting running back by default and all he did was finish the season with 849 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Thinking back to 2013, did anyone think that Nick Foles would finish the season with 27 TD passes and only two picks? Those who grabbed Foles quickly once Michael Vick went down rode him to fantasy glory as well.
So who will it be this year?
Here are five candidates that you definitely want to keep an eye on and maybe even take a flier on in the later rounds of your draft.
James White, RB, New England Patriots
Wait a second… a New England running back? While it might be true that it’s almost impossible to trust any running back week-to-week with Bill Belichick as their head coach, James White has had an outstanding training camp thus far.
Belichick is even on record as saying that “[White’s] a guy who can play on all three downs, quality guy, smart, team-oriented.”
Why is this important? Because Belichick basically never talks – about anything. And here he is actually giving praise to one of his players – White.
As of now LeGarrette Blount is the starting running back for the New England Patriots, but he’s also suspended for the season opener. That leaves the door wide open for White to take the lead role and be the Patriots’ No. 1 option out of the backfield.
At the very least White should take the role that Shane Vereen used to have in the offense. Vereen was considered a “must-have” player in all PPR formats, usually being drafted in the middle rounds.
Right now you can draft White in the 15th round or even snag him off the waiver wire. Take a flier on this guy – you’ll be glad you did.
Virgil Green, TE, Denver Broncos
Be honest here – how many of you knew about Julius Thomas back in 2012 before he became one of the best tight ends in football? Say hello to the next Julius Thomas in Virgil Green.
While there is no doubt that the reason the Broncos went out and signed Owen Daniels was for him to be their starting tight end, Daniels isn’t really drinking from the fountain of youth. He’s a 32-year-old tight end who doesn’t run nearly as well as he used to and hasn’t played a full season since 2008.
Plus new Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak loves to run two-tight end formations meaning that Green should get plenty of playing time. All Green has to do is gain the trust of Peyton Manning and if he can do that then Manning will look his way often, especially in the red zone.
Green probably won’t match Thomas’ numbers from the previous two years as he just isn’t as good an athlete as Thomas, but what Green does have going for him is he plays in a high-octane offense with a QB and head coach that loves to throw to the tight end and the guy ahead of him on the depth chart likely won’t stay healthy all season.
To sum it all up: keep an eye on Green.
Brandon Coleman, WR, New Orleans Saints
Brandon who? Coleman is currently penciled in as the Saints’ No. 3 WR behind Brandin Cooks and Marques Colston after being named camp MVP by head coach Sean Payton – that’s something that should not be overlooked.
Last year Kenny Stills was New Orleans’ No. 3 WR and he finished the year with 63 catches for 931 yards and three TDs (yes I know that some of that was with Cooks out because of injury).
What makes Coleman’s 2015 potential so enticing is the fact that the Saints figure to have a bunch of targets available since stud tight end Jimmy Graham is now in Seattle. Josh Hill will replace Graham as the No. 1 TE, but he is a complete unknown and the news coming out of camp right now is that he will be splitting time with dinosaur Benjamin Watson.
Colston is still around and remains a favorite of Drew Brees but he’s lost a step and has seen his numbers dwindle each of the past two seasons. This is all good news for Coleman. He has appealing size (6-6, 225), adequate speed (4.56), oozes serious red-zone potential and now has a place in three-receiver sets for a team that has lost well over 300 targets (Graham, Stills, as well as RBs Pierre Thomas and Travaris Cadet) from 2014.
The Saints look like they are going to employ a more balanced offense in 2015 with a focus on the running game, but if their new and so-called improved defense doesn’t improve, they will be playing from behind a lot, which means Brees will be tossing the pigskin all over the field and into the waiting hands of Coleman.
Roy Helu Jr., RB, Oakland Raiders
Roy Helu Jr. isn’t exactly an unknown name in fantasy circles. He’s been around for a while now and has even found himself in past years as a likely breakout candidate (that never happened).
The best thing that has happened to Helu so far in his football career and from a fantasy perspective is that he has left Washington and now finds himself in a very favorable position as the No. 2 RB in Oakland with only the young and unproven Latavius Murray ahead of him (his other competition is Trent Richardson – don’t laugh).
From all accounts the Raiders seem poised the hand the ball to Murray and let him run with it. Denver did the same thing last year with Monte Ball and we all know how that turned out.
Helu was excellent last year as the third-down back for Washington, especially catching balls — 42 receptions for 477 yards and two TDs. That makes Helu already a player to have in deep PPR leagues.
Helu is still only 26 years old and doesn’t have a ton of mileage on his tires. If he can get significant playing time he has a chance to be this year’s C.J. Anderson. Just remember that he plays on the Raiders, who have Derek Carr as their quarterback, not Peyton Manning).
Cole Beasley, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Last year it was Terrence Williams who was on everyone’s sleeper radar as he was the No. 2 WR on the Cowboys and he was coming off his rookie year where had 736 receiving yards and five TD catches in very limited playing time.
Well things didn’t go so well for Williams. The Cowboys had the NFL’s No. 1 rushing offense, which led to them throwing less, but Williams didn’t do anything special when given the opportunity.
On the other hand a little blonde dynamo named Cole Beasley took full advantage of the minimal opportunities he was given in 2014. Beasley is perfect for the slot in the Cowboys’ system and he proved his worth, piling up nine catches in the Cowboy’s regular season finale and hauling in another 11 in two playoff games.
He provided Tony Romo with the perfect security blanket when Dez Bryant was downfield and Jason Witten was covered. The Cowboys liked him enough last year to give him a new four-year contract this offseason worth $13.6 million, including $7 million in guarantees and a $4 million signing bonus.
This year the Cowboys will be without DeMarco Murray and will be forced to throw the ball more, creating even more opportunities for Beasley out of the slot. Sixty or more receptions is not out of the question for Beasley, who could turn into the next Julian Edelman.
— Written by Michael Horvath, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Horvath is a Canadian who also happens to be a fantasy football (not to be confused with CFL) and fitness nut. Follow him on Twitter @realmikehorvath.