The safest bet in fantasy football is that a handful of undrafted players will emerge as impact players. I can remember picking up Isaac Bruce back in 1995 after he started the season hot. Ron Dayne helped me to a championship when he was running good for the Houston Texans. You don’t know where they’re going to come from, or what position they’re going to play, but those free agent stars will emerge.
This year, there are several intriguing and potential break-out players who are not getting drafted. Some of them are RBs, a few WRs are mixed in there and a couple QBs make the list.
Louis Murphy – WR Oakland>
Murphy is a player who many people don’t know. He plays for Oakland which makes him less desirable, but he’s clearly their best WR option. Murphy should benefit from the upgrade at QB with the arrival of Jason Campbell. And don’t believe the hype that Darrius Heyward-Bey is ready to be the Raiders number one WR, he’s not. My advice: Murphy is a good late round pick.
Danny Amendola – WR St. Louis>
Amendola was an unknown until two weeks ago when Donnie Avery was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Amendola will take Avery’s spot in the starting line-up, as well as return punts. Amendola returned a punt for a TD in the preseason, and is too valuable to take off special teams. He runs good routes, catches the ball well and he’s fast. Some people call him a poor man’s Wes Welker, not bad company. My advice: Watch Amendola at this point. If you’re in a 16 or 20 team league, he is worth a roster spot now.
Jason Avant – WR Philadelphia>
The changes happening in Philadelphia are scaring some fantasy owners away. To them I say, come back…it’s safe to draft Eagles. With Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook now gone in Philadelphia, the Eagles will turn to a new cast of players to lead them. Kevin Kolb will be fine in Philly, in fact he may put up better fantasy numbers than McNabb. As for Avant, he is the Eagles #3 WR, which is a good spot to be in considering how often the Eagles plan to throw the ball. Avant’s numbers have improved over the last three years, and he’s the #1 back-up to DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. My advice: Watch Avant at this time. If you need an injury pick-up or bye week fill-in, Avant may be a good target.
James Jones – WR Green Bay>
As the number three WR in Green Bay, Jones will see a lot of single coverage. Jones has shown flashes during his three seasons with the Packers, but he’s stuck behind two pretty good WRs in Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. Jones had a very good reception to TD ratio, scoring every sixth time he touched the ball (32 recs./5TDs). With Driver getting up in age (35), Jones could find himself on the field more than last season. My advice: Jones is the #4 receiving option in Green Bay (Driver, Jennings, Jermichael Finley), but he has more upside than some #2 WRs on some teams. Draft him late in deeper leagues and store him on your bench for now.
Kareem Huggins – RB Tampa Bay>
Huggins was off most people’s radar until a couple of weeks ago when news of Derrick Ward’s demise began surfacing. Huggins is now the back-up RB for the Buccaneers, behind only Cadillac Williams. With Williams’ history of knee injuries, Huggins is a great player to keep an eye on. While he’s not a sleeper anymore, he is still going undrafted in many 10 and 12-team leagues. My advice: If you have Williams, make sure you grab Huggins. If Huggins is still available, look at dropping your fifth WR and pick him up.
Lex Hilliard – RB Miami>
The second year RB shouldn’t be anywhere near your draft board, but make sure you remember his name once the season starts. Hilliard is currently listed third on the Dolphins depth chart. While that doesn’t sound appealing, consider who he’s playing behind. Ronnie Brown has battled injuries his entire career, in fact he’s played in all 16 games just once during his five year career. The other RB for Miami is Ricky Williams, who at age 33 may not be suited to take on the workload he once could. Hilliard did see some time last year as a rookie, scoring a TD and averaging over 5.5 yards per carry. My advice: if you have Brown and/or Williams, keep tabs on Hilliard. But until one of those RBs gets injured, Hilliard should remain a free agent.
Jason Snelling – RB Atlanta>
When Michael Turner suffered a high ankle sprain last year, Snelling stepped in and provided Atlanta’s offense with a durable RB. While his numbers don’t stand out, the back-up RB in Atlanta is always a good option. The Falcons are committed to running the ball and they like a RB that can wear down a defense. Snelling is considered a short yardage RB, and may steal carries from Turner around the goal line. Snelling also caught 30 balls last year, making him an option in the red zone in the passing game as well. My advice: Let Snelling go undrafted. However, if you get a sense that Atlanta is trying to limit Turner’s touches (which may happen), pick-up Snelling and keep him on your bench.
Peyton Hillis – RB Cleveland>
Not really a sleeper anymore with news that rookie Montario Hardesty is out for the season with a torn ACL. Jerome Harrison will now be the main RB in Cleveland and he proved last year that he’s serviceable, but not a back built to carry the load for 16 games. With Hillis, Cleveland's running game gains a toughness Harrison can't provide. Hillis’ hard-nosed running style has caught people’s attention this preseason, and may be the team’s best short yardage RB. In Cleveland that usually doesn’t mean much, but with Jake Delhomme at QB, the Browns could have a respectable offense. My advice: Grab Hillis right now. Also, see who the Browns add to their backfield now that Hardesty is done.
Jeremiah Johnson – RB Houston>
When I watched the Houston/Dallas preseason game last week one thing was clear, the Texans can run the ball. I was expecting to see good running from Arian Foster, but not necessarily from Johnson. After missing his entire rookie year in 2009, Johnson looks ready to unseat Steve Slaton as Foster’s back-up in Houston. Johnson runs a lot like Foster and could provide the Texans with a nice one-two punch. My advice: keep an eye on Johnson, especially if you have Foster. Also, watch Slaton’s progress. He’s battling a toe injury and has had fumble problems. Slaton’s slide would mean more playing time for Johnson. One more note, Derrick Ward is reportedly visiting the Texans. Watch to see how that plays out before targeting Johnson.
(Update: The Texans cut Johnson after a toe injury shelved him for 3-4 weeks. The Texans also signed Derrick Ward, who provides Houston will a veteran behind Foster and Slaton)
Derek Anderson – QB Arizona>
Anderson went from 29 TD passes in 2007 to a guy who looked like he’s never played football before. His last two years in Cleveland were awful, and he needed a change of scenery more than anyone. Anderson has found that opportunity in Arizona and he may be exactly what the Cardinals need. Anderson has a strong arm, good feet and terrible accuracy. Despite his wild tendencies, Anderson still has the ability to make plays. When he had Braylon Edwards in Cleveland, Anderson turned Edwards into a star – connecting on 16 TDs that year. This is good news for Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet. My advice: Make Anderson your back-up QB, especially if you already have an established starter. If nothing else, Anderson could be good trade bait as the season goes on.
Kyle Orton – QB Denver>
There is nothing about Orton that is flashy and that’s why he’s not getting drafted. If you’ve seen any of Denver’s preseason games then you’ve seen a QB playing with a lot of confidence right now. Orton is spreading the ball around to various receivers and has great command of the Broncos offense. Orton threw 21 TDs last year -- the same number as Carson Palmer and Joe Flacco, two guys that are getting drafted in the middle rounds. My advice: Feel very comfortable with Kyle Orton as your back-up QB. He may even find his way into your starting line-up when there’s a favorable match-up.