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Preseason Pickups

By Matt Schauf 9:05am EDT 8/31/14

How'd your draft go?

If you're like me, you probably either came out loving your team or not really liking the way things went. And that post-draft feeling rarely correlates to the actual end-of-season result. I've loved teams that tanked. I've disliked drafts that produced championships.

So what's the point? No matter how you think your draft went, there's always room to improve your team. Treat it like 1 of your kids. Give it room to succeed, but guide and nurture where it's needed.

(And then get back to parenting your real kids after the season.)

All of our focus to this point has been gearing up for the draft. But now that many of us have put together our initial rosters, it's time to start looking at ways to improve them.

That's why we compiled this list of players who went undrafted in many leagues but are worth a waiver pickup before the season begins. You might notice some repeat names from previous lists, such as ...

Last Call for Sleepers

Take This Guy With Your Last Pick

He Could be a Top 10 Guy

16 Sleepers

Rarely does a draft end with all draftable players taken. So whether you've had conditions change for a guy you picked (Josh Gordon), worked a trade to free up a roster spot or simply changed your mind about a player, consider claiming 1 of these 10 options should your waivers open before the NFL season.


Jake Locker, QB, Titans

Locker spent all summer getting drafted later than the next guy on this list, but he's a more attractive fantasy option right now.

Locker made our initial Sleepers article as a "deep" target. His rushing ability has always made him much easier to count on in fantasy than in real life. But he has also showed impressive command of the new offense under HC Ken Whisenhunt this summer.

Locker went 21-of-30 for 268 yards, 2 TDs and no INTs through his 3 preseason outings. A WR corps led by Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter and steady vet Nate Washington present upside, if not a ton of proven production. Throw in a seemingly lackluster running game and a questionable defense, and Locker figures to be carrying this team many a Sunday.

He's a fine late QB2 to take a chance on behind a stud starter and a terrific QB3 stash where applicable.


Johnny Manziel, QB, Browns

Yeah, he probably got drafted in your league. But maybe that owner will get antsy now that Brian Hoyer's been named the starter. It'll get particularly tough to keep a backup QB on his fantasy roster once the season starts and waiver gems begin to shine.

Well, if you see Manziel come available, think about whether you have room to stash him. Use the Browns' 4th preseason game as an example. The rookie finished an ugly 6 of 17 passing. But he also ran for 55 yards on just 4 attempts and produced an exciting drive that led to his 1-yard TD pass to Jim Dray.

There's a reason that Hoyer went undrafted and floated through 3 teams before arriving in Cleveland. He's marginally talented. At some point, the Browns will get tired of his low ceiling and turn to the guy they drafted in Round 1. This year's team doesn't look like a contender, and Hoyer didn't exactly light it up in the preseason. So don't be surprised if that switch comes soon.

Manziel will probably be an inconsistent passer throughout this season -- and maybe beyond. But his running ability and improvisational skill will mean fantasy upside. He's capable of producing top 12 fantasy numbers on a per-game basis, whenever the Browns promote him.


Benny Cunningham, RB, Rams

We just featured him at the top of the "Take This Guy With Your Last Pick" article, so a full rehash seems unnecessary here. But to sum up: Cunningham got the surprise start in preseason game #3 ahead of Zac Stacy, who averaged 2.6 yards per rush in his August game work.

Even the beat writers aren't sure what to make of the situation, but Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote Thursday, "If Benny Cunningham isn’t challenging Zac Stacy for the starting job, he’s certainly pushing him for playing time."

The 3rd-round selection of Tre Mason and preseason usage pattern of Cunningham sure makes it look like the team's seeking at least a complement to Stacy. That -- plus Stacy's lack of elite ability -- makes Cunningham well worth rostering in most fantasy formats.


Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Falcons

The early offseason focused on how much of Steven Jackson's job would go to 4th-round rookie DeVonta Freeman. But he followed a buzzy spring with a sluggish camp and failed to climb the depth chart. Rodgers, meanwhile, continued to be the same steady presence he's been for the past 3 seasons.

Rodgers caught 105 passes over the past 2 seasons and just might find extra motivation in a contract year. And the same expected offensive turnaround that should help Jackson's scoring chances can only create more running room for Rodgers as well.

At the least, Rodgers looks like a decent bet to contend for RB3 range in PPR leagues. He ranked among the top 33 in that format each of the past 2 years. And Jackson ain't gettin' any younger.


Dexter McCluster, RB/WR, Titans

If you haven't noticed us talking about this guy this offseason, then you haven't been paying attention.

The Titans scooped up McCluster immediately after free agency began. They've used him as the primary 3rd-down back this preseason -- though Leon Washington did step in for some of those snaps.

The slow progression of 2nd-round rookie Bishop Sankey only increases the need for productive backfield members. Tennessee has made it clear that it will deploy McCluster primarily as a RB. It does so under Ken Whisenhunt the year after he coached Danny Woodhead to a career-high 76 catches in San Diego. McCluster, meanwhile, arrives off 3 straight campaigns of 46+ receptions.

If he qualifies at RB in your league, then merely finishing in the same reception range will provide plenty of value. But McCluster seems destined for at least the 2nd most carries of his career. And who knows how many passes he might catch from a still-developing QB in a young offense under a new coach.

McCluster could turn into a weekly RB2 option in your PPR league. If he's a WR in your league, then WR5 range seems like a more reasonable expectation.


Malcom Floyd, WR, Chargers

Here's the deal with Floyd: Before last year's season-ending Week 2 neck injury, he finished 3 straight campaigns among the top 36 WRs in fantasy points per game.

That's really all you need to know. Sure, he's on the wrong side of 30. But Floyd's in the right situation, on a team with little beyond 2013 rookie Keenan Allen at wideout. Floyd has spent his entire career with the same QB, arriving the same year as Philip Rivers. And the San Diego Union-Tribune called him the "runaway" MVP of training camp.

Floyd's big issue has always been staying healthy, but you don't need 16 games from a guy that fills your 5th, 6th or even 7th WR slot.


Aaron Dobson, WR, Patriots

Depending on when you drafted, Dobson could have been anything from a 10th-round pick to an undrafted free agent. If he's the latter in your league, consider picking him up.

The 2nd-year Patriot drew 9 targets Thursday night in his 1st preseason action. He only caught 3 of them but took those for 57 yards and a TD.

Dobson displayed inconsistent hands as a rookie and didn't always seem to know where he was supposed to be. But he also flashed big-play ability, and the team showed that it hope to turn him into a threat. After sitting out Week 1, Dobson drew 10 and 11 targets over the next 2 games, his first 2 pro outings. He finished 3rd on the team in targets despite missing 4 games and catching just half of the balls thrown his way.

Dobson remains the highest-ceiling wideout on the team. And a healthy version should climb past Kenbrell Thompkins and Brandon LaFell. He makes for a good stash in a reserve spot.


Jets D

The Jets haven't done enough in recent seasons to rank among the top 12 options heading into the year, but there's plenty of upside between Rex Ryan's coaching acumen and the talent up front. Throw that solid defense up against Oakland in Week 1, and you have your 1st "streaming" option of the season.

The Raiders yielded the league's 5th-worst adjusted sack rate last year, according to Football Outsiders -- and then let their LT walk to Arizona in free agency.

The Jets allowed the 9th fewest yards per play in 2013 and sport arguably the league's best pair of 3-4 DEs in Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson.

Throw in either a rookie making his 1st start at QB for Oakland or a crappy veteran with a bad elbow, and you have a recipe for a potential shutout.


Jon Beason, MLB, Giants

The Giants' middle man broke a foot bone in the spring and seemed destined to miss at least several games at the start of the season. But he changed that outlook.

The Giants expect to get Beason back on the field for Monday's practice, which should put him on track to start the opener a week later. He'd do so in the middle of a shaky defense between a pair of new OLB starters.

Beason cracked LB3 range over the final 5 games of last season after arriving via trade in the middle of the year. He posted 9+ tackles in 4 of those contests, including 17 at Washington and 11 at Detroit.

Beason shouldn't hit your lineup for Week 1, in case he's a bit rusty after the injury. But he could certainly turn into a #3 LB for your IDP squad over the course of the season.


Anthony Barr, OLB, Vikings

Barr's gonna have a lot more trouble delivering consistent value if you're in a more tackle-friendly format. But there's no telling how high his ceiling might reside in general.

This guy only played LB for 2 years in college, and produced 13.5 and 10.0 sacks in those 2 seasons. He added 21.5 and 20.0 tackles for loss overall, plus 10 total forced fumbles and 6 pass deflections.

That came after Barr arrived at UCLA as an offensive player and spent 2 years trying to find a position before his 2012 defensive breakout. He hasn't taken nearly as long to settle in with the Vikings.

Minnesota quickly named Barr the starting strong-side LB and appears to be planning a Von Miller-type role. That will keep Barr on the field for all 3 downs and often ask him to rush the passer in obvious passing situations. He registered sacks in each of his 1st 2 outings and forced a fumble against Arizona. Pro Football Focus gave Barr the 2nd-highest pass-rushing grade among 4-3 OLBs for the preseason.

He could approach double-digit sacks in his 1st season, making Barr a strong stash in big-play leagues and even an intriguing lottery-ticket pickup in deeper balanced-scoring IDP formats.

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