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What do the 1980 U.S. Men’s Hockey Team, J.K. Rowling, and any character played by Michael Cera have in common? They’re all underdogs. And I’m a sucker for ‘em. That’s probably something you should know about me as I join the gents at Roto Arcade this football season.
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I love going deep on sleepers, finding untapped potential, and exploiting value. That doesn’t mean that I’m forecasting a breakout for Cardinals quarterback Chandler Harnish, but it does mean that I’m willing to take some less than obvious flyers on guys in the double-digit rounds of my fantasy drafts.
Hitting on this year’s Justin Forsett or DeAndre Hopkins is never guaranteed, but I think the following four guys have a shot at taking your team from “Okay” to “Oh Yeah.”
Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears
In the interest of full disclosure ... I’m a Bears fan. I am not, however, a Cutler fan. But, if I’m being honest, the reasons that I don’t like him have much more to do with his sour mug than his questionable mechanics. He’s just not fun to root for which is a large part of the reason he’s being drafted behind the ultra-vanilla Andy Dalton and the Humpty Dumpty-esque Robert Griffin III.
Stepping back a moment from the brand that is Smokin’ Jay and examining the player and situation, Cutler presents borderline QB1/QB2 value. Marc Trestman’s frenetically paced offense may have been replaced by John Fox’s ultra-conservative approach, but that could actually help Cutler to slow down, take a breath, and reduce his mistakes. The interceptions won’t disappear -- he’ll still throw at least one a week -- but his completion percentage should continue to hover around a respectable 65 percent. Of course, the Pro Bowl level talent surrounding him in Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett will certainly help.
The other side of the ball will also do its part to keep Chicago passing. Let’s not forget that the defense is in full-on rebuilding mode as they transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme.
Assuming the newly assembled offensive line stays healthy, there’s no reason to believe that Cutler can’t put up 4,000 passing yards and 24 TDs.
Roy Helu, RB, Oakland Raiders
Chiefs linebacker Josh Mauga wasn’t the only person left breathless after RB Latavius Murray broke off a 90-yard touchdown run in Week 12 last season. Embraced by the fantasy community in that single play, Murray’s stock has soared in 2015. While I’m also high on the power back, there’s no denying his bust potential. Given his history of ankle issues and noting his upright running style, Murray may be a player worth handcuffing. Enter Roy Helu.
After four seasons with Washington, he’ll serve as the Raiders primary pass-catching back. Last year he put up career numbers, averaging 5.4 yards per carry and totaling 42 receptions for 477 yards. He’s a versatile back who will fit nicely into offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s system, working as an efficient chain mover on third downs. If Murray were to go down and Trent Richardson continues his downward trajectory, Helu is capable of commandeering the workhorse role. Currently going off the board in the 13th round of PPR drafts, Helu’s varied skill set and favorable situation make him an ideal late-round stash.
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Marvin Jones, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Perhaps best known for his four-touchdown game against the Jets in Week 8 of 2013, Jones is a balletic receiver with big mitts. Unfortunately, he missed all of 2014 due to foot and ankle injuries. In his stead, the catch-averse Mohamed Sanu lined up opposite A.J. Green. Targeted by Andy Dalton a whopping 98 times, Sanu was only able to haul in 56 balls, leading the league in drops with a grand total of 14.
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Much to the relief of Greater Cincinnati, Jones was a full participant in Bengals mini-camp, appearing healthy and ready to resume his No. 2 receiver duties. A victim of what have you done for me lately, the elusive receiver is being drafted behind Sanu, after the 13th round. A legitimate red zone threat with playmaking ability, Jones could easily put up 60 receptions for 850 yards and 10 touchdowns, becoming the steal of 2015’s draft season.
Rob Housler, TE, Cleveland Browns
According to Yahoo ADP, Jordan Cameron is currently the seventh tight end being drafted in fantasy leagues. Rob Housler, on the other hand, isn’t being drafted at all. “So what,” you say? The two have more in common than you might think. They were both drafted in 2011 (Housler going in Round 3, while Cameron wasn’t selected until Round 4). Their NFL combine stats were comparable (Housler actually ran a faster 40-yard dash). Plus, they’re both the same age, same height, and are separated by only nine pounds on the scale. So why the discrepancy between the two? I’d argue opportunity.
Four seasons into his professional career, Housler still hasn't broken out. Bruce Arians didn't help Housler’s progression in 2014 as he refused to feature receiving tight ends, believing that those who play the position should block first and catch second. This year, however, Housler will be taking over for Cameron, who left in free agency. Admittedly, the Browns’ options under center are grim, but with lackluster targets like Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe sitting atop the depth chart, Housler should see an elephantine uptick in targets. Under a one-year deal, it's make-or-break time for the 27-year-old.
Follow Liz Loza @LizLoza_FF