Predicting fantasy studs before the draft even takes place can be a tricky prospect in the best of times. That being the case, there are players out there that will likely succeed in almost any environment. These five players should be able to make a major impact for their respective teams in 2014, and for fantasy owners, they may be a steal in fantasy drafts leading up to the season.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Manziel’s greatest asset, his ability to improvise when a play breaks down. That may scare some teams away, especially squads looking for a more traditional passer. That shouldn’t, however, scare fantasy owners away from taking him. He may not be anyone’s top quarterback, but he may be able to do well for owners that put off taking a quarterback until the middle rounds of their fantasy drafts.
Like everyone on this list, Manziel’s production will be hugely impacted by which team selects him in the draft. Being picked by a team like the Browns wouldn’t do him any favors, but if he slides to a quarterback needy team with a solid set of weapons, his fantasy stock should skyrocket.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Top tier receivers are always at a premium in fantasy leagues, and Watkins fits the bill perfectly. Because he’s the top-rated receiver by most entering the draft, there’s also a great chance that he’ll be his future quarterback’s top target. In short, that means he should be making big points for his fantasy owners.
Receivers do come with a large inherent risk, especially if their quarterback is sub-par. If Watkins is selected by a team without a stable passer, his numbers are going to take a hit. Likewise, a top passer would be a huge boost to Watkins’ fantasy stock. Luckily we’ll know which of those categories Watkins fits into long before it’s time to actually pick players in a fantasy draft. If he goes to the right place, he has the ability to be among the most productive receivers in the league.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
As highly praised as Watkins is, Cooks has all the potential to be the steal of any fantasy draft. There are plenty of proven players that will fly off fantasy boards before Cooks, but his speed and ability to track and catch passes makes him a candidate to be a surprise top receiver in 2014. Cooks’ size won’t do him any favors if he has to catch a pass in front of a linebacker in the NFL, but when it comes to burning a defender, few are as well equipped as he is.
Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
Running backs are always at a premium in fantasy leagues. In addition, young runners have a huge advantage over their older counterparts in getting onto the field. That being the case, Hyde should find himself with the ball plenty this season. He should also have no problem transitioning to the pro level. With proper support from a balanced offensive attack, Hyde could easily top 1,000 yards on the ground, making him a perfect selection for any fantasy owner in need of a top tier running back.
Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
We’ll go ahead and throw Richardson on this list because he comes across as a player that can be solid for his team for years to come. Richardson probably won’t post elite numbers, but he’ll be a steal late in the draft. Often in fantasy leagues, wins and losses are decided by the players taken later in the event, and Richardson should be able to provide production for fantasy owners with a low round selection. Maybe he won’t be a “fantasy stud” compared to the top receivers in the NFL, but he’ll be a good late round pick nonetheless.