So maybe the 2013 season didn’t work out quite as you had planned. Through no fault of your own, games over the final month of the season mean little or nothing to this year's bottom line. What better way to get a jump start on turning the tide for 2014 then by stocking your dynasty team with some hidden gems? While others are myopically focused on the “win now”, you can build a base for your future. With that in mind, here are a handful of under-the-radar options to consider.
First, an aside for a brief bit of peacocking: had you religiously adhered to the lineup set before you in last season’s “hidden gems” edition of the Pickup Joint—and really, why wouldn’t you?—you would have fielded the week’s #6 quarterback (Alex Smith, 292 & 3), #2 running back (Ben Tate, 102 yards & 3 TDs), and #3 wide receiver (Alshon Jeffery, 12-249-2) as well as the #4 tight end on the year (Jordan Cameron, 63-704-6).
We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming—which hopefully sets the table for similar strutting next December. Note that all players are currently available in at least 50 percent of MFL leagues.
Michael Vick, Eagles
Lost in the afterglow of Nick Foles is Vick, who in the four games he started and didn’t leave due to injury averaged better than 26 fantasy points per game—a number that would rank him among the top five at his position. It’s unlikely he’s back in Philly to hold a clipboard for Foles, and there are more than enough QB-needy teams where Vick could make a few starts before the inevitable injury. Nothing wrong with a limited-run quarterback with top-five potential at the bottom of your roster.
E.J. Manuel, Bills
Manuel seemed well on his way to establishing himself as a viable fantasy QB early on, only to have his rookie season derailed by injuries. Back in the saddle, Manuel has posted his two biggest fantasy outings in Buffalo’s past two games. That growth will only continue through the final month of the year, but if you get in on the ground floor now you’ll get a bargain rate on an up-and-coming quarterback who has a nice stash of young wideouts and a one-two backfield punch to lean on.
Brandon Bolden, Patriots
It’s very possible Stevan Ridley has taken his last snaps as a Patriot. A healthy scratch last week, Ridley’s constant fumbles have earned him a steady stream of trips to Bill Belichick’s doghouse—and this latest trip has him buried so deep he may never come up. Enter Bolden, who looks to be capable of replacing what Ridley and free agent-to-be LeGarrette Blount bring to the table. A Bolden/Shane Vereen backfield in 2014 wouldn’t be a surprise, and with the Patriots consistently among the league leaders in rushing offense, that makes Bolden a valuable fantasy commodity.
Toby Gerhart, Vikings
Adrian Peterson’s caddy is a free agent following the season, and Gerhart has indicated he’d like an opportunity to carry the ball. In limited work backing up All Day Gerhart has demonstrated he’s capable of being a feature back—90-plus yards three times in five starts when Peterson missed time with injuries in 2011—who can also catch and block when called upon. The former second-round pick has a solid pedigree and should get a chance to be the primary ball-carrier somewhere—Cleveland, maybe; Oakland, Arizona, Indy, Jacksonville will all be looking for a feature back. Stash him now and wait to see where he lands this offseason.
Marcus Lattimore, 49ers
Lattimore currently resides on the Non-Football Injury list, so he may technically not be available for pickup. However, he’s been back at practice with the 49ers and says he feels like he isn’t holding anything back. If he’s anywhere near pre-injury status, he’s a first-round talent the Niners stole on draft day. With Anthony Dixon a free agent, Frank Gore on the downslope of his career, and Kendall Hunter not exactly wowing with limited opportunities, the door is open for Lattimore to step into Gore’s feature back role as early as next season. He’s a longer shot, but his talent and the 49ers’ dominant offensive line provide serious upside.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Vikings
Patterson has seen an uptick in targets over the past few weeks as the Vikings finally start finding ways to work him into the offense. He scored on a run last week after lining up in the tailback position, and he’s one of the most dynamic return men in the game already. The Vikings will almost certainly receive upgraded quarterback play in 2014, plus Patterson will have a full year of experience under his belt. He has the talent and athleticism to be a fantasy star, if only Minnesota can figure out creative ways to get the ball into his hands. The guess here is that the new coaching staff will do so.
Justin Hunter, Titans
Kenny Britt won’t be back in Tennessee next season, Nate Washington is on the downslope of his career, and Kendall Wright is more of a possession guy than a home-run hitter. Hunter flashed his ability to fill that big-play role with 6-109-1 in the Week 12 win over Oakland, but it’s his only game with more than two catches or 51 yards so he’s still flying under many radars. Whether it’s Jake Locker, who flashed reasons to be retained before prematurely ending his season due to injury, or a rookie the Titans should see competent quarterback play in 2014, and Hunter is just the guy to give that quarterback a deep ball threat capable of putting up some big-time fantasy numbers.
Robert Woods, Bills
Woods was well on his way to bumping aside Stevie Johnson and asserting himself as E.J. Manuel’s go-to target before an injury knocked him out of the lineup for a month. He returned to modest numbers last week and has been relegated to fantasy afterthought, but don’t be surprised if he expedites his learning curve and does elevate to Buffalo’s WR1 by the time the season wraps. Grab him now and you could have vintage Stevie numbers tucked away at a significantly discounted price.
Ladarius Green, Chargers
Philip Rivers certainly knows where to find his tight ends; this season only Saints tight ends have more yardage at the position. Certainly a large port of that productivity has been Antonio Gates, but at age 33 he’s literally on his last legs. Moreover, next season the Chargers can get out from under Gates’ contract without taking a serious cap hit. Meanwhile, not so quietly Green has been demonstrating his ability to take over Gates’ role, with 206 yards and two touchdowns in the past three games. He has the burst that Father Time has sapped from Gates’ game, and in the San Diego offense has the opportunity to be the next great athletic, game-breaking fantasy stud of a tight end.