After taking a look at the best fantasy fits for some of the leagues’ free agent stars, this installment examines some under-the-radar guys.
Although these players won’t garner huge contracts on the open market, they can still be real-life and fantasy assets. Let’s take a look at the best fantasy destinations for under-the-radar free agents.
Donnie Avery, WR
Old Team: Indianapolis Colts
Best Fit: Indianapolis Colts
Why: Turn the clock back to the 2008 NFL Draft and it was little-known Donnie Avery of the University of Houston who was the first receiver off the board. Unfortunately for the speedster, he’s failed to live up to his draft status. The 33rd overall pick of the St. Louis Rams ran a 4.27 at the NFL Combine, but rarely made an impact for the Rams. Despite such prolific speed, Avery averaged just 12.6 yards per catch as a Ram and totaled eight touchdowns. A torn ACL sidelined Avery in 2010 before he caught just three passes in eight games for the Tennessee Titans in 2011.
However, the former second-round pick found a niche in Indy, becoming Andrew Luck’s top target. Although he averaged just 13 yards per catch, Avery managed to snag a career-high 60 catches for 781 yards and three scores. Though he’ll never be confused for a No. 1 receiver, he turned the corner in his fifth year and the league and could continue to grow into a reliable wideout for the uber-talented Luck. Avery shouldn’t be counted on as anything more than a WR3, but if last year was indicative of the potential between he and Luck, he could become a late-round asset.
Steve Breaston, WR
Old Team: Kansas City Chiefs
Best Fit: Pittsburgh Steelers
Why: Always undervalued, six-year veteran Steve Breaston hits the market after a tremendously disappointing second year in Kansas City. After catching 61 passes for 785 yards and two scores in 2011, Breaston fell out of favor in K.C. and finished the season with just seven catches for 74 yards. Despite his faceplant, the former Arizona Cardinal could return to fantasy relevance if he takes his talents to Pittsburgh. Todd Haley orchestrates the Steelers’ offense, and the brash coordinator happened to be Breaston’s coach back in Arizona. Under Haley, Breaston enjoyed three very solid campaigns, including a 77/1,006/3 season in the Cardinals’ run to the Super Bowl in 2008.
The Steelers are expected to lose No. 1 wideout Mike Wallace in free agency, which should leave a sizable hole in their offense. Though Breaston (or anyone else for that matter) doesn’t have Wallace’s elite speed, he is a crafty route runner who could become a trusted target for Ben Roethlisberger. In Pittsburgh, Breaston could easily carve out a role as the third option in the passing game and become a No. 3 fantasy WR.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB
Old Team: New York Giants
Best Fit: Green Bay Packers
Why: It’s not often that a back with Bradshaw’s talent and production flies under the radar, but that’s the case for the two-time Super Bowl champion. Since arriving in New York as a seventh-round pick in ’07, the former Marshall star has racked up 4,232 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns on 921 carries. He’s also chipped in 132 catches for 1,087 yards in a productive six-year stint in New York.
So why is he available? A combination of injuries and the Giants’ decision to move forward with 2012 first-rounder David Wilson and the talented Andre Brown leave Bradshaw in need of a job. And although he’s had nagging foot and ankle injuries, he’s still capable of carrying an offense. Bradshaw has consistently been a No. 2 fantasy back and could continue that trend in Green Bay. The Packers have a sore need for a running back, and Bradshaw’s versatility and toughness would be a welcomed addition to Packer nation. Playing in an offense that features Aaron Rodgers, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson could help Bradshaw get back on the map.
Dustin Keller, TE
Old Team: New York Jets
Best Fit: Chicago Bears
Why: Perhaps the most underrated free agent on the market, former first-round pick Dustin Keller is set to hit free agency after racking up 241 catches in 72 games with the New York Jets. A true athletic mismatch, the former Purdue Boilermaker never reached his full potential in New York due to the erratic play of Mark Sanchez. But in a league that places a high value on pass-catching tight ends, Keller is the best one available.
While it would be smart for the Jets to retain his services, the Chicago Bears should be first in line to sign 6’2”, 250-pounder. The Bears made strides on offense in 2012 after adding Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey, but are in dire need of a pass-catching tight end. Although Keller won’t get it done as a blocker, he could be a huge fantasy addition if he’s able to catch passes from Jay Cutler. Marshall and Jeffrey should draw most of the coverage priorities, which would leave Keller open to do damage over the middle. In that offense, he could climb back up into TE1 territory.