Fantasy Football: 10 Late Bloomers to Watch

Usually, the term “late bloomer” is used to describe someone that raises his level of play later than usual in his career, but in this case I’m referring to guys that have become fantasy relevant late in preseason. I wasn’t thinking about these players when I put together our fantasy football preview or even when I suggested several late round WR sleepers. These guys emerged as viable fantasy players as injuries took their toll, position battles were won and depth charts were adjusted.

Maybe it’s too late to draft these players, but they’re worth considering when scouring the waiver wire for help.

In no particular order…

1. Brian Hartline, WR, Dolphins
I really like Davone Bess and Greg Camarillo in PPR leagues, but it appears that Hartline has passed both on the Miami depth chart. This is a fuzzy, fluid battle. Hartline is a deep threat as evidenced by his 56-yard grab against the Bucs last week. Reports this week have Hartline and Camarillo rotating at flanker with the first team. Given his rise, I like the rookie Hartline here, but since he plays with a weak-armed QB on a run-oriented team, he’s only worth a flier in the late rounds. 9/7 Update: Now it appears that Greg Camarillo is the starter opposite Ginn in MIA. This situation continues to be very fluid.

2. Justin Gage, WR, Titans
3. Kenny Britt, WR, Titans
Nate Washington’s hamstring injury opened the door for both these players to get off to a good start early in the season. Britt is the high upside rookie, while Gage is the under-the-radar vet. Gage appears to be the safer option at this point, because he should still be the starter when Washington returns and has always been pretty productive when healthy. In the last preseason game, he posted 6-57-1 and looks to be Kerry Collins’ go-to guy. Meanwhile, Britt has shown flashes of excellence (like his 89-yard effort in the previous game), but he still looks overwhelmed at times. If you need help early on, Gage is your man, but Britt isn’t a bad guy to stash on your bench.

4. Shaun Hill, QB, 49ers
Now that it’s finally clear that he’ll be the 49ers’ starting QB, it’s safe to draft Hill in the later rounds. He was quite productive fantasy-wise in 2008, posting 227 yards and 1.4 pass TD over the last nine games. He also rushed for two TD. He faces an easy schedule and should have more weapons in the passing game once Michael Crabtree signs and if Vernon Davis ever reaches his potential. Hill is a sneaky good pick in the 11th or 12th round as a backup (or as part of a QBBC).

5. Chansi Stuckey, WR, Jets
As a rookie, Stuckey burst on the scene in 2008, posting 12-122-3 in his first three games, then proceeded to put up just 20-237-0 over the next 11 games. With Laveranues Coles gone, the Jets’ WR2 spot is open, and Stuckey appears to be the one to fill that role, at least for now. David Clowney is also a factor, but he’s been plagued by drops and is now looking like he’ll come in when the team needs a deep threat. Stuckey has good hands and agility, so he has the makings of a pretty good WR.

6. Jason Avant, WR, Eagles
While rookie Jeremy Maclin has struggled with fumbles in the return game, Avant has emerged as the WR most likely step in for Kevin Curtis as he battles a knee injury. Avant went for 5-92 against the Jaguars last week and with the way that Donovan McNabb likes to spread the ball around, he could be an effective WR in PPR leagues as long as he’s getting consistent playing time.

7. Jermichael Finley, TE, Packers
He’s supposedly going to split time with Donald Lee, but Finley is far more explosive in the passing game and the Packers will use him there. He has been tearing it up at camp, posting 7-74-2 in the last two preseason games. He’s flying under the radar, but is a nice upside guy to draft in the final rounds as a TE2.

8. Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants
For a while, it looked like the rookie was going to struggle to have much of an impact this season, but after a 144-yard, two-TD effort in the Giants’ third preseason game, Nicks seems primed to see a lot of playing time for a team in desperate need of someone to step it up at WR. This, coupled with Domenik Hixon’s drop-turned-INT bodes well for Nicks.

9. Troy Williamson, WR, Jaguars
Williamson has failed fantasy owners over the years, but the Jags are hurting at WR and he has had a great preseason. He’s a significant deep threat, so if he can continue to hold onto the ball, there’s a very good chance that he’ll be the Jags’ Week 1 starter opposite Torry Holt (who is struggling to gain separation). Right now, he leads the league in preseason receiving yards, and that’s a good sign.

10. Michael Bush, RB, Raiders
Bush is pushing Justin Fargas, but it’s not clear how his role would relate to Darren McFadden, who is the Raiders’ true RB1. Oakland will likely use McFadden like Reggie Bush, which means that Michael Bush could play the Deuce McAllister/Pierre Thomas role and get most of the work between the tackles. The only problem is that the Raiders’ offense is not nearly as productive as the Saints’, so Bush’s goal line opportunities will be limited. Still, if he’s the top guy behind McFadden, and McFadden goes down…well, you can do the math.

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