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Fantasy Football: Steelers WR Martavis Bryant could be the ultimate sleeper of 2015

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When looking at preseason fantasy football rankings, the Steelers' own Martavis Bryant may be the perfect sleeper for your fantasy team this year.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Martavis Bryant came into the 2014 season as a raw fourth round project that looked extremely athletic but needed to develop his football skills before he could be NFL ready. One of the questions heading into last season was just how long it might take to work him into Pittsburgh's offensive attack.

After the team was struggling to have a winning streak, Bryant burst onto the scene on Monday Night Football against the Houston Texans when he caught two passes for forty yards and a touchdown. Over the first four weeks he played in 2014 Bryant would score six touchdowns as he established himself as a threat in the Steelers' offense. If you were fortunate enough to have picked him up as a free agent like I did, or even drafted him in the later rounds of your fantasy league and managed to keep him for the six games he was inactive, he became one of the least expensive weapons you could substitute into your starting lineup and get decent numbers from.

In fact, even in standard non-PPR leagues, Bryant was able to record enough stats that averaged him around ten fantasy points per game he played in.  Those are great numbers for a guy you acquired and didn't have to waste a mid-round pick that would have been better served on a mid-tier running back or a starting quarterback.  In a class of rookie wide receivers that had a lot of fantasy managers drooling over prospective rookies that could make a splash there was a decent pool of talent to choose from; Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, and Odell Beckham Jr. all had more yard than Bryant, but were also mid-round picks and the biggest offensive contributors of each of their teams. Bryant played in less games than all of those players I mentioned, and the only rookie wide receivers that had more touchdowns than him were Beckham Jr. and Evans.

Bryant's expected performance this coming season is one of the biggest factors in how excited so many Steelers fans are for this upcoming season.  He proved to be an extremely useful talet with both his explosive speed and his height for Ben Roethlisberger to trust him as a target.  This goes to the obvious truth that Bryant cannot be the ultra-sleeper that he was last year; because let's be honest, you and I both were just hoping on a prayer that he would be the playmaker he's become so far and didn't have any certainty as to how well he would do.

So with his eight touchdowns in ten games from 2014, Bryant becomes a more noteable targets from fantasy managers looking to bolster their receiving corps with a player whom you will not need to draft in the first three or even four rounds of your fantasy draft, and that's just for twelve team drafts. Should you play in a league with 10, 8 or 6 players you may not even have to worry about Bryant until anywhere between the seventh and the tenth rounds. But that also depends on whether you're doing a fantasy football league with friends who are fellow Steelers fans and you know that every season all of you are basically fighting to get Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell, Ben Roethlisberger and now Martavis Bryant.

If you're playing against fans of a bunch of different teams, there's usually an opportunity to scoop a Steelers player for great value if you can correctly plan and anticipate their targets.  Last season I could almost guarantee myself that Antonio Brown would be available in the late second or even mid-third rounds of drafts despite his spectacular 2013 performance, and that allowed me to draft one or two other stars before him and still have the most consistent producing fantasy receiver of 2014.

But how much stock has been placed into Bryant in most pre-draft rankings? Bryant's no Brown, but he's certainly put himself on the charts for most people who pay attention in fantasy to be noticed as a mid-round pick.

Over at Fantasypros.com, which has a great draft simulator by the way, Bryant is ranked as the 27th most valuable receiver and the 64th most valuable player in the draft overall.  In a standard twelve-player draft league, that usually has him being selected anywhere between the late fourth round and the early sixth round during the simulated draft.

However this is probably the highest that Bryant is marked on major fantasy sports predictions across the board. Yahoo's fantasy rankings have him as the 44th best receiver and the 108th most valuable player. ESPN.com ranks him as the 37th most valuable receiver and 86th overall player. NFL.com has Bryant's average draft position as late as the 15th round being around the 142nd overall selection of drafts.

The fifteenth round? If in any drafts you participate and you think your starting receivers are good enough handle the load but you see Martavis Bryant still there in the eighth or ninth round, you better take him.

At the pace that Bryant was on in 2014, his average of touchdowns per game indicates that had he played the entire season and maintained that same rate of .8 touchdowns per game, Bryant would have been around 12 touchdowns just like his fellow rookies Odell Beckham Jr. and Mike Evans.  While you can't use that to think that he's guaranteed to score 12 touchdowns this season, his youth is certainly part of his presence as an asset.  Bryant's performance was with him as he was just starting to get better as a receiving threat for Roethlisberger. After a full season of working under Antonio Brown and now his second offseason, Bryant's been motivated by the league's best wide receiver so much that he's reciting Antonio Brown's mottos and slogans in interviews.

While this gives Steelers fans plenty of good reasons to be excited and to think about ordering Bryant jerseys, it also should indicate to good fantasy owners that Bryant is honing his craft and could be even more deadly a weapon for Roethlisberger to rely on in 2015.

Bryant did not have half the targets of players such as Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Jordan Matthews, Roddy White, Brandon LaFell or T.Y. Hilton, but those are all players that he either matched their touchdown totals in 2014 or surpassed them.

Certainly you should not rank Bryant alongside the fantasy value of say Calvin Johnson or even T.Y. Hilton, but the others named are players that many other fantasy owners might think of before Bryant.  One of Bryant's biggest fantasy assets is his quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, whom led the NFL in passing yardage in 2014 and looks to be even better in 2015.

Remember the last speedy rookie that had a decent first year with Ben Roethlisberger and then exploded in his second season as the #2 option as a receiver? That was our beloved Mike Wallace, who scored six touchdowns in his 2009 rookie campaign as the third receiver on the team and then ten touchdowns when he became the second option after Hines Ward in 2010.

Five years later the Steelers have another mid-round draft pick from a southern university who put up even more touchdowns than Wallace in less games; all complete with a much wiser and more experienced quarterback, an established rushing attack led by an elite NFL running back, and arguably the best play-making wide receiver the Steelers have ever had in Antonio Brown.

Bryant in that system could be a complete fantasy football monster. Though he will not be the most targeted skill player as the Steelers will work the ball into Bell's and Brown's hands more times than not, Bryant will benefit from defenses having to compensate for the other great talents on Pittsburgh's roster.  Brown was already commanding double teams, and beating them, in 2014 and still posted league-leading numbers while extending his streak of games with five catches and 50 yards or more that is still active after two straight seasons.  Bell became the first player since Walter Payton to gain 200+ yards from scrimmage in three straight games and is in talks for also being the best running back in the NFL.  Opposing defenses sure cannot invest their packages to shutting down the pass without the legitimate fear of Bell destroying them behind the Steelers' young offensive line, nor can they dedicate all their coverage specialists to receivers on obvious passing downs as Bell can make three-to-four linebackers miss on a regular basis when catching from out the backfield.

This means that Bryant will get plenty of one-on-one opportunities from opposing cornerbacks who will most likely not even be the best on their team. Yikes.

Bryant is no sure thing that will completely take over the fantasy world by storm, but he certainly could be a great pickup in the middle rounds of your fantasy draft that turns out to have a 1,000 season with maybe ten touchdowns. If he continues to ascend in the manner he has, those might not be unreasonable expectations for the second-year wide receiver from Clemson. Those numbers would get him right around 160 fantasy points in standard scoring rules, making him right along the line of his continued average of ten fantasy points per game.

A guy like that on the right team could be the break your team needs of good players in middle rounds to support your superstars of the early rounds.  If you're debating on spending that mid-to-late first round pick on say Antonio Brown, Demariyus Thomas or Calvin Johnson vs. a big-time running back still on the board like Lacy, Bell, Charles or Lynch, Bryant is one of those mid-tier receivers you can select later to bolter a receiving corps that could be missing that first round talent, providing even more incentive to go with the running back option.

Besides, we all know you want to draft Antonio Brown but there is no way he makes it out of any first rounds this season and that may be a hard swing.  If you do miss him and you are like me in the sense that you get satisfaction from having a productive Steeler on your roster, keep Bryant as your spade in the back pocket that you can play in your draft. It could end up paying dividends.