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If you've never seriously jeopardized a friendship over fantasy football, then you probably aren't doing it totally right. Bragging about your fantasy prowess is decidedly lame, but there is just something magical about hand-picking the dude who manages massively outproduce his average draft position (ADP). Take New York Jets WR Brandon Marshall, for example. Last season, a team change and the uncertainty of playing in a Ryan Fitzpatrick-orchestrated offense forced fantasy owners to completely ignore Marshall on draft day. If you drafted Marshall last season, you almost certainly did so somewhere between the eighth and 11th rounds of your fantasy draft.
Marshall finished the season with 230.2 standard fantasy points - the third most in the league. The leader, Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown, finished with 246.2 points. Brown, on average, was drafted somewhere between the 10th and 15th picks in fantasy leagues last season.
So how do you find the next Marshall? Luck, generally. Marshall fit the mold of a low/medium risk/high reward player. Here are seven guys who fit that criterium this season:
Texans RB Lamar Miller
Okay, so Miller admittedly doesn't fit the Marshall mold, particularly since he is being drafted, on average, in the middle of the second round in 10-team leagues. This is understandable. Miller had only 194 rushing attempts last season (for 872 yards, which was 13th in the NFL, by the way), so it's not like he is going to get 300-plus carries this season. However, Miller averaged an incredibly healthy 4.5 yards per carry last season. So, if Miller does receive, say, 250 carries this season (10 fewer than former Texans RB Arian Foster had in 2014 under Bill O'Brien), he will finish the season with over 1,100 yards, provided he maintains that impressive 4.5 YPC clip (which he should, considering his career average is 4.6). Moreover, Miller caught 47 passes this season and managed to score 10 total touchdowns. Small workload notwithstanding, Miller still finished the year as the league's sixth-best fantasy back. Feel free to grab him in the second round, but I think he's the fourth-best running back available (after Adrian Peterson, Todd Gurley, and Le'Veon Bell (yes, even with the suspension)).
Chargers WR Keenan Allen
ESPN, which aggregates its "experts" ratings to formulate a top 300 fantasy ranking, has Allen pegged as the 13th-best wide receiver in fantasy this season. 13th! Allen is by far the best receiver on his team, and Phillip Rivers is going to throw him the ball 900 times this season. Triple-coverage, quadruple-coverage, Rivers does. Not. Care. If you pull the nacho guy from the stands to play free safety, Rivers will throw at him, too. Allen had 67 catches for 725 yards in eight games last season. Even if Allen doesn't average nine catches and almost 100 yards per game for the entire season, he likely finishes the 2015 season with well over 100 catches and 1,300 yards. Only five dudes finished the year with at least 100 catches and at least 1,300 yards. Again, you can get Allen in the third or fourth round of your draft. Yikes.
49ers RB Carlos Hyde
Like Allen, Hyde was well on his way to a big 2015 season before an injury went and ruined his day. The San Francisco 49ers are currently stuck choosing between Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick to serve as their starting quarterback, so it is probably pretty safe to assume that Chip Kelly and Co. are going to run the ball. A lot. Hyde is currently going in the fourth or fifth round, behind guys like Thomas Rawls and C.J. Anderson, who have not yet won starting jobs.
Bengals RB Jeremy Hill
I'll give you like three minutes to stop laughing. All right. Are we good? Okay. Forget that Hill almost single-handedly caused his team to lose one of the most important games in franchise history after hilariously fumbling the ball with less than two minutes left to play in said contest. Although Hill failed to completely live up to his billing as a unanimous first-round fantasy pick last season, he still managed to score 11 touchdowns, which helped him finish the season as the 14th-best running back in fantasy. He might not touch 1,000 yards, but he's going to get you touchdowns. In a league when most people are taking a receiver with one of their first two picks (or both), Hill offers a RB1 ceiling with a FLEX pricetag.
Giants QB Eli Manning
Manning, as per usual, is a strong candidate to lead the league in interceptions. However, he is currently my pick to lead the league in passing yardage, and I think 30 or 35 touchdowns is certainly doable. The Giants are going to throw the ball more than any team in the NFL this season, and the Giants, for all their other issues, have a pretty loaded receiving corps. New York will still finish 8-8, but hey, at least they should be entertaining.
Ravens WR Steve Smith Sr.
Smith has already said that 2016 will be his final NFL season, and boy, is it shaping up to be a doozy. Smith only played in seven games last season, yet he still managed to haul in 46 passes for 670 yards and three touchdowns. I think he's a safe bet to get 1,000 yards this season (name another receiver on Baltimore's roster), and I could see him easily catching six or eight touchdown passes. ESPN has Smith ranked as the 51st-best receiver in fantasy; he has legitimate top 20 upside.