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An early look at potential sleepers for next fantasy season

There are more than a few candidates who could be pleasant surprises in 2014.

Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) attempts to make a catch in the end zone against Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin (27) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, in Chicago. The play was ruled an incomplete pass. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)
Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) attempts to make a catch in the end zone against Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin (27) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, in Chicago. The play was ruled an incomplete pass. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)Read more

BEARS WIDE receiver Alshon Jeffery was a diamond fantasy leaguers searched for in the summer. We spent hours trying to unearth great sleepers. This guy was one of them.

Playing alongside Brandon Marshall and with running back Matt Forte having the best season of his career, Jeffery has burst onto the fantasy football scene with two 200-yard games and three others with 100 for the high-flying Bears. Only Denver has scored more points than Chicago.

Admittedly, an argument can be made that Cleveland's Josh Gordon was the breakout fantasy wide receiver of the year, ahead of Jeffery. Gordon has more yards (1,467 to 1,265) and two more touchdowns (9-7) than Jeffery, despite missing the first two games of the season with a suspension and having more unreliability at quarterback.

Both are in their second seasons, and Gordon's rookie numbers were superior to Jeffery's, so he had higher expectations. Plus, Jeffery missed six games last year and was an injury question. He was buried deeper on draft boards and therefore is the Daily News wide receiver sleeper of the year. His mom must be so proud.

With most of the 2013 season in the rearview mirror, here is an early line on some sleeper candidates for the 2014 season:

* At wide receiver, the Giants' Rueben Randle would have a starting spot if Hakeem Nicks is not brought back. Others on the sleeper radar include Cincinnati's Marvin Jones, Tennessee's Kendall Wright and San Francisco's Michael Crabtree. If the Eagles' Jeremy Maclin gets through 2014 conditioning season unscathed, he'll be an interesting name next summer. Ditto for Seattle's Percy Harvin.

* The Birds' Nick Foles and Miami's Ryan Tannehill will be worth considering next year as QB1s, and the situations in Washington (Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins) and Chicago (Jay Cutler and Josh McCown) will have impact, as well. It's next to impossible for quarterbacks to be sleepers, especially Foles in this town, but they will be rated much higher next summer.

* At running back, Jordan Todman would likely be the guy if Jacksonville allows Maurice Jones-Drew to walk. Oakland has a similar decision on pending free agent Darren McFadden, with backup Rashad Jennings playing well. Plus, there are the college kids.

* Cleveland's Jordan Cameron was the biggest sleeper among tight ends. Next year, there again will be consternation about how high to select Rob Gronkowski, as well as Washington's Jordan Reed. Two youngsters who could be worth considering will be Coby Fleener, of Indianapolis, and the Eagles' Zach Ertz.

Position watch 

* Quarterbacks: Gonna be rough to start Nick Foles this week, given how the Eagles game could be meaningless. Sure, Chip Kelly says he won't pull his top players, but heaven help him if Foles or LeSean McCoy gets hurt in a game that means nothing . . . The Bears need two teams (Green Bay and Detroit) to lose to make their side of the game meaningless, but coach Marc Trestman said he'd consider benching his top players if that was the case . . . Peyton Manning needs four touchdowns and 666 passing yards to set the NFL single-season records for each. The way the Texans are playing, he might get both this week.

Running backs: Minnesota's Matt Asiata became the first player to run for three touchdowns in his first NFL start since Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper did so in 2000. With Adrian Peterson back practicing, Asiata can slip quietly back onto the special teams units . . . Indianapolis' Donald Brown (stinger) was back at practice, which eliminates any temptation to use Trent Richardson this week. Brown is a low-end flex option against a Chiefs defense that has given up eight rushing touchdowns to opposing RBs in the last five weeks.

Wide receiver: Wes Welker did not practice again yesterday and at this point, it's too risky to have him in starting lineups. This contradicts an exchange in yesterday's chat where Welker was advised to start . . . Looks like Larry Fitzgerald (also concussion) will play. Good luck against the Seahawks secondary which held Fitzy to two catches for 17 yards in their first meeting and a combined five grabs for 65 yards in two games last year.

And finally . . .

Ryan Tannehill needs 373 passing yards to join Dan Marino as the only two Dolphins to have 4,000-yard seasons. The Eagles, Bears and Seahawks have never had a guy throw for 4K. Donovan McNabb (3,916 in 2008) holds the Birds' record. Nick Foles has 2,398 this year. Denver John Elway, Jake Plummer, Jay Cutler and Peyton Manning) and Green Bay (Lynn Dickey, Don Majkowski, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers) are tied with the most guys to throw for 4,000 yards in a season.

Ed Barkowitz, whose summertime sleeper was Giants RB David Wilson (groan), has been writing about fantasy football in the Daily News since 2001.