New York Giants wide receiver Rueben Randle has, in a very short amount of time, transformed from a player who maybe/maybe not deserved more playing time to arguably the top wide receiver sleeper pick of 2013 fantasy football drafts. Proof of this is that he is currently owned by over 70 percent of ESPN fantasy owners. Is the hype truly justified, or is this merely a case of fantasy writers and fans inflating a potential story to something beyond what it actually is?
Randle's emergence as a quality fantasy WR3 or a backup isn't all that difficult to explain. With Victor Cruz seeking a new contract and the often-injured Hakeem Nicks nursing a groin problem, Randle entered the summer as the most reliable target for New York quarterback Eli Manning. Even with Cruz and Nicks both in the lineup as should be the case when the Giants take on the Dallas Cowboys on the first Sunday night of the 2013 NFL regular season, Randle will be the team's third option at the WR position. Manning likes to run three-WR sets, meaning Randle could see more action, especially inside the red zone, with coverage schemes focusing largely on Cruz and Nicks.
It would normally be a concern fantasy-wise regarding a team's No. 3 WR when its top player at the position is in a contract year. The worry with Nicks is that the guy just can't stay healthy. He's never managed to play an entire season, and a history of ankle, foot and hamstring problems suggests that Nicks will never fully reach his potential, even during a season that could see him ultimately cash in on a new contract.
People must also remember that Manning has a history of making fantasy heroes. Cruz was a largely unheard of undrafted free agent known mostly for one incredible preseason performance before he and Manning torched the Philadelphia Eagles in September of 2011. Neither Steve Smith nor Kevin Boss was ever the same after leaving the two-time Super Bowl MVP and the Giants (injuries played a part in the demise of both players).
All of the pieces are in place for Manning to have that one huge fantasy football season. The Giants are going into a season without a proven rushing attack for the first time in Eli's career, and Manning, unlike Nicks, never gets hurt. The younger Manning will never match Peyton, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees in fantasy numbers, but 2013 could be the year that he emerges as a top QB1 in any league.
Fantasy advice: The best approach regarding Randle is, not ironically, the one being suggested by a plethora of fantasy experts. He is solid cover at the WR3 position if you grab either Cruz or Nicks earlier in your drafts, as it's a safe bet that any combination of the three will give you good yardage and close to one touchdown every week. That all changes, of course, if Nicks is once again sidelined by some sort of ailment. In that case, Randle will move up the New York depth chart, and thus the amount of targets he sees on a weekly basis will increase dramatically.
What are the odds that Randle goes on to earn his “sleeper” status? Remember September 20 of last year when Manning had a new toy to play with in Ramses Barden. Barden caught nine passes for 138 yards on that memorable Monday night against the Carolina Panthers. Randle is a better natural WR than is Barden, and one good game could be all he needs to earn the confidence of his quarterback.