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Fantasy football: Dig up some potential at draft's end

Emmanuel Sanders

Emmanuel Sanders Photo Credit: Emmanuel Sanders/Getty Images

When you reach the waning moments of your fantasy draft, do you really want to invest a pick in Chicago’s Devin Hester? Waiting for him to emerge as a quality receiver is more frustrating than waiting for the G train at 3 a.m. (After all, the G train will come -- eventually.)

Or do you really want to waste a selection on Baltimore running back Ricky Williams, who at age 34, is practically the Abe Vigoda of NFL running backs?

Instead of drafting players who are in rapid decline -- or worse, those who never arrived – you should target the final rounds for gambling on an unknown talent who, sure, could flop, but who also could emerge as this year’s Stevie Johnson.

Here are five players worth considering as late-round fliers:

Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Pittsburgh
Hines Ward is 35 years old and is coming off his worst season in a decade, potentially opening the door for Sanders, a second-year speedster, to steal Ward’s starting job. Keep in mind that the Steelers’ offense has produced three 1,000-yard receivers over the past two seasons. But patience is required if you draft Sanders, who has missed much of training camp after undergoing foot surgery and could get off to a slow start.

Jared Cook, TE, Tennessee
The Titans plan to get the third-year tight end heavily involved in their offense, even experimenting with splitting Cook out wide. As observers rave about Green Bay tight end Jermichael Finley’s “freakish” athletic ability this preseason, consider that Cook and Finley are almost exactly the same size, but Cook is significantly faster (4.49 in the 40 vs. 4.67).

Brandon Gibson, WR, St. Louis
Hardly anyone is talking about him, but Gibson has a lot of the characteristics often seen in receivers just before they break out: He is entering his third year, had a respectable previous season (53 receptions, 620 yards), plays in a pass-happy offense and is being given his first opportunity to be a full-time starter.

Kendall Hunter, RB, San Francisco
49ers starting running back Frank Gore is injury prone and has six years of wear-and-tear on his legs. Hunter, meanwhile, is a speedy rookie who could emerge as the 49ers’ third-down back, or perhaps even the starter if -- more like when -- Gore gets hurt again. Hunter rushed for 105 yards on nine carries in last week’s preseason game.

Stevan Ridley, RB, New England
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has done little to prove that he believes in incumbent running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis for the long-term. The “Law Firm” opened last season buried on the depth chart. Then after Green-Ellis enjoyed a solid 2010, New England spent second- and third-round draft picks on running backs. Ridley, the third-rounder, has already amassed 222 yards of offense and three touchdowns in two preseason games.

Ryan Chatelain (ryan.chatelain@am-ny.com) is amNY's fantasy football columnist.

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