Since Ryan Grant's heyday in 2009, the Packers' rushing attack has underperformed. With the dynamic Aaron Rodgers under center and a bevy of deadly vertical weapons at his disposal, they are the poster children in this pass-first, pass-often age. However, it doesn't mean RBs that don the Green and Gold will be permanently suppressed, especially in 2012.
Without Grant in the picture, James Starks might be the most slighted starting running back in all of fantasy. The third-year back, a very assertive between-the-hashes pounder, has the potential to turn a mega profit. Mike McCarthy, who has an undying faith in Starks, completely agrees. From Kevin Seifert:
The Packers have committed to James Starks as their primary running back. Grant's locker is now occupied, indicating his return is not in the team's plans, and Tuesday, Starks took the first-team repetitions while second-year back Alex Green continued his recovery from knee surgery. Starks has a long injury history, but coach Mike McCarthy is clearly prepared to take that risk. McCarthy: "He's a young raw guy that needs to play. If he can stay healthy, I think he'll make a significant jump as a player."
As stated above, staving off the injury imp is top priority for Starks. Often nicked and scraped early in his career due to his upright style and brutalizing nature, he's played only 16 games over two seasons. GB's desire to throw near the goal-line is also a deterrent. Last year, Rodgers went airborne 46 times inside the 10, the second-most attempts in the league. Still, his potential to develop into a reliable RB2 is better than advertised.
McCarthy only called "run" 39.9-percent of the time a season ago, but he repeatedly stated late in the year his desire to increase Grant's reps. With his confidence in Starks high and due to Green's injury concerns, he will likely emphasize the ground game more, elevating the rusher's overall worth. At his discounted 71.1 ADP (RB29), he is underappreciated. Recall last year, when in the lineup, he racked 2.7 yards-per-contact after attempt, a mark better than Matt Forte, Steven Jackson and Ray Rice. On roughly 17-21 touches per game, he could easily accumulate 1,200 total yards with 6-8 touchdowns.
• At this point it would come as no surprise if Kevin Smith lit the fantasy world on fire in Week 1. News of Mikel Leshoure's two-game suspension coupled with the unknown status of Jahvid Best point to a possible start for the 2011 surprise sensation.
To be fair, Lions GM Martin Mayhew declared Wednesday Best has had an "outstanding offseason" and could be poised for a "breakout"year , a strange prediction since the regularly concussed rusher has not yet been cleared for contact. But considering what the former Cal standout did in his rookie campaign, it's entirely conceivable he could emerge a top-24 RB, particularly in PPR formats. However, Leshoure, also recovering form a major injury (Achilles), is expected to man early downs when healthy and available.
With the ex-Illini in street clothes for the first two games, Smith is a slam-dunk to net at least 12-15 touches Week 1 versus St. Louis, and possibly more. Unless Jeff Fisher waves a magic wand, it's doubtful the Rams, one of the more giving run defenses over the past several seasons, will suddenly transform into the '85 Bears. Recall a season ago, The Lou surrendered 22.6 fantasy points per game to RBs, the fifth-most in the NFL.
Smith's RB1 flirtations may only be brief, but going very late in early drafts (134.1 ADP, RB52), he could prove to be an opening week difference-maker.
• Jamaal Charles has a future career in professional wrestling. The man certainly isn't shy about making bold, boastful statements.
Charles all but guaranteed he would be cleared to participate when training camp begins next month. "When they let that cape off me, I'm ready to go. I'm ready to put my cleats back on and punish everybody in my way,'' said Charles, who added that he felt so strong that he could play in a game today, if necessary.
Unlike Adrian Peterson and Rashard Mendenhall, doubts over Charles continue to shrink. Roughly 10 months removed from shredding his ACL in Detroit, he should function without restriction once training camp begins. Complementary bruiser, Peyton Hillis, will be featured often, but similar to 2010, JC should be highly effective on 16-19 touches per game. Under defensive-minded head coach Romeo Crennel, the Chiefs will likely emphasize ball control. Keep in mind, they ran roughly 53 percent of the time last year.
Given his improved state, favorable situation and friendly schedule (KC has the fourth-easiest slate for RBs entering the season), a strong rebound year is in the offing. Expect his stock (19.3 ADP, RB13) to steadily rise with the mercury.
• Among this year's rookie wide receiver class Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd might be the most fantasy desirable, but owners shouldn't overlook St. Louis' Brian Quick. The kid has plenty of motivation to succeed.
Earlier this week, an antsy Steven Jackson threw down the gauntlet, publicly challenging Quick to expedite his transition to the pros. From the Post-Dispatch:
He's in no mood for long-term rebuilding. He's in no mood for slowly breaking in rookies or coddling gifted youngsters such as second-round draft pick Brian Quick. Rather than toss out pleasant compliments to the rookie wide receiver after the first day of minicamp, Jackson issued a rather gruff challenge to his new teammate.
Be ready to make an immediate impact.
"I'm sure (receivers coach Ray) Sherman will get him right," Jackson said. "But over the next six weeks, he's going to have to work real hard to be prepared for a long season, because we're going to lean on him, lean heavily on him. He's a high draft pick and we're going to need someone on the outside to make plays and I'm challenging him right now because we're going to need him to prepare himself over the next six weeks to be a standout on this team."
If that doesn't push the rookie, he's doomed to fail. You don't want to make Hulk mad.
Coming from an FCS school (Appalachian St.), the biggest obstacle facing the youngster is adjusting to the speed, physicality and mental complexity of the NFL game. Still, he has the size/speed combination to step in and contribute right away. On a roster chock full of uninspiring options, he should emerge as the Rams' premier playmaker no later than midseason.
To keep Sam Bradford upright, the offensive line must improve in pass protection, but, due to StL's defensive inadequacies, Quick could tally a high targets volume. If everything comes together, a 60-850-6 campaign isn't out of the question. Not bad for a receiver going around pick No. 121 (WR47) in drafts. Stash the hidden gem late.