August 25, 2011
Thirty years from now when fifth-graders at Jamaal Charles(notes) Elementary School unearth a time capsule buried since 2009 they will learn many things about the past: broadband connections were seriously slow, people watched movies on mysterious, shiny discs called DVDs, Justin Bieber had a career, skinny jeans on dudes looked painful, Facebook was actually cool and fantasy football championships were won in the late-rounds.
Last year might have been the Year of the Waiver Add, but two seasons ago it was the Year of the Late-Round Lottery Ticket. A number of Rip Van Winkles plucked in the wee hours of drafts, particularly RBs, realized their full potential. Owners who scratched off the aforementioned JC of KC, Ricky Williams(notes), Rashard Mendenhall(notes), Jerome Harrison(notes) and Ahmad Bradshaw(notes), all picked well into the double-digit rounds of 12-team leagues, rolled in the dough. Each finished the season ranked inside the RB top-30 in points per game.
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Out of the unsung group, Harrison was the biggest difference-maker. His three game stretch from Weeks 15-17 was legendary. The mere mention of the then Brown's club-record 286 rushing yards and three touchdowns the second week of the fantasy playoffs still causes owners on the other side of the 47-point performance to weep uncontrollably. It should. Approximately three people in the Yahoo! universe actually started him. Guess most heeded Chris Liss' advice on "Fantasy Football Live" that week to bench him.
In general, mining late-round diamonds is an inexact science. Unpredictable injuries often catapult rushers to the forefront. However, this year, there are several overlooked RBs in favorable situations who could reap a windfall with or without the benefit of injury. Who are they? Here are 10 late-round stabs, defined as players picked after pick No. 150 in average drafts, Andy Behrens and Brad Evans believe could help lead you to Titletown:
Marion Barber(notes), Chi — The Bears went dumpster-diving in Dallas as soon as the lockout ended, an while the Roy Williams pick-up isn't looking like a winner thus far, no one's complaining about the Barbarian. If he remains healthy, Barber is going to have a significant role in Mike Martz's offense. He'll get some goal line work, he'll see a few targets in the passing game. Barber will likely be a year-long annoyance to anyone who drafts Matt Forte(notes). (Andy Behrens)
Willis McGahee(notes), Den — Here's what we know about Willis: 1) He and former Miami Hurricanes booster Nevin Shapiro were once, allegedly, boys, 2) Kids absolutely adore him, 3) End-zone pylons are his favorite food, 4) He's a stone-cold lock for red-zone dutyin a conservative offense, 5) Knowshon Moreno(notes) owners will despise everything about him.
The Denver offensive line is average at best, but with Kyle Orton(notes) running the show and Brandon Lloyd(notes) stretching defenses, it's very possible McGahee will finish inside the RB top-30. Though his yardage totals will be marginal, there's no back with more double-digit TD upside in the beer hazy hours of your draft. (Brad Evans)
Alex Green(notes), GB — If you're looking for a final-round pick in a deep league, especially in PPR or dynasty formats, give Green a look. The Packers used a third-round pick on this kid, following his breakout season at Hawaii (19 TDs, 8.2 YPC). Green has made a favorable impression in camp, and he's in line for third-down touches in a high-yield offense. Ryan Grant(notes) will be a free agent in 2012, so Green and James Starks(notes) could have the Packers' backfield workload all to themselves. (AB)
Roy Helu(notes), Was — It's true Mike Shanahan drinks the blood of running backs to sustain him, but the untrustworthy coach is bound to crank out a high-performing rusher. Right now, it appears Tim Hightower(notes) is that player. But the rookie from Nebraska is nipping at the veteran's heels. Last Saturday against the Colts, Helu rocketed his way to 124 total yards on 18 touches, highlighted by a nifty 51-yard bolt down the left sideline (See it here).
Hightower, though a sensational pass blocker, possesses only marginal offensive skills. He's a fumble prone back who's averaged a mediocre 3.9 yards per carry in his career. The Nebraska product, conversely, is a quicker, more talented runner whose cutback ability and straight-line speed fits ideally in Shany's one-cut-and-go system. For now, Helu will start the season as a change-of-pace option, but if Hightower starts coughing up the pill, a likely scenario, the youngster could be pressed into a featured role. (BE)
Jerome Harrison, Det — The odds Jahvid Best(notes) plays a full 16-game slate are identical to Steve Jobs falling into sudden destitution. He's already dealing with wooziness stemming from a concussion suffered last week. Harrison, who was signed to replace Achilles-displaced rookie Mikel Leshoure(notes), is an underrated veteran who should see plenty of action between-the-tackles. The former Brown isn't ideally built for blue collar work, but he's an unintimidated, hard-nosed runner with deceptive power. Signed just two weeks ago, he's still adjusting to the nuances of a new team, but, make no mistake, he will net at least a couple starts this season. If those happen to come sometime during the fantasy playoffs, it could be deja vu all over again. The Lions host the normally generous Raiders Week 15. (BE)
Darren Sproles(notes), NO — If you can land Sproles outside the top-100 in point-per-reception leagues, it's a crazy steal. He's a live-wire quick back coming off a 59-catch season, and he's set to fill the Reggie Bush(notes) role in New Orleans — and when we say "the Reggie Bush role," we're referring about the 70-90 catches, not the mid-season knee injuries. The Saints will give Sproles a handful of carries and all the receiving work he can handle. This is an elite offense and a dynamic player. Draft and enjoy. (AB)
Ricky Williams, Bal — We're all familiar with the countless Ricky punchlines. But draft the Holistic One late, even if you're not taking out an insurance policy on Ray Rice(notes), and the joke could be one your leaguemates.
Despite his advanced age, the former AFC rushing king still possesses enough downhill power to bowl over tacklers. Recall he's just a season removed from a 1,221-yard, 11-TD campaign with the Dolphins. He'll likely not log more than 8-12 touches per game, but if Rice is felled by injury, he's a strong candidate to churn out RB2 numbers in deeper formats. Keep in mind offensive coordinator Cam Cameron called "run" 48-percent of the time last year. Chase the dragon. (BE)
Kendall Hunter(notes), SF — Niners running back Frank Gore(notes) hasn't played a full 16 games since his breakout year in '06, so we always need to monitor the names beneath his on the depth chart. Hunter is a fourth-round rookie out of Oklahoma State, twice named a first-team All-American, and he's having a sensational preseason. The kid rushed for 105 yards on just nine carries in San Francisco's second preseason game, a 17-3 win over the Raiders. The highlight play was this 53-yard TD, well-blocked and perfectly run by the rookie. There's little doubt that Gore will again be the centerpiece of the Niners' offense, but when he gets dinged, Hunter might just be the back to own. (AB)
Ben Tate(notes), Hou — If Tate's spectacular preseason effort against New Orleans didn't pump your juices, your fantasy senses must be in a coma. The second-year rusher bulldozed Saints showcasing terrific burst, power, versatility and, in the eyes of head coach Gary Kubiak, "encouraging" pass protection skills (Watch highlights here). He finished with 108 total yards on just 10 touches.
Reigning rushing king Arian Foster(notes) is firmly planted in the catbird seat, but if the Pro Bowler is felled by injury, Tate is capable of tallying top-15 numbers. Houston's explosive vertical offense and superb trench play will open up massive holes for the ground game. Among handcuff options, Tate, without a doubt, has the highest ceiling. (BE)
Ronnie Brown(notes), Phi — Well, this should not require much explanation. Brown is tied to an explosive, high-scoring offense, and he's a terrific complementary option alongside LeSean McCoy(notes). Brown is a 230-pounder who could become a serious factor inside the 5-yard line. If McCoy gets dinged, Brown could emerge as a must-start fantasy asset. (AB)
Other tickets worth scratching off: Jason Snelling(notes), Atl, Delone Carter(notes), Ind (More info here), Stevan Ridley(notes), NE (Read more here), Jamie Harper(notes), Ten, Javon Ringer(notes), Ten, Montario Hardesty(notes), Cle
Images courtesy of the AP and US Presswire
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