First Down: Helu, Hillman top list of underrated PPR players

Roto Arcade

For the better part of the last decade, your commissioner has ruled over the SFFL with an iron fist. Several times he's defiantly rebuked your recommendations to make the league more balanced and competitive by scoring for receptions. Why? To the creature of habit, tradition and history must be preserved to protect the integrity of the league.

College football's decision-makers are less ignorant.

From your perspective, fantasy football should evolve with on-field play. Ten years ago when the league was formed over foamy cups of Natty Light, pepperoni slices and numerous 'F' bombs at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house in Carbondale, Ill., NFL coaches still adhered to classic run-first, pound-often tactics. Priest Holmes dominated. Few quarterbacks routinely eclipsed 20 points per week. And tight end was a soul-sucking position that offered little substance.

Oh how the times have changed.

In this air-it-out age, it's only appropriate to reward players for one of the most fundamental parts of the game. Doing so increases wide receiver and tight end worth while justly devaluing one-dimensional backs like Michael Turner, a near parallel to how real-life GMs view the modern game.

The PPR movement is well underway. Conventional yards and TD-only formats are quickly going the way of tight-rolled jeans, brick phones and Chad Ochocinco's playing career. Demand for the format has steadily climbed. Roughly 35-percent of leagues in the Yahoo! universe score for receptions. And that number is growing. Gamers who continue to cling to outdated scoring methods are watching movies on laser disc.

Cave-dwellers, get with the program.

To assist those forward-thinkers who do play PPR, here are six underrated commodities that could be unsung heros for your team this year.

Roy Helu, Wash, RB
ADP: 48.6 (RB25)

Everyone agrees Lucifer Shanahan is the essence of evil. His frustrating RB games drive us all to the brink of insanity. But at Helu's current Round 5 price point in 12-team leagues, he is worth the dice roll. Later this summer he will again clash with Tim Hightower and Evan Royster for the starting job. Because pound-for-pound he's the most talented and most complete back on roster, he is the prohibitive favorite to emerge from the fray. That happens, and he will easily be a high-end RB2 in a PPR setting. Recall last year, he reeled in 14 catches against San Francisco, the most receptions by a running back since Brian Westbrook nickel and dimed Dallas back in 2007. Overall in five starts he averaged a robust 130.2 total yards per game, splashing six twice. Under Robert Griffin III's direction, he could flourish in year two. Spin the roulette wheel.

Fearless Forecast: 236 carries, 977 rushing yards, 54 receptions, 406 receiving yards, 7 total touchdowns

[Related: Michael Vick hints at Super Bowl berth for the Eagles]

Ronnie Hillman, Den, RB
ADP: 89.4 (RB40)
The Marshall Faulk-U product is a pint-sized runner cut from a similar cloth as Darren Sproles. He's shifty, elusive and a fantastic receiver out of the backfield. Evident in Joe Addai's heyday with the Colts, Peyton Manning relies heavily on running backs in the passing game. Designed screens and impromptu check-downs were commonplace in Indy. Now with the Broncos, the venerable QB, and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, will occasionally lean on Hillman when exploitable opportunities arise. That combined with Willis McGahee's advanced age and likely early down-only work arrow to substantial touches for the rookie, particularly through the air. End-zone dives may be few and far between, but expect him to be a highly useful FLEX option capable of churning out unheralded production.

Fearless Forecast: 189 carries, 812 rushing yards, 51 receptions, 456 receiving yards, 5 total touchdowns

Davone Bess, Mia, WR
ADP: 152.3 (WR55)

A staple on this list, "Tenderoni" is a sure-handed receiver who could blossom in Joe Philbin's Green Bay branded system. Slated to man the slot, he has strong odds of becoming Matt Moore and eventually Ryan Tannehill's favorite target. Many will express concerns over his recovery from a shredded MCL and partially torn ACL, but any doubts about Bess entering training camp at full-strength were erased in May. Onlookers and coaches were reportedly impressed with his cutting ability and general comfort level. Yes, Dan Marino isn't jogging out of the tunnel, but without much competition for looks, his ceiling might be higher than you think. It would be no shock if he netted roughly 8-10 targets per game.

Fearless Forecast: 74 receptions, 998 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns

Pierre Thomas, NO, RB
ADP: 119.8 (RB51)

Yes, the Noise has repeatedly professed his man-love for the PT Bruiser, screaming it loud and clear from the mountaintop. Those familiar with his contributions in PPR leagues are also rather fond of him. Though mired in a strict committee with Sproles, Mark Ingram and briefly Chris Ivory last year, the ex-Illini still delivered employable numbers for deep-leaguers. In eight games, including the postseason, he grabbed at least four passes. His 50 total receptions tied Ryan Mathews for the seventh-most at the position. Even without Sean Payton barking orders from the sidelines, the Saints' offensive philosophy likely won't change this season. Unless a major injury fells Ingram or Sproles, PT will earn roughly 10-13 touches per game. Still, because of his excellent break tackle ability (2.9 yards after contact per attempt) and ankle-breaking moves in space he is a sensational value after pick No. 100.

Fearless Forecast: 169 carries, 793 rushing yards, 51 receptions, 433 receiving yards, 7 total touchdowns

[Jason Cole: Left tackle in the NFL gradually becomes less-valued position]

Greg Little, Cle, WR
ADP: 123.5 (WR43)

After a season plagued by drops, Little hit the weight room this offseason, kicked Little Debbie to the curb and shed roughly 11 pounds. Committed to contributing early and often this season, the second-year wideout could make a quantum leap in value. Brandon Weeden, who most anticipate will be named starter before Browns training camp opens in late July, is significant upgrade over Colt McCoy. The elderly rookie is an accurate passer who meshes nicely with Pat Shurmur's West Coast offense. Little has the physical tools to excel, but must remained focus. If he does, a breakout year could be in store. Sidekicks Mohamed Massaquoi and Josh Cribbs pale in comparison talent-wise. You won't find a better bargin in the later rounds at WR.

Fearless Forecast: 69 receptions, 957 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns

Fred Davis, Wash, TE
ADP: 81.9 (TE8)

The greatest ally for any young, unrefined quarterback is a soft-handed tight end. That's exactly what Davis is. Overshadowed by Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, the former USC standout also took a major statistical step forward. His final per game mark was the fifth-best among TEs, ranking ahead of Vernon Davis, JerMichael Finley and Jason Witten. Because of his slippery nature and fine route-running skills, the 'Skin is the perfect weapon against zone coverages. With RG3 taking snaps, Davis could very well be the kid's ultimate safety net. He is the main reason why you shouldn't shell out top dollar for the position's elites.

Fearless Forecast: 76 receptions, 926 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns


Coby Fleener, Ind, TE (117.7, TE12) — Well-documented chemistry with Andrew Luck, Reggie Wayne's ongoing erosion and Indy's atrocious defense all indications the rook could finish in range of 65-850-6.

Danny Amendola, StL, WR (150.2, WR52) — Most trusted weapon of Sam Bradford should rebound nicely from a nasty elbow injury that prematurely derailed his 2011. TDs may be a rarity, but the Wes Welker clone is a strong candidate for 65-plus receptions.

Darius Heyward-Bey, Oak, WR (121.1, WR42)— No longer a punchline, the former first round pick blossomed down the stretch, establishing a bubbling rapport with Carson Palmer. From Weeks 14-17, he averaged 6.5 receptions and 108.3 yards per game while totaling two scores, a line worthy of a top-seven WR ranking. Momentum may carry over.

Jacquizz Rodgers, Atl, RB (121.0, RB52) — Atlanta's redesigned offense under Dirk Koetter is expected to feature more screens and flares for RBs. Since Michael Turner is blessed with stones hands, Rodgers figures to benefit greatly in an increased role. Smart money says he seizes at least half of the backfield touches by midseason.

Justin Blackmon, Jac, WR (129.6, WR44) — For "Beer Me!" Blackmon, June has already been a saucy month. Can't blame him. Blaine Gabbert would probably drive Jerry Rice to the bottle. Though there are many negative forces working against him, he has the skill set to develop into one of the league's preeminent possession receivers. Just pray Chad Henne mans the controls sooner rather than later.

Shane Vereen, NE, RB (121.5, RB53)— Don't read too much into Vereen's first-team reps in mini-camp. He will split touches with Stevan Ridley this season. Still, because of his dependable hands and wiggle in the open-field, he's best suited to fill the Kevin Faulk role. That comes to fruition and 45-50 catches aren't out of the question.

Eric Decker, Den, WR (76.9, WR28) — If Peyton can transform Austin Collie into PPR leviathan, the chances of the finer skilled Decker becoming a receptions beast are favorable. Demariyus Thomas, deservedly, is garnering all the attention in early drafts, but the Minnesota product may turn a larger profit. Remember, with Kyle Orton under center he tallied 4.4 receptions and 53.2 yards per game with four scores from Weeks 1-6.

Jahvid Best, Det, RB (60.8, RB28) — Not yet cleared for contact, Best is still trying to find his footing in the fog. Though his status for Week 1 is in limbo, he shouldn't be forgotten in the middle rounds. When healthy, he's easily a top-20 RB in PPR (58 catches in '10). His electric burst and the Lions' explosive offense could lead to huge returns in the pass game. Monitor his progress closely.

[Related: NFL player Jahvid Best shrugs off concussions as no big deal]

C.J. Spiller, Buf, RB (73.0, RB33) — Chan Gailey's recent hints of a near equal split in the Buffalo backfield should elevate last year's fantasy playoff hero up owner cheat sheets. A dynamic, all-around threat, he's flexy sexy in 12-team leagues. Fred Jackson will likely be the primary ball carrier, but Spiller could inflict significant damage on roughly 12 touches per game, particularly in the pass catching department.

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