After a fright-filled Week 8, here are three unheralded medal-earners (started in less than 30-percent of Y! leagues) projected to finish in fourth place who ended up setting the fantasy pace:
Reggie Bush, Mia, RB
Y! Percent started: 29-percent
For much of his underwhelming career, Reggie Bush has resembled one of the penguins from "Happy Feet." Instead of lowering his shoulder and attacking the hole, he's danced timidly behind the line, often compiling rushing yards with Cedric Benson-like flair. Sure, when operating in space he's been effective, showcasing world-class speed and ankle-breaking cuts, but clearly he's never developed into the stud back some scouts envisioned he would become when drafted No. 2 overall in 2006.
However, over the past three weeks, particularly Sunday in New York, Bush has undergone a remarkable transformation. Netting an increased workload with Daniel Thomas ailed by a hamstring injury, he's averaged 6.2 yards per carry and totaled 216 rushing yards during the stretch, including a 103-yard performance against the Giants. The last time he eclipsed the century mark on the ground in a game (Week 16 2006), he had yet gripped the plump backside of a certain reality TV starlet. Maybe Tony Sparano's preseason quotes about Reggie being an every-down back weren't completely cuckoo after all.
Ok, maybe just a little.
Believe or Make Believe? Believe. Yes, the defeated Dolphins do emit a rather pungent smell as Bush astutely noted last week and Thomas, when healthy, will continue to be heavily involved, but because Miami is still an effective run-blocking team, Bush will continue to be sporadically useful over the remainder of the season, especially in challenging formats. It would be smart for Sparano to utilize him more in the pass game — he's averaged just 2.0 receptions/game since Week 2 — but with favorable matchups against KC, Buffalo (twice), Oakland, Philadelphia and New England remaining, he could total 70-90 yards on roughly 13-17 touches per game with regularity. That may seem bland to most, but considering how mediocre the position currently is outside the top-15, he's borderline RB2 material in deeper formats.
Javon Ringer, Ten, RB
Y! Percent started: 1-percent
During the entire month of August, fantasy owners waited on pins and needles for encouraging news on Chris Johnson's contract dispute. Captain Quick, a 2,000-yard monster just two short years ago, was supposed to be one of the virtual game's sure-fire locks. When he slipped into the late-first or early-second rounds in thousands of drafts, owners who nabbed him walked away from draft day thinking they had pulled off the heist of the century.
Those same investors are now filing for fantasy bankruptcy.
Against a laughable Colts defense, one week removed from giving up 62 points in Week 7's Bloodbath on the Bayou, Johnson ran into one white wall after another. On one of his rare second-half carries, the frustrated home crowd even showered him with boos. He finished with a miserable 51 yards on 17 touches. Worst of all, backup Javon Ringer outplayed him in every way, shape and form, totaling 102 yards on a nearly identical workload. Mike Munchak, obviously tired of his bank-breaking star's lack of production, hurled a pointed post-game comment at his underachiever, one that immediately rocked the fantasy community:
"Johnson and Ringer will continue to split carries moving forward."
Here, CJ2Lame supporters, have some butter with that toast.
Believe or Make Believe? Believe. In terms of pure talent, Ringer pales in comparison to Johnson. But the No. 2 makes up for the gap in grit. Unlike Johnson 2011, who has constantly pussyfooted around in the backfield trying to hit a home run, Ringer has hammered the line aggressively, picking up tough yards between-the-tackles. Yes, he's a committee back in a hot-hand situation, but with terrific matchups against Carolina (Week 10), Tampa (12), Buffalo (13) and Indy (16) still on the docket, he could yield flex-worthy numbers on a occasion down the stretch. He's definitely worth an add in 12-team and deeper leagues. As for Johnson, crazily, he's a cut-candidate in shallow leagues. What a difference $53 million makes.
Michael Crabtree, SF, WR
Y! Percent Started: 19-percent
After emerging as a reliable WR3 last year, Crabtree was expected to take a sizable step forward in 2011. This season marked his third-year in the league, a time when many talented receivers experience a breakout. However, a lingering foot injury hobbled him throughout the preseason, temporarily stunting his statistical growth. Now at full-strength, it appears he's slowly starting to come out of his shell. He's run great routes of late, gaining separation from defenders with relative ease. Including Sunday's 5-54-1 performance against Joe Haden and the Cleveland Browns, he has 14 receptions for 131 yards over the past two weeks.
Sadly, the numbers could have been even better.
In several instances against the Browns, Alex Smith overthrew him, missed connections that would have greatly enhanced his already excellent fantasy totals. Still averaging a hefty 9.5 targets per game since Week 4, he's clearly Smith's preferred vertical weapon. The pair should be inseparable over the remainder of the season. Keep in mind, Crabs, who I've affectionately called "Mariah" a few times because of his Diva-esque attitude, definitely thrives when given proper attention.
Believe or Make Believe? Believe. Braylon Edwards' return may eat into his workload a bit, but Vernon Davis, who has registered a faint fantasy pulse over the past several weeks, doesn't appear to be a major threat to wrest away targets. The Niners are a largely conservative offense with a 51-49 run-to-pass split, but No. 15 is the club's indisputable No. 1 target. Considering he has a string of outstanding mathups left (e.g. NYG, ARI (twice), StL and Sea), Crabs is a strong buy candidate, especially in PPR leagues. It's quite possible he could deliver top-24 totals over the season's second-half. His discount price no longer applies, but he is a dependable commodity you don't have to sacrifice a kidney to acquire even in deep formats. Plaxico Burress, Pierre Thomas and Matt Hasselbeck are a few players Crabtree recently attracted in recent one-for-one industry trades. Pitch an offer.
Follow Brad on Twitter @YahooNoise.
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