2011 Breakout Players - RBs
By FBG Staff
August 24th, 2011

Every season, there are players that perform above expectations. Some of them far exceed their draft position, and those are the players the propel good fantasy teams into championship seasons. We asked the Footballguys.com staff to pick their 2011 Breakout Players, and here are their running backs:

Sigmund Bloom

Mark Ingram, NO - You might be able to take advantage of the "Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram co-lead backs" news by letting Ingram fall to the 4th or even 5th round of your draft, but I wouldn't blame you for taking him in the 3rd anyway. Ingram is already slated to get the goal line touches in an offense that routinely produces 20+ touchdowns from the RB position. He is better-suited to be the boa constrictor in the second half of wins than Thomas, and Thomas has always had trouble staying healthy. Ingram has the talent, opportunity, and situation to be an RB1 this year, and rival all but the most studly of RBs. Drew Brees forces defenses to focus on the pass in their game plan. We have never seen what an RB of Ingram's caliber can do in that situation, so even the most optimistic projections could be underestimating his output. Taking Ingram as your RB2 looks bold right now, but it will look like a value by week two or three.

Jene Bramel

Mark Ingram, NO - It's certainly fashionable to recommend Ingram as a high upside RB2 right now, as his ADP has steadily increased from the fifth/sixth round to the early third or higher over the past two weeks. But the news that Pierre Thomas continues to start and that Sean Payton expects to give both backs an even split of carries may be taking some of the shine off Ingram's sleeper status. I expect we'll begin seeing arguments that Ingram is now overvalued as a priority RB2. Don't believe it. Ingram is the better talent, isn't recovering from a bad ankle injury and has been impressive throughout camp. He may start slowly but will stay relevant around the goal line, then begin hoarding carries by midseason. He remains firmly in my top 15 and could well finish in the top 10.

Andrew Garda

Joseph Addai, Ind - Addai's first two seasons in the league were both 1,000 yard seasons, but he's been unable to stay healthy since. He was potentially on his way to a third 1,000 season before he got hurt last year. While he was gone, nobody stepped up and while rookie Delone Carter is clearly there to push him, Addai is a more reliable option for pass blocking, receiving and carrying the ball. While the injury history is always a concern, if Addai can stay healthy, he's capable of top 15-or better-numbers. Addai is going in the sixth or seventh round of many drafts and many experts have him about the 30th running back off the board. I believe Addai can stay healthy this year and will put up numbers far exceeding his ADP. He's a solid RB2 with upside who you can pick up way later than what his eventual value will be. While people are fighting over guys like Mark Ingram and Shonn Greene, Addai will be awaiting you later with plenty of potential at a better price tag.

Jeff Haseley

Reggie Bush, Mia - I have a feeling that we will see a big year from Reggie Bush. Not only will he be a PPR darling, but I can see impressive rushing statistics as well. Bush didn't have much of an opportunity to showcase his rushing abilities in New Orleans. Sean Payton looked at him more as a receiver out of the backfield than a rushing threat. I can see Miami giving him every opportunity to earn the primary rushing role this year. Daniel Thomas is really his only competition to be the team's main RB. I believe Bush was acquired to be an all-around RB. So far he has impressed with a strong preseason. I would not be surprised to see Bush reach 200 carries, maybe even more. If he can keep a 4.5 YPC average or higher, he could finish with a Top 10 ranking.

Ryan Hester

Chris Wells, Ari - Because the team's rookie second-round pick Ryan Williams was injured in their second preseason game with a torn patella tendon, Wells will now have the chance to shoulder the load for the Cardinals. Last year at this time, Texans rookie Ben Tate was getting some sleeper buzz until his injury, which shot Arian Foster up draft boards to the 3rd round of most drafts. Those who took him don't need to be told how great of an investment it was. While he has been known to be nagged by minor injuries, this is truly Wells' time to step up. He should be motivated by the fact that the team invested a rather high pick in Williams and now should be further inspired to step up for his team in its time of need. While the Williams injury will make Wells shoot up draft boards from the RB30 range he's currently in, his draft ceiling is probably still around RB20. Opportunity alone dictates that he can finish in the top 10.

Stephen Holloway

Chris Wells, Ari - Chris Wells' ADP has risen slightly since the season ending injury to Ryan Williams last week, but his potential value has jumped much more. Wells averaged 4.5 yards per rush as a rookie on 176 carries. His production in 2010 was impacted because of lingering knee issues and the total ineptitude of the Cardinals offense. Wells averaged less than 10 carries per game and only 3.4 YPR. However, for 2011 the Cardinals have added two new offensive linemen, a solid receiving TE in Todd Heap, and their hand chosen franchise QB, Kevin Kolb. Expectations are much higher for what should be a vastly improved offense. Since they traded Tim Hightower and have now lost Ryan Williams, Chris Wells will get every opportunity to be the Cardinals primary rusher. A couple of weeks ago, Coach Whisenhunt said that he was happy with Wells' improvement in pass protection. Wells looks to have a excellent opportunity to break out in 2011 and can be a key member of your fantasy team, even while being drafted fairly late.

Dave Larkin

Reggie Bush, Mia - Bush has undeniable talent as a runner and a receiver. When he gets the ball, defenders' hearts skip a beat. In one play, Bush can turn on the jets, string together a couple of ankle-breaking moves and beat you for speed. A change of venue could be the perfect remedy for Bush's ailing career. The former Heisman trophy winner saw his role diminish with the Saints and the team opted to move on. The Dolphins moved in and signed Bush without delay. In the recent preseason game against the Panthers, Bush featured heavily in the Dolphins offense and showed off some of his trademark moves to make defenders miss in the open field. The big knock on Bush in New Orleans was his inability or unwillingness to run between the tackles. He had no qualms about putting his shoulder down and generating the extra yardage. If this is a sign of things to come - and I believe it is - then Reggie Bush could return to his 2006 form with the Saints when he finished as a 17th ranked RB according to Footballguys.com scoring.

Jeff Pasquino

Rashad Jennings, Jac - This guy keeps winding up on my fantasy teams, but that is a good thing. Maurice Jones-Drew is a spark plug of a runner when healthy, but even if he somehow suits up for Week 1 his knee will not last for 16 games or even 300+ touches. Jacksonville knows that they need a second option, and Jennings is clearly it. Jennings was the main man in college (Liberty) so he can handle a heavy workload, and that might be where his workload is by Halloween or sooner. Jennings is available as a RB4 in most drafts and offers RB1 upside - which I think will be on display this holiday season.

Jeff Tefertiller

Ryan Grant, GB - Grant was put on the shelf very early in the 2010 season even though he ended up healthy (but could not play due to Injured Reserve restrictions) by the time the Packers made their playoff run. He had only been in the NFL for three seasons before last year, and garnered a Top 22 finish in each campaign. Further, in 2009, Grant was RB9 in fantasy leagues. He is now healthy but is being drafted as RB25 taken with the last pick in the fifth round. So, one season after a Top 10 finish, Grant is now a fantasy RB3? Surely not. I see a major rebound with plenty of scoring opportunities in the high-powered Green Bay offense.

Matt Waldman

Felix Jones, Dal - Jones has always had feature back talent, but the past three years have been a challenge for Jones to add weight, maintain quickness, and not wear down. In retrospect, think accomplishing this kind of physical change has been a three-year process. I'm sold after what I saw last weekend against the Chargers. There's no competition for carries and he is running with greater confidence, urgency, and strength, but with the same explosiveness we've always seen. His 1250 total yards in 2010 are a sign of things to come. I think 1250 yards on the ground and another 400-600 as a receiver is not out of the question for Jones. I tend to potential No.1 fantasy RBs to be in situations where they lack a strong fantasy quarterback. However, the exception to that rule is a back with strong receiving skills. Jones fits that description. I'm a little worried about his tendency to finish plays awkwardly and get hurt, but not enough to avoid recommending him at the end of round four.

Jason Wood

Felix Jones, Dal - My choices for this position came down to Mark Ingram, Chris Wells and Felix Jones - and surprisingly I ended up choosing Jones. With a healthy Tony Romo, an emerging Dez Bryant and a revamped Dallas offensive line, I think Jones will have every advantage to flourish this year. We sometimes forget that he's got a rare combination of size and speed, and his slow start to his career has been more about Wade Phillips obsession with Marion Barber than a condemnation of Jones' abilities. With DeMarco Murray already banged up again, and Jones looking fantastic day in, day out in camp, I have to think he stands a great chance at delivering Top 15 numbers at a minimum.

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