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Deep sleeper RBs

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Alex Green - GB 5 votes

Bruce Hammond - Alex Green shows up with an ADP of 191 and RB64, and that qualifies him as a nice deep sleeper candidate. Highly productive at the U. of Hawaii, he was drafted in the 3rd round of 2011 with the idea that he'd be their pass catching back, possibly more. A mid-season ACL tear ended his season. He had done little before that (just 3 carries and one catch), so the jury is still out on what the Packers really have in him. Starks will start and Grant looks like he'll not be back. Green is a superior talent to the other running backs on the roster if he's recovered sufficiently from the ACL, and Starks has a consistent history of injury both in college and the pros.

Steve Holloway - Alex Green was drafted in the 3rd round by the Packers in 2011 and will be ten months removed from knee surgery when the season begins. The cost to acquire him is much less than the opportunity available for this likely #2 running back behind only James Starks. Starks missed his senior year in college and has only played in 16 games total over two full-seasons with the Packers. Green has skills to be a three down running back. Interesting trivia for Green is that he initially attended Butte Community College, the same school as Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers before having solid college success transferring to the University of Hawaii.

Jeff Tefertiller - The Green Bay Packers were high on rookie running back Alex Green last year before he tore his ACL. Green is a big back who catches the ball well out of the backfield. He is supposed to be back from his injury by training camp. Ryan Grant was let go in the offseason and the Packers do not want him back. With only the middling (and injury-prone) James Starks in front of him on the depth chart, Green has a great chance to be the starting ball carrier by week two or three.

Mark Wimer - Alex Green may start the preseason buried on the depth chart, but James Starks didn't wow anybody during 2011 and if Green plays well in training camp, he has a shot at starting for the Packers. I'll roll the dice on Green late in a lot of my drafts this year.

Jason Wood - The Packers were 15-1 last year and the league's top ranked offense. Yet, they were among the worst running teams in the league. Head coach Mike McCarthy understands the need to find more balance, particularly in the playoffs, and right now the Green Bay running back depth chart is devoid of obvious stars. Green is a forgotten man because of the ACL tear which robbed him of most of his rookie season. But we know runners can bounce back from ACL tears far easier than once thought possible, and Green is arguably the most talented runner on the roster. As long as his rehab progresses, I wouldn't be surprised to see Green overtake Brandon Saine and James Starks.

Rashad Jennings - JAX 4 votes

Dave Larkin - The wear and tear on the already thin tires of Maurice Jones-Drew is sure to tell eventually; this season could be the time. In the wings is Rashad Jennings, a very capable back who simply has not had his opportunity to shine yet save some limited part-time snaps. Jennings, if he gets the chance due to an injury to the talismanic heartbeat of the Jaguars offense, could surprise some people.

Jeff Pasquino - Jennings missed last season with a knee injury, but he is poised to return as the backup for Maurice Jones-Drew in Jacksonville. Jennings performed well two years ago in that role, and now that Jones-Drew is not happy with his contract there is definite reason to expect more from Jennings this coming season as the Jaguars take a better and longer look at their second option in the run game.

Chris Smith - Jennings is kind of a forgotten man in Jacksonville after losing last year to injury. However in his 2010 campaign, the 231-bruiser averaged 5.5 yards per carry and scored four times. He should see some work in spelling starter Maurice Jones-Drew this season but he is a player that if the door opens (injury to Jones-Drew) he could be a fantasy surprise.

Jeff Tefertiller - Rashad Jennings is now fully healed from the knee injury that cost him the 2011 season. The Jaguars were satisfied enough with Jennings' health that the team released Deji Karim and did not address the running back position in either free agency or the NFL Draft even though there is a threat of Maurice Jones-Drew holding out. Jennings has averaged over 5.0 yards per carry in his first two seasons with the Jaguars. The situation could set up for the talented reserve to impress especially with a shake quarterback situation.

Tim Hightower - WAS 3 votes

Ryan Hester - Prior to 2011's season-ending ACL tear, Hightower was beginning to hit his stride. As part of the "Shanahanigans," Hightower received zero touches in a Week 6 game against Philadelphia but had 17 carries and 88 yards in Week 7 against Carolina before injuring his knee. Drafting a Washington running back is always a risky proposition with Mike Shanahan around, but Hightower is too talented running the ball and pass blocking to be this low on draft lists.

Andy Hicks - I was really high on the prospects of Roy Helu this season, until the Redskins resigned Tim Hightower. I still think Helu wins out eventually, but Mike Shanahan obviously sees some production value in Hightower. If Shanahan has any doubts about Helu doing all facets of the job, then Hightower will be the starter and be productive. At his current draft price Hightower is a good security option for Helu owners, or just a nice late round pick in his own right.

Jeff Pasquino - Tim Hightower re-signed with the Redskins and will now be one of the top two running backs in Washington once again this year. Even if he splits the backfield 50-50 with Roy Helu, Hightower is a much cheaper pickup late in fantasy drafts and has quite a bit of pass catching / PPR upside. Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III will want to get the ball out of his hands and into someone else's when he is under pressure, so I like Hightower to top 50+ catches this season. That is a lot of value for a guy who could go very late in most fantasy drafts.

LaMichael James - SF 3 votes

Jeff Haseley - The 49ers drafted LaMichael James to be a play making threat as a receiving back. A lot of teams are taking notice of how successful offenses can be when they have an elusive, skilled pass-catching running back. Everyone seems to be looking for the next Darren Sproles and San Francisco has a good one in LaMichael James. He is not a first and second down rushing threat, but he has the moves, quickness and agility to make plays as a short yardage receiver. He could have 30+ receptions in his rookie year, possibly more, if he has early success.

Chris Smith - James is a fun player to cheer for. He is a diminutive player at only 5'8 and 194 pounds but is blessed with exceptional speed and quickness. He has good vision, hits the hole well and at worst this season will give the aging Frank Gore some rest this season. However he is capable of 15 touches per game and makes big plays happen so he is worth stashing away on a roster in case the older Frank Gore breaks down.

Mark Wimer - LaMichael James may provide the 49ers with a Darren Sproles clone during 2012. The NFL is a copycat league, and James could have solid value in PPR leagues if things break right for him in training camp.

Bernard Pierce - BAL 3 votes

Ryan Hester - Pierce's talent doesn't jump off the page, but his situation does. He has virtually no value whatsoever as long as workhorse Ray Rice is healthy, but for drafters that feel the need to handcuff their backs, Pierce currently stands as the guy in Baltimore behind Rice. Pierce may be inexperienced, but the two backs behind him in Baltimore have a combined four games and three carries to their names. If the Ravens don't sign another veteran back, Pierce is a nice option in the event that Rice misses any time.

Jeff Pasquino - Everyone knows that Ray Rice is the key to the Ravens' offense, but Rice has shared the backfield in Baltimore more often than not. Between Willis McGahee vulturing touchdowns to Ricky Williams getting reps or even LeRon McClain seeing touches, the Ravens do like to keep their top back fresh. I expect Pierce to vulture some touchdowns and goal line chances since he did score 27 times last season at Temple.

Chris Smith - He steps in as the backup running back behind Ray Rice and will definitely see some work as the short-yardage back. He has great size, good power and surprising quickness for a 218-pound player. He is capable of carrying the ball 20 times a game and having some success if the door opens.

Taiwan Jones - OAK 2 votes

Heath Cummings - Jones has incredible speed, if he can ever figure out what to do with it. That's the second biggest reason I like him as a deep sleeper. The first is the fact that he's just another Darren McFadden injury from seeing significant playing time. Jones has a lot to learn, but you can't coach speed like his. I'll be taking a late round flier on him and stashing him on the bench just in case.

Jason Wood - Darren McFadden is immensely talented, and maybe he really does stay healthy this year. But it won't surprise any of us if McFadden is sidelined again, which would open the door for Mike Goodsen and Taiwan Jones. Goodson is being targetted as a handcuff in most leagues, but Jones is an afterthought. It should be the other way around. While Goodsen ran well in limited opportunities in Carolina, he's a more one dimensional straight line runner, whereas Jones is the explosive, do-it-all back that would better suit the Raiders offense. It's likely the Raiders would use a committee, but Jones ability to catch the ball and break explosive plays makes him a high risk, high upside end game choice.

Joique Bell - DET 1 vote

Matt Waldman - I'm reaching deep into the well on this one because the Lions needed to reach deep last year when Jahvid Best, Mikel LeShoure, and Kevin Smith hamstrung the running game with injuries. None of these three are locks to stay healthy based on past history, so the local Wayne State product that impressed with the New Orleans Saints in the preseason could earn an opportunity. I think Bell's style is similar to Marion Barber: great balance, solid burst, good hands, lateral agility, and starter power. He's a never-say-die runner with smarts, and if it came down to Bell earning time, I think he'll become a local fan favorite. We'll hear unprepared commentators pronounce his name as "Jacque," as in "Cousteau," rather than "Joique," as in "Oik!" but with a "J."

Bryce Brown - PHI 1 vote

Matt Waldman - A fantastic talent at 220 pounds with 4.3-speed and a great pair of hands, Brown and Trent Richardson were atop most boards as the best running back prospects in the land when they left high school. Brown had an impressive freshman year at Tennessee, but left the program the next year, sat out for a year and then only played three snaps at Kansas State before quitting the team. By all accounts he's an intelligent kid that got bad advice about preparing for his future as a potential NFL player. Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder practically says as much and gave a good reference of Brown's character to Eagles coach Andy Reid. I believe if Brown continues to look as good as he did in mini camp, he'll have a strong shot of earning the backup role in an Eagles backfield that is finally as good at the bottom of the depth chart as it is at the top. If Brown is asked to start in place of LeSean McCoy, I believe he could be an impact rookie. He's a deep sleeper with fantastic upside.

James Casey - HOU 1 vote

Matt Waldman - Casey is probably my favorite bet as a late-round diamond in deep leagues because he has borderline elite athleticism and flashed what he could do in the Texans offense last year against the Saints when the team decided to feature him as a receiver. His 126-yard, 5-catch, 1-touchdown performance included a couple of impressive down field plays in tight coverage and the Texans used two- and three-tight end sets to thoroughly confuse the Saints. Head coach Gary Kubiak has stated publicly that he plans to use Casey more as an aerial weapon this year. If he's good on this promise, Casey could finally become the player that many of us saw in his potential while starting as a player without a true position at Rice.

Mario Fannin - DEN 1 vote

Bruce Hammond - Fannin did not make the top-200 ADP list and is mostly an unknown. A 2011 undrafted free agent, he was Denver's best running back in training camp last year until he tore his ACL and landed on Injured Reserve. He's 5'10" 230 lb, runs a sub-4.4 40-yard dash, and has excellent pass catching ability. The team is high on him and he could have a big role. The drafting of Hillman doesn't change things in my mind. Starter McGahee is old, Head Coach Fox has a history of utilizing multiple running backs, and I could definitely see a Fannin / Hillman combo getting a chance to be on the field a lot.

Montario Hardesty - CLE 1 vote

Andy Hicks - All signs point to Trent Richardson being the opening day starter, but things often go wrong in rookie seasons. Hardesty will be ready to step in should he get the opportunity and while he may be seen as a late round handcuff if the Richardson owner wants to lean that way, drafting Hardesty could be a good gamble in its own right if anything causes the coaching staff to ease Richardson into the full time role.

Chris Ivory - NO 1 vote

Dave Larkin - The forgotten face of the Saints backfield, Chris Ivory combines speed, quickness to and through the hole and deceptive power into his running style. There are many mouths to feed in New Orleans, but with Mark Ingram's lingering knee injury, he could get an opportunity. Ivory is only one more injury away from being a very serious threat to get additional opportunities to carry the football. Ivory, unlike Thomas and Ingram, has true breakaway speed and can go the distance.

Mikel Leshoure - DET 1 vote

Jeff Tefertiller - The Detroit Lion running back position is wide open for a player to step in and assert a hold on the starting job. Kevin Smith is now healthy and could take the job away from Jahvid Best (long concussion history) and Mikel Leshoure (suspension and Achilles' injury). Both of the incumbents look to be in front of Smith on the depth chart, but things can change quickly. Best is possibly one hit away from retirement and Leshoure will miss the first two games with suspension stemming from his pair of drug arrests. Still only 25 years old, Smith has been active in the weight room this offseason and could surprise the fantasy world. Smith had over 200 total yards three touchdowns against the Panthers in week eleven last year and has been productive when healthy. The prolific Detroit passing game will open things up for the ball carriers.

Dexter McCluster - KC 1 vote

Mark Wimer - Dexter McCluster is a hybrid running back/wide receiver who may line up at both positions during 2012. If Matt Cassel can get the Chiefs' offense back online, McCluster could have some nice games for owners in PPR leagues.

LeRon McClain - SD 1 vote

Jeff Haseley - This year's Mike Tolbert? The Chargers are going to use McClain in a similar fashion. HC Norv Turner said, "He's a good runner, he's got good catching skills and I think he'll be a big addition." If so, he's a great value at his current ADP. Sometimes, it's not necessarily the player, but the system that yields a positive result. McClain is in a great position to benefit from the Chargers short-yardage passing game that was dominated by Mike Tolbert and Darren Sproles in seasons prior.

Joe McKnight - NYJ 1 vote

Jeff Haseley - In limited action last year, Joe McKnight showed flashes of being a good PPR running back. He is currently next on the depth chart behind Shonn Greene, but he should also see a lot of snaps in passing situations and third downs. I would not be surprised to see him with 80-100 carries and 35-40 receptions. If he does that, he will far outperform his ADP of 195, RB70.

Lamar Miller - MIA 1 vote

Jason Wood - The definition of deep sleeper is someone that should go undrafted or has no clear path to success. Miller fits that bill because of the presence of Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas on the depth chart. While Bush and Thomas will get the first cracks at new head coach Joe Philbin's zone blocking scheme, let's not pretend that either is a stone cold lock for success. Bush had a career year in 2011, but still has to prove he can handle an every down role. Thomas struggled with his conditioning as a rookie, and didn't show the power he was drafted for. Miller flashed exceptional vision and breakaway speed at Miami, and is a terrific receiver. It won't take much for Miller to get his shot, and once he steps on the field, he may never let the other runners get the job back.

Knowshon Moreno - DEN 1 vote

Andy Hicks - All reports are not good out of Denver on the prospects of Knowshon Moreno this year. That said he is worth monitoring, as the leadback in Denver will be very productive with Peyton Manning under center. Willis McGahee is on the wrong side of 30 and the rookie Ronnie Hillman has to prove he can play at this level. If Moreno can beat either of these guys, then he will be fantasy productive. If you have enough depth, take both Hillman and Moreno at late round value.

Chris Rainey - PIT 1 vote

Chris Smith - The Pittsburgh Steelers starting running back, Rashard Mendenhall is battling injury and there is talk he will miss the upcoming season. Most assume that 4th-year player Isaac Redman would assume the mantle if this happens as he fits the Steelers big back history. However it isn't that long ago that Willie Parker lit it up for the team and I see a lot of Parker in rookie pick Chris Rainey, who has exceptional speed and quickness and can catch the football. If Mendenhall cannot go, I see Redman with 200+ carries and Rainey getting 120+ carries and the majority of the receptions, giving him fantasy value this season.

Brandon Saine - GB 1 vote

Matt Waldman - One of the hip picks I've heard as a sleeper is Packers runner Alex Green. I agree that Green is a better talent than Saine as an all-around back. However, Green is still recovering from an ACL tear and I'm skeptical he'll be rounding into pre-injury form this year. Saine was impressive last year when he saw the field. A top-flight high school runner with track speed, he was a relative disappointment at Ohio State because he tended to run with a straight-line style and his vision between the tackles wasn't refined. However, Saine is a big back with good strength and balance capable of developing into a better pro player than collegian. What he did better than any running back prospect in the 2011 NFL Draft was catch the football. Check out the 2010 Rose Bowl highlights versus Oregon on YouTube and you should find a clip of Saine making a contested catch on a deep sideline fade. In Green Bay's system, Saine is a nice fit as a receiver from the backfield. I don't expect starter production, but I think solid bye-week offerings could be in store for those fantasy owners that are smart enough to pick him off the waiver wire if he earns time in Green Bay's lineup again in 2012.

Bernard Scott - CIN 1 vote

Jeff Pasquino - BenJarvus Green-Ellis was signed to be the top rusher for the Bengals, but Bernard Scott is the best receiver for Cincinnati out of the backfield. I expect both players to see work and Scott can run and receive well and he already knows that offense. Green-Ellis is not the most durable back either so there is plenty of upside for Scott to see playing time.

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