Introduction • QB • RB • WR • TE
Deep sleeper RBs
Read the introduction to this series
if you haven't yet.
- Rashard Mendenhall
is not fully healthy yet and Isaac Redman
is dealing with a groin injury. The Steelers starting running back for week one, could be Dwyer. If he plays well, it will be difficult for Pittsburgh to sit him down. The team has no true RB1 right now and Dwyer could very easily earn that role with a strong first few games.
- With Isaac Redman
nursing a groin injury, which my linger until the season starts and Rashard Mendenhall
not playing until after the Steelers bye, Dwyer almost by default is likely to start the season. He has demonstrated big play ability, as well as a knack for getting injured himself. He is excellent trade material, so grab him late and off load him for a potential big name player when he does well. If he fails, it didn't cost much.
- Good reports on Dwyer out of training camp have him climbing my running back boards. Also, the groin injury to Isaac Redman
may mean a LOT more work for Dwyer.
- Fantasy owners are fickle people. It wasn't long ago Dwyer was considered a perfect long-term alternative to Rashard Mendenhall
. But Dwyer let his conditioning lapse and he fell into the coaches' dog house. Yet, Isaac Redman
is hardly a proven commodity, and is now hurt. There is no doubt the Steelers are going to give someone plenty of carries -- and Dwyer could end up being that guy. He's a powerful runner and a good fit for Todd Haley's blocking scheme. For an end-of-draft option, Dwyer has more upside than anyone I can think of.
- You might think Hunter had a bad rookie season after the 49ers went out and added two more running backs this offseason via the draft and free agency. To the contrary, they like Hunter and he should get a chance to do more this year. LaMichael James
and Brandon Jacobs
are role players and Frank Gore
is getting up there in workload and years. Hunter is a talent on the rise who is worth stashing on your bench to see if he can get some breaks in San Francisco.
- Those who take Frank Gore
, have to get Kendall Hunter as well. Hunter looks good in preseason and should Gore start to wear down or get injured Hunter will clearly exceed his ADP. LaMichael James
doesn't look ready and Brandon Jacobs
won't carry a load even if he is fit.
- The 49ers have the horses up front to execute a strong ground game. Frank Gore
has been a borderline great back and even as he slows down, I think he has one more quality season in him. However, if he gets hurt I think Hunter is the back to own. He's had a good camp and held his own against Brandon Jacobs
and LaMichael James
. He's a big-play threat with the interior skills to become a high-end RB2 this year in fantasy leagues.
- Frank Gore
remains the starter, but his age and declining production toward the end of 2011 may argue for a more balanced approach. Entering training camp many fantasy owners saw too many backups to bet on one. But as the dust settles, Hunter is the clear back to focus on as Gore's handcuff. Hunter has been impressive in every facet of the game, with a number of camp observers suggesting Hunter could be the best offensive player on the field. Don't worry about LaMichael James
or Brandon Jacobs
, Hunter will be a fantasy starter (not stuck in a committee) if Frank Gore
goes on the injury report.
- Isaiah Pead was drafted to be the future for the Rams and given Steven Jackson
s advancing age and durability concerns, Pead could productive in his rookie season. Jeff Fisher has always loved running the ball and there is enough work for 2 backs anyway. Pead is incredible value right now and is one to stash away for later in the year.
- Isaiah Pead is an explosive back who can run up the middle and also has shown the ability to catch passes out of the back-field. He has some wiggle in his step. Although only the back-up for Steven Jackson
, the Rams are expected to heavily use the running backs in their offense. If Jackson were to be injured, then Pead could be in line for a lot of work.
- The Rams want to run a lot this year, and Steven Jackson
can only last for so long. Even if new head coach Jeff Fisher runs Jackson 20-25 times a game, Pead will still see plenty of work. Pead has every bit of the look of a feature tailback and is one twisted ankle away from becoming a must start player every week.
- The Rams have been lucky, luckier than most. Steven Jackson
has been a pillar, a true workhorse that's rarely been sidelined. As a result, the team has gotten away with shockingly poor depth at the RB position. Although Jackson remains a compelling fantasy commodity, you can never rule out injuries -- particularly at the RB spot. Enter Isaiah Pead. Pead is the new handcuff and he has the kind of game that would immediately translate to fantasy success if given the opportunity. Remember, new head coach Jeff Fisher believes in running one back a TON -- Pead would be a must start if Jackson gets hurt.
- Scott has flashed starter's talent in the past, but he has been less than durable and not gained the trust of the coaching staff. He has been banged up again this preseason, but so has Benjarvus Green-Ellis. The coaching staff has commented on Scott getting the more opportunity this year more than once. The talent he has demonstrated in the past means you want him on your bench early so we can see whether they and he follow through this time.
- Scott has always shown hints of being a game-breaking talent but has been seemingly hindered by his coaching staff. Previously, Cedric Benson
was between Scott and a full-time job. Now that Benson is gone, BenJarvus Green-Ellis
is the back at the top of the Bengals' depth chart. Green-Ellis has never been known for a dynamic running style, has never carried the full load, and has never been on a run-first team. If Green-Ellis struggles to adapt to seven and eight men in the box after almost exclusively facing nickel and dime defensive schemes, Scott could get his chance to shine. The Bengals are a team whose top running back will have value due to their offensive philosophy.
- 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.
- Bernard Pierce has played well in the pre-season and although not expected to be heavily involved in the Ravens' running game, he had a very productive career at Temple. He has good vision and seems to have quick moves and ability to reverse direction easily. He was not heavily used in the passing game in college, but seems to have some ability to evade tackles in space and Flacco has nice touch on drop off passes to his running backs.
- 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.
- I have little faith that Marshawn Lynch
keeps it altogether for long this year. Leon Washington
is not going to get more than a few carries a game, so it's almost the rookie Robert Turbin by default. Of course Lynch could prove last year wasn't a fluke, but if his ability to find misfortune continues, then Turbin is a steal. Turbin is solid, but not spectacular. In the fantasy world though he will be valuable if he's a starting RB in the NFL.
- Turbin is a big, powerful back and seems to be very similar to Marshawn Lynch
, who he plays behind. If Lynch were to be injured, it seems that the offense developed for Lynch's skill set would fit well with Turbin. He caught 67 passes in his career at Utah State and averaged 12.6 ypc. He also excelled by scoring 51 TDs for the Aggies.
- Early indications suggest that Ballard has moved up to at least a possible platoon with incumbent running back Donald Brown
. Brown doesn't have a firm grasp on the starting role and could find himself playing in a RBBC, if not watching from the bench. Ballard has had a very good camp and preseason so far and deserves a chance to win the starting role.
- Bell has looked great in camp and preseason for the Lions and could find himself in a more involved role if Jahvid Best
continues to be unavailable and if Kevin Smith
falters or suffers another injury. The Lions running back position is up for grabs. Don't be surprised to hear Bell's name enter the ring. He is someone who can come in and be effective, plus he fits that Lions mold of being a quick-footed rusher with pass catching capabilities.
- The Packers went out and signed Cedric Benson
because of how unhappy they were with James Starks
, but Alex Green actually fits the Green Bay offense much better than Benson does. If he can show he's fully recovered he may start the season as a third down back and work his way into a more significant role.
- 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 as low as the 56th running back on draft lists.
- 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.
- 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. Finally, Mike Goodson
has had a terrible preseason with a combination of injuries and fumble problems. Take a late round flyer on him in case McFadden gets hurt again.
- A fullback/running back 'tweener who adds a lot of value on special teams and has the hard-nosed, decisive, downhill style to flourish in a Mike Shanahan zone blocking scheme running game. That is a description of Mike Anderson
, and it might one of Alfred Morris, too. Morris is basically the second-string running back right now and he has gotten significant reps in the preseason. If Evan Royster
falters early, look for Morris to get his number called by Shanahan.
- He was my third-ranked running back in the 2011 Rookie Scouting Portfolio because of his skills as an interior runner, breakaway threat, and third down performer. However, Powell was slow to transition from the college game and nagging injuries contributed to his underwhelming rookie year. Rex Ryan commented that Powell "showed up" in camp and he has arguably been the most impressive young player on the roster, earning the No.2 spot on the depth chart and third-down duties. Powell also had a slow start to his career at Louisville, but he went on to show the kind of skill that can make him a good starting runner in the NFL. Because I don't believe in Shonn Greene
's ability to play consistently good football, I think Powell will be a steal in 2012.
- I told readers and listeners late last fall that I thought Bobby Rainey reminded me stylistically of Ray Rice
. When the Ravens signed the undrafted free agent this spring, he has played well enough to go from camp fodder to the No.3 RB on the depth chart with a realistic shot of overtaking the No.2 spot behind Rice. Rainey has good burst, rarely goes down after initial contact, and he does a strong job of catching the football. He also was the workhorse back in a pro-style offense at Western Kentucky, which places him 14th overall in the FBS in career attempts. That might scare some folks, but the players ahead of him on that list include Cedric Benson
, Deangelo Williams, Michael Turner
, BenJarvus Green-Ellis
, Anthony Dixon
, Mewelde Moore
, Ray Rice
, and Kevin Smith
. By the way Matt Forte
and Darren Sproles
are 18th and 22nd on that list. If Ray Rice
gets hurt, Rainey is the back to own in this offense.