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FANTASY FOOTBALL: FOURTH AND GOAL

Eric Hinton Staff Editor June 24, 2012 10:20PM EDT
So the topic of this column was to be sleeper RBs, but let’s have a moment of rare honesty between you and I. The truth is in this day of nonstop Fantasy Football television programming, radio shows, websites, podcasts and magazines exclusively devoted to the game we hold so dear, the very term “sleeper” is an anachronism. Sure, I could dig really, really deep and tell you about the fourth-string RBs on the Miami Dolphins or Buffalo Bills (Steve Slaton and Johnny White respectively, in case you’re wondering), but truth be told, an asteroid will slam into the Earth and plop us all into the next ice age before either of those two shlumps gets into your lineup.

No one is calling BenJarvus Green-Ellis a sleeper. But he’ll be a great value pick for your Fantasy team. Photo Credit: Jim Rogash/Getty Images North America

So, rather than talking about “sleepers” who really aren’t, let’s talk about five value picks at the running back position. These are players that everyone knows about, but for one reason or the other aren’t on the top of anyone’s hit parade. However, these players are ones that, if the chips fall right, can and should out-produce relative to their draft position and give you that extra nudge toward a Fantasy championship.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis– If anyone is calling Green-Ellis a sleeper this year, smack him across the face… hard… because he’s not. Most savvy Fantasy players have a slanted eye toward BGE and are curiously anticipating how he’ll perform in a featured role with the Cincinnati Bengals. Free from the shackles of a Patriots offense, which hasn’t produced a true stud Fantasy RB since Corey Dillon’s 1,600 yard 12 TD performance in 2004, Law Firm now steps into a role where the unspectacular Cedric Benson ran for over 1,000 yards last year and scored six TDs. BGE quietly had a very productive year last season, playing with Tom Brady and company, rushing the ball for 667 yards and scoring 11 TDs. The year before that he rushed for 1,008 yards and found himself in the end zone on 13 occasions. With defenses focusing on shutting down A.J. Green, Green-Ellis should, at the very least, be capable of reproducing his 1,000 yard effort of 2010 and find the end zone on numerous occasions. That alone makes him worthy of RB2 status, but he’ll likely still be on your draft board in the high middle rounds because he’s just not that kind of sexy.

Rashard Mendenhall – I know. I know. Pretty much everyone has given up on Mendenhall at this point. That’s why he’s on this list. Mendenhall suffered a torn ACL at the end of last season, and the silence out of Pittsburgh regarding his recovery has been deafening. The Steelers GM has indicated Mendenhall likely won’t be ready for opening week and you can bet good money he’ll start the season on the PUP list, sidelining him for the first six games of the season. For all these reasons and a few others I’m probably forgetting, on Draft Day Mendenhall will be treated like he has ‘the clap’ (Youngsters look it up… then bag it up). But last time I checked, the football season extends well beyond six weeks. What’s in his favor is age (he just turned 25 last week… belated happy birthday), and you can take a certain amount of comfort knowing The Steelers bypassed several opportunities to address their running back situation in the NFL Draft. The team skipped over LaMichael James in the second round and Lamar Miller in the third to address other areas of immediate need. Instead the Steelers will be counting on Isaac Redman to hold down the fort until Mendenhall returns. Some may foolishly believe that this is Redman’s opportunity to wrestle the position away permanently. If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge I want to sell you cheap. Redman is a stopgap measure. He’s a “Break glass in case of emergency” RB. If Mendy comes back after Week 6 and has any semblance of his ability, you’ll be able to plug in a guy that you drafted in the same round that other owners are grabbing their defenses. Where’s the risk in that?

Donald Brown – Donald Bust, I mean Brown, was on the precipice of NFL oblivion last year. Hell, he wasn’t even active the first four games of the season. But as the dismantling of the Colts began in earnest, mad tweeter Jim Irsay and Co. apparently decided “what the hell”, and gave the former first-round pick one more look-see. The takeaway? Well maybe Brown wasn’t quite as craptastic as we all first thought. Brown ended the season with 134 rushing attempts, 645 yards and five TDs. Not fantastic numbers, but again, remember he did this playing only three quarters of the season and much of it while goldilocks Curtis Painter was behind center. (Quick aside: seriously, what was with that hair, dude?) Irsay may be a twittering fool, but he’s no idiot and realizes the investment his organization has in Andrew Luck. He’ll do his best to ensure Luck stays upright by balancing out the Colt’s offense with a consistent rushing attack. Brown may be one of the least attractive RB1 options going into the Fantasy year, but he’ll get his opportunities to run the rock, and that’s all you can ask for in a value pick.

Michael Bush- Let’s put aside for the moment the colossal clusterF#@% that is Matt Forte’s contract situation and the looming threat of a holdout. I think most reasonable men can agree that at some point, sooner or later, Forte will be back on the sideline and sharing the rock with Bush. So why is he a value pick? It’s because Bush makes the most of his opportunities when they’re presented to him. Due in large part to the injury suffered by Darren McFadden last season, Bush is coming off a career high in rushing attempts and yardage. He’ll be working with the starters early on and should get a nice comfort level with Jay Cutler and the rest of the offensive line. And when Forte does return, while his rushing attempts may drop, he’ll still be in line to take on the role that Marion Barber had last season.

C.J. Spiller – No, it wasn’t a mirage. That really was C.J. Spiller you saw rushing like a madman the last five games of the season. His 86 attempts for 446 yards and three TDs gave a Fantasy owners a glimpse of the rusher many felt Spiller could be after being picked by the Bills ninth overall in the 2010 draft. But just as Fantasy owners got their hopes up, The Bills re-signed Fred Jackson to a two-year contract extension worth up to $9 million. So theoretically, it’s back to a supporting role for Spiller while Jackson takes the bulk of the carries. But let’s be real. Jackson turned 31 earlier this year and already showed signs that the wear and tear might be too much for him to handle over a 16-game season. Everyone in your league is going to know this, so don’t expect Spiller to tumble too far down draft boards. But he may fall just far enough for you to snatch him where you shouldn’t.

Next week – Value picks at the QB position. (Hint – Aaron Rodgers won’t be listed).

Agree? Disagree? Let me know at ehinton200@rotoexperts.com or follow me on Twitter @darkman237

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