Fantasy Football Draft 2012: 10 Backups Worth a Late-Round Pick
For many, fantasy football is a headache-inducing, number-crunching, I'll-mow-the-lawn-after-I-calculate-Sunday's-dew-factor game.
And fans love every second of it.
Every year, there are hidden gems shrouded amongst stockpiles of household names: These aren't the players selected in a friendly office pool between six mind-numbingly bored coworkers. They're not the 100-catch receivers that walk on clouds, or the 1,000-yard rushers that juke cameramen out of jobs.
These are the backups for fans that are members of the jam-packed leagues, where football becomes chess.
10. Jason Avant (WR, Philadelphia Eagles)
They're attention magnets that attract the spotlight, but their play warrants it.
As a result, Jason Avant often becomes lost in the shadows.
Entering his seventh season, No. 81 is a reliable veteran in a quick-strike offense.
The dual-threat tandem of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin—Philadelphia's starting wideouts—missed a combined four games last season. With Maclin's injury-plagued past and Jackson's unpredictable off-field antics, expect Avant to crack the starting rotation at several points throughout the 16-game season.
With 110 receiving yards against the Patriots and 139 at Buffalo, Avant has proven that he's capable of producing game-changing numbers.
9. Tony Moeaki (TE, Kansas City Chiefs)
There are two facts that fantasy owners need to be aware of with Tony Moeaki: He missed the entirety of 2011 after suffering a pre-season ACL tear. The previous year, he constructed a better rookie campaign for Kansas City than Tony Gonzalez once did.
In his first season, Moeaki recorded 47 receptions for 556 yards during 15 games played.
With a two-headed monster consisting of Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis in the backfield, look for the Chiefs to exploit over-eager defenses via play-action featuring the tight end when they're knocking on the red zone's door.
8. Jerome Simpson (WR, Cincinnati Bengals)
Remember that 2011 NFL highlight you replayed on YouTube time after time?
The one that was so absurdly ridiculous that your only reaction was to laugh at it?
That was Jerome Simpson.
Expect Simpson to evolve into a viable outside threat after recording three 100-yard efforts in 2011.
7. Peyton Hillis (RB, Kansas City Chiefs)
Peyton Hillis' potential was displayed on a weekly basis in 2010, rushing for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns.
He was a backfield bruiser that bulldozed bulldozers—the second coming of Mike Alstott.
However, contract disputes and tension with teammates dirtied Hillis' characterization during 2011.
The running back will look to redeem his reputation on and off the field, especially since his current contract with Kansas City expires after this upcoming season.
Coupled with Jamaal Charles and a ground-and-pound offensive mentality, Hillis' strength and unique size will be utilized frequently inside of the opposing 20-yard line—he was made for the goal-line formation.
Expect his touchdown numbers to skyrocket during his tenure with the Chiefs.
6. Nate Burleson (WR, Detroit Lions)
Matthew Stafford is a throw-first-ask-questions-later gunslinger.
Calvin Johnson is nicknamed after a towering, imposing machine that disregards human life.
The casual fan wouldn't be blamed for looking confused whenever Nate Burleson's name is spoken.
Quietly, Burleson racked up a career-high 73 catches last season.
A healthy Jahvid Best will relieve a fair share of pressure off the passing game, and a division renowned for its aerial dogfights will undoubtedly pad Burleson's statistics.
5. Mark Ingram (RB, New Orleans Saints)
The 2010 Heisman recipient was nagged by injuries during his rookie season.
However, he still accounted for as many touchdowns (five) as his peer, Pierre Thomas, whose role will likely diminish with the return of a healthy Ingram.
Although Darren Sproles was arguably the most valuable offseason acquisition in the NFL last year, his 87 total rushing attempts in 2011 show that he's primarily used in the passing game.
The bulk of the rushing load will fall onto the broad shoulders of Mark Ingram.
If he can fight off the injury bug, Ingram should have a breakout sophomore campaign.
4. DeMarco Murray (RB, Dallas Cowboys)
DeMarco Murray seizes opportunities.
He averaged over six yards per carry in three of the five games that he was given at least 20 attempts.
In Week 7 versus St. Louis, Murray's 253 yards broke Emmitt Smith's single-game rushing record for the Cowboys.
Within the frame 13 games, the former Sooner accumulated 895 yards, averaging 5.5 yards per attempt.
There's little doubt that Murray's role will increase significantly alongside an often-sidelined Felix Jones.
3. Michael Bush (RB, Chicago Bears)
Bush was 23 yards shy of breaking the 1,000-yard rushing barrier with the Raiders in 2011. He also disproved the myth that power backs aren't threats in the receiving game, fetching 37 passes for 418 yards.
Forte has been disgruntled dating back to 2011 due to contract negotiations (or lack thereof) and only participated in 12 games.
He's battle-tested and has played through an assortment of injuries time and again.
If his contract remains unchanged heading into the season, the Bears' front office will not hesitate to increase Bush's playing time as a bargaining chip for leverage with Forte's agent.
No matter the scenario, Bush is a consistent running back that is capable of producing big-time numbers.
2. Mike Tolbert (RB, Carolina Panthers)
A compact back that has the strength to pummel defenders, but deceptively quick, Mike Tolbert was one of the hottest names on the free agent market this past offseason.
Tolbert will share the backfield with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, much like he did in 2010 while accompanying Darren Sproles and Ryan Matthews in San Diego. During the aforementioned season, Tolbert still rushed for 735 yards and discovered the end zone 11 times.
Last season, Tolbert was the Chargers' second-leading receiver with 54 receptions.
The former Charger is a near-lock to gain owners double-digit touchdowns.
1. Mario Manningham (WR, San Francisco 49ers)
Everybody now associates the name "Manningham" with the sideline-scaling catch from Super Bowl XLVI.
Before combating injuries in 2011, the Super Bowl hero reeled in 60 receptions for 944 yards (15.7 YPC) and nine touchdowns.
In a game that puts a premium on wide receivers, San Francisco's new wideout will likely still be available in the back-half of fantasy drafts.
Expect Manningham-to-Harbaugh chest-bumps to become the norm for the Bay Area in 2012.
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