As the saying goes, you can't win your league in the first round, but you can definitely lose it. The opposite can certainly apply to the late rounds of a draft. No pick that you make can cost your team significantly, but choosing a breakout star can help lead your team on a playoff run.
Owners that had Darren Sproles, Reggie Bush or DeMarco Murray last season reaped the benefits of low-risk, high-reward running backs in 2011. Here are three players to keep an eye on in your draft this year complete with positional rankings from Yahoo and ESPN.
Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons - (ESPN: RB No. 67, Yahoo: RB No. 40)
Rodgers didn't see the field a whole lot in 2011, carrying the ball just 57 times while playing behind Michael Turner. But this offseason, Turner turned the dreaded 30 years old, the age where most backs begin to hit a wall. He may have already started the process last season, where he ran the ball 84 times for just 280 yards in weeks 12-16 before a bounce-back game against the Tampa Bay Bucs to close out the year.
The speedy Rodgers will likely see a big increase in his workload this year. Turner will show the Falcons that he isn't capable of carrying the ball 300 times anymore and Rodgers is the best option to pair him with. He can also play a role in the passing game, where he caught 21 balls for 188 yards last season.
The Detroit Lions were badly banged up at the running back position in 2011, so they went out and signed Smith mid-season. The 25-year-old emerged as a very effective pickup, rushing for 356 yards on 72 carries. He has a chance to get the bulk of the carries in Detroit this season.
Which sleeper are you targeting on draft day?
One of the other backs vying for playing time is Mikel LeShoure, last year's second round pick out of Illinois. He missed all of last year with a torn Achilles tendon and may not be completely healthy or effective. He was also arrested in the offseason and suspended two games for violating the substance-abuse policy. Jahvid Best will likely start the season on the PUP list.
With his competition gone in the early part of the year, Smith has a chance to really prove himself and take the job right away.
David Wilson, New York Giants - (ESPN: RB No. 39, Yahoo: RB No. 36)
The departure of Brandon Jacobs leaves a big hole for the New York Giants and their two-back system. In comes David Wilson, the rookie out of Virginia Tech who was fourth in the nation in rushing last season. Though his size and game resemble that of Bradshaw more than Jacobs, he will get plenty of reps in 2012.
The duo of Bradshaw and Jacobs struggled last season, as Giants running backs averaged 3.5 yards per carry, worst in the NFL. They were still effective fantasy players, however, combining for 19 total touchdowns. The running game should fare much better for New York this year, and Wilson will get the playing time to prove himself a valuable fantasy target.