Russell Wilson and 5 Late Bloomers Shooting Up Fantasy Football Draft Boards

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystAugust 29, 2012

Russell Wilson and 5 Late Bloomers Shooting Up Fantasy Football Draft Boards

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    Sometimes patience can be a virtue.

    As the preseason has progressed in the National Football League it has had quite an impact on fantasy football draft boards, as injuries and position battles have decimated the fantasy stock of some players while sending others through the roof.

    It's the latter group we'll examine here, with a look at a handful of players to whom the preseason has been kind, from a tailback whose career has been resurrected to a rather unlikely starting quarterback.

    All aboard the hype train!

Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

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    If we're riding on the fantasy football hype train then quarterback Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks is the equivalent of the Chinese CRH380A.

    The third-round rookie has been the talk of preseason, consistently making plays with both his arm and legs, and after throwing for 185 yards and two scores and running for nearly 60 more yards in Seattle's third preseason game head coach Pete Carroll saw all he needed to see.

    Wilson has been named the team's Week 1 starter under center, and while his dual-threat ability is one of the things that makes him such an attractive fantasy target, the youngster recently told Brady Henderson of ESPN Radio in Seattle that tucking and running isn't something that crosses his mind in the pocket.

    "I never, ever think about running the football. I'm always wanting to throw the ball and if something closes, if I go through my progression and it closes, it's like, 'Bam.' It happens so fast and you're out. You're just trying to get something positive," he said.

    It certainly crosses the mind of fantasy owners, and it's vaulted the former North Carolina State and Wisconsin star into consideration as an upside QB2.

Cedric Benson, RB, Green Bay Packers

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    Just a few short weeks ago running back Cedric Benson was a player without a team, a plodding running back who had failed to top four yards a carry in three of his past four NFL seasons.

    However, a horrific preseason and turf toe injury left Green Bay Packers starter James Starks looking  even worse than Benson has the past few years.

    The Packers signed the 29-year-old, and Benson now sits atop the depth chart in Titletown and recently told Dan Pompei of The Chicago Tribune that he's ready to contribute in his new home.

    "It's prime time right now," the 29-year-old said of where he is in his career. "I'm strong and fast, stronger than I've been. Plus, I'm more knowledgeable. You become a veteran over time," he said. "I've learned the game. I'm a professional."

    From out of work to viable fantasy RB3 just like that.

Rashad Jennings, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    The contract impasse between the Jacksonville Jaguars and running back Maurice Jones-Drew continues to drag on, and at this point it doesn't appear that the NFL's leading rusher from last season will be reporting any time soon.

    That leaves fantasy drafters who burned a first-round pick on Jones-Drew twisting in the wind, but it has opened a door of opportunity for running back Rashad Jennings, who will start at tailback for the Jaguars according to what head coach Mike Mularkey recently told Vito Stellino of The Florida Times-Union.

    “Again, Rashad Jennings is going in as the starter. I don’t know how that came out being any different,” Mularkey said. “I think what I said was I’ve never been in this situation before with any player, let alone a running back, [when he] has held out through training camp. I don’t know how it will all unfold. The conditioning, the mental part. I have no idea,” he said.

    The 27-year-old has been fairly effective in the preseason, carrying the ball 36 times for 175 yards, and while there's no telling how long this particular ride will last, Jennings possesses higher-end fantasy RB3 value for as long as it does.

Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers running game is in a state of flux right now, and while a back appears to be asserting himself, he's not the ball-carrier that most expected when training camp began.

    With starter Rashard Mendenhall likely out until at least October after tearing his ACL last December and Isaac Redman first nursing a groin injury and now a sprained ankle, the team has turned to third-year pro Jonathan Dwyer.

    Dwyer has responded with 15 carries for 84 yards in the preseason, and as Ed Bouchette of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports the 33-yard reception that Dwyer made in the Steelers' win over Buffalo last week made quite an impression on offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

    "That was a big time play, now," Haley said. "He didn't get as many opportunities running as in other weeks, but that was a big-time play when we needed it. Because that's the game, really. If that was a real game and you convert coming out of there and going 98 yards and they're burning their timeouts? That was a big play when you needed it most. Anytime you have a guy who does that, that's a real good sign."

    The 23-year-old will start the team's preseason finale this week, and if Dwyer continues to make a positive impression on the coaching staff he may well leapfrog Redman and make his way into the starting lineup for Pittsburgh's season opener, making him a serviceable fantasy "flex" play.

Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins

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    We'll conclude this look at late bloomers with a word that strikes fear into the hearts of fantasy football enthusiasts everywhere.


    This time it's really not his fault though.

    With running backs Roy Helu, Evan Royster and Tim Hightower all battling injuries, the Washington Redskins were forced to turn to sixth-round rookie Alfred Morris in their third preseason game, and the Florida Atlantic product came through in a big way, racking up 107 yards on 14 carries.

    The Redskins will rest Morris in their final preseason game, possibly in anticipation of his starting the season opener, a role the youngster says he knew he was ready for according to Mike Jones of The Washington Post.

    “I know what I’m capable of. I know I’m capable of being a starter,” Morris said. “I came from a small school, but I know my work ethic and I know my willingness and want-to to be great.”

    Given the murkiness of the Washington backfield it's folly to count on Morris as a long-term solution, but fantasy owners who find themselves in need of an opening week fill-in (I'm looking at you Ryan Mathews owners) could do worse assuming that Morris gets the nod.