In fantasy football, there are three universal rules to winning your league that every savvy veteran knows by heart: Don't blow your first round pick, have a list of late-round wonder boys, and stay as far away from Tatum Bell as you possibly can.
Assuming you aren't silly enough to take a running back over 30 in the first round, and that you follow the Tatum rule with a religious fervor, then there's only one thing you're asking as the 2009 season approaches: Who exactly am I targeting late in the draft, and why?
Knowing which players you can pick up late in your draft, and which players are undervalued is absolutely critical to becoming a fantasy legend amongst your friends. When you head into your draft knowing what your team will look like from the bottom up, all of your selections become much more informed, and as a result your roster will fill out much better and be noticeably more cohesive.
In this article, we'll be looking at 10 Bargain Bin Players that you should do everything you can to sneak into your roster, and why you can't mention it to any of your friends.
1. RB Chris Wells (ARI)
Is this an endorsement of the former Buckeye over the much more highly touted Knowshon Moreno? Not necessarily. What puts Arizona running back Chris Wells high on this list is the fact that he's going a round or more later than his Georgia foe, and he has all the makings of a fantasy hero this season.
Wells has teamed up with Arizona's potent passing game to create one scary offensive roster. With Kurt Warner behind center, Larry Fitzgerald on one side, Anquan Boldin on the other and burner Steve Breaston manning the slot, it's going to be impossible for teams to key in on Wells this season. He's going to get the ball, and he's going to get it with plenty of space to work with.
Sure, there's Tim Hightower sitting in front of him, and sure, early reports are that Wells will start camp as the third back on the depth chart, but who is kidding who here? Hightower had his chance last season to show what he's got, and clearly the Arizona coaching staff felt much more comfortable spending a first round pick on a replacement. In the very least, Wells will either figure in as the starter, handle the goal line carries, or both. And with an offense as potent as Arizona's, any of those three will be worth a late-round pick on what could very well turn out to be a top-tier running back this upcoming season.
2. RB Ray Rice (BAL)
When Ravens running back Willis McGahee showed up for camp in 2008 overweight and underappreciated, the writing was on the wall for the former first round fantasy pick. McGahee's carries were limited down the stretch of the 2008 season, and his performance in the playoffs didn't exactly earn him votes of confidence from the coaching staff.
Enter Ray Rice.
Younger, faster and better behaved, Rice looks to be the cure to Ravens' offensive ailments. With Derrick Mason out of Baltimore, this team desperately needs a new weapon to give defenses headaches. The diminutive Ray Rice is the best receiving back on the roster, the only one with real explosive capabilities and has the character and work ethic that makes Willis McGahee look like, well, Willis McGahee.
Early word was that fantasy surprise Le'Ron McClain is making a full transition back to fullback while Ray Rice has been practicing with the first team offense, but more recent reports are that McClain will be very much involved in the running back committee, if not more so than Rice. Regardless of how the timeshare pans out, it's safe to say McClain will be handling all of the goal line duties—but that's not all bad. Rice is the only viable third down back on the team, and has the potential if he compounds on his impressive camp to become a real fantasy factor in 2009.
3. WR Eddie Royal (DEN)
Is rookie stud receiver Eddie Royal really a bargain bin player? Absolutely. With the departure of Jay Cutler, Royal's stock has plummeted in fantasy circles. It's almost as if his 91-catch rookie campaign didn't even exist. But the departure of Cutler doesn't necessarily hurt Royal, in fact it might help him.
Eddie Royal is a prototype slot receiver. And what did we learn in 2008 about slot receivers that lose their pro bowl quarterback? If Patriots' stud Wes Welker sets any precedence, it's that plugging in an inferior quarterback with a shaky deep ball isn't going to do anything to your production but limit your touchdowns. But Eddie Royal wasn't much of a touchdown maker last season anyway, nor is he coming off of a record-setting year for team points as Welker had, so his value shouldn't be receiving such a hit this season.
New head coach Josh McDaniels tried to get Matt Cassel for a reason, and I suspect that reason was that he was already acclimated to the passing system McDaniels intends on implementing. If you're not catching what that means, Eddie Royal sure will. That's right, expect Royal to be used in a Wes Welker-like role in 2009. There's not a more explosive receiver possession than Eddie Royal available late in the draft.
4. WR Donnie Avery (STL)
Rookie receiver Donnie Avery disappeared in the minds of many last season with the emergence of Eddie Royal and DeShaun Jackson, but let's not forget that Avery was the top-rated receiver coming out of the 2008 draft, and the Rams had serious line and quarterback issues throughout the year. While those problem aren't exactly cured, they stand to be much more stable with the acquisition of OT Jason Smith and the strengthened commitment to Marc Bulger.
Avery carved himself out a nice role in 2008 playing second fiddle to Torry Holt, collecting nearly 700 yards on 53 catches in what was quite possibly one of the worst offenses of all time. But Holt has moved on to greener (and sunnier) pastures, and Avery looks to be the front runner to be the team's go-to receiver.
With defensive focus shifting with the return of a healthy Steven Jackson, expect Avery to find himself in favorable match ups this season, with a whole lot of looks to boot. Don't expect Torry Holt part two, but don't be surprised if you get a repeat of Dwayne Bowe's rookie campaign. Wherever he stands, Donnie Avery is a guy that is available too late for you not to have him on your roster.
5. RB Rashard Mendenhall (PIT)
When the Steelers drafted Rashard Mendenhall in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft, maybe people expected him to wrestle the starting job away from veteran Willie Parker by the end of the season. Parker had been extremely productive in the seasons prior to the draft, but he isn't the type of back that Steelers fans and management really want running their offense.
Parker is a speed back that has trouble after contact, and is the antithesis of the smash-mouth football the black and gold have become known for over the years. With his consistent decline in yards per touch since his rookie season, credence has been given to the notion that perhaps he would be better suited in a utility role, rather than a feature back.
That didn't happen, however, in 2008. Mendenhall had his "welcome to the NFL" moment early in the season when Ray Lewis knocked him right out of his cleats and onto the injured reserve list. But Mendenhall is back now, and if Parker's performance last season didn't put the writing on the wall, it certainly got out the markers.
Expect Mendenhall to carve out a consistent role on the goal line, if not a starting position early in the season. Mendenhall can easily be the Jonathan Stewart or LenDale White of 2008, vulturing touchdowns and stealing carries throughout the year. That is, if he can hold on to the ball.
Check out the remaining five bargain players in part two.