Fantasy Football: Which Backup Running Back Could Be Tomorrow's Fantasy Starter?

Nick SeroCorrespondent IIIJuly 19, 2011

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 02:  Jason Snelling #44 of the Atlanta Falcons breaks a tackle by Sherrod Martin #23 of the Carolina Panthers at Georgia Dome on January 2, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Every year there is that one guy, you may know him better as Peyton Hillis or Arian Foster, that comes off the bench and becomes a Fantasy Football Stud.

We here at The Sports Cannon are going to do our best to make sure that you aren’t the last to know which backup of today is the star of tomorrow. Until free agency is made official and the whirlwind that is free agency begins, we won’t know exactly who is a backup and who isn’t.

What we can speculate on is where former backup free agents will go and if they have any chance of becoming a fantasy star in 2011. We are going to keep rookies from these rankings, but if you would like to see where we rank the rooks, you can visit TSC and see for yourself.

How we decided on the players: Rumors, rumors and more rumors. Not that any rumor will do, we’ve heard that Brett Favre is coming back but were not exactly believers.

If there is a good fit and the rumors are persistent enough, we will consider it a viable option. It also depends on the coaching philosophy and who else is on the roster.

Mike Tolbert, San Diego

Tolbert is only a restricted free agent, and the Chargers have placed a second round tender on him. The price tag seems too high for most teams to make a run at him, but if you look at the numbers, Tolbert was one of the most explosive backs in football last year.

Tolbert will likely take a back seat to Ryan Mathews this year, so his fantasy value as a Bolt isn’t great. Right now there are more rumors of the Chargers extending Tolbert long term than any other team going after him.

Chances to be a star: Low

Darren Sproles, San Diego

It appears that Josh McDaniels isn’t quite done learning from Bill Belichick. The new offensive coordinator in St. Louis has already drafted a Rob Gronkowski look alike with Lance Kendricks, and now he may be pursuing his own Danny Woodhead.

Sproles is one of the most explosive backs in the receiving game and could be a very dangerous weapon in the Josh McDaniels' offense. There are also rumors that the Miami Dolphins are interested in Sproles, likely still as a backup and third down replacement to Daniel Thomas.

Sproles' fantasy value may actually be better in Miami than elsewhere, however, as it has become a common occurrence for high notoriety rookie RBs to be letdowns in year one. Thomas has fumbling issues and certainly isn’t as strong in the passing game as Sproles, at least not yet.

Chances to be a star: Medium

Ricky Williams, Miami

Williams has gone on to say that he “would love nothing more than to end his career in Miami.” But he also blasted his head coach at the end of the season.

To date Williams has been linked to New England, mostly because of their propensity to sign veteran running backs. How crowded would that backfield be? Williams would have to fight for carries versus guys like BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley. We don’t see Williams’ fantasy numbers being any better than Fred Taylor’s when he was a Patriot.

Of course, Williams is only two years removed from a 1,100 and 11 touchdown campaign. That year, Williams flourished under offensive coordinator Dan Henning’s system. Henning was formerly the offensive coordinator in Carolina, when the Panthers saw great numbers from their own running back tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. This may be too much speculation, but maybe new Denver Broncos head coach John Fox may ask his former assistant for a recommendation.

Chances to be a star: Low

Michael Bush, Oakland

Had the new CBA gone in a different direction, Bush could have become a very rich man in what should be a tumultuous free agency period. The bruising back was a goal line king for the Silver and Black in 2010, and his career average of 4.4 yards per carry has been so good for the team that they have extended a first and a third round tender on this restricted free agent.

There is still the chance that Bush has an even better season this year with the Raiders, but will likely still take a back seat to Darren McFadden.  Run DMC has had some injury concerns in the past, so there is always the chance Bush has to step in as a band aid.

Chances to be a star: Medium

Brian Leonard, Cincinnati

Although the Bengals’ second round tender originally placed on Leonard no longer applies, it is clear the Bengals will want to resign Leonard and that he will again be the team’s third down back. His pass protection abilities will be even more crucial this season with rookie Andy Dalton under center, so you may see Leonard used more often than usual.

Now, to be honest, Leonard wouldn’t have had a chance of making the list last week. Cedric Benson’s most recent arrest has made the Bengals running back situation cloudier than usual, and Leonard could end up looking like another Peyton Hillis in the AFC North. Maybe we are getting ahead of ourselves, but we like Leonard’s chances of increased playing time behind a viable, yet aging offensive line.

Chances to be a star: Low – Medium

Jason Snelling, Atlanta:

If there is one backup running back that could be the next Michael Turner, going from backup to star, it would be Jason Snelling. It is fitting Snelling holds the distinction considering he is currently Turner’s backup, but the free agent back could garner more money and more playing time elsewhere. Snelling has said that his first choice would be to resign with the Falcons, but money and playing time just may not be there.

There have been enough rumblings on the rumor mill that we think Snelling could be the next back to play for the Denver Broncos. Current Denver General Manager Brian Xanders was involved in Player Personnel with the Falcons when they drafted Jason Snelling and is reportedly looking for that next Michael Turner in free agency.

“What about Knowshon Moreno?” you may ask. Well the team is souring on the former first round draft pick and is likely going to try and find a more bruising back to compliment Moreno. Of course, DeAngelo Williams has a better connection to the coaching staff and is also a free agent.

Chances to be a star: Low – Medium

Cadillac Williams, Tampa Bay:

Cadillac was the league’s best back as far as third down efficiency was concerned in 2010. This year, he is likely headed elsewhere as the team feels he has, at best, one year of good play remaining.

Still, not many teams are going to overlook his value as a receiving back. Both as a blocker and as a receiver, Williams could end up playing for a few different teams looking for the same thing in a veteran running back, even if it is for only one year.

The Rams are looking for that in a running back, but will likely look for youth and less injury concern considering Steven Jackson is getting older and has his own injury concerns.

The Steelers may be looking for a similar back to replace Mewelde Moore, and current coach Mike Tomlin has a very good relationship with current Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris.

Lastly, one team that could be looking for a third down, veteran back would be the Green Bay Packers, who could truly take advantage of Williams' receiving capabilities.

Chances to be a star: Low

Brandon Jackson, Green Bay:

The Packers have been high on Jackson for years, thinking he could be their future starter thanks to his abilities as a blocker. It never quite panned out that way, and after losing his job to James Starks last year, Jackson will likely head elsewhere.

Jackson says he wants to be a starter but likely won’t get the chance. There hasn’t been much linked to Brandon Jackson so far this offseason, so it is hard to tell where he will end up.

There is a “50-50” chance Jackson finds himself back in Packers’ uniform, but the return of Ryan Grant and the addition of rookie Alex Green shows the team is leaning toward moving on. Still, Jackson has the ability and more importantly will not garner nearly as much money as other free agent backs.

Chances to be a star: Low

Brian Westbrook, San Francisco:

Westbrook came on strong when called upon after Frank Gore went down with his routine season-ending injury. He was still rarely used in the Bay Area, and it frustrated the former Eagles’ running back.

This year, Westbrook will have to prove to teams he can still play despite age and injury concerns. Westbrook wants to return to the East Coast, primarily Philadelphia. The team could use some veteran leadership in a young backfield, but Westbrook would be another receiving back in an already crowded backfield.

There have also been rumors that the Washington Redskins have expressed interest in signing Westbrook, and what coach is better at making obscure running backs in to fantasy stars more than Mike Shannahan?

Chance to be a star: Very Low

Nick Sero is a Fantasy Football writer and expert for The Sports Cannon. You can follow Nick and TSC on Facebook and twitter for up-to-the-minute fantasy news, tips, rankings and rumors.