The Running Back position is the most crucial spot on your fantasy football team, these hidden gems might save your season in 2011.
Fantasy football seasons are won when you find the unexpected player whose production propels your team to the top of the league.
The running back position contains players who produce more value than any other position on your team. On the flip side, one bad cut, a thick piece of turf, or a 300 pound lineman free falling on a leg, can end your marquee running back's season in a single play, oftentimes it also marks the end of your fantasy football season.
However, with good research and a bit of luck, you can discover the diamonds in the rough who will provide your team the boost it needs when your star back's season is ended by a freak injury—these are my sleeper picks at running back for 2011.
Ryan Williams has drawn comparisons to DeAngelo Williams from scouts due to his bursts of speed, his vision to see the hole, and his versatility to thrive in whatever role he plays. This rookie figures to be dangerous in the near future.
What stands between Williams and a full-time playing position is 3rd-year running back, Beanie Wells. Wells' career thus far has been marked with disappointment. The Arizona Cardinals expected Wells to come in and make an immediate difference after drafting him very high in 2009 but he hasn't yet lived up to his billing. Last year in the final game of the preseason, Wells injured his knee (torn meniscus). The rest of year he looked tentative to burst into holes, and experienced a considerable drop-off compared to his rookie campaign.
Wells will most likely win the starting job, but keep an eye on Williams to make early contributions as the coaching staff works him into the lineup. If Williams makes solid strides and another injury besets Wells, Williams will be the starter.
Williams has the size and speed to carry the offense and great hands to receive the ball out of the backfield, his beaming talent will help him find a way onto the field.
Shonn Greene has yet to receive a real shot at the starting tailback position in New York. This year appears to be no different.
However, the Jets are relying on the ever-aging LaDainian Tomlinson to continue to produce in 2011. I believe that this season might be the year LT's tank runs dry. Last season's playoffs displayed the tell-tale signs of LT slowing down. Although this season's offseason was cut short, LT will continue to slow while Greene will improve.
Watch for Greene to steal the majority of carries on first and second downs, and be taken out for LT in passing situations. In goal line spots LT was heavily favored to plunge into the end zone receiving 11 chances compared to Greene's 3 attempts. I expect this trend to reverse in 2011.
Greene has a serious speed burst and will break off some huge runs when given the opportunity. I think 2011 will finally be Greene's year.
C.J. Spiller received lots of praise and press coming out of Clemson last season into the NFL. However, his struggles in pass-protection and the number of times he coughed up the ball to opposing defenses killed his buzz. After a full season of experience, Spiller looks poised to put his tumultuous 2010 season behind him and establish himself as an explosive, yet reliable back in 2011.
Spiller finds himself behind Fred Jackson on the depth chart after Marshawn Lynch's departure midseason last year. But I don't see the Bills letting Spiller's dynamic talent go to waste on the bench.
The Bills need all the help they can get. Watch for Spiller receiving the ball out the backfield on screens, or swing passes to get him out into the open field. While in space, Spiller dazzles with an amazing speed and quickness reminiscent of a young LaDainian Tomlinson.
Willis McGahee finds himself in a new home for 2011, the Mile High City. In the Broncos system under new head coach John Fox, look for McGahee, reaching his 30th birthday during 2011, to have one of his best seasons ever.
McGahee is going to receive a ton of opportunities in John Fox's run-heavy offensive system. Although McGahee will probably back up Knowshon Moreno, he is going to carry the load to a much greater extent than as a Raven in 2010.
McGahee is known as a red zone specialist with a knack for racking up touchdowns, a valuable commodity for any fantasy football team. While the Broncos are strapped with quarterback Kyle Orton, look for Fox to turn to McGahee to get the points on the board, rather than relying on the hesitant, ineffective Orton when it matters most.
The only thing to watch out for that could potentially quash this entire pick would be if Tim Tebow was brought in as a wildcat red zone quarterback to pick up points in crucial moments of the game. Tebow is a dangerous running back out of the wildcat and could steal McGahee's bacon.
Ricky Williams claims that he will hang up his cleats after his 2-year deal with the Ravens expires in 2012. However, he showed up to training camp in Baltimore with a business-like attitude. He was ready to work. Williams wants to end his career as a Super Bowl champion, and believes that Baltimore is the place he will realize his dream.
He has already carved out for himself a memorable career. I believe in 2011, when he has fallen off of most people's radars, he will make a huge impact for the Ravens.
The player preventing Williams from making that big difference in 2011 is Ray Rice. Rice is one of the best running backs in the game. However, in 2010 Rice started having some knee cartilage issues, which kept him off the field for a few games. When a running back's knees start to go, it is a bad sign.
However, for Williams this is a good sign. Look for Williams to contribute in goal line situations much like McGahee has for many years before leaving for Denver through free agency. Williams will also be waiting to take the reins from Rice if and when that knee flares up again in 2011.