Every year there are a few select players who break out and have big, surprise seasons. Last year, Arian Foster came out of nowhere to have a year that won lots of fantasy football owners a championship.
So, here are five NFL running backs who aren't deep sleepers, but who I believe are poised to put up big fantasy numbers for the 2011 season.
Felix Jones in a game against the Eagles in 2010
Felix Jones is a back who I believe has never really been given a chance to shine in the NFL. In my opinion, his talents have been somewhat overlooked by many. But, for this season, he will put up numbers that could possibly put him into the top 15 at the running back position.
For the past two years, Felix Jones has been in an offense in which he was forced to split time and carries with Marion Barber, which severely hurt his fantasy value. This season, Barber (who I believe is a sleeper with serious potential) is gone and it has been stated by both Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones that Felix will be the premier back and they won't limit his carries. This is huge for Felix, since he'll likely garner enough carries to get somewhere in the 1,150-1,250 yard range.
Two years ago, Jones averaged 5.9 yards per carry, which is almost unreal. Last season it dipped to a very respectable 4.3 YPC. If he can up that number to get around 5.0 YPC, he'll have a great season for fantasy owners.
The one knock on Jones is that he doesn't score a lot of TDs, but I think that should improve with him being the feature back for Dallas in this upcoming season.
Wells makes a move against a Green Bay defender
Much like the aforementioned Felix Jones, Chris Wells suffered from a timeshare for the past two years in Arizona. He was forced to split carries and give away most of the goal line carries to Tim Hightower, which detracted from his value.
This season, Wells is seriously undervalued in my mind. He was set to be in yet another time share situation with Virginia Tech rookie Ryan Williams this year, until Williams went down with a season ending injury last week. This leaves almost no competition for carries in the Arizona backfield, Wells will get his 20 carries a game.
Beanie Wells will also be the goal line back, and will probably score in the neighborhood of 10 TDs. I don't think he'll necessarily be a top 20 back, but I think he can come close. Most people probably have him ranked outside the top 50, so if he could be in the top 25 in RB fantasy points it'd be a major success for his owners.
Being a Miami Dolphins fan, I'm slightly biased here, but I really believe out of all rookie running backs that Daniel Thomas is the most promising, fantasy wise, for this upcoming season.
Thomas is being thrust into a situation where he should start right away. He'll be the feature back in Miami's offense right out of the gate. I view the signing of Reggie Bush as a good thing for Thomas, as it'll take a bit of the workload off of his back, as he gets used to the NFL grind.
Bush shouldn't take too many carries away from Thomas as Reggie is primarily used out of the backfield as a receiver and will probably only carry the ball five to seven times a game.
Thomas also has experience from college in the Wildcat offense, which could really up his value especially since Miami has frequently used the Wildcat in the past, with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams who both departed, to Philly and Baltimore respectively.
Overall, Daniel Thomas has been thrust into the perfect situation to succeed in 2011, and he has the talent to do it and should be a big name picked highly in fantasy drafts for years to come.
Spiller making an acrobatic catch against the Pats
As a CJ Spiller owner in 2010, I was extremely disappointed with his performance. He struggled to find his rhythm on offense, and he didn't do too much work in the return game. Overall it was just a flat-out bad year.
This season, Spiller should play a much more prominent role in the Buffalo Bills offense. He'll have to split some carries with Fred Jackson, but where I really think Spiller will improve is in the passing game. He should see a lot of targets out of the backfield this season.
I think it is not unreasonable to think he can get 50-60 receptions, so his value in PPR leagues shoots way up. He won't be a quality RB1 or RB2, but I believe he's an awesome flex option, who owners will be happy to have.
The bottom line on Spiller is that he just has too much talent not to have a decent season, and I believe it's unlikely he disappoints owners two years in a row. He'll bounce back and have a very good year and owners will be pleased come the end of this season.
Lynch during his epic playoff run against the Saints
We all remember the almost incomprehensibly amazing run that Marshawn Lynch had against the Saints in the NFL playoffs last year that helped Seattle seal its enormous upset over New Orleans. I don't believe that Lynch is just a one-hit wonder, and that he'll produce for his owners this season in a big way.
Lynch should see the bulk of the carries for Seattle in 2011. And with a tenuous situation with Tarvaris Jackson as the starting quarterback, it's likely that Seattle will lean heavily on the run, giving Lynch more opportunities than he'd normally receive.
I feel that people are saying that his value is inflated due to his one big run. While that may be true, owners must also remember that Lynch has shown elite level capability in spurts in the past, and I think that comes back this season.
The offensive line has been greatly improved in Seattle, which should definitely help Lynch's 2011 campaign as well. My views on Lynch are admittedly highly speculative, but for some reason I just think he's going to have a really big season this upcoming year, and owners should definitely look at him as a viable option on draft day.