Jackie Battle and the 10 Biggest Fantasy Football Surprises of 2011

Cole TesslerCorrespondent IOctober 26, 2011

Jackie Battle and the 10 Biggest Fantasy Football Surprises of 2011

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    Fantasy football is a wonderful game for many reasons, but the fact that it's so unpredictable is its greatest quality.

    The fact is that, as much as you think you may know what may happen on a given Sunday or the season, you never do.

    There's always that player whom you laugh at your friend for starting, then you look like the dumb one Monday. Or that guy you pick in the earlier rounds, thinking he was going to be a lock but ended up being a huge bust (cough Chris Johnson cough).

    Then are also the players that completely have you surprised. 

    There's nothing like checking stats on Sunday's game and all of a sudden seeing some guy you never heard of going off and checking waivers to see if he's available.  

    Remember Arian Foster? It's crazy to think last year he was sitting on the free-agent block for a week in most leagues until he rushed for 233 yards and three touchdowns his first game.

    Or the players you draft in the later rounds of your fantasy draft you know nothing about that have a great season. Then you brag to your friends you knew it all along.

    In 2011, there have been plenty of players you can brag to your friends for drafting, or the players that saved your team when you picked them up from the waiver wire.

    Here are the top 10 fantasy surprises so far in the 2011 season.

10. Ben Tate

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    Drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft, Ben Tate missed the 2010 season with a broken ankle.

    He was still second string on the depth chart coming into the 2011 season, and when Arian Foster needed to sit out three games with an injury, Tate filled in, and the running game didn't miss a beat.

    Tate impressed in the first week when filling in for Foster by rushing for 116 yards and a touchdown. He rushed for 103 yards and 82 yards respectively the next two weeks until Foster came back.

    Tate provided owners a solid replacement for Foster in the meantime until he came back.

    Although Foster now has the starting job again, the Texans are starting to work Tate more into the offense again.

    Last week against the Titans, he had 15 carries for 104 yards. He should provide a nice flex option for deeper leagues if the Texans continue to work him into a time-share with Foster.

9. Jordy Nelson

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    In 2010, Jordy Nelson wasn't much of a productive fantasy player, catching only 582 yards and two touchdowns.

    But where Nelson really made his claim to fame was the Super Bowl, where he caught nine passes for 140 yards and a touchdown. 

    Although he played well in the Super Bowl, Nelson still didn't have much fantasy expectations, as Yahoo! ranked him 40th among wide receivers before the season.

    Nelson has been the beneficiary of a legendary season by quarterback Aaron Rodgers and has become one of his main targets.

    Going into Week 8, Nelson has caught 24 passes for 465 yards and four touchdowns. He has become a popular waiver pickup and is often a solid flex option.

8. A.J. Green

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    The fourth pick in the 2011 draft, A.J. Green definitely had the skill set to be a solid fantasy receiver this year, but there were a lot of questions coming into the season.

    One concern was his quarterback situation—with Carson Palmer holding out, Andy Dalton was named the starter, and there wasn't much confidence in him.

    There were big concerns Dalton could put a ceiling on Green's success, as rookie quarterbacks aren't the most trustworthy options.

    Dalton made Green his No. 1 option, and Green's fantasy owners benefited.

    In six games, Green has caught four touchdowns and has racked up 453 yards. There's no concern with a ceiling also, as Dalton has been preforming pretty well at quarterback and Green has been the beneficiary. 

    Green is a great starter for many fantasy teams and has been one of the best fantasy wide receivers this season so far.

7. Darren Sproles

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    Signing with the Saints as a free agent, there were many question marks surrounding Darren Sproles coming into the 2011 season. 

    Fantasy-wise, Sproles was never much of a threat—he only had two touchdowns in 2010 and garnered a lackluster 787 total yards.  

    There were also questions about his role with the Saints and how many targets Sproles would get in the receiving game.

    Heading into Week 8, Sproles has already proven himself as one of the most reliable players in fantasy football and is a dominating force in leagues that award points per reception.

    This season, Sproles has caught at least five passes in every game, has four touchdowns and has accumulated 618 total yards in less than half of the games he played in last year.

    He is currently ranked second in the league in receptions—tied with teammate Jimmy Graham—and is ranked 24th in Yahoo's player ranks.

6. Jackie Battle

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    Coming into the 2011 season, Jackie Battle was the Chiefs' fourth-string running back. 

    He only had 118 rushing yards to his name in his three years in the league, and it didn't seem like he was going to get much more.

    Yahoo! Sports ranked 2,050 players ahead of Battle fantasy-wise.

    When star running back Jamaal Charles went down with a torn ACL, the Chiefs turned to backups Thomas Jones and Dexter McCluster.

    This duo failed to produce a solid running game for the Chiefs, so in Week 5 against the Colts, the Chiefs gave the ball to Battle and never looked back.

    Battle rushed for 119 yards on 19 carries, beating his career total in yards coming into the game, and was key to the Chiefs' victory.

    He proved it wasn't a fluke to fantasy owners by putting up a 76 rushing yard performance Week 7 against the Raiders.

    Battle has been a popular waiver pickup the past couple weeks and should continue to improve as he sees more carries as a starter. 

5. Victor Cruz

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    Nicknamed the "preseason superstar," Victor Cruz was mainly known for his tremendous preseason performances, but he had yet to get a reception in the regular season heading into his second year.

    Cruz started the first two games, only catching two balls for 12 yards. Week 3 was Cruz's breakout game, when he caught three passes for two touchdowns and 110 yards against the Eagles

    Going into Week 4, starting wide receiver Mario Manningham was out, and Cruz took advantage of the opportunity.

    He caught another six passes from Eli Manning for 98 yards and earned Manning's trust. The next game (with Manningham in), Cruz still caught eight passes for 161 yards and a touchdown.

    Cruz's hot-streak came to an end Week 6 against the Bills, where he only caught two passes for 12 yards. Coming off the bye this week, Cruz looks to be a solid option for Eli and should continue his success for fantasy owners who picked him off the free-agent block. 

4. Demarco Murray

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    Coming into the 2011 season as a rookie, Demarco Murray sat second on the depth chart behind Felix Jones for the Cowboys.

    Murray got little action at the start of the season. He only had 14 carries before Jones was injured against the Patriots in Week 6. He got 10 carries for 32 yards filling in as the starter in that game.

    Murray was added by some teams coming into Week 7 against the Rams, as he was expected to be the starter and was owned by one-third of ESPN leagues.

    It looked like Murray could have a pretty good game—he was facing the Rams, who were last in the league in rushing yards, but none could've expected what happened.

    Murray rushed for a total of 253 yards and a touchdown, breaking the Cowboys' franchise record and recording the 10th-best rushing performance of all time.

    It's still unclear whether Murray is the real deal or not, as his game against the Rams is the only performance to judge him on. 

    Sunday night could help settle whether his performance was a fluke, as he faces the Eagles, who rank 23rd against the run.

3. Fred Jackson

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    Fred Jackson has always been an unsung hero in Buffalo.

    He was a consistent, solid running back whom the Bills usually used in a time-share system with another running back.

    Coming into this season, Jackson had only rushed for 1,000 yards once, and his career high in rushing touchdowns in a season was five. 

    While he did look like a solid option at running back, he didn't seem that lucrative.

    In 2011, Jackson has broken his reputation for being a solid fantasy player into a fantasy star.

    Through six games, Jackson has rushed for 601 yards—which is sixth in the league, with the five players in front of him playing seven games—and also rushed for six touchdowns, which is tied for second.

    Jackson has also racked up points in the receiving game, catching 24 passes for 279 yards. 

    To think, Yahoo! ranked him as 33rd in running backs before the season!

2. Jimmy Graham

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    Starting six games last year, catching five touchdowns with 356 reception yards, plenty of fantasy experts predicted Jimmy Graham to have a big season in 2011.

    He was ranked the sixth-best tight end and 72nd best player by Yahoo! Sports before the season started.

    While plenty of fantasy experts predicted Jimmy Graham to have a breakout year, no one could have seen Graham's current success coming.

    Through seven games, Graham has established himself as Drew Brees' favorite target and the best tight end in fantasy football.

    Graham's stats are pure beastly—he has racked up 674 receiving yards (sixth in the league), 45 receptions (tied for second in the league) and five touchdowns (tied for third in the league).

    If there has ever been a player you can brag to your friends about drafting and claiming you knew he was going to break out, Jimmy Graham is the guy.

1. Cam Newton

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    Coming into the 2011 season, many people were questioning whether Cam Newton could succeed in the pros.

    After a very poor preseason where he at one point had only completed 40.4 percent of his passes, his fantasy value was an afterthought.

    When he was a topic of fantasy discussion, many analysts wrote him off, such as ESPN's Chris Norris, who said,

    "All I know is this: In a 10- or even a 12-team league, I'd feel awfully jittery about rolling into a season knowing that Newton has to be my fill-in, either in my starter's bye week or because of injury. As intriguing as his legs look, they probably won't be enough to create starter-worthy fantasy numbers.

    Well, Week 1 came along, and Newton made everyone's jaw drop, passing for 422 yards and throwing for two touchdowns.

    Had to be a fluke—right?

    No.

    He followed it by passing for 432 yards while throwing and rushing for a touchdown.

    Newton has continued his fantasy success and is the second-rated player on Yahoo! Sports for fantasy. His dangerous throwing stats have helped, but it's his scrambling threat that makes him one of the best fantasy quarterbacks.

    In addition to throwing eight touchdowns and 2,103 yards, Newton has rushed for 266 yards and seven touchdowns. To put that in perspective, the most rushing touchdowns Michael Vick has had in a season is nine.

    That's the wonderful thing about fantasy football, the fact that the second-best quarterback can go undrafted, and no one could've seen it coming.