Pro Football 101 Fantasy Sleepers: Running Backs in 2009

Josh SatlerAnalyst IAugust 25, 2009

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 28: Running back Michael Bush #29 of the Oakland Raiders rushes upfield against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on December 28, 2008 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Every year, a few running backs come out of nowhere to surprise the NFL and significantly add to—or carry—a fantasy football team.

Last year's rookie running back crop was strong, and in particular, Steve Slaton (212 fantasy points), who was expected to be nothing more than a third down back when the season began and ended up the fantasy sleeper of the entire draft.

Others like Le'Ron McClain, who no one had ever heard of coming into the season, ended up scoring 159 points, while Pierre Thomas, who started the season as a third stringer behind Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush, added 148 points—most coming down the stretch.

But it's picks like these which can propel a fantasy team to the playoffs.

Today we'll focus on three backs, who should be overlooked on draft day, that we feel could make a significant impact in 2009.

Rashard Mendenhall

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When Willie Parker recently questioned his contract situation, he had every right to do so. And when the Pittsburgh Steelers failed to address his concerns, it signalled a changing of the guard soon to come in Pittsburgh. Team's don't invest first round draft choices in players unless they intend to give them a long look.

While his rookie season was a washout, after he broke his shoulder early on against the Ravens and was placed on IR, all systems are a go in year two for Rashard Mendenhall.

And this year, the Steelers will look to establish the ground game to setup the pass. While there's plenty of firepower at the skill positions, which will be good to keep defenses honest, the Steelers' offensive line gelled late last season and Tomlin will want to wear teams down in fourth quarter. And our money says that the 220 pound back, out of Illinois, will be the man to do so.

Provided he can stay healthy, Mendenhall could really burst onto this scene and be terrific late round fantasy sleeper.

Michael Bush

Michael Bush has a chance to take a big step forward and become the other half of the Oakland Raiders' duo at running back in 2009. Darren McFadden is a shoe-in and home run threat every time he touches the ball, but Bush brings more to the table than incumbent starter, Justin Fargas, and finished off last season with 421 yards and three TDs on just 95 carries.

And in the finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he rattled off 27 carries for 177 yards and two TDs to send Tampa packing for the offseason.

With expected improvement from this offensive unit, as the young players are another year older, it might be worthwhile to think about Bush in the later rounds of your fantasy draft and he could end up being a pleasant surprise.

Glen Coffee

The San Francisco 49ers used their third round pick on Glen Coffee because they were desperate to find a second option to Frank Gore, after the DeShaun Foster experiment failed miserably in 2008. And Gore, although a very good back when healthy, has seen his game falter after his big 2006 season, which netted him a new contract.

Some of that can definitely be attributed to the overall struggles of the offense, but some must go to him as he hasn't run with the same determination he once ran with.

So that brings us to Coffee, who ran for 129 yards in the first half of San Francisco's win over the Raiders last week. He's a big, fast, tough runner, and could end up initially as the goal line back, and in the event Gore suffers an injury, a whole lot more.

Keep an eye on him late in the draft.

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