Fantasy Football Sleepers 2011: 5 Most Underappreciated RBs

Yueh Ho@@YuehHoCorrespondent IAugust 30, 2011

Fantasy Football Sleepers 2011: 5 Most Underappreciated RBs

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    Around this time of year, fantasy drafts are taking place all around the country, with owners everywhere contemplating which players to select to make up their individual All-Star rosters. As they see many carries and have more consistent yardage, running backs tend to be regarded as more important than other positions from a fantasy perspective.

    We all know about the Adrian Petersons, Chris Johnsons and Michael Turners. However, what about the owner who has seen every well-acclaimed running back taken and is still in need of a second running back for his team?

    Fear not. With this handy-dandy cheat sheet, when you find yourself in that situation you can select a player with huge upside and a potential fantasy star. Here are five running backs who are under the radar and could be looking at big years...

1) Beanie Wells

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    With the injury to Ryan Williams, the Arizona Cardinals have little choice but to turn to Beanie Wells as their running back for the 2011 season.

    But while Wells is widely regarded as a bust by fans and critics alike, Wells should prove to be a solid fantasy option. As he is currently earmarked to be the starting running back on the roster, he should be able to find some success with the Cardinals offense in red-zone scenarios. This is especially true when the trade that the Cardinals have completed for Kevin Kolb should open up more running lanes for Wells to run through.

    And at only 23 years of age, Wells can continue to develop and have a breakout year; much like Darren McFadden did last season. In his rookie season, he scored seven touchdowns and ran for 4.5 yards per carry. You could certainly do much worse than those statistics for a rookie. Perhaps all Wells needs is a reliable quarterback, such as Kurt Warner and Kevin Kolb, to throw the ball and give him some leg room.

2) LaDainian Tomlinson

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    Expected at first to be a role player behind Shonn Greene when he was signed by the New York Jets, LaDainian Tomlinson found new life as he earned the role of starting running back with the team. Rushing for 914 yards and six touchdowns in 2010, there is little doubt that Tomlinson’s career is at an end. But he has been allowed a chance to slightly rejuvenate his career due to the inconsistent play of Shonn Greene.

    And Tomlinson is still a good player on short yardage and red-zone situations. The 2010 Jets offense stunk up the place, ranking 22nd overall in passing offense. LT is not the player he once was, and he can no longer carry a team’s offense on his shoulders. However, if Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez can improve in consistency in his third season, then perhaps LT can surprise us all with a big season.

3) Reggie Bush

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    Reggie Bush came out of college with high expectations, but never quite developed into the franchise running back many had envisioned him to be. However, Bush has always been a fine receiver and a solid option as a fantasy back.

    Even though Bush’s career has been plagued by injury, he still managed to average about eight touchdowns a season. And with still no big playmaker at quarterback for the Dolphins, it will be expected that the team will complete many short passes, which will mean more passes thrown in Reggie Bush’s direction.

    Bush is still young at 26 years old. He will still be productive and has sleeper potential written all over him. 

2) Ryan Grant

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    Yes, there are pundits who would recommend that a fantasy owner select Grant within the Top 30-40, but why not higher? Grant is a very underrated running back and can produce big for fantasy owners everywhere.

    In 2009, Grant rushed for 1,253 yards and 11 touchdowns, numbers worthy of a running back to be drafted in the Top 10 overall. Grant’s career was slightly derailed in 2010, as he was lost after the season opener, but he should be back and going strong in 2011.

    Many are skeptical of Grant due to his age, but keep in mind that he has only had six seasons so far. He still has plenty of gas left in the tank, as he has had a limited amount of wear and tear.

1) Jonathan Stewart

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    While not as productive as he may have been at one point, Jonathan Stewart may still turn out to be a sleeper in this league. Stewart is only 24 years old and still has plenty of time to develop and take his game to the next level. Paired up with DeAngelo Williams as a one-two punch, with Williams being the more agile back and Stewart being more of a bruiser, Williams scored 10 touchdowns in each of his first two seasons. His last season was cut short by injury.

    But with a new head coach in Ron Rivera, it is very possible that the philosophy of the Carolina Panthers will change. And that, combined with Stewart’s role as a bruiser, and therefore an effective weapon for the red zone, can make Williams a sleeper as a fantasy option.

    It would carry some risk, but it would certainly be one worth taking if you were in need for a second running back. With Cam Newton not yet ready to be played initially, the Panthers will place more emphasis upon rushing the ball.