Word to the Winners: Fantasy Football Advice from the Experts

Fantasy Football Picks: 2006 'Sleeper' Running Backs -- By Russ Bliss

At no other position is finding a sleeper more rewarding than the running back position. Getting a sleeper (a guy who clearly outperforms expectations) at this position has significant advantages for you in your fantasy football league. In 2005 guys like Mike Anderson, Thomas Jones, and Willie Parker were being drafted after round 7 (and usually much later) and each finished in the top 15 fantasy RB’s in almost every performance style scoring system. If you executed a fantasy football strategy where you waited on drafting your RB’s, getting Anderson, Jones, and/or Parker at the position was instrumental to your success. If you went RB heavy in the early rounds, snagging those 3 in later rounds, gave you an expendable player at this critical position to use for upgrading other positions in trades. The bottom line is that finding the right sleeper RB’s is one of the most important things you can do in your fantasy football draft.

Here are 5 sleeper candidates at the RB position.

Joseph Addai: Addai steps into the best situation of any rookie RB in the league. The Indianapolis Colts lost Edgerrin James and while the team is saying it’s an open competition between Addai and veteran Dominic Rhodes, Addai is bigger, faster, and a better receiver than Rhodes. I believe it’s much more likely Addai will be the primary RB for the team. With a passing game that always prevents an opponent from stacking the box, the Colts have had success running the ball with everyone they’ve put back there. From Edgerrin James to Dominic Rhodes, and even James Mungro; Colts RB’s have produced very good fantasy numbers when lined up as the starter. Addai’s currently being drafted in round 5 on average in your standard performance style leagues as either a weak #2 fantasy RB or a strong #3. I consider Addai more likely to be a strong #2 with the upside to be a strong #1 and wouldn’t hesitate to snag him in round 4, and maybe even in round 3. While traditionally, being drafted in the first 5 rounds doesn’t technically qualify as a sleeper, the fact that 25-30 other RB’s are being drafted ahead of him on average, and knowing that he’s very liable to finish as a top 15 fantasy RB, he makes the great pick for someone who watches those other RB’s go and waits to take him in the right spot, thereby allowing the fantasy player to focus on top players at other positions first.

Marion Barber: When it comes to the Dallas Cowboys and their RB’s, all the love in fantasy football is being given to Julius Jones, but don’t be surprised if it’s Marion Barber who turns out to be the better fantasy option of the two. Barber and Jones have similar qualities, but Jones has had problems staying healthy while Barber has showed himself more than capable filling in as a feature guy. Still, unproven at handling a load consistently, it needs to be noted that Bill Parcells likes Barber, and has said he will be a part of the offense. Whether that’s part of an RBBC rotation with the injury prone Jones, or as a primary RB, Barber clearly has a lot of upside for a guy not being drafted until round 9 on average. Jones is going in round 2, which is too high for him in my opinion given the uncertainty between him and Barber. If you draft Jones, than at the very least Barber should be a mandatory handcuff. If you didn’t draft Jones, but choose to wait on depth at RB til rounds 6-8, snatching Barber out from under the guy with Jones is a smart play.

Chris Brown: A lot of people are expecting LenDale White to come in and do something he hasn’t done at all since the Rose Bowl: perform. Those expecting White to be the starter for Tennessee are forgetting all about Chris Brown. While 2005 wasn’t a good year for Brown, he should bounce back nicely in 2006 as the team will put a greater emphasis on running the ball now that McNair is gone. A huge plus for Brown is the fact that he is in a contract year and despite all the talk about White, Brown is still the Titans starting RB. Brown has the size and speed of a feature RB along with the best pass catching abilities of any RB the Titans have on their roster. Currently being drafted in round 6 on average, Brown has a chance to regain some of that explosive form he showed in 2004.

Mewelde Moore: Moore is a classic type of sleeper steal you can get late in your drafts. Virtually being ignored in most fantasy leagues until round 12 or later, Moore has produced some solid numbers when healthy in the past. Part of his problem with the old coaching staff was his seeming lack of toughness when it came to playing through injuries, but last year it was the coaching staff, and not Moore, who held him back when he suffered a quad injury. The new coaching staff went out and signed Chester Taylor with the expectation that he’ll be their primary guy, but given the fact Taylor is unproven at being able to carry a full time load, it’s unwise to simply anoint him as the feature RB. Moore looks a great later round selection who may not be a true feature RB himself, but could get you through some tough times or be great trade abit at the right point in the season. If Taylor (who according to some has been less than impressive to the coaching staff so far) doesn’t shine, it won’t be long before Moore gets a chance.

Kevan Barlow: It will be a battle between Barlow and second year back Frank Gore for the top RB spot in San Francisco this year. A lot of people have Gore pegged for the job, but don’t be surprised if the bigger Barlow walks away with it. Gore showed well last year, but had surgery on both shoulders during the off-season. RB’s take a lot of hits on their shoulders (either by lowering them to also deliver a blow, or by falling on them), and Gore had injury problems throughout college. Barlow is also coming off surgery during the off-season (he had a cyst removed from his knee) so there is reason to be cautious with him as well. Barlow is being draft after Gore in most leagues, but has just as much upside, if not more as we’ve seen that Barlow can be a 1,000 yard RB when healthy. You also have to remember that a big part of the problem for both RB’s last year was the inefficiency of the passing game. If that, along with the OL, improves then there’s a chance Barlow may turn out to be a pleasant mid-late round surprise for you.

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