by Russ Bliss (2/15/2011)


It's hard to find true sleeper RB's in the off-season as practically every guy is known. The position is usually top heavy with a bunch of guys who will be drafted in the first 2 rounds, so what I'm looking at for a fantasy football sleeper RB at this point are the guys who are likely to still be on the board after round 3 who are likely to put up outstanding fantasy points. After all, if you execute a fantasy draft strategy by going with 2 WR's and a QB in the first 3 rounds, you need to identify the RB's who have a great chance to really surprise and put up much better numbers than their draft position would indicate. With that in mind, here's a list of 5 RB's who are sliding into round 4 and beyond in fantasy football mock drafts I've been keeping tabs on and think could be good fantasy sleepers.

1) BenJarvus Green-Ellis, New England Patriots: Hard to imagine a guy who rushed for 1,008 yards and scored 13 touchdowns can be considered a sleeper, but BGE is averaging a draft position from rounds 5-7. His value in PPR formats takes a hit as Danny Woodhead is likely to be the primary pass catching RB in 2011, but BGE is likely to be the primary RB on rushing downs, or when the Patriots get the lead. BGE is a restricted free agent and the CBA mess needs to be resolved, but it's very unlikely he'll leave the Patriots no matter how things turn out. Both Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris are unrestricted free agents and while Morris may return, it would be in a backup capacity only. Taylor is expected to retire or just let walk. BGE averaged 4.4 yards per rush attempt on 229 carries in 2010 and it's easy to see him getting closer to 260+ carries in 2011. For the cost of a 5th round pick I call that great potential value.

2) Cedric Benson, Cincinnati Bengals: Benson is actually an unrestricted free agent, but I see him re-signing with the Bengals eventually. Benson had a very quiet 1,111 rushing yards and scored a total of 8 touchdowns in 2010. New offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has intimated he wants to pound the football and develop a smash mouth style of offense and Benson is perfect for that. Benson falls anywhere from late round 4 to mid round 6 in most drafts I've seen and is exactly the type of RB you look for when you don't draft RB's early: a powerhouse type who gets goal line carries, will get about 20 carries per game, and can have the occasional big game for you.

3) James Starks, Green Bay Packers: You'd think after the run he's had in the post-season that Starks would be getting a lot of love in current mock drafts, right? Not exactly. He's currently averaging out to be taken in round 7. I know there is a lot of concern about Ryan Grant coming back next year, but Grant has to prove he's over the ankle and knee injuries he suffered in week 1 of the 2010 season. The Packers relied heavily on Starks in the post-season to see how he'd hold up and he acquitted himself fine. While it's likely that the Packers will use a platoon between Grant and Starks, Starks is the more naturally gifted RB and could push Grant into just a complimentary role early in the 2011 season.

4) Beanie Wells, Arizona Cardinals: Many are put off by Wells' extreme lack of production in 2010, but he started the season with a knee injury that was never allowed to fully heal and between that, and the Cardinals ridiculous commitment to throwing the football with subpar QB's in 2010 contributed to what essentially has to be a statistical season to throw away. Providing he's healthy for the start of 2011, it's hard to imagine he doesn't start over Tim Hightower as Wells, is bigger, faster, and more elusive than Hightower. More than Hightower's presence, I am concerned that the Cardinals go with a pass heavy attack again in 2011, even if they don't have a QB who can execute it. But I am hopeful the Cardinals brain trust will figure out the best way to help whoever is the QB in Arizona in 2011 is to make sure he has a legitimate rushing attack backing him up. I think Wells can fit that bill nicely. Wells is usually coming off the board in round 7 and while he is a risk, he is also the type of guy who could provide big dividends.

5) Montario Hardesty, Cleveland Browns: Everyone seems to have forgotten about Hardesty after Peyton Hillis's big 2010 season, but Hardesty was supposedly looking great as a rookie before tearing his ACL in the preseason finale. Hillis has earned a role with his stellar play in 2010, but he also wore down as the season progressed and I am concerned that 2010 might have been one of those fluky seasons we see guys have every year in the NFL (like Baltimore's Le'Ron McClain had in 2008) . It could well be that if the knee is healed up, Hardesty opens the 2011 season as the primary RB over Hillis. Considering Hardesty is falling to rounds 11-13 in most drafts, he's exactly the type of later round steal who could really surprise everyone.

Check out Russ's 2011 Fantasy Football Sleeper Quarterbacks

Check out Russ's 2011 Fantasy Football Sleeper Wide Receivers