Jammal Charles in 2009
Peyton Hillis in 2010
DeMarco Murray in 2011
All of these RBs were late rounders or undrafted in fantasy leagues that became fantasy stars and led many fantasy owners to their championships. It happens every year. In this column, I will list some sleeper RBs that could come out of the woodwork to have a significant role this year. Most of these guys will not be drafted in standard 10 team leagues but are good names to keep an eye on throughout the season.
Kendall Hunter, SF
Frank Gore has been banged up the past couple years, playing 11 games in 2010, and even though he played all 16 games last year, he battled numerous injuries and his role was scaled back. It's no secret that the 49ers plan to rest Gore again this year to keep him fresh all year and for the playoffs. Brandon Jacobs injured his knee in the pre-season and is doesn't look likely to play Week 1, which opens the door for impressive 2nd year player Kendall Hunter. In the pre-season, he has rushed 14 times for 87 yards (5.9 yards/carry) and 2 receptions for 12 yards. Rookie LaMichael James should get some work as well, but Hunter has much greater potential.
Robert Turbin, SEA
I have been very vocal about my dislike for Lynch this year, discussing him as one of my busts this season. He has also missed a lot of the pre-season due to back spasms, and while it's not supposed to be a serious concern right now, he has had back issues before. Turbin, a fourth round pick in this year's draft, has 34 carries for 151 yards (4.4 yards/carry) and a TD in 3 pre-season games. I expect Turbin to spell Lynch throughout the season and in the event of an injury, Turbin could step in and be an effective starter.
Jonathan Dwyer, PIT
Isaac Redman should begin the season as the Steelers' starter, however, he has been banged up in training camp and may no longer have the job all to himself. Dwyer has looked good in pre-season carrying 15 times for 84 yards (5.6 yards/carry) and 4 catches for 46 yards. Redman has not looked good in pre-season action, carrying 17 times for 38 yards (2.2 yards/carry). Dwyer should get significant work right away and has a good chance to steal the job away from Redman.
Note: Redman is listed as my 27th RB but that he will move down when I update the rankings this weekend.
Mikell Leshoure, DET
The Lions 2nd round pick in the 2011 draft, Leshoure missed all of last season with a torn Achilles. He missed some time in the pre-season due to a hamstring injury, but returned for the 3rd pre-season game. He only had 5 carries for 1 yard and 1 catch for 6 yards but it was encouraging to see him get 18 snaps in the game. Starter Kevin Smith is also a huge injury concern so there will opportunity for another Lions RB to get significant work. Leshoure will be suspended for two games to start the year, but he may be the most talented RB on the roster (not including Jahvid Best since I don't seeing him playing much if at all this year) and if he can stay healthy he should have a big impact.
Mike Goodson, OAK
Darren McFadden has never played more than 13 games in a season. As a result, there is a very strong chance that another Raiders RB will get starts this year. Mike Goodson has struggled in the pre-season because he is dealing with a shoulder injury, but he is a solid RB and an above average pass catcher. Taiwan Jones is in the mix as well, but Goodson is a more talented player and will be effective if he gets the opportunity to start.
Bilal Powell, NYJ
Shonn Greene isn't the most talented RB, but he has had limited competition since he took over as the starter. However, if there is anyone that could take the job from him it's Bilal Powell. Powell will open the year as the 3rd-down back ahead of Joe McKnight, and has been looking great in camp. A fourth round pick in the 2011 draft, Powell could see his role grow throughout the season as he is a more talented player than Greene.