Teams at the top of this year’s NFL draft were vying for the services of star USC tailback Reggie Bush. Plenty of pundits were throwing around phrases about him being the best player to come out of college in decades. Even with a good running back in place, the Houston Texans were expected to make the obvious selection. Instead they went in a different direction.
When Mario Williams was announced as the top pick in the draft, Saints fans everywhere went ballistic with joy. Here was their savior, the young man who would lead them out of a flood of despair into better times. Indeed, the New Orleans brass, though faced with a similar set of circumstances regarding Deuce McAllister, exhibited no hesitation in tabbing Bush as their selection in the draft’s second slot.
Fast-forward half a season and there has been a big surprise. The Saints certainly have enjoyed resurgence at the hands of a standout rookie. But that rookie has been seventh round WR Marques Colston instead of Bush. Colston is among the league leaders in receiving yards (700) and receiving scores (7), and helping many fantasy owners forge their way toward the playoffs.
It is surprises like this that fantasy owners dream about, but Colston may not be the only rookie to help you this year, especially in the season’s second half. Winning teams won’t change their game plan much if they think they can proceed smoothly with the formula they have already installed. So don’t expect the Saints to suddenly forget about McAllister and make Bush the lone back, and don’t think that Corey Dillon is suddenly going to start giving up the goal-line carries to Laurence Maroney.
It is the pro teams that are not winning which will begin to trot out their younger players for more snaps per game in an effort to get them some game experience, and to more fully evaluate just what the team has in that player. Therefore, if your team needs a boost, or you want to set yourself up with the depth to go the distance, try looking toward these alternate rookies as the year rolls on. Some of them are going to be much harder to acquire than others, true, but all could surprise and become second-half stars for their owners.
Leon Washington – The Jets were on the bye last week, but don’t make the mistake of forgetting about Washington, who was never given fewer than 11 carries in his last four games. In those contests, he twice got over 20 attempts, and surpassed 100 yards rushing both times. The only problem here is Kevan Barlow, who has five rushing touchdowns this season compared to Washington’s two. If Barlow remains a touchdown hog, Washington’s impact will be limited. If Washington begins to get calls at the stripe too, he will be a tremendous value. Remember that the 4-4 Jets are still in the playoff hunt in the AFC.
Joseph Addai – Addai is proving his worth on an undefeated Indianapolis Colts team. He has been given 20, 13, 11, 17 and 18 carries the last five weeks, and has rushed for better than 84 yards or scored a touchdown in all but one of those contests. Dominic Rhodes was given more of the work in the beginning of the year, but the last two weeks has been awarded only three and four carries against the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, respectively. Both of those contests were against arguably the toughest competition the Colts must face in their conference this year, and were on the road. What does that tell you about the playing time Addai will now be receiving?
Wali Lundy – After beginning the year as the starter when Domanick Davis could not get on the field, Lundy began to get fewer carries and then registered two did not plays (DNP). Since then he has gotten 19, 18 and 20 carries in the last three games, topping 100 yards in one of them and running for 93 yards and a score in another. Last week against the Giants he could only muster 43 yards on those 20 carries for a sad 2.2-yard average. Still, he has the opportunity now, and clearly is a nice start against weaker defenses.
LenDale White – White has been hovering around 7-9 carries per game for the last month or so. While Travis Henry has been the running story for the Titans so far this year, expect that to change, especially in the last quarter of the season. Tennessee is not going to play in the postseason, so the team will be squarely focused on getting Vince Young and White lots of experience so that the future will be brighter. White could very well be a terrific fantasy play in weeks 16 and 17, when he will face a Bills defense that has already given up 943 rushing yards and a Patriots team that will likely be sitting some important stars on defense to keep them healthy for a postseason run.
DeAngelo Williams – Williams has been out the last three weeks with a sprained right ankle. Though that hasn’t helped him gain the starting tailback gig in Carolina, it isn’t a reason he cannot be a factor in the upcoming weeks. The fact of the matter is that DeShaun Foster, while talented, has always shown inconsistency, and been an injury liability. Do not be surprised to see Williams get a heavy workload later this year.
Greg Jennings – Don’t forget about Favre’s top target. That’s right, when healthy Jennings is the man that gets the passes and the stats in this passing game, not Donald Driver. Jennings was creating big games each week earlier this year, surpassing 100 yards receiving twice and scoring three times. Then he injured his ankle. Last week he came back against Buffalo and had five catches for 69 yards in the first half before aggravating the injury. If he can get past this pain, he can put a hurt on some of your opponents in the coming weeks.
Derek Hagan – Though he had just one reception for seven yards in week nine in Chicago, Hagan has been getting more looks in the offense the last few weeks and producing decent numbers. The week before last he had five catches for 53 yards and a touchdown versus Green Bay. Before that, he logged six receptions for 66 yards in an away game against the Jets. Don’t expect the Dolphins to suddenly be a juggernaut just because they upset the Bears. They will be playing from behind a lot this season, and the team will see what Hagan can do late in a lot of games.
Owen Daniels – While he is not going to show up on the leader list for tight end receiving yards, the Texans are looking for Owens around the end zone. He has five touchdowns this year, which compares favorably with the better fantasy tight ends in the league. You could do worse if you missed out on the top guys in your draft.
Vernon Davis – Davis scored a 31-yard touchdown on his first NFL catch and had a successful first game with the 49ers. Then he promptly fractured his right fibula in his second pro contest. He will be ready to start again either this week or next, and should be able to pick up where he left off. There will be no lingering structural damage from that type of injury. He has serious game, and can contribute on any fantasy team that needs a top-12 player in that slot.
Joe Levit provides fantasy football presentations for corporate outings or client appreciation events. Go to www.FantasyFootballSpeaker.com and find out what this service is all about. Joe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.