This week’s Sleeper Watch is a bit of a running back special. Featured this week are a couple of running backs in the NFC, both rookies, who may find themselves in the feature role in the coming weeks.
LeGarrette Blount | RB | Tampa Bay | 1 percent Yahoo! ownership
In his first regular season action, LeGarrette Blount carried the ball six times for 27 yards and one garbage time touchdown. Cadillac Williams continued to scuffle Sunday, running for just 13 yards on six carries. Williamshas 55 attempts for 139 yards this season, which comes out to a terrible 2.5 yards an attempt. Judging by usage, Blount looks like he’s passed Earnest Graham as the primary backup to Caddy.
The early season speculative darling to replace Williams if he got hurt or was ineffective was Kareem Huggins. Huggins has himself been hampered by injury and was inactive for the game against the Steelers. Thanks to his missing time, Blount was able to show himself to be effective in his six carries, and likely earned the first crack at taking over feature ball-carrier duties when the Bucs eventually pull the plug on Caddy.
What appears lost on many, thanks largely to the coverage of Blount punching a Boise State player in Oregon’s season opener last year, is that he was a mid-round draft prospect before the incident. Blount is a large back, 6′0 and 247 pounds according to the Buccaneers team website, with serviceable timed speed (4.62 second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine). His size and speed allowed him to rush for 1,002 yards and 17 touchdowns for the Ducks in 2008 on just 137 carries (7.3 yards per carry).
With his one-yard touchdown plunge on Sunday, Blount has positioned himself well to be a goal-line vulture at the moment, making him semi-useful as is. The real value in adding Blount now, however, is beating the masses to a player who is capable of being a bell-cow back, toting the rock 20 or more times a game. Thanks to some surprise performances Sunday (Lance Moore, Jabar Gaffney, Brandon Lloyd, etc.) and the high profile injury to Steven Jackson that makes Kenneth Darby an attractive waiver target this week, Blount has a chance to slip to a low-priority team in leagues that use weekly waivers, or even slip through waivers entirely. If you have a bench spot open to take a flyer, Blount looks like a pretty attractive gamble from where I’m sitting.
James Starks | RB | Green Bay | 0 percent Yahoo! ownership
James Starks epitomizes deep sleeper. Currently on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list for the Green Bay Packers, Starks is eligible to be activated after their Week 6 contest against the Dolphins. After Monday night’s game against the Bears, Starks will be halfway to that goal, assuming his rehab for a hamstring injury continues to go well, as all reports indicate. Starks is no stranger to injury, as he missed the entire 2009 college season, but if able to stay healthy he has the opportunity to supplant Brandon Jackson as the feature back in Green Bay.
The first two games he’ll be eligible to play in if he’s activated after Week 6 are against two stingy defenses, the Minnesota Vikings and the New York Jets, which makes for tough sledding. Spinning those games in a positive light, it is likely Starks will be eased into game action, meaning Jackson should start both games, and likely look bad against the tough run defenses. If he struggles, as I anticipate he will, it should open the door for Starks to take over lead back duties, as the Packers have already voiced a desire to limit Jackson’s touches and utilize his strengths, namely his pass catching skills.
It doesn’t look like the Packers are going to deal for another running back, as many have speculated they may, so the path is fairly clear for the former University of Buffalo tailback to jet up the depth chart upon return. There is a lot to like about Starks, starting with a big frame (6′2 and 218 pounds), solid 40-yard dash time of 4.50, and dual threat skills he displayed in college. In three seasons, he carried the ball 698 times for 3,140 yards and 34 touchdowns while also hauling in 127 receptions for another 898 yards. Those in large leagues with medium-to-large benches should speculate now and add Starks to their rosters. Even if you are not in need of another running back, trade chips come in handy, and depth never hurts.
Josh Shepardson is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Josh in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of B-Chad.
Want to write for the Cafe? Check out the Cafe's Pencil & Paper section!