2013 Fantasy Football Sleeper: Running Back Chris Ivory

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Chris Ivory’s status as a fantasy football sleeper is currently gaining momentum, as speculation increases concerning how productive he might be for the Jets when the regular season commences.

That level of anticipation stands in stark contrast to the sedate manner in which his NFL began in 2010, when he quietly signed a rookie free agent contract. This, after being excluded from the NFL Combine, going undrafted, and not entering the field for his initial two games as a pro.

From Obscurity To Prominence, Then Back To The Bench

However, six games into that same 2010 regular season , Chris Ivory literally exploded onto the NFL landscape by gashing Tampa Bay for 158 yards on just 15 carries. That was the most yardage generated by a New Orleans rusher since Ricky Williams in 1999, and still stands as Ivory’s career best. That also vaulted him into prominence among fantasy owners, as he ultimately manufactured enough yardage to finish as the Saints’ leading rusher for that year. While his 716 yards only placed him 32nd among all RBs that season, that total became more impressive considering that he was only allotted 137 carries, and utilized them to amass a 5.2 YPC. He also scored five TDs, and bolted for 20+ yards on five different occasions. That actually tied him for 21st in that category, despite the low volume of work that he attained.

But even though it would appear that Ivory deserved a better fate, that impressive performance versus the Buccaneers still stands as his career best output. And that season's underwhelming workload actually became by far his highest as his career in New Orleans unfolded. Ivory was only entrusted with a grand total of 119 carries in 2011 and 2012 combined, while accumulating 591 yards and three scores as a result. Ivory became embedded in the team’s depth chart beneath Sproles, Thomas, Ingram, who all received more opportunities.

Last season, he was inactive for the first seven contests, despite the fact that he was completely healthy, His first snaps occurred in Week 8 after a broken hand forced Sproles to the sidelines, yet he still managed to exhibit a dangerous combination of speed and power. Which not only enabled him to break runs to the outside, but to also bust through tackles as he collected valuable yardage. His 72-yard performance on just seven attempts against the Falcons in Week 9, included an outstanding 56-yard scoring burst. But that was not enough to raise him into the backfield rotation with any frequency.

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The Long Awaited Opportunity To Start

Ivory will be spared having to endure the same sparse level of activity this season, because the Jets acquired him from New Orleans in exchange for a fourth-round pick, then signed him to a three–year deal. That immediately hoisted Ivory to an unfamiliar slot on the depth chart, as Gang Green will not have a collection of talented backs for him to compete with.  Last year's leading rusher S. Greene has departed for Tennessee, and his 2012 yardage total of 1,063 is quite deceptive.  Because it required 276 attempts for him to achieve it, and his 3.9 YPC average was just 27th among all RBs. Greene could only contribute yardage through sheer volume, and simply did  not deliver big plays.  Not only did he manufacture just two runs in excess of 20 yards last season, but Jet backs as a unit only managed four rushes of 20+ yards throughout the entire season. By comparison, three of Ivory's 40 carries  in 2012 registered at least 20 yards. And he has amassed 10 such runs in with his 256 career carries, while Greene has only managed seven with his last 714 attempts. Third-year back Bilal Powell will return to the Jets, but his inability to produce long runs was very similar to Greene’s last season. He accumulated just 437 yards on 110 carries, which resulted in a YPC of only 4.0. All of which underscores the degree to which Ivory will add big play potential to the Jets’ rushing attack.

Former Panther and Raider Mike Goodson was signed to a three-year, $6.9 million contract with the Jets in March, and would have been Ivory's primary competitor for touches. Goodson's career had been similar, in that he too had not received a consistent opportunity to perform, despite the fact that he had displayed big play ability. However, his arrest on drug possession and weapon charges will alter that entire situation. Making it extremely unlikely that Ivory will surrender the RB1 role.

Where To Draft Him

The path is now cleared for Ivory to produce on a consistent basis for the first time in his professional career. As a result, he has the ability to generate 1,000 + rushing yards with 7 to 8 touchdowns being very obtainable. Particularly since his efficiency at exploding beyond defenders can work well with zone schemes, which OC Marty Mornhinweg is expected to employ. While the Saint offense did not utilize him as a receiver or keep him in pass protection very often, there is nothing in his performance thus far to show that he is unable to handle those responsibilities when given the chance. The primary risk in selecting him during your fantasy drafts will be the potential for injuries, as his fearless running style makes him susceptible to absorbing numerous hits. Ivory's current ADP is 4.9, so you shouldn't expect him to be on the board past the  fifth round. And if RBs are departing your draft board very quickly, as they usually do, I think drafting him in Round 4 is a good value.