When it comes to fantasy football snake drafts, you have one and only one true weapon to use against your opponents: the element of surprise. You know the guy going first is going to take Chris Johnson. You know the next guy will take Adrian Peterson. The next pick? Maurice Jones-Drew. By the time the first round is over, it's also very safe to assume that any or all of Drew Brees, DeAngelo Williams, Aaron Rodgers, Frank Gore, and Steven Jackson will be off the board. But what about after all the big names and studs are gone, and you are left with the task of filling out your roster with veterans who refuse to go away, or the young kids who aren't even guaranteed playing time. These, however, are the picks that count the most.
Going back to the theme of surprise, it is important to make at least a few bold picks in your draft. It helps liven up the predictable order of the fantasy football draft, and if you end up being right? Your friends will hate you and/or think you're a genius! So you can effectively use the element of surprise in your draft, here are nine guys you have almost surely forgotten about in the last year or so:
1. Clinton Portis, RB, Washington Redskins
After a nice 2008 in which he totaled 1,705 all-purpose yards with 9 scores, Portis seemed to fall off the face of the earth last year. In only eight games, Portis averaged an even 4.0 yards per carry on 124 carries; 494 yards total. He had just one touchdown, and his 61.8 yards per game was easily the worst of his career.
Still, Portis, who turns 29 in September, has some game left in him (or at least some stats). His end zone dry-spell was worrisome, but Portis wasn't the only one struggling. The entire Redskins team stumbled out of the gate to a 2-5 record heading into their Week Nine match-up with the Atlanta Falcons, which saw Portis limited to 4 carries as he sustained a season-ending concussion.
He may be a shell of the guy who had 1,500 or more rushing yards with 11 or more touchdowns in 3 of his first 4 seasons in the league, but he isn't done yet either. This year, the Redskins will have a new head coach in Mike Shanahan, who coached Portis in his first two years in the NFL with the Denver Broncos. Shanahan loves the ground game, and the numbers show it. From 1995 to 2008 in Denver, Shanahan's Broncos ran the ball 46.8% of the time (fourth most in the NFL), which led to Denver having 11 individual 1,000 yard rushers during that time span. Finally, it is also pertinent to know that during that same time span, Shanahan ran the ball 56.9% of the time while in the red zone, third highest in the NFL.
Even with quarterback Donovan McNabb figuring to be the focal point of the Redskins' offense and Shanahan being noncommittal on the topic of who will start in the backfield with Willie Parker and Larry Johnson in the mix, Portis has to be the feature back of this offense. He is the most talented of the bunch, and given Shanahan's tendencies plus an improved offensive line, he also looks primed to have a solid year. Given his current ADP (which has him going in the 8th round or later), Portis is a steal and should be considered a solid second or third option.
2. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, New York Jets
As a rabid New England Patriots fan, Tomlinson is practically dead to me. As a running back whose workload has dipped from 315 carries in 2007 to 223 in 2009 and whose yards per carry during that same time has gone from 4.7 to 3.3, and his total yardage during that time has dropped off the cliff from 1,474 yards in 2007 to 730 yards last year; Tomlinson is probably dead to you too. Still, the lovable (even though he plays for that disgusting New York franchise) LT refuses to say die.
Most fantasy football players consider running backs to be over the hill once they reach 30, and prefer to tread cautiously when it comes to gambling on 30+ running backs being a large part of your fantasy offense. LT might have hit rock bottom last year in terms of yards per carry, or it might get worse. The fact is, we don't know.
However, that's not to say there isn't still upside for Tomlinson. Despite his horrid 3.3 yards per carry last year, LT still had 12 touchdowns on the ground, an increase from 2008. He might not be that superstar, workhorse running back that he was a few years ago, but guys who have such a great nose for the end zone don't just go away after one bad year. Remember 2006, when LT scored 31 touchdowns on his own? If anyone has the talent to come back from such a miserable season, it's LaDainian Tomlinson.
Tomlinson's new team, the New York Jets, ran the ball 607 times last year, and quite possibly have the best offensive line in the league. That said, they also lost the guy who had over half of their carries last year (331, with 1,400 yards and 14 scores) in Thomas Jones. Sure, Shonn Greene figures to get a big increase in carries, but he had 108 carries last year. He can't possibly take all of the carries that Jones had last year, and the departure of Leon Washington (who had 72 carries before breaking his leg) leaves even more carries up for grabs. It's probably safest to assume both Greene and Tomlinson to amass around 200 carries. Hell, given his ability to score, it's possible that Tomlinson could be the primary red zone back.
Per Tomlinson's current ADP, he is around the 40th running back taken off the board, well out of the top 100 players. But given the offensive line that will be blocking for him, the explosive offense that he finally won't be expected to carry that will be surrounding him, and the amount of carries he is sure to get, don't you think LT is worth a late round flier? Even at this point of his career, he has far more upside than the other running backs available at his position, which include Tim Hightower, Chester Taylor, and Tashard Choice.
3. John Carlson, TE, Seattle Seahawks
Don't sleep on John Carlson. Carlson may not be a fallen star like Portis or Tomlinson, but he does seem poised to have a big year for the Seahawks in 2010. Last season, despite poor quarterback play and terrible blocking from the offensive line that forced Carlson to block more often than he normally would, the tight end hauled in 7 touchdown passes on 574 yards. In the two years he has been with the team, Carlson has evolved into Seattle's most dependable pass catcher.
With blocking tight end Chris Baker signed in free agency and Russell Okung added in the draft, plus the tight end-heavy philosophy of Offensive Coordinator Jeremy Bates, Carlson figures to take on a huge role for the 2010 Seahawks. If he got 7 touchdowns last year while in a minimized role, imagine the damage he could do this year while seeing a ton more looks. The best part? His ADP currently sandwiches him in between Heath Miller and Dustin Keller, who have considerably less upside.
4. Cincinnati Bengals D/ST
Currently in fantasy football drafts, the Bengals average out as the 13th defensive unit taken off the board, behind the Giants, the Bears, and the Chargers, who all have had serious holes and/or inconsistent play from their defenses plague them at various times during the past few seasons.
The Bengals allowed the fourth least total yards per game last year at just over 301, behind only Baltimore, Green Bay, and New York (Jets). Their 18.2 points allowed per game was also good for 6th best in the league. They addressed their middle of the road pass-rush by adding the wildebeest otherwise known as Carlos Dunlap and the pass-rushing defensive tackle Geno Atkins in the draft. They also tallied a healthy 19 interceptions, ninth most in the league.
They might not be world-beaters, but Cincinnati has a very solid defensive unit, and at the very least can be used as a spot start to rack up points in their meetings with Cleveland (twice), Buffalo, and Tampa.
5. Laurence Maroney, RB, New England Patriots
Many New England fans may be quick to jump the gun on eulogizing Maroney's Patriots career, but the fact is that he can still be a valuable fantasy player. First, Maroney is still 25, which means he does have a little bit of time to figure things out and revitalize his game. Second, he may not be living up to his first-round expectations, but he is still, at the very least, a helpful contributor.
On only 194 carries last year (although it was a career high), Maroney made the most of what he got and turned it into 757 yards (3.90 yards/carry) and 9 touchdowns. Pretty good, huh? And the news gets better. As the Patriots look to achieve a better balance between the run the passing game, Maroney should see more carries come his way, and as they also move away from the spread, Maroney also has the potential to be used as a receiver out of the backfield.
Last year, Maroney had some issues with fumbling (coughing one up in the end zone in the game vs. Indy that the Pats eventually lost by one score particularly comes to mind) and was not always used on a regular basis, as he had 5 games in which he was given 10 carries or less and did not play in week 17. Confidence in him is low, which is why Maroney has yet to be handed the No. 1 running back job, but he figures to have a much bigger role in the 2010 Patriots nonetheless.
With his ADP sitting at 120, just behind LaDainian Tomlinson (and the 46th ranked running back), Maroney could provide great value with a late round pick. He appears to be a sure thing bye-week fill in, and could possibly be a second or third running back if he finally takes that next step.
6. Ricky Williams, RB, Miami Dolphins
The reasons to forget about Ricky are simple: (1) the Dolphins love to use Ronnie Brown despite having an infinitely better back in Williams, and (2) his workload is a roller coaster. When Ricky Williams gets 18 to 20, or even more carries, he is as big a stud as they come. That's when he will tally up huge yardage and score. A lot. The problem is, with a healthy Ronnie Brown, it will be hard for Ricky to really show his stuff.
Before Brown was injured in 2009 (Week 10), Ricky was given 20 carries once and 10 or more carries four times. When he had the starting job all to himself, Run Ricky Run was going wild over opposing defenses, ultimately finishing the year with 1,121 yards (4.7 yards/carry) and 13 total touchdowns.
Even though Williams is 33, those years he took off in the middle of his prime have certainly kept the wear-and-tear on his body at a minimum, which is why he can still be such a terror for opposing defenses. It's also important to consider that Ronnie Brown has played exactly one full season since entering the league, and isn't amazingly good when he is healthy.
Most fantasy experts agree that Ricky is a handcuff player for fantasy purposes, but his situation makes him the uber-handcuff. Even when Brown is playing, Ricky is capable of putting up big numbers (7 total touchdowns before Brown was lost for 2009 season), but if/when Brown goes down, Williams automatically becomes the feature back for Miami. If you own Ronnie Brown, you absolutely have to get Ricky. Even if you don't own Brown, Williams is still a good pick, as his ADP clumps him in around Brandon Jacobs and Ben Tate as the 32nd ranked running back.
7. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, New York Giants
Remember 2008, when the New York Football Giants had both Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward rush for over 1,000 yards? The way this year's training camp and preseason has been going, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the Giants will have the same type of backfield timeshare with Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw for the 2010 season. It is certainly warranted—Jacobs rushed for only 835 and 5 touchdowns while playing in 15 games (most since 2006) and getting 224 rushing attempts (career high), and Bradshaw averaged just under 5 yards per carry as a backup, totaling 778 yards with 7 touchdowns.
With 21 catches for 207 yards, Bradshaw is also a receiving threat out of the backfield, which makes him a versatile tool for the Giants to move the chains with, and if given more opportunities this year, he should easily eclipse the 10 touchdown mark. With a solid offensive line blocking the way for him plus a good passing game to keep defenses honest, Bradshaw could have a very nice year. With his upside plus ADP (82, just ahead of Jerome Harrison, just behind Jacobs) taken into account, Bradshaw could wind up being one of the draft's biggest bargains. Consider him a very high quality backup or a solid flex play.
8. Alex Smith, QB, San Francisco 49ers
To this point, Smith, the former first overall pick, has been, to say the very least, a colossal bust. But in his defense, he has yet to work with the same Offensive Coordinator for more than one season, and for his whole career his surrounding cast mates have been mediocre, at best. After taking over in Week 7 for the 49ers last season, Smith finished with 2,350 passing yards, an 81.5 QB rating, and 18 touchdowns to 12 interceptions.
Despite having a career renaissance of sorts, Smith does have to worry about one thing, and that's getting too comfortable. His backups David Carr and Nate Davis are unlikely to provide much real competition for his job, which may not keep him at the top of his game.
Still, in 2010 Smith figures to have the best supporting cast of his career. The 49ers drafted blocking help this spring in the form of offensive linemen Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis, which should allow him more time in the pocket to find his targets. That segues us perfectly into the next point: the targets at his disposal.
After a bumpy transition into the NFL, Michael Crabtree hopes to make the jump into the elite class of NFL wide receivers, and Smith also has a solid receiver to target in Josh Morgan. Vernon Davis has established himself as one of the best tight ends in the league and figures to be a prominent safety valve for Smith, and Frank Gore was also used heavily as a pass-catcher last year.
Having more time to find good targets with some new-found familiarity in the coaching staff should lead Smith to the best season of his career this year. At the very least, considering his ADP around 140, Smith looks like a dirt cheap bye week or injury fill-in. Who knows, if he really surprises, he could become a regular starter.
9. Lance Moore, WR, New Orleans Saints
Moore suffered some serious injuries (torn labrum, dislocated shoulder) in 2009 that kept him from building on his breakout 2008 season, in which he caught 79 balls for 928 yards and 10 touchdowns. He only saw his way into a handful of games because of those injuries, but looked good against the Giants when he caught 6 passes for 78 yards and a touchdown.
The New Orleans Saints have a prolific passing offense, and in 2008, Moore became one of Drew Brees' favorite targets. For a New Orleans team that passed the ball 544 times last year, Brees will have plenty of love to spread around to his guys throughout the air, and Moore is a prime candidate to be one of the main beneficiaries of the Saints' pass-happy scheme.
His ADP of 178 makes him an absolute bargain given his immense upside as a sleeper, and given a full, healthy, season, Moore can easily crack the top 20 in fantasy wide receivers. Yet, because many have forgotten about Moore with his quiet 2009 and the abundance of productive New Orleans wide receivers, Moore is currently the 73rd wide receiver going off the board. Bottom line: Moore is a no-brainer late round pick.