Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan has never been afraid to go against the grain and try to make a no-name running back into a fantasy star. Looking over his head coaching career, Shanahan has shown a willingness, maybe even to a fault, to give the rock to a guy no one had even kept up on going into the regular season.
Just look at these past names and stats I pulled up:
1999 - 227 carries, 1159 rushing yards, 7 touchdowns
Gary took over for an injured Terrell Davis and never looked back. Unfortunately, that was the only year that is worth mentioning. In the four years following Gary's breakout year, he managed to average a measly 210 yards rushing per season; three with Denver and one with Detroit.
2000 - 297 carries, 1487 rushing yards, 15 touchdowns
2005 - 239 rushes, 1014 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns
Anderson was drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 draft after serving four years in the Marines. But even though he was already in his late 20s when he was a rookie, he still went on to win the Rookie of the Year award. After serving as running back and fullback and putting up lackluster performances from 2001-2004, Anderson found gold again in 2005. I should know, somehow Anderson found his way onto my dynasty roster for that year as a throw in. Needless to say, I reaped the rewards. After his stint as a Bronco, Anderson went on to play for the Ravens and was barely a blip on the radar.
2004 - 275 carries, 1240 rushing yards, 6 touchdowns
Like Anderson, Droughns was originally intended to be the team's fullback. but he started fifteen games that season at running back. During an offseason in which Droughns wasn't guaranteed a starting spot, the Broncos fulfilled Droughns' trade wish and was shipped to Cleveland. He managed to pull off another 1000+ yard season before bottoming out.
There were a couple other players that shined here and there while under Shanahan like Tatum Bell and Quentin Griffin. But you are probably asking yourself, "Dude what the heck does any of this have to do with Roy Helu being a fantasy football sleeper?"
It's simply: Helu is going to be the Redskins' starting running back by years end.
Let's recap Helu's stats over the past two seasons at Nebraska:
2009 - 220, 1147 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns
2010 - 188 carries, 1245 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns
Keep in mind that these stats came while playing in a committee.
Fast forward to 2011. The Redskins traded up with the Texans to acquire Helu with the No. 105 overall pick. Helu is a solid down-field runner and is fast in the open field. He fits perfectly in Shanahan's zone-blocking offense and should be in the mix for carries right out of the gate. He'll fight with Ryan Torain and fellow rookie Evan Royster (6th round) for carries, but Helu has much more upside than either of them. Royster isn't expected to be anything more than a third-down specialist, despite his solid career at Penn State.
And as for Torain; yes he has more experience, but does anyone really think he's all that special? He had an okay 2010, but he simply can't stay healthy long enough to put up a full season's worth of stats.
There is word that the Redskins will be on the hunt for a veteran once free agency begins. But because they have so many other needs, including quarterback and receiver, we don't see them breaking the bank. And Shanahan has learned that you can't teach an old dog new tricks some of the times. Just ask Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker.
In all dynasty leagues, Helu should be a top-5 pick in rookie-only drafts. I expect Torain to start Week One, but his hold on the job won't be a strong one. As for redraft leagues; just like my article regarding Miami running back Daniel Thomas, Helu is a perfect RB3 once you lock down two stud starters. I can easily see Helu being your No. 1 flex option by the middle of the season. And he is definitely one of the fantasy football sleepers you want to keep an eye on.