Most successful dynasty owners save as many roster spots as possible for Running Back prospects. I've been hanging onto Raiders' Michael Bush on most of my teams for three years now. Cowboys' Tashard Choice is on half of them as well.
RB is the one position where one most values talent over situation. Injuries can clear a path through the depth chart. Just look at Texans' Arian Foster, who was on a practice squad in mid-November and starter material by mid-December.
Backup RBs are also frequently trade targets or raided off other teams' practice squads. Early investors in Ryan Grant know this story well.
It pays to consider every single RB on an NFL roster. If you like a guy's upside, at some point you are going to get to see him in live game action. The more familiar you are with these players, the faster you'll be able to decide whether or not to pull the trigger on the waiver wire for them.
Here are five RBs from the AFC which particularly interest me:
Lex Hilliard, Dolphins - Hilliard received plenty of game action once Ronnie Brown went down to yet another season-ending injury. He didn't receive more than five carries in any game, but some of them were on the goal line and one was for a touchdown. He did however put on a show in the passing game in weeks 15 and 16, catching 13 balls for 110 yards and a touchdown. At 5'11" and 240 pounds, he has the potential to be a complete RB.
Hilliard has the confidence of Coach Tony Sparano because he also excels at pass protection. He's expressed the admirable humility to play at any position to help the team, but Lousaka Polite is more likely to have the main fullback duties going forward.
Both Brown and Ricky Williams are getting up there in years. Hilliard is a little old himself for being a third-year RB. He'll be 26 when the 2010 season begins. If he's going to have long-term fantasy value, he'll have to blossom quickly.
Odds are high Hilliard will have that opportunity. Brown may not be ready in time for the season, and Williams has said this will be his last year. Look for Hilliard to be used early in the preseason and if he is, you may even need to spend a draft pick on him instead of waiting for him on the waiver wire, especially in PPR leagues.
Chris Jennings, Browns - I am not sold on Jerome Harrison as the long-term solution for Cleveland at RB. We were all looking for Jennings when Harrison instead blew up for a billion yards in the last three games. Even Browns GM Tim Heckert agrees that Harrison may not be big enough to make it as a 16-game starter, despite Mike Holmgren's earlier effusive praise.
At 5'10" and 218 pounds, Jennings isn't much bigger than Harrison. The Browns clearly need a bigger between the tackles tailback, but they have so many glaring needs that they may not be able to afford one this year.
The starting RB in Cleveland is most likely already on the roster. I doubt it's James Davis, who almost certainly will be injured in some creative accident while attending the Winter Olympics. Harrison and Jennings are so similar in size and style, but Jennings is four years younger.
Honestly, Jennings is going to have to show something a little better than his 3.5 yards per carry of 2009. But he ran hard when he did play and I like his chances to make that improvement.Expect Harrison to enter the season as the starter but for Jennings to get the call quickly when Harrison falters.
Mike Hart, Colts - I loved Hart at Michigan and stocked up on him in his rookie year. Then I cut bait after he didn't do anything. He still isn't doing much of anything behind Joseph Addai and Donald Brown.
In his limited action late this season, I saw the same qualities I liked in him in college. He's tough to bring down and great short yardage option in both the running and passing games. He's not explosive by any stretch of the imagination, but he has the ability to be a workhorse that moves the chains.
I really can't make a statistical argument in Hart's favor, nor will he have much of a chance to move up his current depth chart. I just like watching him play. For all I know, Hart will have the career path of one of my favorite ex-Panthers, Nick Goings.
Rashard Jennings, Jaguars - Maurice Jones-Drew received 312 carries in 2009. Right now it's looking like the Jaguars will run even more in 2010, but will probably not want to increase the load on their star RB. That leaves room for Jennings to get more work. He received a bit of an audition towards the end of the season and performed reasonably well.
People took note of Jennings last offseason simply because he was MJD's backup and may have already forgotten him. Considering he was a seventh round pick out of Liberty, frankly I think his development is ahead of more reasonable expectations.
If MJD is injured, Jennings is an immediate add. He's not as talented as Jones-Drew, but he has many of the same qualities and can be trusted on both running and passing downs. Even though he still has a lot of learning to do, Jennings already has a base of 5.4 yards per carry in 2009 to build upon.
Even if MJD stays healthy, Jennings could be used enough to rate as a bye week replacement by the middle of 2010, especially in PPR leagues. The just the low end of his upside. The high end is that he turns the Jacksonville backfield into a committee again.
Javon Ringer, Titans - LenDale White is a restricted free agent and could very well be gone soon. While linking players to former coaches is a cheap call and usually wrong, in this case Pete Carroll's Seahawks could sure use a runner like White. That is as long as White goes back to drinking tequila and puts back some of that weight he lost.
Meanwhile, Chris Johnson probably will not get another 358 carries next season. At least I hope not, I don't want to see him get run into the ground. That leaves the Titans to see what they've got in the second year RB from Michigan State.
Ringer only saw significant action in Week Seven against New England, recording a respectable 47 yards on seven carries. In his favor, he is quick to hit the hole and has great balance. But no one accuses Ringer of being explosive, and there are some serious questions about his durability.
Ringer should enter training camp as Johnson's clear backup. If Jeff Fisher knows what's good for him, Ringer should start getting his short yardage and goal line opportunities very soon.
By Sean Haugh, analyst at Fantasy Football Maniaxs