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Surprising Running Back Stars For Remainder Of The Season

Celluloid heroes often emerge in the most unexpected forms. Think Marge Gunderson in "Fargo," Jeff Goldblum in "Independence Day" or Jar Jar Binks in "The Phantom Menace."

OK, that's just mean. No one should be forced to ever remember that.

The point is in the movies it's never a surprise when the hero turns out to be someone you least expect to push themselves prominently front and center. It's no different in fantasy football. We all have designs on our superstars carrying us to championship glory, but oftentimes the players who emerge as the most valuable are ones we never would have anticipated producing so well.

Consider the running back position this season, for example. That position remains vital in fantasy football but it has put fantasy owners to the test as the position has been hammered by injuries.


All you need to do is look at the Top 10 running backs in average points per game in the National Fantasy Football Championship to see the carnage this season has caused. Of those 10 backs, six have suffered serious injuries, two (Fred Jackson and Jahvid Best) have been lost for the season and two more (Darren McFadden and Matt Forte) are likely done as well.

What does this all mean? It means fantasy owners have had to get creative ... real creative ... at arguably the most important position in their lineup.

Last week, for example, Ryan Grant, Marion Barber and Toby Gerhart all finished as Top 10 RBs in the NFFC. Grant and Barber will likely be solid starting options again this week although Gerhart will head back to the bench if Adrian Peterson returns from his ankle injury as expected.

What we saw last week was likely just a precursor to what fantasy owners can expect at the position the rest of the season. Subscribing to the adage that it's not how you start but how you finish, here are some running backs who could emerge from the shadows to play key roles in deciding fantasy titles the next few weeks:

Kevin Smith (Det.) - This call comes with considerable risk because Smith has been dealing with an ankle injury since Thanksgiving. But he has been terrific when he's been able to play and he could return for the Lions this week against the Raiders. If he can stay healthy, he could be a Top 5-10 RB in point-per-reception leagues. He's a high-risk/high-reward option, but there's no denying his upside.

Felix Jones (Dal.) - Jones returns to the starting lineup in Dallas with impressive rookie DeMarco Murray the latest RB casualty. Jones has three great matchups the rest of the way (vs. Tampa Bay, Philadelphia and the Giants). He's never been a durable back, but if he can stay healthy he has Top 15 upside in all formats.

Kendall Hunter (SF) - Hunter really hasn't done much with an increased role in the 49ers' backfield. He's only topped 40 yards rushing once this season and has only scored twice. San Francisco, though, is clearly intent on preserving Frank Gore for the playoffs so Hunter is a good bet to get double-digit touches from here on out. He's just a RB3 while San Francisco is playing for a first-round playoff bye but if your season includes Week 17, he could be a monster against the Rams.

Kahlil Bell (Chi.) - Bell will back up Barber as long as Forte is out and showed last week that he has some RB3 value in PPR leagues. He rushed for only 40 yards but more importantly, he caught five passes in the loss to Denver. The Bears may need to lean even more heavily on the short-passing game with Caleb Hanie under center, so Bell's value will remain steady. It will increase significantly should anything happen to Barber.

Chris Ivory (NO) - Ivory will continue to replace Mark Ingram as long as Ingram is sidelined with his turf toe injury. I don't expect Ingram to return this week and given the nature of the injury, it would not be a surprise if he was out until the playoffs. Ivory is a distant third in fantasy value behind Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas as long as New Orleans is playing for a first-round playoff bye. But if the Saints know their playoff fate in Week 17, Ivory could be in line for 20+ touches. If your league plays Week 17 Ivory is a good RB to have stashed away on your bench in case he gets an opportunity on the final Sunday of the season to be The Man in the New Orleans backfield.


Here are five sleeper picks for Week 15:

QB: Tim Tebow (Den.) - Tebow has been rock solid since taking over as Denver's starter, ranking 11th in the NFFC among quarterbacks. He has a dream matchup this week against the Patriots' woeful defense and has Top 5 upside. Don't be surprised if Tebow joins the likes of Rodgers, Brees and Brady as a stud QB on Sunday.

RB: Beanie Wells (Ari.) - Hopefully, you sat Beanie last week with his brutal matchup against the 49ers. Things look MUCH better in Week 15 against a Cleveland run defense that has allowed 151 yards per game the last five weeks. Start Wells with confidence.

WR: James Jones (GB) - Greg Jennings' knee injury opens the door for Jones to assume a larger role in the vaunted Packers' passing game. He's always capable of a huge game and there's plenty of potential for him to deliver against the Chiefs on Sunday.

TE: Jake Ballard (NYG) - Ballard continues to get it done for Eli Manning with 10 receptions in his last three games. This week, he faces a Washington pass defense that has struggled badly against TEs of late. Ballard has Top 10 upside in a plus matchup.

D: Seattle - The Seahawks continue to be a late-season fantasy find. They delivered last week against the Rams and face the awful Caleb Hanie on Sunday. Seattle is looking great again as a sleeper defense.

Tom Kessenich is the Manager of High Stakes Fantasy Games for STATS LLC. Find out more about the NFFC at or email Tom at Follow him on Twitter @TomKessenich.