The running back position is the most unpredictable in fantasy football. As at quarterback and receiver, the top few players are bankable virtually every year; you know what you're going to get from the premium guys at the position.
When fantasy football drafts rev up every August, managers scramble for the likes of Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Jamaal Charles and Ray Rice. When good, those backs can win you your league. One injury, though, can turn your championship dreams into a 16-week nightmare.
If you expect to compete, you must minimize risk, which means hedging your bet at RB. This could take the form of a handcuff or a sleeper pick. Savvy managers do their homework ahead of the draft in order to scout out the best backups who have favorable circumstances to make a big impact.
Fortunately, the folks here at Bleacher Report have done a lot of that work for you. Here are five backup running backs who are primed to break out this year.
C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills
The Clemson product is not technically a backup, but it's hard to call him a starter. He's in a time-share with Fred Jackson, several years his elder, for the carries in Buffalo.
Spiller had an underwhelming rookie year, which prevented him from being the outright starter this year. This only serves to push him further under the radar, which is good for you, the deft manager. Spiller has electric big-play ability oozing out of his pores, a la Reggie Bush.
If he comes fast out of the gate, he could outplay Jackson for the starting spot and find himself as the best offensive talent on his team.
Willis McGahee, Denver Broncos
No one likes drafting Willis McGahee, but he holds value every year because of his goal-line ability. He's not a workhorse. He isn't fast. He's a touchdown vulture, which has a distinguished place in the fantasy football landscape.
Knowshon Moreno, the Broncos' starter, is a smaller back, and is more suited for the middle of the field. New coach John Fox is likely to go with his free agent acquisition on the goal line, which is the only reason the Broncos signed McGahee in the first place.
Javon Ringer, Tennessee Titans
Question: Who is in line to get gobs of carries if Chris Johnson's holdout causes him to miss games?
The answer is Ringer, the third-year bruiser out of Michigan State.
There isn't much to say here. If Johnson is out, Ringer gets the ball on a team that doesn't pass all that much, even with new QB Matt Hasselbeck.
There's nothing special about Ringer, but smart Johnson owners have already handcuffed him and aren't sweating CJ2K's holdout too much.
Rashad Jennings, Jacksonville Jaguars
Yes, Jennings is a distant second on the depth chart to Maurice Jones-Drew in Jacksonville. But let me ask you a question: Do you trust MJD and his balky knee? As a first-round pick, Jones-Drew could potentially score more points than anyone, or he could send your season down in flames with one wrong step.
Jennings is the No. 2 guy for the Jags and proved last season that he deserves more work. When Jones-Drew was out, Jennings averaged 5.5 yards per carry and caught balls out of the backfield.
Coach Jack Del Rio has already motioned that he wants to decrease MJD's workload in 2011, and Jennings is the direct and primary beneficiary of that plan.
Roy Helu, Washington Redskins
The Nebraska Cornhusker steps into a great situation in the Capital. Tim Hightower is holding down the starting job right now, but he was a drastic disappointment after being a sleeper in Arizona. Helu will have an adjustment period as a rookie, but at this point, he doesn't project too far behind Hightower.
Also to Helu's advantage is that Mike Shanahan, noted for mining diamonds in the rough at running back, is the Redskins coach, at least for now. If anybody would focus on developing a young, backup RB, it's Shanahan.
Add to that a weak starter and a pedestrian backup (Ryan Torain), and Helu has promise to produce as soon as this season, though probably not immediately.