It's almost here. The 2011 NFL season is just weeks away and inching closer at this very moment. Now is the time for fantasy football owners to comb over every mock draft, player projection, and position ranking to ensure they emerge out the other side, trophy in hand.
And as all self-proclaimed fantasy gurus know, there is one particular, time-tested means to achieve that goal: the hallowed "fantasy sleeper." This time of year everyone is scrambling to dig through the dregs and discover the next Arian Foster; the impossible-to-predict player available in the mid-to-late rounds with the potential to carry a team to the promise land.
Well this year the Arizona Cardinals might just have someone on the short list. Everybody's least favorite running back -- Beanie Wells.
The former-Buckeye heads into his third NFL season with a lot left to prove. After accumulating just 1,190 yards over two unremarkable years -- including a miserable sophomore slump that saw the back pick up just 397 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games last season -- Wells enters a vital make-or-break year.
Heading into the 2011 preseason with a new starting quarterback under center, and a rookie running back nipping at Wells' heels, many within the Cardinals organization felt this was the Ohio-native's last shot to carry the offensive load. Add in a devastating ruptured patellar tendon that'll keep first round pick Ryan Williams out indefinitely, and Wells has an unparalleled chance to fulfill the expectations placed on him out of college.
First let's take a look at what the national media thinks:
- 50th ranked overall player
- 23rd ranked running back
- Notably ranked behind Mark Ingram, Jahvid Best, and Felix Jones
- Projected for 759 yards rushing, 5.9 rushing touchdowns, 183 yards receiving, .8 receiving touchdowns, 2.2 fumbles
- 54th ranked overall player
- 24th ranked running back
- Notably ranked behind BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Knowshon Moreno, Jonathon Stewart, Ingram, Best, and Jones
- Projected for 1,075 yards rushing, 7 rushing touchdowns, 114 yards receiving, 1 receiving touchdown
- 30th ranked running back
- Notably ranked behind Daniel Thomas, Joseph Addai, Ryan Matthews, Fred Jackson, Green-Ellis, Ingram, Best, and Jones
- Projected for 879 yards rushing, 6 rushing touchdowns, 192 yards receiving, .3 receiving touchdowns, 2.1 fumbles
SB Nation's Fake Teams:
- 35th ranked running back
- Notably ranked behind Brandon Jacobs, Ryan Torain, Pierre Thomas, D. Thomas, Addai, Matthews, Jackson, Green-Ellis, Moreno, Stewart, Ingram, Best, and Jones
Just by glancing at the numbers, it's clear pundits don't think highly of him. And who could blame them? Wells royally burned everybody that took an early round flyer on him last season.
But let's not let the past cloud our judgment. This season and last season are entirely different beasts. Wells will no longer be forced to differ to Tim Hightower, who, for all intensive purposes, was the starting running back throughout the last two years. Likewise, Wells will -- hopefully -- no longer be forced to rush against nine large men stacked in the box because of a passing game that resembles Tecmo Bowl-levels of erraticism.
Really it all boils down to one thing: opportunity. Wells has an opportunity that few backs in league ever get. In the age of runner-by-committee, 300-carry backs are few and far between. With no real competition, Wells has a chance to enter into the workhorse conversation.
Besides, it's important to remember that the kid is still only 23. Even with the split-second lifespan of NFL running backs, 23 is inexplicably young.
Everyone that claimed Wells was washed-up or a bust after last season is missing the boat on this one. How quickly we forget the end of the '09-‘10 campaign, when he steamrolled for 483 yards and six touchdowns in limited action over the final eight games, including a monster day at Detroit where he exploded for 110 yards and a touchdown on just 17 carries.
Wells hasn't received that level of involvement since the aforementioned '09 rally. He recorded over 15 carries just twice last season, one of which resulted in a decent fantasy performance of 64 all-purpose yards and one touchdown. He can perform if given the opportunity.
Basically, Wells is as prime an example of a low-risk, high-reward target as there is entering into the 2011 fantasy football draft. And isn't that always the case with the big-time sleepers?
SB Nation Arizona 2011 Fantasy Football Prediction: 1,312 rushing yards, 11 rushing touchdowns, 201 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown
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