Lynch leads NFC West's fantasy sleeper pack

Posted Aug. 02, 2011 @ 4:43 p.m.
Posted By Dan Arkush

Is Marshawn Lynch a sleeping fantasy giant in Seattle?

Considering the measures the Seahawks have taken to hopefully strengthen a ground game that failed to produce a single 100-yard rusher in the 2010 regular season, the potential for much more productive fantasy numbers than Lynch registered in his first season in Seattle should not be ignored.

Obtained from the Bills for a fourth-round draft pick and a conditional sixth-round pick five weeks into the 2010 campaign, Lynch still managed to lead the Seahawks in rushing with 573 yards — the lowest team-leading rushing total since 1984.

It became quite clear that head coach Pete Carroll had little patience with his team's pedestrian ground game when he dumped offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates a few days after the Seahawks were eliminated by the Bears in the playoffs. Out went Bates, who frequently seemed to totally abandon the ground game, and in came former Raiders head coach Tom Cable as the team's new assistant head coach-offensive line.

In one fell swoop, the focus on offense switched from the pass to the run, with Cable, whose Raiders rushed for 239 yards in a Week Eight rout of the Seahawks last season, being firmly committed to the zone-running principles that Carroll emphasized at USC.

Carroll quickly let it be known that a much more physical ground attack would be installed, and he and Cable continued to set the table for a more run-oriented offense with the selections of hard-nosed O-linemen James Carpenter and John Moffit in the first and third rounds, respectively, of this year's draft.

After the Seahawks were forced to endure 10 different starting combinations on the offensive line last year, Carroll and Cable have assembled what figures to be a much more stable front wall this season. Carpenter and Moffitt were immediately proclaimed the starters at right tackle and right guard, respectively, free-agent signee Robert Gallery received big bucks to be the starting left guard, 2010 first-round draft pick Russell Okung is entrenched at left tackle and third-year pro Max Unger has been moved to center.

In fact, the signing of Gallery, who played for Cable at Oakland, sets the stage for major improvement in the run-blocking department.          

That bodes well for Lynch, whose best regular-season runs last season were on plays in which he managed to still get a yard or two, despite getting hit in the backfield repeatedly.

There's no doubt about Lynch's best run in the postseason — an amazing, tackle-breaking 67-yard TD romp in Seattle's wild-and-crazy wild-card upset of the defending Super Bowl champion Saints that was proclaimed an instant classic.

While it's hard to imagine a steady diet of similar big-play romps from the former Bills first-round draft pick this season, the odds are strong that Lynch, who managed six TDs in limited play for the Seahawks in 2010, will have his fair share of 100-yard rushing performances and become Seattle's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2005.

What follows is a look at the top fantasy sleeper possibilities on the NFC West's other teams:

Cardinals WR Andre Roberts — Steve Breaston signed with the Chiefs, and Early Doucet has injury issues that are cause for concern. Roberts, a third-round pick last season, was admittedly overwhelmed in training camp as a rookie but came on strong late. He showed what he's capable of doing on Christmas night last season, when he compiled 244 all-purpose yards in an upset victory over the Cowboys, including a 74-yard TD catch. Team observers say he looked extremely quick and athletic in players-only workouts this offseason and could make a strong case for being either the No. 2 or No. 3 WR behind undisputed fantasy centerpiece Larry Fitzgerald.   

Rams TE Michael Hoomanawanui — A fifth-round rookie last season out of Illinois, Hoomanawanui showed real promise when he was able to stay on the field (he missed eight games with ankle injuries). He might have had the best hands of any Rams pass catcher, displayed deceptive speed, developed an instant rapport with rookie QB Sam Bradford and proved to be a willing blocker. He was strong enough to power through defenders and break tackles and was fleet enough to burst through seams and outrun smaller guys. It appears the Rams could be planning on borrowing a page from the Patriots' 2010 offense that got such strong play out of rookie TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez with Hoomanawanui and second-round TE Lance Kendricks filling similar roles. Although it's a major tongue twister, don't be shocked if Hoomanawanui's name becomes a lot more familiar in fantasy circles.

49ers WR Josh Morgan — Morgan had a career-high 698 yards receiving last season but has yet to be a consistent threat as a No. 2 receiver. He is a really good downfield blocker and is big and physical. If enigmatic No. 1 WR Michael Crabtree continues to underachieve (he is currently out for at least a month with a foot injury), the door could open quickly for Morgan to become a full-fledged fantasy force.