Every year, some of the players you find on championship teams come from late draft picks or the waiver wire. Let's remove some of the clutter and see who we can sit and wait on that will surpass expectations. It's not as difficult as many think if you just do the research. Here are the players I believe are the biggest sleepers and the most undervalued backs.
Note, ADP means average draft position, an average of where players go by position and overall using hundreds of drafts with the same scoring rules.
Mark Ingram, Saints
Position ADP: 29
Overall ADP: 64 (Round Six in a 12-team league)
Ingram is part of a tandem with Pierre Thomas and I envision him as the goal-line back. He is having a great camp highlighting his skills, especially moving the pile and showing his power as a goal-line back. He has much greater value than his current position and I would not hesitate to grab him and use him as my No. 2 fantasy back.
Beanie Wells, Cardinals
Position ADP: 33
Overall ADP: 81 (Round Seven in a 12-team league)
I'm not a big Wells fan but he has been thrust into a featured role now that rookie Ryan Williams is out for the year with a knee injury. The team hasn't brought in another back so it's Beanie's job to lose. Wells has been injury-prone, but the Cardinals now have a quality quarterback who will help take pressure off him. He should be an acceptable No. 3 back, though I'm nervous about it considering he's untested.
Pierre Thomas, Saints
Position ADP: 35
Overall ADP: 84 (Round Seven in a 12-team league)
Thomas is the second hammer in the Saints' backfield. The team understands that it needs him to complement Mark Ingram to help keep both players healthy. Considering the potential of Ingram hitting the rookie wall, Thomas should have no trouble being utilized in a variety of ways. I trust him more as a No. 3 fantasy back. Although he won't see the goal-line carries, in PPR (point-per-reception) leagues his receptions will offset that making him a great value pick.
Mike Tolbert, Chargers
Position ADP: 38
Overall ADP: 91 (Round Eight in a 12-team league)
Ryan Mathews has strong bust potential. The opposite is true of Tolbert. Not only will Tolbert be the goal-line back, but he is a better pass blocker than Mathews, so he will see a few more opportunities on the field. Tolbert's ADP tells me many are forgetting this is a timeshare, not a backup role. Head coach Norv Turner figured out last season that he needs to use a player with Tolbert's talent. By using both Mathews and Tolbert, Turner increases their productivity throughout the season with less wear and tear on them. I have no qualms in picking up Tolbert and using him as a high-end No. 3 fantasy back.
Marion Barber, Bears
Position ADP: 55
Overall ADP: 166 (Round 14 in a 12-team league)
Barber's having a solid camp and now that he's healthy, he's returning to form. I never understood why the Cowboys thought his tank was empty. Between questionable play-calling, use and injuries, I believed that leaving Dallas would reuvenate Barber's career. Despite this, Matt Forte is coming into his own. However, Barber has a great chance to get goal-line carries and has solid hands. Although this won't quite be a timeshare, it should be a good enough situation for Barber to to warrant bye-week and injury-fill-in status. Here's another draft-and-stash candidate and see what the early season brings.
Roy Helu, Redskins
Position ADP: 57
Overall ADP: 185 (Round 16 in a 12-team league)
Helu's able to break the long one on any given play and his ability to navigate into open space reminds me of Clinton Portis in Portis' first two years in the league. Not that they're alike, but they're playmakers. When head coach Mike Shanahan has playmakers in the backfield he wants to put them to use. Grab Helu and see how the Redskins utilize him to decide if he can see the field enough to warrant a bye-week or injury fill-in role. I wouldn't term him a sleeper as much as a spot player who offers depth.
Willis McGahee, Broncos
Position ADP: 58
Overall ADP: 187 (Round 16 in a 12-team league)
McGahee will be the Broncos' goal-line back with Knowshon Moreno as the primary back. Despite Moreno having a great camp, he has yet to do it on game days. I also wonder how someone like head coach John Fox, who thrives on a tandem backfield, won't find more use for McGahee. Fox loved having the 1-2 punch of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in Carolina, so I can see a similar setup for a Broncos team that will run, run and run some more. Over the past three seasons with the Panthers, Fox's teams averaged 486 rush attempts. When you can snag McGahee this late in the draft, you draft and stash to see what the early season brings.
Delone Carter, Colts
Position ADP: 67
Overall ADP: 206 (Round 18 in a 12-team league)
Carter has leaped over Donald Brown for the backup job behind Joseph Addai. I list him because we know Addai can't stay healthy. It's that simple. As long as Addai stays healthy he'll get most of the touches but injuries have worn him down. I can see Carter eventually working his way into some goal-line carries to keep Addai healthy. This late in a draft, you draft and hold on to him — if you have the roster space — and wait. If not, he will be a waiver-wire pickup at some point. Either way, he's a potential sleeper.
Jerome Harrison, Lions
Position ADP: 69
Overall ADP: 207 (Round 18 in a 12-team league)
Harrison is not having a good camp but starter Jahvid Best is not the model of health. The Lions drafted Mikel Leshoure to be part of a tandem with Best because they believe he can't carry the load. Leshoure is gone with a torn Achilles, Maurice Morris is on the wrong side of 30 and if Best goes down with another injury, we'll see how Harrison responds. Grab him with one of your final draft picks. Why not? Watch how Detroit's rushing attack unfolds and wait. If anything, he's waiver-wire fodder early in the season.