Like the apple in the Garden of Eden, temptations abound in fantasy football: players your head tells you to avoid but your greedy heart convinces you to take a chance on. Many of those players have strong college résumés and seem well-situated to succeed, but injuries or other circumstances have kept them from reaching their potential.
Occasionally one has his long-awaited breakthrough (see Cedric Benson, 2009), and it's that possibility that keeps bringing fantasy owners back. This year four players whose reputations have exceeded their production stand out. But is one of these the next Benson?
Laurence Maroney, Patriots, RB Selected in the first round of the 2006 draft, Maroney seemed destined for stardom as the No. 1 back on one of the league's most prolific offenses. But injuries and a deep backfield have helped keep the 5' 11" 220-pounder from breaking through.
In 2010, though, there may be a place for him on your roster. Over the last four seasons, including '08 when he missed all but three games with a shoulder injury, he has started just 14 contests but still ranks 29th among running backs in rushing yards (2,430), 23rd in yards per carry (4.2) and 21st in rushing touchdowns (21), including nine last season. And perhaps the best news is that he entered training camp dedicated to a more physical running style. "Rough—that's how I've got to be on the field—rough," he told reporters after a summer workout. "I can't go out there being all pretty because then you're all going to say I'm dancing." Verdict: Maroney's worth a mid- to late-round pick.
Devin Hester, Bears, WR In theory Chicago's new high-powered passing attack should be a boon for Hester, who has led the Bears in receiving yards in each of the last two seasons. But through three weeks of training camp, Devin Aromashodu and Johnny Knox have the inside track to start on the outside, meaning Hester may be reduced to the slot, a position that historically hasn't produced much in coordinator Mike Martz's system. Verdict: Hester is a late-round flier at best.
Darren McFadden, Raiders, RB The fourth overall pick from 2008 has totaled just 1,386 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns in two injury-plagued seasons. He is running second string to Michael Bush, whose lengthy injury history is the only reason to keep an eye on McFadden. Verdict: Make the ex-Razorback your last running back, if that.
Roy Williams, Cowboys, WR With the arrival of rookie Dez Bryant in Dallas, this is a make-or-break year for Williams, who was given a $45 million contract ($27 million guaranteed) in 2008. Even with Bryant sidelined until Week 1 with a right ankle sprain, Williams has just two catches in three preseason games, a fact he attributes to "flying under the radar." His talk is cheap, as is the pick you should use on him. Verdict: Williams is nothing but a late-round option.
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Three To Get Ready
Who will be this year's Fred Jackson, a backup who parlayed someone else's misfortune into a prominent role? These are the best candidates.
C.J. Spiller, BILLS, RB This season Jackson is the one with the bad luck (he broke his left hand and is out until mid-September), opening the door for this game-breaking rookie to start after a strong preseason.
Legedu Naanee, CHARGERS, WR Vincent Jackson's three-game suspension makes Naanee (below) a top target in one of the NFL's most dangerous passing attacks.
Dennis Dixon, STEELERS, QB Either Dixon, a dual-threat quarterback, or Byron Leftwich will run the offense while Ben Roethlisberger serves his suspension to begin the season.
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SPIRIT OF '06 Maroney is committed to more physical running, which may help him realize the potential the Patriots saw in him in 2006.
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