Last season, Tim Hightower returned from a four-year absence to replace an injured Mark Ingram in the New Orleans Saints’ backfield, and put up 74 fantasy points down the stretch. Savvy fantasy owners managed to snag Hightower when Ingram went down, and his out-of-nowhere success brought victory to a lot of them.
A year before, Justin Forsett had his first big year after five underwhelming seasons. In 2013, the out-of-nowhere star running back was Knowshon Moreno. In 2011, Marshawn Lynch went from high-profile quasi-bust to superstar Seahawk.
We see examples of it all the time. Running backs who inspire “remember this guy?” comments as they roll into serious fantasy contribution in a given season are common, and while it might not portend long-term success, they can be the keys to a successful fantasy season.
Where might these out-of-nowhere contributors come from this season? This isn’t a search for rookies who could pop; rather, it’s really deep handcuffs (third or fourth on their teams’ depth charts) and/or guys whose careers were nearly over who have a (very long) shot at returning to relevance this year.
Here are three long-shot running backs who you shouldn't be drafting in standard leagues, but might want to keep an eye on just in case:
Stevan Ridley, Detroit Lions
Ridley has had 430 yards combined the last two seasons with the Patriots and Jets, with a torn ACL in the middle of that. He was a big-time fantasy contributor the two years before that, but currently sits outside the top 70 running backs in ADP.
The last time Ridley played (most of) a full season, in 2013, only three running backs with at least 100 carries had more fantasy points per opportunity than he did. The year before that, only four did. When he’s gotten chances, he’s been productive for his fantasy owners.