The Next Rashard Mendenhall
Mendenhall started this season in the same fashion, receiving only seven carries in the first two games of 2009 and none in the third. Week 4 was the complete other side of the spectrum, with the second-year player earning 29 carries, gaining 165 yards (more than he accumulated in all games over that first year-plus) and scoring two TDs. From that performance, a fantasy star was born.
He went on to earn double-digit carries in every game the rest of way, wrestling the starting role from Willie Parker for good and setting himself up to be a highly sought-after RB1 next season. Which rookie backs have the chops to follow the Mendenhall path to greatness?
We'll certainly see a big season from Arizona's Chris Wells, but unlike Mendenhall, Wells has already begun his rise to dominance, leaving scorch marks on the fantasy competition over the last half of his rookie season. Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy should also see a big rise in value with the Eagles not expected to retain Brian Westbrook. Let's look a little deeper and try to find some players that have their version of Willie Parker blocking their ascension.
Arian Foster -- The undrafted rookie closed out the season with two impressive weeks, leading to speculation that he could have earned the No. 1 RB role heading into 2010. Steve Slaton's status is uncertain with a long recovery time from surgery on the horizon. The Texans are expected to bring in a back to compete with Foster, likely through the draft.
James Davis -- While Jerome Harrison staked his claim to be the Browns' lead back with that amazing run in your fantasy playoffs, the door isn't quite shut on the competition. Davis earned a lot of preseason hype, but found himself in the coach's doghouse early and the IR late. Like Mendenhall, Davis' rookie season was a complete lost cause. Unlike Mendenhall, he may not be in the future plans for his team. Chris Jennings is also lurking.
Shonn Greene -- Here's the obvious candidate for our search. He had the benefit of more rookie-season carries than Mendenhall, with Greene's highlight of the fantasy season coming in Week 7 (when he wasn't in your starting lineup) thanks to 144 yards and two TDs in mop-up duty against the Raiders. Where Greene completely took over was in the playoffs, cranking out 263 yards and two TDs in 44 carries over the first two rounds.
He may not have the first-round pedigree of Mendenhall, but Greene does have a large place in the future of the Jets. Remember, the organization traded away its entire stock of second-day picks to move up to the first pick of the second day and take Greene. Incumbent running back Thomas Jones will be 32 years old when the season starts, and the talent Greene flashed in the playoffs could lead to Jones' dismissal.
If you're the owner with Greene in your dynasty league, sit tight and enjoy his rise to fantasy stardom. If you don't own Greene, but feel you can pry him away from his owner, do what it takes to make that happen. New York should continue to be a predominantly rushing team (first in yardage in 2009), and it won't be long till Greene is the lead dog in the attack.