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Most fourth round NFL draft selections go relatively unnoticed by fantasy footballers.  In fact most rookies regardless of what round they’re drafted in take a while to make any major NFL impact.  But as I continue my search for those elusive diamonds in the fantasy rough, I’ve stumbled upon a rookie that has a good shot to make some noise this year.

Washington traded up to select Nebraska running back Roy Helu in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL draft.  Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan has a knack for finding productive running backs in rounds three or later.  He finds one-cut, speedy running backs to compliment his zone blocking offensive scheme.  Shanahan has made running backs like Selvin Young, Olandis Gary, Reuben Droughns, Mike Anderson, and Mike Bell all fantasy relevant, and none of them were selected in the first or second round.  Those guys were only fantasy relevant for a brief time, but at one time they all were producing for fantasy teams.  Roy Helu may be next.

Helu has prototypical NFL size at 6’0″, 220 lbs.  He can handle first and second down duties.  For a man that big, he has exceptional speed as well.  Helu ran a 4.40 40-yard dash at the 2011 NFL Combine.  In a zone blocking scheme, game-breaking speed may be the most important asset a running back can have to find success.  Helu has it.  One cut, hit the hole, gone.  Remind you of any Mike Shanahan running back?  Helu reminds Shanahan himself of one of his former running backs:

In Denver with Clinton [Portis], he was that 4.45 guy coming out, very physical, and once he had that open lane, he could go the distance.  At that time, he was about 205 pounds and averaged almost six yards a carry.  I look at Helu as having that type of ability, that type of speed.” — Mike Shanahan on Roy Helu

Shanahan likes Helu.  Good to know.  The only thing standing in the way of Roy Helu being a third or fourth round fantasy selection is the presence of Ryan Torain.  Torain is fairly productive under Shanahan – he averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season.  The problem is Torain runs with an upright running style which makes him vulnerable to injury.  In 2008 while in Denver (under Shanahan), Torain tore his ACL in his first start of the season.  Done for the remainder of the year.  In 2010 while in Washington (again under Shanahan), Torain suffered a hamstring injury and missed essentially 5 games.  Does that concern you?  It certainly concerns the Washington Redskins.  The guy gets hurt.

With Torain’s inability to stay healthy, Helu may get his shot to be the lead back in Washington sooner rather than later.  However, there are some strikes against Helu.  He’s not a strong pass catcher.  He doesn’t block well either.  These flaws keep him from being the ideal every down NFL back, and these flaws are also what contributed to him slipping to the fourth round of the NFL draft.  Like any rookie, he has some work to do.  If he does get his shot, he’ll likely be the first and second down back with Keiland Williams remaining the third down back.  Even with that said, if he does get his opportunity, he’ll be productive.  All Shanahan backs are.  That’s just the way it is.

Roy Helu had 11 touchdowns to go along with his 1,245 yards on 188 carries (a 6.6 yards per carry average) in his 2010 season at Nebraska.  That tells me he’s an explosive, productive running back.  He didn’t miss a game in 2008, 2009, or 2010.  That tells me he can handle a heavy workload.  With this lockout situation Torain will begin the season as the starter, but don’t be surprised if Roy Helu takes the job by mid season.  A starting Shanahan running back would hold solid value in fantasy football, don’t you think? Yes, indeed.

Helu is currently being drafted in the 10th and 11th rounds of 12-team 2011 fantasy drafts as an RB4 or RB5.  Torain will get another shot, but he’s running out of chances.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Helu starting by mid season and producing RB2 fantasy numbers.  Helu may end up being the best 10th round pick you ever made.  Don’t forget about him late in your fantasy drafts.  He’s worth the risk.

For more 2011 Sleeper Files from yours truly, check out my post on this Pittsburgh Steelers wide out.

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