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The five most pleasant surprises of 2010

10/14/2010

Houston Texans running back Arian Foster has been a pleasant surprise this season; he has gone from being a relative unknown to leading the league in rushing. But he hasn't been the only surprise performer. With five weeks down and 12 to go, let's see where one man thinks Foster ranks among the biggest fantasy football surprises of the 2010 campaign, and how the rest of the season is likely to go for those players.

We'll start things off with the season's No. 5 surprise, and count things down from there. Since my original list of surprises went more than 20 deep, plenty of high-scoring options obviously had to be left out. And by the way, we're keeping things positive here. Let's not discuss the "not-so-fun" surprises, disappointments such as DeAngelo Williams, Greg Jennings and Matt Schaub. We'll have plenty of time down the road for that.

5. Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles: I think it's safe to say he was off the radar screen to begin the season, while starter Kevin Kolb was taken 12th among quarterbacks in ESPN average live drafts. Oh, how things have changed. Now Kolb is merely holding the job for a recovering Vick, who ranked second among all players (behind only Peyton Manning) through three weeks with 25 standard fantasy points per game before getting injured. Vick and his sore ribs probably won't suit up in Week 6, but after that he's a clear-cut top-10 fantasy quarterback, as he looks better than he ever did with the Atlanta Falcons.

4. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, New York Jets: So much for this future Hall of Famer being done at age 30. Yes, he did look awful with the San Diego Chargers last season, averaging 3.3 yards per carry and converting a low percentage of goal-line carries, but Tomlinson is thriving behind a stalwart Jets offensive line. He's currently ninth among running backs with 67 fantasy points. Tomlinson was selected 36th among running backs in ESPN average live drafts, so he was on rosters to begin with, but few expected him to leapfrog enticing second-year player Shonn Greene with such ease. That said, be cautious here, fantasy owners. Greene is running well again, and there's room for multiple running backs in this offense, especially the bigger, younger one. In a month, I expect Greene to be the one getting more rushes, though Tomlinson will still remain a useful flex choice.

3. Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans: From the fifth round and 23rd among running backs to the top scorer at the position, Foster has been an obvious revelation, starting with his monster Week 1 performance in which he embarrassed the Indianapolis Colts for 231 rushing yards and three touchdowns, accounting for 41 fantasy points. That said, Foster has had only one above-average fantasy game in four games since, the Week 4 outing in Oakland (30 points), and he hasn't been a top-10 running back since Week 1. Foster looks capable of huge fantasy numbers at any time, so fantasy owners should respect that and not hesitate to start him weekly. But if knee problems persist and Schaub and the passing game finally get it going, Foster might not be so beloved by fantasy owners come playoff time. Still, I'll call him a top-10 running back for the season until he proves otherwise.

2. Peyton Hillis, RB, Cleveland Browns: So much for Jerome Harrison continuing his rise to stardom. This was supposed to be a relative time-share, but most fantasy owners went nuts for Harrison, the seventh-round pick, and ignored the undrafted (in 10-team leagues) Hillis. Today, Harrison is a Philadelphia Eagle, still buried, and Hillis is fantasy's No. 8 running back, with a touchdown in every game. If Hillis remains healthy, there's every reason to believe this exceptional fantasy free-agent find can remain a top-10 running back. Who's going to stop him, Mike Bell?

And drum roll, please ...

1. Kyle Orton/Brandon Lloyd, QB/WR, Denver Broncos: These guys come in a package. Through five weeks, this tandem has been about as big a surprise as any quarterback-receiver duo in years. And frankly, I don't see these two stopping their extraordinary production, either. It's not like the Broncos have a terrific running game waiting to emerge. Orton was the No. 22 quarterback selected in ESPN average live drafts, not even a backup for 10-team leagues, and now he's fantasy's No. 3 scorer, a mere seven points behind Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers. Even as recently as Week 4, fantasy owners remained conflicted on whether Orton was for real. Well, he is. Forget about Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn, Orton is legit, with his worst game still featuring 295 passing yards.

As for Lloyd, one could argue no performance has been as surprising. He's No. 2 among wide receivers in fantasy scoring, just one point behind Hakeem Nicks of the New York Giants. Nicks has been awesome, but he's young and was expected to emerge. Lloyd is catching passes for his fourth NFL team since 2005, a journeyman with a career high of 48 receptions. He might reach that mark by Week 8. The Broncos have interesting wide receiver depth, with Eddie Royal, Jabar Gaffney and promising rookie Demaryius Thomas also having periods of relevancy. But Lloyd has stood out. Now owned in 96.5 percent of leagues, up 17.2 percent over the past week, he has the look of sustaining his top-10-receiver production.

Just missed: Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants; Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets; Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders; Marcedes Lewis, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars; Austin Collie, WR, Indianapolis Colts; Jahvid Best, RB, Detroit Lions.