- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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While the backfield for the New Orleans Saints often seems full of question marks due to injuries, underwhelming play, possible suspensions and because Drew Brees just throws so much, things are much clearer for the Green Bay Packers. There is one running back that matters there, and after a few nice weeks, Ryan Grant suddenly seems to matter a whole lot more.
A season ago, Grant was one of fantasy's darlings, one of ESPN Fantasy's Hall of Famers, because he came out of nowhere and produced at such a high level, winning championships for fantasy owners. At one point fourth on the team's depth chart, Grant got his chance to shine in Week 8 of 2007, and over the final 10 weeks of Brett Favre's final season in Wisconsin, he reached the 100-yard mark five times and scored eight touchdowns. Not only did he save fantasy seasons, his 201 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the divisional playoff round certainly pumped up his value for 2008 a bit more.
In retrospect, it was unfair to expect Grant to repeat such a high level of performance, especially with the Packers breaking in a new quarterback (although Aaron Rodgers has done a fine job, really; he's the No. 5 player in all of fantasy). Grant was selected in ESPN average live drafts at No. 16, and 11th at running back. How has he done? Well, he's currently No. 24 at his position, and 73rd overall, but imagine where he would have been if not for 33 fantasy points the past two weeks. Viewing his season in totality makes Grant look like a bust. However, it's not even Thanksgiving yet. Grant's owners want to know -- make that need to know -- whether this is the start of a second-half run like last season's, or just a few good games.
I'll vote for this being the start of something big. Grant dealt with a sore hamstring much of September, costing him practice time and the chance to get into a rhythm, but after that he has actually run quite well. He just wasn't scoring touchdowns. Grant finally reached the end zone in Week 7 in a 34-14 win over the Indianapolis Colts, while also running for 100 yards for the first time this season. After a bye week, he totaled 86 yards against Tennessee's top-notch defense and 75 yards at Minnesota and its tough run defense, and in Week 11 he exploded on the Chicago Bears, a team that supposedly is weaker against the pass, with 145 yards and his third touchdown in four games. This is the Grant who was drafted in the second round by fantasy owners!
Even now, Rodgers continues to get most of the attention. Replacing a Hall of Fame player whose New York Jets team stands in first place brings with it special attention and pressure. The Packers are in first place, too, you know. Grant has been able to fly beneath the radar, but fantasy owners are surely aware of his recent emergence. On Monday night, Rodgers gets to face Brees, certainly making it seem like a shootout is pending, but the Packers have been getting Grant plenty of carries; he's fifth in the NFL in carries and 11th in rushing yards. Now we're seeing some touchdowns.
With games against the Texans, Bears and Lions remaining on the schedule, get ready to see more 100-yard efforts and accompanying touchdowns, as well. This is Ryan Grant, 2007 fantasy Hall of Famer, and he's back.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His new book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.
1dMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne