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Fantasy Fodder: 2010's biggest fantasy surprises

Even with all the coverage fantasy football gets nowadays, fantasy studs still find a way to slip through the cracks. Whether it's an unexpected No. 1 running back or a veteran journeyman who finally figures it out, you just didn't see them coming — and if you did, chances are you've won a lot of games in your league. That's one of the interesting dynamics of this game: Find a couple of gold nuggets in the draft or on the waiver wire, and you'll strike it rich at season's end.

So without further ado, here are my five most pleasant surprises from the first half of the 2010 fantasy season:

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1. And our No. 1 fantasy back is ... : Chris Johnson? Adrian Peterson? Ray Rice? Nope, Arian Foster. The Texans back had a monster game against the Colts in Week 1 and hasn't stopped rumbling over defenses since. He leads the NFL in rushing with 633 yards, and his six TDs have been nice, too.

2. The Denver pass attack: Raise your hand if you thought Kyle Orton would average more than 300 yards a game. Or that Eddie Royal would have a big bounce-back season. Or that Brandon Lloyd would lead the NFL in receiving yards. All three have somehow happened, and we have Josh McDaniels to thank for that.

3. Redemption song: When Kevin Kolb went down with a concussion in Week 1, the Eagles fired up the Michael Vick Experience. He took the NFL by storm, throwing for six touchdowns and leading the NFL in passer rating before suffering a rib injury in Week 4. It was only three weeks, but it was fun while it lasted.

4. Hot tub time machine: A lot of fantasy experts — this guy included — wrote off LaDainian Tomlinson and Terrell Owens before the season, and both have turned back the clock to be top-12 fantasy players at their respective positions. Can they keep it up? Probably not. But they've contributed much more than expected.

5. Second-year receivers: You always hear that wide receivers don't reach their potential until their third season, but three NFL sophomores — Austin Collie, Jeremy Maclin and Hakeem Nicks — have bucked that trend. Each has six touchdowns and 400-plus receiving yards in 2010.

Fantasy penthouse:

Kevin Kolb (326 passing yards and three TDs), Ryan Torain (100 rushing yards and one TD), Jeremy Maclin (159 receiving yards and two TDs), Benjamin Watson (88 receiving yards and a TD)

Fantasy doghouse:

Brett Favre (118 passing yards, one TD, one fumble), Jahvid Best (16 rushing yards), Miles Austin (two catches for 12 yards), Visanthe Shiancoe (zero catches)

Start 'em or sit 'em:

Jay Cutler, Bears: Start 'em. The Redskins have allowed a lot of fantasy points to quarterbacks this season, and Cutler won't have to worry about interceptions because their defensive backs can't catch

Cedric Benson, Bengals: Sit 'em. I've got a feeling the Bengals will be playing catch-up against the Falcons

Chris Ivory, Saints: Start 'em. He has a chance against the Browns to make it back-to-back 100-yard games

Ronnie Brown, Dolphins: Sit 'em. What can Brown do for you against the Steelers? Not much

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Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs: Start 'em. Look for Bowe to keep on rolling against the Jaguars secondary

The wire:

Chris Ivory will be the Saints' lead back until Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush are healthy enough to play. ... I told you to pick up Marshawn Lynch. ... Pierre Garcon, Roy Williams and Eddie Royal are available in many leagues if you're looking to fill out your receiving corps. ... What Deion Branch did against the Ravens last weekend would have sucked less if he was on your fantasy team. ... Aaron Hernandez is close to being a starting-caliber tight end. ... Matthew Stafford will return soon, and if Shaun Hill can put up big numbers, imagine what Stafford can do. ... If Owen Daniels is available, go get him. It will pay off later. Trust me.

As we've repeatedly seen on ESPN, DeSean Jackson, Joshua Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi all took big hits last weekend, and I wouldn't count on any of those guys in my fantasy lineup in Week 7. Todd Heap, who got rocked by Brandon Meriweather and finished the game with a sprained shoulder, missed Wednesday's practice, so he's a question mark, too. ... Chris Cooley (concussion) is questionable. ... Antonio Gates (toe) should play Sunday, but his teammate, Malcom Floyd, will likely be sidelined with a hamstring injury. ... Vernon Davis (knee) should be OK. ... Darren McFadden will test his hamstring out again this week. I wouldn't play him until you know he can play four quarters. ... Vince Young (knee) avoided major damage during his awkward fall Monday night.

You make the call:

Which player would you rather have going forward this season: Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson?

Reader question of the week:

Avi (@2131andBeyond on Twitter) gave me a good one this week: Top buy low candidate right now? We all know Roy Williams is sell high prototype at this point.

The Cardinals' QB situation has been a disaster, destroying Larry Fitzgerald's fantasy value. But whether it's Max Hall or Derek Anderson under center, you've got to figure Fitzgerald will get it going eventually. He won't be a top-10 wideout, but he'll upgrade anyone's roster. Buy him a bargain value while you still can.

Extra point:

Outside of his two-touchdown performance in Week 3, Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace was a fantasy non-factor as Ben Roethlisberger served out his four-game suspension. But with Big Ben back, expect big things from the second-year speedster, who I was high on entering the season. Wallace had 90 receiving yards and a touchdown last week as Roethlisberger threw for three scores against the Browns. Expect double-digit point totals from Wallace more often than not in the season's second half.

My weekly Fantasy Fodder column will run in some fashion on the Virtual Vensanity blog every Wednesday. E-mail your fantasy questions to matt@btheite.com, Tweet them to twitter.com/mattvensel or leave them in the comments section below. Carrier pigeons are also acceptable.

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