LeGarrette Blount had an incredible rookie year, going from undrafted free agent to waiver casualty to the Buccaneers' unquestioned starting back and highlight-reel material. And he enters the 2011 season as one of the NFL's safest sled dogs, a guy who perches atop his depth chart with safety and impunity. So I understand the Blount enthusiasm that's swirling in the fantasy football ether. But I'm not exactly sure I entirely share it.
Listen, the results were there for Blount in the second half of '10. He produced four 100-yard games and averaged an impressive 5.0 yards per carry, plus left an impression on viewers' minds after hurdling a couple of hapless knee-tacklers and continuing on for big runs. As everyone and their brother has noted, it's pretty extraordinary for a back who is 6-foot and 247 pounds to be hurdling anyone, let alone an NFL defender. But in truth, my seeds of doubt are sown in just such plays, as fun and spectacular as they were.
You see, I'm not convinced that Blount is as physical as he could be. Obviously, you take one look at his size and you think I'm crazy. But I didn't see Blount take advantage of that size as much as I expected last year. In truth, he seems to be a really big fan of jumping. I recall a Week 10 TD run against the Panthers, when he took advantage of a big hole on the left side and impressively shot through it, but once he reached the second level he didn't plow over Charles Godfrey, he kind of leapt and got flipped spectacularly up into the end zone. Good result, but a weird strategy for a 247-pound dude. He did it again on a run in 49ers territory in Week 11, ending a moderately physical run by leaping partway over a defender while getting tackled by another. And there were those two true signature plays, in Week 8 against the Cardinals and Week 16 against the Seahawks, where he pulled out his full hurdling act.
Now, there were runs where Blount made smaller men look foolish. A big Week 13 gain against the Falcons was punctuated by a gallop where he pushed through Thomas Decoud like the Atlanta player wasn't even there. And he had two ridiculously physical long runs against the Lions in Week 15, one for a long score, where he looked like a faster Brandon Jacobs. But not only do I think Blount's tendency to leap could have a negative effect on his health, but sometimes when I watch him run I get a feeling he thinks he's much smaller than he actually is. And usually last year when it came obvious time for Blount to be powerful, he came up short. He converted only two of nine carries from inside an opponent's 5-yard line into TDs, and was most famously stuffed on a fourth-and-1 from the Falcons' 2 with just more than two minutes left in a painful Week 9 loss.
It's not that I'm calling Blount a potential bust. I think he's got too much job security for that, and he doesn't strike me as an inordinate injury risk, jumping or no. I just don't see an excess of upside. For all the Buccaneers' beat reporters writing stories about Blount "looking good" catching the ball during training camp, the big man hasn't stayed on the field for third downs much at all this preseason, and Earnest Graham and/or Kregg Lumpkin look like the pass-catching backs in the Tampa offense. Blount caught all of five passes last season, and I didn't see any evidence in either of the Bucs' exhibition games to date that indicates he'll even threaten 20 grabs this year. And an offensive line that a few years ago seemed promising now just seems bleh. The tackles, Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood, got new contracts this summer but are at best average in my eyes. Davin Joseph got a huge extension at right guard but hasn't yet proved he's the mauler he was supposed to be when Tampa took him in the first round of the '06 draft. Center Jeff Faine is very strong when he's in there, but he's missed 12 games the past two seasons combined. It's not a bad group, but it's pretty average. I know much has been made of new offensive line coach (and former Vikings coach) Pat Morris, the subtle implication being that Adrian Peterson enjoyed running behind a Morris line, so maybe Blount suddenly has AP-like openings. But while Blount is surprisingly shifty for a guy his size, he doesn't have anything close to Peterson's long speed, nor, I would argue, does Tampa have any lineman who could match up with guys like Steve Hutchinson or Bryant McKinnie in their primes.
Again, Blount is a good player whose peaks in 2011 are going to be really fun. I rate him 20th among fantasy backs right now, which I'll admit is conservative, but which is still pretty darn impressive considering where the kid was exactly a year ago. And maybe I'm too low on him, because maybe his job security will translate to a massive workload -- including goal-line work -- and he'll bump north of eight or nine TDs, something that's always difficult to promise. But I'm not buying the pass-catching stuff, which means to me Blount is a two-down player who will be TD-dependent, so if the scores don't come, on occasion he's going to be a frustrating guy to own.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.