Monday, November 7, 2011

Roy Helu: Can He Keep the Starting Job for the Washington Redskins?

I don't think anyone would argue that it is hard holding down a job in this economy. The current 9.1 percent national unemployment rate speaks for itself.

But the NFL is a different story when it comes to joblessness. Unless you play for Mike Shanahan, that is.

In fact, I bet any player donning a Washington Redskins jersey right now might think their chances of keeping a job on Main Street are better than doing so for Shanahan (just ask Ryan Torain, Rex Grossman or Anthony Armstrong).

So this begs an important question: Now that Roy Helu has been awarded Washington's starting running back job, will he keep it?

Now I'm no economist, but Helu's ability to keep the starting job is one that I think is fairly predictable, as the indicators pointing to his potential success are apparent. Those important indicators are his year-to-date performance, his competition in the backfield and that ever-escaping Mike Shanahan "Stamp of Approval."

In terms of Helu's performance so far this year, I don't think there is any question that he is deserving of the starting gig. After the game on Sunday, Helu is now the 12th-most targeted running back in the NFL this season and has caught the 12th-most passes.

To add to that, he is sporting a respectable 4.6 yards per rush in his rookie year, and if you only count games where he's had eight or more carries, his average jumps to 5.4 (which would be good for a tie for fourth amongst starting NFL running backs at this point). Helu's blitz pickup skills are also rapidly improving, which makes him a pretty good all-around back—good enough to start in the NFL, as he showed on Sunday.

As far as competition goes, there isn't much. Ryan Torain has averaged an embarrassing 1.6 yards per rush in his last four games, and found himself in Mike Shanahan's doghouse against the 49ers.

Recent pickup Tashard Choice isn't much better, already disappointing Dallas so much this year that he was waived midseason. Add to that the fact that Choice is nursing a hamstring injury, and Helu should have a fairly easy time looking like the best back to go with week in and week out.

Mike Shanahan's stamp of approval is probably the most important piece of this puzzle, however, especially in the minds of fantasy owners. This is where it becomes tricky, because Shanny is known for being extremely unpredictable—something fantasy owners hate.

Well, if Shanahan's words after Helu's 149-total-yard performance were any indication, I'd say the rookie back could be a fantasy steal for the rest of the season. The age-old coach praised Helu, saying "he's got the speed to make some big plays" and "he's a pretty good all-around back."

Shanahan also mentioned that Torain will now only see the field when Helu is "tired." Given the load Helu carried the whole game Sunday without looking worse for the wear, I'd say Shanahan has full confidence in the young back to play through every game going forward.

Now Shanahan's sentiment could always change, but given Helu's talent level and hunger to win the starting role for good, I think he's easily worth a shot.

So if you've been holding onto Helu, you might have just hit the fantasy jackpot. Especially if you play in a PPR league, where Helu's value is immense (14 catches against the 49ers). If he's still available on the waiver wire, make him your top target this week.

And while Washington's run schedule is not very easy the next three weeks (MIA, DAL and SEA), it looks like a fantasy owner's dream during the playoff run from Week 13 through Week 16. During that time, the Redskins face the Jets, Patriots, Giants and Vikings—all which rank in the bottom half in the NFL in terms of fantasy points allowed to running backs (standard leagues).

That means Helu could very well be the difference in your fantasy team going all the way this year. So grab him fast. And while the rest of your league says "goodbye," you will say "Helu" to a fantasy championship.

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