Small Victories: Jordan Howard tops 2016 surprises

There's a lot that goes into building a successful fantasy lineup. While we like to spend a lot of time patting ourselves on the back for getting big games from players like Tom Brady and Julio Jones, often the unheralded players make the biggest difference. That's why we're celebrating the Small Victories -- the lesser-known players who may have contributed to your weekly fantasy football glory and those who could help lead you to the winner's circle in the future.

That was Week 17...

Rex Burkhead, RB, Cincinnati Bengals: Burkhead had been angling for more work since taking over for Giovani Bernard late in the season. Given the chance to be the Bengals' primary back in Week 17, the fourth-year pro set a career high with 119 rushing yards and two touchdowns and added 25 receiving yards for good measure. With Burkhead set to hit free agency this year, that was a pretty good audition tape.

Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles:Zach Ertz coming to life in the last few weeks of the season is a fantasy tradition unlike any other. The Eagles tight end didn't disappoint in Week 17 with 13 receptions for 139 yards and two touchdowns. The trick with Ertz is to snag him off the waiver wire in late November or early December and enjoy a happy fantasy holiday season. Don't draft him in 2017. Please.

Charcandrick West, RB, Kansas City Chiefs: Remember at the start of the season when we weren't sure whether Spencer Ware or Charcandrick West would be the Chiefs running back to roll with? It turned out to be Ware by a mile but West finally got some run (literally) in Week 17 and rolled up 116 scrimmage yards and two receiving touchdowns. Don't read too much into this for next year, though. Ware still looks like the running back of record in Kansas City.

This is 2016...

Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago Bears: All offseason, the Bears promised a running back committee. Then it looked like Jeremy Langford would take the role as the lead back. When that didn't work, in stepped Jordan Howard. The rookie took the gig and never looked back, rushing for 1,313 yards (second-most in the NFL) and six touchdowns to finish the season as the RB9. Howard should challenge to be a first-round draft pick in plenty of fantasy drafts next season.

Jay Ajayi, RB, Miami Dolphins: At the beginning of the season, the Dolphins were primed to start Arian Foster at running back. Meanwhile, Jay Ajayi was so far in the doghouse that he didn't make the team's season-opening trip to Seattle. By the time the season ended, Foster was retired and Ajayi was the league's fourth-leading rusher -- including three 200-yard games. After having his breakout season, the former Boise State star will certainly be selected within the first two rounds next year.

Tyrell Williams, WR, San Diego Chargers: Williams was asked to take on a larger role in the Chargers passing game when Keenan Allen went down with a season-ending knee injury in the first half of Week 1. The second-year pro adapted to the role nicely with 1,059 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. A shoulder injury slowed him late in the season, but he was a key piece to a number of successful fantasy teams all throughout the year.

Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for Follow him on Twitter @MarcasG or on Snapchat at marcasg9.

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