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FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

Free Agent Forecast: Week 1
Paul Sandy
September 4, 2012
 
SYMBOL LEGEND
Rockstar Rock Star Free Agent
Injury Injury Replacement
Grab & Stash Grab & Stash
1 Week Plug & Play 1 Week Plug & Play
Dumpster Dive Dumpster Dive
Free Agent Auction
Bid (FAAB) Scale
$ $0 - $5
$$ $6 - $15
$$$ $16 - $25
$$$$ $26 - $40
$$$$$ $41+
Based on $100 cap,
12-team league.

Welcome to another season of the Free Agent Forecast. This weekly column is published every Tuesday morning and aims to identify free agents who will improve your chances of hoisting your league’s trophy at year end.

Given the diverse scoring systems and sizes of fantasy leagues, producing a weekly list of free agents that satisfies the masses can be challenging. For the most part, the column will hone in on players who are available in at least 35% of all fantasy leagues. If you play in a small league (8 teams), chances are there may be better players to pick up than you see listed here. If you play in a large league (16 teams), the majority of the players highlighted may already be on a squad; however, expect to find hidden gems, as well.

In addition to scouting “rock star” free agents who had breakout performances in the previous week, the Forecast will dig deep to identify players who may be worth a spot start or a roster stash.

QUARTERBACKS

Russell Wilson, Seahawks
Grab & StashRussell-mania has taken hold in Seattle, where rookie Russell Wilson won the starting QB job, beating out the highly-favored Matt Flynn. Wilson’s fantasy value stems from his ability to make plays both with his arm and his feet. If he can manage to rush for 40 yards per game with decent passing stats, Wilson will be a viable situational starter for fantasy. Stash him on your bench and see if he can ride the momentum of a terrific preseason.

Availability: Owned in ~41% of leagues.
FAAB: $-$$
Forecast: A young talent with loads of upside, Wilson is the classic grab and stash pickup.

Jake Locker, Titans
Grab & StashThe Titans have dumped the conservative offense they ran in recent years in favor of a more up-tempo passing attack. With a cannon arm and above-average mobility, QB Jake Locker should flourish in the scheme. The second-year QB opened eyes in the three games in which he saw a significant action last season, tallying five touchdowns (4 pass / 1 rush) and posting a 99.4 QB rating. Give him an added bump in leagues that award bonus points for longer touchdown passes. 

Availability: Owned in ~52% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Locker will open the season strong against New England and be a hot waiver addition next week.

Matt Cassel, Chiefs
Dumpster DiveJust two years removed from a season in which he passed for 27 touchdowns, Cassel was all but forgotten by fantasy owners this fall—going undrafted in nearly 75% of leagues. He provides sneaky upside if you neglected the QB position or just need some depth. Cassel butted heads last season with head coach Todd Haley. Haley is now calling plays in Pittsburgh and Cassel is seeing eye-to-eye with the new regime. Keep in mind, Kansas City was a team that was stricken by injuries last season. Cassel will benefit from having a ton of healthy talent around him with Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe, Jon Baldwin, Peyton Hillis and Tony Moeaki in the fold.

Availability: Owned in ~27% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Although he’s not the sexiest QB to own, Cassel will have a bounce-back season in 2012.

RUNNING BACKS

Ronnie Brown, Chargers
Injury Replacement1 Week Plug & PlayDespite all the optimism regarding Ryan Mathews’ quick recovery from a broken collarbone, it looks like the Chargers lead RB will miss the first two games of the season. Backup veteran Ronnie Brown is expected to get a heavy workload while Mathews is out. Brown was awful in Philadelphia last season but will benefit from two favorable games to start the season. The Chargers open against the Raiders and follow it up with a Week 2 meeting against the Titans. Both teams were ranked in the bottom half of the NFL last season in rush defense. Look for Brown to average 80+ all-purpose yards with a touchdown over the first two weeks.

Availability: Owned in ~45% of leagues.
FAAB: $-$$
Forecast: Ronnie Brown will likely be one of the top pickups come next Tuesday.

Evan Royster, Redskins
Grab & StashRoyster currently sits atop Washington’s depth chart. He is expected to start Sunday’s game against the Saints. With Mike Shanahan calling the shots, trying to figure out how the carries will be divided up is a lost cause. You can only go on what you know. To this point, Roy Helu has looked like Washington’s most explosive rusher and is probably the RB to own here. However, judging by last season, the coaching staff appears to have some reservations about giving him the full workload. Royster’s measurables fit the prototypical RB and he figures to get the first opportunity. That alone makes him worth a roster spot in deep leagues.

Availability: Owned in ~54% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Grabbing Royster is a good idea but starting him this week probably is not.

Jonathan Dwyer, Steelers
Grab & StashWith Rashard Mendenhall still recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, the Steelers will start the season with Isaac Redman as their lead running back. Redman has impressed at times during his career but has yet to prove he can get the job done as a workhorse. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette suggests that both Redman and backup Jonathan Dwyer will both get plenty of work in Week 1. Dwyer averaged a robust 5.9 yards per carry during the preseason while Redman managed just 2.2 yards per tote. Look for the team to ride the hot hand until Mendenhall returns. Get in early on Dwyer, who has excellent burst for a bigger fellow, and hope he can bust off a couple explosive plays to tilt the tables in his favor. Also monitor Chris Rainey, who could make some PPR noise as a pass catcher out of the backfield.

Availability: Owned in ~22% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Dwyer is a cheap pickup who could payoff bigtime as soon as this week.

Kendall Hunter, 49ers
Grab & StashHunter didn’t get nearly the attention he deserved in drafts this season. Available in 65% of leagues, he’s poised to have a breakout season in 2012. Look for him to average 10-12 touches per game in the 49ers run-heavy offense. Grizzled veteran Frank Gore’s career is winding down so the team will look to limit his touches. Should Gore get dinged, Hunter could instantly become a top 10-12 fantasy RB. Think of him as you do Houston’s Ben Tate—more than a mere handcuff. Like Tate, Hunter is a guy who will give you a useful weekly point contribution on a limited number of touches, plus give you monumental upside should the depth chart topper above him get hurt.

Availability: Owned in ~35% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Hunter is exactly the type of RB fantasy owners should want to stash on their bench.

Robert Turbin, Seahawks
Grab & StashAt 5-10, 222 lbs., rookie Robert Turbin may look like a guy who is earmarked for a goal-line, short-yardage role. But the reality is he’s a complete back who can run, pass, catch and block. He reminds the Forecast of Steven Jackson back in the day. The only thing holding Turbin back at this point is a lack of opportunity since Marshawn Lynch is the undisputed lead rusher. However, Seattle’s brass has been so enamored with what the rookie brings to the table, that they’ll likely give him a handful of touches per game. If Turbin capitalizes on his limited chances, his role could grow.

Availability: Owned in ~33% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Consider Turbin an excellent prospect in deep leagues and keeper/dynasty formats.

 Vick Ballard, Colts
Grab & StashThe Forecast sees one of two scenarios playing out in Indianapolis this season: 1) Donald Brown is ineffective or 2) Donald Brown gets injured. In either case, backup Vick Ballard will get a shot to be the primary rusher at some point. Brown hasn’t shown enough skill nor enough durability to be trusted as Indy’s long-term answer at the running back position. Stash Ballard in anticipation of seeing his playing time spike by Week 5 and hope he becomes this year’s DeMarco Murray.

Availability: Owned in ~30% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Join the growing congregation of Brown non-believers and grab Ballard.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Brandon LaFell, Panthers
1 Week Plug & PlayThe third-year WR theory has lost a bit of its luster in recent years as rookie WRs have been delivering immediate results. However, Carolina’s Brandon LaFell is one wideout entering his third year who hasn’t yet reached his full potential. If Cam Newton continues to develop as a passer, LaFell’s production should finally surge. Top receiver Steve Smith isn’t getting any younger and Newton needs another guy who can blow the top off opposing defenses. The Panthers open the season versus Tampa. The last time LaFell faced the Buccaneers, he torched them for 103 yards and a touchdown.

Availability: Owned in ~60% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: LaFell will be a surprise top 25 fantasy WR in Week 1 against a porous Tampa secondary.

Rueben Randle, Giants
Grab & StashWhen scouting for fantasy prospects at the WR position, it’s not a bad idea to first look at the QB who’s throwing the ball. In New York, you know Eli Manning is going to target the open man—regardless of whether he’s a rookie or a veteran. In previous seasons, Manning has turned Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith, Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz from fantasy afterthoughts into fantasy heroes. With Smith and Manningham gone, the WR3 slot is vacant for the Giants. Look for crafty rookie Rueben Randle to emerge as Manning’s third most productive receiver, out-producing disappointing veterans Domenik Hixon and Ramses Barden. That will make him a very relevant part of the fantasy conversation. And should Nicks or Cruz get injured, Randle’s value could go through the roof.

Availability: Owned in ~15% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: When Randle debuts this week in front of a primetime audience, the secret will be out.

Alshon Jeffery, Bears
Grab & StashThe Bears grabbed Jeffery in the second round of this year’s draft. He likely won’t start the season as Chicago’s number two wideout but word out of the Windy City is that the team will rotate guys in and out to play opposite Brandon Marshall. Eventually the cream always rises to the top and Jeffery brings more to the table than Devin Hester and Earl Bennett. He may not develop into an every-week starter for fantasy but Jeffery should post some juicy stat lines off the bench when the matchup is right.

Availability: Owned in ~37% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Add Jeffery for bench depth and look for some decent numbers before Week 3.

Keshawn Martin, Texans
Grab & StashMartin locked up the slot receiver spot on the Texans with a productive preseason. The rookie from Michigan State gives QB Matt Schaub a reliable possession target that the offense has always lacked. Owners in deep PPR leagues would be wise to grab Martin or at least keep him on the radar. The Texans offense is geared toward the run but they still need a crafty receiver who can find seams in the defense and move the chains. Martin is that guy. He has the upside to put up 70 catches for 850 yards and six scores.

Availability: Owned in ~2% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Consider clearing a roster spot for Martin as a PPR sleeper.

Braylon Edwards, Seahawks
Dumpster DiveAdding a veteran like Braylon Edwards to your roster might not get you lathered up but sometimes what looks like vanilla waiver addition can prove to be much more. Realize this is a guy who has always had a below average QB throwing him the ball. From Trent Dilfer and Derek Anderson to Mark Sanchez and Alex Smith, Edwards has dealt with spotty QB play his entire career. What the Forecast likes about Russell Wilson is he has the ability to scramble out of the pocket and extend plays so his receivers can get open downfield. Edwards will be the primary beneficiary of Wilson’s mobility. Look for him to surprise with 900+ yards. 

Availability: Owned in ~10% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Edwards has an excellent opportunity to become Seattle’s big-play specialist this season and post intermittent monster stat lines.

TIGHT ENDS

Kyle Rudolph, Vikings
1 Week Plug & PlayAt 6-6, 258 lbs., Rudolph is a massive target. The second-year TE showed limited productivity in his rookie campaign due to injury. However, early indications are that Rudolph will likely be the second-leading receiver on the Vikings behind Percy Harvin. He has a decent chance to eclipse 70 receptions with eight touchdowns. Don’t be gun shy about picking him up and inserting him into your lineup right away. Minnesota squares off against a Jaguars defense that ceded the fourth-most fantasy points to TEs in 2011.

Availability: Owned in ~48% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Rudolph will make a splash in Week 1 with at least 60 yards and a score.

Martellus Bennett, Giants
Grab & StashBennett has been popping up on sleeper lists all preseason but because of the deep TE field, he is still available in close to 70% of fantasy leagues. Stuck behind Jason Witten his entire career in Dallas, Bennett is poised to breakout as the undisputed No. 1 TE in New York. QB Eli Manning has made lesser players at this position productive at times, including Kevin Boss and Jake Ballard. Bennett will no doubt be an improvement over both of them. If you aren’t satisfied with how your TE position is shaping up, stash Bennett.

Availability: Owned in ~32% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: The Forecast sees Bennett posting the best TE numbers from any Giant since Jeremy Shockey.

Joel Dreessen, Broncos
Dumpster DiveJacob Tamme is rostered in 90% of fantasy leagues. Meanwhile, his TE counterpart Joel Dreessen is being widely ignored and is owned in just 13% of leagues. The disparity is a bit surprising since both have players have been splitting reps and playing together in two tight end sets. The common assumption is that Tamme will be one of Peyton Manning’s favorite targets based on their history together but the Forecast isn’t quite ready to buy that story. Dreessen caught six touchdown passes last year for Houston and has displayed good speed and hands. He will quickly earn Manning’s trust. Don’t be stunned if Denver’s TE situation develops into a Patriots-light situation with two TEs contributing for fantasy.

Availability: Owned in ~7% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Don’t add Dreessen just yet unless you’re in an abnormally deep league; do keep your eye on him though.

KICKERS

Shayne Graham, Texans
Rock StarThe Texans will again have one of the NFL’s highest-scoring offenses this year so targeting their kicker for fantasy should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, the kicking competition ran the duration of the preseason, with Shayne Graham beating out Randy Bullock (who suffered an injury). As a result, Graham is owned in a mere 38% of fantasy leagues. If you weren’t able to land one of the top fantasy kickers and you don’t have confidence in your guy, Graham is a smart pickup that could improve your team by a couple points per week. Last season, Houston’s Neil Rackers scored the fifth most points in the NFL among kickers.

Availability: Owned in ~38% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Graham is a frontline fantasy starter you can add and ride all season long.

Justin Tucker, Ravens
1 Week Plug & PlayBaltimore’s incumbent kicker Billy Cundiff got the pink slip late in the preseason, losing the job to rookie Justin Tucker. Keep in mind, last season Cundiff was a top 12 fantasy kicker and the Ravens attempted the second-most field goals in the NFL. With the offense basically unchanged, Tucker should get plenty of kicking opportunities. Don’t underestimate him. This kid has a booming leg and will give your club an added lift if your league awards bonus points for longer kicks.

Availability: Owned in ~20% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Tucker will be a top 15 fantasy kicker in 2012.

DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS

Minnesota Vikings
1 Week Plug & PlayLast season, the Jacksonville Jaguars allowed the eighth-most sacks and scored the fourth-fewest points in the NFL. Their Week 1 opponent, Minnesota, brings some talented defenders to the field, including sack master Jared Allen. The Forecast likes the Purple’s chances of getting into the grill of QB Blaine Gabbert, who put the ball on the ground an NFL-high 14 times last year. Look for the Vikings to hold the Jaguars to fewer than 14 points while registering a defensive touchdown.

Availability: Owned in ~15% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: The Vikings will be among the highest-producing fantasy defenses in the opening week of 2012.

Denver Broncos
1 Week Plug & PlayIf you’re already second-guessing the defense you picked up on draft day, consider grabbing the Broncos, who open the season at home against the Steelers. Pittsburgh’s offensive line is a mess and should yield at least a few sacks in this game. Those are cheap points. Denver tied for tenth in the NFL last season with 41 sacks and should have little difficulty harassing QB Ben Roethlisberger. Anything they get by way of turnovers and touchdowns is gravy.

Availability: Owned in ~48% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Exploit a favorable matchup and start the Broncos against Pittsburgh’s weak offensive line.


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