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FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

Free Agent Forecast: Week 2
Paul Sandy
September 11, 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

Mark Sanchez, Jets
Rock StarSanchez silenced the naysayers at least for a week. He tossed three touchdowns in Sunday’s blowout win over the Bills. It was one of the more unexpected performances of the opening weekend considering how bad New York’s offense looked during the preseason. It’s a classic case study in why you should never read too much into August football. The Jets appear to have some nice young weapons in the passing game for Sanchez to work with, including Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley. Although the Forecast  isn’t ready to anoint him as a viable QB1, Sanchez is certainly work grabbing as a bench player in leagues with 12 or more teams.

Availability: Owned in ~16% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Add Sanchez as a backup and look for an ocassional big week.

Alex Smith, 49ers
1 Week Plug & PlayDating back to last postseason, Smith has a streak three straight games with multiple touchdowns. He was efficient in Week 1, completing 20 of 26 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns versus the Packers. Although the team doesn’t ask him to do much, he has the ability to put up useful numbers when the matchup is favorable. If you’re already desperate for QB help, give him a shot next week at home against the Lions. Detroit managed to limit the passing production of St. Louis on Sunday but that is likely a mirage, not a trend. Smith should have little difficulty exploiting Detroit’s below-average secondary and posting a pair of touchdowns.

Availability: Owned in ~67% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Smith will post useful numbers this week against the Lions.  

Matt Cassel, Chiefs
1 Week Plug & PlayCassel didn’t play particularly well in Week 1 but he still managed to put up top ten fantasy numbers for QBs. He threw for 258 yards and a touchdown. He also had a rushing score. With a Week 2 matchup against a Bills defense that was lit up by Mark Sanchez in the opener, Cassel is worth a flier if you’re desperate for QB help. Buffalo allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to QBs in 2011. Despite the improvements they made during the offseason, the Bills appear to be a work in progress on the defensive side of the ball.

Availability: Owned in ~65% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Cassel is worth starting against the Bills and is on his way to a bounce-back season.

Other Notables and No-Brainers: Andy Dalton (74%)

On the Radar: Blaine Gabbert (11%) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (65%)

RUNNING BACKS

Alfred Morris, Redskins
Rock StarIt shouldn’t come as much of a surprise at this point but Mike Shanahan was bluffing when he submitted his opening week depth chart with Evan Royster atop the RB chain of command. Rookie Alfred Morris got the start and was the workhorse, rushing for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Morris will be the RB to own in Washington until he isn’t; that’s just the Shanahan way. Despite Shanahan’s tradition of head games, grab Morris this week without hesitation as the Redskins face St. Louis next week. The Rams gave up two scores to Detroit’s Kevin Smith in the opener. After Morris puts together another couple solid stat lines, consider selling him to the highest bidder.  

Availability: Owned in ~55% of leagues.
FAAB: $$-$$$
Forecast: Morris should be added in any league in which he’s still available and is starter material in Week 2.

Jacquizz Rodgers, Falcons
Grab & StashHow is it possible that Rodgers is available in over 30% of fantasy leagues? That’s insanity. If he’s floating out there on your waiver wire, don’t hesitate to pick him up. Starting RB Michael Turner rushed the ball four times on Atlanta’s opening drive. After that, the carries were split 50/50 for the remainder of the game between Turner and Rodgers. The Falcons offense has shifted gears this season. They’re a pass-first operation and that means Rodgers is likely to see the field as much as or more than Turner. The Forecast would like to see Rodgers get a few more targets in the passing game before proclaiming him ready for your starting lineup. Nonetheless, he needs to be rostered in just about all leagues and formats.

Availability: Owned in ~68% of leagues.
FAAB: $-$$
Forecast: It’s the end of the line for Turner and the start of something good for Rodgers.

Jonathan Dwyer, Steelers
Grab & StashIssac Redman got the start in Week 1 against the Broncos but he was outplayed by Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer rushed nine times for 43 yards compared to 20 yards on 11 carries for Redman. If you’re looking to upgrade your backfield this week, Dwyer merits consideration. The Steelers figure to play it smart with Rashard Mendenhall and keep him on the shelf until after the team’s Week 4 bye. If that prediction holds true, Dwyer will get two games to make his case for a regular role in the offense. This week against the Jets doesn’t look good but Week 3 versus the Raiders could be his coming out party.

Availability: Owned in ~31% of leagues.
FAAB: $-$$
Forecast: Grab Dwyer this week before he officially takes over the lead RB spot in the Steel City.

Pierre Thomas, Saints
Grab & StashThe Forecast is happy to go on record and say Pierre Thomas is the most talented Saints running back. Sure Darren Sproles is a PPR standout. And maybe Mark Ingram is the goal line guy. But Thomas does everything pretty well. He ended Sunday’s contest against the Redskins with 63 all-purpose yards. At this point, he’s not really startable. However, in deeper leagues he has some roster intrigue. Imagine if Sproles gets hurt or Ingram gets benched. Thomas could quickly become a legit RB2. On a week that saw few breakout RB performances, Thomas is worthy of a stash.

Availability: Owned in ~64% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Give Thomas a spot on your bench and hope his solid play pushes Mark Ingram to the bench.

Kendall Hunter, 49ers
Grab & StashHunter showed good burst and vision in Sunday’s upset win over the Packers. He ended the afternoon with 41 yards on nine carries. Meanwhile, starter Frank Gore took 16 handoffs and piled up 112 yards. There’s no doubt this is still Gore’s team but the veteran RB has started fast before only to fade down the stretch. Head coach Jim Harbaugh clearly has more faith in Hunter this season and won’t hesitate to give him a heavy workload if the situation calls for it—particularly when the 49ers have a big lead in the second half. If your starting backfield is a position of weakness, add Hunter based on his upside to emerge as a stud later in the season.

Availability: Owned in ~36% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Grab and stash Hunter in anticipation of his workload increasing throughout the season.

Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
Dumpster DiveJohn Fox awarded the backup RB spot behind Willis McGahee to veteran Knowshon Moreno. Surprisingly, Moreno actually showed up in the boxscore in the opener, tallying a 7-yard touchdown run. Moreno has never been known as a goal line specialist but McGahee is on the downside of his career. It’s conceivable that the Broncos could use Moreno off the bench more this season to keep their starter fresh. But only get Moreno if you’re already a McGahee owner or you play in an ultra deep league.

Availability: Owned in ~9% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Moreno is worth handcuffing to McGahee or as a flier in deep TD-heavy leagues.

Other Notables and No-Brainers: C.J. Spiller (90%), Rashard Mendenhall (78%), Mikel Leshoure (80%)

On the Radar: Alex Green (15%)

WIDE RECEIVERS

Randall Cobb, Packers
Rock StarCobb was a trendy sleeper pick early in August but the Packers kept him under wraps throughout the preseason games. As a result, his popularity faded and he’s still available in over half of all fantasy leagues. The way Green Bay used him in the opener was interesting. Once the team abandoned the running game, they began lining Cobb up in the backfield. As a result, he was matched up on a linebacker on many occasions. Aaron Rodgers threw his way nine times, connecting on all nine throws. Cobb ended the day with nine catches for 77 yards. He also returned a punt for a touchdown. If Green Bay continues to deploy Cobb this way, he has Percy Harvin-like potential.

Availability: Owned in ~48% of leagues.
FAAB: $$-$$$
Forecast: Cobb should be owned in all leagues.
 
Stephen Hill, Jets
Rock StarRG3 wasn’t the only rookie to make an impact in Week 1. Georgia Tech product Stephen Hill caught two touchdown passes in Sunday’s rout of the Bills. Hill possesses great athleticism, physicality and speed. Lined up opposite No. 1 WR Santonio Holmes, he will provide matchup headaches for opposing defenses. Remember, as bad as the Jets were last year, Plaxico Burress still caught eight touchdown passes. This Jets team is better, so Hill could flirt with double-digit scores if he becomes Mark Sanchez’s favorite red-zone target. It’s probably too early to trust Hill this week against the Steelers but he is absolutely worth grabbing—especially if you play in a keeper or dynasty league.

Availability: Owned in ~13% of leagues.
FAAB: $-$$
Forecast: Hill has the potential to be the top rookie WR in 2012 and post WR2 or WR3 numbers.

Kevin Ogletree, Cowboys
Rock StarOgletree’s coming out party last Thursday has been a topic of great debate in fantasy circles. Is he a flash in the pan or the next Laurent Robinson? Probably neither. Expecting 11 touchdowns is a little too lofty but expecting him to fade into the sunset is just as big of a mistake. During the Tony Romo era, Dallas has had a few receivers come out of nowhere to become fantasy stars: Miles Austin, Robinson, and even a washed up Terry Glenn. Why not Ogletree? He caught eight passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns in the opener. He’s worth a pickup but hold off a week before starting him.

Availability: Owned in ~8% of leagues.
FAAB: $$-$$$
Forecast: Don’t underestimate the value Ogletree brings to the table as the Cowboys WR3.

Dexter McCluster, Chiefs
Rock StarMcCluster qualifies as a WR in the majority of leagues so the Forecast is listing him here. Be sure to check if your league’s management system categorizes him as a RB instead. McCluster led the Chiefs in all the key receiving categories in Week 1 (targets, receptions and yards). He ended the game with six catches for 82 yards. McCluster is a crafty, jitterbug-type who has the potential to be a Darren Sproles-type player (except out of the WR position). It’s noteworthy that RB Jamaal Charles didn’t catch a pass in the game. Charles is known as a good receiver but the team may be more comfortable featuring McCluster in that role.

Availability: Owned in ~8% of leagues.
FAAB: $-$$
Forecast: Add the versatile McCluster and expect him to continue to play a feature role in KC’s offense.

Austin Collie, Colts
Grab & StashCollie didn’t register in the boxscore this week because he didn’t receive medical clearance to play. That makes him a sneaky waiver pickup who you can probably get on the cheap. Colts QB Andrew Luck threw to Reggie Wayne a whopping 18 times in Sunday’s loss to the Bears. This offense clearly needs a No. 2 WR and Collie will be that guy once he gets back on the field. Should he suit up Sunday against the Vikings, count on big things. Collie and Luck showed impressive chemistry early in the preseason before Collie got his bell rung.

Availability: Owned in ~30% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Collie could be PPR gold starting this week if he takes the field this week against Minnesota.

Brandon LaFell, Panthers
1 Week Plug & PlayLaFell started the season on a high note, racking up 65 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s slugfest against the Buccaneers. The Forecast likes his chances of making it two weeks in a row with a touchdown. Carolina will face a New Orleans defense that had no answer for Robert Griffin III in the opener. Griffin passed for 320 yards and two touchdowns. Cam Newton obviously presents similar challenges so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Panthers put up a few passing scores. LaFell has an excellent chance to post a big number in Week 2.

Availability: Owned in ~60% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Play LaFell as a WR3 or Flex versus the Saints and look for at least 75 yards and a score.

Alshon Jeffery, Bears
1 Week Plug & PlayIdentified here last week as a grab/stash candidate, Jeffery caught three passes for 80 yards and a touchdown in his first NFL game. The touchdown came on a picturesque 42-yard bomb from Jay Cutler. The play showcased Jeffery’s ability to gain separation. Chicago faces the Packers on Thursday night this week. Jeffery is likely to draw coverage from cornerback Jarrett Bush, who is just plain awful. Look for him to get at least 5-6 targets from Jay Cutler and put up solid fantasy numbers. If you’re in the market for a WR3 or Flex option this week, Jeffery should be on your shopping list.

Availability: Owned in ~45% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Jeffery is a sneaky boom-or-bust option this week against Green Bay.

Danny Amendola, Rams
Grab & StashAmendola led all Rams receivers in Week 1 with five receptions for 70 yards. QB Sam Bradford threw his way nine times. Pegged as a PPR sleeper in last year, Amendola injured his elbow in the opening game and missed the rest of the season. Now back to full health, he may finally be ready to live up to the PPR prophecy. If your league awards points for receptions, Amendola should be on your add list. He figures to get plenty of looks each week and could easily end the year with 70-80 catches.

Availability: Owned in ~68% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Amendola is roster worthy in PPR leagues.

Nate Burleson, Lions
Dumpster DiveDetroit’s Titus Young was picked by many to have a breakout season in 2012. But after one week, Young may have already found himself in head coach Jim Schwartz’s doghouse. Young head-butted cornerback Janoris Jenkins in Sunday’s comeback win and was flagged for a penalty. He was promptly benched for a series and ended the day with one catch. Meanwhile, veteran Nate Burleson hauled in six receptions for 69 yards. At this point, Burleson looks like he has the edge on the youngster. Stash him on your bench as a fourth or fifth wideout but don’t use him this week against the Niners.

Availability: Owned in ~28% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Burleson isn’t a sexy pickup but he’ll be a good player to have on your bench as an emergency option.

Other Notables and No-Brainers: Sidney Rice (83%), Michael Crabtree (91%)

On the Radar: James Jones (23%), Aldrick Robinson (0%), Andrew Hawkins (0%), Andre Roberts (3%), Cecil Shorts (0%), Laurent Robinson (51%) and Jerome Simpson (28%)

TIGHT ENDS

Dennis Pitta, Ravens
Rock StarThe Ravens offense looked for real on Monday night. The pace. The efficiency. The energy. It was all clicking against a Bengals defense known for its toughness. QB Joe Flacco spread the ball around to a variety of receivers but TE Dennis Pitta stood out catching five passes for 73yards and a touchdown. Pitta possesses excellent hands and consistently found seams in the Cincinnati defense. The Forecast likes his chances of developing into a fantasy mainstay this season.

Availability: Owned in ~2% of leagues.
FAAB: $-$$
Forecast: Pitta has the look of an every-week fantasy TE and he should be the top TE grab in most leagues.

Martellus Bennett, Giants
Rock StarThe Forecast pegged Bennett as a potential breakout player last week. Although he didn’t post world-beating numbers, the self-proclaimed “Black Unicorn” ended the day with four receptions for 40 yards and a touchdown. Eli Manning threw his way six times. At certain points last Thursday night, Bennett sort of looked indifferent on the field. Although we’d like him to flash a little more energy, it’s hard to argue with his on-field demeanor as long as he keeps scoring touchdowns. Add him with confidence.

Availability: Owned in ~32% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Consider Bennett a low-end TE1 or high-end TE2 going forward.

Kyle Rudolph, Vikings
1 Week Plug & PlayLast week’s plug-and-play recommendation caught five passes for 67 yards. That’s a useful body of work for a TE who’s available in over half of all fantasy leagues. If you drafted a guy like Fred Davis, who disappointed in Week 1, it’s not too early to seek out a Plan B. Rudolph is a good place to start. He faces the Colts on Sunday. Indianapolis gave up 41 points to Chicago in the opener.  

Availability: Owned in ~58% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Add Rudolph is week and get him some immediate work against the Colts.

Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars
Grab & StashAfter failing to score a touchdown in 2011, Marcedes Lewis wasted no time getting on the board in 2012. He caught five passes for 52 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings. You’re right to have some doubts about Blaine Gabbert’s abilities as a quarterback. The Forecast shares that concern and it’s the biggest reason Lewis doesn’t rate higher on the list. Still, Lewis is a talented, athletic TE who is in the prime of his career. He’s also just two seasons removed from a 10-touchdown campaign. Bet on Lewis having a renaissance season and add him to your roster.

Availability: Owned in ~21% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Lewis deserves a look in all TE-mandatory leagues.

Other Notables and No-Brainers: Owen Daniels (84%) and Colby Fleener (70%)

On the Radar: Heath Miller (33%)

KICKERS

Shayne Graham, Texans
Rock StarAs last week’s top recommended kicker, Graham came through with an elite performance for Huddle readers. He connected on three field goals and three extra points against the Dolphins. It took nearly a full half of football for Houston’s offense to knock off the rust but by the end of the game, they had 30 points on the board and Graham had made a difference for fantasy owners. Next week Houston faces a Jaguars team that ceded 14 points (not including distance bonuses) to Minnesota’s Blair Walsh. Graham is a good bet to score double digits once again.

Availability: Owned in ~38% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Graham will be a top ten fantasy kicker this season and should be rostered in all leagues.

Justin Tucker, Ravens
Rock StarAnother kicker touted here last week, Tucker drilled three field goals and five extra points on Monday Night Football. Baltimore’s offense looked other worldly against the rival Bengals. If they continue to push the ball up field, Tucker will no doubt be one of the top rated kickers in fantasy football. He’s a smart grab in all leagues and scoring systems in advance of Sunday’s matchup against the Eagles.

Availability: Owned in ~25% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Tucker is a set-it-and-forget it type kicker, who you can rely on every week..

Billy Cundiff, Redskins
Rock StarCundiff rode the momentum of Washington’s high-octane offense in Week 1. He led all kickers in scoring, drilling four field goals and four extra points. Take your chances on a repeat performance against the Rams. St. Louis’ defense showed some pluck against the Lions but based on what we’ve seen from them in recent years it’s hard to believe they’re for real. The Redskins should net close to 30 points, which would likely put Cundiff near double digits again.  

Availability: Owned in ~20% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: As long as Washington’s offense is clicking, Cundiff will remain a solid fantasy option.

Other Notables and No-Brainers: Matt Bryant (84%) and Robbie Gould (72%)

On the Radar: Nick Folk (7%), Blair Walsh (6%) and Greg Zuerline (12%)

DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS

Oakland Raiders
1 Week Plug & PlayAfter a steady performance last night, the Raiders draw a cushy Week 2 matchup against the Dolphins. Miami QB Ryan Tannehill threw three interceptions and was sacked three times in his first NFL start, last week against the Texans. The rookie looked out of his element at times. Until he figures out the pace of the game, it’s not a bad idea idea to start any defense he’s facing for fantasy.

Availability: Owned in ~13% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Count on Oakland ranking as a top five fantasy defense this week.

Other Notables and No-Brainers: Patriots (75%) and Cowboys (78%)

On the Radar: N/A


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