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FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

Free Agent Forecast - Week 4
Paul Sandy
September 28, 2010
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SYMBOL LEGEND
Rockstar Rock Star Free Agent
Injury Injury Replacement
Worth a Look Worth a Look
1 Week Plug & Play 1 Week Plug & Play
Sleeper Sleeper

QUARTERBACKS

No Brainers: Kyle Orton, Michael Vick and Ben Roethlisberger

Chad Henne, Dolphins
Worth a Look1 Week Plug & PlayHenne was the consummate game manager in Weeks 1-2, attempting just 49 passes and taking few chances. But the coaching staff opened the playbook for him on Sunday, calling 44 passes. As a result, Henne ended with an outstanding stat line (363-2). If the coaches continue to show faith in him, Henne has the talent and the receivers to be a fantasy starter. His upside is high. Grab Henne this week and give him a start against a Patriots pass defense that has already allowed seven passing touchdowns — tied for most in the NFL.

Availability: Owned in ~63% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Henne is worth a shot this week against the Patriots.

Mark Sanchez, Jets
Worth a Look1 Week Plug & PlayI was admittedly skeptical of Sanchez’s three-touchdown effort in Week 2. He backed it up with another solid effort on Sunday, touching up the Dolphins for 256 yards and three touchdowns. With the Jets defense not playing to their 2009 level, it looks like the offense is going to have to score some points. Sanchez is playing with confidence and has emerged as a relevant fantasy QB. He’ll only get better when Santonio Holmes returns from suspension. Sanchez is worth a spot start this week against a Bills defense that has allowed multiple passing touchdowns in back-to-back weeks.

Availability: Owned in ~63% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Grab Sanchez if you need a starter this week or some depth at the QB position.

Bruce Gradkowski, Raiders
1 Week Plug & PlayThis may be a Free Agent Forecast first. I’m actually recommending a Raiders QB. Gradkowski threw for 255 yards and a touchdown on the road in Arizona. With a game this week against Houston and the NFL’s worst pass defense, Gradkowski has a fair chance to post a multi-touchdown game. If you’ll be without the services of Tony Romo or Brett Favre in Week 4, Gradkowski is a decent emergency option.

Availability: Owned in ~9% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Gradkowski is worth a flier this week in deep leagues.

RUNNING BACKS

No Brainers: Mike Tolbert

Peyton Hillis, Browns
Worth a LookNo player surprised fantasy owners in Week 3 more than Cleveland’s Peyton Hillis, who is now a four-time Free Agent Forecast recommendation. Still available in over 30% of fantasy leagues, Hillis went off against the Ravens defense to the tune of 180 all-purpose yards and a touchdown. Considering Baltimore’s deserved reputation as one of the NFL’s fiercest run defenses, Hillis’ might just be the real deal. His potential emergence as a viable RB2 should not be dismissed. Activate him this week against the Bengals if one of your regular starters has been a loadstone.   

Availability: Owned in ~68% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Hillis needs to be owned in all leagues.
 
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots
Worth a LookTo trust a New England RB is to play a risky game of Belichick roulette. The Patriots backfield is rarely what it seems and the only thing that’s certain is there will be uncertainty each week. That said, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is the RB to own at the moment. “The Lawfirm” recorded 104 total yards and a touchdown against the Bills on Sunday. He carried the ball 16 times, compared with six apiece for Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor (who injured his toe). BJGE is upside is somewhat limited both by New England’s unpredictable carry distribution and a schedule that features some unappealing matchups over the next seven weeks, including the Ravens, Vikings, Steelers and a bye. Still, he’s a solid RB pickup

Availability: Owned in ~1% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: BJGE is worth a grab in all leagues.

Ryan Torain, Redskins
Worth a LookLast week I recommended Washington’s presumed second-stringer Keiland Williams as a sleeper pickup. Not surprisingly, Mike Shanahan made me look like a baboon. Shanahan elevated Ryan Torain from the practice squad all the way up to the backup role behind Clinton Portis. Portis rested in the second half with an injured wrist, indicating after the game he was concerned about fumbling. After Torain took over, he carried the ball seven times for 46 yards. It’s clear Shanahan has a high degree of comfort with Torain, dating back to their time together in Denver. Consider adding him as a high upside RB to stash on your bench.

Availability: Owned in ~1% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Torain is a worthwhile prospect in all leagues but should be kept on the bench for now.

Marshawn Lynch, Bills
Worth a LookLynch continues to get the lion’s share of the carries in Buffalo. After carrying 17 times for 64 yards against the Packers, Lynch rushed 13 times for 79 yards against the Patriots. Although he hasn’t found the endzone yet, Lynch’s yardage is reasonable. At this point, he isn’t trustworthy as a regular starter but he’s more than worth a roster spot with the bye weeks approaching.

Availability: Owned in ~60% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Lynch will get 12+ touches on most weeks, making him a solid bye week fill-in.

Kenneth Darby, Rams
InjurySteven Jackson suffered a groin injury on Sunday. Backup Kenneth Darby took over in the second half and rushed the ball 14 times for 49 yards and a touchdown. Early reports suggest Jackson only has a strained groin. He likely won’t miss much time, if any. However, if you’re counting on Jackson to start this week, you should grab Darby just in case.
 
Availability: Owned in ~3% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Darby is worth grabbing if Steven Jackson rests this week.

LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers
SleeperEntering the season, many fantasy owners pointed to the Tampa backfield as a potential source for fantasy sleepers. The name on the top of most lists was Kareem Huggins. Huggins ended up getting hurt and has missed time. LeGarrette Blount, who was picked up as a free agent after the Titans cut him, now appears to have caught the eye of the coaching staff. Blount carried six times for 27 yards and a touchdown. Head coach Raheem Morris indicated his intent was to give Blount even more carries but the team had to abandon the run after they fell behind on the scoreboard. Given Blount’s success in limited duty, count on seeing more of him in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, the Bucs are on bye so if you pick him up, you’ll have to wait a couple weeks to reap the benefit.

Availability: Owned in ~1% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Squirrel away Blount for a few weeks to see if he can earn the lead role in Tampa.

Laurence Maroney and Correll Buckhalter, Broncos
1 Week Plug & PlayBroncos starting RB Knowshon Moreno pulled his hamstring in the walkthrough practice last Friday. He was scratched from Sunday’s game against the Colts and will most likely miss this week’s contest against the Titans. If you need a one-week spot starter, consider rolling with one of Moreno’s replacements, Laurence Maroney or Correll Buckhalter. Both players received 10+ touches in Week 3. Maroney figures to be the better choice in standard scoring leagues while Buckhalter offers more upside in PPR systems. The Titans appear to have a middling run defense at best, having already given up big performances to Darren McFadden and Ahmad Bradshaw.

Availability: Owned in ~54 and ~53% of leagues respectively.
Forecast guidance: Give Maroney or Buckhalter a spot start this week if you’re desperate.

John Kuhn, Packers
1 Week Plug & PlayA poor man’s Peyton Hillis? Perhaps. Kuhn may not technically be the starting RB for the Packers but in many respects, he’s out-producing Brandon Jackson. While I wouldn’t trust Kuhn on most weeks, I love his chances of finding the endzone against the Lions. Detroit ranks dead last in rush defense, allowing 148.7 yards per game with five touchdowns on the year. Give Kuhn a spot start. Long term, look at James Starks (PUP list) or Dimitri Nance as deep sleepers, who could emerge as second-half studs.

Availability: Owned in ~22% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Kuhn is a solid plug-and-play versus the Lions.

WIDE RECEIVERS

No Brainers: Austin Collie, Mike Wallace and Mark Clayton

Louis Murphy, Raiders
Worth a LookMurphy is shaping up to be a legit starting fantasy receiver. One week after recording six receptions for 91 yards and a touchdown, Murphy logged his first 100-yard game. In recent years, Oakland wide receivers were dismissed as overpaid slackers who didn’t produce on the field (see Walker, Javon and Moss, Randy). Time to forget that stereotype because Murphy is going to smash it to bits. He possesses an outstanding work ethic and demeanor to go along with speed and tenacity. Look for him to continue to produce as Oakland’s top wideout.

Availability: Owned in ~51% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: It’s time to make sure Murphy is rostered in your league.

Lance Moore, Saints
Worth a LookMoore caught 79 passes for 928 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2008. He was a nonfactor in 2009 because of injuries. Now he’s heathy and ready to make an impact again. He amassed 149 yards and two touchdowns on six receptions against the Falcons. With Reggie Bush out for several more weeks, the Saints may continue to call Moore’s number. It’s worth noting that many of his big games in 2008 came while Bush was sideline with an injury. Grab Moore if you’re shorthanded at WR. Just understand that all Saints WRs are boom or bust. Any one of them is just as capable of producing a one-catch effort as they are a two touchdown game.

Availability: Owned in ~13% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Moore will be one of the hottest free agents this week.

Denver Receivers, Broncos
Worth a LookThere are points to be had in the Denver passing game. Kyle Orton has entered the discussion as a top 10 fantasy quarterback. The receivers are producing elite fantasy numbers . . . the only problem is it’s a guessing game as to which wideout will step to the forefront each week. Two weeks ago it was rookie Demaryius Thomas and Eddie Royal who were making noise. On Sunday, Jabbar Gaffney (12-140-0) and Brandon Lloyd (6-169-1) delivered monster numbers. Who’s the best Denver wideout to own? Depends on your scoring system. If you’re in a PPR league, Royal and Gaffney are the best options. In a standard 50/50 yardage/TD league, go with Thomas. Lloyd might be the top pick in leagues that give bonuses for longer touchdowns. Bottom line: At this point, it’s worth getting any piece of Denver’s passing game and seeing what develops.

Availability: Varies but chances are one of them is available in your league.
Forecast guidance: Get yourself a piece of the Denver passing game, especially if you’re shorthanded at WR this week.
  
Mario Manningham, Giants
Worth a LookSay one thing for Manningham, say he’s consistent. Manningham has posted between 75 and 85 yards in three straight games. Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks are still the bell cows in New York’s offense, but Manningham provides an excellent deep threat for Eli Manning. He was targeted nine times Sunday against the Titans. As long as the Giants continue to throw the ball 30 times per game, Manningham will remain a viable WR3 on most weeks. He’s playable this week for Sunday night’s matchup against the Bears.

Availability: Owned in ~60% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Manningham should be owned in all but the smallest leagues.

Blair White, Colts
Injury1 Week Plug & PlayColts starting wideout Pierre Garcon didn’t make the trip to Denver last weekend because he has a nagging hamstring injury. Little known WR Blair White replaced Garcon in the lineup and promptly made an impact, catching three passes for 27 yards and a touchdown. Big numbers? No. But the fact that White is in the lineup and getting six looks per game from Peyton Manning makes him relevant — especially when the matchup looks enticing like it does this weekend against Jacksonville. The Jaguars rank 29th in the NFL against the pass. Manning has the potential to put up four touchdowns in this game. White is a sneaky plug-and-play option if Garcon sits.

Availability: Owned in ~0% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: White has a good chance to be relevant this week against a bad Jags pass defense.

Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders
1 Week Plug & PlayIt may surprise you to learn that Darrius Heyward-Bey has been targeted 26 times this season, tied for 16th in that category. That’s the good news. The bad news is he has just one game in which he posted useful fantasy numbers. Still, fantasy owners should take Heyward-Bey’s involvement in the offense as an encouraging sign. When the matchup is ideal, this is a guy who can be plugged into your lineup because you can be confident he’ll get some looks. I like Heyward-Bey’s chances this week against the Texans. Houston fields the NFL’s worst pass defnese, allowing 368.7 yards through the air per game. Look for Heyward-Bey to put up his best numbers to date in Week 4.

Availability: Owned in ~14% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Heyward-Bey gets enough looks that he’s worth a spot start against the Texans.

TIGHT ENDS

No Brainers: Zach Miller

Dustin Keller, Jets
Worth a LookKeller was a difference maker on Sunday night, tallying 98 yards and two scores. Those are some monster numbers for a TE and they follow a seven catch 115-yard effort the week before. At this point, Keller should be starting above the likes of Jason Witten, Owen Daniels and Brent Celek. He’s the top receiving target in the Jets offense. Plug Keller into your active lineup this week against a Bills defense that has ceded 100+ yards to TEs in back-to-back weeks.

Availability: Owned in ~74% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Keller should be owned in all leagues.

Aaron Hernandez, Patriots
1 Week Plug & PlayHernandez led the Patriots with six receptions Sunday against the Bills. He ended the day with 65 yards receiving and added 13 rushing yards. The rookie is a key weapon in the New England offense with Wes Welker still not running at full speed. He’s an excellent pickup this week, considering the Patriots will be playing the Dolphins, who were lit up by Dustin Keller last week. Hernandez has a chance to put up 70 yards and a touchdown in his Monday night debut.

Availability: Owned in ~53% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Hernandez is worth a look in all leagues this week.

John Carlson, Seahawks
1 Week Plug & PlayCarlson has been a mainstay on many preseason fantasy cheatsheets over the last couple years but has yet to live up to the hype. However, in each of the last two weeks he’s put up five-catch performances and even managed to find the end zone on Sunday against the Chargers. Carlson has a long way to go before he should be trusted as a weekly fantasy starter but he has nice upside for Week 4 against the Rams. It’s worth noting he had the best fantasy performance of his career last season against St. Louis — a 95-yard, two-touchdown game. If you’ll be without Jason Witten, Kellen Winslow Jr, or Visanthe Shiancoe this week, Carlson isn’t a bad substitute.

Availability: Owned in ~56% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Carlson is plug-and-play material against the Rams.

KICKERS

No Brainers: Adam Vinatieri and Rob Bironas

Matt Bryant, Falcons
Worth a LookI’m not sure why this guy is still available in over half of fantasy leagues. He’s scored nine or more points in every game this year. He plays in one of the better offenses. His home field is a dome. What’s not to like about Matt Bryant. Pick him up this week for a timely start against the 49ers, who have allowed 25 or more points in all three games.

Availability: Owned in ~44% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Bryant should be owned in all leagues

Nick Folk, Jets
1 Week Plug & PlaySo far in 2010, Folk has attempted multiple field goal kicks in every game this season. His only miss was an unrealistic 61-yard kick on Sunday night. I like his chances of sticking around as a top 12 fantasy kicker this year. The Jets face a Buffalo defense that has given up 34 or more points in two straight games. In kicking terms, that’s translated in to eight or more points. Look for Folk to rank near the top of the fantasy rankings in kicking this week.

Availability: Owned in ~33% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Folk is an excellent spot start kicker for Week 4.

DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS

No Brainers: Chicago (@NYG)

Atlanta Falcons
1 Week Plug & PlayFantasy owners seeking a defense this week can look in a couple different directions. I like the San Diego Chargers (owned in 79% of leagues) to bounce back at home against the Cardinals and Derek Anderson. I also like the Falcons against the 49ers. San Francisco will make the long journey to the East Coast. They’ve made a change in their coaching staff, firing OC Jimmy Raye. The upheaval should work to the advantage of Atlanta, a team that has recorded seven sacks and six interceptions this season. They should score some points against Alex Smith, who has been prone to mistakes, throwing five interceptions to go along with seven sacks.

Availability: Owned in ~20% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Consider Atlanta a sneaky plug-and-play against the 49ers.

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Under the Numbers
Commentary from the Edge
Tuesday Injury Report
Fantasy Game Recaps
Tunnel Vision
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