the first weekend of regular season NFL action, fantasy
owners are typically consumed with their squads. We wait
anxiously for the ticker to cross the bottom of our televisions.
We keep our fingers poised on the refresh button of our
computer keyboards to get updated with the latest stats.
Those fortunate souls among us who are outfitted with DirecTV
aim their remote controls with deadly accuracy. Watching
our own teams and our own players brings great joy and
great frustration. It’s what fantasy football is
all about. But as we kick off the season, it’s important
to understand that at least a couple of the players you
drafted will fall flat on their faces and disappoint you.
To get a leg up on the competition, you must keep your
eyes peeled for potential free agent acquisitions.
To get you started, I’ve listed 10 players who,
for whatever reason, may have been overlooked in your
draft. As you’re watching this weekend’s
games, monitor the progress of these prospects. Each
is in a favorable situation and could emerge early in
the season as a fantasy contributor.
Olandis Gary, RB, Lions
With James Stewart out for the season and the feeble
Arizona Cardinals on the schedule in Week 1, Olandis
Gary is sure to be among the hottest free agents next
week. Gary boasts a respectable 4.2 career yards per
carry, but he probably won’t be the type of running
back that carries your fantasy squad to glory. The former
1,000-yard rusher hasn’t shown much explosiveness
since his 2000 season was wiped out because of a torn
ACL. Head coach Steve Mariucci also favors a running
back by committee approach. Even so, productive running
backs are hard to come by and you may be able to consistently
squeeze 10-point games out of him. If you have a chance
to land Gary, you’d be wise to do so.
Reche Caldwell, WR, Chargers
Caldwell was a popular sleeper pick in many drafts this
season – and with good reason. Former Arizona
Cardinal wideout David Boston was acquired by the Chargers
this offseason to restore credibility to San Diego’s
passing game. However, after battling knee problems
all last year, Boston’s health is cause for concern.
His weight is listed at 240 lbs. As far as NFL receivers
go, Boston is a man among boys. While his size may
help him when battling would-be defenders, it probably
puts huge amounts of stress on his knees and legs.
Should Boston again succumb to injury, Caldwell and
Tim Dwight would benefit the most in terms of receptions
and yardage. Keep an eye on Caldwell’s Week 1
performance and grab him if there’s any hint
Wayne Chrebet, WR, Jets
Last season, Chrebet finished with a career-high nine
touchdowns. Unfortunately, with only 691 receiving
yards, fantasy owners couldn’t count on him for
anything more than an occasional, emergency start.
If Chrebet ever has a shot of regaining his 1999-2000
form, which drew the wrath of fellow teammate Keyshawn
Johnson and the admiration of fans, this is it. The
Jets lost number one receiver Laveranues Coles. And
while they brought in Curtis Conway as a replacement,
the former Charger/Bear receiver is on the downside
of his career and frequents the injury report. Perhaps
more importantly, Vinny Testaverde has once again taken
the reins of the Jets offense. When Testaverde lines
up under center and scopes out his receivers, Chrebet
will be his most familiar target.
Kelly Holcomb, QB, Browns
After his record-setting performance in last year’s
playoff game, Holcomb is a known commodity. Even so,
many fantasy owners are waiting around to see if he’s
merely a flash in the pan. When it comes to quarterbacks,
it’s not a bad strategy because there typically
are plenty available through free agency. But if Holcomb
follows up his playoff performance with another humdinger
in Week 1, don’t hesitate to grab him pronto. The
Browns have all the offensive weapons to make Holcomb
Drew Bennett, WR, Titans
Bennett spent the 2003 preseason battling Justin McCareins
for the starting receiver spot opposite Derrick Mason.
Despite winning the competition, Bennett hasn’t
caught the eye of many fantasy owners, who are still
seething from the disappointing Kevin Dyson years.
For whatever reason, the Titans offense is often underrated
by fantasy owners. McNair and George are about as consistent
as you can get in terms of fantasy production. When
he’s healthy, Mason is among the league’s
best receivers. Now Bennett, a third-year receiver,
has the chance to emerge as a new offensive threat
for the Titans. At 6’5”, Bennett is a huge
target. While the Titans figure to feature him in the
red-zone offense, Bennett has also tallied two touchdowns
over 40 yards in his short career. If he catches four
or five passes this weekend against Oakland, don’t
hesitate to acquire Bennett. He could be the every
week contributor you need.
Dennis Northcutt, WR, Browns
Consider for a minute that in the five games Kelly Holcomb
played last season, he connected with Dennis Northcutt
for five touchdowns. This includes the playoff game
in which Holcomb set playoff passing records and hooked
up with Northcutt for six receptions, 92 yards and
two TDs. The Cleveland receiving corps is crowded,
but based on Holcomb’s choice of targets last
year, Northcutt has a good chance to emerge as the
top threat. In short, don’t buy into all the
Quincy Morgan hype just yet.
Thomas Jones, RB, Bucs
After a miserable stint in Arizona, Jones joined Tampa
Bay with a fresh outlook. He was the team’s strongest
rusher during the preseason. But with a muddled backfield
that includes Mike Alstott, Michael Pittman and Aaron
Stecker, Jones might have gone overlooked in your draft.
If so, don’t hesitate to grab him during the
first week of free agency, assuming no one better is
available. Jones should play a significant role in
Jon Gruden’s offense and could emerge as an every
week starter if he becomes the featured back.
Bryan Gilmore, WR, Cardinals
It’s going to be a long, long year for the Cardinals.
They have a new quarterback, an aging veteran running
back and a group of inexperienced receivers. Despite
all the knocks against them, the Cards shouldn’t
be completely disregarded. Jeff Blake still throws an
accurate deep ball and starting wide receiver Bryan Gilmore
has the speed to get open down the field. Considering
that the Cardinals will likely be playing catch-up in
the second half of most games, don’t be surprised
to see Gilmore lead the league in “garbage-time” statistics.
David Patten, WR, Patriots
Over the last two seasons, Patten has increased his receptions
by about 10 versus the prior year. If adds another
10 receptions to his total in 2003, he has a good chance
to eclipse the 1,000 yard benchmark. Depending on how
many touchdowns he scores, this will put Patten on
the periphery of being an every week starter. In other
words, he deserves to be on a fantasy roster – at
the very least as a back up.
A kicker is a kicker is a kicker. That’s what fantasy
owners say every preseason. Then, at some point during
the season, their team loses by one point – all
because the kicker got shut out. The surest way to get
consistent production from your kicker is to get one
from a team that puts a lot of points on the scoreboard.
While this type of kicker might not lead your fantasy
league in scoring, they won’t cost you many games
either. With a healthy Priest Holmes, the Chiefs will
finish in the top five in scoring offense. Despite playing
on such a high-powered offense, the venerable Morten
Andersen might have been overlooked in your draft because
he’s … well … old. Get him anyway.
You’ll appreciate the eight or nine points he gets