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Free Agent Forecast
By Paul Sandy
September 9, 2003
  Last year, Free Agent Prospecting suggested fantasy owners acquire Chad Johnson, Koren Robinson, Travis Taylor, Matt Hasselbeck, Tommy Maddox and Moe Williams weeks before they had their breakout games. In 2003, we’re back with more waiver wire insights – this time with a new and improved look. Free Agent Forecast aims to build on what Free Agent Prospecting started. While any fantasy geek can tell you to acquire a free agent who just went off for 150 yards and two touchdowns, here we understand you can’t always get the hottest prospect. This season, we’ll not only provide you with the names of players who will breathe new life (and points) into your fantasy squad, we’ll also provide a timeframe for when those players are likely to break out.

Value Scale

Elite Free Agents These players will provide immediate production and have excellent long-term potential.
Upside Free Agents Could emerge as every-week contributors in 1-2 weeks.
Long-Shot Free Agents Could emerge as every-week contributors in 3-4 weeks.
Wait-and-See Free Agents They have the potential to repeat their breakout performance, but hold off on acquiring them for now.
One Week Wonders Others may be singing their praise, but don’t buy into the hype.

Elite Free Agents

Ladell Betts, RB, Redskins
Upcoming Opponents: @ATL, NYG, NE
If you play in a small league, Betts may still be available. In case you missed it, the second-year back out-performed starter Trung Canidate in Week 1. Head coach Steve Spurrier has indicated both backs will continue to split carries. However, Betts will likely end up as Washington’s top fantasy back. He racked up 77 yards rushing on 18 carries and figures to be the team’s goal line ball carrier.

Olandis Gary, RB, Lions
Upcoming Opponents: @GB, MIN, @DEN
A season-ending injury to James Stewart has propelled Gary to the top of the free agent market. If your league doesn’t allow transactions until after Week 1, he’s likely available. As usual, starting running backs are hard to come by, so grab Gary if you have a thin backfield or use him as trade bait. He posted a respectable 12 rushes for 44 yards despite only joining the Lions last week. Although he didn’t have a reception, Gary should also play a role in the passing game as he grows more accustomed to the offense. An average of 10 points per game seems achievable for the former Bronco 1,000-yard rusher.

Moe Williams, RB, Vikings
Upcoming Opponents: CHI, @DET, SF
If he was overlooked in your draft in favor of Onterrio Smith and Doug Chapman, acquire Moe Williams this week. He carried the ball 22 times for 80 yards against the Packers and will remain Minnesota’s strongest rusher in the coming weeks.

Mark Bulger, QB, Rams
Upcoming Opponents: SF, @SEA, ARZ
St. Louis starting quarterback Kurt Warner played through a concussion for much of Sunday’s game against the Giants. As a result, he looked dazed and confused, fumbling the ball six times. Bulger will likely get the start this week as Warner shakes off the cobwebs. Mike Martz is feeling the heat for virtually ignoring Marshall Faulk, so don’t expect the Rams to attempt 54 passes again this week. However, with Faulk, Holt and Bruce itching to prove the Rams are still a contender, Bulger is a good bet to pass for 250 yards and a couple scores.

Buffalo Bills, DEF
Upcoming Opponents: @JAX, @MIA, PHI
As predicted in The Weekly 6-pack column on Friday, Buffalo’s defense tormented the Patriots, intercepting four passes, scoring a touchdown and scoring a shutout. This team is full of playmakers along the defensive line, among the linebackers and in the secondary. If you waited to acquire a defense in the later rounds of your draft and ended up with a weak squad, grabbing the Bills defense should be a priority.

Upside Free Agents

Anquan Boldin, WR, Cardinals
Upcoming Opponents: SEA, GB, @STL
So much for the theory that rookie wide receivers never amount to much in fantasy football. In his first game as a pro, Anquan Boldin had what will likely 10 years from now prove to be his best game as a pro. Boldin’s 10 receptions for 217 yards and two touchdowns obviously led all receivers in Week 1. The Cardinals don’t have any wideouts with much experience, so Boldin definitely has some value. However, temper your expectations. Entering the game he was a virtual unknown and he squared off against a suspect Detroit secondary. If you need a receiver, he’s a solid choice, but he’s not the only choice.

Javon Walker, WR, Packers
Upcoming Opponents: DET, @ARZ, @CHI
They don’t call it the black and blue division for nothing. By the end of Sunday’s game, the Green Bay receiving corps was bruised and battered. Among the casualties were starters Donald Driver (neck) and Robert Ferguson (knee). Both players will likely be listed as doubtful this week. Enter Javon Walker. The second-year receiver led all Packer wideouts with 84 yards against the Vikings. If you need a receiver this week, put Walker near the top of your list of potential acquisitions. Brett Favre seems to like to throw to Walker across the middle of the field, and, as the only healthy target, he could be huge against a Detroit team that was torched by the aforementioned Boldin. Don’t worry too much about the talk of the Packers signing Antonio Freeman, who is well past his prime.

Joe Jurevicius, WR, Bucs
Upcoming Opponents: CAR, @ATL, BYE
Jurevicius nabbed two touchdowns Monday night earning him a mug-shot on John Madden’s horse trailer and a spot on fantasy rosters. If you missed his first touchdown reception, it was a thing of beauty – Jurevicius jumped high over a defender, snared the ball and landed with his toes just inside the corner of the endzone. He is a big talented receiver, who quarterback Brad Johnson will likely use as his primary red-zone and third-down target. Unfortunately, Jurevicius’ potential is limited because the Bucs tend to spread the ball around to a lot of players – nine different receivers had receptions Monday night. Consider him an adequate third wideout and an excellent bye-week/injury replacement.

Alge Crumpler, TE, Falcons
Upcoming Opponents: WAS, TB, @CAR
If you’ve watched the highlight reel of his 41-yard touchdown reception, it’s clear that Crumpler is an impressive physical specimen. He has tremendous speed for a big man and out-raced at least one defensive back down the sideline. With Brian Finneran (hand) potentially out for several weeks, Crumpler’s role in the offense is likely to increase. In leagues that require a tight end, he’s a definite every-week starter. In leagues that combine tight ends and receivers, he may be worth considering as a backup until Finneran returns.

Joey Harrington, QB, Lions
Upcoming Opponents: @GB, MIN, @DEN
Harrington led all NFL passers with four touchdowns in Week 1. Detroit’s offense looks promising under the guidance of new head coach Steve Mariucci. The offensive playbook actually hasn’t changed much from last year; however, Mariucci is a master motivator and will get the most out of his players. If Charles Rodgers and Bill Schroeder can stay healthy, Harrington could emerge as one of the league’s surprise quarterbacks. At the very least, his schedule is favorable in the next two weeks. If you need a fill-in for Warner and can’t get Bulger, Harrington should get you decent points.

Johnnie Morton, WR, Chiefs
Upcoming Opponents: PIT, @HOU, BAL
Morton was one of fantasy football’s biggest disappointments in 2002. While many fantasy owners hoped he would perform like Isaac Bruce in Dick Vermeil’s offense, he only managed to score one touchdown. So far this year, he has already equaled that total. The Chiefs look like they will once again rank among the league’s highest scoring teams. And while it may look like Priest Holmes will account for 97% of the team’s offense, Morton is poised for a comeback year.

Long-Shot Free Agents

Rabih Abdullah, RB, Bears
Upcoming Opponents: @MIN, BYE, GB
After an impressive preseason in which he out-performed Anthony Thomas and Adrian Peterson, rumors began to swirl that Abdullah could see some action in Week 1. Those rumors never came to fruition, but it may be just a matter of time before Abdullah enters the fray. Chicago’s offense looked deplorable last weekend against the 49ers, including a combined 27 yards rushing from Thomas and Peterson. With his hindquarters firmly planted on the hot seat, look for head coach Dick Jauron to begin tinkering with the offense. If you can spare a roster spot for a minimum of three weeks, consider acquiring Abdullah as a potential sleeper.

Dennis Northcutt, WR, Browns
Upcoming Opponents: @BAL, @SF, CIN
Northcutt’s five catches for 57 yards aren’t particularly impressive. However, it’s worth noting that he out-performed Quincy Morgan, who was highly coveted by many fantasy owners during the preseason. Quarterback Kelly Holcomb threw Northcutt’s way seven times, plus he carried the ball one time Sunday. With Cleveland’s crowded receiving unit, Northcutt is a long-shot to emerge as the team’s top receiver. However, if you have the roster space, he could be a decent gamble as he and Holcomb seem to be in the early stages of building a rapport.

Wait-and-See Free Agents

Jeff Blake, QB, Cardinals
Upcoming Opponents: SEA, GB, @STL
How can I rank Boldin among the Upside Free Agents while his quarterback is lower on the scale? Easy. Think back to the early years in Jacksonville. Wide receiver Jimmy Smith always finished among the top receivers, but quarterback Mark Brunell was merely average in terms of fantasy production. Blake had a huge fantasy game Sunday, passing for 363 yards and three scores. As a result, he could be a hot free agent pickup this week. Even so, I’d wait and see whether he can duplicate his performance. The argument that the Cardinals will be playing from behind, forcing Blake to throw all season, doesn’t hold much water. Wasn’t Jake Plummer playing from behind his entire career in Arizona?

One Week Wonders

Aveion Cason, RB, Cowboys
Upcoming Opponents: @NYG, BYE, @NYJ
Cason carried the ball two times for 77 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons on Sunday. Not a bad rushing average. While Cason will continue to play a role in the Cowboy offense as a third-down and change-of-pace back, Troy Hambrick is bigger and better suited to be Bill Parcells’ feature back. Expect another high-scoring game from Cason before the season is over, but he will likely be too inconsistent to reside on your fantasy roster.

Matthew Hatchette, WR, Jaguars
Upcoming Opponents: BUF, @IND, HOU
After a stint in NFL Europe, Hatchette is back in the NFL – this time with the Jaguars. He made an immediate impact with his new team catching four passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately, Hatchette will likely struggle to duplicate his performance as he faces some formidable opponents in the coming weeks. Jimmy Smith will be returning as the primary target in Week 5.