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Finding the Top Talent -- Fantasy owners forced to cope with lower-tier players
By Joe Levit
October 23, 2003

A major difficulty fantasy owners face each year is figuring out which players will be the sole stud at their position on their respective teams. Not every NFL team has this situation settled, and injuries can make the decision even tougher. The fantasy owners able to figure out the more difficult to determine position battles will know, when drafting and then during the season, which players to get and which to avoid.

We don't have to hesitate to think about who the top player is for many parts of a lot of offenses. Terrell Owens is the top WR for the 49ers, Peyton Manning is the only quarterback in Indianapolis and Priest Holmes is keeping the ball in Kansas City. Those guys are drafted early and often in fantasy leagues. The difference between winning and losing in fantasy football, however, often comes down to choosing the players who will emerge from a group vying for the spotlight, or taking a chance on an emerging star.

The following are situations you should avoid if at all possible. You cannot count on these players from week to week. That does not mean that all of the players are complete dogs statistically, and it doesn't mean that you are not starting these players. Indeed, you are probably forced to play one or more of the players from the following groups. Simply, these are players in situations to avoid if you can. That means that it may be wise for you to trade players from these groups for other players on the rise:

Titans running game: Eddie George and Robert Holcombe - In last week's dismantling of the Panthers, George got 18 carries to Holcombe's 16, but Holcombe gained more yards. This could be a shift toward Holcombe or simply another slow day for Eddie, but either way, you should look elsewhere for fantasy production. The Titans are a passing team now.

Jets running game: Curtis Martin and LaMont Jordan - Like George, Martin is slowing down. He still gets the majority of the carries, and can have decent games, but there is no reason to expect him to break out for a 100-yard, multiple-touchdown game anymore. Jordan might just get more carries as the year wears on, and he steals the touchdowns. Neither will help you from week to week.

49ers running game: Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow - Yeah, that was a big game against the Bucs, but San Francisco has still failed to feature a primary runner this year. If either of these guys gets the ball full-time, he can be a stud, but this mix-and-match carry schedule won't bring you any consistency.

Bears receiving game: Marty Booker, Dez White and David Terrell - The quarterback situation here is also undecided, which really affects these receivers. White has stepped forward in recent weeks, but not enough to count on. Booker is a bust so far this year, and Terrell has yet to make a move. You can't count on any of them.

Eagles receiving game: James Thrash, Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell - This team reads nearly the same as Chicago, except the Eagles have a stud at quarterback when he is healthy. Thrash is the bust, Pinkston the player who has shown something recently, and Mitchell yet to make a move. None of these players will help you win from week to week.

Redskins running game: Trung Canidate, Ladell Betts, Rock Cartwright and Chad Morton - Injuries have set back the timetable for sorting through this mess in the backfield, but suffice it to say that it isn't worth your time to sift through the remains of the day.

Browns receiving game: Kevin Johnson, Quincy Morgan, Andre' Davis and Dennis Northcutt - The two quarterbacks have their favorite targets, but that inconsistency aside, this unit has what is essentially four very good second receivers. None is a flat-out stud, and so none of them are a great commodity in fantasy football. One of them is always having the hot hand, but the problem is that you start the guy a week or two too late and keep him in the lineup longer than is ok. Stay away from these guys.

Patriots running game: Kevin Faulk, Mike Cloud and Antowain Smith - Cloud caught lightning in a bottle two weeks ago, but the team has failed to give him enough carries since to remain electric. Faulk and Smith have been fighting for carries all year. Unless the team sticks with one back, don't start these players.

Here are some similar team circumstances that should soon produce a #1 player:

Eagles running game - Westbrook gets more touches and fantasy points each game

Steelers running game - Bettis will get the starting gig for the first time this season

Lions receiving game - Rookie Charles Rogers will return as the top player

Colts running game - Edgerrin James will solidify the position

Packers receiving game - Donald Driver is getting more involved after the injury layoff

Texans running game - Domanick Davis will dominate if he can get goal-line carries too

Vikings running game - Michael Bennett will push the others aside once he is completely back

Here are some emerging top players to trade for now:

Steve Smith - He is currently the top receiver for Carolina, not Muhammad

Marc Bulger - It's his team now

Travis Taylor - Boller is locking in on him

Terry Glenn - Glenn is growing statistically under the tutelage of Parcells

Keenan McCardell - Keenan is starring out from under Jimmy Smith's shadow

Joe Levit, based in Boston, writes for and He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a devoted Detroit Lions fan. He can be contacted at