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10 to Grow With
By Joe Levit
January 1, 2003
 

Each new fantasy season there are players who have NFL experience under their belts but who suddenly perform at a higher fantasy level and become great value players for fantasy owners. You get a glimpse of these players late in the year when games mean less, or sometimes you see a steady improvement moving into the offseason, where some more training and instruction could put all of a player’s hard work on display in the next season.

Here are 10 players throughout the league who are going to be rated lower next year than their value. Grab a few of these guys later in your draft in 2004 and smile when your player makes a big difference against a conference foe next year.

Quarterbacks

David Carr – Carr was having a decent second year before getting injured about midseason. Give him more time to work with a young corps of talented receivers (Andre Johnson, Jabar Gaffney and Corey Bradford) and he will become a starting fantasy quarterback before you know it.

Joey Harrington – Joey was largely without his star rookie this year, and he had to struggle with poor leftover wideouts and no semblance of a running game. Watch what happens when he gets Charles Rogers back and has some runners in the stable (Artose Pinner, James Stewart and whoever they must draft to compete for the position).

Running Backs

Rudi Johnson – He plays harder on an every-down basis than Corey Dillon, and he’s much cheaper too. If the Bengals can cash in by trading Dillon to a team with a real need for fresh legs then Johnson will get to shine full time. He already scores plenty of touchdowns.

Lee Suggs – Suggs showed he is in the Pros to play by running up 186 yards against the Bengals in week 17 this year. If William Green continues to have legal and personal issues, then Suggs will run away with this starting position.

Willis McGahee – McGahee makes for a real sneaky pick in fantasy leagues. He is a risk, to be sure – Both because he was injured himself and because Travis Henry has proven he is willing to excel through pain. Still, the team did not take him as their first pick to be a backup. They think he has gamebreaking speed and cutback ability. We’ll see if he still has it next summer.

Wide Receivers

Charles Rogers – If you forget about Rogers next year just because the Lions did nothing on offense this year, you will be in for a rude surprise when you play the owner who has him as a starting third receiver. Rogers was leading all rookie wideouts in touchdowns when he was injured, and led all Lions receivers through much of the season even after he was sitting for a number of Sundays.

Donte’ Stallworth – Stallworth will probably be one of those guys who just has to go through growing pains with his hamstrings. When Stallworth strenghthens them, he will be a true value, because nobody is going to be high on him to start the season in 2004.

Tyrone Calico – The Titans’ wide receiver company is loaded, and with the return of Drew Bennett and the improvement of Justin McCareins, Calico will have to work hard and get a little lucky to get enough passes his way to make a difference. He is very athletic though, and should push some guys aside soon enough. His big frame and strength will make him McNair’s favorite target eventually.

David Givens – Somebody besides Troy Brown needs to catch Tom Brady’s strikes. Bethel Johnson and Deion Branch are gaining experience as well, but it looks like Givens is going to be the player to be a fantasy factor first.

Tight Ends

Jason Witten – Witten has been hiding some decent weekly statistics behind an offense which is unstable. As Quincy Carter becomes even better, expect to see Witten move up the tight end rankings very fast. He could be a top-ten guy soon with the consistent yards he gets.

Well everyone, this concludes my column for this season. I hope you have enjoyed reading and possibly learning something as much as I have enjoyed writing. Good luck to all in playoff leagues, and I’ll see you next year.

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