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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

The UFO Report
David M. Dorey
October 1, 2004

There's a small problem with finding "sleepers" on the waiver wire.

With the increase of available information during the last ten years and increasing sophistication of fantasy team owners, it's pretty rare to find a free agent stud that everyone missed. It just doesn't happen. If you want to get onboard a very crowded bus, look for your roster additions as players who fall into one of two categories:

  1. The back-up to a recently injured starter, usually a running back. Think Aaron Stecker or Kerry Collins
  2. A player who just turned in some big game, usually a receiver. Think Brandon Stokley or David Givens.

Most waiver wire picks are either for players with a great new opportunity or who just turned in some surprisingly big game. If you want those players you better be willing to either spend big free agent bucks or be first in line. That's not always, or even normally, possible. But you still need to continually improve your team.

What makes more sense is to know the NFL players that have not been identified as "the free agent of the week". Those players that may break out later on and who have not yet developed or gotten that primo situation that allows them to shine. These guys represent Unidentified Fantasy Opportunities (UFO) . They are developing players or ones that have a reasonable expectation in the future of being in a new situation.

Consider these players as "sleepers" if you want but the reality is they're probably deeper than what most people would track or consider. Many, maybe most won't hit but you can never look long-term without taking a chance. In keeper or dynasty leagues, these guys are much more important. If you have deeper rosters, these are the guys you let sleep away until the day comes that something happens. More than anything, these are the guys "I got my eye on" for the future.

Each week I'll be looking at a few players of interest. Not likely they will get you a bunch of points this week. They might not get any this week or even this season, but these are the guys I see as either the next wave of starters or ones not commonly considered that might surprise this season at some time. They're not likely on a lot of fantasy radars out there but have a good chance of showing up later and you need to be the first to see that 'blip'.

If you are in anything less than a 12 team league with deep rosters, there's no reason yet to grab these players but you should still pay attention for the future. If you are in a dynasty league or have some stash room on your roster, this could mean more. At worst, consider these guys worth your future attention.

Quarterback

Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) - I've been very impressed with this rookie and rather objectively since normally I would never want to consider a rookie quarterback. Philip Rivers in San Diego basically has no receivers in an offense that doesn't throw and he's only the #2 there. Eli Manning certainly has promise, but everyone knows him thanks to his big brother and likely already give him more props than he has earned.

But Roethlisberger is now a starter for at least another month or so thanks to Tommy Maddox being injured and has shown some very nice results in his six quarters of NFL play. Maybe not enough to alert every fantasy owner since he only has games of 176 and 163 yards with three total touchdowns. Against the Ravens in one half of play, Roethlisberger had 176 yards and two scores and an understandable two interceptions. That's basically the same yardage as Garcia had in a full game with only one touchdown. Carson Palmer had 300 yards and no scores with three interceptions against the Ravens.

Roethlisberger completed 12 of 22 passes for 163 yards and one score against the Dolphins last week in his first full start. Carson Palmer only had 147 yards and an interception in week two against the Fins. McNair only had 73 yards and one score when he faced Miami. It was a very good effort that Big Ben gave last week during driving rains on a slick field as a visitor against a very good defense. It Roethlisberger can look good the next few weeks, the Steelers commitment to Maddox won't be any stronger than it was when they burned their first pick to nab Ben.

With games coming up of CIN, CLE and DAL, we should see more of what he is capable of doing and keep an eye out for what he does. Roethlisberger has a great set of receivers in Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress and Antwaan Randle El and now is getting the opportunity. So far, he's done about as well as even a veteran QB could be expected to do. He's just had two very tough opponents to start his career.

Running Back

Finding a UFO running back is almost impossible. At best we're talking calculated long shots here.

Jamel White (TB) - Yes, everyone knows that Michael Pittman returns to play in the nick of time now that Charlie Garner is gone for the year. And maybe he gets the job done. Evidently the Bucs are less sold on the idea or they wouldn't have signed more running backs in the offseason, particularly giving big bucks to a 32 year old Garner who is much more similar to White than Pittman.

White has always been underrated in my opinion, and he's spent his entire career as valuable as a receiver as he was a runner (like Garner). He's actually a very nice fit into the scheme used by the Buccaneers and Pittman has never started 16 games in a season ever. Mike Alstott is there and will figure into the equation for as long as he is not injured but he is already 31 years of age and spent the last two years battling various ailments. You can expect Pittman and Alstott to take the primary roles for now but don't be surprised if White does figure in later in the season. In a league where you get reception points, White could be a late season gem if the opportunity presents itself and he's only 26 years old. He's already had good games in the past and was expendable by the Browns since they wanted to be mired in the Suggs/Green debate.

Maybe nothing... but don't be surprised if eventually he gets a chance and becomes the next weekly hot free agent.

Tight End

Chris Cooley (WAS) - This rookie tight end came over from Utah State and never made it to almost any radars out there since everyone was thinking about Kellen Winslow (CLE), Ben Watson (NE) and Ben Troupe (TEN). Those tight ends went to teams that like to use the position in the passing game and they were the first three tight ends drafted. Now Watson and Winslow are out on injured reserve and Troupe gets to play this week since Erron Kinney is out. But Troupe was never impressive in training camp and the plan with him this week is to mainly use him as a blocker. He'll take a while before making anyone forget about Frank Wycheck.

Cooley, on the other hand, was the second pick made by Washington (after Sean Taylor) and he excelled at pass catching for Utah State. In 2003, he led the nation for a receiving tight end when he caught 62 passes for 732 yards and six touchdowns. He was also the lead receiver for Utah State - the first time a wideout didn't have the most in 22 years for his college. As a comparison, Winslow had 60 catches for 605 yards and one score in 2003 (he did have eight scores and 702 yards in 2002).

The Redskins never used the tight end position in the passing game under Spurrier but we've seen enough from the new Gibbs scheme to see the return of passing to a tight end. Cooley is featured as a rookie who plays both tight end and H-back. In the traditional-style of play of the new Redskins, there is a focus only on the two wideouts and the running back in games that are not woefully getting out of hand on the scoreboard. Cooley had two passes and caught one in his first ever game for 16 yards. In week two against the Giants, he had four passes and caught three for 14 yards and a score. Against the Cowboys last week, he had three passes with two catches for 22 yards. Maybe that's not a lot, but that is from a rookie playing in his first three games in a new offense for all players.

In the past, Gibbs has had fairly heavy use of the position with up to seven scores thrown to the tight ends. No guarantee that Cooley ever reaches that, but he was not drafted for his ability to block - that's why Walter Rasby was acquired. Cooley has had a pass thrown to him in the endzone in each of the past two games. That's pretty impressive for a player that's only been in the NFL for three weeks. In a position that traditionally has little use, Cooley could become a blip by the end of this season. As an H-back, he is listed as a fullback instead of a tight end by some fantasy league management tools and as a tight end on others. The depth chart for the Skins shows him as a fullback while their official roster shows him as a tight end. His fantasy value, obviously, is higher where he is considered a tight end.

Again - the above players are NOT the ones that are likely to turn in a monster week four. None have given that reason yet to throw them on the radars of everyone yet. But if you're interested in tracking players for future consideration - and maybe not all that far in the future, then you have three more to add to your list.