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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

The Dark Horses Cometh
Joe Levit
December 1, 2004

Each year there are fantasy football players who come along and wow fantasy owners with an unexpected and large fantasy season. Some of these guys are former studs who have been mentally put out to pasture. Others are yearlings that we thought weren’t quite ready for prime time. And lastly, there are the truly new, players who seem to simply materialize upon the scene, from whereabouts previously unknown.

Having one or more of these guys on your fantasy squad seems essential to compete in a day and age where every owner knows the sure-thing players, and most know about all of the decent risks at each fantasy position. It is difficult to determine a rhyme or reason common to all of the fantasy players who are doing much better than we expected in August, but it sure is fun to take a look nonetheless. If you have been shrewd or lucky enough to land some of these breakout guys, none of whom was widely touted as a possible top ten fantasy player at his respective position, more power to you.

Quarterbacks

Drew Brees

We should’ve seen it coming:

When Phillip Rivers failed to get himself into camp, it should have been clear that Brees was going to be the only quarterback factor in San Diego, and with LaDainian Tomlinson to provide a legitimate distraction, we should have known that Brees would come out gunning in his fight for his NFL life.

Give me a break. This is ridiculous!:

The team had no proven commodities at WR, the offensive line was supposed to suck, and Brees was going to be on the bench as soon as the team could usher in the Rivers era in San Diego.

Jake Plummer

We should’ve seen it coming:

Clinton Portis was shipped to Washington D.C., meaning Plummer would play a much more significant role in the offense. His receivers would have to fill a void, particularly third-year wideout Ashley Lelie.

Give me a break. This is ridiculous!:

Clinton Portis was shipped off to Washington D.C., meaning Plummer would have to win games on his own, an equation he had already proven inadequate during his time in Arizona. Shannon Sharpe was no longer with the team and he had taken his eight touchdown receptions and ebullient personality with him.

Running Backs

Curtis Martin

We should’ve seen it coming:

Curtis Martin SAID he felt better this year than he had in a long time, and liked getting some contact during the preseason games. We should have known by now not to buy the line about Lamont Jordan getting more carries to compensate for an aging veteran.

Give me a break. This is ridiculous!:

The guy only had two touchdowns in 2003, and clearly the team was making a move toward more offensive balance by adding Justin McCareins. Curtis Martin is old, and old running backs break down suddenly.

Tiki Barber

We should’ve seen it coming:

The only consistent fantasy producer for the last few years on this team has been Barber, and he remains the heart and soul of effort on offense. We can ignore the talk about Ron Dayne, we all know he’s had his chance and been found wanting.

Give me a break. This is ridiculous!:

With the quarterback controversy firmly in place, Barber should be struggling alongside the team to gain an identity. The squad has no breakaway receiving threats to take some heat off of the Tiki Torch.

Reuben Droughns

We should’ve seen it coming:

Tatum Bell was a broken player throughout the preseason, and Mike Shanahan seems to turn the most unlikely running back into a superstar.

Give me a break. This is ridiculous!:

Hey, even the Lions gave up on this guy. He was a fullback, and fighting against Quentin Griffin, high draft choice Tatum Bell and veteran Garrison Hearst, not to mention former 1,000-yard fellow fullback Mike Anderson.

Willis McGahee

We should’ve seen it coming:

Travis Henry played through pain all of last year, but was also injured all of last year. McGahee said he would not be satisfied as a backup, and Tom Donohoe drafted him in the first round despite a catastrophic knee injury. He was a touchdown machine in college.

Give me a break. This is ridiculous!:

Henry earned his teammates’ admiration, and was going to be “the man” for at least one more season. Some amazing runners have never made it back from the big knock to the knee.

Emmitt Smith

We should’ve seen it coming:

Smith is the all-time leading rusher in NFL history as much or more because of heart and determination as due to talent. He went to Arizona to have a chance to be a starting back in the NFL. The dry heat would give his old joints some extra opportunities

Give me a break. This is ridiculous!:

The Cowboys decided they had seen enough of one of their best players ever. He is ancient by running back standards. He didn’t display the power to move the pile anymore.

Jerome Bettis

We should’ve seen it coming:

The wheels on the bus have not been amputated. Bettis is a big-time pride guy. Every year Jerome jumpstarts the Pittsburgh offense when the new running back gets hurt or just starts to play poorly.

Give me a break. This is ridiculous!:

Duce Staley is a big upgrade over Amos Zereoue. With Tommy Maddox and the receivers in place, the offense will remain a passing phenomenon. Bettis is boring.

Wide Receivers

Javon Walker

We should’ve seen it coming:

Favre looked to Walker more and more as the 2003 season wore on. Walker is a big target and finished with nine touchdowns.

Give me a break. This is ridiculous!:

Hello! Obviously this is Ahman Green’s team. He just ran for nearly 1,900 yards last year. Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson are still around to say something about his production. Bubba Franks will steal red-zone scores.

Mushin Muhammad

We should’ve seen it coming:

Give me a break.

Give me a break. This is ridiculous!:

I agree, but that’s what happens when three talented skill-position players all go down for the season. It’s like Brandon Stokely coming on with Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison, and Reggie Wayne on the sidelines. Oh wait, Stokely is next.

Brandon Stokley

We should’ve seen it coming:

Manning kept trying to hook up with Stokley last year when Brandon got healthy. Stokley is a sneaky player, who gets lost in the shuffle but scores the big play.

Give me a break. This is ridiculous!:

All-world wideout Harrison was already on this team. Edgerrin James is healthy and ready to steal the scores again. Stokley is a THIRD wideout.

Reggie Wayne

We should’ve seen it coming:

Wayne is a talented receiver in his own right, who has a great receiver opposite him to draw double coverage. Manning has shown the maturity and even desire to hit whoever is open, at any time.

Give me a break. This is ridiculous!:

We all know this team is about the Triplets. Nobody is a strong second receiver with Marvin moving the chains.

Michael Clayton

We should’ve seen it coming:

Jon Gruden likes to light it up on offense if he can. Joey Galloway has not been a standout receiver in years. Keenan McCardell is holding out.

Give me a break. This is ridiculous!:

Larry Fitzgerald is supposed to be the top rookie wideout. Well, either him or that Williams guy from Detroit. He’s a rookie.

Tight Ends

Antonio Gates

We should’ve seen it coming:

Gates had a great stretch run at the end of the 2003 season. The team had no proven receiving weapons, so Gates would be the main target. Gates is athletic, with his collegiate hoops career to prove it.

Give me a break. This is ridiculous!:

Nobody touches Tony Gonzalez in the world of fantasy football – Nobody! The San Diego Chargers have been putrid for a long time.

Jason Witten

We should’ve seen it coming:

Bill Parcells likes to develop receiving tight ends. Witten posted good numbers at the tail end of the ’03 campaign. With a new ground attack and a new receiving corps, Witten was a constant going into the season.

Give me a break. This is ridiculous!:

The breakout tight end is supposed to be Kellen Winslow Jr.

Eric Johnson

We should’ve seen it coming:

The 49ers had lost Terrell Owens, Jeff Garcia, Garrison Hearst and Tai Streets, and would be desperate for offense, from any source. Johnson was healthy.

Give me a break. This is ridiculous!:

He had never caught more than 40 balls for 362 yards and three touchdowns in a season. The mass exodus of talent would ensure that somebody would tight on Johnson on every play.