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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Waiver Wire Warriors - Week 5
Dennis Leonard
October 6, 2005

“They say you never see an experienced plumber biting his nails.”
           - some old guy I met in the plumbing section of my hardware store.

Hello again and welcome back to Waiver Wire Warriors: the fantasy football column that cares. Because here at the WWW, we share. Information, ideas, tips, strategy, you name it. And not just about football.*

Just kidding. Of course it is. So let’s get to it.

The New Recruits

Najeh Davenport – GB RB: Ahman Green sprained his knee on Monday night and the severity of the sprain was not known when I wrote this article. So that makes Green an official “maybe” for Week 6 and Davenport a popular guy on waivers. Going up against the perennially soft Saints’ DEF in Week 5 who are allowing an average of 130 rushing yards per game – the NFL’s 3rd highest – obviously boosts Davenport’s short term usefulness, as well.

Plus, if you get points in the individual return game, he returns the bulk of the Packers’ kick off returns (which we’ll be seeing a lot of this year, thanks to the lack of Green Bay’s defense) for a team-high 18.9 yards per return. So even if Green is fine to play this week and going forward, between Davenport’s return duties and the 4-8 handoffs he typically sees each game, he makes for decent emergency depth at the RB position.

Aside from Davenport’s obvious injury replacement/hand cuff/emergency depth value, there are also some subtle keeper and dynasty league implications in play. Both Green and Davenport are in contract years, with Green making substantially more and performing no better than Davenport. ( Davenport’s yards per carry are a little lower than Green’s, but Green fumbles more than Davenport). Consider this: Davenport signed a restricted free agent 1 year tender back in April for about $641,000. If the Packers are at all considering parting ways with Green at the end of the year, perhaps because Najeh will perform at about the same level for less money, then: (a) Davenport could get more carries later this year if the Pack opt to take a hard look at him when (not if) they are out of the playoff hunt; and (b) Davenport could even begin next year as Green Bay’s incumbent starting RB.

Yeah, it’s a long shot. But I’ve gotta believe Green Bay will be forced to address positions other than running back in next year’s draft, assuming they can lock up a decent starter in Davenport at a reasonable price. But then again, I never figured they’d draft a QB this year, either. So who knows? What I do know is that he’s worth picking up this week until we learn more about Green’s knee. But he might be worth holding onto after that, depending on the format of your league.

Chris Brown – TEN RB: No, he’s not on waivers, but he’s not even a top 30 RB, either. So he’s fair game in this column. And admit it: you’ve wanted to use him but he just hasn’t done much in all of four games. Well, the Titans play the Texans this week, so Brown’s only real obstacle in Week 5 is his coaches. That’s right, Brown isn’t the problem.

Chris Brown is actually sporting 4.3 yards per carry. That’s like the 14th highest in the NFL out of the running backs who have received 15 or more carries so far. The problem is with the play calling. The Titans simply haven’t been giving him more than 11 carries most weeks: Week 1 (11 carries); Week 2 (8 carries); and Week 4 (10 carries). And in Week 3, when they did give Brown 20 carries, he averaged 4.2 yards per carry had posted his best yardage of the season.

Plus, the only thing the Texans seem to be any good at this year is sucking. I love the Texans, having spent the last nine years in Houston, and even I can see how bad they are. They are allowing an average of 128.3 rushing yards per game, which is the 6th most in the NFL. Houston is also allowing 4.1 yards per carry to opposing RBs. And the Houston offense has the 2nd worst time of possession: merely 26:02 per game, which means pretty much anyone can play-ball control offense against them because the Texans just aren’t getting first downs (averaging only 15.3 per game, which is the 7th fewest in the NFL).

Norm Chow: step away from the peyote! Did you miss Chris Brown’s highlight reel from last year, or something? He was – and is – an effective runner, but only if you give him the ball. So get an early lead, run the ball, control the clock, and collect a win against a gimme opponent. Look for the Titans to whomp on the Texans and for Brown to be more involved than he has been thus far. Seriously, barring injury, Brown is in for what should be his best game of the season thus far.

Kevin Johnson – DET WR: And so begins Charles Rodgers’ four game dope-related suspension. Honestly, I doubt the Lions’ passing game will notice he’s gone, as even tight end Marcus Pollard was out-producing Rodgers in every category. But Rodgers’ absence does leave a hole in the starting line up that needs filling. There’s a case to be made for Mike Williams to be the #2, as the Lions did spend a (yet another) first round pick on a wide receiver this year. But the stats tell a different tale. After Roy Williams, it’s actually Kevin Johnson that has received the second most looks in the passing game: 17 passes in three games. And K.J. caught 10 of them for a decent 58.82% reception ratio, part of which can be blamed on Joey Harrington's spectacular awfulness.

In fact, Johnson’s 10 receptions tie Roy Williams for the most of any Lion this year, and Johnson’s reception ratio is certainly better than Roy’s (35.71%) or Rodgers’ (ironically also 35.71%) (or Roy Rodgers, for that matter). While Mike Williams’ 80% reception ratio certainly looks great on paper, part of that is attributable to the fact that he’s only had 5 passes thrown to him in three games, but managed to catch 4 of them.

Given Johnson’s relative ability to catch the ball and added looks he’s getting from Harrington, I believe the stats suggest Kevin Johnson’s role will increase with Rodgers’ absence. (No official word from the team on this yet). Whether you’re willing to invest in a Lions’ receiver, however, is another matter entirely. But he should be available in most leagues and looks to have a decent shot at a more opportunities than he’s seen so far.

David Givens – NE WR: Givens is a no frills, yet underrated, wide receiver. If he is available in leagues that award points for receptions he makes for a decent replacement if you’ve recently lost someone to injury, or just drafted poorly at the WR position. He’s still valuable in leagues that do not award points for receptions, but since Givens isn’t a big player in the red zone (only 4 looks and 0 TDs in four games) you’ve got to be willing to make your bread and butter off yards and receptions with this guy. Let’s take a look, shall we?

  • 22 receptions so far, which ironically ties him with teammate Deion Branch for the 13th most receptions in the NFL to date;
  • doing pretty well with a 59.5% reception ratio;
  • 15 of his 22 receptions were for first downs, which ties Givens for the 15th most receptions for first downs this season;
  • 283 receiving yards – 20th most of all wide receivers;
  • Has earned 88 yards after the catch – only 15 pass targets (including TEs and RBs) have earned more;
  • averaging 9.5 looks in the passing game each week – tied with Larry Fitzgerald for 15th highest number of looks per game for all wide receivers;
  • His 37 looks in the passing game are virtually the same as Branch’s 38;
  • Breaking those 37 looks down further, he was thrown to 5, 9, 13, then 10 times in Weeks 1 through 4, respectively, which demonstrates an upward trend that may have stabilized; and
  • of the 15 passes he didn’t catch only one was attributed to being a dropped pass.

Givens is sort of like waiver wire cat food. He’ll sustain you every week, but he isn’t all that tasty. However, give credit where credit is due: at least he’s the Fancy Feast of the receiver alternatives on today’s menu.

Peter Warrick – SEA WR: To say that I follow what’s going on with Bobby Engram is an Alaska-sized euphemism (everyone says “Texas-sized” but Alaska is actually much larger). I get news stories about Engram emailed to me every day via Google Alerts and I have yet to see a source that says he’ll play this week due to the two cracked ribs he suffered on his first catch last week. (He went on to catch 8 more passes for another 101 yards before his coaches and teammates had to convince him to sit down in the fourth quarter. What a stud). But even coach Holmgren (aka “The Walrus”) said he didn’t think Engram would practice this week. So while Engram is currently (as of Wednesday evening) listed as “doubtful,” if you’ve been using him the last few weeks like I have, it’s officially time to set up Plan B.

Enter Peter Warrick, stage right.

You don’t have to own Engram to capitalize on the temporary upside Warrick brings to the table. But Warrick is the most likely candidate to inherit the Seahawks #2 WR spot if Engram sits. Why, just ask Peter himself: “Players have been coming to me all week and saying ‘Pete, it’s your turn this week,’” Warrick said in a recent interview. “I’m ready to go right now. I need to step up and I want to step up. I’m ready, man.” Well, that kind of tough talk might be good enough for yo mama’s fantasy team, but readers of this column are accustomed to a bit more substance. And substance ye shall have!

Peter Warrick is a 4th year receiver, having spent the first three with the Bengals. (You know, back when people laughed at them). Warrick’s second year (2003) was his best by far. He played 15 games, was targeted 122 times, and caught 79 of those passes for 819 yards and 7 TDs. He has a life time average of 10.8 yards per catch and has lost 5 fumbles total. Now here’s where you’re going to want to pay attention… his career reception ratio is 65.16% (144 receptions in 221 passes). Folks, while he may have trouble staying healthy (no shortage of problems there), there’s nothing wrong with his receiving abilities. And while he didn’t dress last week due to some groin ailment, everyone swears up and down that he’s good to go in Week 5 versus – let’s see, who are the ‘Hawks playing in Week 5? – oh yeah. The Rams. THE FREAKIN’ RAMS!!! Gee, ya think the score might get high in that game?

The Rams’ DEF has allowed the 4th most passing TDs (8) and the 6th highest average passing yards per game (255). And with the Rams’ most likely focusing their defensive attention on stopping guys like Alexander and D-Jax, a guy like Warrick – whose been off everyone’s radar screen for ages – makes a sneaky play this week. Because love him or hate him, Matt Hasselbeck is having a great year (averaging 252 passing yards per game – 10th most. Only 2 INTs – 21 QBs have thrown more. Only eaten six sacks – 21 QBs have taken more. 92.5 QB rating. 64% completion percentage – only 8 starters are better). Between Hasselbeck’s high-level of play and Warrick’s forgotten receiving abilities, *assuming* Warrick is healthy – and Engram isn’t – Warrick is in a great spot to come out of relative obscurity and contribute both for NFL and fantasy purposes. I doubt he blows up into the top 20 this week, but I can pretty much guarantee he’s available in any sized league and could be useful for a couple weeks, depending on Engram’s self-professed Wolverine-like healing abilities. FYI, if Warrick can’t go, Joe Jurevicius is the next guy down the food chain that you’ll want to look at. Alternatively, if Darrell Jackson joins Engram on the side lines (a distinct possibility based on breaking news as of Wednesday afternoon) Jurevicius would be likely to have an augmented role, anyways.

Mark Bradley – CHI WR: The rookie Bradley is purely a grab-and-stash investment in receiver depth. He was officially promoted by the Bears this week as their starting WR, opposite Muhsin Muhammad. Bradley only has 4 receptions for 57 yards thus far in his pro career, but in all fairness, he hasn’t been starting, the Bears didn't play in Week 4, and the Bears’ passing game has been something of quagmire anyways. However, anytime I see a starter who’s probably lounging around on your waiver wire, I’m going to do my best to bring him to your attention.

Bradley’s upside (surprise! There actually is some) lies in his 2005 preseason efforts. By all accounts, Bradley and fellow Bear cub, QB Kyle Orton, clicked well during preseason. So hopefully they can continue developing a good working rapport. But Bradley also had some preseason stats to roar about:

  • 331 receiving yards – most of any player at any position;
  • 17 receptions – most of any player at any position;
  • Averaged 66.2 receiving yards per game – 4th best of any player at any position; and
  • He even found the end zone once.

In reality, Kyle Orton has some growing pains that Bradley (and all Bears) must suffer through. But with a stellar defense and running game, and every opposing secondary focusing first and foremost on keeping Muhammad contained, Bradley will undoubtedly get his share of opportunities. Heck, even when he wasn’t starting Bradley was the 2nd most targeted Bear in the passing: 13 times. That trend should continue to grow now that Bradley is a starter.

Veteran Recommendations

Mark Brunell – WAS QB: The commish in my local, a friend and fellow Huddler, made a point of calling me last week to mock my Brunell recommendation going into Week 4. Yes, recommending Brunell last week was risky given his limited 2005 track record at the time. However, in spite my friend’s heckling, Brunell has officially become relevant for fantasy purposes.

You’re free to your own opinion on the team, but the Redskins are undefeated with Brunell under center. So he’s got job security and he’s healthy, which is more than a number of would-be starting QBs can say right now. Furthermore, in Week 4 Brunell was a top 10 fantasy QB in almost every scoring format; in Week 2, he was in the top 8. Therefore, I see no sane reason why Brunell is currently available in 94% percent of all Fanball leagues. With QBs getting hurt left and right Brunell deserves at least a temporary spot as an injury replacement or trade-bait investment (buy low, sell high and all that). And since his bye week is over, he makes for a great bye week filler going forward.

Aside from bottom-line fantasy production, consider the following data.

  • 10th best first down-per-pass attempt ratio – 36.9%;
  • 13th best TD-per-pass attempt ratio – 4.8%;
  • 14th lowest INT-to-pass attempt ratio – 2.4%;
  • 14th best QB rating – 84.8;
  • After facing an average Denver pass defense in Week 5 (has allowed the 15th highest average passing yards per game – 212.2 – and 4 passing TDs) Brunell and the ‘Skins face:
  • The Chiefs in Week 6, who have allowed an average of 273.2 passing yards per game (4th highest in the NFL) and 6 passing TDs (tied for 6th most in the NFL);
  • The 49ers in Week 7, who have allowed an unbelievable 368.2 passing yards per game (NFL’s highest by miles) and 11 passing TDs (again, the NFL’s most);
  • Then the Giants in Week 8, who have allowed 322 passing yards per game (NFL’s 2nd highest) and 7 passing TDs (tied for 5th most).

Seriously, go get Brunell if you need QB depth and the pickin’s are slim. Because finding a top 10 QB on the waivers is something of an anomaly at any point in the season. Just keep this in mind: as funny as recommending Brunell may have sounded at first, his stats over the next month will give his owners the last laugh.

Chester Taylor – BAL RB: Chester Taylor is averaging 3.6 yards per carry behind the same underperforming offense line that’s giving Jamal Lewis only 2.5 yards per carry. Lewis has fumbled twice; Taylor hasn’t at all. Remember when I recommend Taylor going into Week 2, and I mentioned that *both* Taylor and Lewis were in a contract year? Well, now Lewis is complaining about the lack of a big-money contract. Taylor isn’t. Not a smart move by Lewis, given his lack-luster performance of late.

Taylor interestingly saw 4, 3, then 11 carries in Weeks 1, 2, and 4. He also typically chips in 2 or 3 receptions each week. Trend? Too early to say, but you bet your sweet bippy I’ll be checking Taylor’s involvement in Week 5. He’s still worth adding if you own Lewis. And he’s still worth adding in dynasty and keeper leagues for his potential long-term value extending into next year. But if Lewis keeps under-performing and over-complaining, Taylor’s work load could easily continue to see increases as the Ravens evaluate him for future purposes. If you’ve got room on your roster for a slightly-less-speculative-than-last-time-he-was-recommended running back, I like Taylor’s chances to contribute at a higher level later this season, which could actually happen under a couple of different circumstances.

Shaun McDonald – STL WR: Ol’ McDonald had some game, E-I-E-I-O.

Recommend by Waiver Wire Warriors going into Weeks 2 and 4, he’s here once again. Oh, sure, everyone and their pet ferret knows that Bruce is gonna be out for a few more games and that McDonald actually outperformed last week’s free agent darling, Kevin Curtis. But did you know McDonald was targeted 13 times last week? Same as Holt. Only Burress (also recommend last week as someone to target in a trade) and Owens saw more action in the passing game last week. And Dane Looker saw 11 passes, and Kevin Curits 7. That’s amazing.

Folks, on a team that’s throwing the ball an average of 40+ times a game, these stats could become a regular occurrence. Acquire whatever still-available pieces of the Rams’ passing game that you can, starting with McDonald. And he’s still returning punts, too.

Dolphins’ DEF: Miami is a decent over all defense that seems to rise to the occasion when they play at home. Over the course of just three weeks (they had a week 4 bye) they have:

  • Registered 6 turnovers;
  • Allowed an average of only 294 yards per game – 8th fewest in the NFL;
  • Committed 16 penalties – 2nd fewest in the NFL (though that number is a little skewed due to their bye); and
  • Allowed an average of only 17 points per game – only 8 teams have allowed fewer.

However, couple Miami’s solid defense stats with this week’s opponent – the Bills – and we’ve got the making of some good points from a team DEF here. The Bills’ gangrenous stats on offense are as follows:

  • Only averaging 14.8 first downs per game – tied for the 3rd fewest;
  • Averaging 219.8 total yards per game – 2nd fewest;
  • Have only turned the ball over 4 times on offense, which isn’t bad;
  • But the “allegedly” mobile Losman has been sacked 11 times – only 7 teams have allowed more;
  • And the pinnacle of embarrassment, only averaging 12 points per game – only 3 teams have fewer.

Miami is pretty much worth a play in every sized league this week, so check to see if they are available. Heck, they might even be worth stashing if you think your opponent this week could be searching around for a better match up, just so they can’t use Miami against you.

Titans’ DEF: all things considered, the Titans are playing pretty well on defense this year. But that I would have expected from them going in to Week 1, anyways. But this week it just doesn’t matter. They’re playing the Texans. ‘Nuff said.

Jets’/Seahawks’ DEF: One of the mixed blessing about the ever-growing popularity of fantasy football is that more people are playing it. So more people are writing about it. Thus, people have access to more information and are getting better at it faster. So expecting to pick up which ever waiver wire defense is playing the Texans, Bills, and Niners every week isn’t as safe a play as it used to be. Because people – like the readers of this Column – are starting to rotate their defenses by picking up who they want to play a week in advance. Well, in Week 6 the Niners have a bye. But the Jets’ DEF (who are probably available) play the Bills. And the Seahawks (also potentially available) play the Texans. Plan for Week 6 accordingly.

Guys I Thought About Recommending In More Detail But Opted Not To

Eli Manning – NYG QB: Readers, I owe you an apology. I don’t like Eli because of how he conducted himself after last year’s draft. I thought he was immature, unprofessional, and lame in every sense of the word. And I allowed that thinking to cloud my judgment this year. His name should have appeared here like two weeks ago because the signs were all there and I refused to see them. At this point, in case you hadn’t noticed, he’s playing well. He’s averaging like 260 yards a game (10th most in the NFL), is tied for the 2nd most TDs to date (9), and has only thrown 2 INTs. If he’s available, by all means grab him. But chances are he isn’t.

Josh McCown – ARI QB: Last week’s stats are hard to ignore: 385 yards, 2 TDs, no INTs. And I like McCown because he’s really, really fired up to play football for his team and they seem to respond to him. He’s doing everything he can to step up and help out and I deeply respect that gumption. But my Niners simply have the worst secondary in the NFL and McCown nevertheless stalled out in the vast majority of his trips to the red zone on Sunday night. Against teams that can actually score some points on offense, control the clock, and play a little DEF, McCown and the Cardinals will likely have a vastly different experience. Everyone looks like Cassius Clay when they’re fighting a drunk who can barley stand. So I’m going to need to see something more from McCown next week versus the Panthers before I can recommend him in good faith. Of course, then the Cards have a Week 6 bye and who knows what the deal with Kurt Warner will be after that. If you’re in a gigantic league and your only other choices are guys like Orton, Losman, Alex Smith, Carr, or Bollinger, then – and only then – would I recommend adding McCown as bench depth. But if, instead, QBs like Brunell, Frerotte, Bledsoe, or Dilfer are still available, then leave McCown be.

Vinny Testeverde – NYJ QB: Vinny did a half decent job last year for Cowboys and now he’s back with his old team, the Jets. The Jets are a mess right now but Vinny appears like he’ll get his first start in Week 5. I can’t honestly recommend starting him – in any sized league – this week. Even in large leagues he’s a reach of just for bench depth. But I’d honestly rather roll the dice on Mr. T instead of a QB like Orton, Alex Smith, Losman, or Carr. Anyone not in a situation like that (i.e., complete and utter desperation) should probably just label Testeverde as a “person of interest” and monitor him accordingly.

Ronnie Brown – MIA RB: Not on waivers and he’s probably good enough that I should keep my mitts off. However, against this year’s Bills’ bizzaro world defense, apparently all running backs are good plays. How weird would that statement have sounded last season?

Marcell Shipp – ARI RB: I already did an extensive analysis on Shipp. Since then Arrington has become little more than gypsy-cursed 3rd down/change of pace guy. And yet, Shipp is only owned in 28% of Fanball leagues. Check your waiver wires. If Shipp is available, he shouldn’t be.

Michael Pittman – TB RB: while there might be a decent chance Pittman is on waivers, if he is, let me assure you that the Carnell Williams owner in your league will have him queued up as his #1 waiver wire request this week. Some other teams probably will, as well. If you can get to him first, super. However, from a waiver wire perspective, this week Pittman kinda stands out like a hippopotamus roller skating through the Chicago mercantile exchange.

Well, that’s it for me this week, folks. It’s been a crazy week, the Mrs. is calling me for dinner, and Lost is on in an hour. So happy hunting on your waiver wire this week, and good luck in Week 5. Game on!

Non-football note: After 5 hours and 4 trips to the hardware store to fix a busted sump pump that was flooding my basement this weekend, I now know why plumbers don’t bite their nails. Yuck. I once found a cat that had been decomposing in my yard for like two weeks and that smell was more palatable than what I was cleaning up this weekend.

A little tip for those who tackle such a project in the future, but have no idea what their doing. If you need 4 feet of pipe buy 12. At like $.49 cents a foot, you can afford to grossly overestimate how much PVC you’ll need. Avoiding that third trip to the hardware store – especially when you smell like the only public port-a-pottie after a weekend at Burning Man – is totally worth it.