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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Waiver Wire Warriors - Week 17
Dennis Leonard
December 28, 2005

Hello again and welcome back to Waiver Wire Warriors. I’m not sure if anyone is still reading my column this late in the season, but for those who are, congratulations! You’ve probably made it to the big dance. Lord knows I no longer require waiver wire assistance this season, as I was unceremoniously defeated in my local’s semis. I’m still scratching my head as to just how so many of my regulars – who performed spectacularly for 15 weeks – utterly failed me last week. That’s going to eat at me like an angry hill of fire ants for a couple days. After that, it’ll only be a dull, nagging ache that lasts until next preseason. Eh, at least I won my annual side bet with the commish in my local. I’ll – for the fourth season in a row – own his team’s naming right next year. With only 9 months to come up with something appropriately demeaning, I better hurry up and finish this article so I can starting jotting down ideas.

No theme this week, as there are no future games to plan for, and bench depth is virtually pointless. Let’s just hit some random players who I think might offer up a little value in Week 17.

Miscellaneous Recommendations

Josh McCown – ARI QB: McCown proved his mettle last week. He’s also established that when he throws around 40 times a game, he’s a virtual lock to perform at the level of a top 12 fantasy QB. I do not expect that to change in Week 17, even though he’ll be facing the Colts because the following Indy defensive starters are expected to sit the game out: Defensive End Robert Mathis, defensive tackle Corey Simon, defensive tackle Montae Reagor, linebacker Cato June, and safety Bob Sanders. Plus, defensive end Josh Thomas is questionable and we saw little if nothing from Dwight Freeney last week, so who knows what his involvement will be this week despite the fact that he is listed as probable.

I also like the fact that McCown completed an uncharacteristically high 71.05% of his passes last week (27 of 38), because prior to Week 16 he was only around 55.3%. Toss in the fact that Matt Hasselbeck put 168 passing yards and 2 TDs against the Colts last week with just 21 passes, and completed 80.95% of those to boot, and I shudder to think what McCown might do if he unleashed 40+ against Indy this week. Start him with confidence… assuming a clearly better option is not available. McCown should play all four quarters and is effectively still auditioning for a job in 2006.

Kyle Boller – BAL QB : While Boller is barley a top 20 QB on the season, since turning selling his soul to the devil in Week 11 he’s been about fantasy’s top three QB, neck and neck with Peyton Manning. How bizarre is that? The big difference in Week 17 is that Manning won’t play much and Boller will be fighting all four quarters for a place at the Raven’s head table in 2006.

Boller is simply getting it done. Over the last six weeks he has completed 122 of his 201 passes (a better than usual 60.7%), has racked up 1365 passing yards (8th most over that period), and collected 12 total TDs (only Palmer and Hasselbeck have more). While he is turning the ball over roughly twice per game, its easy to forgive those numbers givne the yardage and scores he’s piling up. And this week, against a Browns’ team that seems to have regressed over the last two weeks, Boller looks like a great waiver wire play for those who may be without a clearly better option. On the season, Cleveland has:

  • Actually allowed a below average amount of passing yards per game (181.9);
  • Permitted an average number of passing TDs (19);
  • Let opposing QBs complete an above average number of their passes (60.7%); but
  • Only stolen a below average number of interceptions (13); and
  • Collected a league low 21 sacks.

Considering the 41 points Pittsburgh put on Cleveland last week, I’d have no worries playing Boller against Browns in light of the stats Boller amassed against the superior Vikings’ defense in Week 16 (discussed more in my report card, below).

Kelly Holcomb – BUF QB: Holcomb was a huge, huge surprise to most last week. Sure, I recommended him, but I doubt anyone took me seriously. Paying attention now?

Holcomb continues his trend of puzzling accuracy and is currently sitting at 68.39% on the season – second only to Jaime Martin in terms of QBs who have thrown more than three dozen passes in 2005. Holcomb has also now scored multiple TDs in 3 of the 6 games he’s started. This week’s opponent – Baltimore – is playing at a high level, and their pass defense is above average in terms of limiting passing yards and passing TDs allowed. However, they have collected a fairly low 10 INTs this year and only a slightly above average 37 sacks. Besides, when you look at Holcomb’s stats last week against the Bengals (discussed more fully below in my report card), its hard not to have a little extra confidence, assuming Holcomb is once again named the starter. Holcomb isn’t my favorite QB play of the week, but he is still largely available and will likely produce more in four quarters than a guy like Plummer or Peyton Manning, who may play half a game. Or less.

Julius Jones – DAL RB: Jones has less than 1,000 yards rushing and only 5 TDs this season. And about 20% of those yards and 40% of his TDs came just last week. Plus, Jones has only lived up to his draft position three or four times this year. Still, you’ve simply gotta play him this week if he’s on your roster.

Jones may have spent time splitting carries with Marion Barber III earlier this season, but those days have been over for a while. For example, over the last four weeks Jones has:

  • taken over 70% of the Cowboys’ handoffs (81 of 114);
  • earned over 73% of the Cowboys’ rushing yards (388 of 528);
  • scored 2 of the teams’ 3 rushing TDs (the other going to Terry Glenn); and
  • Has been a surprisingly productive receiver, racking up 14 receptions – the 2nd most of any Cowboy over the last 4 weeks.

Considering that a few of the normally reliable starting RBs may be limited or absent in Week 17, Jones should provide a stable RB to rely on if you’re still in contention. FYI, the ‘Pokes have run the ball an average of 33.3 times per game this year (4th most) and are playing against a Rams’ this week (who ceded 3 rushing TDs to my lowly but lovable Niners last week, are tied for allowing the 2nd highest YPC this year (141.4), and are tied for allowing the most rushing TDs this year (22)). Jones is a “must play” this week, despite his inconsistency this season, and regardless of which other RBs you have on your roster.

Tatum Bell – DEN RB: Denver’s Cerberus of a backfield has been a crap shot most weeks. However, with Mike Anderson banished for Week 17, Bell’s owners should feel free to call his number (#26, FYI) if need be. Because Bell has made it clear – despite shared time – that he can be productive:

  • 5.6 YPC – the best of any regular RB who has carried the ball 60+ times and 2nd best to only Michael Vick in terms of NFL starters at all positions;
  • 20th most rushing yards of any NFL running back – 869;
  • Over 23 percent of his carries have resulted in first downs (37 of 156) – the 10th best such percentage in the NFL;
  • Has lost only 1 fumble this year in 156 carries; and
  • Has scored 5 rushing TDs in just those 156 carries.

While Ron Dayne will surely get some carries next week, he’s only taken about 12% of Denver’s handoffs over the last four weeks; Bell took a team-best of about 45%. So Bell stands the best chance of taking the starter’s share of rushing opportunities against San Diego in Week 17. And San Diego’s run-defense looks slightly more vulnerable now after the Chief’s Larry Johnson did naughty, naughty things to them by land and air in Week 16.

Maurice Morris – SEA RB: Head coach Mike Holmgren has already made it clear that many of Seattle’s starters are going to see abbreviated time in Week 17. No official word on Alexander yet. However, smart money is on the ‘Hawks minimizing the risk to their greatest playoff asset, while at the same time giving him just enough time to score an NFL record-setting 28th TD. Since that could easily come in the first quarter against a pre-defeated Packers’ team, expect to see a lot of Maurice Morris after that. And, for a change, Morris won’t be serving in a mop-up-only role, merely eating up clock. Expect Morris’ 4.2 YPC this season to come in handy against a Packers’ DEF that is allowing an average of 127.5 yards per game – the 7th most in the NFL. While you won’t get four quarters out of Morris, he makes for a decent flex player, or perhaps even a #2 RB for a team in a deep league.

Zack Crockett – OAK RB: Crockett’s box score stats from last week understate how well he ran in Week 16, because after calling 6 straight run plays of offense, the Raiders simply abandoned their ground game about mid way through. (But that’ll happen when you can only muster 3 points on offense in four quarters of play). There is no guarantee that the Raiders will do any better this week against the Giants. But on the other hand, they couldn’t do a whole lot worse. If you’re in the unenviable position of having to gamble at RB this week, I fully expect that Crockett’s stats will improve. Consider this: last week he averaged over 4 YPC against the universally well-respected Denver run defense. And Crockett took 15 of the 17 handoff the Raiders dished out. And LaMont Jordan looking very “out” in Week 17 – a meaningless game for the Raiders. Crockett ain’t a pretty play, but he should get enough carries to be productive. If Santa inadvertently overlooked the fact that you were on the “nice” list this year, maybe you’ll get a lucky TD in recompense.

Troy Walters – IND WR: Harrison will be out this week. The Colts’ president, Bill Polian, says Brandon Stokely has a 60% chance of missing this week, too. And Troy Walters went 8 for 11 earning 91 receiving yards and a TD against Seattle’s starters last week. Walters’ 11 pass targets were by far the most of any Colt (next highest was Dominic Rhodes with 7 pass targets). Plus, this fourth year receiver has a spectacular career 71.11% reception ratio (64 or 90), so there is every reason to expect continued opportunities will lead to continued success. The Cardinals’ pass defense is merely average. Thus, this perpetually overshadowed piece of Indianapolis’ offensive weaponry could be a serviceable accoutrement to your post-season push if you’re scrounging for an upside WR.

Ike Hilliard – TB WR: Clayton has already been pegged as “out” for this week, so expect to see more of Ike Hillard in Week 17 versus New Orleans. While the Saints’ DEF may have only have allowed an average number of passing TDs this year (24), and the 5th lowest passing yards per game (180.9), let’s not pretend that’s because their pass defense drapes opposing wide outs in a blanket of suffocation. Bottom line: opponents elect not to pass on them, as evidenced by the NFL’s lowest average number of passes defended per game (26.2). Hard to say whether that’ll be the case in Week 17. However, I do think its safe to say that the Saints will be more concerned about defending against Carnell Williams than Chris Simms, so the Bucs should at least see enough opportunities in the passing game for Hilliard to be moderately productive.

Hilliard hasn’t seen more than 8 pass targets or 5 receptions in any game this year. However, he has one of the better reception ratios for wide receivers this year: 71.74%. Simple math here, folks. An up-tick in receiving opportunities should lead to a nice up-tick in production, as Hilliard isn’t letting many balls slip through his hands. And considering Hilliard was targeted 12 times last week (a season high for him) *and* had his best game of the year (75 receiving yards), that’s all the evidence I’d need to plug him in as an emergency WR in a big league. There might be better options available, but especially in leagues that award points for receptions, Hilliard could serve as a decent one-week bandaid. I’m thinking of something along the lines of 6 receptions and 60 yards.

Samie Parker – KC WR: That’s four solid games out of the last five for Parker. And he scored last week, which was nice. But consider that over those last 5 games he’s never seen less than five pass targets, never reeled in less than 4 receptions, and has averaged about 68 receiving yards per game. I’m also diggin’ his 66% reception ratio, which is respectable. With Eddie Kennison likely still limited in Week 17, Parker offers up a surprisingly low downside WR option wrapped in big-play potential. The Bengals aren’t the best opponent to play against in Week 17, but as we saw last week, the Bengals aren’t invulnerable. And there is some speculation they might sandbag it in Week 17 and accept the #4 playoff seed, rather than defend the #3 seed, due to an obvious preference in first round playoff opponents.

Matt Stover – BAL PK: Matt Stover has been a direct beneficiary of the Ravens *finally* getting their shitake together on offense. Over the last four weeks he has been about fantasy’s third or fourth most productive kicker, connecting on all 7 of his field goal attempts and all 11 of his extra points. Given that he’ll be going against the Browns this week – who have allowed 32 field goals to be kicked against them this year (tied for 6th most) – it isn’t too hard to connect the dots.

Robbie Gould – CHI PK: If Stover isn’t available, or you have weather-related concerns about the Baltimore/Cleveland game this week, then take a peek at Gould, who has quietly been glimmering for those few owners who’ve invest in his futures. Over the last four weeks Gould has attempted 11 field goals (tied for 2nd most during that period), connected on 9 of them (also tied for 2nd most), and made 5 of his 6 extra points. That puts his fantasy production on par with Stover’s – about the third or fourth best over that four-week span. This week he’ll be booting against Minnesota who, like Cleveland, has allowed 32 field goal kicking opportunities to opposing kickers (tied for 6th most in the NFL this season). The big difference here is that in Week 17 Gould will be doing his thing within the basically weatherproof confines of Minnesota’s Metrodome.

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

David Garrard – JAX QB: By now, against Tennessee, Garrard should be a no-brainer… unless Leftwich somehow makes it back into action. So keep an eye on that.

Billy Volek – TEN QB: Yeah, it looks like Volek may start in Week 17. I promoted Volek quite heavily last year and, at the time, he was playing surprisingly well. However, I wasn’t all that impressed with what I saw from Volek last week. Granted, San Francisco’s secondary (his Week 17 opponent) is darn good elixir for what ails a quarterback’s congested stats. But if I were searching for QB answers this week, Volek wouldn’t be my first choice. That’s not to say he isn’t a good choice; I just like McCown, Boller, and Holcomb more, is all.

Jonathan Wells – HOU RB: Dom. Davis has already been ruled out. Wells is producing. Week 17 opponent is my 49ers. Any questions?

Tony Fisher – GB RB: As I’ve said before, Fisher has some appeal as a #2 RB, or flex player, in leagues that award points for receptions. He was targeted 9 times and caught 8 passes last week for 61 receiving yards, plus he added another 22 on the ground… against the Bears. This week, against a Seahawks’ team that will rest as many starters as possible on both sides of the ball, Fisher’s upside is better than usual, (which is to say he has some at all).

Adrian Peterson – CHI RB: Same deal as Maurice Morris. Do not expect to see much of Thomas Jones in Week 17 against the Vikings. Jones only needs 27 yards to join Walter Payton as the only Bears’ RB to rush for over 1300 yards in a season. With a playoff spot already tightly saran-wrapped and in the wall safe, there is little reason for Chicago to risk needless injury to their most important offensive play-maker. The only reason Peterson isn’t a more solid recommendation this week is that Cedric Benson could be ready to see some action this week. And, if I were the Bears, I’d sorta want to see if the guy is worth the paycheck he’s slated to be collecting next year. Stay tuned.

Mark Clayton – BAL WR: It appears I missed the boat on Clayton by a few weeks. But he’s still very available and the Ravens continue to find ways to make him an important part of their game plans. Targeted 10 times last week; caught 5 balls for 90 yards and TD. Next up: an adrift Cleveland Browns.

Dennis Northcutt – CLE WR: 11 passes thrown his way last week is hard to ignore. Northcutt is a huge, spectacularly wild swing for the fences this week. But any player that is seeing that volume of opportunity coming his way is bound to produce something sooner or later. Here’s to sooner, if you’re back is bolted to the wall in a really large league this week.

Drew Bennett – TEN WR: Since coming back in Week 11 Bennett hasn’t seen fewer than 7 pass targets in any game, and has averaged 9 per game. He’s been real streaky when it comes to yardage, but has averaged 53.6 receiving yards per game since then. The big difference this week is that Billy Volek may be chucking the rock for the Titans in Week 17. And, in case you’re new to this fantasy football gig, or suffer from amnesia, Volek and Bennett made a psychic connection last year reminiscent of Cobra Twins, Tomax and Xamot. And that upside reared its head last week, as Bennett saw 10 pass targets for 70 yards, plus a score, with Volek under center. The only thing that keeps me from making Bennett a featured recommendation is that neither Bennett nor Volek are locks to play this week. So before you go plugging Bennett in your line up, make sure to check the status of both before game time.

The Waiver Wire Report Card

We had a great Week 16, loyal readers: 8 hits (many of them big), only 4 misses, and 1 push. Probably doesn’t make up for Week 15’s poor showing, but at least I was able to finish up the season strong.

Jaime Martin – STL QB: I liked a number of things about Martin’s performance. For starters, he threw the ball 41 times and completed a particularly high 80.49% of his passes. The dude has simply been the most accurate QB of any significance this year. Period. And it showed up in his passing yardage last week: 354. Granted, only 1 TD and 2 INTs kept this from being a monster performance, but he did add another 11 yards on the ground. Martin may be a career back up, but he played very respectably this year when given the chance; I hope the Rams’ fans and organization see that. I know fantasy owners can’t be too upset if they were forced to use him last week, , because he served up the top 15 performance we were expecting. Solid hit.

Kelly Holcomb – BUF QB: No one was bumpin’ Holcomb last week; even my recommendation was hesitant. Holcomb surprised on a galactic level. Big picture, Holcomb found success with both Moulds and Evans (it’s usually just been one or the other for Buffalo’s QBs), which was a huge reason the Bills upset the Bengals in Week 16. But Holcomb managed 300+ passing yards, a passing *and* a rushing TD, and only lost 1 turnover. If you had the stones to roll with Holcomb in Week 16, you’ve gotta be dancing a jig, as he was likely the second or third best fantasy QB in your league last week. And if you’re a Bills’ fan, you gotta be hoping Holcomb is given a fair shot to compete for the starting QB spot in Buffalo next year. Huge hit.

Sage Rosenfels – MIA QB: Frerotte was named the starter in time for you to go in another direction. Push.

Rex Grossman – CHI QB: He was my least favorite 5th String QB recommendation last week and his numbers confirmed that hunch: 166 passing yards, 1 TD, 1 turnover. Pretty anemic for fantasy post-season purposes; barley a top 24 play. I wasn’t expecting much, but I was certainly expecting more. Small miss.

Kyle Boller – BAL QB: Six games and 12 TDs. In three of those games – including the last two – Boller threw 3 TDs. He also added 289 passing yards and only lost the ball once. And while he didn’t throw a ton (34 times – his 5th of 6 recent games he threw 30+ passes) the difference was a 70+% completion percentage (went into the game with 57.7% on the season). I’m not sure what else to say, except that he was likely fantasy’s #1 QB list week, which made the recommendation a big hit.

Josh McCown – ARI QB: Last week I said, “Something in the neighborhood of 300 combined yard, 2 scores, and 2 turnovers wouldn’t surprise me.” Instead, McCown produced 302 combined yards, 2 scores, and 1 turnover. I’d like to formally apologize at how wildly off the mark I was on this one. (Yes, that’s sarcasm). He was likely a top 6 play last week and was one 4th Quarter illegal shift away from dropping an A-bomb on the box score, as he was robbed of another 40+ yards and a 3rd TD. Another big hit.

Zack Crockett – OAK RB: 61 yards on 15 carries, plus 17 more on 2 receptions. Easily the most involved Raiders’ RB last week against a tough Denver opponent. A TD would have been nice, but if you picked up/played Crockett last minute you can’t be disappointed with his level of involvement or production, which was about the same as LaDainian Tomlinson’s. Modest hit.

Cedric Houston – NYJ RB: The good news was that Houston took the bulk of the carries for the Jets, as expected. The bad news was that amounted to 5 handoffs. Miss.

Eric Moulds – BUF WR: 10 receptions for 99 yards was a very solid effort, and pretty damned rock solid in leagues that award points for receptions. Certainly a useful fantasy post-season performance. Hit.

Samie Parker – KC WR: Kennison played, but was limited. Parker reeled in 4 passes for 58 yards and 1 TD, which means he too was a worth while post-season contributor last week. Hit.

New England’s DEF: There weren’t many big team defense plays last week, but the Patriots were in the top 6. Hit.

Washington’s DEF: Hey, they won a game most didn’t expect them to. But the Redskins’ DEF didn’t do much for fantasy. Nothing embarrassing, but I’m forced to call it a miss.

Saint Louis’ DEF: No dice. We knew this was a long shot, but it didn’t pan out. While it was nice to see my Niners win, that win will certainly hurt their draft position next year. <Insert predictable Reggie Bush comment here>. Miss.

Well, that’s it for this week, and for this season. I’d like to thank each and every one of you for taking the time to read my ramblings. I’d also like to thank the good folks who run the Huddle for letting me write under their banner. It’s been fun for me and I hope I helped steer you in the direction of one or two players who helped contribute for you at some point this year. I know I didn’t catch every waiver wire warrior that cropped up between Week 1 and Week 16, but this column’s track record speaks for itself: when you’re scrounging your league’s trash can for hidden treasure, this report ain’t half bad. Good in Week 17, peace in ’06, and game on!