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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Free Agent Forecast - Week 4
Paul Sandy
September 26, 2006

QUARTERBACKS

1. Charlie Frye, Browns

The Forecast is 1-0 on bye week QB recommendations after Jon Kitna surpassed all expectations on Sunday against Green Bay. This week’s top choice for owners facing a bye week crunch is Charlie Frye. The Browns second-year QB was solid against a ferocious Ravens defense in Week 3. He completed 21 of 33 passes for 298 yards and ended the day with two TDs (1 pass, 1 rush). Frye could see even more success this week against the Raiders. The lack of a running game is forcing Cleveland to take to the air. With Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow Jr. providing big, fast targets, Frye is picking apart secondaries with relative ease.

Availability: Owned in ~17% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Frye is a good one-week stop gap for owners with bye week issues and also has strong upside as a QB2 for owners in larger leagues.

Picks from previous weeks worth repeating: Chad Pennington, Jon Kitna, David Carr, and Alex Smith

2. Matt Leinart, Cardinals

The Cardinals had high expectations coming into the season. But a 1-2 start has quickly wiped out the energy built up from opening the team’s new stadium and inking Edgerrin James to a contract. Much of the blame rests on the shoulders of QB Kurt Warner who was responsible for four costly turnovers in Sunday’s upset loss at the hands of the Rams. Head coach Denny Green is suddenly on the hot seat. Reports earlier this week indicated Matt Leinart would start. They proved to be false. Still, Green may be inclined to give Warner a quick hook if he starts slowly this week. The Cards have a tough test against Atlanta, so don’t be surprised if the rookie has his number called to start the second half. If Leinart were thrust into the starting role the sky would be the limit with Arizona’s supporting cast.

Availability: Owned in ~37% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Leinart desevers a roster spot in leagues of all sizes and scoring systems.

RUNNING BACKS

1. Maurice Morris, Seahawks

The news about Shaun Alexander’s broken foot spread like wildfire late Monday afternoon. In leagues where Morris is available, he will quite clearly be the hot waiver wire commodity. Because he’s such an obvious choice, it’s not worth going into too much detail about him. However, it is important to note Seattle’s schedule, which doesn’t favor Morris becoming a fantasy stud should Alexander return in 3-4 weeks as predicted. Seattle will face Chicago next week, then go on bye, travel to St. Louis, and play host to Minnesota. Of those match-ups only St. Louis promises a high-scoring effort. In short, if you play in a league that uses an auction-style free agent system, it might behoove you not to bid too much on Morris.

Availability: Owned in ~19% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Morris is the top waiver wire prospect this week and deserves a roster spot in all leagues.

2. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars

Had Alexander not gotten hurt, Jacksonville rookie Maurice Jones-Drew might’ve been the top free agent choice. Drew burst onto the scene in Week 3, producing 135 yards of total offense and a touchdown. His impressive breakout performance likely signifies the birth of yet another running back by committee situation. The Jacksonville coaching staff has indicated they want to avoid giving starter Fred Taylor more than 20 touches per game if they can help it. Jones-Drew gives them another option—and a mighty explosive one at that. Acquire him this week and see how the Jaguars plan to use him. At this point, it looks like he’ll be a decent spot starter, but knowing Taylor’s injury history, Jones-Drew could become a bona-fide fantasy stud before the season is over.   

Availability: Owned in 15% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Jones-Drew looks like the real deal. He deserves a spot in all leagues, but if you play in a keeper or dynasty league, make acquiring him a priority.

3. Michael Robinson, 49ers

Frank Gore, the darling of the fantasy football world for the first two weeks of the season, suffered an abdominal injury in Week 3. He will be listed as questionable next week, but is expected to play. Former Penn State QB Michael Robinson filled in admirably for Gore, carrying five times for 29 yards and two TDs. The fact that Robinson was money on the goal line might be even more disconcerting to Gore owners than the injury. Head coach Mike Nolan hinted that Robinson could see more short-yardage work in the future. It’s not surprising considering that Gore has coughed up the ball twice at the goal line this season. Even if Gore’s injury turns out to be minor, it appears Robinson will have some value this season.   

Availability: Owned in ~2% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Robinson looks like he’s about to be part of a RBBC situation. Handcuff him to Gore or grab him as a prospect n TD-only or deeper leagues.

4. Ladell Betts, Redskins

Clinton Portis returned from injury this week and had a huge performance. However, Portis wasn’t Washington’s leading rusher. Ladell Betts was even more dominant, hanging a 124-yard, 1-TD effort on the Texans. It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if we continue to hear about Portis’ shoulder for the rest of the season. If he aggravates it again, Betts would certainly be worthy of a start depending on the opponent. Pick him up as a handcuff to Betts or as a reserve who you can use when your regular starter is on bye or injured. 

Availability: Owned in ~36% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Betts should see enough action in relief of Portis to be worthy of an occassional play when your regular starter isn’t available. He’s the handcuff for Portis . . . not T.J. Duckett.

5. Jerome Harrison, Browns

I’m going out on a bit of a limb here and recommending Harrison over Jason Wright. Wright received the majority of the carries while Reuben Droughns was out with a shoulder injury. However, Harrison is technically listed as #2 on the depth chart. Why then did Wright get most of the work? It could be because the Browns were facing a relentless Ravens defense. Wright, a third-year pro, has more experience in pass protection than the rookie Harrison. But the Raiders apply considerably less pressure than the Ravens, so Harrison may see more action this week. He looked explosive in the preseason, averaging 6.2 yards per carry, and has much more upside than Wright. If Droughns sits and Harrison looks good this week, he may become a more permanent fixture of the Cleveland offense   

Availability: Owned in ~8% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Harrison is a good prospect in deeper leages and could have value later in the season.

Other running backs I’m tracking: Mack Strong and Shawn Bryson

Picks from previous weeks worth repeating: Ron Dayne and Travis Henry

WIDE RECEIVERS

1. Chris Henry, Bengals

Henry is without question the best #3 WR in the NFL. The second-year wideout snagged two TD grabs on five receptions. It followed a 113-yard effort last week. He has proven himself to be a reliable WR3 in all fantasy leagues, out-producing both Chad Johnson and T.J. Housmandzadeh to date. It seems the only thing that could derail Henry’s season is a suspension. He was arrested four times this offseason and may face discipline from the commissioner in the coming weeks. Until then, he’s worth a start on most weeks.  

Availability: Owned in ~24% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Henry is worth a roster spot in all leagues.

2. Greg Jennings, Packers

Jennings has been a favorite of the Forecast since before the season began. He’s scored in back-to back weeks and now deserves a roster spot, if not a starting spot, in leagues of all sizes. The strength of Jennings’ game is speed, but he showed toughness on his 75-yard TD reception, in which he delivered a vicious stiff arm to Drey Bly. Grab Jennings this week if he’s still available and don’t be afraid to start him against the Eagles on Monday night.
 
Availability: Owned in ~33% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Jennings is a great WR4 and good WR3.

3. Mark Clayton, Ravens

Clayton, who was a popular sleeper during the preseason, caught eight passes for 74 yards against the Browns on Sunday. It was his first performance of 2006 worth mentioning. The team’s effort versus Cleveland was very telling. It proved that they wouldn’t simply be able to run the ball and rely on their defense to win games. QB Steve McNair, who had attempted just 60 passes over the first two weeks, attempted 41 in Week 3. The upward trend bodes well for Clayton. Grab him this week and use him as a starter when you face a bye-week issue.

Availability: Owned in ~42% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Clayton is an adequate fourth or fifth wideout in leagues of all sizes and has great upside.

4. Patrick Crayton, Cowboys

In recommending Crayton I’m not betting that Terrell Owens won’t play as much as I’m betting on the schedule. The well-rested Cowboys have had an extra week to prepare for the lowly Titans. Their performance against Daunte Culpepper not withstanding, Tennessee’s defense is not very good. Assuming that Owens plays, Crayton will line up in the slot and should see plenty of action. And if Owens doesn’t play or is limited, Crayton would be gold. Acquire him this week if you need a bye week filler. He should net you a minimum of 70 yards.

Availability: Owned in ~2% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Crayton should perform well this week against the Titans and is worthy of a one-time start.

5. Doug Gabriel, Patriots

Gabriel was highlighted here a couple weeks ago as a prospect who might be worth stashing on your bench. He was acquired from the Raiders via trade late in the preseason. It’s taken him a few weeks to get acclimated, but Gabriel finally made an impact in Week 3, catching six passes for 65 yards and a garbage-time TD. Right now the Patriots are a team that is desperate for one of their receivers to step up. Gabriel could be that guy.

Availability: Owned in ~27% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Gabriel needs to come back this week with another good performance before he’s worth starting, but he’s worth a roster spot at this point.

Picks from previous weeks worth repeating: Marques Colston and Amani Toomer

Other receivers I’m tracking: Wes Welker, Travis Taylor, and Cedrick Wilson

TIGHT ENDS

1. Eric Johnson, 49ers

San Francisco’s rookie phenom TE Vernon Davis suffered a broken fibula on Sunday. Eric Johnson is number two in line and has the potential to produce top 10 TE stats while Davis is out. Johnson led all 49ers receivers Sunday, catching seven passes for 87 yards and a touchdown. Johnson has some recognition among fantasy owners. In 2004, he caught 82 passes for 825 yards—a tremendous effort for any TE. The 2006 season is still young, but the 49ers have used their TE position frequently. If the position has been a weakness for you, make acquiring Johnson a priority.   

Availability: Owned in ~3% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Johnson can be used as a starter in TE-mandatory leagues of all sizes.

2. Bo Scaife, Titans

Entering the season, most fantasy experts had Ben Troupe ranked as the top tight end for Tennessee. It seems Bo Scaife missed the memo. Scaife hasn’t posted spectacular stats, but he has been servicable. He’s netted 53 yards in back-to-back weeks and made a highlight reel one-handed TD grab in Week 3. It’s been a lean season for TEs so far and scoring is well off the pace set in 2005. So if you drafted a TE who’s been a let-down (I’m looking at you Chris Cooley and Randy McMichael), Bo Schaife is a player who will score you some points. He’s been targeted a minimum of four times per week this season.

Availability: Owned in ~1% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Grab Scaife in deeper leagues if your regular TE has been a disappointment.

DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS

1. Cleveland Browns

Owners with the Steelers, Buccaneers, or Broncos on bye this week would be wise to consider picking up the Browns for a one time plug-in. Cleveland will face the Raiders and second-year QB Andrew Walter. Oakland ranks 32nd in the NFL in offense, averaging just 3.0 points per game. In Week 2, Walter’s first significant action of the season, Walter completed just 10 of 27 passes with three interceptions. Meanwhile, the Browns seemed to find their comfort zone last week against the Ravens, holding them to just 15 points. Cleveland should be good for at least three turnovers and three sacks in Week 4 with a great shot at a TD, as well.    

Availability: Owned in ~10% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Plug Cleveland in as a one-week stop gap and bank on above average production.