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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Free Agent Forecast - Week 5
Paul Sandy
October 3, 2006

QUARTERBACKS

1. Mark Brunell, Redskins

Written off for dead by most fantasy owners, Mark Brunell came to life with a shocking 3-TD performance in Week 4 — against the Jacksonville’s higly acclaimed defense, no less. Before dismissing his effort as a fluke, know that a similar upset victory last year against Dallas spawned five straight multi-TD games for Brunell. With a juicy upcoming schedule that features games against teams that struggle against the pass (NYG, TEN, and IND), Brunell draws the top spot in this week’s QB Forecast. Don’t hesitate to start him this week against a Giants defense that ranks 27th in pass defense and has surrendered eight throwing TDs in three games.

Availability: Owned in ~44% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Brunell faces a soft schedule coming up. He should be owned and can be started in leagues of all sizes.

2. Charlie Frye, Browns

Those who followed the Forecast’s guidance last week and started Frye against the Raiders as a bye-week replacement were rewarded with a 3-TD performance. Frye’s impressive outing begs the questions “Can he be more than just a temporary fix?” Honestly, I think he can. Reuben Droughns’ 100-yard effort on Sunday not withstanding, the Browns aren’t running the ball that effectively. That means plenty of opportunities for Frye to amass quality fantasy stats. He has attempted about 30 passes each week and delivered solid fantasy numbers in his last two games. WRs Braylon Edwards and Joe Jurevicius and TE Kellen Winslow have shown that they have the talent to get open. If his schedule were just a tad easier, Frye would be the top QB recommendation this week.   

Availability: Owned in ~39% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Frye looks like a good QB2 and can be used when your regular QB faces a tough match-up.

3. Alex Smith, 49ers

This week’s QB recommendation for owners facing a bye week dilema is San Francisco’s Alex Smith. Yes, Smith looked average last week against the Chiefs, but that was on the road against a KC defense that is hot (see my defense recommendation below). On the season, Smith is averaging a respectable 226.5 yards per game, more than Tom Brady. This week he will face Oakland, who were schooled by the Browns in Week 4. Look for Smith to throw a pair of TDs against the beleaguered Raiders.

Availability: Owned in ~50% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Smith is an excellent stop gap for owners facing a bye-week challenge.

4.Matt Leinart, Cardinals

The Forecast predicted last week that Warner would be benched in the second half of Arizona’s game against Atlanta. That prediction proved accurate and Matt Leinart has already been given the nod for Week 5. Although Leinart’s effort in relief of Warner was a mixed bag (5-for-8, 49 yards, and an interception), better days are ahead for the rookie. The Cardinals have incredible talent and their starting QB provides too much upside to be on your league’s waiver wire. Acquire Leinart this week, but give him a couple games to get his feet underneath him. Target Week 7 against the Raiders as your first legitimate opportunity to start the former Heisman Trophy winner. 

Availability: Owned in ~53% of leagues
Forecast guidance: As the starter for the high-powered Cardinals, Leinart deserves a spot in all leagues.

Picks from previous weeks worth repeating: Rex Grossman, Jon Kitna, and David Carr

RUNNING BACKS

1. LenDale White, Titans

The decision to start rookie QB Vince Young in Week 4 should tell you a couple things. First, Kerry Collins stinks. Second, the Titans are already looking ahead to next year. It won’t be long before fellow rookie LenDale White starts earning meaningful carries. In Week 4, the former USC star saw his most significant action of the season, carrying the ball nine times for 39 yards. If you play in a league in which White is available, now is the time to pick him up. Chris Brown is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry. Travis Henry has scored a couple TDs, but has missed time with a turf toe. Bank on White being the starter by Week 6 (Week 8 at the latest).  

Availability: Owned in 55% of leagues
Forecast guidance: White is worth a spot in all leagues.

2. Musa Smith, Ravens

In his Monday Morning press conference, Ravens head coach Brian Billick indicated the team will give backup RBs Musa Smith and Mike Anderson more carries going forward. It’s taken Billick this long to see what the fantasy community has known for the past two seasons: Jamal Lewis has lost a step. If Billick sticks to his word, don’t be surprised if Smith wrestles the starting job from Lewis at some point this season. Smith was among the NFL’s most impressive players during the preseason and provides a more explosive threat than the aging Lewis.     

Availability: Owned in ~8% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Smith is a high-upside prospect in leagues of all sizes but merits the most consideration in leagues with 12 or more franchises.

3. Leon Washington, Jets

With a 2-2 record and a near upset of the Colts, the Jets have been one of the most surprising teams in 2006. However, one aspect of their game that has fallen short is the rushing attack. Derrick Blaylock has been a bust and was de-activated in Week 4. Kevan Barlow, who is owned in most fantasy leagues, has four TDs but he is also averaging just 2.9 yards per carry. Cedric Houston saw his first action in Week 4, but was carted off the field with a knee injury. The lone bright spot has been rookie Leon Washington, who had a 47-yard reception in Week 3. Washington is a small, quick, shifty back, but at 5’8” and 202 lbs. he’s also thick. After Houston went down with his injuries, Washington took all of the carries after except one (a TD by Barlow). Look for him to be a major contributor on the offense in the coming weeks.

Availability: Owned in ~11% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Washington could be the primary back for the Jets from here on out. He’s a good acquisition in all leagues.

4. Vernand Morency, Packers

Packers starting RB Ahman Green has been battling an assortment of injuries, including two minor hamstring pulls. He sat out Monday night’s contest against the Eagles. His replacement Vernand Morency looked pretty good racking up over 90 all-purpose yards. What’s great about the Packers offense for fantasy owners is that they feature their starting running back in the passing game so much. Green had 17 receptions in three games. Morency grabbed five passes last night. With so many opportunities, whoever starts for Green Bay is sure to have value.

Availability: Owned in ~15% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Morency should be handcuffed to Ahman Green.

5. Ryan Moats, Eagles

Brian Westbrook has a knee injury and it looks like it could plague him all season. Westbrook missed Monday night’s tilt against the Packers. The Eagles started Correll Buckhalter, who was recommended here last week and is owned in most leagues now. Third-stringer Ryan Moats also saw extensive action and looked equally explosive carrying the ball. It didn’t help Buckhalter’s cause that he fumbled twice inside the Packers five yard line. If you are a Westbrook owner, Moats is worth considering at this point. Even if you don’t own Westbrook, Moats is worth a spot for the mere fact that he could play a big role on one of the league’s premier offenses.   

Availability: Owned in ~15% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Moats should be handcuffed to Westbrook in all leagues and offers tremendous upside for non-Westbrook owners.

Other running backs I’m tracking: Chris Perry

Picks from previous weeks worth repeating: Ron Dayne, Jerrious Norwood, Correll Buckhalter, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Ladell Betts

WIDE RECEIVERS

1. Doug Gabriel, Patriots

The Forecast has been telling you about Gabriel for weeks now. Gabriel, who was acquired from the Raiders in a preseason trade, has 10 receptions and two TDs in the last two weeks. He was targeted 11 times on Sunday against the Bengals and probably would’ve had another long TD had QB Tom Brady not have missed him. Grab him this week if he’s available. Rumors of the Patriots’ demise have been greatly exaggerated. The team’s running game opened eyes in a statement game against Cincy. That should open things up for Brady and Gabriel in the coming weeks.

Availability: Owned in ~34% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Gabriel is the marquee free agent WR in most fantasy leagues this week.

2. Mike Furrey, Lions

Furrey was identified as a Forecast sleeper a couple weeks ago. Did you grab him? Owners who took a chance on the Lions #2 wideout were rewarded on Sunday with a 2-TD game. Is Furrey the next Marvin Harrison, no. But what you’ll get in Furrey is a good possession receiver who’ll net you 5-6 catches and 60 yards on most weeks. Through four games, he has 14 receptions, compared to 16 for Roy Williams. If he’s still available in your league, put a request in for him. Furrey will be a good player to own during the bye weeks because he’ll rarely turn in a stinker performance. He’s even more valuable in leagues that reward points for receptions.
 
Availability: Owned in ~7% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Count Furrey among the league’s better possession receivers. He’s worth a spot in leagues of all sizes.

3. Greg Lewis, Eagles

Lewis burned Green Bay on two long touchdowns Monday night. Most teams have had success throwing the ball against the Packers, so Lewis’ performance is not all together shocking. Some may write him off as a one-week wonder. However, it’s worth noting that starters Reggie Brown and Donte Stallworth sustained injuries during the game. Plus with Brian Westbrook hurt, the Eagles might be passing even more than we’re used to (which is to say a lot). That upward trend would definitely favor Lewis. Also consider Hank Baskett.

Availability: Owned in ~2% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Lewis’ performance on Monday night makes him worthy of an acquisition in deeper leagues.

4. Marcus Robinson, Vikings

Minnesota hasn’t exactly been a bastion of fantasy points this season, but they’ve had their bright spots. Outside of Chester Taylor and Troy Williamson, the best fantasy player on their team has been Marcus Robinson. Vikings QB Brad Johnson has thrown two TDs in 2006—both of them to Robinson. Robinson posted 5-catch, 78-yard, 1-TD performance in Week 4. Unfortunately, he’s been boom or bust, also throwing up a couple goose-eggs in Weeks 2 and 3. He should follow up last week’s strong showing with another fine effort this week against the Lions. Detroit has allowed more passing TDs than any team in the NFL.

Availability: Owned in ~10% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Robinson has a cushy match-up this week against the Lions and has a good chance to find the endzone for the third time this year.

Picks from previous weeks worth repeating: Marques Coleston, Bernard Berrian, Jerricho Cotchery, and Greg Jennings

Other receivers I’m tracking: Wes Welker

TIGHT ENDS

1. Chris Cooley, Redskins

A lot of fantasy owners gave up on Chris Cooley after three straight sub-par games. He bounced back nicely in Week 4 with a four-catch, 74-yard performance. With the Redskins offense finally showing signs of life, now is a good time to be a Cooley owner. He should continue to see looks in the coming weeks especially considering the competition the ‘Skins will be facing.

Availability: Owned in ~68% of leagues
Forecast guidance: If Cooley was prematurely dropped in your TE-mandatory league, he’s definitely worth a roster spot.

2. George Wrighster, Jaguars

If you play in a league that rewards points for receptions, and if TE has been a sore spot on your team, consider picking up Jacksonville’s George Wrighster. Wrighster has been a model of consistency in 2006, catching three or more passes in all four games this season. While the yardage hasn’t been great, the fact that he’s involved in the offense every week is a great sign. He had his best game to date in Week 4, grabbing five passes for 53 yards.

Availability: Owned in ~4% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Wrighster is worth a look in leagues that give points for receptions.

2. Tony Scheffler, Broncos

The Broncos offense looked good two weeks ago against the Patriots. However, the most they’ve scored this season is 17. You can bet head coach Mike Shanahan spent the bye week trying to figure out ways to improve that production. One position Shanahan is reportedly demanding more out of is tight end. QB Jake Plummer hasn’t looked quite as comfortable as he did in 2005, and the TEs might have something to do with that. If TEs become as much of a part of the offense as they have been in previous years, the biggest beneficiary would likely be rookie Tony Scheffler.   

Availability: Owned in ~2% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Scheffler is a deep, deep sleeper in large leagues and a player to keep your eye on in the coming weeks.

Picks from previous weeks worth repeating: Desmond Clark, Bo Scaife, and Eric Johnson

DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS

1. Kansas City Chiefs

I recommended the Chiefs last week in the Weekly 6-Pack column. All they did was shut out the 49ers and register three sacks and three turnovers. Oh, and Dante Hall returned a punt for a touchdown. Kansas City currently ranks sixth in total defense, giving up just 10.7 points per game. With players like Ty Law and Patrick Surtain, this team isn’t going to be giving up 30-40 points per game like they did over the past few seasons. They’re the perfect replacement for a defense like the Panthers or Buccaneers that may have let you down so far.     

Availability: Owned in ~27% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Acquire the Chiefs this week in time for their match-up against rookie QB Matt Leinart.