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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Free Agent Forecast - Week 6
Paul Sandy
October 10, 2006

QUARTERBACKS

1. Matt Leinart, Cardinals

Leinart proved to have little difficulty adapting to the speed of the game in his first NFL start. The rookie completed 22 of 35 passes for 253 yards and two scores. He looks like the real deal. If Leinart remains on your league’s waiver wire, grab him now. Although he’s not startable in this week’s game against the Bears, Leinart has all the tools and surrounding talent to be a viable fantasy QB against most opponents. Upcoming tilts against Oakland and Green Bay should be goldmine for fantasy owners who put their trust in the former Heisman Trophy winner.  

Availability: Owned in ~57% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Leinart deserves a spot in all leagues and can be started on most weeks.

2. Phillip Rivers, Chargers

The Free Agent Forecast has been sheparding fantasy owners through the perils of the QB bye weeks all season—identifying Jon Kitna, Charlie Frye, and Alex Smith as good plays over the last few games. They each delivered multiple TD performances. Who’s the pick this week? Look for Phillip Rivers to make an impact. Yes, Marty Ball is a concern. But teams have been destroying the 49ers through the air all season. Rivers is coming off his best performance of 2006 (242 yards and 2 TDs) and should follow it up with equal or better stats against San Francisco. If Rivers isn’t available in your league, consider J.P. Losman as an alternative because he faces a soft Lions defense.

Availability: Owned in ~53% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Rivers is poised to light up the 49ers and should make an excellent stop gap for owners who have a QB on bye.

3. Bruce Gradkowski, Buccaneers

It wasn’t difficult to picture Matt Leinart having success in his first NFL start. But few people would’ve predicted Bruce Gradkowski posting 225 yards and two TDs prior to Sunday’s matchup against the Saints. Gradkowski, a sixth round draft pick, threw up a 107.6 QB rating. He’s got a cannon for an arm, which gives the team the opportunity to take full advantage of Joey Galloway’s speed. In his post-game press conference, head coach Jon Gruden raved about the rookie’s performance. Although Tampa lost the game, Tampa rallied behind Gradkowski and had their best offensive game of the season. It appears the only thing not to like about this kid is his tough schedule.

Availability: Owned in ~3% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Gradkowski looks like a future star. He’ll make a fine addition to any keeper or dynasty league roster and could become a regular fantasy contributor by season’s end.

Picks from previous weeks worth repeating: Rex Grossman

RUNNING BACKS

1. Leon Washington, Jets

Washington, who was recommended here last week, cracked the century mark against the Jaguars in Week 5. The rookie was given 23 carries, compared to four for Kevan Barlow. Barlow has apparently been relegated to the role of goal-line back, which, if true, would mean that Washington has considerable value. He averaged 4.4 yards per carry against a stout Jacksonville defense. Granted, much of his work game when the game was already out of reach and the Jags were protecting their lead but, nonetheless, Washington provides a home run threat for the Jets offense. Upcoming games against Detroit and Cleveland push his value even higher. He will be a nice player to have if one of your regular starters will be on bye in the next three weeks.   

Availability: Owned in ~13% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Washington has emerged for the Jets and thus is worthy of a roster spot in all leagues.

2. LenDale White, Titans

White hasn’t had the fantasy impact of his fellow USC alums (Leinart and Reggie Bush), but he continues to perform well in spot duty. He carried the ball eight times for 48 yards against the Colts and is averaging a solid 4.3 yards per carry this season. Given the facts that Chris Brown and Travis Henry have lengthy injury histories, and that the Titans are in re-building mode, White should continue to see his workload increase. Bank on him being the starter by the mid-way point this season.  

Availability: Owned in 55% of leagues
Forecast guidance: White is on the way to becoming a good, if not great, fantasy player. Get him now while the getting is good.

3. Cedric Benson, Bears

Just a couple weeks ago, Cedric Benson was being tabbed a pouter by media sources. After a two touchdown performance against the Bills, he’s suddenly a viable fantasy running back. Such is life in the NFL. Benson is still playing second fiddle to Thomas Jones, but the Bears have been dominating opponents so thoroughly that Benson could see enough action to merit a roster spot—if not a starting spot—in the coming weeks. Games against the Cardinals, 49ers, and Dolphins could be well in hand early on, which may lead to garbage time touches for Benson. Snatch him up this week if available. The former first-round draft pick has plenty of upside and could be a fantasy factor in the next few weeks.      

Availability: Owned in ~65% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Benson is the backup on one of the top offenses in the NFL and at the very least deserves a handcuff to Thomas Jones.

4. Justin Fargas, Raiders

Fantasy owners who drafted LaMont Jordan in the first round thought their RB was finally beginning to live up to his potential after a strong Week 4 showing. However, he disappointed in Week 5, getting just 12 carries. Meanwhile Jordan’s backup, Justin Fargas, had eight carries. The surprisingly slight spread between the two players signifies that yet another running back by committee situation could be on the horizon. Prior to their game against the 49ers, the coaching staff indicated they’d like to get Fargas more carries. The fact that they stayed true to their word gives validity to Fargas as a viable fantasy player. If this trend continues, Fargas could be good for 40-60 all-purpose yards per game in the coming weeks.

Availability: Owned in ~3% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Fargas might be worth a look in deep leagues since the coaching staff appears to be committed to giving him a fair amount of carries each week.

5. Chris Perry, Bengals

Players who were placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) before the season are eligible to return after Week 6. Perry, who amassed over 600 yards of offense in 2005, is on the list. He is said to be healthy and will likely make a contribution to the Bengals before too long. Starter Rudi Johnson has been carrying a heavy load and ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing attempts. Perry would be a quality bench player in deeper leagues if he were to resume his third-down duties for Cincinnati. Get a jump on your league mates if you have roster space.   

Availability: Owned in ~12% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Perry is coming back in a couple weeks healthy and with fresh legs. He’s a decent acquisition in deep leagues.

6. Noah Herron, Packers

With Ahman Green sidelined due to a hamstring injury, backup Vernand Morency was supposed to become the workhorse. After two fumbles early in Sunday’s matchup against the Rams, he was benched opening the door for third-stringer Noah Herron. All Herron did was rush for 106 yards and a touchdown. It’s unclear whether Green, Morency, or Herron will get the start when the Packer s return from the bye in Week 7. However, Green figures to be healed up at that point. Count on him being ready to go, which would make Herron the logical handcuff to Green.

Availability: Owned in ~3% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Based on his performance in Week 5, Herron might be the new handcuff to Ahman Green. Acquire him if you rely on Green as a fantasy contributor.

Picks from previous weeks worth repeating: Maurice Jones-Drew and Michael Turner

WIDE RECEIVERS

1. Bryant Johnson, Cardinals

Arizona starting wideout Larry Fitzgerald is expected to miss 2-5 weeks with a hamstring injury. His gimpy leg means Bryant Johnson, a former number one draft pick, will climb into a starting spot opposite Anquan Boldin. Johnson had his best performance of the season on Sunday in relief of Fitzgerald, racking up six receptions for 82 yards. Arizona runs an offense that features the passing attack heavily. Just ask Edgerrin James. That means Johnson should get a minimum of 7-9 looks per weeks, more than enough to make him worth a starting spot. While his Week 6 matchup against the Bears looks grim, Week 7 and 8 games versus the Raiders and Packers are sexy.  

Availability: Owned in ~7% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Johnson is the top free agent target for fantasy owners who need a decent WR over the next few weeks.

2. Arnaz Battle, 49ers

Before the season began, the Forecast predicted that Arnaz Battle, not Antonio Bryant, would be San Francisco’s leading wideout. Although he started slowly, Battle is mounting a comeback. He caught the attention of fantasy owners in Week 5 when he scored two touchdowns. On the year he has 15 receptions compared to 17 for Bryant. The fact that Bryant is drawing most of the attention from opposing secondaries, means that Battle will benefit from single coverage on most weeks. As a result, fantasy owners should expect more strong performances.  
 
Availability: Owned in ~5% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Battle is worth a spot in deep leagues and can be used when the matchup is right.

3. Wes Welker, Dolphins

I’ve been tracking Welker for a few weeks now; however, I’ve been hesitant to recommend him based on QB Daunte Culpepper’s horrible performances. Backup Joey Harrington got the start in Week 5 and reports suggest he’ll remain under center. As a result, I’m more confident in Welker’s ability to be a decent fantasy contributor. Welker caught nine passes from Harrington against the Patriots. Those nine receptions tied him for the most in the NFL this week. Fellow wideout Marty Booker sustained a shoulder injury and was seen in a sling after the game against New England. If Booker’s injury keeps him out awhile, Welker could continue to play a major role in the offense.

Availability: Owned in ~10% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Welker appears to be Miami’s top possession receiver and is therefore a decent option in deep leagues and leagues that reward points for receptions.

4. Eric Parker, Chargers

Asked who the Chargers top wideout is, most fantasy owners would hastily respond Keenan McCardell. Although McCardell has been seeing his share of looks, second-stringer Eric Parker leads all Chargers’ wideouts in yardage and catches. His 5-catch, 86-yard performance follows a 4-catch game in Week 4 may have set the tone for what we can expect in the coming weeks. A soft schedule against the 49ers, Rams, and Browns could open the door for more big performances from the sure-handed Parker.

Availability: Owned in ~7% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Parker passes as a decent bye week option if the matchup is right, which includes this week against the 49ers.

5. Hank Baskett, Eagles

With starting wideout Donte’ Stallworth battling a hamstring injury, preseason phenom Hank Baskett emerged as a favorite big play target of QB Donovan McNabb in Week 4. Baskett caught three passes for 112 yards and a TD against the Cowboys. If Stallworth’s hammy issues linger, as can often happen, Baskett could be big. The Philly offense is performing as well as any team in the NFL right now. Based on his big play potential, Baskett should be considered as a high-risk, high-reward type player for owners who need a fill-in for a regular WR starter.

Availability: Owned in ~2% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Baskett is Philly’s long-ball threat with Donte Stallworth out and deserves a roster spot as long as Stallworth is out.

6. Kelly Washington, Bengals

Owners in deeper leagues might want to consider snatching up Cincinnati’s fourth string wideout Kelly Washington this week. Chris Henry has been suspended a for a couple games, elevating Washington’s value. On most teams a third stringer isn’t worth much. But with Carson Palmer under center, Washington could grab 4-6 passes per game. At the very least expect him to see one deep pass attempt each week. If he connects, he’ll reward you with a big performance. If not, well . . .

Availability: Owned in ~2% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Washington should draw more looks with Chris Henry out and is worth a roster spot in deep leagues.

7. Az-Zahir Hakim, Lions

The Mike Martz offense has the potential to turn ordinary wideouts into fantasy stars. Az Hakim experienced this phenomenon when he played under the “Mad Scientist” from 1998-2001. While Hakim isn’t likely to develop into an every week starter for your fantasy squad, he may be a decent spot starter when the matchup is right. Like Mike Furrey, who was recommended by the Forecast last week, Hakim knows Martz’s offense and hit the ground running after being acquired a couple weeks ago. He should be a decent WR4 or WR5 in deep leagues in the coming weeks.

Availability: Owned in ~1% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Hakim knows the Martz offense better than any player on the Lions. He’s worthy of a roster spot as a sleeper in deep leagues.

Picks from previous weeks worth repeating: Greg Jennings and Troy Brown

TIGHT ENDS

1. Randy McMichael, Dolphins

Ineffective performances by Daunte Culpepper over the fist four weeks of the season made TE Randy McMichael expendable. Many fantasy owners dumped him. As a result, he’s available in around 30% of leagues. The switch to Joey Harrington once again makes McMichael a solid fantasy TE. He had his best performance of the season against the Patriots, hauling in six receptions for 84 yards. In Week 6, the Dolphins play the Jets, a team that has given up TDs to TEs in each of the last two weeks. Grab McMichael if he’s available since Harrington appears to look his way early and often.

Availability: Owned in ~70% of leagues
Forecast guidance: McMichael could once again become a fantasy option with Harrington at the helm for the Dolphins. He’s definitely worth a spot in those leagues in which he was dumped.

2. George Wrighster, Jaguars

The Forecast told you to grab Wrighster last week. He lived up to the recommendation, grabbing two receptions and a TD against the Redskins. While he’s not getting as many looks as some other tight ends in the league, Wrighster is a favorite target in the red zone—particularly with wideout Matt Jones sidelined. Although the Jags are on bye in Week 6, a game in Week 7 against the Texans makes Wrighster a hot free agent acquisition for fantasy owners.

Availability: Owned in ~6% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Wrighster is a solid backup TE in deep leagues.

3. Alex Smith, Buccaneers

When young quarterbacks are under center, the tight end position often sees an increase in production. Such was the case in Tampa, where TE Alex Smith played his biggest role in the Buccaneers offense this season with QB Bruce Gradkowski getting his first start. Smith caught a season-high five passes, one of them for a TD. The Bucs figure to be playing from behind in upcoming matchups against the Bengals, Eagles, and Giants. That should lead to plenty more opportunities for Smith. Acquire him this week if your TE position has been a sore spot in 2006.

Availability: Owned in ~18% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Smith is a talented young QB who has the potential to emerge as a top 15 TE. Get him now while your competitors are sleeping on him.

Picks from previous weeks worth repeating: Chris Cooley

DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS

1. Washington Redskins

Owners who have their regular defense on bye this week might find slim pickings on the waiver wire this week. Six teams are off this week, leaving few options. However, the Redskins are a good sleeper choice. While this week’s opponent, the Titans, had a great showing against the Colts in Week 5, it was probably a fluke. Tennessee likely treated the game against Indy as their Super Bowl. Conversely, the Colts probably overlooked the Titans. I anticipate the ‘Skins will bounce back from a disappointing effort against the Giants, and hold Tennessee to fewer than 14 points, while forcing rookie Vince Young into a few turnovers.

Availability: Owned in ~50% of leagues
Forecast guidance: The Redskins are a great one-week option for fantasy owners who need some defensive help in Week 6.