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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Free Agent Forecast - Week 7
Paul Sandy
October 17, 2006

QUARTERBACKS

1. Phillip Rivers, Chargers

Owners who followed Forecast guidance last week and grabbed Rivers were rewarded with a 2-TD, 334-yard performance. While I had originally pegged him as a bye-week replacement, Rivers’ schedule is so soft in the coming weeks that he might be good enough to carry your fantasy squad as a starter. The Chargers will face Kansas City, St. Louis, and  Cleveland over the next few games. Each opponent has been burned versus the pass at least once or twice this season. Unlike in previous games in 2006, the Chargers didn’t go conservative against the 49ers in Week 6 despite owning a big lead. Rivers attempted 16 of his 39 passes in the second half. The departure from “Marty-ball” bodes well for Rivers’ prospects as a quality fantasy QB.

Availability: Owned in ~70% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Rivers’ favorable schedule makes him a quality spot starter in leagues of all sizes.

2. Jon Kitna, Lions

Kitna is underrated as a fantasy QB. He has surpassed 200 yards in every game this season and scored a TD in all but one. Claim him off your waiver wire this week if he’s available and don’t be afraid to start him against favorable opponents. The Lions offense is starting to click. With a couple juicy matchups against the Jets and 49ers over the next three weeks, Kitna is a valuable QB to have on your roster—particularly if you will have a bye week issue coming up.   

Availability: Owned in ~64% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Kitna is a good option when the right matchup presents itself.

3. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers

Plastic surgery notwithstanding, QB Ben Roethlisberger hadn’t looked himself since doing a face-plant off a Chrysler back in August. That is, up until last Sunday at 1:00 Eastern. Roethlisberger shook off the rust, completing 16 of 19 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns. The fact that Roethlisberger made a Chiefs secondary that had been performing well look like a junior varsity squad tells me the third-year QB may be back to his old self. I wouldn’t want to rely on him as my starter ever week, but Roethlisberger is decent enough to keep your fantasy team competitive if your regular starter goes down.    

Availability: Owned in ~68% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Roethlisberger’s return to form makes him worth a look as a QB2 in most leagues.

4. Joey Harrington, Dolphins

The Forecast advised owners with QB bye issues to grab Phillip Rivers or J.P. Losman last week. Both gunslingers tossed two TDs. Which QB can be picked up off the scrap heap this week to save your squad? The answer is none other than Joey Harrington. Harrington’s 1:4 TD-to-interception ratio ain’t pretty, but his matchup this week against the Packers is. Green Bay ranks last in the NFL versus the pass, allowing over 275 yards per game through the air. The Packers have had an extra week to prepare for the Dolphins and that worries me a bit. However, I think fantasy owners can safely predict Harrington will finish the contest with a minimum of 260 yards and a touchdown or two.

Availability: Owned in ~17% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Plug and play Harrington this week against the Packers if your regular QB is on bye or faces stiff competition.

Picks from previous weeks worth repeating: Matt Leinart

RUNNING BACKS

1. Samkon Gado, Texans

The Houston running game is the worst in the NFL right now. The Texans are averaging just 67.6 yards per game. I would love to be a fly on the wall to hear the curse words being dropped by the team’s management when they discuss their horrible decision to pass on Reggie Bush. Head coach Gary Kubiak came to the team from Denver, so he’s used to pounding teams on the ground. He’s not likely to stand still as Ron Dayne averages fewer than three yards per carry. Look for him to change things up sooner rather than later. Samkon Gado is next in line. We all remember what he did in the last half of 2005. Get him now just in case Gado gives the fantasy world a dose of déjà vu. Also consider adding Wali Lundy, who Kubiak is likely to take another look at in the coming weeks, particularly if Dayne misses time with an apparent knee injury.

Availability: Owned in ~34% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Gado is likely to get his shot as the Texans starter in the coming weeks. He’s a good prospect in all leagues.

2. Najeh Davenport, Steelers

Willie Parker owners concerned that his relatively small frame won’t hold up amidst the hefty workload he’s getting should take note of Davenport. The ex-Green Bay Packer solidified his place as Parker’s backup with an impressive 78-yard performance against the Chiefs. The effort was capped by a 1-yard TD run in the fourth quarter. The team prefers Verron Haynes as a third-down, pass-catching back and with Duce Staley all but forgotten, Davenport is the prime candidate to replace Parker should he go down with an injury. If you believe in handcuffing your stud RBs, Davenport is your man.   

Availability: Owned in 8% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Handcuff Davenport to Parker if that’s the way you roll.

3. Chris Perry, Bengals

Perry is scheduled to return to action this week after spending the first half of the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. With the Bengals running game stalled, Perry could be just the sparkplug the team needs to get things rolling. An excellent receiver out of the backfield, Perry could do enough with 9-12 touches per game to be a worthwhile reserve running back for your squad. He is reportedly in great shape and can’t wait to take the field. Grab him this week, then use Cincinnati’s Week 8 game against the Falcons as a measuring stick to determine whether Perry will be worth having on your roster.   

Availability: Owned in ~13% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Perry figures to get about a dozen touches at most per game, but he may do enough with them to be a quality flex player or backup RB.

Picks from previous weeks worth repeating: Brandon Jacobs, Travis Henry, and Noah Herron

WIDE RECEIVERS

1. Eric Parker, Chargers

Parker draws the top spot in the receiver rankings after another impressive performance. I praised him last week as San Diego’s best wideout. He has now posted back-to-back games with 85+ yards. Although Parker has been kept out of the endzone this season, that will likely change over the next two weeks. A schedule that includes games against the Chiefs, Raiders, and Browns favors more good production for Parker. Grab him this week because QB Phillip Rivers has proven that he is the real deal and appears to have fully earned the trust of the San Diego coaching staff.   

Availability: Owned in ~16% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Parker is becoming a consistent part of San Diego’s offense and deserves a roster spot in all but the smallest leagues.

2. Michael Clayton, Buccaneers

Michael Clayton was a trendy sleeper pick in drafts this fall. Many owners figured he was a prime candidate for a bounce-back season after suffering a colossal sophomore slump in 2005. After starting the season with two 1-catch games and no touchdowns in the first five weeks, Clayton was cut loose in many leagues. With rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski under center, Clayton has re-emerged as a fantasy factor. He caught a season-high six passes for 55 yards and that elusive TD—his first since Week 17 of 2004. If Joey Galloway is Tampa’s deep threat, Clayton is perhaps the team’s best possession receiver. Following that logic, Gradkowski is likely to be looking for him more and more in the weeks to come.   

Availability: Owned in ~32% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Clayton has been a fantasy stud before and could re-surface as a weekly starter if Gradkowski continues to grow.

3. Samie Parker, Chiefs

There weren’t many bright spots for Kansas City in their 45-7 loss to the Steelers. Samie Parker’s 5-catch, 72-yard game might be the lone exception. Parker has now strung together back-to-back quality fantasy performances. He grabbed five receptions back in Week 5, including a TD. The way Kansas City’s schedule is setting up, it looks like Parker could continue to see plenty of opportunities. The Chiefs play the Chargers, Seahawks, and Rams over the next three games. All three opponents will require Kansas City to score points and throw the ball. Look for more 5-6 reception games from Parker.

Availability: Owned in ~9% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Parker is getting quite a few looks and is worth a look in deep leagues, particularly those that give points for receptions.

4. Mark Clayton, Ravens

Clayton’s improbable performance in Week 6 is the classic case of being in the right place at the right time. He caught two touchdowns on pass deflections intended for one of his teammates. While Clayton’s performance is flukey, don’t completely write him off as a decent waiver wire pickup. Kyle Boller took over as QB when Steve McNair went down with a concussion. Boller showcased a stronger arm and that plays to Clayton’s strength, which is downfield speed. Boller threw Clayton’s way seven times—not including the two TD receptions. This is a duo that connected for three games of over 80 yards last season (including two TDs). If McNair’s head keeps him out of the lineup, Clayton is a borderline starter. If McNair returns, Clayton is worthy of a roster spot, but is only worth a start when you’re desperate.

Availability: Owned in ~28% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Clayton is on bye this week but could be a decent WR3 or WR4 when the Ravens return to action.

5. Derek Hagan, Dolphins

With Marty Booker battling a shoulder injury, rookie Derek Hagan capitalized on the opportunity to see more playing time. He led all Miami receivers with six receptions for 66 yards. The scouting report on Hagan is that he brings an excellent combination of size, speed, and talent to the table. However, he drops too many passes. If Hagan can hang onto the ball, he may hang onto the starting spot opposite Chris Chambers. Monitor the news on Hagan and Booker. If Hagan gets the start in Week 7, he’s a sneaky play against the Packers. In any case, grab him if you play in a dynasty league.

Availability: Owned in ~1% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Give Hagan the nod this week against the Packers if you’re desperate.

6. Ernest Wilford, Jaguars

Wilford was a fantasy favorite last year when he came out of nowhere to score seven TDs. There’s a good chance this week’s game against the Texans could put him back on the map. Jacksonville’s regular starter Matt Jones is battling a hamstring injury. As seen with Steve Smith and Donte Stallworth, hamstrings take a long time to heal. Although Jones may try to practice later this week, he isn’t likely be a significant factor just yet (though he too is probably worth a roster spot). Instead, look for Wilford to play a big role. He was Houston’s nemesis last season, amassing nearly 200 receiving yards and two touchdowns in two games. Slide him into your lineup this week and you may look like a genius come Monday morning.

Availability: Owned in ~26% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Wilford is a good spot starter this week against the Texans.

7. Nate Washington, Steelers  

Wideout Nate Washington was a big factor in the sudden re-emergence of the Steelers passing game. Washington caught three passes for 68 yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs. He also scored back in Week 1. Although those two games were his only quality fantasy starts this season, there is reason to be optimistic. The Steelers found a rhythm in the second half of the season last year. If they do so again, Washington, along with rookie Santonio Holmes, will provide explosiveness opposite Hines Ward and could have some big games. That said he’s likely to be a boom-or-bust-type player for the duration of the season.

Availability: Owned in ~1% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Washington is worth a look as a prospect in deep leagues or dynasty leagues but keep him on your bench for now.

Picks from previous weeks worth repeating: Bryant Johnson and Wes Welker

Other receivers I’m monitoring: Drew Carter, Santonio Holmes, and D.J. Hackett

TIGHT ENDS

1. Alex Smith, Buccaneers

Smith, a Forecast recommendation last week, has scored a touchdown in two consecutive games. It’s no coincidence that those two games were QB Bruce Gradkowski’s first two NFL starts. The young QB has looked Smith’s way frequently as a safety valve, targeting him six times in Week 5 and three in Week 6. Owners who have been sorely lacking in the TE department would be wise to claim Smith this week if he’s available. Gradkowski has been impressive thus far and will continue to grow more comfortable with his offensive weapons, including Smith.

Availability: Owned in ~36% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Smith has scored in back-to-back weeks and is deserving of a roster spot in all leagues that require a TE.

2. Chris Baker, Jets

If your regular TE is on a bye this week, target Chris Baker on your waiver wire. Baker and the Jets will square off against Detroit. Five of the 13 TDs the Lions have allowed this season have come at the hands of tight ends. Baker has been hit or miss this season—producing three decent starts and three dogs. Week 7 figures to be his best performance of the year. Start him and look for 50 yards and a touchdown.

Availability: Owned in ~24% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Baker faces a Lions defense that has been bloodied by TEs this year. Use him as a stop gap this week if your regular TE is out.

3. Jerramy Stevens, Seahawks

Stevens is another player who was placed on the PUP list prior to the start of the season. He’s scheduled to see action as early as this week. There are plenty of questions surrounding Stevens’ return. Will he see enough passes thrown his way? How long will it take to shake off the rust? How often will the Seahawks use their talented wideouts in multiple receiver sets and keep Stevens on the sideline? Even with all the uncertainty, Stevens is worth a look in leagues with 12 or more teams. The fact is he’s coming off a 554-yard, 5-TD season and is a good pass-catching TE. He probably won’t be an every-week player but he might be good enough to start when the matchup is right.

Availability: Owned in ~30% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Stevens is worth a look in leagues with 12 or more teams, but keep him on your bench for now.

Picks from previous weeks worth repeating: Randy McMichael, Chris Cooley, and George Wrighster

DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS

1. Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals come off their surreal Monday night loss to the Bears. Their offense looked impressive for much of the game. But their defense was the real story shutting out the Bears in the first half and causing six turnovers. The Cards travel to Oakland this week. After an emotional win on Monday night many teams suffer a letdown the following week. Is that a danger here? Maybe, but it’s a risk worth taking. The Raiders are just that bad.  

Availability: Owned in ~14% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Arizona is a decent one-week start this week against the Raiders.