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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Free Agent Forecast - Week 1
Paul Sandy
September 4, 2007

Some leagues do not allow roster transactions until after Week 1. Others open the free agent market immediately following the draft. In either case, it pays to know who’s available. Last season, prior to Week 1, the Forecast identified Marques Colston, Ladell Betts and Greg Jennings as players of interest. Here are the 15 best guys who are available in at least 65% of fantasy leagues this year. Make a push to acquire them now or, at the very least, monitor their performances this weekend.

QUARTERBACKS

1. Joey Harrington, Falcons
This is some kind of joke, right? Harrington can’t be roster worthy, can he? Actually, yes. Harrington is the starting QB on an offense that is likely to spread the field and put the ball in the air 35+ times per game. For all his shortcomings, Harrington is capable of putting up great fantasy performances. As a parttime starter in 2006, he had three games with multiple touchdowns. I expect a solid debut this week for Harrington against Minnesota. The Purple won’t give up much ground versus the run but they were vulnerable to the pass in 2006. In his last three starts against the Vikings, Harrington has averaged 292.7 yards per game with four touchdowns. Keep an eye on him if you need some QB depth. He has a favorable run of games when the bye weeks begin (including HOU, TEN, NYG, NO, and SF).

Availability: Owned in ~29% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: With a favorable schedule and a potentially high-octane offense, Harrington could be a fine backup QB in 2007.

RUNNING BACKS

1. Sammy Morris, Patriots
New England starting RB Laurence Maroney appears to be fully recovered from offseason shoulder surgery. However, given the injury difficulties Maroney experienced in his rookie year, there’s a good chance Sammy Morris will be pushed into significant action at some point in 2007. But don’t discount Morris as just a handcuff for the Maroney owner in your league. He is a versatile player who head coach Bill Belichick can use in a number of ways—even with a healthy Maroney. In particular, Morris is a gifted pass catcher and has had success at the goal line.

Availability: Owned in ~30% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Morris will likely take some touches from Maroney and is a decent sleeper candidate in leagues with 10 or more teams.

2. Jesse Chatman, Dolphins
Two years ago, Chatman looked like he’d be more comfortable in a donut eating contest than an NFL backfield. But there he was in the preseason competing with Ronnie Brown for the starting spot. Most fantasy prognosticators wrote off the competition as just a motivational ploy by head coach Cam Cameron. The coach did hand the starting job to Brown on Monday. However, in the same breath he also indicated he will use both RBs in a committee backfield. It’s clear that Cameron marches to the beat of his own drummer. He has made a few decisions that have been, to put it mildly, puzzling. During the preseason he used Brown, the team’s former #1 draft pick, as a kick returner. Cameron also took a day off and decided not to coach the Dolphins in the team’s final preseason game. Would it really be that absurd to see Cameron give 30-40% or more of Miami’s rushes to Chatman? I think not.

Availability: Owned in ~9% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Chatman may not get enough touches to be reliable on a weekly basis, but he should provide quality depth in leagues of all sizes.

3. Anthony Thomas, Bills
I know it’s just the preseason, but Buffalo rookie RB Marshawn Lynch averaged just 1.7 yards per carry on 22 preseason rushes. The Bills have to be at least a little bit concerned. So should you if you’re a Lynch owner. Grab Anthony Thomas as insurance in case Lynch turns out to be a bust. Thomas has the trust of the coaching staff and they will not hesitate to feed him carries if the need arises.

Availability: Owned in ~42% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: A-Train is worth a roster spot if you own Lynch because of the rookie’s awful preseason showing.

4. Kenton Keith, Colts
In a surprise move, the Colts cut DeDe Dorsey. Dorsey was widely considered the favorite to back-up Joseph Addai. With the move, former Canadian Football League standout Kenton Keith slides into the #2 slot on the Indianapolis depth chart. Keith is now the player to have if you own Addai and want insurance. On the other hand, before you run out and grab him off your waiver wire, understand that it’s highly likely the Colts would sign a veteran free agent RB to share the carries if Addai goes down with a major injury. For that reason, Keith has limited upside.

Availability: Owned in ~3% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Keith is now the backup to Joseph Addai. Grab him if you want the handcuff for your first round pick.

5. Correll Buckhalter, Eagles
To add some RB depth, the Eagles drafted Tony Hunt this offseason. The acquisition caused Buckhalter to slip in fantasy drafts this year, but the bottom line is that Buckhalter not Hunt is the backup to Brian Westbrook. And while Westbrook has proven to be remarkably durable, he’s coming off a season in which he touched the ball 317 times. Can his body withstand the punishment of another full season? Maybe. But if I’m a Westbrook owner, I’m not taking my chances. Grab Buckhalter, who averaged 4.2 yards per carry last season, as a contingency plan. Even if you don’t have Westbrook, take a look at Buckhalter. He scored twice in Philly’s last three regular season games in 2006.

Availability: Owned in ~32% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: If you’ve got Westbrook, Buckhalter is the recommended handcuff at this point.

6. Cecil Sapp and Selvin Young, Broncos
Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan certainly keeps fantasy owners on their toes. Although the starting RB position has been set in stone for some time, Shanahan still managed to throw a curve ball. According to Denver beat writers, he named undrafted rookie Selvin Young as the primary backup to Travis Henry. Then, on Monday, the updated depth chart was posted on Denver’s team website. It has Cecil Sapp listed as the backup. Young is listed as the fifth stringer. The only thing that’s clear is it’s time to dump Mike Bell (who is on the trading block). This is a situation that I encourage you to avoid, but if you absolutely feel you need to have Denver’s #2 RB, I’d go with Sapp. Keep your eye on how the carries are divvied up this weekend. Henry hasn’t played 16 games in a season since 2002, so it’s conceivable one could be a starter at some point this year.
 
Availability: Both owned in ~2% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Given the way Mike Shanahan manages his backfield, the team’s #2 RB always has value—Sapp appears to be that guy at this point.

WIDE RECEIVERS

1. Wes Welker, Patriots
The Patriots made upgrading their WR corps a priority this offseason. Although free agent signees Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth drew most of the attention, Wes Welker may prove to be the most valuable New England wideout before it’s all said and done. Moss and Stallworth have been plagued by hamstring injuries over the last couple seasons. Welker doesn’t have an injury history and he’s a sure-handed receiver who will quickly gain the trust of Tom Brady. Yes, yes, I know . . . Brady spreads the ball around more than any other QB and that diminishes the value of all Pats WRs. Even so, I like Welker to lead the team in catches (not yards) and make a significant fantasy impact. Consider it a gift if he’s on your waiver wire.

Availability: Owned in ~43% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Welker should be a rock solid fourth or fifth WR and could develop into something more if Moss or Stallworth goes down.

2. James Jones, Packers
Give Packers GM Ted Thompson credit. The man has an eye for receiving talent. After nabbing Greg Jennings in 2006, Thompson has apparently scored another quality wideout from a small college. James Jones, who hails from San Jose State, has been nothing short of amazing. He led all NFL wideouts in receptions (21) during the preseason, displaying impressive athleticism and pillow-soft hands. Green Bay attempted more passes than any team in the NFL in 2006. Considering the state of their running game, a repeat of that statistic seems likely. With so many balls to go around, Jones has an opportunity to make an immediate contribution alongside Donald Driver and Jennings.

Availability: Owned in ~17% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Jones looks like the real deal; get him now before he breaks out.  

3. Jacoby Jones, Texans
The Texans have been desperate for a WR to take some pressure off Andre Johnson for years. They may have found the answer in rookie Jacoby Jones. Jones tied for the NFL lead in touchdowns during the preseason, scoring twice on receptions and twice on kick returns.  Like Marques Colston last season, Jones comes from a small school (Lane College). While Jones hasn’t technically won the #2 WR job, he is much too talented to keep on the sidelines. Look for him to wrestle the job from Kevin Walter by Week 4. If QB Matt Schaub is anywhere near as good as he looked in the preseason, Jones could deliver somewhere in the neighborhood of 750 yards and 6-7 total scores this season.

Availability: Owned in ~15% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Jones has shown enough to deserve a roster spot at this point. Grab him if you’re looking for WR depth.

4. Keary Colbert, Panthers
The Carolina Panthers #2 WR position has sleeper potential this season. I haven’t seen a single Carolina WR not named Steve Smith selected in any of my 12-team leagues. Keary Colbert turned in a fine preseason and edged out rookie Dwayne Jarrett for the starting spot opposite Smith. There should be plenty of balls to go around. The Panthers are thought of as a run-first team, but they attempted the tenth most passes in the NFL last season. Keyshawn Johnson, who caught 70 passes last year, was released by the Panthers and retired. If Colbert can bounce back from an awful 2006 season, he could be good for 60 receptions and 5-7 TDs—good enough to be a reserve in any league. Also keep an eye on Jarrett, who is likely to become a factor by midseason and is an excellent red zone target.

Availability: Owned in ~2% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Colbert is flying under the radar but could become a fantasy factor as soon as this week with a favorable matchup against the Rams.

5. Patrick Crayton, Cowboys
The Cowboys have an offense on the rise, but their top wide receivers are getting on in years. Terry Glenn is gimpy with a surgically repaired knee. As recently as a week and a half ago, he expressed some doubts about whether he’d be ready for the opener. Now it appears he will start. On the other side of the field, Terrell Owens has suffered injuries in each of the last two years. With Glenn and Owens getting nicked up with increasing frequency, Patrick Crayton is a player worth owning. He will get plenty of action regardless of the health statuses of his receiving counterparts but if one of them should fall, Crayton’s value would go through the roof.

Availability: Owned in ~19% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Crayton is one injury away from being a 900-yard, 8-TD wideout. He’s worth ownable in leagues of all sizes and scoring systems.
 
6. Bobby Engram, Seahawks
Given the changes that took place in the Seahawks passing offense during the offseason, I’m surprised Bobby Engram didn’t get more attention from fantasy owners. Engram is, after all, Matt Hasselbeck’s most familiar remaining target. The Seahawks jettisoned WR Darrell Jackson and TE Jerramy Stevens. The only proven targets that remain are Deion Branch, Nate Burleson and D.J. Hackett—none of whom have a lengthy rapport with Hasselbeck. Engram, however, does. His best season was two years ago when he caught 67 balls for 778 yards and three scores. Although he’ll spend the bulk of his time in the slot, I expect him to approach those numbers in 2007.

Availability: Owned in ~5% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Engram is worth a look in leagues that give points for receptions.

TIGHT ENDS

1. Owen Daniels, Texans
Daniels flashed onto the radar last season when he caught nine passes for 99 yards and two scores in Week 8. Unfortunately, David Carr didn’t look his way regularly and Daniels had minimal value after that explosive game. Things are looking up in Houston this season so the TE could once again become a factor. QB Matt Schaub has been praised for his pocket presence and leadership. If he can build some continuity with Daniels, the combo could be special. "I've always liked throwing to my tight ends," Schaub told the Houston Chronicle during the preseason. "They can be an incredible asset in the middle of the field. It keeps the safeties back and helps open up the running game." If you missed out on one of the top TEs during your draft, Daniels can be the guy who carries your squad. I expect him to finish with top 10 numbers.

Availability: Owned in ~54% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Daniels is a roster-worthy sleeper in leagues of all sizes and scoring systems.
 
2. Daniel Graham, Broncos
Mike Shanahan has been desperate for a pass-catching TE ever since Shannon Sharpe retired. He signed Daniel Graham to be that guy. Shanahan told the Denver Post, "A guy like that you don't want to take off the field." Graham beat out former first-round draft pick Tony Scheffler for the starting spot in Denver’s lineup. He’s a crafty veteran who still has some fuel in the tank. With Rod Smith on the physically unable to perform list, QB Jay Culter needs reliable targets. Graham fits the bill. Look for him to emerge as a top 15 TE, and catch in the neighborhood of 50 passes. That might not make him a regular starter, but he’s a guy any fantasy team could use during the bye week run.

Availability: Owned in ~26% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Graham should be a solid backup TE in deeper leagues.

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