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FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

Free Agent Forecast - Week 2
Paul Sandy
September 9, 2008
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QUARTERBACKS

1. Matt Cassel, Patriots
Injury ReplacementNew England’s worst nightmare was realized in a split second when Tom Brady’s knee was shredded. Now it’s Matt Cassel’s team. The surrounding talent is all there. Can Cassel take advantage of it? Well, he’s not going to put up 40 touchdowns, but given New England’s creampuff schedule, don’t be surprised if he’s more than servicable. Cassel looked decent against an underrated Kansas City secondary. And keep in mind Cassel came off the bench with little preparation. If I’m a Tom Brady owner (or a Matt Hasselbeck owner who realizes the next two weeks are going to be grim), I’d put Cassel at the top of my free agent acquisition list.

Availability: Owned in ~1% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Cassel is the top recommended QB this week if you need a QB.

2. Jeff Garcia, Buccaneers
Rising ValueGarcia is what he is. He’s a guy who on most weeks will get you one, maybe two, passing scores and about 200 yards. He rarely has a complete fantasy meltdown but also never explodes for three touchdowns and 300 yards. If you have exceptional talent at the other key fantasy position, that’s probably all you need. Garcia put up 221 yards and a touchdown against the Saints on opening week. He did suffer a sprained ankle, but if he plays next week, he can be used against the Falcons, who have a below-average pass defense.

Availability: Owned in ~37% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Garcia is a steady QB who’s worth a look in leagues with 12 or more teams.

3. Matt Ryan, Falcons
SleeperA rookie QB hasn’t been a regular fantasy contributor since Peyton Manning tossed 26 touchdowns in his debut season. Yes, Vince Young had his moments a few seasons ago but he wasn’t a guy you could rely on every week. Matt Ryan showcased, dare I say it, Manning-esque poise in his first game. Ryan attempted just 13 passes against the Detroit Lions, so this isn’t the best straw case upon which to base a major fantasy decision. However, if you’re uneasy about your starting QB and have room for a prospect, Ryan looks like he could be good sooner rather than later.

Availability: Owned in ~22% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Ryan is a good sleeper pickup in deep leagues.\

RUNNING BACKS

1. Sammy Morris, Patriots
Rising ValueThe Forecast whiffed on LaMont Jordan last week as the bulk of the backup duties, third-down receptions and goal-line carries went to Sammy Morris. But my premise remains the same. I’m not sold on Laurence Maroney as an every-down back and neither apparently is Bill Belichick. Morris was on the field for more than half of New England’s offensive plays (29 of 58). This number may go down once Kevin Faulk returns from his suspension next week, but the bottom line is Morris was productive. Just like he was last year when he played the same role. Look for Morris to continue to get most of the goal-line work and share carries with Maroney. If New England leans on its running game with Brady out for the season, Morris could be a serviceable RB2.

Availability: Owned in ~21% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Morris should be owned in all leagues based on his Week 1 performance.

2. Jerious Norwood, Falcons
Rising ValueNorwood, the preseason darling of 2007, went undrafted in 30 percent of fantasy leagues this year. If he’s available in your league, stake your claim early. He’s likely to be a hot pick-up after posting 99 yards and a touchdown against the Lions. If the current coaching regime can do for Norwood what the previous two could not—get him 15 touches per game—Norwood has the potential to be a borderline fantasy starter in most leagues. So far so good. In Week 1, he carried the ball 14 times and added two receptions. Keep him on your bench for now though. This week’s game against the Bucs will be a truer test of how the team plans to use him.
 
Availability: Owned in ~70% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Norwood should be owned in all leagues.  

3. Steve Slaton, Texans
Rising ValueSlaton was a fast-rising sleeper pick during the preseason but is surprisingly available in about 50% of all fantasy leagues. Ahman Green started the game but only carried the ball five times for 28 yards. He was used primarily in pass protection situations. Slaton rushed the ball 13 times for 43 yards. That’s not great production, but considering it was against Pittsburgh’s stellar defense, Slaton did okay in his first NFL action. With a veritable murderer’s row of defenses up next (Baltimore, Tennessee and Jacksonville), Slaton may need some time on your bench before he’s ready for action. Nonetheless, the ceiling is high and now is the time to acquire him.

Availability: Owned in ~48% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Slaton got the bulk of the carries in Week 1 and should be owned in all leagues.

4. Pierre Thomas, Saints
SleeperProspecting for free agents isn’t merely about looking to see who had the best stats and picking up that player. It’s about identifying trends and opportunities. Case in point: Pierre Thomas. Chances are Thomas didn’t put up the sexiest numbers of any free agent RB in your league. He had 10 rushes for 52 yards. But the boxscore tells us that it’s Thomas, not Deuce McAllister or Aaron Stecker, who will get most of the work behind Reggie Bush. Thomas might also get the goal-line carries. If Thomas holds onto that role, he could be huge because the Saints own one of the better offenses in the NFL. Thomas also deserves extra attention because Bush has yet to prove he can stay healthy in a featured role.

Availability: Owned in ~14% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Snag Thomas and stash him on your bench until his role becomes clearer.

5. Derrick Ward, Giants
Rising ValueBe careful not to overlook the Thursday night game when registering your free agent acquisitions. Derrick Ward ran well in spot duty against the Redskins. He posted 60 yards on nine rushes and two receptions. Given Brandon Jacobs’ history of injuries, it’d be easy to just think of Ward as a handcuff pickup who’s only worth something to the Jacobs owner. Not so. It appears the Giants will try to keep Jacobs healthy by giving Ward every third series or so. It remains to be seen how Ahmad Bradshaw fits into the equation. For now, consider Ward to be a decent fill-in or flex player when the matchup is right. Next week, the Giants draw the Rams, who might be the worst team in the NFL, so Ward could be used if you’re in a pickle.

Availability: Owned in ~32% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Ward is worth a look for Jacobs owners or anyone who’s thin at the RB position.  

6. Tim Hightower, Cardinals
SleeperHightower was touted here last week as a potential free agent target. He didn’t have a stellar debut, but got the goal-line work and scored on a two-yard TD run. Edgerrin James is on the wrong side of 30 and his time as a workhorse RB is running thin. The team drafted Hightower to be his heir apparent, but rather than bringing him along slowly, it looks like they’re going to get him in the mix right away. Acquire him as a prospect and keep him on your bench until he becomes more established.  

Availability: Owned in ~21% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Hightower should be owned in TD-heavy leagues and is worth a look in all others.  

7. Warrick Dunn, Buccaneers
Rising ValueWeek 1 saw Dunn and Earnest Graham split the carries almost down the middle with Dunn getting nine and Graham 10. If the trend continues, Dunn could be a decent bench player. The diminutive Dunn has been a warrior throughout his career, averaging 4.1 yards per carry over a 16 year career in which he has missed just 10 games. He may not be as fast or as shifty as he once was, but still provides a nice change of pace from Graham. Look for him to average about 50-60 all-purpose yards per game—serviceable production for a reserve in leagues with 12 or more teams.

Availability: Owned in ~29% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Dunn is worthy of a bench spot in all but the smallest leagues.  

8. Le’Ron McClain, Ravens
Rising ValueYippe Kiyay. Pardon the Die Hard reference, but with a brusing 110-yard performance, Le’Ron McClain might as well have tossed the Bengals off the Nakatomi tower. McClain and rookie Ray Rice split the carries with Willis McGahee on the sidelines, but it was McClain who dealt the death blow.  The 260-lbs. RB averaged 4.5 yards per carry—much of his work coming in the fourth quarter after a costly Rice fumble was returned for a touchdown. When McGahee returns from his injury, there likely won’t be enough touches for McClain to be worth much. However, you might be able to squeeze a start out of him this week if McGahee has a setback. The Ravens travel to Houston to face a defense that gave up three rushing scores to Willie Parker.

Availability: Owned in ~1% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: McClain likely doesn’t have much long term value unless you’re a McGahee owner.

WIDE RECEIVERS

1. DeSean Jackson, Eagles
Rising ValueThe Eagles had a trifecta of wideouts surpass 100 yards receiving in Sunday’s blowout of the Rams. While Greg Lewis and Hank Baskett shouldn’t be completely overlooked, I hold DeSean Jackson in higher esteem. The rookie can flat out fly and has the talent to be one of the NFL’s top 10 wide receivers some day. You can’t say that about Lewis and Baskett. Jackson torched the Rams for 106 yards on six receptions—an average of 17.7 yards per catch. Not every matchup will be as cushy as the Rams, but as long as Donovan McNabb is healthy, Jackson should continue to put up good numbers. At this point, consider him to be a passable WR3 with long-term stud potential. Consider Baskett in deeper leagues and Lewis in really, really deep leagues.

Availability: Owned in ~64% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Jackson should be owned in all leagues.

2. Eddie Royal, Broncos
Rising ValueRoyal’s career got off to a fast start. He scored a 26-yard touchdown on the Broncos opening drive of the 2008 season. Many owners will likely be concerned that once Brandon Marshall returns to action next week, Royal will be a non-factor. I doubt that will be the case. Royal drew rave reviews during the preseason. I was high on him in my Late Round Legends article a couple weeks ago. My belief is this is a new Denver Broncos era in which the passing game will dominate and the running game will take a back seat. With Marshall and Royal, Denver could have a receiving tandem that ranks among the NFL’s best for years to come.

Availability: Owned in ~20% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Royal should be owned in all leagues.

3. Kevin Walter, Texans
Rising ValueWalter was a Forecast recommendation last week. He caught three passes for 41 yards and a garbage time touchdown. Walter is not the type of player who will carry you to the promise land, but he can be a role player on any fantasy team in any scoring system. In 2007, he posted 65 or more yards in seven games. Acquire him as a backup who you can plug in during the bye weeks or to use to cover for an injury—and hope there are brighter days ahead for Houston’s offense.    

Availability: Owned in ~40% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Walter is worth a look in all leagues as a spot starter.

4. Muhsin Muhammad, Panthers
SleeperTE Dante Rosario (below) hauled in the game-winning touchdown on Carolina’s masterful game-winning drive, but don’t overlook Muhsin Muhammad. Muhammad took the first step in returning to fantasy prominence, catching two passes on that fateful final drive and ending the game with six receptions for 56 yards. Monster numbers? No. But dig deeper and you’ll see that Muhammad was targeted 15 times—second-most among all WRs (prior to MNF). Keep in mind the Panthers were playing one of the NFL’s top five defenses on the road. Things will get easier for Muhammad when the schedule lightens up and defenses need to roll coverage Steve Smith’s way.

Availability: Owned in ~40% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Muhammad looks like he’ll receive plenty of looks and is worth a roster spot in leagues with 12 or more teams.
 
5. Antwaan Randle El, Redskins
Rising ValueRandle El led all Washington receivers with seven receptions for 73 yards. That’s saying something because the Redskins looked terrible on opening night. If Jason Campbell gets any confidence whatsoever, Randle El could surprise. Washington has a favorable upcoming schedule with games against the Saints, Cardinals, Rams and Browns over the next six weeks. The versatile Randel El is starter material in any of those games if your regular starter faces a difficult matchup or a bye.    

Availability: Owned in ~37% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Randle El is a fine spot starter in most leagues.

6. Ike Hilliard, Buccaneers
SleeperOwners playing in points-per-reception (PPR) leagues should take a long look at Hilliard. The veteran wideout caught 62 passes in 15 games in 2007 and is a trusted possession target for Jeff Garcia. In Week 1, he was targeted six times and converted all six receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown. Tampa faces an Atlanta defense that gave up 246 yards and two touchdowns last week to the Lions. Hilliard could easily repeat his performance this week and can be used if you were hamstrung by WR injuries in Week 1. Owners in non-PPR leagues might prefer Antonio Bryant who also looked good for the Bucs in their opening game and is probably a better threat to score a TD.

Availability: Owned in ~3% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Hilliard could be a PPR factor as long as Jeff Garcia is under center.

7. Matt Jones, Jaguars
Rising ValueIf you’ve been in fantasy football for awhile, chances are you’ve had a sip of the Matt Jones Kool-Aid at one point or another. At 6’6”, the guy is an impressive physical specimen. Unfortunately, he’s spent more time in head coach Jack Del Rio’s doghouse than on the field catching passes. Jones began the season on a high note, catching six passes for 80 yards. The team’s top two receivers figure to be Reggie Williams and Jerry Porter when they get healthy. Williams played in Week 1 but isn’t at full strength. Porter is still recovering from hamstring surgery.

Availability: Owned in ~8% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Jones is a passable bench player in 12-team leagues.

TIGHT ENDS

1. Dante Rosario, Panthers
Rising ValueMore than any other position, TEs seem to come out of nowhere to post huge stats then disappear the next week. While Rosario could end up next in that long line, the rapport with QB Jake Delhomme looked authentic. Rosario was incredibly reliable and efficient. He was targeted eight times and caught seven passes for 96 yards and a touchdown. With Steve Smith out for one more week, Rosario will again be a focal point of the offense. Play him if you don’t like your other options.

Availability: Owned in ~1% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Rosario is worth a look for all owners who aren’t happy with their current TE.

2. L.J. Smith, Eagles
Rising ValueThere are likely TEs on your waiver wire who posted better stats than Smith, but most of them don’t have what Smith has: a Pro-Bowl QB. In past years, the McNabb-Smith combination was expected to rise up among the elite QB-TE connections in the NFL. It never materialized, mostly because McNabb and Smith were never healthy enough to be on the field at the same time. With both of them out of the infirmary, they could finally realize their potential. McNabb targeted Smith 10 times—more targets than any other TE in the NFL. Smith caught five of those passes for 39 yards and a touchdown. If you don’t trust your current TE, start Smith this week against the Cowboys, who gave up a TD to Kellen Winslow in Week 1. 

Availability: Owned in ~60% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Smith is worth a look in all leagues.

3. Anthony Fasano, Dolphins
Rising ValueFasano was the backup to Jason Witten in Dallas before coming to Miami. In the Big-D, Fasano was used primarily as a blocking TE but he’s going to have the opportunity to catch some passes for the Dolphins, who don’t have a standout WR. In his debut as Miami’s starter, Fasano hooked up with Chad Pennington for 84 yards and a touchdown on eight receptions. Pennington never relied heavily on the TE position while in New York, but head coach Tony Sparano and Bill Parcells brought Fasano to the team to help move the chains. Expect him to continue to get looks and don’t be afraid to start him next week against the Cardinals if you’re desperate for TE help.  

Availability: Owned in ~9% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Fasano has decent upside and is worth considering in leagues with 12 or more teams.

KICKER

1. John Carney, Giants
Rising ValueIf your kicker let you down in Week 1 and you want a replacement, John Carney will be a nice one-week fill-in. Carney was three-for-three on field goals against the Redskins on opening night, including a 47-yarder. With the Giants facing the Rams this Sunday,  Carney should again approach double-digit fantasy points. Unfortunately, he might not be a long-term solution as New York will likely go back to Lawrence Tynes once he’s healthy.

Availability: Owned in ~2% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Carney is the top kicker pickup in Week 2.

DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS

1. Tennessee Titans
Rising ValueThe Titans made a statement in Week 1. During the preseason, the media was hyping Indianapolis and Jacksonville. Even the Texans were being touted as an upstart that could compete for a wildcard. Lost in the mix were the Titans, who came out in Week 1 and played smashmouth football against the Jaguars. The Titans held Jacksonville to 10 points and forced three turnovers. Their matchup this week against the Bengals couldn’t get much better.

Availability: Owned in ~23% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: The Texans are a good sleeper defense for owners in leagues with 12 or more teams.

2. Arizona Cardinals
SleeperThe Cardinals forced five turnovers and recorded four sacks against the 49ers in Week 1. In the second half, the team absolutely shut down San Francisco. Are the Cards for real or was their success merely a product of San Francisco’s futility? Hard to say at this point, but the team heads home for Week 2 to host the Dolphins, who aren’t exactly terrifying on offense. Miami managed just 14 points against the Jets. QB Chad Pennington was sacked four times and threw an interception. The Cardinals should be a decent one-week stop game if your regular defense isn’t living up to expectations.
Availability: Owned in ~25% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: The Cardinals are worth a look in Week 2.

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