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FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

Free Agent Forecast - Week 3
Paul Sandy
September 16, 2008
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QUARTERBACKS

1. J.T. O’Sullivan, 49ers
Rising ValueMike Martz lives. The “Mad Scientist” turned Jon Kitna into a 4,000-yard passer. Maybe he can do the same for O’Sullivan. The journeyman QB posted 321 yards and a touchdown on the road against the Seahawks. He looked cool under pressure and delivered the ball with accuracy. Owners still bleeding from the loss of Tom Brady should consider O’Sullivan to be a tourniquet of sorts. There a lots of positives around this guy right now: 1) Alex Smith is out of the picture and O’Sullivan doesn’t have anyone pushing him, 2) He plays in a division with poor defenses, 3) He has a creampuff schedule coming up with games against the Lions and Saints. If QB is a team need, make O’Sullivan your top free agent target in Week 3. He’s playable as soon as this week.    

Availability: Owned in ~28% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: O’Sullivan could be this year’s Derek Anderson and is worth a look in all leagues.

2. Trent Edwards, Bills
SleeperIt’s been so long since the Bills had a viable fantasy QB, many people just ignore Edwards altogether. While he may not be the next Jim Kelly, Edwards looks like he could be a servicable backup QB for fantasy owners in 2008. He completed 20-of-25 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown in Week 2. That’s not too shabby conisidering the Bills were playing a tough defense (Jacksonville) on the road. Buffalo’s schedule gets softer in the coming weeks with games against Oakland, St. Louis and Arizona. The game against the Rams happens to align with the dreaded Week 4 bye, which wipes out fantasy QBs like Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Matt Cassel and Matt Hasselbeck). If you own any of them and don’t have a viable backup, make a pre-emptive push to get Edwards this week.

Availability: Owned in ~43% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Edwards is an excellent backup QB, particularly if you own one of the Manning brothers.

3. Jason Campbell, Redskins
Rising ValueCampbell is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, stuffed in a cream cheese wonton. He teases owners with his live arm and the occassional monster performance but has a bad habit of putting up a stinker performance the week after you add him to your roster. Given his inconsistency, there’s no way you can trust him as a regular starter. On the bright side, Campbell is a young QB still and he’s in a new offensive system. Hope remains that the lights will go on for him and he’ll realize his potential. He hung 321 yards and a touchdown on the Saints in Week 2. Stash him on your roster as a backup who has the talent to develop into a low-level starter.

Availability: Owned in ~60% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Campbell is a passble backup and spot starter but shouldn’t be trusted on a regular basis.

RUNNING BACKS

1. Darren Sproles, Chargers
Injury ReplacementTurf toe is my favorite football injury. It seems silly that something as mundane as a toe could derail a player’s season. But when you’re a running back and you earn your paycheck by making cuts and jukes, I guess the toe is a pretty important appendage. LaDainian Tomlinson aggravated his turf toe injury during Sunday’s loss to the Broncos. Fair warning to Tomlinson owners: Don’t underestimate this injury. Turf toes typically don’t heal overnight. You’ll likely be hearing about it every week. Tomlinson finished the day with 26 yards rushing on 10 carries. Backup Darren Sproles turned in a colossal performance, posting one touchdown on 125 yards rushing and receiving. Oh yeah, he also added a 103-yard TD on a kick return. Sproles should be the top free agent target in most leagues this week. Owners in deeper leagues should also consider adding rookie Jacob Hester, who would likely split carries with Sproles in the event that LT misses time.

Availability: Owned in ~30% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Sproles should be owned in all leagues. Hester is worth a look in larger leagues, as well.

2. Michael Bush, Raiders
Injury ReplacementJustin Fargas injured his groin in Sunday’s game against the Raiders. Although Darren McFadden made all the headlines with his performance, he pulled up lame late in the game with a turf toe. The rash of injuries has second-year man Michael Bush on the brink of fantasy prominence. Bush carried the ball 16 times for 90 yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs. Because the Raiders lean so heavily on their running game, don’t be surprised if Bush gets 15 touches per game even if McFadden is healthy enough to play. At worst that’d make him a good reserve RB or flex player. If both McFadden and Fargas miss time, Bush can be considered a low-end starter for fantasy purposes. Monitor the news out of Oakland.

Availability: Owned in ~6% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Bush could be money if McFadden and Fargas both miss time; he’s worth a pickup in all leagues.

3. LaMont Jordan, Patriots
Injury ReplacementJordan was a Forecast sleeper pick prior to the season. He didn’t do much in Week 1, but got a fair amount of work on Sunday after Laurence Maroney left the game with a shoulder injury and Sammy Morris proved to be ineffective. On the afternoon, Jordan had 11 carries for 62 yards—and a robust 5.6 yards per carry. Considering Maroney’s history of nagging injuries, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Jordan step into a more substantial role or cut into Maroney’s playing time. Acquire him now in anticipation of his ascension up the depth chart.   

Availability: Owned in ~16% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Jordan is worth a look in all leagues.

4. Michael Pittman, Broncos
Rising ValuePittman is a versatile dude. At times in Arizona, he was a featured RB. In Tampa, he was a primarily a third-down specialist. In Denver, he’s proving to be a solid goal-line back. Pittman has posted three touchdowns in Denver’s first two games. Trusting a goal-line RB in fantasy football is a dangerous game. If the team has a poor week, you could end up with a goose egg. However, Pittman is worth the risk. The Broncos look like they’re for real and should be able to score points on any team in the NFL. When a team scores 35-40 points per game, there’s a good chance the goal-line back will get a TD plunge most weeks. Plus, Pittman has received a handful of carries each week outside the redzone. If his role in the offense continues as is, Pittman is worth a look as a spot starter or bye week fill-in.

Availability: Owned in ~21% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Based on his workload thus far, Pittman merits consideration in all leagues.

5. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants
Rising ValueBradshaw didn’t see the field in Week 1, which left many fantasy owners wondering what his role would be this season. The concerns were quieted in Week 2, as Bradshaw scored two touchdowns (one receiving and one rushing). Although he remains third on the depth chart behind Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward, Bradshaw still has the explosiveness he showed at the end of last season. This wasn’t the last time we’ll see a big game out of him this season.

Availability: Owned in ~31% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Bradshaw is a dangerous runner; unfortuantely he’s also a risky fantasy play until his role becomes more well-defined.

6. Pierre Thomas, Saints
Rising ValueThe Forecast identified Thomas last week as a player worth grabbing. Although his numbers against the Redskins weren’t fantastic, he did manage to record another touchdown. Thomas will continue to have value for fantasy purposes as long as he holds off Duece McAllister for the team’s goal-line duties. If Reggie Bush were to go down with an injury, Thomas would likely become a top 20 RB. He should be owned in leagues with 12 or more teams and TD-heavy leagues. 

Availability: Owned in ~28% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Thomas merits a roster spot in larger leagues and is a good handcuff for Bush owners.

7. Fred Jackson, Bills
SleeperJackson rushed the ball just six times for 17 yards against the Jaguars but he played a huge part in the passing game. QB Trent Edwards threw Jackson’s way seven times. The crafty RB caught all seven passes and turned them into 83 yards. The formula worked as the Bills knocked off the favored Jags. Expect similar contributions from Jackson in the future. The team lined him up all over the field—tailback, fullback and even split out wide as a receiver. Think of him as a poor man’s Reggie Bush and if you’re in a points-per-reception league, make a play for him on your waiver wire this week.

Availability: Owned in ~13% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Jackson could be a huge get in PPR leagues.

8. Brandon Jackson, Packers
SleeperBrandon Jackson is finally showing some of the talent the Packers were looking for when they spent a second-round draft pick on him in 2007. The former Nebraska Cornhusker recorded 61 yards and a touchdown while subbing for Ryan Grant, who played but struggled. I don’t see Jackson taking the starting gig from Grant, but his effort against the Lions may buy him more carries in the future. At this point it would be appropriate for Grant owners to pick up Jackson as a handcuff. Non-Grant owners may want to stash Jackson on their rosters in case Grant gets injured. 

Availability: Owned in ~37% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Jackson is a good prospect in deep leagues.

9. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
SleeperLarry Johnson blew up at team management after Sunday’s loss to the Raiders. He complained about not getting enough carries and indicated he didn’t see himself as part of Kansas City’s future. If this develops into a public spat the plays out through the media, Johnson could find himself on the bench. Charles would likely become the starter if Johnson gets the hook.

Availability: Owned in ~12% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Charles is worth a bench spot if you have deep rosters.

WIDE RECEIVERS

1. Bryant Johnson, 49ers
Rising ValueJohnson disappointed in Week 1, but came alive against the Seahawks on Sunday. He finished the day with six receptions for 78 yards and a touchdown. If wide receiver is the position that ails your fantasy squad, Johnson and Issac Bruce (below) could be instant elixirs. Both players should come up big when San Francisco faces Detroit this week. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz will have special incentive to put plenty of points on the board against his former team. Johnson lived in the shadows of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin while he played in Arizona. He could be poised for a breakout year.

Availability: Owned in ~38% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: With a favorable upcoming schedule, Johnson deserves a roster spot in all leagues.

2. Amani Toomer, Giants
Rising ValueDespite being pressed for playing time by young wideouts, Amani Toomer continues to hang onto his starting job. The old man was targeted 12 times and caught six passes for 67 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. Not a bad day’s work for a 34 year old wideout. Before you go out and grab him, know that Toomer’s upside is limited. He’s unlikely to all of the sudden become a top 15 WR. However, he gets enough looks on offense to be a borderline WR3 in leagues with 12 or more owners. Manning has thrown his way in the redzone for two consecutive weeks. If you can live with 50-70 yards per week with the occasional TD, Toomer is worth a pickup.

Availability: Owned in ~31% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Toomer has limited upside but is consistent enough to be a part-time fantasy player.

3. Isaac Bruce, 49ers
Rising ValueBruce was drafted in 71 percent of fantasy leagues but he didn’t record a catch in the opener against the Cardinals. Many owners promptly cut him; he’s now only owned in 51 percent of leagues. Look for an immediate spike back to his original level or higher. Bruce caught four passes for 153 yards in Week 2, averaging 38.1 yards per catch—a good sign that the vet still has wheels. If Mike Martz stays true to form and continues to call 30-40 passing plays per game, Bruce should continue to be a fantasy contributor. With a matchup next week against the Lions, Bruce is a great pickup and play option.

Availability: Owned in ~51% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Bruce is worth a look in all leagues.

4. Justin Gage, Titans
Rising ValueGage is the top wideout on the Titans. Since Derrick Mason left town, that title has meant very little. No Tennessee receiver has had more than four touchdown receptions since Mason flew the coup in 2004. How pathetic is that? If the streak of receiving futility is to be broken this year, it will likely be Justin Gage who steps up. Gage was decent enough to merit a roster spot in 2007, surpassing 60 yards receiving in five of his last eight games. With Vince Young out of action indefinitely, look for Gage to become an even more significant fantasy contributor in 2008. Kerry Collins brings more experience to the position and has the passing skills to turn Gage into an 800-900 yard receiver. He targeted Gage six times on Sunday, completing five passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. With the Texans and Vikings on tap next, look for more good things from Gage.

Availability: Owned in ~31% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Consider acquiring Gage as a fourth WR who can be used as a bye week fill-in or injury replacement.

5. Chris Henry, Bengals
SleeperHenry is slated to return to action in Week 5. If you can sacrifice the roster space for two more weeks, the troubled wideout could inject new life into your receiving corps. You may hate everything this guy stands for, but you can’t argue with his production on the field. It’s a little known fact, but Henry has the same number of touchdown receptions as Chad Johnson since 2006—even though Henry has started seven fewer games. It seems the entire fantasy football world is down on the Bengals at this point, but the team has faced a stacked deck thus far with games against the Ravens and Titans. Look for Henry to be a serviceable third receiver for fantasy teams when he returns to the team.

Availability: Owned in ~26% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Henry is a sneaky pickup this week since he’s just three weeks away from returning to action.

6. Chansi Stuckey, Jets
SleeperStuckey is one of six receivers to score touchdowns in each of the first two weeks. I dismissed the first TD on the grounds that it came on a fluke Hail Mary play. In Week 2 though, the TD occurred on a legitimate two-yard pass that Stuckey pulled down in the corner of the endzone. All told, Favre threw Stuckey’s way four times, completing all four passes for 43 yards. At this point, I think it’s too early to trust Stuckey as a starter unless you play in an ultra-deep league. However, I like his upside because Favre has shown a tendency to look for him in clutch situations. Also, Laveranues Coles began showing signs of being brittle last season. In the event of an injury, Stuckey would become a starter.

Availability: Owned in ~1% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Stuckey is a good prospect to stash on your bench in deep leagues.

7. Brandon Lloyd, Bears
SleeperLloyd was targeted 10 times in Week 2, most by any Bears wideout. He caught five passes for 66 yards. The former 49ers and Redskins receiver isn’t short on talent, but has found himself in the coach’s doghouse in both his previous stays. If Lloyd can keep his head on straight, he could surprise. Chicago has two tough upcoming games (TAM and PHI) followed by two patsies (DET and ATL). Acquire Lloyd as a prospect who could develop into a WR3.

Availability: Owned in ~1% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Take a flier on Lloyd if the WR pool in your league is running thin.

8. James Jones, Packers
SleeperJones was on the receiving end of Aaron Rodgers’ first touchdown pass against the Lions. The argument could be made that the pass was intended for Greg Jennings but Jones cut in front of it and made the catch. Nonetheless, Jones takes the credit. With Green Bay’s offense clicking, Jones could become a viable fantasy player—especially with the bye weeks quickly approaching. Despite playing behind Jennings and Donald Driver, Jones still received eight targets in Week 2. He missed the opener because he was recovering from a sprained knee.

Availability: Owned in ~7% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Jones is capable of producing a big game but won’t be consistent enough to be trusted every week. Pick him up as a spot starter.

TIGHT ENDS

1. Tony Scheffler, Broncos
Rising ValueNo matter which scoring system your league uses, Scheffler was the top-scoring TE in Week 2. He caught six passes for 64 yards and two TDs.  Amazingly there were enough balls to go around even though WR Brandon Marshall was thrown to an astonishing 20 times. With the Denver offense on a roll, the sky is the limit for Scheffler. If he’s available in your league and you need a TE, consider yourself lucky. Scheffler has all the makings of a top 5-7 TE in 2008.

Availability: Owned in ~56% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Scheffler has stud-TE potential and should be owned in all TE mandatory leagues.

2. John Carlson, Seahawks
SleeperEver since Seattle receivers started dropping like flies during the preseason, fantasy owners have been trying to figure out which receiver is going to catch the lion’s share of the passes for the Seahawks. Turns out the answer might not be a receiver after all. Rookie TE John Carlson caught six passes for 78 yards in Week 2, which led all Seattle pass catchers. Oh, and another Seahawks receiver got hurt. Logan Payne tore a knee ligament and will miss the remainder of the season. Seattle is a desperate team. But they’re a desperate team that happens to play one of the NFL’s worst defenses in Week 3 (St. Louis). Carlson is worth a spot start.

Availability: Owned in ~36% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: With a matchup this week against the Rams, Carlson is a good pickup and play option.

KICKER

1. Joe Nedney, 49ers
SleeperOwners disappointed in their kicker should be able to get a boost from Joe Nedney this week. The veteran kicker nailed four field goals and three extra points in Sunday’s overtime win against the Seahawks. The 49ers get the Lions at home this week so there should be no shortage of points. Detroit has allowed 82 points in the first two weeks.

Availability: Owned in ~7% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Nedney is an excellent play this week and could be a decent kicker going forward if the 49ers continue to play well.

DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS

1. San Francisco 49ers
SleeperIn two games, the 49ers have recorded three turnovers, four sacks and a touchdown. Those are solid but unspectacular numbers. However, look for above average production from San Francisco’s defense this week when they go to battle against a Lions. Detroit gave up two late defensive touchdowns to the Packers. While those scores were a bit of a fluke, QB Jon Kitna has been sacked five times and thrown three interceptions. The 49ers should have plenty of opportunities to make plays on defense.  

Availability: Owned in ~10% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: The 49ers are a good one-week spot start this week versus Detroit.

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