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FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

Free Agent Forecast - Week 4
Paul Sandy
September 23, 2008
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QUARTERBACKS

1. Brian Griese, Buccaneers
Rising ValueGriese ranked among the best in fantasy scoring this week with 407 yards and two touchdowns. The veteran passer was an unexpected producer considering he was without his top receiving target (Joey Galloway) and he was facing one of the NFL’s best defenses (Chicago). Griese attempted an amazing 67 passes in Sunday’s game against the Bears. Fantasy owners would be wise not to write Griese off as a one-week wonder. Head coach Jon Gruden has turned “washed up” veteran QBs into relevant fantasy players before (see Rich Gannon and Jeff Garcia) and he can do it again. At this point, consider Griese a serviciable backup QB with some upside. He’s a decent start this week against the Packers, who have a banged up secondary.

Availability: Owned in ~11% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: With long-term upside and short-term value, Griese is worth a look in all leagues.

2. Kerry Collins, Titans
Bye Week RescueIf you need a bye week replacement at the QB position, the top choices are the aforementioned Griese, as well as J.T. O’Sullivan and Trent Edwards. Both O’Sullivan and Edwards have been touted by the Forecast previously and both have favorable matchups this week. If you can’t get your hands on any of them, consider plugging in Kerry Collins as a one one-week stopgap. Collins has thrown a touchdown in both games he started this year. Although his numbers aren’t spectacular, they’re decent enough to get you by for one game. The Titans play host to Minnesota this week. Although they frustrated Jake Delhomme last week, the Vikings rank 21st in the NFL against the pass. Collins should be able to put up 175 yards and a touchdown at a minimum.

Availability: Owned in ~23% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Collins is a decent bye week replacement since the Vikings can be passed on.

3. Sage Rosenfels, Texans
SleeperA couple backup QBs have already been thrust into action this season. A couple more could be in the offing. With the Browns sitting at 0-3, the Brady Quinn era might begin sooner than expected. Many fantasy owners are wondering if they should take a free agency flier on Quinn. If you have a deep enough roster, Quinn is worth a look. But the Forecast is higher on Sage Rosenfels as a darkhorse QB who has a chance of soaring this season. Rosenfels is more established and experienced than Quinn. Last December, he started four games for the Texans and threw multiple TDs twice. After this week’s game against Jacksonville, Houston’s schedule softens up with games against the Colts, Dolphins, Lions, Bengals and Vikings. If he’s handed the starting position, Rosenfels has an outside chance to post top 12 fantasy numbers.

Availability: Owned in ~2% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Rosenfels is worth a look in deep leagues, otherwise just keep your eye on the emerging controversy in Houston.

RUNNING BACKS

1. Correll Buckhalter, Eagles
Injury ReplacementBrian Westbrook went down with his annual injury (an ankle sprain), which will likely keep him on the injury report in some form for many weeks to come. Correll Buckhalter is his backup and he’s worth owning in all leagues at this point. If he gets the start for the Eagles this week, he’s definitely worth playing for fantasy purposes. Philly has one of the top offenses in the NFL, so Buckhalter should be able to produce. The problem is Westbrook is a gamer and plays through pain as well as any RB in the NFL. While it wouldn’t be surprising to see him miss one game, I doubt he’ll be sidelined for long, which limits Buckhalter’s value.

Availability: Owned in ~9% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Buckhalter should be picked up in all leagues this week.

2. Le’Ron McClain, Ravens
Rising ValueThe way carries are being divided in Baltimore has many owners scratching their head. With Willis McGahee and Ray Rice in the fold, you wouldn’t think there would be many opportunities for anyone else to contribute. Tell that to LeRon McClain, who has posted two outstanding fantasy performances in Baltimore’s first two games. Despite playing in one fewer game than just about every other RB out there, McClain ranks among the top 25 fantasy RBs in most scoring systems. The two goal-line plunges he scored this week likely indicate he’ll be Baltimore’s short yardage back going forward. That alone makes McClain fantasy relevant. Factor in that he carried the ball 17 times on Sunday and it could be interpreted as evidence that the Ravens plan to use him in the fourth quarter to close out games and break the will of exhausted opponents.

Availability: Owned in ~10% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: With two outstanding performances in two games, McClain is a solid acquisition in all leagues.

3. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
Injury ReplacementWith Willie Parker going down with a sprained knee, rookie Mendenhall is now thrust into the starting job. There is no word yet on how long Parker will be out, but odds are that it will be between 1-3 weeks. That will put his return on the outside as after the Steelers' week 6 bye. Even with the starting job Mendenhall's fantasy value is going to be limited due to the schedule - Baltimore this week and Jacksonville next. Veteran backup Mewelde Moore will also see his touches increased, further downgrading Mendenhall's value.

Availability: N/A
Forecast guidance: Mendenhall should be picked up in all leagues this week as Parker insurance.

4.  Rudi Johnson, Lions
Rising ValueI expressed my doubts about Johnson prior to the season. I reiterated those doubts after he was acquired by the Lions. But after a solid performance against the 49ers this weekend, I’m eating my words. Johnson racked up 131 all-purpose yards on 14 carries and three receptions. Meanwhile, rookie Kevin Smith had just three carries for 14 yards. It seems likely that Johnson will have a significant role going forward. Even though the Lions have a bye this week, Johnson is worth a look. He appears fully recovered from his hamstring injury and the bye will give him a chance to become even more familiar with the offense.

Availability: Owned in ~57% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Johnson has a bye week so he won’t provide immediate help. Nonetheless, he’s worth a look in all leagues.

5. Pierre Thomas, Saints
Rising ValueI’ve been harping on Thomas in this column and other articles ad nauseum, but he’s still available in over 60% of leagues. So I’ll sing his praises once again. Thomas is getting the goal-line work for the Saints and sees a fair amount of touches while spelling Reggie Bush. He has three touchdowns this year and would stand to gain immensely if Bush were to go down with an injury. Given that Bush is averaging about 23 touches per game plus getting work on special teams, an injury wouldn’t be a shocker. Grab Thomas for his ability to get the ball across the stripe on a regular basis. Hang onto him for his upside.

Availability: Owned in ~38% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Thomas is good enough to be a flex player or bench RB in most leagues.

6. Michael Pittman, Broncos
Bye Week RescueIn case you weren’t paying attention, Pittman has scored at least one touchdown in each of Denver’s first three games. It’s tough to find a fantasy player who’s been more consistent. It’s true he’s getting very little work besides the goal-line carries, but at the rate the Broncos are scoring that might not matter. Denver has averaged 38 points per game this season, which has helped Pittman’s cause. When an offense consistently performs like a juggernaut, it mitigates the risk of starting a goal-line specialist. So as long as Denver continues to produce, Pittman is worth plugging in as a flex player or spot starter. He’s an excellent bye week fill-in this week against the woeful Chiefs. In deep leagues, you could even consider starting Andre Hall, who’s been productive in limited action but would figure to see plenty of touches if Denver gets an early lead.

Availability: Owned in ~44% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Pick up and play Pittman this week against a Chiefs team that ranks 31st in the NFL against the run.

WIDE RECEIVERS

1. Antonio Bryant, Buccaneers  
Rising ValueMany fantasy owners had Bryant pegged as a deep sleeper during the preseason. While it took him a few weeks to fully awaken, Bryant turned in a monster performance in Week 3. He deserves consideration in all fantasy leagues. Tampa’s top wideout, Joey Galloway, is nursing a sprained foot that could keep him sidelined for awhile. The injury along with head coach Jon Gruden’s inclination to pass early and often make Bryant a prime pickup this week. Remember, Bryant is a guy who had a ton of talent coming out of college but found himself in the coach’s doghouse too often. He’s matured now and couldn’t find himself in a better situation than working under Gruden. He’s a sneaky start this week in a matchup against the Packers, who will be without starting cornerback Al Harris.

Availability: Owned in ~7% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Bryant could be a steal if Gruden continues his pass-happy ways.

2. Brandon Lloyd, Bears
Rising ValueWhile other fantasy pundits were dismissing Lloyd or ignoring him altogether last week, the Forecast recommended adding him as an emerging WR3. He is clearly the Bears top receiver. After being targeted 10 times in Week 2, Lloyd got another nine looks on Sunday against the Bucs. He converted six of those targets into receptions for 124 yards and a touchdown. Lloyd has been a problem child in his previous stints but now looks comfortable in offensive coordinator Ron Turner’s system. (Incidentally, Turner was Lloyd’s head coach in college.) Although the Bears favor the running game, Kyle Orton has attempted 32 or more passes in each of the last two games. An upcoming schedule that features games against the Vikings, Falcons and Lions (twice), is about as good as it gets for Lloyd. However, a game this week against the Eagles doesn’t look promising. If you pick up Lloyd this week, plan on being patient with him.

Availability: Owned in ~4% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Lloyd has become relevant in all fantasy leagues.

3. Chansi Stuckey, Jets
Rising ValueStuckey has posted a touchdown in three straight games. Considering his small stature (6’0” and 195 lbs), it’s amazing that Stuckey has fared so well in the red zone, where his two most recent TDs have occurred. Nonetheless, Favre and Stuckey seem to be in-synch, particularly around the goal line. With the Cardinals on tap next for New York, Stuckey is a decent pickup and play this week. Arizona’s defense fared well in the first two games, but the Cards were picked apart by Jason Campbell for 193 yards and two scores. Consider Stuckey a low-end WR3 this week.

Availability: Owned in ~39% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Stucky is 3-for-3 on TDs and is worth consideration in all leagues—especially with six teams on bye this week.

4. Robert Meachem and Lance Moore, Saints
Bye Week RescueGuessing which New Orleans receiver is going to have a good game is akin to Russian Roulette for fantasy owners. But with the injuries mounting down on the Bayou, your probability of winning (or at least not losing) is going up. Marques Colston got hurt in Week 1. David Patten (groin) and Jeremy Shockey (sports hernia) got bit by the injury bug in Week 3. Of the remaining healthy pass catchers, Robert Meachem and Lance Moore appear to be the most promising. Meachem has somehow strung together two decent fantasy performances despite only catching three passes. Moore led all Saints wideouts with seven receptions for 78 yards in Week 3. Considering Moore caught every ball Drew Brees threw his way, he’s likely the safer bet (particularly in PPR leagues). Meachem is a better pickup in TD-heavy leagues.   

Availability: Owned in ~37% and ~1% of leagues respectively.
Forecast guidance: Meachem and Moore are playable this week in 12-team leagues.

5. Bobby Engram and Deion Branch, Seahawks
SleeperIf WR has been a sore spot for your franchise and you need a long-term solution at the position rather than another spot starter, Engram could be your man. He’s been out for the first few games with a shoulder injury but is slated to return after Seattle’s Week 4 bye. As Matt Hasselbeck’s most trusted possession receiver, Engram is a viable starter in 12-team leagues and is particularly valuable in PPR leagues. Deion Branch is also slated to return around the same timeframe and is also worth a look. I just like Engram better because he rarely has an awful game and his injury likely won’t impact his speed and elusiveness. Branch’s might.   

Availability: Owned in ~36% and ~38 of leagues respectively.
Forecast guidance: If you can afford a roster spot, Engram or Branch could help improve your WR corps regardless of your league’s size and scoring system.

6. Kevin Curtis, Eagles
SleeperReports out of Philadelphia suggest Curtis will resume practicing this week and could be ready to take the field in Week 5. Like Engram and Branch, Curtis is a proven wideout who could be a viable WR3 when he returns. Curtis finished last season with 1,110 yards and six scores. With DeSean Jackson in the fold and Reggie Brown also expected to return soon, the Eagles look poised to become an offensive powerhouse. Acquire Curtis in anticipaion of his return.

Availability: Owned in ~40% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Curtis is worth a look in all leagues.

7. Josh Reed and Roscoe Parrish, Bills
Bye Week RescueHere’s a list of the wide receivers who have scored a touchdown or posted 60 yards in the first three games against the Rams: DeSean Jackson, Greg Lewis, Hank Baskett, Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, Domenik Hixon, Billy McMullen and Michael Bumpus. If you need a bye week replacement, strip mine the Bills offense for an option. Start with Josh Reed, who leads all Buffalo receivers with 14 catches. Also take a look at the nifty Roscoe Parrish, who is a threat to score a TD every time he touches the ball. Don’t be surprised if both players excel against St. Louis as so many others have. 

Availability: Owned in ~1% and ~2 of leagues respectively.
Forecast guidance: Reed and Parrish are sneaky plays in deep leagues this week against a punchless Rams defense that has given up solid fantasy production to almost every receiver they’ve faced.

TIGHT ENDS

1. Jerramy Stevens, Buccaneers
Rising ValueTampa QB Brian Griese threw 17 passes to tight ends in Week 3. Ten of them went in the direction of Stevens. He caught five of those balls for 61 yards and a touchdown. Stevens missed the first two games of the season because of a suspension (banned substance). His re-emergence shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. Nor should it be written off as a fluke. Stevens was quite productive at the end of last season. In the four games the Bucs played in December, Stevens posted four touchdowns. That’s some quality production for a TE. Consider adding Stevens with the hope that his hot streak—now four quality fantasy performances in his last five regular season games—continues.

Availability: Owned in ~1% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Stevens is worth a look in all TE mandatory leagues.

KICKER

1. Matt Prater, Broncos
Rising ValuePrater is the fourth highest scoring kicker in the NFL. If he’s available in your league and your regular kicker hasn’t lived up to your expectations, Prater is a great acquisition. It’s difficult for a kicker to be a true difference maker in the fantasy world, but if he continues to put up double-digit points (as he’s done in two of the first three weeks), Prater could help you win a few games.

Availability: Owned in ~55% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Prater is a no-brainer pickup who should be owned in all leagues.

2. Rian Lindell, Bills
Bye Week RescueOpposing kickers are averaging 10.6 points per game against the Rams thus far, which makes Rian Lindell a good pickup for Week 4. Owners who will be without Adam Vinitieri and John Carney this week can look to Lindell for production. The Bills offense has been solid so far this season and they’ve given Lindell scoring opportunities each week. He’s had at least two field goal attempts in all three games this season. Look for around 9-11 points this week.

Availability: Owned in ~17% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: With a cushy matchup this week against the Rams, Lindell is a fine bye week replacement.

DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS

1. Denver Broncos
Bye Week RescueA mediocre Falcons defense posted four turnovers, two sacks and a defensive touchdown last week against the Chiefs. Kansas City QB Tyler Thigpen is in over his head. Exploit his youth and inexperience this week by starting the Broncos. Does Denver have a good defense? No way, but they have enough playmakers to record some turnovers and sacks. Give them a look if you need some help this week on the defensive front.

Availability: Owned in ~17% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Consider using the Broncos as a stopgap in Week 4.

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