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FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

Free Agent Forecast - Week 7
Paul Sandy
October 14, 2008
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QUARTERBACKS

1. Brad Johnson, Cowboys
Injury ReplacementTony Romo is expected to miss the next four games with broken pinkie. Veteran Brad Johnson will take the helm of the Cowboys high-powered offense. At this point, Johnson’s arm strength is comparable to that of Betty White. But with big possession targets like Terrell Owens and Jason Witten, Johnson doesn’t have to have a gun in order to put up decent stats. The last time he saw relevant action was a 23-game stretch for the Vikings from 2005-2006. In those 23 starts, he posted 21 touchdowns and 19 interceptions for a pretty crummy Minnesota offense. The Cowboys face St. Louis this week so Johnson is useful immediately. However, after that they draw some venerable defenses (Bucs, Giants and Redskins), so don’t look at Johnson as a savior for your team. Instead consider him a serviceable QB who can be used as part of a platoon.

Availability: Owned in ~1% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Johnson should be the top free agent QB target this week.

2. Matt Ryan, Falcons
Rising ValueThe Forecast stumped for Ryan back in Week 2, prediciting he’d post the most relevant fantasy stats for a rookie QB since Peyton Manning. Although he had shaky fantasy performances against the Bucs and Panthers, for the most part he’s been a steady contributor. After recording his first two-touchdown game two weeks ago in Lambeau, Ryan turned in his first 300-yard effort on Sunday against the Bears. With an upcoming bye followed by a game against the blitz-happy Eagles, Ryan is probably going to be most comfortable on your bench for the next couple weeks. However, the schedule softens up a bit after that with games against the Raiders, Saints and Broncos.

Availability: Owned in ~42% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Ryan is worth a look in all leagues.

2. Jeff Garcia, Buccaneers
Bye Week RescueGarcia stepped in for the injured Brian Griese and led the Bucs to a convicing win over Carolina. While it’s not a given that he’ll get the start this week, if he does, he’s worth a look as a bye-week fill-in. Tampa plays host to Seattle in Week 7. If there’s one thing we know about the Seahawks, it’s that they don’t play well on the road—particularly when they have to travel all the way across the country. Seattle ranks 22nd in the NFL against the pass and they’ve allowed five passing scores in the last two games.

Availability: Owned in ~18% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Whichever QB starts for the Bucs should be good for above average production against the Seahawks.

RUNNING BACKS

1. Dominic Rhodes, Colts
Injury ReplacementJoseph Addai left Sunday’s game against the Ravens in the first quarter with a hamstring injury. Given the way hamstring issues tend to linger, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him miss some time. He’ll be replaced in the starting lineup by veteran Dominic Rhodes. Rhodes recorded 73 yards and a touchdown against a vaunted Ravens defense after Addai went down on Sunday. He’s certainly playable this week against a Packers squad that allows over 150 rushing yards per game. Longer term, if Rhodes has a good showing while Addai is out, don’t be shocked to see the two split carries more evenly going forward. Addai has had a disappointing season thus far. He’s averaging 3.5 yards per carry and only has 216 rushing yards. In the year the Colts won the Super Bowl, Addai and Rhodes formed a competent RB tandem that averaged 110 yards per game.

Availability: Owned in ~25% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Rhodes should be owned in all leagues.

2. Warrick Dunn, Buccaneers
Rising ValueStill amazingly available in over 40% of fantasy leagues, Dunn continues to churn out yardage game after game. He’s recorded three straight performances with 80+ yards, capped off by a 133-yard effort on Sunday against the Panthers. Dunn’s 22 rushing attempts on Sunday are beefy compared to the five attempts by supposed starter Earnest Graham. The two often were on the field the same time with Graham lined up as a fullback. The scheme worked so well head coach Jon Gruden might want to continue to leverage it. Dunn is playable this week against a Seattle defense that ranks 24th in the NFL versus the run.  

Availability: Owned in ~56% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Dunn merits a roster spot in all leagues and is useful this week against Seattle.

3. Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk, Patriots
Rising ValueNew England’s backfield hasn’t been friendly for fantasy purposes in 2008. A rash of injuries combined with ineffective running, split carries and a tough schedule have frustrated fantasy owners all season. Starter Laurence Maroney and LaMont Jordan missed Sunday’s game against the Chargers. With those two RBs out of the equation, the carries were split between Morris and Faulk. Both players turned in acceptable fantasy performances. Faulk ended the day with 77 yards. Morris registered 75 yards and a touchdown. As long as Maroney and Jordan continue to sit, Faulk and Morris should continue to post useful fantasy stats. New England’s schedule looks favorable from a rushing perspective with upcoming games against the Broncos, Rams and Colts. Choose Faulk in a PPR league and Morris in standard and TD-heavy leagues.

Availability: Owned in ~55% and 17 of leagues respectively.
Forecast guidance: Morris should be owned in all leagues and Faulk is worth a look in PPR leagues.

4. Cedric Benson, Bengals
SleeperAnother game. Another bad performance for Chris Perry. Perry rushed 11 times for just 14 yards. After the game, head coach Marvin Lewis hinted that changes could be coming. Look for Benson to get the nod as soon as this week. It’s true Benson is the same RB who floundered in Chicago, but the bottom line is there’s a good chance he’ll be the starter for the Bengals for the remainder of the year. Consider him a potential spot starter or low-end flex player if he overtakes Perry. A game this week against the Steelers doesn’t look promising, but more attractive matchups with the Jaguars and Texans loom.  

Availability: Owned in ~38% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Benson is worth a look in all leagues.

5. Ahman Green, Texans
Bye Week RescueGreen has become notorious in fantasy circles for his persistent injury issues. However, he’s as healthy as he’s been at anytime this season. The coaching staff sees it and has fed him a fair amount of carries the last two games. He recorded 41 yards on eight carries Sunday against the Dolphins. That’s over five yards an attempt, which is saying something for a RB who many pundits had already buried. At this point it’s still too early to trust Green for anything other than the rare spot start when a dream matchup pops up. Kind of like this week against the Lions. Detroit did an admirable job of keeping Adrian Peterson out of the endzone last Sunday, but they still rank 31st in the NFL in run defense. Green isn’t a great option, but he’s passable if you’re in desperation mode.

Availability: Owned in ~26% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Green is a passable one-week option against the Lions.

6. Ray Rice, Ravens
SleeperRice was a preseason darling but quickly fell out of favor with fantasy owners when Willis McGahee returned to the lineup and Le’Ron McClain started stealing carries. But McGahee left Sunday’s game with an undisclosed injury and McClain may have one foot in the coach’s doghouse after a fumble and a poor performance overall. Early indications suggest McGahee will be back next week. However, don’t be surprised if Rice starts cutting into McClain’s playing time as the season progresses. Acquire Rice on his potential to see increased playing time in the second half of 2008. 

Availability: Owned in ~25% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Rice is worth a look in deeper leagues.

WIDE RECEIVERS

1. Kevin Walter, Texans
Rising ValueAfter a disappointing 36-yard effort in Week 5, Walter bounced back against the Dolphins in Week 6 with four receptions for 98 yards. A matchup this week against the Lions bodes well for a repeat performance. Following the Detroit game, Houston faces the Bengals and Vikings. He should be a fine WR3 or flex player in all of those contests.

Availability: Owned in ~53% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Walter is a smart play this week against the Lions.

2. Devin Hester, Bears
Rising ValueThe Forecast pegged Hester and his counterpart Rashied Davis as promising bye-week pickups last week. Both players delivered, but Hester is shaping up to be a WR you can consider starting each week. He has scored or posted 80+ yards in three straight games. Hester should benefit from another favorable matchup in Week 7 against the Vikings. Though Minnesota’s secondary has been playing well lately, I like Hester’s chances against a team he gashed the last time these two teams met in Soldier Field. In that game, Hester had an 89-yard punt return and an 81-yard touchdown reception. Start Hester and don’t be afraid to plug in Davis if you’re in a deeper league.

Availability: Owned in ~53% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Hester should be owned in all leagues.

3. Antwaan Randle El, Redskins
Bye Week RescueIn standard scoring formats, Randle El has posted seven or more points in four out of six games this season. On Sunday, QB Jason Campbell threw his way seven times, completing five passes for 87 yards. Randle El, who was trumpeted here last week, is in a great situation and his production thus far isn’t an aberration. Opposing defenses are preoccupied with stopping Clinton Portis and Santana Moss, which gives Randle El space to work. He’s not a player you necessarily want to rely on week in and week out as your third wide receiver. However, you can consider him a good bench player who will deliver servicable production when you need to plug him in. His upcoming schedule makes Randle El all the more attractive with games against the Browns and Lions.

Availability: Owned in ~48%  of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Randle El is worth a look as a bye-week option.

4. Malcom Floyd, Chargers
Injury ReplacementWith Chris Chambers sidelined due to an ankle injury on Sunday night, Floyd was thrust into a prominent offensive role. He delivered, catching three passes for 75 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots. We likely won’t know Chambers’ status until later in the week. If he sits out again, Floyd will be a decent start against the Bills. Monitor the news around Chambers and if it looks like he won’t be ready to go, snatch up Floyd.

Availability: Owned in ~0% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Floyd is worth startting this week if Chambers sits again.

5. Donnie Avery, Rams
SleeperAvery, who was the first wideout taken in the NFL draft this year, was a non-factor in the first two games but has been seeing more looks lately. He posted four receptions for 74 yards against the Redskins, including a 34-yard clutch grab that set up the winning field goal. Although it’s too early to trust Avery in your starting lineup, he has the potential to develop into a contributor if he can build on his Week 6 effort. A game this week against the Cowboys is a good place to start. Dallas has allowed two receiving touchdowns in each of their last three games.

Availability: Owned in ~4% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Avery merits consideration in deep leagues and dynasty/keeper leagues.

6. Justin Gage, Titans
Bye Week RescueGage has been out of action for the past couple weeks and is readily available in most leagues. He missed Week 5 with an injury and Week 6 because of a bye. With the extra week to rest, he should be healthy and ready to go this week against the Chiefs. Kansas City has given up big production in the passing game in both of their last two outings. When healthy, Gage is QB Kerry Collins’ favorite target. Look for the duo to hook up for 70+ yards.

Availability: Owned in ~31% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Gage is a sneaky play this week against the Chiefs.

TIGHT ENDS

1. Daniel Graham, Broncos
Bye Week RescueGraham caught just one pass Sunday against the Bucs, but it was for a touchdown. With Denver’s receiving corps banged up and starting TE Tony Scheffler expected to miss another game, the club might be more inclined to look toward Graham this week. New England has ceded a TD to a TE in two of their last three games. The TEs who are one bye this week aren’t typical starters in most fantasy leagues, but if you need a one-week option, Graham is worth a look. Just recognize that he’s a boom-or-bust type pickup.

Availability: Owned in ~1% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Graham is a risky play but one that could pay dividends this week.

2. Vernon Davis, 49ers
Rising ValueDavis is such a tease so I hesitate to even mention him. However, you can’t argue with his physical talent. When he posts six receptions for 75 yards it’s not something you ignore entirely. What’s most noteworthy about the performance isn’t the 75 yards, it’s the number of targets Davis received: eight. That’s a heavy volume of passes for a TE in Mike Martz’s offense. If Davis can even get 4-6 looks per game, it would make him worthy of a roster spot. Take a gamble on him if TE has been your Achilles heel this season. Otherwise keep your eye on his performance and targets this week against the Giants.  

Availability: Owned in ~43% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Davis is worth a look in deep, TE-mandatory leagues but should be kept on the bench until he becomes more consistent.

KICKER

1. Kris Brown, Texans
Bye Week RescueBrown was three-for-three on field goal kicks Sunday against the Dolphins and added two extra points. It was his third consecutive game with nine or more points. Based on his streak of strong performances and a favorable matchup this week against the Lions, Brown is an outstanding Week 7 acquisition. Following the Lions, Houston will face the Bengals and Vikings, so he might even be a guy you can hang onto for a few games.

Availability: Owned in ~38% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Brown is an outstanding pickup and play this week against the Lions.

2. Taylor Mehlhaff, Saints
SleeperMehlhaff was brought into replace the wildly inconsistent Martin Grammatica. How did he do? He connected on two of three field goals and booted four extra points. Given the high-powered nature of the New Orleans offense, Mehlhaff should have plenty of opportunities to score points this season. He’s a smart plug and play acquisition this week against the Panthers, who have allowed multiple field goal kicks in three of their last four games.

Availability: Owned in ~3% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Mehlhaff should put up consistent points going forward and deserves a look in all leagues.

DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS

1. Houston Texans
Bye Week RescueAlthough he didn’t throw an interception Sunday against the Vikings, Detroit QB Dan Orlovsky clearly isn’t immune to making a bonehead play. Lined up under the shadow of his own goal post, Orlovsky took the snap, backpedaled and promptly stepped over the backline of the endzone resulting in a safety. In addition to the two pointer, Minnesota recorded six sacks. It was the fourth straight game in which Detroit has given up four or more sacks. Give the Texans a look this week as a one-time stopgap.  

Availability: Owned in ~13% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: If there isn’t a clear option on your waiver wire like the Bucs or Steelers, trust the Texans for one week.

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