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FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

Free Agent Forecast - Week 1
Paul Sandy
September 8, 2009
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ICON LEGEND
Rockstar Rockstar Performer / Free Agent
Worth a Look Worth a Look
Injury Injury Replacement
Sleeper Sleeper
Rescue Roster Rescue / Temporary Fix
Outlook Favorable Schedule Outlook

Welcome to another season of the Free Agent Forecast. This weekly column is published every Tuesday morning and aims to identify free agents who will improve your chances of hoisting your league’s trophy at year end.

Given the diverse scoring systems and sizes of fantasy leagues, producing a weekly list of free agents that satisfies the masses can be challenging. For the most part, the column will hone in on players who are available in about 40% or more of all fantasy leagues. If you play in a small league (8 teams), chances are there may be better players to pick up than you see listed here. If you play in a large league (16 teams), the majority of the players highlighted may already be on a squad; however, expect to find hidden gems, as well. In addition to scouting players who had breakout performances in the previous week, the Forecast will dig deep to identify players who may surface as fantasy contributors (or even super stars) a week or two down the line.    

QUARTERBACKS

1. Shaun Hill, 49ers
Worth a LookOutlookIn the nine games Hill played last year, he averaged 19.76 fantasy points per game. Despite the lofty production, he went undrafted in over half of all fantasy leagues. Although he’s missing unsigned rookie WR Michael Crabtree, Hill should have enough weapons to score some points in 2009. Veteran Isaac Bruce and youngster Josh Morgan anchor a servicable WR corps. And San Francisco TE Vernon Davis is thought to be on the cusp of a breakout season by many 49er insiders. Plus Hill has the ability to make some points on the ground; he tallied two rushing scores in his nine games in ‘08. A fast start could be in the offing for Hill as the 49ers will play the Cardinals, Seahawks and Rams in three of the first four games.

Availability: Owned in ~47% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Consider Hill a decent backup QB with the upside to develop into a starter should your top passer get hurt or disappoint.

2. Kyle Orton, Broncos
SleeperFunny thing about fantasy football: You don’t need to be a great NFL QB to be a great fantasy QB. Kansas City’s Tyler Thigpen and the aforementioned Hill had some huge games in 2008—mostly because their teams were playing from behind. I like Orton for the same reason. I think the Broncos are going to be one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2009. Surely they’re going to have one of the worst defenses. That means they’ll be playing from behind. And that means they’ll be passing. And that means Orton won’t suck as much as Bronco fans think he will. He’ll be a guy you can count on for plenty of fourth quarter garbage points.

Availability: Owned in ~60% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Orton is worth a look as a backup with upside.

RUNNING BACKS

1. Mike Bell, Saints
InjuryOutlookPierre Thomas’ stock was soaring during the preseason but it’s looking like a sprained knee ligament may cause him to miss time. Reports out of New Orleans indicate Thomas was walking with a noticeable limp on Monday. At this point, consider him questionable at best for Week 1. If Thomas can’t go, Reggie Bush and Mike Bell would likely split the carries. Don’t be surprised if Bell gets the most work as the Saints will likely want to limit Bush’s touches this season to keep him healthy. Should Thomas sit, Bell is extremely playable for fantasy purposes against the Lions. At the very least, he should get you a touchdown.

Availability: Owned in ~7% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Don’t be afraid to plug and play Bell this week if Pierre Thomas can’t play.

2. Cadillac Williams, Buccaneers
Worth a LookIn a bit of a shocker, Cadillac Williams now appears top the Tampa depth chart — above Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham. The current plan is that Williams will start the game and play two series. Then Ward will get two and finally Graham will get one. After that, the team will ride the hot hand so to speak. With all of the knee troubles Williams has had, it seems unlikely he would hold up for a full season. Nonetheless, he’s a starter and starters are hard to come by. Grab him in 12 team leagues if you’re in need of some depth.
 
Availability: Owned in ~50% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Williams is worth a look as a fourth RB.

3. James Davis, Browns
SleeperRumors were swirling last week that starting RB Jamal Lewis might be released. Although he survived the final cut, the writing could be on the wall for the aging veteran. Lewis looked sluggish and tentative all preseason. If his futile play carries forward into the regular season, rookie James Davis could be called to duty. Davis was the star of Cleveland’s training camp, drawing praise for his gamebreaking ability. He could be just the spark the Browns need on offense.

Availability: Owned in ~28% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Davis is an excellent sleeper in any league.

4. Fred Taylor, Patriots
Worth a LookIn 2008, the Patriots ranked sixth in the NFL in rushing yards and fourth in rushing touchdowns. Make no mistake, there are fantasy points to be had in the New England backfield. Although the Belichick offense is crowded with RBs, it’s worth rolling the dice on 12-year veteran Fred Taylor. He may be 33 years old, but Taylor still has some gas left in the tank. After all, he’s been splitting carries with Maurice Jones Drew for the last few years. Belichick loves his veteran players and a leader like Taylor could emerge as one of his favorite guys to lean on. Don’t be surprised to see solid but unspectacular stats from Taylor throughout the 2009 campaign.

Availability: Owned in ~59% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Taylor seems to have the best chance of leading the Patriots in attempts and yards.

5. Bernard Scott, Bengals
SleeperRookie Bernard Scott is entrenched as Cincinnati’s number two RB behind Cedric Benson. Based on Benson’s track record, it’s not unreasonable to think he will fail to live up to expectations. Scott is still a bit raw but he’s got the speed and shiftiness to take it the distance every time he touches the ball. If he gets a chance, watch out. At the very least, he should serve as an excellent change of pace for Benson. If Benson can’t establish himself this week against the lowly Broncos run defense, it would be a bad omen for him — and a good one for Scott. 

Availability: Owned in ~8% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Scott is a quality sleeper in leagues with 10 or more teams.  

6. Peyton Hillis, Broncos
Worth a LookOutlookHillis may not be the starting RB for the Broncos, but that doesn’t mean he’s devoid of value. Based on what we’ve seen in the preseason, the team seems committed to getting him the ball. He’s not the type of player who’s going to get you 20 rushes for 100 yards. Instead, look for a 4-5 rushing attempts, a handful of receptions and the occassional touchdown. Is that enough value to merit a roster spot? It depends on the size of your league and your scoring system. I’d consider making room for him in a PPR or TD-heavy league.

Availability: Owned in ~14% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Hillis is worth a look in PPR and TD-heavy leagues.  

WIDE RECEIVERS

1. Isaac Bruce, 49ers
Worth a LookOutlookHe’s not the sexiest wideout to have on your team, but Bruce is useful. Certainly more useful than he’s being given credit for. He led all 49er wideouts in catches, yards and touchdowns in 2008 and may very well do so again this season. I like Bruce’s chances of starting fast in 2009. That’s exactly what he did last year, recording four touchdowns in the first four games. San Francisco faces the Cardinals, Seahawks, Vikings, Rams and Falcons in order before their bye. Look for Bruce to have his way with those creampuffs and be a worthy spot starter for the entire season.

Availability: Owned in ~52% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Bruce will prove to be a worthy WR3 this season and merits a spot in all leagues.  

2. Earl Bennett, Bears
SleeperBennett didn’t record a single catch during his rookie year in 2008, yet the Bears are counting on him to be a major contributor in the receiving game this season. Only in Chicago. As odd as it may seem to throw so much faith behind an unknown wideout, the plan may actually work. Bennett came out of college a year early and was raw last season. He has been working with the first team offense all preseason and has the confidence of Jay Cutler. That should be no surprise, considering the two played college ball together and Bennett was Cutler’s go-to guy. The Bears are still a run-oriented team but don’t be surprised if Bennett approaches 75 receptions and 850 yards in 2009.

Availability: Owned in ~39% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Bennett is a quality sleeper pickup in any size league.  

3. Dominik Hixon, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham, Giants
SleeperThe Giants desperately need someone to step up and fill the role of Plaxico Burress. With Steve Smith as the top posession wideout, Dominik Hixon, rookie Hakeem Nicks and second-year wideout Mario Manningham are the favorites to emerge as the go-to vertical threat. None of the players got much love in fantasy drafts. Hixon was selected in 60% of leagues, Nicks in 38% and Manningham just 3%. Each of them had their moments during the preseason. I actually like Manningham most at this point, but keep your eye on the Giants boxscore this week to see who emerges. This is a situation to exploit.

Availability: Owned in ~60%, ~38% and 3% of leagues respectively.
Forecast guidance: Monitor New York’s wideouts and snag the player who has the best game in Week 1.

4. Nate Burleson, Seahawks
SleeperOutlookThe last time Burleson and Matt Hasselbeck were both healthy was 2007. In that season, Burleson caught nine touchdown passes. Although the team has more weapons in place now, Burleson may actually benefit from the presence of T.J. Houshmandzadeh and John Carlson. Defenses will definitely be concentrating on Houshmandzadeh, which should open things up for Burleson. Don’t be surprised if he is a popular waiver wire selection early in the year as the Seahawks offense should benefit from facing the likes of the Rams and 49ers to start the season.
 
Availability: Owned in ~43% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Based on a weak schedule, I like Burleson’s chances of making some noise early in the season.

TIGHT ENDS

1. Jermichael Finley, Packers
SleeperFinley is going to be a top 12 TE this season. QB Aaron Rodgers and the coaching staff have been showering him with rave reviews throughout the last couple months. Like Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez, Finley was a standout basketball player in highschool. He eventually chose football. He has speed on par with Gates, good hands and is excellent in traffic. With defenses focused on stopping Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, Finley will cause all sorts of headaches. Don’t be stunned if he approaches 9-10 TDs. I’m usually not a proponent of holding two TEs on a roster but if you play in a league that has big rosters, clear out some space for Finley.
 
Availability: Owned in ~29 of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Finley is the must-grab sleeper TE of 2009.

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