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Week 5 & 6 Transactions

Shawne Merriman during the Chargers vs. 49ers ...

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Each week we share insights, analysis, and opinions of the week’s transactions. Since we were out of town and unable to post at the end of this week, we’re giving you a double helping this week. To see previous posts, click here and start working back. 

By far, the most significant transaction was also the most arcane. By placing OLB Shawne Merriman on a unique injured reserve list, the Chargers basically cut the three-time Pro Bowler. Merriman won defensive rookie of the year honors and was dominant for the first three years of his career, but a knee injury in 2008 sidelined him for all but one game, and he hasn’t been the same since. “Lights out” had 39 1/2 sacks in his first three seasons but has just four sacks since his knee problem. That plummeting productivity, plus Merriman’s well publicized contract disputes and off-field issues, made him a pariah in San Diego. So this move fits with GM A.J. Smith’s scorched-earth negotiating and roster-management tactics. Still, it’s stunning to see such a whimpering end for Merriman in San Diego after he had such a dominant and exhilarating start to his career.

Chargers (add S Tyrone Carter and OLB Antwan Barnes, put OLB Shawne Merriman on injured reserve) – With Steve Gregory suspended, the Chargers added veteran safety Carter, who provides a veteran insurance policy in case Paul Oliver can’t hack it as a starter. Barnes, whom the Eagles traded for this offseason, got cut there, but he seems to fit a 3-4 defense like the Chargers run . He’ll fill Merriman’s roster spot.

Bears (add DE Charles Grant) – The Bears added Grant, the former Saint who couldn’t catch on with the Dolphins in the preseason and was playing in the UFL. Grant is a sturdy end who has provided pass rush in the past, and if he’s ready to play he could provide presence across from Julius Peppers. Grant replaces Mark Anderson, a rookie sack sensation who hasn’t done much since.

Texans (add DE Mark Anderson) – Anderson didn’t stay unemployed long, as he was snapped up by the Texans. Anderson has showed potential, but he needs to deliver. Houston helps a change of scenery will help him become a productive backup behind Mario Williams, Antonio Smith, and Adewale Ogunleye.

Panthers (claim WRs David Clowney and Devin Thomas on waivers, cut WR Dwayne Jarrett) – The Panthers finally cut ties with former second-round pick Jarrett, who was a bust on the field, after he was arrested for a second DWI. In his place, they added Thomas, whom the Redskins gave up on as a second-round bust, and Clowney, who got cut in a numbers game with the Jets. Like Jarrett, Thomas is a big target, but Thomas has more speed, and for a receiver-poor team like the Panthers he’s worth a shot. Clowney is probably more of a third or fourth receiver, but he’s good enough to add depth to a team whose only proven wide receiver, Steve Smith, is out with injury right now.

Saints (add RB Julius Jones, cut RB DeShawn Wynn) – With injuries keeping Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush out, the Saints added Jones in Week 6. (Jones had been released by the Seahawks when they acquired Marshawn Lynch.) Jones replaced DeShawn Wynn and joined Ladell Betts in a fill-in backfield. Jones isn’t a special back, but he at least gets what’s there and provides a bit of a physical threat.

Rams (promote WR Danario Alexander) – With Mark Clayton now out for the year, the Rams promoted Alexander to add depth at receiver. They have hopes that Alexander can develop into a contributor and not just a fill-in.

Colts (add S Aaron Francisco, WR Kenny Moore) – To address injuries, the Colts added two veterans. Francisco comes in to help fill in for Melvin Bullitt, who’s out for the year with injury. Bullitt was replacing Bob Sanders, so the Colts have tapped out their depth at strong safety. Moore helps fill in for injuries that are slowing Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, and Anthony Gonzalez.

Vikings (add CB Frank Walker) – The Vikings added Walker, a veteran who has bounced around the league, to provide depth after losing Cedric Griffin to another torn ACL.

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The ABCs of receiver roulette – Avery, Bryant, Coles

Laveranues Coles, Jets Wide receiver 2000–2002...

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Three major news items emerged at the wide receiver position this weekend, and we’re going to break them down like ABC. First comes Donnie Avery’s season-ending injury in St. Louis. Next comes the Bengals’ release of WR Antonio Bryant and then the Jets’ release of WR Laveranues Coles. We’ll analyze the ABCs below, both on the field and from a fantasy football perspective.

A – In St. Louis, Avery was set to become the Rams’ No. 1 receiver once again, but he tore the ACL in his right knee in the Rams’ third preseason game, which will land him on injured reserve and end his season. The injury is a big blow to the Rams, because Avery (who had 100 catches over the past two years) is the only proven receiver on the Rams’ roster. The injury not only stymies a St. Louis attack that’s bereft of playmakers; it also makes it harder for rookie QB Sam Bradford to succeed because he has so few quality targets to look for.
Fantasy impact: With Avery out, Laurent Robinson is probably the Rams’ best receiving option, with Danny Amendola close behind. Feel free to take a flier on either Ram in the final round of larger leagues, but both are long shots to make big impacts.

B – In Cincinnati, Bryant became the Bengals’ second straight free-agent bust at wide receiver, joining Laveranues Coles. (Andrew Brandt broke down the numbers well.) Bryant got a four-year, $28 million deal just four months ago, but the knee problems that plagued him last year never went away long enough for him to emerge, and when Cincinnati added Terrell Owens last month, Bryant was no longer needed despite his big contract. The miscalcuation on Bryant’s health will cost the Bengals at least $8 million guaranteed (and maybe more, depending on how an upcoming grievance is resolved), but the Bengals still have enough passing weapons with T.O., Chad Ochocinco, and rookies Jordan Shipley and Jermaine Gresham that Bryant won’t be missed on the field.
Fantasy impact: Bryant’s departure doesn’t raise the stock of Ochocinco or T.O., but it does mitigate some of the risk of both players by defining their roles more clearly. Ochocinco is a No. 2 receiver, while Owens is a No. 4. Shipley now becomes draftable as a sleeper, because his spot in the slot could help him carve out a role and some numbers. Gresham also becomes draftable in larger leagues as a top 20 tight end. Quarterback Carson Palmer’s status doesn’t change.

C – In New York, Coles’ third go-round with the Jets was grounded preemptively, and Coles claims he is done now. That may not be true, because the Jets may call Coles back after the first game so that they’re not on the hook for guaranteeing Coles’ base salary for the season. Coles’ skills really showed some decline last season in Cincinnati, and the Jets mainly wanted him as a bridge until Santonio Holmes’ four-game suspension ends. Now the Jets will rely on Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery and hope role players like David Clowney and Brad Smith emerge during the first month of the season.
Fantasy impact: Coles had no fantasy value before and still doesn’t. His absence doesn’t affect Braylon Edwards’ value but does make Jerricho Cotchery a solid flex play for the first four weeks of the season until Holmes returns to the field.

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Jersey Numbers: Wide Receivers

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to look at several different positions (I can’t yet promise all) to identify the best players wearing each jersey number at each position. If this goes as planned, we’ll then compile a list of the best player wearing each jersey number in the league.

If you have quibbles, or want to add someone I forgot, leave a comment and we’ll update this post. And please have patience – this is a big job.

We’ll start in this post with the best wide receivers at each jersey number. In general, wideouts are allowed to wear numbers between 10 and 19 as well as between 80 and 89.

10 – Santonio Holmes, Steelers – We’ll go with Holmes, the defending Super Bowl MVP, in this category, but it’s a close decision over DeSean Jackson of the Eagles. Both are significant starters for their teams and emerging stars in the league. Other notable 10: Jabar Gaffney, Broncos

11 – Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals – Fitzgerald is one of the very best receivers in the league, and so he gets the nod as the premier wideout wearing No. 11. He became a superstar in last year’s playoffs, doing what he had done in relative obscurity earlier in his career in Arizona. Fitzgerald is the real deal. Other notable 11s: Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars; Mohammed Massaquoi, Browns; Roy Williams, Cowboys; Laveranues Coles, Bengals; Julian Edelman, Patriots; Legedu Naanee, Chargers; Roscoe Parrish, Bills; Stefan Logan, Steelers

12 – Marques Colston, Saints – Colston is the premier receiver on the league’s most potent offense, and now that he’s healthy he’s showing incredible skills for his size. That gives him the nod over Steve Smith of the Giants as the best No. 12 wideout in the league. Both Colston and Smith may have to move over for Minnesota rookie Percy Harvin at some point in the future. Other notable 12s: Michael Jenkins, Falcons; Justin Gage, Titans; Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders; Quan Cosby, Bengals

13 – Johnny Knox, Bears – Knox is the only notable receiver wearing No. 13 this year. The rookie out of Abilene Christian has had a nice freshman season in the NFL with three receiving TDs and a return for a score. Maybe he’ll make 13 a trendier, if not luckier, number for wideouts.

14 – Brandon Stokley, Broncos – Like 13, 14 isn’t a popular number for receivers. Stokley, who had good seasons with the Colts and the most memorable touchdown of the season off a tip in the opener against the Bengals, is the best of the bunch over St. Louis prospect Keenan Burton. Other notable 14: Eric Weems, Falcons

15 – Brandon Marshall, Broncos – Marshall’s numbers aren’t quite as good this season as fellow 15 Steve Breaston of Arizona, but Marshall is the more dynamic and more important player than Arizona’s talented third receiver. Marshall has the talent to be one of the league’s top-5 overall receivers. Other notable 15s: Kelley Washington, Ravens; Chris Henry, Bengals; Davone Bess, Dolphins; Michael Crabtree, 49ers; Courtney Roby, Saints

16 – Josh Cribbs, Browns – Lance Moore of the Saints is the only notable pure wide receiver wearing No. 16 right now, but Cribbs, Cleveland’s do-everything guy, plays enough receiver and has a receiver number, so he counts here. Cribbs catches the ball, returns kicks, and plays under center in the wildcat. He may be the league’s best return man, and he’s growing as an offensive force. Moore had a strong season as New Orleans’ slot receiver last year, but injuries have hampered his production this year. Other notable 16: Danny Amendola, Rams

17 – Braylon Edwards, Jets – Edwards had fallen out of favor in Cleveland last year and this season, and his numbers reflected that diminished importance, but he’s now in New York and gaining steam. So we’ll list him as the top 17 over rookies Mike Wallace of Pittsburgh and Austin Collie of Indianapolis. Other notable 17s: Donnie Avery, Rams; Robert Meachem, Saints

18 – Sidney Rice, Vikings – Rice is emerging as the Vikings’ most reliable receiver, and he has become one of Brett Favre’s favorite targets. His good size and exceptional ball skills and leaping ability are finally starting to shine through now that he’s in his third season. He beats a crop of rookies to earn the honor as the best receiver wearing 18. Other notable 18s: Kenny Britt, Titans; Jeremy Maclin, Eagles; Louis Murphy, Raiders; Sammie Stroughter, Buccaneers

19 – Miles Austin, Cowboys – Austin has come out of nowhere over the past three games to establish himself as an explosive threat and the Cowboys’ best receiver. Even with the return heroics of Miami’s Ted Ginn Jr. and Denver’s Eddie Royal this year, Austin is the best 19. Other notable 19: Devery Henderson, Saints

23 – Devin Hester, Bears – Because Hester came into the NFL as a defensive back, he’s been allowed to keep his old DB number of 23 even though he’s now a wide receiver. The fact that he’s Chicago’s No. 1 outside target makes this a legitimate listing for a bit of a funky number for a receiver.

80 – Andre Johnson, Texans – If you made me pick one receiver as the best in the league, this is the guy. He has freakish size, incredible speed, and great production throughout his career. The only pockmark on his resume is the fact that he’s been dinged up from time to time. So he gets an easy decision here over Donald Driver of Green Bay as the best receiver wearing 80. Other notable 80s: Earl Bennett, Bears; Malcom Floyd, Chargers; Bryant Johnson, Lions; Bobby Wade, Chiefs; Marty Booker, Falcons; Mike Thomas, Jaguars

81 – Randy Moss, Patriots – Moss is already an all-time great, and he’s still performing at a premium level for the Pats. This is an easy call, even though  current great Anquan Boldin of Arizona, past greats Torry Holt of the Jaguars and Terrell Owens of the Bills, and future great Calvin Johnson of Detroit also wear 81. This number has great depth of talent. Other notable 81: Nate Burleson, Seahawks

82 – Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs – As deep as 81 is in talent, 82 is thin. We’ll give the nod to Bowe over the Giants’ Mario Manningham because Bowe has had more good seasons, even though Manningham has been more impactful this year. Other notable 82s: Antwaan Randle El, Redskins; Brian Hartline, Dolphins

83 – Wes Welker, Patriots – Welker, who piles up gobs of catches as the jitterbug/security blanket of the Patriots offense, narrowly gets this nod over Vincent Jackson of San Diego, who has joined the list of the league’s 10 best receivers. Lee Evans of Buffalo doesn’t have equivalent numbers because his quarterbacks have stunk for years, but he’s no slouch either. Other notable 83s: Kevin Walter, Texans; Deion Branch, Seahawks; Sinorice Moss, Giants

84 – Roddy White, Falcons – White has emerged as one of the top receivers in the league over the past three years, and he looks like he’ll team with Matt Ryan for a long time as Atlanta’s dynamic duo. We’ll take the ascending White over the descending T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who has had a great career in Cincinnati but is starting to show signs of slippage in his first season in Seattle. Other notable 84s: Patrick Crayton, Cowboys; Josh Morgan, 49ers; Bobby Engram, Chiefs; Javon Walker, Raiders

85 – Chad Ochocinco, Bengals – We have to give this jersey-number to Ochocinco, since he changed his name to be his jersey number in Spanish (kind of). But Ochocinco deserves it given the renaissance year he is having with the Bengals. Derrick Mason of the Ravens contended for the honor based on his long career, while Greg Jennings of the Packers could claim this honor in the future. Other notable 85s: Pierre Garcon, Colts; Jerheme Urban, Cardinals

86 – Hines Ward, Steelers – There aren’t a lot of great receivers wearing 86, but there is one – Ward. The former Super Bowl MVP isn’t just great at catching the ball; he’s a vicious blocker downfield as well. He’s a borderline Hall of Famer who is still building his resume. Other notable 86s: Dennis Northcutt, Lions; Brian Finneran, Falcons

87 – Reggie Wayne, Colts – Wayne has seamlessly taken over for Marvin Harrison as Peyton Manning’s premier target in Indy, and now Wayne is building his own case for the Hall of Fame. There aren’t five receivers in the league who are better or more explosive than Wayne. Other notable 87s: Bernard Berrian, Vikings; Andre Caldwell, Bengals; Muhsin Muhammad, Panthers; Mike Furrey, Browns; David Clowney, Jets; Jordy Nelson, Packers; Domenik Hixon, Giants

88 – Isaac Bruce, 49ers – Bruce is no longer the dynamic force he was for years in St. Louis, but he’s good enough to claim this number as his lifetime achievement award. Rookie Hakeem Nicks of the Giants is the only other significant 88 as a receiver, but he looks as though he will be a good one. Other notable 88: Chansi Stuckey, Browns

89 – Steve Smith, Panthers – Smith hasn’t had the season this year that he’s had in the past, and he’s even felt at times that he wasn’t an asset to his team, but those problems have more to do with the struggles of Carolina QB Jake Delhomme than with Smith’s own shortcomings. Smith is just 5-foot-9, but he’s lightning quick, built like a brick house, tough to bring down, and shockingly good on jump balls. He’s still an elite receiver. Other notable 89s: Santana Moss, Redskins; Jerricho Cotchery, Jets; Mark Clayton, Ravens; Antonio Bryant, Buccaneers; James Jones, Packers

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Fantasy Football Applaud or a Fraud – Week 7

Each week, we dive into the stat sheets to see which weekly performers fantasy owners should applaud and which fantasy owners should write off as frauds. You can read past applaud or a fraud analyses in the category listing. And if we’re changing a past recommendation, we’ll include it here as well.

Quarterbacks

Jake Delhomme, Panthers – Delhomme threw for 325 yards, but he also threw three more interceptions. A benching is a possibility. So don’t get fooled and pick up Delhomme based on this yardage total. He’s not ownable unless all 32 starting quarterbacks are owned in your league. Verdict: A fraud

Brett Favre, Vikings – We discussed Favre in more detail in this post. We’re giving him thumbs-down as a top-12 fantasy quarterback. Verdict: A fraud

Carson Palmer, Bengals – Palmer threw five TD passes in the Bengals’ blowout of the Bears. He’s now thrown 13 TD passes on the year, which is just less than 2 per game, and has 1,608 passing yards. We’ll talk more about Palmer in a post later this week, but for now we’ll say he still falls just outside the top 10 fantasy quarterbacks. That means we have to give him a very measured thumbs-down as a starting fantasy quarterback. Verdict: A fraud

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers – We discussed Roethlisberger in more detail in this post. We’re clapping for him as a top-10 fantasy quarterback. Verdict: Applaud

Alex Smith, 49ers – The 49ers pulled starter Shaun Hill at halftime and replaced him with Smith, the former No. 1 overall pick. Smith responded with a sharp performance, throwing three TD passes to Vernon Davis and going 15-for-22 for 206 yards. Note that the 49ers were down 21 when Smith came in, so he got to throw a lot more than the 49ers usually want to, but his performance will make him a starter next week at least. If you need a fill-in quarterback, Smith is now a pickup option. Verdict: Applaud

Running Backs

Justin Fargas, Raiders – Fargas had 67 yards rushing and 90 yards from scrimmage this week against the Jets, marking his second straight game with at least 90 yards. He’s the Raiders back you want, at least until Darren McFadden returns. Fargas is also a borderline fantasy No. 3 back and a possible starter given your bye week and injury situation. Verdict: Applaud

Shonn Greene, Jets – Greene, a rookie out of Iowa, busted out with 144 rushing yards and two touchdowns against the Raiders Sunday. One of the factors was the blowout, which gave the rookie more opportunity. But the fact that Leon Washington suffered a season-ending injury is a bigger factor. Greene must be picked up this week, because he immediately assumes a fantasy role for the Jets. We’ll have to see whether that role makes him flex-position worthy going forward, but grab Greene now and figure out the rest later. Verdict: Applaud

Steven Jackson, Rams – Even on a bad team, Jackson continues to produce good yardage for fantasy owners. He had 134 yards in St. Louis’ loss to Indy and has at least 85 yards from scrimmage in each game since Week 2. The touchdowns aren’t coming, but Jackson is still a top-10 fantasy back. I’d much rather have him than LaDanian Tomlinson (see below). Verdict: Applaud

Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers – We discussed Mendenhall in more detail in this post. We’re clapping for him as a top-20 fantasy running back – but barely. Verdict: Applaud

Darren Sproles, Chargers – Sproles had a 58-yard touchdown catch along with 41 receiving yards against the Chiefs, but he had just eight total offensive touches. Now that Tomlinson is healthy, Sproles’ chances have really slipped off, and that’s a problem for fantasy owners. Sproles is worth owning, but it’s going to be hard to start him in normal-sized leagues (12 teams or less) unless Tomlinson gets hurt again. Verdict: A fraud

LaDanian Tomlinson, Chargers – At one point late in Sunday’s game, Chris Mortenson tweeted that Tomlinson had seven goal-line carries without a touchdown. That’s a bad sign for a player who once made his mark as the premier scoring machine in the league. Tomlinson has just one touchdown this year, and it looks like that stat is more of a trend than a fluke. Tomlinson had 71 rushing yards and and two receiving yards, and he can do a little better than that, but he’s no longer a top 10 fantasy back. He could fall out of the top 20 soon. It’s over, folks. Verdict: A fraud

Ricky Williams, Dolphins – Williams has quietly had a good season, and that quiet season got loud Sunday when he ran for 80 yards and three touchdowns vs. the Saints. Even as he shares time with Ronnie Brown, Williams is a borderline fantasy starter and a great flex option on a weekly basis. Don’t forget about him. Verdict: Applaud

Wide Receivers

Sam Aiken, Patriots – With Joey Galloway gone, Aiken steps into the role of the Patriots’ No. 3 receiver. He took advantage with a 54-yard touchdown in London vs. Tampa Bay, his first score in his seven-year career. Aiken, who finished with two catches for 66 yards, is still behind TE Benjamin Watson in the pecking order from a fantasy perspective, and rookie Brandon Tate (a recent activation from the physically-unable-to-perform list) could surpass his fellow UNC alum, but for now Aiken has his chance. Given how the Pats’ offense is rolling now, that makes him worth a claim in leagues of 12 teams or more just in case he turns into a regular part of the offense. Verdict: Applaud

Miles Austin, Cowboys – Austin went from a fantasy supersleeper three weeks ago to a breakout player last week to the point where he’s now a guy you must start. He may not have two touchdowns or 170-plus yards every week like he has the last couple of weeks, but he’s clearly the Cowboys’ best receiver. Right now fantasy owners should start him no matter what. Verdict: Applaud

David Clowney, Jets – Clowney has long been a receiver the Jets (and fantasy owners) thought would be good, and he finally broke out this week with 79 yards and a touchdown vs. the Raiders. Clowney has two four-catch games this year, but those are his only eight grabs of the year. He’s worth claiming in large (14 teams or more) leagues, but that’s all we can recommend with him right now. Verdict: A fraud

Michael Crabtree, 49ers – In his NFL debut, Crabtree had a nice fantasy game with 66 yards on five catches. Don’t get carried away and start Crabtree – remember, the 49ers were in comeback mode most of the game – but he’s worth picking up if he’s still available in your league. Verdict: Applaud

Donald Driver, Packers – Driver had his third touchdown of the season against Cleveland, and he now has at least 55 yards receiving in each game since Week 2. He’s the top fantasy receiver in Green Bay, not Greg Jennings, and therefore a guy you can feel comfortable starting every week. Verdict: Applaud

Malcom Floyd, Chargers – Floyd has been a fantasy afterthought, but he has emerged as the Chargers’ No. 2 wideout over Chris Chambers. He has been up and down this year, with a no-catch game and a one-catch game, but he had at least 45 yards in his other three games, and he ha his first touchdown of the season Sunday vs. the Chiefs. But he had just two catches for nine yards. He’s a name to know, but he’s not worth a waiver claim yet. Verdict: A fraud

Brian Hartline, Dolphins – The rookie out of Ohio State had three catches for 94 yards against the Saints, more than doubling his season total for receiving yards. He’s an interesting prospect, but his fantasy relevance probably will arrive in 2010, not this year. Verdict: A fraud

Chad Ochocinco, Bengals – Good ol’ 8-5 had 10 catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns this week, affirming that he is back to being a No. 1 fantasy wideout. He’s a top-10 guy going forward. Verdict: Applaud

Sidney Rice, Vikings – We discussed Rice in more detail in this post. We’re clapping for him as a top-25 fantasy wide receiver and an every-week fantasy starter. Verdict: Applaud

Bobby Wade, Chiefs – Wade, the former Viking who landed with the Chiefs after the season started, has become a solid option for K.C. He had four catches for 66 yards against the Chargers, which was his second-best game of the season. Wade won’t pile up big numbers, but if you’re desperate for a receiver in a league of 14 teams or more, he’s a nice option. Otherwise, stay away. Verdict: A fraud

Mike Wallace, Steelers – We discussed Wallace in more detail in this post. We’re clapping for him as a top-40 fantasy wideout and therefore someone who is worth a roster spot. Verdict: Applaud

Tight Ends

Gary Barnidge, Panthers – The Panthers’ tight end corps is confusing. Dante Rosario and Jeff King each have touchdowns this season, and Barnidge piled up 77 yards against the Bills this week. But note that Sunday’s three catches were Barnidge’s first three of the year and that most of his yardage came on one 52-yard catch and run. Don’t get fooled by this stat line. Verdict: A fraud

Vernon Davis, 49ers – We recommended Davis last week, and he blew up this week with 7 catches for 93 yards and three TDs. It’s silly to predict that much scoring on a weekly basis, but he’s a startable tight end in any fantasy league. The potential is now production. Verdict: Applaud

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Fantasy Football: Supersleepers

As we continue our fantasy football coverage, we’re going to jump off of Carl’s idea and try to identify some supersleepers. Some of these individuals are players who fit as the final bench player coming out of your draft who could contribute mightily by the end of the year. Steve Slaton last year – whom I drafted in the final round in a 12-team league with great success – is the ultimate example. Others on this list are longshots to monitor early in the season so that you can be ahead of the game when it comes to waiver claims.

Before we begin, remember that you can go to the fantasy football category on Football Relativity for many more articles, and you can use the search bar on the right to find specific players. And one more thing – we’ve left rookies off of this list, because we did a comprehensive analysis of those players including supersleepers in this post.

RB Greg Jones, Jaguars – Jones is a big, bruising back who seen his role go up and down in his four years in Jacksonville. Last year he had just two carries and 13 catches playing behind Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor. But now that Taylor’s gone, Jones has a good chance to plug in as the No. 2 back in Jacksonville. He’ll have to beat out rookie Rashad Jennings for that job, but if he does, it could be lucrative for fantasy owners, because the Jaguars probably will want MoJo to stay closer to 20 touches a game than 30. That makes Jones (and Jennings) worth a speculative draft pick late in your draft, especially if you have a deep bench in your league.

RB Danny Ware, Giants – With Derrick Ward leaving via free agency, and Brandon Jacobs so big that he’ll end up missing some playing time, the No. 3 back in New York is worth a fantasy look. And now that rookie Andre Brown is out for the year with a torn Achilles, holdover Ware is that guy. Recall that Ward had more than 1,000 yards last year in limited time, and then put Danny Ware on your draft list. He should be about a 300-yard back for the season, but if Jacobs and/or Ahmad Bradshaw gets hurt, that total will ratchet up quickly running behind one of the league’s best offensive lines. He’s worth stashing on your bench if it’s long enough.

RB Jason Wright, Cardinals – Wright, a former Brown, moved to Arizona in the offseason to take the third-down back role that J.J. Arrington once held. While that particular role isn’t a fantasy football bonanza, Wright is worth watching because of the injury issues that rookie Chris “Beanie” Wells is experiencing. If Wells misses time, which seems somewhat likely, Wright is primed to leap over Tim Hightower on the depth chart to get some playing time. If you’re counting on Wells for your fantasy team, make sure you get Wright just in case, and late in a draft Wright might be worth a flier regardless.

WR Miles Austin, Cowboys – Austin only had 13 catches last year, but he averaged a whopping 21.4 yards per catch and scored three touchdowns. That big-play ability is a good sign, and it’s reason for the Cowboys to give Austin every chance to develop. Because Patrick Crayton isn’t a legit No. 2 receiver, Austin also has the opportunity to move into the starting lineup and not just into three-WR sets now that Terrell Owens is gone. Austin is the second Cowboys receiver (behind Roy Williams) that fantasy owners should want this year, and he’s definitely worth a draft pick.

WR Earl Bennett, Bears – Bennett struggled to learn Chicago’s offense last year as a rookie, and as a result he didn’t get a single catch in his freshman year. But he seems to have a better grasp of the offense now, and the fact that he played collegiately with new Bears QB Jay Cutler at Vanderbilt with such great success should make Cutler confident throwing him the ball. Devin Hester is the Bears’ best receiver, but he’s more of a downfield or screen-pass threat, and so there’s room for a third-down target to end up with 50 catches or so. Bennett is the most likely guy to fill that role. If you believe in Cutler as a fantasy quarterback this year, then you need to believe in Bennett and stash him on your bench in the draft.

WR David Clowney, Jets – After the Jets let Laveranues Coles go in the offseason, they enter the ’09 season with only one proven wideout. So someone should be able to emerge across from Jerricho Cotchery. The candidates are Brad Smith, Chansi Stuckey, and Clowney, a big receiver with downfield ability who seemed to be breaking out before getting hurt at the beginning of the year last year. Don’t risk too much on any of these guys, but if you want one to watch, take a flier on Clowney.

WR Mike Furrey, Browns – Furrey, who had almost 100 catches in Detroit two years ago, moves to Cleveland, where he or David Patten, or perhaps rookie Brian Robiskie or Mohammed Massaquoi, will run alongside Braylon Edwards. Furrey is the most likely out of that group to emerge as a dependable chains-mover, and that puts him on this list. You’ll have to watch the waiver wire to see whether that role puts him on a pace for a 35-catch season or a 55-catch season, because the latter level is worth a bench spot while the former won’t be.

WR Pierre Garcon, Colts – Garcon is competing with rookie Austin Collie for the Colts’ No. 3 receiver job. We project Collie as the favorite in that competition but wanted to mention Garcon for the sake of full analysis. Whoever wins the Colts No. 3 job probably merits a bench spot in deep leagues with 14-16 teams, given how Anthony Gonzalez and Brandon Stokely before him have produced in that role.

WR Malcolm Kelly, Redskins – Kelly and fellow rookie Devin Thomas had forgettable rookie seasons in 2008, but there’s a wide-open door for one of them to walk through and become a starter in 2009. Since you can’t draft both, we’ll recommend Kelly as the sophomore who’s more likely (if only slightly) to take the starting job. That should put him in the 30-40 catch realm, which is enough to make him a midseason fill-in if you’re stuck for a receiving option. If Santana Moss gets hurt, though, both Kelly and Thomas could become fantasy factors. At the least, they’re names you should know.

WR Johnnie Lee Higgins, Raiders – It was mostly overlooked because the Raiders were so rotten last year, but Higgins began to emerge at the end of his second season last year to score four receiving touchdowns to go with his three punt-return touchdowns. Now he’s a starting receiver in Oakland who has the chance to be the Raiders’ No. 1. Rookie Darrius Heyward-Bey will get some long balls, but Higgins looks as probable as anyone to be the main outside target for JaMarcus Russell. If Higgins gets 50-60 catches, he’ll score his share because he’s so good with the ball in his hands. That makes Higgins an interesting guy to grab at the end of your draft, because his production could easily surpass that sort of draft position.

WR Mario Manningham, Giants – Manningham is the buzz receiver in Giants camp this year. That kind of preseason buzz doesn’t usually pan out, but given the fact that the Giants bid goodbye to Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer in the offseason, there are a lot of catches waiting to be claimed in the Meadowlands. So if Manningham carves out a role, he’s worth watching as a supersleeper.

WR Jordy Nelson, Packers – Green Bay has a solid stable of wide receivers led by Greg Jennings, but Donald Driver’s age means that there may be a chance for a young receiver to step into the starting lineup this year. The question is whether that would be James Jones or Nelson. We’ll put our bet with Nelson, who had a very solid 33 catches for 366 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie last year. If Nelson progresses as most young receivers do, he should start to take some playing time from Driver. That could push him into the 50-catch range, which would make him worth a bench spot. So if you’re taking a chance late in a draft, Nelson is a reasonable gamble to take.

WR Limas Sweed, Steelers – Sweed was a bust as a rookie, finishing with just six catches, but many receivers are. If he progresses, he can provide height and jump-ball ability that Pittsburgh’s other receivers don’t have. That could make Sweed a guy who gets a disproportionate number of red-zone looks, which could make him a 4-6 touchdown guy even with only 30 catches or so. Sweed isn’t draftable unless Hines Ward or Santonio Holmes gets hurt, but watch to see if he’s getting looks in the red zone so that you know if he’s now worth an early-season waiver claim.

WR Mike Walker, Jaguars – Torry Holt is getting the publicity in Jacksonville, but Walker could emerge in his second year as the Jaguars’ most productive receiver. He had 16 catches in just 9 games last year, but he should have a starting role this year. Given the fact that Holt appears to be slowing down, that would put Walker in position to catch 50 balls or more. There are rookie receivers who could step in if Walker struggles, but on draft day Walker is worth consideration because there’s a chance he could end up as Jacksonville’s No. 1 receiver this season.

WR Demetrius Williams, Ravens – Williams is a big receiver who has played just one full season in his three years. But if he can learn to truly leverage his 6-foot-2 frame, he can provide an option that Baltimore’s offense hasn’t had. He enters the year as the Ravens’ No. 3 option, so he’s not a draftable player, but watch him early in the season to see if his production merits a speculative waiver claim.

TE Gary Barnidge, Panthers – Barnidge missed his entire rookie season in ’08 due to injury, but he’s giving Jeff King and Dante Rosario a run for their money for the starting tight end job in Carolina. If he gets it, Barnidge’s receiving skills make him worth monitoring as a fantasy player. In a starting role, he could end up with 400 yards and a couple of touchdowns, and that would put him as a backup tight end in larger leagues. So when your tight end is on bye, be aware of what Barnidge’s role is and keep an eye on him.

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