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News-Herald Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Kleps doesn’t just write headlines and stories. He also checks on his fantasy sports teams. A lot. See if the moves and news from the world of sports affect your fantasy teams.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fantasy football: It's now or never for Chris Johnson and Philip Rivers

The perception -- if you look strictly at Chris Johnson's 2011 statistics -- is he got paid, then checked out.

Johnson -- after holding out of training camp, then signing a four-year, $53 million contract extension -- has 93 carries for 268 yards (2.9 yards per attempt) and one touchdown in six games for the Titans. In point-per-reception leagues, he has gone from awful to mediocre, thanks to 24 catches for 143 yards.

The same player who rushed for 2,006 yards, scored 16 touchdowns and had 50 receptions for 503 yards in 2009 is now being benched or furiously shopped in fantasy leagues.

Johnson had 23 carries for 101 yards against the Browns on Oct. 12. In Tennessee's other five contests, he has 69 rushes for 167 yards (2.4). Aside from the Browns matchup, he hasn't rushed for more than 53 yards in a game.

If you own Johnson, a few words of advice: Don't trade him. Not now, when his value is lower than it's been in his entire four-year career.

Instead, take a look back, and ahead, at the Titans' schedule.

Thus far, Johnson has faced the Jaguars (No. 10 vs. the run), Ravens (No. 3), Broncos (tied for 18th), Browns (No. 20), Steelers (No. 12) and Texans (No. 7).

Granted, a $13.25-million-a-year back should produce against the 2000 Ravens defense.

Ignore for a second the possibility that the combination of Johnson getting his money and missing training camp is a worse combination than Eddy Curry and a guaranteed contract, and consider this:

The Titans' schedule for Weeks 8 through 16 (championship week in fantasy) lines up quite favorably for the player many of us (myself included) drafted second overall.

-- Week 8: vs. Indianapolis (No. 31 vs. the run, 150.9 rushing yards per game allowed, nine rushing TDs allowed)

-- Week 9: vs. Cincinnati (No. 5 vs. the run, 89.5 yards, five TDs)

-- Week 10: at Carolina (No. 29, 133.4 yards, nine TDs)

-- Week 11: at Atlanta (No. 6, 98.4 yards, six TDs)

-- Week 12: vs. Tampa Bay (No. 22, 123.4 yards, seven TDs)

-- Week 13: at Buffalo (No. 30, 135.7 yards, nine TDs)

-- Week 14: vs. New Orleans (No. 15, 115.7 yards, five TDs)

-- Week 15: at Indianapolis (see Week 8)

-- Week 16: vs. Jacksonville (No. 10, 103.4 yards, four TDs)

In his first six games, Johnson faced four of the league's top 12 run defenses. In the next eight weeks, if you count Indy twice, he will play against five of the 11 worst run defenses.

If you're getting desperate, give C.J. at least this week. If he doesn't have a big game against the Colts, you have every right to bench him, trade him or make fun of him on Twitter.

If he does have his first huge game of 2011, you might be best served keeping him and hoping he will have a prolific second half of the season, while feasting on some of the NFL's worst at stopping the run.

Rivers is due, too

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers isn't nearly as high on the Potential Bust of the Year scale as Johnson, but he certainly hasn't been worth a second- or third-round fantasy pick.

Rivers is on pace for throw for 4,573 yards, but he has two more interceptions (nine) than touchdown passes (seven).

In Rivers' defense, tight end Antonio Gates has played in three of the six games, and he was held without a catch in one of them. Last week, with Gates back in the lineup (and catching Rivers' only TD pass), the quarterback was limited to 16-of-32 passing for 179 yards and was intercepted twice.

Remember, that was against the Jets, who have given up only four TD passes all season, compared to 11 interceptions.

Like Johnson, we should expect to see a vastly improved Rivers in the coming weeks.

Monday, San Diego will play at Kansas City, which ranks 17th against the pass. In the four weeks that follow, the Chargers will face the Packers (No. 31 vs. the pass), Raiders (No. 25), Bears (No. 27) and Broncos (No. 19).

If Gates remains healthy, Rivers should resume his 2008-10 role of being among the best in fantasy. Last season, depending on your league's scoring system, Rivers was within a few points of every fantasy player not named Arian Foster.

This season, we would settle for him being more like Matthew Stafford.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fantasy football: Week 8 waiver-wire picks

This week's batch of waiver-wire candidates is the weakest of the season, so we will present a few reminders before we unveil the highly anticipated top five.

-- Bengals running back Cedric Benson will serve his one-game suspension this week, leaving Bernard Scott as the featured back. Don't expect Scott to have a huge game Sunday at Seattle, which is allowing only 3.2 yards per carry, but if you need a one-game replacement because of bye weeks, Scott is a decent option as a low-end No. 2 back or upper-level flex play.

-- We wrote about DeMarco Murray extensively on Monday, but he entered this week available in more than 64 percent of the leagues on, so he has to be mentioned in this space. Murray is a no-doubt-about-it choice as the top waiver-wire candidate if he's still available in your league.

-- We broke down the value of Seahawks running back Maurice Morris here, and mentioned him again here.

On to this week's waiver-wire selections. A quick reminder: We choose players who are available in more than half of the leagues on (this week's group is available in more than 64 percent of the ESPN formats).

1. Steve Breaston, WR, Chiefs (owned in 35.4 percent of the ESPN leagues):
Breaston has 13 receptions for 205 yards and two touchdowns in his last three games, a span in which the Chiefs are 3-0 and averaging 26 points per contest. This week's matchup against the Chargers (No. 3 vs. the pass) isn't great, but Kansas City will face Miami (No. 21 vs. the pass), Denver (No. 19) and New England (No. 32) in Weeks 9, 10 and 11.

2. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos (owned in 2.7 percent of the ESPN leagues): He made his season debut last week at Miami (aka The Game That Gave ESPN Another Reason To Debate Tebow) and had three catches for 27 yards and a TD. Thomas, a first-round pick by the Broncos in 2010, received a team-high 10 targets last week, and the trade of Brandon Lloyd to St. Louis should make Thomas Denver's second-best fantasy option at receiver (behind Eric Decker). I would consider Thomas a No. 4 or 5 receiver in deeper leagues.

3. Delone Carter, RB, Colts (16.9 percent): He is Indy's leading rusher at 259 yards, and last week was the Colts' only bright spot against the Saints (10 carries for 89 yards and a score). With Joseph Addai battling a hamstring injury, Carter -- a rookie fourth-round pick -- has received 36 carries the last three games. Even if Addai is forced to sit this week, Carter likely will share carries with Donald Brown (nine rushes for 47 yards last week), but he seems to have emerged as the Colts' top backfield option. If Addai is out, Carter is a decent flex play Sunday at Tennessee, which ranks 24th against the run.

4. Roy Helu, RB, Redskins (15.3 percent): Mike Shanahan warning! Mike Shanahan warning! As we wrote Monday, who knows what the Redskins will do now that Tim Hightower is out for the season? Ryan Torain would seem to be next in line, but Helu, a rookie fourth-round pick, has value strictly because of the possibility he could earn the featured role at some point this season. Helu has 27 carries for 131 yards this season (4.9), but he has only three rushes for 5 yards in Washington's last two games. I would rather avoid both Torain and Helu until their roles are more clearly defined, but Helu can be a Week 8 desperation play if you base it strictly on the Redskins' matchup (the Bills own the league's third-worst run defense and are giving up 5.1 yards per carry).

5. Heath Miller, TE, Steelers (14.0 percent): Miller has four receptions in each of his last two games, and he has a TD in two of his last three. He caught four passes for 59 yards and a score last week at Arizona, and Sunday the Steelers will play host to the Patriots and their league-worst pass defense (322 yards per game allowed). Miller should be considered a top-10 tight end this week.

Past waiver-wire picks who remain undervalued: DeMarco Murray, RB, Cowboys (owned in 34.6 percent of the ESPN leagues); Bernard Scott, RB, Bengals (4.0 percent); Maurice Morris, RB, Lions (11.9); Greg Little, WR, Browns (9.0); Jerome Simpson, WR, Bengals (33.8); David Nelson, WR, Bills (33.2); Jabar Gaffney, WR, Redskins (6.6); Jermaine Gresham, TE, Bengals (30.6).

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Fantasy football: DeMarco Murray, Tebow and more Week 7 reactions

According to's ownership percentages, DeMarco Murray is available in more than 64 percent of the fantasy leagues run by the Worldwide Leader.

That number seems way too high, but the stat I'm more curious about is the percentage of owners who left Murray on their bench in Week 7 against the Rams, owners of the league's worst run defense.

Maybe I'm one of the few knuckleheads who did -- in my defense, I started Chris Johnson, Matt Forte and Darren McFadden (my top three draft picks). I watched in horror as McFadden was injured early, Johnson had another unproductive game and Murray ran for a Cowboys franchise-record 253 yards on 25 carries -- in a game he didn't even start.

Murray, Dallas' third-round pick in 2011, missed most of training camp because of a hamstring injury and was getting his chance only because of a high ankle sprain suffered by Felix Jones.

We should also keep in mind that the Rams have been AWFUL against the run (183.8 yards allowed per game and 5.5 yards allowed per carry).

Will Murray deserve to be a fantasy starter the rest of the way? We have no way of knowing.

What we do know is if the Cowboys decide to make him their featured back over Jones once the latter is healthy, it will be an easy decision. Take a look at Dallas' schedule in Weeks 8 through 13: at Philadelphia (No. 23 vs. the run), vs. Seattle (No. 10), vs. Buffalo (No. 30), at Washington (No. 17), vs. Miami (No. 20) and at Arizona (No. 13).

We already are certain Murray is much more valuable than Tashard Choice, who received only two carries as Dallas' starter Sunday. The guess here is he will be a better play than Jones the rest of the way, too.

The problem: If the Cowboys don't agree and go to the dreaded backfield-by-committee plan when Jones returns, Murray will be a No. 3 fantasy back at best.

Take your time getting healthy, Felix. Seriously, take a long time.

Tebow time

I understand why Tim Tebow annoys fans. I get that the experts question his accuracy, his mechanics and whatever else the film shows.

What I don't understand is any skepticism that he's a fantasy starter at quarterback -- assuming, of course, he continues to hold the Broncos' job over Kyle Orton.

As we outlined on Oct. 11, Tebow produces when he plays. Sunday at Miami, he was awful for 54 minutes and 37 seconds (4-for-14 for 40 yards, and the Broncos were 0-for-10 on third down), and great from that point forward.

Tebow finished with 161 yards passing, two touchdowns, eight carries for 65 yards and a two-point conversion. He led Denver to 15 points in the last 2:44 of regulation and an overtime win -- albeit over a winless team.

Again, he produces. He's a top-10 or top-12 fantasy quarterback.

The endless debates, ESPN roundtables and everything else does get to be too much. But that doesn't mean he should be on your bench.

A few more quick takes from Week 7:

-- Until Jahvid Best returns from a concussion (and there is some speculation he won't this season), the Lions appear to have decided on a timeshare between Maurice Morris (nine carries for 50 yards and two catches for 13 yards on Sunday) and Keiland Williams (nine carries for 44 yards). Hint: Stay away.

-- Jackie Battle appears to be the Chiefs' choice as their featured back, though Dexter McCluster and Thomas Jones did receive a combined 19 carries on Sunday. Battle had 16 carries for 76 yards at Oakland, giving him 35 rushes for 195 yards in his last two contests. The presence of McCluster and Jones makes Battle more of a flex play, but he's still a decent option, depending on the matchup (and this week, it's a good one, since the Chargers rank 21st against the run).

-- Mike Shanahan, Fantasy Tormentor, returned to Tim Hightower as his featured back on Sunday, and the latter was productive until he suffered a torn ACL on Sunday. Next up, we can only assume (which is dangerous when Shanahan is involved), in Washington is Ryan Torain, who had 19 carries for 135 yards and a touchdown on Oct. 2 against the (you guessed it) Rams but has received all of 12 attempts since. Don't discount rookie Roy Helu as an option, though, since the 2011 fourth-round pick has averaged 4.9 yards on 27 carries this season.

On second thought, maybe we should all just avoid Washington running backs.

We'll be back Tuesday with waiver-wire picks for Week 8. Until then, enjoy Jon Gruden tonight.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fantasy football: Jahvid Best/Maurice Morris analysis

It all started with a seemingly innocuous note in Mike Freeman's Ten-Point Stance on

Freeman's third item in his Wednesday column: "People close to Detroit runner Jahvid Best are expressing concern to him that he needs to strongly consider sitting out the year, I'm told. Best suffered his second concussion of the season this past week. He was forced to miss the final four games of his college career due to concussion-like symptoms."

The Lions wouldn't comment on the report, but have expressed belief that the running back will return soon. Coach Jim Schwartz said Best will be back as soon as he gets clearance from the doctors.

That, combined with Adam Schefter's ESPN report that backup Jerome Harrison's trade to Philadelphia for Ronnie Brown was voided because Eagles doctors discovered a tumor in Harrison's brain, have left Maurice Morris as the primary backfield option for an offense that is averaging 29.7 points per game.

Morris, a 10-year veteran, has nine carries for 20 yards and five receptions for 55 yards on the season. His career high is 628 yards rushing in a season, and he has scored 16 TDs in 135 career games.

With six teams on a bye again this week, many owners could be looking for help at running back. If you're one of them, consider Morris a flex play at best.

He's more valuable in point-per-reception leagues (he had a combined 51 catches in 2009 and '10), but he's still not a top-20 running back even in weeks in which only 26 teams are playing.

Morris did have five TDs in his last six games in 2010, when Best had tailed off considerably after a strong start to his rookie season. In that span, Morris rushed for 295 yards and caught 14 passes while averaging 13.8 touches per contest.

Sunday, the Lions will play host to the Falcons, who rank seventh in the league against the run (97.5 rushing yards per game). Atlanta is in the bottom nine of the league in rushing TDs allowed (six).

In Week 8, Detroit will face Denver, which is No. 23 against the run at 123.4 yards per game. A bye follows in Week 9.

We can only assume Best, at worst, will return by Week 10, but keep in mind that he has had three concussions in two NFL seasons and, as Freeman wrote, had concussion issues in college.

If you own Best, your only choice is to keep him on your bench until he returns. He obviously has little trade value. Morris, meanwhile, entered this week available in more than 99 percent of the leagues.

That total has changed (by how much, we're not sure, since Morris' ESPN ownership percentage was listed as 0.8 Thursday night), but he still can be had in most formats. The possibility he could be the featured back for an extended period on a team with a potent offense automatically gives him value.

Just make sure you place said value at a realistic (read: outside the top 25 at his position) level.

Murray is the man

Since we're on the subject of injured running backs, DeMarco Murray -- one of our waiver-wire picks this week -- should be considered a No. 2 fantasy running back in Week 7.

Felix Jones is out because of a high ankle sprain, and Murray should get more work than backfield mate Tashard Choice.

The reason we're so high on Murray, a rookie who has yet to rush for more than 32 yards in a game this season: Dallas will play host to St. Louis, which owns the league's worst run defense at 163 yards per game and is yielding 4.9 yards per carry.

Choice, who is an effective receiver, is a decent flex play against the Rams.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fantasy football: Carson Palmer analysis, plus Week 7 waiver-wire picks

Late Monday night, I wrote about how rare big-name trades were in the NFL.

About 12 hours later, the Bengals and Raiders made that paragraph appear more dated than a sports broadcast in standard definition.

Ladies and gentlemen, Carson Palmer is a Raider -- all logic, and high draft picks, be damned.

Yes, Palmer threw for 3,970 yards and 26 touchdowns last season. He also threw 20 interceptions.

In 36 games since the start of the 2008 season, he has 50 TD passes and 37 picks.

Even in 2007, when he threw for a career-high 4,131 yards, he tossed 20 interceptions.

His only truly elite years were 2005 and '06, when he had a combined 7,871 yards passing, 60 touchdowns and 25 interceptions.

Now he will be force-fed a Raiders offense that is run-first, led by the electric Darren McFadden (610 yards rushing, 5.5 yards per carry, four TDs on the ground).

Oakland has rushed for 960 yards and 10 TDs in six games. The Raiders are averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

It is no wonder, then, that Jason Campbell, prior to his injury Sunday against the Browns, had thrown for a pedestrian 1,170 yards and six TDs.

Palmer isn't going to be asked to save the Raiders. He will be asked not to screw them up -- a feat of which Oakland obviously believed Kyle Boller was more than capable.

In Oakland, Palmer will have Darrius Heyward-Bey, once maligned as another terrible Al Davis draft pick, as his top target. Heyward-Bey has 17 receptions for 296 yards and one TD in his last three games.

After that, it's Denarius Moore (who had five catches for 146 yards and a TD against Buffalo, but has eight receptions for 62 yards and a score in his other four games), tight end Kevin Boss and the running backs.

All of which is a long way of saying don't expect Palmer to provide a big boost to your fantasy team.

He should be considered a high-end backup at best, and a decent bye-week fill-in depending on the matchup.

The upside: You won't have to give up a first- and second-round pick to acquire him on the waiver wire.

While we're on the subject, here are five more waiver-wire candidates this week. All are available in more than two-thirds on the leagues on

1. DeMarco Murray, RB, Cowboys (owned in 3.3 percent of the ESPN leagues): Felix Jones will miss at least this week, and likely more, with a high ankle sprain, leaving Murray and Tashard Choice to share the carries. Of the two, Murray should receive the most work. The rookie, a third-round pick from Oklahoma, had 10 carries for 32 yards and one catch for 7 yards last week. Choice, meanwhile, had five rushes for 14 yards and three catches for 16 yards. He is the better receiver of the two.

Murray is a quality play this week against the Rams, who own the league's worst run defense at 163 yards per game. The latter number is so bad Choice should be a flex candidate in deeper leagues if you need bye-week help.

2. Bernard Scott, RB, Bengals (owned in 5.0 percent of the ESPN leagues): You'll have to wait a week, since Cincinnati is on a bye, but Scott should be the Bengals' featured back in Week 8 against Seattle. Cedric Benson had his three-game suspension reduced to one Tuesday and likely will serve it next week. Scott should get most of the work against Seattle, which, surprisingly, ranks seventh against the run (97.8 yards per game). The Seahawks -- attention owners of Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty -- are allowing a league-low 3.1 yards per carry.

3. Greg Little, WR, Browns (owned in 8.0 percent of the ESPN leagues): He's clearly the Browns' No. 1 receiver (insert your joke, or insult, here), and the rookie has six receptions in each of his last two games. He's not going to score seven or eight TDs (heck, he has yet to reach the end zone once), but in point-per-reception formats, Little could be worth 12 to 15 points per game because of the amount of targets he should receive.

4. Jerome Simpson, WR, Bengals (owned in 36.0 percent of the ESPN leagues): OK, so he might not be the best role model (allegedly), or the smartest guy around. But he does have two 100-yard games in his last five, including a six-catch, 101-yard performance last week. Who needs Palmer when you have Andy Dalton? (Remember, the franchise formerly known as the Bungles has this week off.)

5. Ronnie Brown, RB, Lions (owned in 15.0 percent of the ESPN leagues): I'll be blunt: Brown is of value only if Jahvid Best is forced to sit because of concussion-like symptoms. If that's the case, Brown should share the load with Maurice Morris on Sunday against the Falcons. Brown had a disappointing 2010 and had 13 carries for 38 yards (a 2.9 average) with the Eagles this season. At best, he's a flex play for running back-needy owners if Best is inactive this week.

Past waiver-wire picks who remain undervalued: Tim Tebow, QB, Broncos (owned in 40.6 percent of the ESPN leagues); Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks (12.2 percent); David Nelson, WR, Bills (45.9 percent); Jackie Battle, RB, Chiefs (26.3 percent); Donald Brown, Colts (1.6 percent).

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Fantasy football: Brandon Lloyd trade analysis

The Brandon Lloyd trade is rare in two ways.

1. It's an in-season NFL deal involving a decent name. (For some reason, marquee NFL trades are more rare than positive news from the NBA labor talks.)

2. The trade could be a good thing for all fantasy players involved.

And we all know No. 2 is most important.

Lloyd, who was dealt by the Broncos to the Rams on Monday, had 77 receptions for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. The totals obliterated his previous career bests of 48 catches, 733 yards and six TDs.

This season, he has 19 catches for 283 yards and zero TDs in four games, and the rise of Tim Tebow to starting quarterback wasn't going to help Lloyd's fantasy value. In the lone game in which Tebow played a significant role this season, Lloyd had one reception for 20 yards after catching 18 passes in his first three games of 2011.

Now he's in St. Louis, where he should immediately become the No. 1 receiver.

The only problem: Rams quarterback Sam Bradford has a high ankle sprain. If he is forced to miss time, St. Louis will turn to 34-year-old A.J. Feeley, whose five passing attempts this season are his first since 2007.

If you own Lloyd, the hope should be Bradford misses no more than a game, and the pair get quickly acclimated from that point forward.

The Rams have only two other wideouts of note, and neither should be considered No. 3 receivers in fantasy.

Second-year receiver Danario Alexander has 14 catches for 287 yards and a TD in four games, and third-year wideout Brandon Gibson has 17 receptions for 214 yards and a score in five contests. Alexander is the better of the two, but is best suited to be a fantasy reserve.

In Denver, meanwhile, Eric Decker could be Tebow's No. 1 target. The second-year receiver has 22 receptions for 266 yards and four TDs in five games.

Another name to remember is second-year receiver Demaryius Thomas, who is expected to make his season debut Sunday at Miami.

Thomas was Denver's first-round pick, No. 22 overall, in 2010, but started this season on the sideline because of a torn Achilles.

With Eddie Royal out of the lineup since Week 2 because of a groin injury, coupled with the fact he's been a disappointment since his 91-catch rookie season of 2008, Thomas should be a starter in the next two or three weeks.

The wild card in all this, of course, is Tebow, whose value we discussed recently.

Will he prove to be a decent NFL quarterback? Will he run first and pass second at the first sign of trouble?

That remains to be seen.

For Lloyd, a chance of scenery is a good thing.

For Decker and Thomas, the 2010 Pro Bowl selection's absence might be even better.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fantasy football: LeGarrette Blount analysis, plus start, sit and drop advice

In case you weren't excited about Jackie Battle, we now give you Earnest Graham in the In-Season Rush to Acquire a Starting Running Back Sweepstakes.

Thursday, a report circulated by Pro Football Talk that credited WQYK-AM 1010 in Tampa stated Buccaneers running back LeGarrette Blount will miss "several weeks" with a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his knee.

If accurate, that leaves Graham as the best of the Bucs' remaining running backs, along with an intriguing choice in point-per-reception formats.

Blount has been somewhat disappointing in his second season. He has rushed for 328 yards and three touchdowns in five games. Since he isn't a threat to catch passes (four for 58 yards thus far), the fact he has rushed for 71 yards or fewer in three of five contests is even more damaging.

Graham, meanwhile, has 23 receptions and 41 touches in five games. The 31-year-old had a breakout 2007 (898 yards rushing, 10 TDs, 49 receptions for 324 yards), but he has compiled 812 yards and five TDs on the ground in 40 games since.

He's a good receiver, and Sunday's matchup against the Saints is a decent one. New Orleans ranks 15th against the run, which is deceiving because the Saints' opponents usually take to the air, since they are often trailing. New Orleans is allowing 5.2 yards per carry and has given up four rushing TDs.

The Bucs' opponents in Week 7, the Bears, rank 28th against the run and have allowed 5.7 yards per carry.

Consider Graham a flex play in PPR formats, and a fringe No. 2 running back during weeks such as this, when six teams are on a bye.

A few more notes as we get ready for the weekend:

Start 'em

-- Cam Newton, QB, Panthers:
In five games, the rookie has thrown for 1,610 yards, seven touchdowns and six interceptions. He has rushed for 160 yards and five scores. Can he continue this pace? Probably not. But I wouldn't sit him against Atlanta, which has the No. 28 pass defense (294.2 yards per game).

-- Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Lions:
He had only five receptions for 64 yards and zero TDs in his first two games, but he's been a top-10 tight end since. In the last three weeks, Pettigrew has 21 catches for 215 yards and a TD. Sunday, Detroit will play host to San Francisco, which ranks No. 23 vs. the pass, but does have one more interception than TD tosses allowed (eight to seven).

PPR flex play of the week

Saints running back Darren Sproles has had at least five catches in each game this season, and he's received an average of 14 touches the last two contests. In that span, Sproles has 18 carries for 126 yards (7.0 average) and 10 receptions for 96 yards.

If Sproles continues to get in the neighborhood of 15 touches, he should produce more than 100 total yards. Combine that with his five catches per game, and any time he reaches the end zone would make a productive PPR play an excellent one.

An added bonus: Sunday's opponents, the Bucs, rank 23rd vs. the run and 20th against the pass.

Sit 'em

-- Dallas Clark, TE, Colts: I wouldn't be surprised if Clark is being dropped in some leagues, since Curtis Painter has targeted the tight end a combined nine times in two games. Clark has six receptions for 65 yards and zero TDs in Indy's last three games. On the season, he has 14 catches for 136 yards and a score. And to think I not too long ago thought Clark was the No. 2 tight end in fantasy.

-- Josh Freeman, QB, and Mike Williams, WR, Buccaneers: We believed Freeman was a fringe top-10 QB heading into the season, and he's been anything but. Freeman -- who threw for 3,451 yards, 25 TDs and six picks, and rushed for 364 yards in 2010, his second NFL season -- has one TD and four interceptions in his last three games. Overall, he has three TDs and six picks.

His struggles have coincided with the decline of Williams, who had 65 receptions for 964 yards and 11 TDs as a rookie in 2010. This year, he has 19 catches for 183 yards and one TD.

Sunday, the Bucs will face a Saints defense that has given up 10 TDs and has only three picks, and with Blount out, Freeman might be throwing quite a bit. Regardless, both players are difficult to keep in your lineup unless bye-week blues have left you desperate.

Give him another week

Jets tight end Dustin Keller, after catching 17 passes for 249 yards and two TDs in his first three games, has three catches for 19 yards in his last two contests. If you're growing impatient, you're not alone, especially since you might not have drafted Keller as a starter and might have two decent tight ends on your roster.

Monday night, the Jets will play host to Miami, which has the league's second-worst pass defense. The Dolphins are allowing 307 passing yards per game and have given up nine TD tosses, compared to two picks, in four contests.

Play Keller this week, and if he lets you down, keep him on your bench until he proves us wrong again.

Drop 'em

If you need the roster space, C.J. Spiller, LaDainian Tomlinson and Pierre Thomas are worthy candidates of joining the waiver wire.

For more updates and analysis, follow me on Twitter.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fantasy football: Week 6 waiver-wire picks

Ladies and gentlemen, it's Tebow time.

Either my quarterbacks in the News-Herald fantasy league have been atrocious or I'm a little too excited to acquire a quarterback whose accuracy has been panned by the experts and is more of a bull in the backfield than a precision passer.

OK, it's the former, thanks to my mistaken belief that I could wait on a QB in the draft and start Josh Freeman.

Because of that, I'll be among the many this week who will put a bid on Tim Tebow, who was named the Broncos' starting quarterback on Tuesday.

So what should we expect? We have that and more in this week's waiver-wire picks.

As always, we select players who are available in a majority of the leagues on This week's group can be had in more than 90 percent of the ESPN formats.

1. Tim Tebow, QB, Broncos (owned in 2.7 percent of the ESPN leagues): He completed only 4 of 10 passes for 79 yards in relief of Kyle Orton on Sunday, and ESPN's Todd McShay will tell you he'll never be a productive NFL quarterback.

From a fantasy perspective, however, here's what we know: Tebow played extensively in Denver's last three games in 2010. In those contests, he threw for 651 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. He also rushed 31 times for 199 yards and three TDs (one score in each game).

If you play in a league in which 100 rushing yards is worth 10 points, 100 passing yards is worth four, all touchdowns are six and interceptions are minus-2, Tebow averaged about 27 points per game.

In two quarters last week, he threw for a score and rushed for 38 yards and a TD.

The Broncos are off this week, so you will have to be more patient than normal, but the numbers say this: Whether it's pretty or not, Tebow will produce.

2. Jackie Battle, RB, Chiefs (owned in 0.8 percent of the ESPN leagues): We discussed Battle on Sunday night in this space. Like Tebow, his team is on a bye this week. Unlike Tebow, he will be sharing the load with Thomas Jones and maybe Dexter McCluster. At best, Battle should be considered a flex play in a 10- or 12-team league.

3. Alex Smith, QB, 49ers (owned in 9.2 percent of the ESPN leagues): Either Jim Harbaugh is a genius or Smith is finally getting it. Maybe both. The No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 NFL draft had been considered a bust until Harbaugh came aboard, and Smith has thrown for 965 yards, seven touchdowns and one pick in the 49ers' 4-1 start. He has a passer rating of 104.1, and has 461 yards, five TDs and no interceptions in his last two games.

His matchup this week (the 49ers play at Detroit) isn't favorable. The Lions have one more interception (seven) than TD passes allowed (six) this season, but if you are desperate for a QB, Smith is an upper-end No. 2 passer and could be a spot starter in fantasy.

4. Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks (owned in 0.8 percent of the ESPN formats): The undrafted rookie has been Seattle's most productive receiver (20 catches for 330 yards and two TDs). In his last two games, Baldwin has 13 receptions for 220 yards and one TD. With Mike Williams out because of a concussion Sunday, Baldwin excelled. When healthy, Williams (eight catches for 79 yards and one TD in four games) shouldn't be much of a threat to Baldwin's production. Seattle is off this week, but Baldwin could be a decent No. 3 or 4 fantasy receiver from Week 7 on.

5. Donald Brown, RB, Colts (owned in 1.0 percent of the ESPN leagues): To be blunt, Brown only has value if Joseph Addai sits because of an injured hamstring. Addai had an MRI on Monday, and the Colts have yet to reveal the results. If Addai is out this week at Cincinnati, Brown likely would share carries with rookie Delone Carter. The latter is a rookie who has received much more work than Brown, a 2009 first-round pick who has been a disappointment. But Carter is averaging only 3.0 yards on 41 carries this season, and Brown had eight attempts for 38 yards last week. Neither Carter nor Brown will solve any backfield problems you might have, but Brown could at least be a decent one-week fill-in if Addai is too injured to play.

6. Benjamin Watson, TE, Browns (owned in 9.0 percent of the ESPN leagues): The Browns have said they want to get Evan Moore more involved, but Watson continues to be the Browns' best tight end. He has 11 receptions for 112 yards and a TD in his last two games, and last season he set career highs in catches (68) and yards (763). He's best a bye-week fill-in or an upper-level backup, but Watson can be a spot starter at tight end in deep leagues.

Past waiver-wire picks who remain undervalued: Victor Cruz, WR, Giants (owned in 38.3 percent of the ESPN leagues); Jabar Gaffney, WR, Redskins (6.4 percent); Jason Campbell, QB, Raiders (34.7 percent); Jermaine Gresham, TE, Bengals (38.5 percent).

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fantasy football: Rapid reaction, Week 5

There might be another running back who is every owner's first pick on the waiver wire Tuesday morning.

Chiefs running back Jackie Battle had 19 carries for 119 yards and two receptions for 21 yards Sunday against the Colts. Considering teammates Thomas Jones (10 attempts for 55 yards) and Dexter McCluster (four carries, 8 yards) combined for 63 yards against Indy, Battle certainly will merit consideration this week.

Before you get too excited, though, consider this: Prior to Sunday, he had 51 rushes for 155 yards (3.0 per carry) in his career.

He's no Jamaal Charles, but he's definitely more interesting than Jones and McCluster at this point. And there aren't many opportunities to acquire a featured back as a free agent in Week 6.

Let's get to a few more quick takes from another busy Sunday in fantasy:

-- If you're a LeSean McCoy owner, you can't complain about the Eagles running back's production. McCoy has scored seven TDs, rushed for 443 yards and caught 19 passes. But you can grumble about the fact he has had a combined 20 rushing attempts the last two weeks. Leave it to Andy Reid to under-use a running back who is averaging 5.8 yards per carry. McCoy had 57 rushes and 66 touches in the Eagles' first three games.

-- We'll keep it on the ground and throw out the possibility that Buffalo's Fred Jackson might be the most surprising backfield stud of 2011. In five games, Jackson has 90 carries for 480 yards (5.3 average) and five TDs, and he has caught 18 passes for 232 yards. That's a norm of 6.6 yards per touch. Quick, would you rather have Fred Jackson or Chris Johnson right now?

-- Now that we've reached the five-game mark, the Titans' Johnson officially has me worried. I drafted him second overall in the News-Herald league, thinking he was a no-brainer there once his holdout ended, and he has 250 yards rushing and an average of 3.0 yards per attempt. Johnson has rushed for more than 53 yards once all year, and Sunday's garbage-time touchdown against the Steelers was his first score of the year. I'm not benching him yet, but I am kicking myself for not taking Arian Foster.

-- Foster has rewarded the owners who took a risk and drafted him in the top five. His hamstring injury delayed his rise to his 2010 level, but the Texans back has 223 yards rushing, one TD and eight receptions for 127 yards in his last two games. Houston clearly isn't worried about his health. Foster has averaged 30 touches in the two contests.

-- Speaking of bad hamstrings, the Steelers' Rashard Mendenhall might have more of an urgency to get back in the lineup after watching Jonathan Dwyer (11 carries for 107 yards, one catch for 6 yards) and Isaac Redman (15 carries for 49 yards, three receptions for 12 yards) combine for 174 total yards Sunday against a Titans defense that entered the game allowing 87.8 rushing yards per game and 3.2 yards per attempt. If Mendenhall is out another week, Redman is the better play of the two.

-- No worries after all, Frank Gore fans. The 49ers back was limited to 148 yards on 59 carries (2.5) in his first three games. In two games since, Gore has 35 carries for 252 yards (7.2) and two TDs, along with four receptions for 30 yards.

-- So much for the Stevan Ridley hype in New England. The rookie had seven rushes for 13 yards Sunday, one week after he got our attention with a breakout 10-carry, 97-yard, one-TD performance against the Raiders. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, meanwhile, had a whopping 27 carries for 136 yards and two TDs for New England in its win over the Jets. No featured-back debate here -- at least for now.

-- Blaine Gabbert and the Jaguars' debacle of a quarterback situation is crushing Maurice Jones-Drew's value. Now that Jones-Drew doesn't catch many passes (he has seven receptions for 67 yards in five games), we need him to rack up yards and TDs on the ground. Jones-Drew was productive Sunday, but Jacksonville's ineptitude has resulted in him receiving a combined 30 rushing attempts the last two weeks.

-- It must be the year of the quarterback. Tennessee's Matt Hasselbeck has thrown for 1,414 yards and nine TDs in five games. He's on pace for 4,525 yards for a team that has lost top wideout Kenny Britt and has Chris Johnson being outperformed by the likes of Willis McGahee.

-- If it is the year of the QB, it's puzzling that San Diego's Philip Rivers has thrown one more interception (seven) than he has TD passes (six) this season. Rivers is averaging 307 yards passing per game, but the absence of Antonio Gates clearly is affecting him in the red zone and beyond.

-- Check out the Saints' box score from their win over Carolina on Sunday. That spread-the-wealth mentality is why it's so difficult to trust any New Orleans wide receiver. But it is easy to believe tight end Jimmy Graham is among the league's best. Graham has three consecutive 100-yard games.

-- The last two weeks have proven that it's advantage, Victor Cruz, when it comes to deciding the second-best fantasy option among Giants receivers. The rookie has a combined 14 receptions for 259 yards and a TD in his last two games. Mario Manningham has six catches for 66 yards and zero scores in that span.

-- Would you believe me if I told you Darrius Heyward-Bey has 13 receptions for 214 yards and a TD in the Raiders' last two games? I wouldn't start the much-maligned Al Davis draft pick, but he has at least caught my eye.

That's it for tonight. We'll we back Tuesday with waiver-wire picks for Week 6.

Until then, you can follow me on Twitter.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Fantasy football: Week 5 waiver-wire picks

Mike Shanahan just couldn't leave us alone.

We were foolish enough to think the Redskins had their featured back in Tim Hightower, who rushed for 209 yards, caught nine passes for 74 yards and scored two touchdowns in Washington's first three games.

Hightower reportedly injured his shoulder early in Week 4, and the result left many of us cringing.

Yes, the Redskins might have a new featured back. The Shanahan Fantasy Curse is going strong, and so are our waiver-wire picks after a one-week absence in which real life intervened (hint: Moving is less fun than watching "Two and a Half Men" without Charlie Sheen).

As always, we're looking for players who are available in a majority of the leagues on We made an exception for the first player on this list, since he's available in more than 42 percent of the ESPN leagues, and chances to get a featured back are rare on the waiver wire (even if it's a Shanahan back).

1. Ryan Torain, RB, Redskins (owned in 57.6 percent of the leagues): Torain rushed for 135 yards on 19 carries Sunday at St. Louis. It "was like he was possessed," Shanahan said.

You'll have to wait a week if you make this move, since Washington is off this week. By Week 6, Hightower could be healthy and "The Guy," whatever that means in a Shanahan offense.

Regardless, Torain was effective last season, despite receiving 10 or more carries in only eight games. He rushed for 742 yards, averaged 4.5 yards per carry and caught 18 passes.

Long term, he should be Washington's best option. Hopefully, his coach agrees.

2. Stevan Ridley, RB, Patriots (3.6 percent): The rookie third-round pick had 10 carries for 97 yards and a TD on Sunday at Oakland. In four games, he has 18 rushes for 148 yards (8.2 yards per attempt).

BenJarvus Green-Ellis is clearly the Patriots' top option for the time being in the backfield, but Bill Belichick likes to torment us when it comes to running backs almost as much as Shanahan.

Green-Ellis has rushed for 197 yards and three touchdowns. His backup, Danny Woodhead, has been banged up. He had 14 carries in Week 1, but has 12 since.

Ridley could overtake Green-Ellis at some point. The more likely scenario is he will share carries, with Green-Ellis dominating the touches at the goal line.

3. Isaac Redman, RB, Steelers (2.3 percent): Rashard Mendenhall has a hamstring injury that could limit him this week, and his numbers -- thanks in large part to the Steelers' much-maligned offense line -- are less than mediocre (173 yards, 3.0 yards per attempt, two TDs).

Redman has 107 yards on 22 carries (4.9), and he could receive a much greater workload this week because of injuries to Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore.

If you need a one-week fill-in, Redman might get the most touches of any back on this list in Week 5. But keep in mind Sunday's opponent, the Titans, are allowing only 3.2 yards per carry and rank eighth against the run.

4. Bernard Scott, RB, Bengals (5.9 percent): Scott's value depends entirely on Cedric Benson's looming three-game suspension. The latter has appealed Roger Goodell's verdict, but since the commissioner often only has to answer to himself, we should expect Benson to miss at least two games.

If the hammer comes down this week, Scott's value rises. Scott has only 13 rushing attempts and two receptions this season, thanks to a surprisingly productive start by Benson (348 yards, 4.5 yards per carry).

Scott has averaged 4.4 yards per carry in his career, and he could be a decent flex option if Benson is forced to miss Sunday's game at Jacksonville (No. 16 vs. the run).

5. Victor Cruz, WR, Giants (19.3 percent): The rookie has nine receptions for 208 yards and two TDs in his last two games. Sunday, he joined Hakeem Nicks in most of the Giants' two-receiver sets in the second half, reportedly because Eli Manning wasn't happy with Mario Manningham's route-running.

Manningham missed the Giants' game Sept. 26 because of a concussion, and he had one catch for 10 yards against Arizona.

Sunday, the Giants play host to the Seahawks, who are allowing more than 24 points per game. With six teams on a bye, Cruz has to be considered a No. 3 fantasy receiver in Week 5.

Three more possible free agents of note:

-- Jacoby Jones, WR, Texans (8.5 percent): With Andre Johnson possibly being sidelined this week by a hamstring injury, Matt Schaub has to throw to someone other than Owen Daniels and Arian Foster, right? Why not Jones, who had 51 receptions in 2010? In the final two games of 2010, both contests in which Johnson sat, Jones had 10 receptions for 185 yards.

-- Jabar Gaffney, WR, Redskins (6.2 percent): He has 17 receptions for 238 yards and one TD, and he's had at least 54 yards in each of Washington's first four games. Gaffney has 13 receptions in his last three contests, and he had 65 catches for 875 yards in 2010. The negative: If you play in a league in which touchdowns dominate the scoring, he's not an effective option. Gaffney has seven TDs in 52 games since 2008. A reminder: The Redskins are off this week.

-- Montario Hardesty, RB, Browns (19.6 percent): As we wrote Sunday night, Hardesty has a combined 29 touches in his last two games, as the Peyton Hillis Mystery continues to confound. The Browns are off this week, and Hillis eventually should get a lot more work, but Hardesty is an interesting option if you have the luxury of stashing him on your bench for later in the season.

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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fantasy football: Should Peyton Hillis be benched?

It hasn't been a good eight days for Peyton Hillis.

Last Sunday, he missed the Browns' win over the Dolphins because of strep throat.

This week, there were rumors -- which fireballed when ESPN's Adam Schefter jumped into the fray -- that Hillis' decision not to play last week was because of his unhappiness with his contract, which pays him $600,000 this season.

Hillis' tumultuous week was capped by a Sunday in which he had a season-low 15 touches -- only three more than backfield mate Montario Hardesty -- in the Browns' loss to the Titans.

Whether or not you believe the Browns should reward Hillis for his huge 2010 season by extending his contract is fodder for another blog. Here, we're going to concentrate on Hillis' fantasy value, which is at its lowest since he was a blocking back in Denver.

Hillis rushed for 46 yards on 10 carries and caught five passes for 23 yards against Tennessee. Hardesty, meanwhile, had seven carries for 22 yards and five receptions (plus four drops) for 49 yards.

In his last two games, the first of which was without Hillis, Hardesty has 21 rushes for 89 yards and eight receptions for 68 yards.

He will continue to cut into Hillis' workload, which might not be a terrible thing, considering how Hillis tailed off at the end of 2010.

Hillis should have no reason to be worn down this season, and you would figure the Browns would prefer to have his touches closer to the mid-20s (he had an average of 27 in Weeks 1 and 2) than the mid-teens.

The Browns are off in Week 5, so you can sit on this decision for a week.

In Week 6, they play at Oakland, which was ranked 26th against the run entering Sunday, then allowed 30 carries for 183 yards and two touchdowns on the ground to the pass-happy Patriots.

Hillis has to be a fantasy starter against Oakland, and the Browns' schedule in Weeks 7 to 12 is about as imposing as Colt McCoy trying to make a tackle after an interception. Cleveland will play host to Seattle in Week 7, followed by games at San Francisco, at Houston, St. Louis and Jacksonville at home, and at Cincinnati.

Give Hillis another chance, but in standard scoring leagues, his value is even more tenuous than in point-per-reception formats. At the very least, you can count on him to catch about four passes per week.

Since that's the best you can say about the Browns' bruising back at this point, it's not a stretch to think Hillis might be no better than a flex play in Weeks 13, 14 and 16 -- when the Browns play the Ravens twice and the Steelers once.

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