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Through The Wire

Targeting weekly waiver picks is a completely subjective business, but this column hopes to point out some obvious and not-so-obvious selections that will help your team from week to week while you strive to collect fantasy wins, reach your league playoffs, and win the elusive title that your friends say is out of your grasp. While I’m just as big a proponent of making trades to bolster your roster, the waiver wire can be an almost limitless resource when it comes to discovering fantasy value in strange places. Each week, I’ll target players that may be available in shallow leagues – sometimes just breakout stars that eluded your team’s draft – as well as players who can help your squad that will still be available in most deeper leagues.


Off The Top

Philip Rivers, SD – If you are in a QB-heavy league and you had the foresight to pick this guy up as one of your backups, I salute you. With the solidity of the Chargers running game, this guys isn’t going to be asked to fire aimlessly into opposing defenses, but he will rack up TD passes inside the Red Zone. If he’s available in your league and you need a replacement for Aaron Brooks, you shouldn’t need any more provoking after Monday night. I’ll take 8-for-11, 108 yards and a touchdown over 6-for-14, 68 yards and a goose egg all day long.

Chad Pennington, NYJ – Now, he’s probably not available in most leagues, but if he is, he’s worth scooping up with the emergence of Jerricho Cotchery and a surprisingly potent Jets offense. Pennington’s numbers (24-33, 319, 2-0) were good enough for a 123.2 QB rating and a win in
Week 1. His next three games: New England, Buffalo and Indy. Hop on.

Jay Cutler, DEN – Now here’s a guy who most likely eluded even some of the wily fantasy vets in your neck of the woods, considering the inexplicable propensity people have for selecting Jake Plummer. Well, I guess it’s not TOTALLY inexplicable – he does seem to blow up for five or six big games each year. But given Cutler’s astoundingly sharp preseason and Shanahan’s itchy trigger finger, I don’t think it will be long before Cutler gets his shot and makes everybody forget all about Jake the Snake a la 2001’s Drew Bledsoe-Tom Brady revelation.

Digging Deeper

Rex Grossman, CHI – For now, Brian Griese and Kyle Orton remain at the back of the bus watching Napoleon Dynamite toss action figures out the window. Sure, eventually, they’ll get to class and the teacher will call their name, but the last time I checked, a 98.6 QB rating never got anybody benched.

Jon Kitna, DET – No TDs last week, but that’s bound to change when the Lions start to click. The defense is obviously ahead of schedule, and that will mean more opportunities against teams not from Seattle. Roy Williams, Corey Bradford and Kevin Jones are solid weapons that will yield dividends for Mr. Kitna, who doesn’t need a lot of swanky stars to make things happen.

Brad Johnson, MIN – The numbers weren’t that impressive, but something tells me we’re in for another solid year out of Not-Too-Bad Brad. In nine starts last year, Johnson passed for 1885 yards, had 12 TDs and just 4 INTs. Not #1 QB-worthy, but if you’re hitting up the waiver wire for a #1 Fantasy QB, you might as well chalk up your season.

Scouring The Barrel

Charlie Batch, PIT – Having Batch down here in the barrel means three things. First, I’m counting on him getting scooped up prematurely by whomever drafted Ben Roethlisberger. Second, he’s not as good as his 3-TD performance against Miami on Thursday night, and third, he’s still probably worth a shot because he plays for the Super Bowl champs. ‘Nuff said.

Alex Smith, SF – While taking a QB who just threw for 288 yards and a TD can hardly be considered scouring the barrel, Mr. Smith had the benefit of being in a shootout with Arizona. Let’s not forget his numbers from 2005 (1 TD, 11 INTs) which are bound to have some impact on his 2006 stats. I’ll give the kids 15 TDs and 20 INTs over the course of the season, which is hardly worth a roster spot in most leagues.

Damon Huard, KC – With Trent Green out for at least one more game, there’s a possibility Huard could post decent fantasy numbers next week, but I wouldn’t count on it. Since Marc Bulger and they Rams couldn’t crack the end zone last week versus Denver (much to the delight of Jeff Wilkins owners everywhere) I highly doubt Damon Huard will be much more successful, even taking into account his palpable rapport with Tony Gonzalez.

Running Backs

Off The Top

Tatum Bell, DEN – This is kind of an obvious one, but who knows if the preseason propaganda on Flavor-of-the-Month Mike Bell reached Ministry of Information proportions in your league? I’m not insulting your intelligence, I’m just saying, go get him if he’s there.

Laurence Maroney, NE – Things are apparently changing shape a bit in New England, and Maroney’s gonna reap the benefits. Although he’s another guy that is probably not available in your league, I’m sure he got by a few people worried about an early injury and Corey Dillon’s solidity.

Jerious Norwood, ATL – While Warrick Dunn has gone from veritable fantasy limbo to wonderful new heights, Norwood is a no-brainer handcuff for the Dirty Birds backfield. These guys run the ball and run it often, and if anything should happen to Dunn (and it always does) he’s the man to have.

Digging Deeper

Brandon Jacobs, NYG – He’s usually a handcuff selection by whomever has Tiki Barber, but if Jacobs managed to elude your league’s drafters, I’d grab him ASAP. Eight rushes for 54 yards and a score is all you’ll need out of a backup RB, and if anything ever happened to Tiki, Brandon’s torch would be lit.

Travis Henry, TEN – I said it before and I’ll say it again. Chris Brown should stick to making decent R&B hits and driving hip-hop groupies wild.

Correll Buckhalter, PHI – I would never draft this guy, and I hope nobody that you know actually did. But if he proves himself as a solid contributor from week to week, he could be a worthy pickup since he’s probably the man if Westbrook goes down.

Scouring The Barrel

Michael Turner, SD – Tomlinson’s backup got plenty of garbage time in the fourth quarter against the Raiders, but you’ll be hard-pressed to start him with LT healthy. As a handcuff, he’s essential. But if he got by your draft and you want trade fodder for the LT owner in your league, grab him and get in that guy’s ear.

Anthony Thomas, BUF – He was once a fantasy stud who seemed to disappear before our eyes without much explanation. Now he’s a capable short-yardage, goalline and third down back who grabbed 29 yard and a touchdown on three carries and 2 catches for 16 yards while Willis McGahee got his ankle taped during what eventually became a bizarre loss to New England. If Willie Mac gets dinged up, and A-Train’s facing a weak defense, you could do a lot worse.

J.J. Arrington, ARI – Edgerrin James isn’t the most durable back in the NFL, and he tends to take a couple weeks off here and there due to injury. While many of you undoubtedly have endured frustration with Arrington in the past, he’s a good handcuff for Edge and since he’s staying involved on special teams, he’s probably chomping at the bit for an opportunity to shine. Just putting that out there, folks.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Off The Top

Deion Branch, SEA – This guy made it through the draft in one of my leagues. After the trade to Seattle, he won’t make it “Through the Wire” like my boy Kanye.

Antonio Bryant, SF – Not available in most leagues, but an obvious selection in those where he is. He’s always been a young, talented threat, but now he’s the most mature player on a offense full of babies. Expect Alex Smith to look his way all year long.

Drew Bennett, TEN – Despite the gaudy numbers he’s put up during the waning weeks of years past, I know there are folks who avoided this guy on draft day because of the situation in Tennessee and the presence of David Givens. Well guess what? Kerry Collins seems to love him more than Mardi Gras.

Desmond Clark, CHI – He used to be a stalwart TE on lots of fantasy teams, and although he’s the man in Chi-town, most preseason rankings didn’t place him any higher than the 25th best TE. With 5 catches for 77 yards on Sunday, he’s worth a look.

Digging Deeper

Jerricho Cotchery, NYJ – I’ll take 6-65-1 every week from my #3 receiver, and so should you. Those won’t be his numbers every week, but he’s capable of even better given the right matchup. He’s a Jet and he’s not that big, but neither was Wayne Chrebet.

Reggie Williams, JAX – All I heard during the draft was Matt Jones, and all I heard in the days leading up to Week 1 was Ernest Wilford. But Byron Leftwich found a decent safety valve in Williams versus Dallas on Sunday, and Reggie’s bound to be just as involved in the offense during the coming weeks after a 6-47-1 performance.

Scouring The Barrel

Wes Welker, MIA – Nobody had this guy in their top 100, and nobody thought Culpepper would look his way. But he grabbed a few catches

Bobby Wade, TEN – A bust in Chicago, Wade isn’t the kind of guy you base your receiving corps around. But he has good games here and there, he grabbed five balls for 76 yards on Sunday, and if you’re desperate, he might be an OK fill-in at some point down the road.


Off The Top

LB DeMeco Ryans, HOU – A fantasy stud-in-waiting. If this animal is available, grab him and thank me later. You saw the numbers from the Philly game, and while he was listed as a Tier 5 LB in most preseason rankings, he’s destined for Tier 2 or 3 by the year’s end. Think Jamie Sharper in his prime.

LB Lemar Marshall, WAS – Sure, he’s been hyped by some, but I’m sure there were folks that gambled on Marcus Washington over Marshall and hoped fate would smile. She didn’t and it’s time to get Lemar before somebody else does.

LB D'Qwell Jackson, CLE – Another rookie LB that eluded many IDPers on draft day, Jackson is just the kind of guy that emerges with a solid 7-10 tackles and the occasional breakout game. He’s undersized, but that doesn’t mean he won’t supply a Dexter Coakley-like presence that’s desperately needed on the Browns defense.

Digging Deeper

LB Thomas Howard, OAK – The rookie linebackers just keep on coming, and Howard was one of the lone bright spots for the Raiders on a Monday night they all want to forget. My died-in-the-wool Raider fan brother-in-law has stated he is officially a Ravens fan until Al Davis dies. Howard, however, is stuck with the Raiders but should get lots of opportunities as the Oakland offense can only stay on the field for 35-40 second intervals before the opposing team takes over. And since it’s basically one incomplete pass after another, the only times that ticks off the clock is after a sack.

LB Bart Scott, BAL – He’s going to fight for tackles in a defense that features a slew of studs, but he’s also going to get to the quarterback a few times like he did on Sunday versus Tampa Bay, and that only leads to big plays and more points. If he’s still available, you should take a shot.

Scouring The Barrel

DB Chris Hope, TEN – A five-year veteran who gave up lots of tackles to Troy Polamalu in Pittsburgh, Hope made an immediate impact in his first opportunity with Tennessee. Whatever Keith Bulluck doesn’t run down, Chris Hope will.

DB O.J. Atogwe, STL – This guy had 11 tackles throughout 2005 before getting his first start on Sunday for the Rams at home in St. Louis. I’m a big believer in the fantasy potential of no-name DBs, and this guy had 7 tackles and a fumble recovery in his first opportunity, so he’s worth a look.