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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 both offensive and defensive 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 many deeper leagues.

For my initial column, I’ll focus on guys that your league owners may have missed on draft day. Feedback is always welcome.


Off The Top

Eli Manning, NYG – Sounds obvious to draft this guy, doesn’t it? Well, he’s actually been snubbed in some eight- and even ten-team leagues. I took the younger, less-talented Manning in my 10-team, one-starting-QB league as a backup for Carson Palmer, and then endured 20 solid minutes of ribbing from my fellow New Yorkers because I’m a Cowboy fan and he’s the third Giant that ended up on my squad (Plaxico Burress and my #2 WR and Osi Umenyora at DL were the other two). First, I reminded these idiots that he was my backup. Then, I started picturing Eli getting the confidence he needs to succeed this season and I started to smile. Now, I’m imagining there are more leagues out there that left him hanging on the wire following the draft. His 18 interceptions last season may have left a bad taste in the mouths of fantasy owners everywhere, but in New York, where they’ve pinned the hopes and dreams of their franchise on a 270-pound running back and a guy that’s not even the best quarterback at his family’s Thanksgiving dinner, fans are especially sensitive. Eli’s numbers last year could have been better, and they would’ve been much better had there been any consistency to the offensive line and its shoddy protection. Look for a nice bounce-back season, at least 25 TD passes, and less turnovers from Eli in ’07, who will have nice matchups in weeks 2 and 3 and plenty of opportunities down the road to shine.

David Garrard David Garrard, JAC – The mayor is back. He’s a bona fide #2 and a good backup for your #1, he’s a mobile guy with plenty of experience under center, and the confidence Jaguars coaches have displayed in dumping Leftwich and going with him should translate to excellent numbers on the field. Despite the array of perennial underachievers on their wideout depth chart, the Jaguars do have a great mix of options for Garrard, including the electric Maurice Jones-Drew out of the stacked backfield. He also developed a nice rapport with WR Ernest Wilford when he took the reins and really locked in with WR Matt Jones near the end of last season, tossing the big galoot four TD passes in the final six weeks. He opens up against Tennessee, a secondary that must be in shambles after losing Uber-corner Adam “Pacman” Jones to a season-long suspension. After that, he faces Atlanta – another team that’s had its share of problems. Those matchups make him an excellent option as a #2 in the first two weeks and a borderline #1 in bigger leagues.

Digging Deeper

Jeff Garcia, TB – The way he performed last season in relief of McNabb, it’s hard to even drop him down here in the middle of the barrel. But the Buccaneers organization is in a free-fall since winning the Super Bowl sometime during George W. Bush’s first turn as commander-in-chief. His mobility has surely faded a bit since his days in San Fran, he’s behind a much-less-cohesive line in Tampa than he was in Philly, and he’s got questionable wideouts, but he’ll be a important player to watch in deeper leagues because he’s got the rocks to make an impact in any system – especially one that favors his playing style like Jon Gruden’s West Coast attack.

Alex Smith, SF – I recommended this guy on occasion last season when he had decent matchups and he didn’t disappoint. He starts off 2007 against the Cardinals in what will most likely be a shootout, and he’s got a lot of potential for a bunch of big games, especially if Frank Gore continues his rapid ascent and frees up the Niners’ burgeoning passing game. You could do a lot worse for your #2 QB, sports fans.

Scouring The Barrel

Daunte Culpepper, OAK – If you missed my waiver wire column last year, I should explain that this category usually features a variety of players I’m sometimes wary of recommending. Some are just dudes who are best described as last resorts in filling out your roster during bye weeks, some are unproven players who will almost always be available but have the potential to blow up, and others are old friends who pop up along the way and remind us of days long past when they were the #1 QB in fantasy football. I don’t think I need to tell you which category Mr. Culpepper fits in, and while he’s not even the starter yet and he plays for one of the worst teams in football, he should still be on your radar just because of his insanely high ceiling. If you can afford to carry him on your roster, he could be a great trump card considering both the Raiders’ schedule and the fact that he has nothing to lose. Three years ago, the guy averaged around 30 fantasy points per game – and he had a couple decent performances in 2005 before suffering the injury that effectively wrecked 2006 for him. It’s amazing to me that so many folks were willing to give up on him, especially fantasy owners.

J.P. Losman, BUF – Another guy that could break out in a big way this season, Losman has all the tools to post good numbers from week to week, including a top WR in Lee Evans, a porous defense that forces the Bills offense to throw a lot, and some emerging cast members who could help him prove his doubters wrong. He’s a better option if your league doesn’t penalize for turnovers, but he’s still not a bad backup to stash away in case he lives up to the potential he’s shown in flashes over the past couple seasons.

Running Backs

Off The Top

Ladell Betts, WAS – We all know what he did last year in Portis’ absence, and we all know Clinton’s going to get hurt again. Even before Portis was injured, Ladell stole goal line and 3rd down opportunities from him. Honestly, I see Mr. Betts performing in a similar role to Maurice Jones-Drew in ’07, with a little less punch. In deeper leagues, Betts is a solid #3 RB and if he’s available on your waiver wire in just about any format, he’s a steal.

Digging Deeper

Anthony Thomas, BUF – I just can’t stay away from the A-Train. I drafted him expecting an injury to McGahee last year and I was validated in the later weeks of the season. Thomas can catch the ball and hammer the ball into the end zone and with Marshawn Lynch starting for Buffalo, he could be a valuable option should the unproven rookie struggle. He’s not the runner he was when he played for Chicago, but he might be a solid option as a #3 in deep point-per-reception leagues.

Leon Washington, NYJ – Leon made it through the draft in my 10-team IDP this past Friday and it boggles my mind he wasn’t picked up by somebody who needed a proven runner. He has limited upside and isn’t a really big guy (5’8”, 202) but I watched him run a lot last season and he seems to have a good feel for knowing when the holes would develop and when to bounce it outside. Thomas Jones isn’t the most talented or durable back under the sun, so Washington’s another good player to have.

Michael Bennett, KC – If Michael Turner is so highly prized as the necessary handcuff to LaDainian Tomlinson, why is Michael Bennett largely ignored in drafts everywhere even though he’s Larry Johnson’s backup? There’s actually two pretty good reasons. First, the Chiefs offense has been quite feeble in the preseason, and as we all know, the backup running back on a crappy team is not a hot commodity. Second, everybody from Barry Sanders to Tiki Barber is holding out hope that Priest Holmes has not played his last down in the NFL. Bennett should see more carries in ’07 and if you listen to the folks who say LJ is due to break something, he’s in line for a lot more.

Scouring The Barrel

Michael Pittman, TB – Another guy I love to focus on, Pittman usually escapes being drafted because he’s on a bad team and he doesn’t even start. But when given the opportunities, he’s shined. With Mike Alstott out for the year, Pittman will play more and convince Jon Gruden he should be in the mix on a regular basis – splitting time with Cadillac Williams and making the entire running game more successful.

Selvin Young, DEN – The latest flavor-of-the-month for Mike Shanahan, Young earned a valuable roster spot and second-string rushing duties behind Travis Henry with solid outings this preseason, where he led the Broncos in rushing with 167 yards on 34 carries for a 4.9-yard average and 2 TDs. Mike Bell has been moved to fullback and Young, a rookie out of Texas, could have huge value if Henry’s injury is more serious than previously disclosed. And if you know Mike Shanahan like I know Mike Shanahan, you’ll reserve a roster spot for Young if you’ve got Henry.

Kenton Keith, RB – DeDe Dorsey got waived bye-bye and for now, this guy’s Joseph Addai’s top backup. I expect the Colts to pick up another back soon, but if they don’t, “Kool” Keith would be the requisite handcuff for Addai.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Off The Top

WR Santonio Holmes, PIT – It always amazes me how a little hype can go along way, and the only reason I would include Holmes in the waiver wire column is in the off chance that everyone in your league refused to believe it. Considering his pedestrian numbers through the first 13 weeks of last season, it’s a bit ridiculous that Holmes is being drafted as early as he is in most formats. But his ’06 finish and Mike Tomlin’s preseason decree that Big Ben was going to throw a bunch of balls deep this year had fantasy owners buying Santonio stock like he was the John Jefferson to Tomlin’s Don Coryell. While I’m still not buying him as a #2, he’s a solid #3 WR and a developing talent.

WR Drew Bennett, STL – With Torry Holt at a self-admitted 70-80 percent, this former Titans playmaker will get lots of looks from Marc Bulger in an offense where he could explode. He has some competition for catches, including Holt, Stephen Jackson, TE Randy McMichael and brittle, 85-year-old Isaac Bruce. But he’s got a huge upside as the Rams’ third receiver and if your league drafted before Holt revealed his gimpy status, there’s a good possibility he’s available.

WR Ronald Curry, OAK – I feel like I’m the only guy who has the confidence that Ron Curry could be an impact fantasy player in ’07. By all accounts, the offense is improving, Randy Moss is history and the quarterback situation is head and shoulders above its insipid status from last season. Curry finds ways to get catches and he should improve as the Raiders’ possession receiver this year. He often goes undrafted in 12-team leagues but he’s a guy that will be a solid #3 WR all year long easily capable of 75/900/5.

Digging Deeper

WR Wes Welker, NE – When things were getting slim in the WR pickings as last season wore on, I recommended Welker for the not-so-picky. He was very consistent for the Dolphins and this season he enters a great situation in New England, where the Pats just dropped their best 2006 receiver – Reche Caldwell – apparently because his eyes were too buggy and he was scaring Tom Brady’s newborn. Regardless of why Caldwell was released, Welker could produce solid numbers in an offense that won’t discriminate between multi-million dollar signees (Randy Moss) and everybody else (Donte Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, Kelley Washington, and Welker). I wouldn’t start him right away, but Brady might start finding him on a regular basis and if his touches start going up, he should be on your roster.

Patrick Crayton, DAL – If Terry Glenn’s injury continues to bother him, you’ll be happy that Crayton is on your team. He’s a talented receiver that Tony Romo seems to like, making him the best receiving option besides Terrell Owens right now in Big D that isn’t recovering from arthroscopic surgery. And should anything happen to T.O, he’ll get most of the looks.

TE Bo Scaife, TEN – Vince Young is going to be hurting to find receiving options this season, and despite Scaife’s limited production in ‘06, he showed signs of life and many believe he’s poised for a big season. He’s the backup TE (Ben Troupe is technically still the starter) and no more than a solid #2 TE at this point, but Young was no more than a keeper league gem during ‘06 fantasy drafts. Things are in a stat of flux in Tennessee, and since Vince seems to like Big Bo, I like Big Bo.

Scouring The Barrel

WR Arnaz Battle, SF – He’s still a heavy sleeper on a developing offense, but he’s a big play guy that I’ve liked for years. Stay tuned.

WR Ted Ginn, MIA – A player with enormous upside, Ginn will be available in most formats. He’s a playmaker-in-waiting and a guy that might be the smooth slot receiver that Trent Green needs to succeed in Miami. He’s been fast-tracked by the Dolphins and the word is that he’s moved ahead of Derek Hagan on the depth chart.

WR Ernest Wilford, JAC – Like I’ve said, he’s got a nice rapport with Garrard and he’s a decent playmaker. But wait a while before you start him to see how things shake out with the Jags depth chart in the first few weeks.

TE Tony Scheffler, DEN – Many people ignored him on their fantasy draft day because of his broken foot and status behind Daniel Graham on the Broncos depth chart. But he and Cutler hit it off and Graham is just a gloried blocker that sees little action in the passing game.


Off The Top

LB Omar Gaither, PHI – An overachiever who finished the ’06 in a big way, Gaither caught the attention of the Philly coaches and started from Week 13 on. He’s also one of the main reasons the Eagles could afford to part ways with locker room leader Jeremiah Trotter and a solid sleeper available in many IDP leagues.

DB Charles Woodson, GB – Another player who’s gone undrafted in many IDP leagues, Woodson is still a good tackler and makes plays that few others can make. The Packers have a steadily improving defensive unit and Woodson should be in line for lots of points, despite the long list of non-believing fantasy owners.

LB Stephen Cooper, SD – This mostly unknown, former Maine Black Bear is the Chargers’ replacement for Donnie Edwards at starting inside linebacker. Edwards moved back to Kansas City but racked up plenty of tackles over the years in that slot and scouts are very high on Cooper, who will be free to take advantage in the middle of the chaos that Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips cause from the outside.

Digging Deeper

LB Barrett Ruud, TB – The Bucs coaches think Ruud was tailor-made for their defensive scheme, and as the starting MLB replacing the retired Shelton Quarles, he’ll have his opportunities to prove it. He’s got good size, strength and speed, and scouting reports say he can handle both the run and pass coverage.

DL Simeon Rice, DEN – Recently signed by the Broncos to a one-year contract, Rice is a proven performer that gets to the quarterback on a consistent basis. He’s lost a step or two over the years, but he’ll be great in the Denver locker room and could be an impact IDP player on a weekly basis.

LB Angelo Crowell, BUF – Almost inexplicably, he went undrafted in both my IDP leagues, possibly because he’s had some injuries. But Crowell is 25 years old and the starting weak-side linebacker for a defense that will on the field a lot. He’s a solid all-around linebacker and a defensive playmaker, and the only hit he take

Scouring The Barrel

LB Freddy Keiaho, IND – Freddy, who played mostly special teams last year, emerged in camp as a more physical version of Cato June, who left for Tampa this off-season. He’s starting now and has been all over the field in the preseason – a good player to put on your radar as the season gets underway.

DB James Sanders, NE – With Harrison suspended and Eugene Wilson still recovering from an undisclosed injury (thanks Bill Belichick) Sanders could be in line for some big IDP numbers. Keep an eye on him.

LB Nate Webster, DEN – He’s won the battle for the Broncos starting SLB, beating out Louis Green for the job vacated when Warrick Holdman went on IR. He’s had a good camp and he’s an IDP super-sleeper who could make you look brilliant around week 10.