by Vince Verhei and Ben Riley
Ah, the waiver wire, the last refuge for fantasy owners victimized by injuries, Mike Shanahan, and the mysterious disappearance of LaDainian Tomlison. We all know that championships are not won by meticulous draft preparation or shrewd in-season trades alone -- to take home the big trophy in your league, you also need to get wildly lucky with some scrub you picked up in Week 3. The problem is, can you trust 'em on a weekly basis? To answer that question, the Scramble team looks at 10 players that were freely available in Week 1 and predicts what to expect as the regular season winds down and the fantasy playoffs begin.
Donnie Avery: The first wide receiver taken in last April's draft, Avery wasn't expected to produce much in St. Louis, where he'd be behind Torry Holt and Drew Bennett on the depth chart. But Bennett caught just one pass before breaking his foot in the season opener against Philadelphia, and was lost for the year. Avery stepped into Bennett's slot, and currently leads the team in receiving yards. His season totals (25 catches, 392 yards, 2 touchdowns, plus 61 yards and another touchdown on the ground) are not particularly impressive, but he shined in a three-game October stretch, totaling 14 catches, 291 yards and a pair of scores against Washington, Dallas, and New England. Avery has a great chance to finish up strong; of the Rams' final seven games, five come against teams that are below average in defending opposing No. 1 receivers (the exception is the 49ers, whom the Rams play twice), and the only bad-weather game will be this Sunday in San Francisco. After that, there's one game in Arizona, one in Atlanta, and four in dome sweet dome.
Cedric Benson: Benson wasn't on any roster when the season started -- not in fantasy, not in the NFL, not in Canada, not even in Blitz: The League. But when Chris Perry got off to a historically awful start in Cincinnati, the Bengals brought in Benson, and he has been a huge improvement. It's tough to describe Cincinnati's running game since Benson took over the starter's role. Adequacy? Mediocrity? Competence? Any of those may still be too strong, but Benson did just rush for 104 yards and a touchdown against Jacksonville in Cincinnati's first win. It should be his last 100-yard game for a while; after this Sunday's contest against Philadelphia (14th in rushing yards allowed), they then play Pittsburgh (second) and Baltimore (first). They also play Washington (sixth). They do, however, play Kansas City (32nd) in the Week 17 finale, in a game that will have a massive impact on the 2009 draft. That could be a fun one.
Steve Breaston: Two weeks ago, the FO staff debated whether Breaston's production was the result of talent, or the product of being the third wide receiver on a team with Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin and Kurt Warner at quarterback. It's an interesting academic question, but from a fantasy perspective, Breaston should be a reliable 8- to 12-point a week option for the duration of the regular season (although Boldin is sucking up all the touchdowns).
John Carlson: There's nothing left to be said about the dismal Seattle sports scene, but at least this former Notre Dame tight end has justified Seahawks general manager Tim Ruskell's decision to trade up in the draft. True, over the past three weeks Carlson appeared to have coated his hands in butter, but with Matt Hasselbeck and Deion Branch returning to the lineup, Carlson's production should improve going forward.
Joe Flacco: Much like another rookie quarterback phenomena appearing later in this column, the strong-armed Flacco has had a nice run over the past three weeks, leading Peter King to suggest, inexplicably, that we should not call him "Flucco." But with games coming up against the Giants, Eagles, Redskins and Steelers, he's a fantasy backup at best.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: His team nicknamed him "Law Firm." Mike Tanier quipped that he's a distant cousin to Bret Easton Ellis. And last week, he racked up more than 100 yards and a touchdown. But tread cautiously -- Patriots running backs are fantasy death because you can never be sure of Bill Belichick's game plan. If he continues to rack up yards against the Jets and a suffocating Kris Jenkins on Thursday, however, you can probably safely start him as your RB3 for the rest of the year.
Mewelde Moore: Poor, poor Mewelde Moore. After a pair of seasons in which he looked terrific in limited action in Minnesota, he signed with the Steelers in free agency, expecting a solid No. 2 role with a chance to beat out Willie Parker for the starting spot. Then the Steelers drafted Rashard Mendenhall, and Moore slipped to third on the depth chart. Then Parker hurt his shoulder and missed five out of six games. Then Mendenhall hurt his shoulder and was lost for the year. Enter Mewelde. In four starts against the Jaguars, Bengals, Giants, and Colts, Moore collected 360 yards and 6 touchdowns. Moore's outlook from here on out depends entirely on Parker's shoulder: If the shoulder is bad, that's good news for Moore and his owners. The schedule is also less than ideal, notable for back-to-back games against Baltimore and Tennessee.
Matt Ryan: Not only is Ryan looking a lock to win the NFL rookie of the year award, he's quietly become a top 12 fantasy quarterback as well. With upcoming matchups against Denver, San Diego and New Orleans, he should continue his steady 20-points-per-game production. Cue Stu Scott: "Matty Ice is as cool as the other side of the pillow!"
Chansi Stuckey: The second-year player out of Clemson started out hot, with a touchdown in each of the Jets' first three games. He didn't do much outside the red zone though, averaging a little more than 40 yards a game in those contests. Since then, he hasn't produced in the red zone or anywhere else on the field, averaging just 26 yards per game and failing to score even once. The third receiver, Stuckey has only 19 receptions on the year, behind top wideouts Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery, and also trailing running backs Leon Washington and Thomas Jones. He's tied with tight end Dustin Keller for fifth on the team. There's always the chance that Brett Favre will Just Have Fun Out There, and the ball will come down in Stuckey's hands in the end zone (remember, this happened against Miami), but if you're counting on Stuckey to save your team, it's time to plan for 2009.
Kevin Walter: Walter's appearance on this list is somewhat borderline; after he finished 36th among wideouts in fantasy points last year, he was likely drafted in a handful of leagues this season (particularly those leagues based near Galveston Bay). The lucky owners who did select him have giggled as he has collected six touchdowns, one of six players tied for second in the league. (That list is quite bizarre to look at: Roddy White, Antonio Gates, Terrell Owens, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Kevin Walter?!) Walter caught five touchdowns in his first 75 games; he has now scored six in nine games in 2008. And it's not just an illusion caused by Andre Johnson's slow start; Walter collected 70 yards and a pair of scores against Cincinnati in Week 8, and went for 85 yards and a touchdown against Baltimore last Sunday. Walter is a No. 2 receiver if ever there was one; he trails Johnson by 30 catches, and leads David Anderson, the Texans' third receiver, by 27. He does face a tough slate the rest of the way though, including games against the Colts, Titans, and Packers, three of the league's top seven teams in defending opposing No. 2s.
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Keep Choppin' Wood
Every year, the Philadelphia Eagles manage to dominate our DVOA numbers, yet struggle to make the playoffs and/or be taken seriously as a championship contender. Last Sunday, watching Andy Reid stumble through another late-game clock management mishap before calling for two power runs despite not having a power back on the roster, it became that much harder to resist blaming the coaching staff for the Eagles' perpetual underperformance. This KCW goes to Reid, and for Mike Tanier's sake, we hope this is the last one we send to Philly this year.
Those of you who read Monday's Audibles know that there was much debate about Herm Edwards' decision to go for a game-winning two-point conversion in Kansas City's 20-19 loss against San Diego. Well, the rest of the staff may disagree, but this is our column, and we think Herm was 100 percent in the right. Rather than recap the entire argument (those of you who missed it can read it here), we're just going to note that Kansas City missed an extra point late in the second quarter on a bad snap by Thomas Gafford. If the Chiefs convert that extra point, than Tony Gonzalez's last-minute touchdown would have tied the game on its own, and Kansas City could have then kicked for the win. So if you must blame this loss on anyone, don't blame it on Herm, who made a tough decision in a very short time under great pressure; blame it on Gafford, who has only one job, and screwed it up.
Welcome to the second half. As a reminder, you can see scores here each week.
QB: No surprises here. Jake Delhomme threw four interceptions and only seven completions. Fortunately for him (and the Panthers), one of those receptions produced a touchdown. Marc Bulger, meanwhile, had a fumble and an interception to go with only 65 passing yards and 13 attempts. Each player scored a -1.
RB: We'll go on a limb and say this is the only time Chris Johnson's name appears in this space this season. Yeah, he's not going for 8 yards on 14 carries again. He got a 1.
WR: A bunch of 1s for Brandon Stokley, Jordy Nelson, Brad Smith, and Bryant Johnson. Each player caught passes for 14 to 17 yards. Most surprising, each of these players caught at least two passes. Way to make an impact, fellas.
K: Robbie Gould and Jason Hanson each kicked two extra points and missed a field goal, so each scored a 0.