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By Roch Kubatko

Yankees-Rays Prize Fight

The New York Yankees weren’t giving up first place without a fight.

They found one at Tropicana Field.

They went 11 rounds with the Tampa Bay Rays Monday night in the first game of a crucial series in St. Petersburg. And it was Reid Brignac who delivered the knockout punch with a walk-off home run off Sergio Mitre.

Brignac’s blast broke a scoreless tie and moved the Rays a half-game ahead of New York in the AL East.

Tampa Bay improved to 87-56, the best record in baseball. The Yankees, losers of a season-high four straight, had the same record when the night began.

It’s hard to imagine the rest of the series living up to this game, which featured eight scoreless innings each by C.C. Sabathia and David Price.

Price retired 14 in a row after Derek Jeter singled in the first inning, and he held the Yankees to three hits. Sabathia again was denied his 20th win, but not for lack of effort or results, as he rationed the Rays to two singles and struck out nine.

“Frazier-Ali,” said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon. “It was there. The Thrilla in Manila. It was all there.”

Brignac worked the count full leading off the 11th before reaching the seats in right field. He entered the game only after Carl Crawford was ejected. Otherwise, he probably wouldn’t have been hitting in that situation.

“It felt good off the bat,” he told reporters.

The night began with Tampa Bay holding a 7½ game lead over Boston and Chicago in the wild card race, but the Rays have a bigger goal in mind as the teams entered a stretch where they’ll meet seven times in 11 days.

The Yankees would like to be healthier. Outfielders Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner were missing from the lineup Monday night. Swisher is dealing with a bone bruise in his left knee that likely will lead to an MRI. Gardner received a cortisone injection in his sore right wrist after an MRI revealed some inflammation. Swisher grounded out as a pinch-hitter, and Gardner stole a base and was caught stealing third after entering the game as a pinch-runner.

 

Nice career move for Cramer

Bobby Cramer began this season pitching in the Mexican League, which actually was a step up in his baseball career, considering that he once worked as a substitute teacher.

At least he got to wear a uniform and stand on a mound.

Cramer did a lot more than that Monday afternoon, winning his major league debut with the Oakland Athletics. Cramer allowed one run and four hits in 5.1 innings in a 3-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals.

Cramer, 30, began his professional career in Tampa Bay’s system in 2003, but he was out of baseball two years later. He was a high school math teacher and held a job in pipeline maintenance – putting him one up on Roy Halladay – before playing independent ball in 2008.

Earlier this year, Cramer went 13-3 with a 2.95 ERA in 22 games in Mexico after Oakland loaned his contract to Quintana Roo.

Kansas City’s only run off Cramer came on Mike Aviles’ first homer in four months.

“Just getting here was amazing in itself, but now that I’m here I want to pitch well,” Cramer told reporters. “I want to show everybody I can be up here. Going out and giving up a run today, giving us a chance to win is going to take a good step in that direction.”

Cramer is the oldest pitcher in A’s history to make his first major league start since Steve Gerkin on May 13, 1945. Gerkin pitched for the Philadelphia franchise.

 

The hits keep copming for Ichiro

Ichiro Suzuki is on the verge of adding a little more weight to his Hall of Fame credentials.

The Seattle Mariners’ outfielder carried a 13-game hitting streak into Monday’s game against the Boston Red Sox. More impressive, he was 14 hits shy of reaching 200 for the 10th time in 10 major league seasons.

That’ll get you into Cooperstown without standing in line.

The current record of 10 200-hit seasons is held by Pete Rose, who needed 17 seasons.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 - 15:04
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Path: /columns/waiver-wire/waiver-wire
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By Matt Schauf

RapidDraft.com

 

The biggest mistake many fantasy owners make after Week 1 is to put aside all the observations and expectations they carried into the season and overrate what happened in the first set of real games.

I love to comb to free-agent market after the league has run through its first set of adds and drops to see which players have already been orphaned. That’s the biggest thing to watch for this week. One good or bad week doesn’t paint a full-season picture.

Of course, football also presents the shortest season, so Week 1 performances can’t be ignored either. Here are some little-owned guys worth grabbing if you have a spot. (Just don’t go cutting C.J. Spiller to create that spot.)

 

David Garrard, QB, Jaguars

He was twice a subject of my sleeper columns in this space and a solid fantasy performer before this season. Yet, Garrard ended Sunday night owned in just 23 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Three touchdown passes in the first week will change that in a hurry, and it’s not as if Garrard loaded up against a terrible defense. Last year, at least, Denver allowed the third fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. This is obviously a new year, but the Broncos start the same secondary as they did in 2009. Garrard’s 76.2 percent completion rate made the performance look even better.

 

Mark Clayton, WR, Rams

One game certainly does not tell us the whole story on target distribution, but Clayton drew a team-high 16 looks in Sunday’s loss to Arizona less than a week after joining the team. Everyone’s numbers were inflated by the 55 pass attempts, which certainly won’t be the norm (or else we’ll be talking about Sam Bradford’s untimely death by Week 6), but Clayton led by any measure.

In just the first half, Clayton drew 10 targets, twice as many as any other Ram to that point. Add that to word that he and Bradford spent some off-season time practicing together, plus Laurent Robinson’s injury history (he left Sunday’s game at one point but returned), and Clayton should be picked up this week in any league of reasonable depth. That’s especially true in point-per-reception formats, which will downplay a likely lack of touchdowns. Clayton has been an inconsistent performer throughout his career, but his talent hasn’t been questioned.

 

Mike Thomas, WR, Jaguars

Jacksonville’s No. 2 wideout was No. 1 on opening day, tallying twice as many receptions (six) as any teammate and drawing seven targets to Mike Sims-Walker’s two. Thomas didn’t snag any of Garrard’s three scoring passes, but the PPR value is obvious, and if he stays near this usage level, enough touchdowns (at least five or six) should come. According to FootballOutsiders.com, Thomas presented the league’s best catch rate last year among wide receivers with at least 30 receptions.

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Post date: Monday, September 13, 2010 - 13:52
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FANTASY SPIN CYCLE

By Bruce Herman

September 13, 2010

Leaders and Losers

HITTING LEADERS

Last 7 Days

Last 30 Days

Last Year

AVG

Vladmir Guerrero-.500

Paul Konerko-.412

Josh Hamilton-.358

 

Emilio Bonifacio-.483

Hideki Matsui-.400

Omar Infante-.344

 

R. Hernandez,

N. McLouth-.467

Carlos Gonzalez-.396

Joey Votto-.338

R

Emilio Bonifacio-9

Austin Jackson-29

Mark Teixeira-116

 

Troy Tulowitzki-9

Omar Infante-26

Martin Prado-116

 

S. Victorino, N. Cruz-8

several with-25

Joey Votto-114

HR

Troy Tulowitzki-6

Albert Pujols-10

Jose Bautista-54

 

Mike Stanton-5

Russ Branyan-10

Albert Pujols-39

 

Albert Pujols-4

Jose Bautista-10

Miguel Cabrera-39

RBI

Ryan Howard-11

Evan Longoria-26

Miguel Cabrera-131

 

Troy Tulowitzki-11

Paul Konerko-26

Jose Bautista-128

 

B. Zobrist, B. Pena-9

Hunter Pence-25

Ryan Howard-123

SB

Coco Crisp-7

Coco Crisp-14

Juan Pierre-59

 

Shane Victorino-5

Eric Young Jr.-12

Michael Bourn-57

 

Michael Bourn-4

Juan Pierre-11

Rajai Davis-49

HITTING LOSERS

 

 

 

AVG

Ryan Theriot-.000

Michael Saunders-.120

Mark Reynolds-.200

 

Bill Hall-.059

Matt LaPorta-.137

Carlos Pena-.202

 

C. Denorfia,

P. Sandoval-.067

Felipe Lopez-.145

Gerald Laird-.214

R

Shin-Soo Choo-0 in 26 ABs

Erick Aybar-4 in 89 ABs

Willy Aybar-24 in 317 ABs

 

Chase Headley-0 in 26 ABs

Travis Snider-4 in 85 ABs

Josh Wilson-26 in 369 ABs

 

several with-0 in 22 ABs

Jose Guillen-4 in 81 ABs

Jayson Nix-29 in 301 ABs

HR

Michael Young-0 in 32 ABs

Juan Pierre-0 in 120 ABs

Elvin Andrus-0 in 602 ABs

 

Michael Brantley-0 in 31 ABs

Placido Polanco-0 in 116 ABs

Nyjer Morgan-0 in 474 ABs

 

Juan Pierre-0 in 31 ABs

Chone Figgins-0 in 108 ABs

Jamey Carroll-0 in 385 ABs

RBI

Michael Brantley-0 in 31 ABs

Erick Aybar-1 in 89 ABs

Mike Aviles-19 in 336 ABs

 

Andres Torres-0 in 27 ABs

Trevor Crowe-1 in 76 ABs

Luis Castillo-21 in 309 ABs

 

several with-0 in 26 ABs

Mike Lowell-2 in 75 ABs

Ramon Santiago-22 in 342 ABs

SB

many with-0

many with-0

Mark Teixeira-0 in 600 ABs

 

 

 

Billy Butler-0 in 594 ABs

 

 

 

Adrian Gonzalez-0 in 589 ABs

 

PITCHING LEADERS

Last 7 Days

Last 30 Days

Last Year

ERA

Ian Kennedy-0 in 14 IP

Felix Hernandez-1.04

Brian Duensing-2.19

 

Fausto Carmona-0 in 9 IP

Carlos Zambrano-1.35

Roy Halladay-2.29

 

Nick Blackburn-0 in 8 IP

Clayton Richard-1.39

Felix Hernandez-2.32

W

S. Casilla, R. Oswalt,

Ervin Santana-5

CC Sabathia-22

 

B. Anderson, T. Lincecum,

Carlos Zambrano-5

Roy Halladay-21

 

J. Verlander-2

Roy Oswalt-5

D, Price, U. Jimenez-20

SO

Tim Lincecum-20

Felix Hernandez-49

Felix Hernandez-243

 

Justin Verlander-18

Mat Latos-49

Tim Lincecum-236

 

U. Jimenez, W. Rodriguez-16

Tim Lincecum-45

Justin Verlander-229

SV

many with-3

Brandon Lyon-12

Brian Wilson-46

 

 

Carlos Marmol-11

Rafael Soriano-45

 

 

R. Soriano, H. Street-10

Heath Bell-45

PITCHING LOSERS

 

 

 

ERA

Clay Buchholz-45.00

Kevin Correia-9.00

Brian Bannister-6.32

 

Zach Duke-36.00

Barry Zito-8.87

R. Rowland-Smith-6.15

 

Brett Cecil-31.50

Kyle Lohse-8.75

Jeff Suppan-6.00

W

many with-0

Paul Maholm-0 in 6 GS

Ross Ohlendorf-1 in 22 GS

 

 

Barry Zito-0 in 6 GS

R. Rowland-Smith-3 in 23 GS

 

 

several with-0 in 5 GS

Jeff Karstens-4 in 22 GS

SO

many with-0

Kyle Kendrick-2.8 per 9 IP

R. Rowland-Smith-3.5 per 9 IP

 

 

Carl Pavano-3.4 per 9 IP

Nick Blackburn-4.0 per 9 IP

 

 

Barry Enright-3.4 per 9 IP

M. Buehrle,

A. Cook-4.2 per 9 IP

SV

many with-0

many with-0

Pedro Feliciano-0 in 89 G

 

 

 

Darren O’Day-0 in 77 G

 

 

 

Todd Coffey-0 in 73 G

 

Double Play

Two players you should claim off your league’s free agent list TODAY:

·Clay Hensley, CL, Marlins: It took Hensley until his 30th birthday to stop emasculating his stuff with all the walks, but he’s done so this year. The Marlins have been more than a month tardy in giving him the ball in the ninth inning considering how bad Leo Nunez has been. They finally did last week and Clay cruised to three straight saves.

·Kyle Davies, SP, Royals: Davies has always been one of my favorite underachievers. Great of stuff and bereft of command, he’s on the most consistent roll of his career right now: three of fewer earned runs in 11 of his last 13 starts. His final four assignments will come against the beatable Indians and Tigers, followed by Twins and Rays teams that likely are going to be fielding depleted lineups with playoff appearances secured.

 

Double Cut

Two players it’s time to cut loose or deal:

·John Jay, OF, Cardinals: Jay’s run has run its course, and the Cardinals are taking heat for trading Ryan Ludwick. After batting .400 in his first 110 major league at-bats, he’s done .242 with one homer since July 31, and his error likely cost his team a game Friday night. Turns out his upside is what we thought it to be all along: Ryan Sweeney (if he’s lucky).

·Rick Ankiel, OF, Braves: A wasted acquisition for Atlanta, as they’ve abandoned him altogether. Strikeouts in nine straight at-bats will do that. Instead, the Braves are going with the semi-hot hand in Nate McLouth (8 for 18 in his last six games).

 

Trauma Center

Updates on the injury status of key players.  A condition of Fair or better implies a roughly 50-50 chance of the player returning to action sometime this week.

CONDITION: CRITICAL

Johan Santana, SP, Mets (shoulder)

Aaron Cook, SP, Rockies (leg)

Andres Torres, OF, Giants (appendix)

CONDITION: SERIOUS

Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers (ribs)

CONDITION: FAIR

Josh Johnson, SP, Marlins (back, shoulder)

Bobby Jenks, CL, White Sox (forearm)

Joel Pineiro, SP, Angels (oblique)

Jerry Hairston Jr., UT, Padres (elbow)

Freddy Garcia, SP, White Sox (back)

Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B, A’s (back)

Nick Swisher, OF, Yankees (knee)

Chris Iannetta, C, Rockies (calf)

CONDITION: GOOD

Edwin Encarnacion, 3B, Blue Jays (wrist)

Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies (hamstring)

Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Cubs (quad)

Brett Gardner, OF, Yankees (wrist)

Chris Getz, 2B, Royals (head)

Jose Valverde, CL, Tigers (elbow)

Chris Johnson, 3B, Astros (back)

Felipe Paulino P, Astros (shoulder)

DISCHARGED

Nick Punto, IF, Twins (hamstring)

Jim Edmonds, OF, Reds (oblique)

Mike Leake, RP, Reds (shoulder)

Brian Fuentes, RP, Angels (back)

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, September 13, 2010 - 13:16
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Fantasy
Path: /columns/question-week/waiver-wire
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By Matt Schauf

RapidDraft.com

 

The biggest mistake many fantasy owners make after Week 1 is to put aside all the observations and expectations they carried into the season and overrate what happened in the first set of real games.

 

I love to comb to free-agent market after the league has run through its first set of adds and drops to see which players have already been orphaned. That’s the biggest thing to watch for this week. One good or bad week doesn’t paint a full-season picture.

 

Of course, football also presents the shortest season, so Week 1 performances can’t be ignored either. Here are some little-owned guys worth grabbing if you have a spot. (Just don’t go cutting C.J. Spiller to create that spot.)

 

David Garrard, QB, Jaguars

 

He was twice a subject of my sleeper columns in this space and a solid fantasy performer before this season. Yet, Garrard ended Sunday night owned in just 23 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Three touchdown passes in the first week will change that in a hurry, and it’s not as if Garrard loaded up against a terrible defense. Last year, at least, Denver allowed the third fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. This is obviously a new year, but the Broncos start the same secondary as they did in 2009. Garrard’s 76.2 percent completion rate made the performance look even better.

 

Mark Clayton, WR, Rams

 

One game certainly does not tell us the whole story on target distribution, but Clayton drew a team-high 16 looks in Sunday’s loss to Arizona less than a week after joining the team. Everyone’s numbers were inflated by the 55 pass attempts, which certainly won’t be the norm (or else we’ll be talking about Sam Bradford’s untimely death by Week 6), but Clayton led by any measure.

 

In just the first half, Clayton drew 10 targets, twice as many as any other Ram to that point. Add that to word that he and Bradford spent some off-season time practicing together, plus Laurent Robinson’s injury history (he left Sunday’s game at one point but returned), and Clayton should be picked up this week in any league of reasonable depth. That’s especially true in point-per-reception formats, which will downplay a likely lack of touchdowns. Clayton has been an inconsistent performer throughout his career, but his talent hasn’t been questioned.

 

Mike Thomas, WR, Jaguars

 

Jacksonville’s No. 2 wideout was No. 1 on opening day, tallying twice as many receptions (six) as any teammate and drawing seven targets to Mike Sims-Walker’s two. Thomas didn’t snag any of Garrard’s three scoring passes, but the PPR value is obvious, and if he stays near this usage level, enough touchdowns (at least five or six) should come. According to FootballOutsiders.com, Thomas presented the league’s best catch rate last year among wide receivers with at least 30 receptions.

 

Brandon Jackson, RB, Packers

 

Consider this a prime argument for drafting a handcuff. Ryan Grant left Sunday’s victory at Philadelphia with a sprained ankle, which he says he doesn’t expect to keep him out in Week 2. Players say a lot of things, though, and we can’t always (ever?) trust them.

 

It’s impossible to know at this point whether Grant will be ready for next Sunday, and Jackson had already drawn praise from his coaches for a strong camp and preseason. He stepped in for 18 carries (63 yards) and a pair of receptions against the Eagles and would draw Buffalo in Week 2 if he fills in again. Even if Grant is able to go, can we trust the ankle to not be a problem again? Of course not. Give Jackson a shot where possible.

 

Jermaine Gresham, TE, Bengals

 

A second tight end isn’t for every league. If you don’t have a flex position (or at least one that includes tight ends) or have fairly shallow rosters, then you get one guy at the position and move on. Others, though, should take notice at the level of use for Gresham in his first game.

 

The rookie tight end was the third most targeted Bengal, getting 10 passes and catching six for 25 yards and a touchdown. Like with the Rams example above, the totals here are skewed by the 50 pass attempts for Carson Palmer in a game in which Cincinnati trailed big and quickly. Still, Gresham drew four targets through the first half compared with just two for Chad Ochocinco (eight for Terrell Owens) and caught the Bengals’ first touchdown pass of the year.

 

There’s no question about the talent or size on the guy who was drafted in the first round despite missing the 2009 season, so the only wonder is whether he can get the ball enough. Sunday provided encouragement on that front.

 

Wait and watch

 

Waiting back on potential breakout performers can leave one missing out, but that doesn’t mean you need to find a roster spot for everyone who had a good first week. Peyton Hillis, for example, scored Cleveland’s lone rushing touchdown against Tampa but also garnered just nine carries and fumbled twice. That workload matched Jerome Harrison’s, James Davis figures to factor in at some point and even Josh Cribbs’ three rushes should increase based on his 2009 carries and current role. Fumbling twice also doesn’t help a running back’s case, particularly for goal-line touches. Hillis shouldn’t be dropped by those who own him and may well have a strong season. Just don’t trip over your current backs trying to claim him.

 

Out in Denver, meanwhile, fantasy owners are looking for an answer at receiver. Eddie Royal is owned in most leagues, and those who took a late-round shot have to be pleased with his eight-catch opener. That was exactly the kind of game envisioned last year when he was going in Round 5 or 6. Keep in mind, though, that this one came against a Jacksonville defense that played horribly against the pass last year -- to the point that it’s probably not fair to say the Jags even played ”against” it. It’s too early to say that’ll be the case this year, too, but they’re guilty until proven innocent in this court. This is even more relevant when you find yourself getting excited about Brandon Lloyd’s 117 yards. We’ve seen this before from Lloyd, who went for 124 yards in a single week in 2008 and finished 2009 with a 95-yard effort. Through eight NFL seasons, though, he has never reached 50 catches. He has the talent but doesn’t deserve benefit of the doubt.

 

Matt Schauf is the senior football writer for RapidDraft.com. E-mail him at matt.schauf@worldfantasygames.com. Follow him on Twitter (mschauf63).

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, September 13, 2010 - 02:03
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Path: /columns/sleeperscope/sleeper-scope
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By Matt Schauf

RapidDraft.com

Last-minute drafts are taking place, and although fantasy owners are always looking for sleepers, pretty much any noteworthy player is known to at least some degree by now.

At the same time, most drafts have probably already happened, and fantasy players are already starting to check the waiver wire to see where they might be able to find help among the guys passed over in their draft. For that reason, I tried to lean a bit toward some free-agent fodder this week, including a player or two who aren’t likely to deliver value right away.

(Starting next week, this space will be devoted to waiver-wire values.)

QB sleeper: David Garrard, Jaguars

I already wrote about this guy in this space last month, but people simply aren’t coming around to the idea of Garrard as fantasy-worthy quarterback. I can only assume that’s a product of folks not looking beyond the most obvious numbers.

When picking out your fantasy quarterbacks, you probably prefer a guy with more than 15 touchdown passes in each of his two full seasons as starter. Pay closer attention, though, and you’ll realize that the disparity in rushing yardage between Garrard and pretty much the rest of the position closes the passing gap. Aaron Rodgers’ rushing ability is no secret, and yet Garrard has run for 134 more yards over the past two years. Besides Rodgers and Garrard, Jason Campbell is the only other quarterback to have reached 200 yards rushing each of the past two years. (Matt Cassel barely missed in 2008 with 196 yards.)

With his average of 323 yards in two seasons as starter, Garrard carries at least a 12-point edge in rushing numbers into a comparison with just about any other quarterback. Still, he’s barely being drafted (28th on average at FantasyFootballCalculator.com). Don’t be afraid.

RB: James Davis, Browns

Davis is far more likely to get drafted this week than any one prior in 2010, but he won’t go in every fantasy draft. That’s because Peyton Hillis has drawn more attention for his preseason work in Cleveland, and because we’ve seen Hillis produce at the position before in Denver. Davis, however, appeared on his way to becoming a rushing factor as a rookie last year before a shoulder injury in a questionable practice drill ended his season early.

The second-year runner might not bring elite playmaking ability, but he was good enough at Clemson to garner more carries than C.J. Spiller in each of the three seasons that the two shared the backfield. Davis also finished his college career with 47 touchdown runs, including 10 or more in each of his final three seasons. For what it’s worth, an 81-yard touchdown run in the second exhibition game of 2009 was a big part of what opened eyes to his case that year.

Montario Hardesty’s torn ACL made this backfield even more of a muddle for fantasy owners than it appeared before, and although Jerome Harrison should clearly be the first Browns runner drafted, there will be room for production elsewhere. At the late stage Davis can be drafted, you’re either picking handcuffs for your starting backs or buying lottery-ticket types: cheap investments that can provide huge returns. Davis falls squarely within that second group, especially considering that he’ll probably still go undrafted in most fantasy leagues.

Stash him if you can before matchups with Tampa Bay and Kansas City to open the season. If he is to get significant carries early, we could see quick production. If Davis doesn’t get the call much and you need the spot for someone else, he’ll be easy to drop.

WR: Chris Chambers, Chiefs

I didn’t put a whole lot of thought initially into the sleeper potential of Chris Chambers this season, because I figured the numbers he put up after joining the Chiefs last year kind of spoke for themselves. After looking useless through about half a season in San Diego, Chambers moved to Kansas City and caught 36 passes for 608 yards and four touchdowns over the final nine weeks. Those numbers along project to 64 receptions, 1,081 yards and seven scores.

Now, you might be thinking, “Sure, but Dwayne Bowe was hurt and suspended last year.” Taking only the five games in which the two receivers shared the field, though, still leaves one with 19 catches, 358 yards and three touchdowns. That reception total projects to three fewer over a full season, but the touchdown and yards-per-catch rates were higher.

Of course, working with such small samples leaves you far away from numbers that can be converted to reliable full-year expectations. But reliable expectations aren’t necessary at the point Chambers is leaving draft boards (67th receiver in “standard” scoring formats at FF Calculator, 70th in point per reception). Even if you ignore projections and take Chambers’ real 2009 numbers, he was a top 40 wideout across formats.

Bowe appears ready to finally live up to his potential, and Dexter McCluster has created plenty of buzz. A full season with both guys around could certainly cut well into Chambers’ usage, but that gets back to the whole reliable-expectation thing. What are you drafting after Round 12? Backup running backs? Upside rookies? An extra tight end or kicker? In Chambers, at the least, I offer you a veteran receiver with 1,000-yard potential and the kind of leaping ability that makes him an attractive red-zone target. Perhaps that’s why he’s going 34th among receivers on average at RapidDraft.com.

TE: Gary Barnidge, Panthers

First of all, Barnidge is by no means a player you should be considering on draft day unless your league goes very deep. He is, on the other hand, a name to at least be aware of going forward.

Starter Jeff King has been dubbed “clearly the lead dog” at tight end, but King is a limited athlete whom the team has used little outside of the red zone. His “lead dog” status is more a matter of the competitors failing to rise so far than his talent creating separation. The Panthers, however, have Steve Smith and little else in the passing offense. That’s why Barnidge could start to look more attractive as the season wears on.

In this year’s Football Outsiders Almanac, Mike Tanier said Barnidge “could be the first real weapon the team has had at that position since Wesley Walls.” (For anyone who doesn’t remember, Walls averaged 57.5 receptions from 1995 through 1999 and made five total Pro Bowls as a Panther.) Barnidge has a ways to go before being in sight of that level, but he has already shown some big-play ability. Three of his 12 catches last year went for 20 yards or more, with two tallying at least 40 yards. Two-thirds of his receptions went for first downs, and he added another 51-yard catch in this year’s third exhibition game.

Barnidge won’t start for the Panthers right away, which is why he’s not worth draft-day consideration. Much can change after the season begins, though, particularly when a coach and general manager could be feeling some heat in their seats. If Barnidge starts to get more looks, don’t be afraid to stash him. Dynasty leaguers with a spot should go ahead and take a chance.

D: Cincinnati

The big names in Cincinnati are on offense, but there are plenty of reasons to take a shot on the Bengals defense. For starters, the team ranked sixth in points allowed last season. Granted, the schedule gets significantly harder in the wake of a division title, but you’ve at least got something going if you allow less than 20 points through a whole NFL season.

The pass rush wasn’t terribly impressive last year but presents reason for optimism. Antwan Odom – who led the team in sacks in 2009 despite being lost for the season in Week 6 – returns. Also, among the Bengals’ 15 sacks in exhibition games this year were 4.5 for rookie DT Geno Atkins, 3.0 for Michael Johnson and 2.0 for DT Pat Sims. Last year’s Bengals line left room for pass-rush help to step into the middle, and Johnson was a 2009 third-round pick with first-round ability. If even one of those three can carry their impact over to this regular season, it could provide a sack boost.

No boost is needed at corner, where Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph make up one of the league’s best cover tandems. Over the past three years, they have 25 interceptions combined. The real wild card here, though, could be the return game.

The Bengals managed to rank second in punt-return average last year but didn’t get a touchdown there. The kick-return game did find the end zone once but ranked just 22nd in return average. Both areas should be stronger this season with Adam (I ain’t Pacman no more) Jones around, to go with rookie Jordan Shipley, Bernard Scott (who averaged 31.5 yards on 16 kick returns last year and scored the touchdown) and Quan Cosby. More than one of those guys could handle primary return duties for many teams, and a couple more scores in this area could drastically improve Cincinnati’s fantasy total.

The Bengals, meanwhile, are being drafted as a backup unit or fringe starter on average.

 

Matt Schauf is the senior football writer for RapidDraft.com. Challenge him there now in free fantasy football.

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AFC North

The Ravens' kicking job is still up for grabs between Shayne Graham and Billy Cundiff. Said special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, "We have two very good NFL kickers. They've both performed very well all the way through training camp." In the eyes of at least a few Ravens beat reporters, Cundiff has performed just slightly better thus far. ... Commissioner Goodell will meet with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Friday to determine the length of his suspension. Chances are, Roethlisberger will get a game or two cut off his six-game suspension for good summer behavior. Fantasy owners may want to take advantage of the situation now, while Roethlisberger remains a low-level No. 2 fantasy quarterback in most fantasy drafts. If the suspension is reduced, expect his stock to rise. ... Could Peyton Hillis become a factor in Cleveland's backfield? He thinks so. "My game’s pretty much downhill. Whenever my name is called, I’m gonna make plays,” he said. Hillis scored the Browns only rushing touchdown against Detroit last week, and averaged 3.7 yards per carry to Jerome Harrison's 3.1. Harrison and Montario Hardesty remain the favorites to receive the bulk of the carries, but if Hillis continues to play this well he'll only complicate matters for fantasy owners. ... In addressing the media this week, Bengals backup running back Bernard Scott said, "I am hoping my role expands, but if not I am willing to do whatever they want me to do and go out there and try to make plays whenever my number is called.” As vanilla as that quote is, it goes to prove a point -- Scott has shown so much promise in his early stay in Cincinnati that he cannot be ignored, and sooner or later the Bengals coaching staff is going to have to deal with what's becoming a good problem to have. For fantasy owners with Cedric Benson, it soon could become a nightmare.

 

 

AFC East

Buffalo's backfield may soon be back to full strength. Marshawn Lynch (ankle) has been handling carries in practice and admitted he should be fresh for Week 1. The team will test him out in its final preseason game. Said coach Chan Gailey, "It didn't look like there was any residual effect, so we're looking forward to watching him Thursday night." Meanwhile, Fred Jackson is still wearing a hand brace but no longer has his arm in a cast. Jackson said there was a "100%" chance he'd be in the lineup. Gailey wasn't as optimistic. ... Folks in Miami are still concerned with Chad Henne's performance in the team's recent loss to Atlanta. Henne completed 10 of 22 passes and threw a costly interception in the red zone. Fantasy owners shouldn't be concerned in the least bit, however. The Dolphins coaching staff showed its support for Henne this week, and he still can be considered one of the top fantasy sleepers at his position for this season. ... Tom Brady's hot streak? Brandon Spikes' future career in the movie business? No, the best New England story this preseason has been the success had by rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski, who had 66 yards and two scores in the team's last contest. "He’s such a big kid, and it’s hard to tackle him because he’s so strong,” Brady told a Boston Herald reporter. Patriots tight ends have been poisonous to fantasy owners in the past. Looks like that's about to change. ... Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes told New York media this week that he'd like to snag about 20 balls in this week's contest. Holmes also discussed his upcoming four-game suspension: "It's only going to probably set me back if I continue to worry about it." The suspension has caused Holmes to plummet down draftboards this summer, but based on the way Rex Ryan gushed this week about his new star receiver, fantasy owners can have confidence Holmes will see plenty of balls (although not quite 20) in each game after his return.

AFC South

Much was made of how the shifting umpire could affect Peyton Manning and the Colts offense. Hogwash. Yes, it may slow down Indianapolis, and yes, it may help defenses rotate fresh bodies into the front seven. But it's not going to have a drastic impact on Manning's numbers because, as the veteran showed against Green Bay, even when slowed down he still reads defenses and makes adjustments on the go better than any other passer in the game. ... Despite receiving the go-ahead from his doctor Texans tight end Owen Daniels is still playing it safe. The team is going to hold him out of action this week with the hope he'll be ready for the Week 1 contest. Fantasy owners with Daniels may want to wait until Week 2 to see how the knee is coming along. ... Another AFC South tight end dealing with an injury is Jacksonville's Marcedes Lewis, who many believe was on track for a nice season. Lewis suffered an ankle injury against Tampa Bay after catching two balls for 33. The team is plenty deep behind him, so the injury could cause Lewis to plummet back to fantasy mediocrity. ... Pound-for-pound the best Titans fantasy receiver last Saturday? Kenny Britt, who caught four of the five balls thrown in his direction for 33 yards. Britt still has not flashed the field-stretching plays that made him a popular waiver wire pickup last fall, but it's only a matter of time.

 

AFC West

Knowshon Moreno was back at Broncos practice this week, but the bigger news -- so was tackle Ryan Clady. The Broncos are a much different team without Clady on the field; good thing the tackle is expected to play on Thursday at Minnesota. ... San Diego coach Norv Turner has done nothing but praise rookie running back Ryan Matthews since he joined camp. Said Turner this week, "He doesn't get rattled and doesn’t get really excited. He expects to gain yards, whether he has to run over you or around you." Turner has pumped up premier fantasy backs before (ahem, Emmitt Smith, anyone?), so fantasy owners should consider Turner's comments one-part PR and one-part encouragement. ... The Contra Costa Times released an article this week profiling the blossoming relationship between quarterback Jason Campbell and tight end Zach Miller. Said coach Tom Cable in the story, "There's a comfort level there with both of them, whether it be in third down or the red zone. Certainly Zach and Jason's relationship is flourishing." Hmmm, wonder if Campbell has introduced himself to the rest of the Raiders receivers yet. He'll need them when defenses take Miller away. ... The Chiefs are using Dexter McCluster at receiver and as the quarterback in their version of the Wildcat. The team is excited to have the versatile rookie but feels it must be creative to get the most life out of him. Said coach Todd Haley, “My job becomes: ‘OK, the guy can’t play 120 plays in a game.' What can he play? What is the best thing for the team?” On this sorry team, coach? The best thing might just be to give McCluster the ball early and save the worrying for a time when you have a team worth worrying about.

 

 

NFC East

Cowboys wide receiver Roy Williams missed practice on Wednesday with a bad back and hip injury. On that same day the team welcomed back rookie Dez Bryant. Don't worry, Roy. Dez will keep your spot warm while you're gone. Just don't expect it back when you return. ... Depending on Donovan McNabb's recovery time, the team may have to turn to (gulp!) Rex Grossman to start the 2010 season against Dallas. That could be a scary situation for any fantasy owner carrying a Redskins player on their roster. Grossman has completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes in the past two seasons, with more interceptions (three) than touchdowns (two). Not good, Redskins fans, not good. ... The Giants' loss of backup quarterback Jim Sorgi could be a bigger deal than fantasy owners care to admit. Sure, Sorgi has no value, but if Manning continues to take a beating and, heaven forbid, misses time in the lineup, the rest of the team's skill players would see their fantasy stock plummet. New York has virtually no good options behind Manning now and the market for quality backup quarterbacks is sparse. Think Kurt Warner would consider a return to the Big Apple? (read: plenty of sarcasm). ... Two things we've learned about the all-important Philadelphia quarterback situation this summer: (a) Kevin Kolb isn't ready to be a fantasy stud quite yet, and (b) the team will use Michal Vick under center more than anyone anticipated. For fantasy owners, it's all bad news.

 

NFC North

What can be made of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler's reported romance with MTV star Kristin Cavallari? If true, it's trouble, regardless of what Cutler says (or denies). In the last decade, think about how many famous women have brought good luck to their football-playing boyfriends. I'll give you Kim Kardashian. After that it's all distractions and poor play. ... Virtually every publication likes Green Bay to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, in large part due to the emergence of young stars like tight end Jermichael Finley. But while fantasy owners drool over Finley they should not forget "old man" Donald Driver, who received a two-year contract this offseason and has played surprisingly well. Driver caught a touchdown and matched Finley's target total (eight) in last week's win over Indianapolis. ... Here's a number for fantasy owners to chew on: 2.5. That was Kevin Smith's average per carry last week against Detroit. Among the Lions top five rushers, Smith was the only back to average fewer than 4.5 yards. Not only is he in jeopardy of losing his place on the field; his name plate may no longer rest over his locker if this continues. ... Adrian Peterson got a free pass last week thanks to Brett Favre's horrible showing. Hidden behind Favre's two interceptions were Peterson's 11 carries for 37 yards, 24 of which came on one run. That means the Vikings back gained just 1.3 yards per carry on his other 10 carries against the Seahawks.

 

NFC South

Panthers rookie wide receiver Brandon LaFell is making a serious push to be the starting receiver opposite Steve Smith. One reason he must be viewed as a serious contender for the job is his big-play potential. In each of the last two contests, LaFell has averaged 15 or more yards per catch in limited action. ... It was not much of a surprise when Tampa Bay cut Derrick Ward this week. The veteran back had not lived up to expectations since arriving from New York. However, what is a surprise is that the Buccaneers genuinely seem content heading into the season with what they have. Said coach Raheem Morris, "We've got Cadillac, who we're happy to have. And also we have Insurance Graham back there playing running back for us and he's able to carry the ball as well." Fantasy owners know better; no back on this club is worth much. ... Fantasy owners know better than to get too excited about Saints reserve back Chris Ivory, who is helping to fill a hole created by all of the team's injuries in the backfield. Then again, they should know better than to completely ignore any Saints skilled player, either. Not only did he turn a short catch into a nifty 76-yard touchdown run last week, but he carried the ball 11 times. The team is set with Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush in the backfield, but the coaching staff loves to use multiple weapons, and Ivory could earn some time if he plays as well as he did against San Diego. ... Last week's game against Miami served as a true test for Atlanta's offense. All of the stars played a considerable number of snaps. The bad news is that most of them did not play exceptionally well. Michael Turner carried 16 times but gained just 47 yards; Matt Ryan completed just 50 percent of his throws. The only star was wide receiver Roddy White, who was thrown to 12 times and caught six balls, including a touchdown.

 

NFC West

San Francisco’s 233-pound sixth round rookie Anthony Dixon carried 21 times last week and caught three passes. The 49ers are sure to keep Brian Westbrook, but Dixon will get the No. 3 job, and his size could earn him a role, possibly in short-yardage situations to save Gore’s legs. … Fantasy experts will argue that too much is being made of Sam Bradford’s performance against New England last week, and for the most part that’s true – rookie success in the preseason is often misleading. But in Bradford’s case there might be more to it. The Rams appear ready to hand him the job, and everyone knows this team will need to pass early and often to play from behind. Bradford could be an upgrade of Matthew Stafford’s 2009 rookie campaign, which puts the Rams’ No. 1 overall pick just inside the realm of fantasy relevance. … It’s September and Mike Williams is still alive and well in Seattle. Fantasy owners have been slow to respond but Williams has clearly been Seattle’s best receiver in camp this summer (just saying). … The Cardinals have drama on their hands with the Matt Leinart-Derek Anderson fiasco. Some would say it’s a non-issue – most fantasy owners were prepared to skip past both players in their drafts. But so long as Leinart feels he has earned the job, and Anderson remains in the picture, this situation will be a distraction, which will ultimately spoil into the legitimate fantasy prospects Arizona does have on its roster.

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Post date: Thursday, September 2, 2010 - 11:24

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