Typically, injury news this time of year can scare fantasy owners away from various star players. But it's precisely word of fresh injuries that have me very intrigued about two guys whom I wasn't necessarily high on prior to their misfortune.
Panthers WR Steve Smith looks a lot better to me AFTER breaking his arm, and Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe is actually looking like MORE of a sleeper after news of a hernia surgery surfaced recently.
Confused? Bear with me.
Prior to Smith breaking his arm in a "freak accident" during a flag football game last week, I was not very high on him from a fantasy perspective. Now, however, I'm starting to find him very intriguing.
Why the backward transformation? Well, it's all about value, my friends.
You see, prior to the injury, Smith was considered a sure-fire third- or fourth-round pick (4.1 based on fantasyfootballcalculator.com mock drafts). Sorry, but that's way too high to be taking a guy with more downside than upside. He is an aging (31) wide receiver on a bad passing team who is coming off his worst statistical season since 2004. Smith might be more "proven" than such guys as Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, Hakeem Nicks and Dez Bryant, but he has already accomplished his best statistical seasons and is clinging to the possibility of catching 75 balls for 1,000 yards. I'd much rather take an up-and-coming player in a solid passing offense — any of the aforementioned young studs qualify — than a whining veteran on the down slope whose QB situation is completely up in the air.
On top of that, Smith has a weak supporting cast at wide receiver, which allows defenses to focus solely on shutting him down on passing downs. If you watched any Panthers games last season, you know what I mean.
So, why the change of view on Smith — especially with the broken arm? Again, it is all about value. Now that he has a glaring flaw that is obvious to all fantasy owners, his average draft position is likely to fall at least one full round, and possibly even two. And a sixth-round Smith is much more attractive than a third-round Smith.
Despite his injury, Smith is saying he should be ready for Week 1. He has caught 78 or more balls for 1,000-plus yards is five of his last seven seasons, and he did show signs of life late last season, catching a TD from Matt Moore in each of his last three contests (Weeks 14, 15 and 16). Getting such a player in the sixth round would be a nice calculated value pick.
Steve Smith (CAR) is now "the other Steve Smith," folks. He's not the same player he was in 2006. He begged for the Panthers to strip him of his WR1 status. That doesn't sound like a guy I want as the core of my WR unit. However, if I can get him late in Round 5 or early in Round 6 as my WR2 or WR3, I'll take it.
Smith without a broken arm was a total third-round bust waiting to happen. Now, he could be one of the best values in 2010 if owners pass on him early, allowing him to free-fall to you in Round 5 or later.
As for the 29-year-old Atogwe, news recently surfaced that he underwent surgery to repair a hernia this offseason, a concern that — combined with the shoulder issue that forced him to miss the last four games of 2009 — has caused him to fall off the IDP radar a bit. But he apparently will be fully healthy for Week 1 even though he will likely miss some of training camp.
Also, he made the decision to return to the Rams. While at first glance this might not seem significant, consider that many a premier fantasy defensive back who has switched teams has faltered in his new surroundings the next season.
Had Atogwe left the Rams, he could have followed in the footsteps of Gibril Wilson and Sean Jones last year, both of whom went from being top-tier defensive backs to falling off the fantasy radar on their new squads.
Atogwe owners should feel great about St. Louis locking him up with a five-year, $32 million deal. He has quietly been one of the most dominating defensive backs over the last four years, and should continue to be despite his injuries.
The ballhawking safety with great hands (18 interceptions over the last four seasons) remains a key cog in an improving Rams defense. He will continue to grow under coach Steve Spagnuolo and defensive coordinator Ken Flajole, and he won't have to learn a new system on top of bouncing back from injuries.
Like Smith, keep an eye on Atogwe. He might be overlooked in your league this year due to his injuries, allowing you to get him at a bargain basement price.
Paul Hickey is the lead contributor for Athlon Fantasy Football and operates the website NoOffseason.com, a 365-day resource for obsessive fantasy owners who eat, breathe and sleep fantasy football. While the site appeals to all fantasy heads, there is a special emphasis on dynasty formats and IDP leagues.