by Jeff West
September 16, 2004
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    This weekly article will discuss those players “Heading North” (fantasy value is rising), “Going South” (fantasy value is falling), or “East-West” (fantasy value is still undetermined, but worth watching) as well as some extra notes I like to call "Misdirection".

    This was a week for some of the veterans to shine.  Curtis Martin, Priest Holmes, Marshall Faulk, and Tiki Barber all had solid days running the ball.  Vinny Testaverde and Rich Gannon surprised more than a few observers with their play.  And at WR, Isaac Bruce, Keyshawn Johnson, Eddie Kennison, and Joe Horn played well beyond their respective ages.

    Last week, I told you to watch Richard Smith as a player on the rise.  He did get playing time, but never saw a pass come his direction as Johnnie Morton returned to the lineup.  Smith is still a player to watch.  He's young, fast, and dangerous and if Morton or Kennison get hurt, he'll contribute.  I also pointed out Matt Schaub as a rookie QB to watch.  He didn't play in week one as Michael Vick avoided injury.  But I predict he'll be starting some games this season.  Finally, Steven Jackson did the most of the players "heading north" in week one.  He managed 50 yards on only seven carries while spelling Faulk.  Since my players "heading north" in week one were more long-range prospects, it is difficult to judge them at this juncture.

    The Miami offense looked dreadful, as I predicted.  The starting WRs, Chris Chambers and Marty Booker, combined for about 70 yards on ten catches.  Even though A.J.  Feeley has been designated starter for week two, things won't change much.  QB Jeff Garcia avoided injury in week one, was consistent, if unspectacular, and even led his team to a surprise victory over the Ravens.  Tiki Barber, contrary to my expectations, had a solid day.  Of course it was a lackluster effort until he bolted 72 yards for a TD in the waning minutes of the game.  Ron Dayne still had more carries than Tiki and got the goal-line work too.  My predictions for players "heading south" in week one were a bit below average.  Garcia and Tiki played well-enough to prove me wrong.

    For the players worth watching ("east-west"), Larry Fitzgerald had a decent debut.  It didn't have the pomp and circumstance of Anquan Boldin's first game a year ago, but it was solid nonetheless.  He should continue to improve as he had little time to develop a rapport with his QB during the preseason.  Jake Plummer had a good enough game against the Chiefs.  He made some nice throws, but also made some of the poor decisions he has become famous for.  He plays against a weak schedule, so he should continue to put up nice numbers.  Finally, Thomas Jones had a very nice game against an improved Lions defense.  He scored twice and was used effectively in the running and passing games.  His average yards per carry will need to improve, but there is no reason to think it won't.

Heading North

    Onterrio Smith was a difficult start last week because Moe Williams had been named the starter, and, while we knew Smith would get some carries, no one knew just how many.   This week he should have the backfield pretty much to himself as Williams is a little banged up and Michael Bennett is still out.  Smith will be facing an Eagles run defense that gave up 125 rushing yards to Tiki Barber last week and also an easy TD to Ron Dayne.

    The Patriots face the Cardinals this weekend in what could be a rather lopsided affair.  This would appear to be a great opportunity for the Patriot passing game, don't overlook Corey Dillon.  He was used sparingly in the air battle against Indianapolis, however the week two game could be his coming out party.  He averaged nearly six yards a carry on only 15 carries in week one.

    He had a very disappointing week one for fantasy owners, but Steve McNair will not leave his owners feeling empty for a second week.  He had weak numbers against Miami merely because there was no need for him to throw the ball much as the running game worked so well.  Now, with Chris Brown a bit gimped, and a high-flying offense like the Colts coming to town, McNair should return to the friendly skies (unless a certain hurricane named Ivan decides to crash the gates).

Going South

    Rookie running back Julius Jones was inactive for the opener against the Vikings, but even without any competition, Eddie George was largely ineffective as a starter.  Since then, the media has reported that Parcells offered Eddie George to Miami before the Dolphins landed Lamar Gordon.  Clearly that was not a vote of confidence for the veteran RB.  If you can unload him on an unsuspecting owner, do it now.

    Despite throwing the game-winning TD pass (his only one of the game), QB Byron Leftwich managed to throw for only 147 yards with two INTs while completing only half his passes.  Leftwich has been bothered by a thumb injury and it seems to be affecting him in a negative manner.  With upcoming games against tough opponents in Denver, Tennessee, and Indy, it might be a good idea to let Lefty sit for a bit if you have the luxury.

    One of the sleeper picks at RB for the past couple years has been T.J. Duckett.  He is a big, bruising back that reached the end zone 11 times in 2003.  His week one line in 2004?  Two carries for six yards, no TDs.  Warrick Dunn seems to have a firm grasp on the #1 RB job in Atlanta already.

East-West

    With the injury to Steve Smith, the Panthers will put rookie Keary Colbert into the starting lineup.  He was inactive in week one, but Colbert is a mature receiver for a rookie and had a very nice preseason.  Fantasy owners should get a good idea what he is worth in week two as the Panthers should be able to throw the ball against the Chief secondary.

    During the off-season, the Bears WR corps has gotten a great deal of press in fantasy circles.  Justin Gage was all the talk for most of the off-season.  Once Marty Booker left, it seemed to open the door for Gage, despite the fact that Bobby Wade was given the starting role ahead of Gage.  The forgotten man in all of this was David Terrell.  Terrell was a constant underachiever who could never get things right with Coach Jauron.  Well, Jauron is gone and things seem to be working much better with Coach Smith.  Don't get too excited about Terrell's week one performance because he does have a history of disappearing, however I think this may finally be the season for Terrell to make a contribution.

    Joey Harrington looked like he would finally have all the tools to put together a decent fantasy season.  Well, week one saw his #1 WR (Charles Rogers) suffer a season-ending break to his collarbone (again).  Harrington still has weapons in RB Kevin Jones and WR Roy Williams, but he will be relying on Az-Zahir Hakim to pick up the slack, which is asking a lot.  Harrington could still be a serviceable #2 FF QB with the right match ups, but it is a situation that needs to be monitored.

Misdirection

    Throughout the off-season, we heard, ad nauseum, about the crackdown on defensive pass interference.  The men in stripes were handed orders to enforce this egregious penalty in order to give the wideouts a better chance to catch the ball.  Following the AFC and NFC Championship games, where receivers from Indianapolis and Philadelphia were beaten like eggs destined for an omelet, the league felt that fans would enjoy more scoring and one way to do this was to allow the wideouts to run a bit more free in the secondaries.  This news had fantasy owners salivating at the prospect of Randy Moss running unmolested down the sideline on every snap.  Marvin Harrison should see his numbers from 2003 climb dramatically in 2004.

    In week one, Randy Moss found the end zone twice, while Marvin added a TD of his own.  However, they managed 27 and 44 yards respectively.   Where was this offensive explosion amongst the wide receivers?  Seems to me that week one saw more teams running the ball with success as there were twice as many running backs (12) who reached 100 yards as there were wide receivers (6).  Where were all the defensive pass interference calls?  Sure, there were some, but it seemed like business as usual for the zebras.  I think there was a lot of lip service from the league on the issue, but in the end, no one wants to see Bernie Kukar or Ed Hochuli getting all the attention.  Look for the enforcement of the rule to be spotty at best and inconsistent at the worst.

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