by Jeff West
September 23, 2003
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"Heading North" – Players whose fantasy value is rising

    As the season began, there was speculation concerning the wideouts in Washington.  Rod Gardner developed a bit of a rapport with QB Patrick Ramsey at the end of last season, but the Skins paid top dollar to bring in a potential one-year-wonder in Laveranues Coles from the Jets.  After three games, it appears that Coles is just what Ramsey wanted as Coles has 100+ yards receiving in each of the three games he’s played this year.  He's shown the speed to get deep and the toughness to make a grab in traffic.  You can't get him now without overpaying in a trade, but if you were one of the lucky ones who grabbed him in the middle rounds of your draft, enjoy!

    The term "lame duck" was applied to Jacksonville QB Mark Brunell as soon as Byron Leftwich was drafted.  Despite management attempts to move him in the offseason, Brunell came out and had a very good week to start the season.  In each of the subsequent games, Leftwich has come on for one drive at the end of the game.  In those two drives, Leftwich has completed all but two passes and led his team to TDs in each.  Brunell now has stitches in his throwing elbow.  He will probably start again in week four, since Jacksonville has a shot to win the game against Houston, but Leftwich is not far off now and the return of WR Jimmy Smith in week five will help immensely.

    On Monday night, Bronco QB Jake Plummer connected with WR Ashley Lelie three times… for 108 yards and a TD.  Lelie certainly benefited from the absence of Rod Smith, who was ejected in the second quarter for punching an official in the face.  Look for the emergence of Lelie to continue as Plummer develops confidence in him.

"Going South" – Players whose fantasy value is slipping

    San Diego has had receiver problems all year.  Injuries have already taken their toll on the Chargers and the season is not yet a month old.  David Boston, despite a decent effort in week three, has been hampered by a bad heel.  Reche Caldwell dislocated a wrist and is out for up to two months.  Tim Dwight sprained a knee.  Eric Parker has been the only consistent WR for the team.  All this spells trouble for QB Drew Brees.  Many expected too see significant improvement from Brees this year as he had more weapons at his disposal.  A slow-to-start LaDanian Tomlinson and WR injuries are making things very difficult for Brees now.

    The Buffalo offense may be taking it on the chin for a few weeks.  Clearly the most impressive team over the first two weeks of the season, injuries at the RB position resulted in an output of only seven points in week three.  Travis Henry is fighting bruised ribs and may not be ready to go in week four.  His backup, Sammy Morris, just underwent hernia surgery and won’t be available for at least two weeks.  RB Joe Burns will get the call in week four if Henry can’t go, and that spells trouble for Buffalo.  Teams will be able to focus more on pass coverage, taking away opportunities for Bledsoe, Moulds, and Reed.

    When Oakland WR Jerry Porter fell to injury in week one, some thought that Tim Brown would get more chances and might put up respectable numbers.  After all, he provided five catches for 64 yards and a TD in week one.  The reality is that he had one reception against Cincinnati and one against Denver in a game where playing catch-up was a necessity.  While an upcoming game with San Diego would look to be just what the doctor ordered to get healthy quickly, Brown will continue to struggle.

"East-West" – Players whose fantasy value is still undetermined

    The big coup on the waiver wires this week will be the owners tripping over themselves to acquire Reggie Wayne.  Wayne received some interest in the offseason when he was named the number two WR opposite Marvin Harrison.  The thinking was that Harrison would garner all the attention and a savvy QB like Peyton Manning would find Wayne in single coverage.  It only took three weeks to happen, but Manning found Wayne to the tune of 144 yards and two TDs against Jacksonville.  If you need help and Wayne is available, it won't hurt to grab him.  But don';t expect to see those types of numbers consistently.  Just remember the name Qadry Ismail.

    If you look at the league leaders in passing yardage, two names will jump out at you.  Vinny Testaverde and Jeff Blake were among the least likely to be there prior to the season beginning.  Testaverde was thrown into the fray when Chad Pennington broke his wrist in the preseason.  Even then, there were questions about the receiving corps of Conway, Moss, and Chrebet.  Despite his yardage, Testaverde is averaging less than a TD per game.  Blake might not be as surprising given his history of having a big arm and the opportunity to use it.  What was surprising was the emergence of the injury-riddled WR corps.  Two rookies, Anquan Boldin and Bryant Johnson, have established themselves as a duo to keep an eye on.  Blake, however, is quite inconsistent and needs to cut down on his mistakes before he can be anything other than a bye-week replacement.

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