by Jeff West
September 29, 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".

    The first half of the Packer-Colt game was about as exciting a half of football as I've seen.  Both teams moved the ball up and down the field and put points on the board.  Unless your opponent had Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Javon Walker, Brandon Stokley, or Reggie Wayne (or you were starting the Packers or Colts as a team defense--and if you were, you need to take a class in remedial fantasy football), there was nothing to dislike about the game.  After watching Manning throw for five TDs and 320 yards, my initial thought was "What happens if he does the same thing in the second half?" Obviously, things slowed down quite a bit in the second half, but Manning and Favre certainly put on a show.

    One of the players I predicted to step in and contribute was rookie LB Jon Vilma.  Watch for him to have a big game against the Dolphins in an AFC East tussle that is always interesting.  He had the bye-week to prepare, so he'll be ready to go.  I also thought Jamal Lewis would break out against the Bengals.  Actually, busted out is more appropriate as he laid 232 total yards and a TD run on his opponent this week.  Finally, I told you to keep playing the rejuvenated Isaac Bruce.  He responded with 134 receiving yards on eight catches.  He didn't make it into the end zone, but with Torry Holt on the other side of the field, that can be a tough accomplishment.

    For the players that I felt were going south, Reche Caldwell proved he is nothing more than a below-average NFL WR who had a couple nice games.  Only three catches for 39 yards against the Broncos was proof enough.  Curtis Martin will begin his decline in week four and Stephen Davis is out for a while, so he won't be helping his owners any time soon.

    Ben Roethlisberger was put on the watch list.  He had a decent opener against the Ravens, however it is still too early to make any judgments.  He faced the Dolphins with the remnants of a hurricane swirling around.  Certainly not ideal passing situations.  Yet he did reasonably well and he produced the only TD of the game--a pass to Hines Ward.  Rich Gannon seemed to be finding a bit of a groove with Norv Turner's offense, yet took a helmet to helmet blow from Derrick Brooks early in the week three game and was unable to finish.  Kerry Collins came on and led the team to a win.  Plaxico Burress had yet another poor outing.  He had only two catches, albeit for 60 yards in a raging storm, but Hines Ward is the go-to guy, period.  If you're desperate, Plaxico faces a shaky Cincinnati defense next week, so he has a good match-up.

Heading North

    I was on the unfortunate end of the Rod Gardner explosion in week three.  With a comfortable 19 point lead and an opponent that only had his #3 WR, Gardner, remaining on his roster, I felt confident.  That confidence was unwarranted.  However, Coach Gibbs and QB Mark Brunell have developed a confidence in Gardner that is reflected by the fact that Gardner is #5 in the NFL for pass targets.  Couple that with the fact that most of Washington's remaining opponents don't stop the pass particularly well, and Gardner could be in for a huge season.

    Norv Turner wanted to install a vertical pass offense, coupled by a pounding running game, when he arrived in Oakland.  Unfortunately he was trying to do it with Rich Gannon, who is best suited for a west coast offense.  Now, with Gannon out, possibly with a career-ending injury, Kerry Collins steps into an offense that fits him to a tee.  Collins has a number of targets and can get the ball deep to them.  Look for some big yardage totals against some teams with poor pass defenses over the next couple months.

    The pounding running game Norv Turner wanted to use seemed to be a flop after two weeks (against decent run defenses), but RB Tyrone Wheatley finally got things going in week three.  He put up 102 yards and a TD after a pair of 20+ yard, no TD efforts.  With upcoming games against Houston and Indy, Wheatley could continue to build upon his most recent performance.

Going South

    WR Reggie Williams entered the league as one of the top rookie wideouts, but he has not yet contributed to the struggling Jacksonville offense.  In fact, he's barely even getting looks from the QB with only five passes thrown his way in three games.  Jimmy Smith is still the go-to guy, and fellow rookie Ernest Wilford seems to be the favored red zone target.  Williams has plenty of potential, so hang onto him in keeper leagues, but he's droppable in a redraft league if you need the roster spot.

    Many football pundits expected Drew Bledsoe to experience a rebirth with an offensive-minded head coach.  He had two capable RBs, a healthy Eric Moulds coming off his odd-year off year, and an exciting rookie in Lee Evans.  But the Buffalo offense has struggled and faces a number of good defenses down the road.  I wouldn't expect Bledsoe to improve his numbers much over the rest of the season.

    When all was said and done in 2003, WR Derrick Mason finished in the top five in receptions and yards and just outside the top ten in TD receptions.  He had #1 FF WR written all over him in the off-season and was amongst the top ten WRs selected in most fantasy drafts.  Yet owners from 2003 will remember he was maddeningly inconsistent, even on an offense that neared prolific status in the passing game.  Now that McNair is struggling a bit, and injured, and the Titans seem to have a workhorse RB again, Mason is 28th among WRs in yards per game and has yet to find the end zone.  He'll have a big game or three before the end of the season, but he cannot be counted on to carry a FF WR corps.

East-West

    Prior to the start of the season, RB Kevan Barlow was considered to be an up-and-comer.  He had impressive stats in part-time duty over the past few years and had finally earned the starring role.  However, his stats thus far are puzzling.  He started out without much gusto, then put together a fantastic game in week two.  He was unable to keep it going as he rushed ten times for 22 yards and no scores in week three.  He faces a weak run defense in week four, so he should rebound, but owners want to know he is a guy who can be counted on week-in, week-out, and he has yet to show any sign of being that player.

    It is pretty easy to jump off the Trent Green bandwagon right now.  After all, the Chiefs are winless and WR corps is decimated.  Green is throwing for less than 200 yards a game, has as many INTs (3) as TDs, and is completing only 56% of his passes.  With games against Baltimore, Jacksonville, and Atlanta upcoming, things don't look to get much better.  But owners should keep the faith.  Green started slowly last season before really putting it together, and the Chiefs had just as poor a WR corps last year.  He might be in line to have a breakout second half of the season if owners are patient with him.

Misdirection

    What is it with the number eleven?  This was always a number reserved for quarterbacks or punters or scrub wideouts in training camp.  Now I see Larry Fitzgerald, Roy Williams, Reggie Williams, and even Bill Schroeder are wearing the double ones.

    Speaking of Roy Williams...  he is the number one receiver on Detroit, now and for the future.  Forget about Charles Rogers.  Roy Williams has insane strength, body control, and hands.  Joey Harrington seems to have noticed too.  Roy has two TDs in each of his last two games.

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