by Jeff West
October 2, 2003
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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)...

    Week four was one for comebacks, and well-timed ones at that.  I've seen more than a few fantasy owners eyeing that ledge outside their office windows.  Some of the top fantasy draft picks had under impressed early in the season and had owners scrambling.  Names that were synonymous with previous fantasy success were being outshined by the Anquan Boldins and Jon Kitnas of the fantasy world.

    Peyton Manning came into week four with as many interceptions as touchdowns (3).  This week he broke out with a six TD, zero INT game.  His partner in crime, Marvin Harrison, was averaging 45 receiving yards a game through the first three weeks and had only one TD.  In week four he had 158 receiving yards and three TD catches.  Although this resurgence might have to wait another week as the Colts face the stingy Buccaneer defense in week five.

    In weeks two and three, Rich Gannon threw for a combined 250 yards and zero TDs.  This weekend saw Gannon break out for 350 yards and three passing TDs.  Another all-universe QB from 2002, Donovan McNabb improved significantly on a 33.6 QB rating from week two with a decent outing against Buffalo.  Now all he needs to do is start scoring some TDs to complete his comeback.

    LaDanian Tomlinson was the number one pick in many fantasy drafts.  In weeks one and two he averaged a meager 63 rushing yards with zero TDs.  In week four LT broke out of his slump (albeit in a losing effort) to the tune of 187 rushing yards with a TD to boot.  

    Remember the A-Train?  It's been awhile, but he seems to be regaining the form that made him a rookie sensation in 2001.  After two games he had a pathetic 34 rushing yards per game.  Even less impressive were his TD runs.  Yes, you guessed it… zero in 2003.  Monday night against the Packers, the A-Train went for 110 rushing yards (on only 13 carries) with a TD.  It looks like he might have earned a few more carries given the QB situation in the Windy City and the upcoming test against a weak Oakland rush defense.  

    Some (including yours truly) may have thought that the ageless wonders, Tim Brown and Jerry Rice, were finally past their prime, but they came back with a vengeance in week four.  Each had more than 100 yards receiving in the win against San Diego.

"Heading North" – Players whose fantasy value is rising

    It took a big effort against a top-tier rushing defense for TJ Duckett to set the foundation for a larger role in the Atlanta offense.  At 250 pounds, it's hard to imagine that Duckett would be overlooked by his own team, but he had as many carries in the first three weeks of the season as he did last Sunday against Carolina.  Look for Duckett and his 5.6 yards a carry to be featured more as the season progresses, although the Minnesota defense might be a tough nut to crack in week five.

    The Cowboys, who looked to struggle on offense this year, have found the right combination of big plays from the QB and the receivers and grind-it-out from RB Troy Hambrick.  The Jets did not provide much resistance, but 127 rushing yards is hard to come by against any team.  If you still have Aveion Cason on your roster, it might be a good time to drop him.  Hambrick faces the Cardinals in week five and he's licking his chops already.

    Kevin Johnson, that other KJ, is quietly putting together a decent beginning to a season.  Through four games he is 17th in the NFL in receiving yards and has put together two solid yardage efforts in a row.  With Quincy Morgan receiving fewer looks (only eight catches in four games) and Andre Davis and Dennis Northcutt remaining inconsistent, Johnson is re-emerging as the #1 WR option on the Browns.  Johnson should continue to get the opportunities with Tim Couch in the lineup.  If you need a third or fourth receiver, Johnson might still be available on waivers and the Steeler defense he faces in week five has been light against the pass.

"Going South" – Players whose fantasy value is slipping

    Corey Dillon is hurt again.  All the wear and tear he took over the past few seasons, when he was option one, two, and three on a feeble Bengal offense, is catching up to him.  Even when he has been able to play, the Bengal offense seems more interested in throwing the ball to the young and talented Bengal WRs.  If you are a Dillon owner, grab Rudi Johnson who managed 15 carries last weekend against the Browns.

    Whether it is due to the nagging back or groin injuries, or the incessant complaining by his superstar WR, Jeff Garcia's numbers have fallen each week.  After two nearly identical games in the first two weeks, ones that were good enough to keep Garcia starting for fantasy owners, his performance has plummeted.  Once the game against Minnesota was out of reach, backup Tim Rattay came in during the fourth quarter and performed well, which prompted Terrell Owens to take some implied jabs at Garcia.  Garcia will start against Detroit this weekend, a team which helps to heal many an ailing QB, but with Seattle and Tampa looming, Garcia might not make it to see Arizona in week eight.

    Eddie George was one of the players I had pegged as "Heading North" after the first game of the season.  With the exceptional play of McNair, and a corral of capable receivers, I figured that George would get more opportunities to produce.  In four games, George has carried the ball 75 times, so he's getting the chances, but he is averaging 2.8 yards a carry and has only one TD this season.  Sadly, it looks like George no longer has what it takes to be a successful RB in the NFL.

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

    Every week there is a mad rush to claim the previous weekend's surprise performer off waivers.  This week, the first one claimed will probably be Gus Frerotte.  Sure, his four TDs were certainly eye-opening, and there is a very good chance he will play again this weekend against struggling Atlanta leading into the bye-week, but Daunte Culpepper will be back in week 7.  While Frerotte showed that he can get the job done, it is unrealistic to expect another effort like the one he had last week.

    The joke went that the Eagles were adding a slew of trick plays to their offense during the bye-week… they were running plays.  Evidently those trick plays worked.  With a 96 yard, one TD day from Brian Westbrook and another TD carry from Correll Buckhalter, many fantasy owners have been tricked into adding the two players to their fantasy rosters.  The problem is that the Eagles are going to continue to use all of their running backs, including Duce Staley. 

    The Jaguars added the talented, and teamless, Troy Edwards to their roster and showcased him in their loss to the Texans.  Edwards only had three receptions, but made the most of them by scoring a TD and gathering 111 yards.  Unfortunately for Edwards, he will be relegated to the number four WR spot on the Jags with Jimmy Smith’s return.  Keep an eye on him, though, as it shouldn't be too difficult for him to climb ahead of the heretofore underachieving JJ Stokes and Matthew Hatchette.

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