by Jeff West
October 15, 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)...

    Is no one safe?  Every week there is another stud RB appearing on the injury lists and causing night-sweats and heart palpitations to well-meaning fantasy owners.  Edgerrin James, supposedly fully recovered from his ACL injury two years ago, now has a broken back?  Stephen Davis leaves because of a severely bruised forearm?  The aforementioned owners can't even catch a break when it comes to the backups.  Who exactly is the backup RB in Indianapolis?  Is it Dominic Rhodes, he of 1000+ yards fame?  No, he's hurt too.  Is it James Mungro, he of 8 TDs in 2002 fame?  Maybe, but not really.  Is it Ricky Williams, he of wedding dress fame?  Oops, wrong Ricky... but you get the idea.  

    A quick look at the standings prompts one to wonder whether the NFL understands the difference between the words parody and parity.  Last year's NFC playoff teams are a combined 13-20 a third of the way into the 2003 season.  The AFC is a little better off at 17-18, but two of the teams (Tennessee and Indianapolis) account for more than half of those wins and only three of the losses.  I'm sure fans in Carolina, Minnesota, Kansas City, and Seattle have no complaints, though… at least for this year.  When Houston, Detroit, and Cincinnati are atop the standings next season, they might think differently (don't laugh, it could happen).

"Heading North" – Players whose fantasy value is rising

    It took longer than it should have, especially with such a potent weapon at tailback, but Trent Green finally put together a stellar effort, finding two lost souls in Tony Gonzalez and Johnnie Morton for the comeback win against Denver.  Teams already know they have to stop (or at least try their darndest to stop) the Padre to have any chance to win.  Now that Green has regained some confidence in players like Gonzo, Morton, and Eddie Kennison (whose 51-yard catch and run won an overtime game the week before), he should be able to string together some nice games as he did last year after an early struggle.

    Last week he was in the East-West category, but Tyrone Calico put together another nice receiving game.  It helps when your QB throws for 420 yards, but Calico is slowly showing more understanding of the Titans offense and showing he can be a major contributor in it.  His 92 yards this past week (on just four catches) exemplifies the big-play ability the Titans expected when they drafted him.  Having Derrick Mason on the other side of the field, attracting the bulk of the defensive attention, will help to speed the transition.

"Going South" – Players whose fantasy value is slipping

    At the end of last season, Travis Taylor and Todd Heap were keeping their fantasy owners very happy.  This year, they've done next to nothing.  The fact that Kyle Boller was only able to throw for 75 yards against a shaky Cardinals secondary does not bode well for any Ravens receiver.  Just be thankful if you own Jamal Lewis, because there is no other option for the Ravens offense right now.

    How much longer until Brian Griese is ready?  What are these rumors about Mark Brunell wanting to play in Miami?  These are issues that should soon be a concern for Jay Fiedler.  He was facing a Jacksonville defense that had already given up big passing days to Brunell, Drew Bledsoe, and David Carr.  Surely Fiedler should have been able to do more than a 14-27 for 147 yards and a pick.  Yes, the Fins won the game handily, but on a day when Ricky Williams only had 19 carries, Fiedler should have been able to do much more.

    It looks like the RBBC in Houston is leaning a bit more in Domanick Davis's favor.  Granted the Texans couldn’t generate much of a rushing attack when Tennessee jumped all over them, but Stacey Mack still only mustered four carries and a reception, while Davis, and even Tony Hollings, were much more involved in the Texans offense.

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

    Just when it looked like a number one RB had emerged in Philadelphia, Brian Westbrook left the game on Sunday with an injury.  His exit, after scoring a TD in his third consecutive game, opened the door for Correll Buckhalter to run for a TD, and Duce Staley, who generated 94 yards of total offense and a TD catch.  The injury raises questions about the durability of the undersized Westbrook who is also being used as the team's starting kick and punt returner.

    Mike Cloud scored his third touchdown in just two games this past weekend.  Fantasy owners might be looking at Cloud as a legitimate RB in the Patriots backfield.  But before anyone jumps to any conclusions, keep in mind that he managed to gain a meager 23 yards on his nine carries.  Kevin Faulk still received the bulk of the rushing work with Antowain Smith sitting the game out.

    Is it time to give up on Tom Brady?  Against a porous Giants secondary, Brady completed only 8 passes (in 21 attempts).  Granted, the weather was not conducive to a big passing day, but Brady has been very inconsistent this season.  Brady is a much better QB than he has shown thus far, and a commitment to a running game would help him immensely.  But keep in mind that Brady still has to face a number of very good defenses this season.

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