As the designated author of "Working the Wire," I'm constantly "digging deep," studying players I think could wind up as weekly fantasy starters in standard leagues. As I've often suggested to you, I'm always asking myself "is there a scenario, e.g. an injury to a starter, where this player could emerge as a weekly fantasy starter?" As all NFL teams just made their final preseason cuts, a lot has changed in recent days. For the most part, none of these cuts are going to impact who you start on your fantasy team in Week 1, or even who you're sticking on your bench. That said, here are the players who are on my mind on this Labor Day, 2010.
Please realize I'm not suggesting that you roster these players right now. As I've said before, context is very important in this article. For instance, I'd still prefer to own many of the players I suggested in prior articles rather than some of the players listed below. Quite simply, these are players who caught my attention given recent roster moves. They don't all have value now, but they're players who, at minimum, have the potential to become waiver-wire targets later this season.
Sam Bradford, QB, Rams: After a solid preseason, Bradford was named the Rams Week 1 starter. As a rookie quarterback on a bad offense with no-names at receiver, Bradford is going to struggle a bit in 2010. The Rams defense should be bad, though, forcing Bradford to throw a lot, and he plays in a dome in a division of bad defenses. In recent years, we've seen young QBs perform better than expected, so put this under the category of "you never know." In today's NFL, I actually expect Bradford to finish as a top-20 fantasy QB (which, in my view, underscores the need to draft one of the elite QBs).
Derek Anderson and Max Hall, QB, Cardinals: I could write an entire article about the Cardinals decision to cut Leinart, the timing behind it, and the ramifications for all involved. Instead, let's sum it up like this. Unless he pukes all over himself, Anderson will be the QB for 2010, and as I've discussed previously, he's in a good situation (elite receiver, good weather at home, division of bad defenses). That said, the decision to cut Leinart says as much about Hall as anyone. Though he's an undrafted rookie, Hall is someone to keep in the back of your mind for deep and/or keeper leagues. Anderson was pretty bad last year (3 TDs, 13 INTs), albeit in bad circumstances, and the Cardinals wouldn't have cut Leinart if they didn't like Hall for the long-term. To a lesser extent, the same is true of John Skelton.
Kareem Huggins, RB, Bucs: In just a few weeks, Huggins has gone from a no-name to, arguably, the backup most likely to get significant playing time. Such is the role playing behind oft-injured Cadillac Williams. Find a bench spot for him if you can (ahead of guys like Marshawn Lynch).
Fred Jackson, RB, Bills: It's tempting to view C.J. Spiller as "the man" in the Buffalo backfield after his terrific preseason and Jackson's broken hand. For me, though, nothing has changed here. I see Spiller as a change-of-pace guy who'll be used in the Reggie Bush mold (albeit on a far inferior offense). Plus, the Bills cut pre-season standout Joique Bell (leaving them with just Jackson, Spiller and Lynch on the active roster), which tells me that Jackson will be fine for Week 1. This is a situation where I'd find your Rotowire magazine, written before the preseason started, and use that as the gauge of Jackson's value for 2010. (In fact, it's worth doing that for every NFL player, to remind yourself that preseason matters less than you think.)
Keiland Williams, RB, Redskins: Ryan Torain and Willie Parker were waived, leaving Williams as the third-string tailback for Washington. That may not sound promising, but he's only behind Clinton Portis and Larry Johnson, neither of whom are the models of good health. Mike Shanahan has never believed that pedigree matters for an NFL running back, so there's upside here, particularly in keeper leagues.
Derrick Ward, RB, Texans: After falling out of favor in Tampa, Ward somehow finds himself in a better situation in Houston. Yes, he's third string, but he's behind only unproven Arian Foster and Steve Slaton, who seems best suited to a third-down, change-of-pace role. Don't roster Ward at this point, but don't forget about him, either.
DeShawn Wynn and Chris Ivory, RB, Saints: Ivory has a sprained MCL and will miss a few weeks, but the Saints are still rostering him, which tells me that Sean Payton really likes him. Wynn has some short-term upside in the event of a Pierre Thomas injury (as that would put him as the feature guy on a high-scoring offense), but I suspect he'll be waived when Ivory gets healthy, and Ivory is a name I'm going to be mentioning in this article come October.
Danny Ware, RB, Giants: I profiled Ware a few weeks ago, mentioning him in light of Brandon Jacobs injury issues. Chris Liss commented that he'd draft Andre Brown instead, and after researching the preseason stats, I started to think he was right. In any event, Brown just got cut, leaving Ware as the clear-cut third-string. With Jacobs falling out of favor in New York, Bradshaw a bit smallish, and an offensive line that was terrific as recently as 2008, there is upside here.
Albert Young and Toby Gerhart, RB, Vikings: Lots of inexperienced fantasy owners draft "handcuffs" to stud running backs like Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson, even in 10 or 12-team leagues. As I see it, where there's no clear handcuff, don't bother. In years past, for instance, when Chester Taylor was backing up Peterson, he was worth rostering, as we knew Taylor would be a weekly fantasy starter if Peterson got hurt. This year, by contrast, Young and Gerhart are both unproven, and we don't know that either could produce even if Peterson went down (particularly since each may take away carries from the other). There's definitely upside here, on the theory that one of Young or Gerhart could become an every-down back on a good Vikings offense, but I don't see either having any more value right now than Ware, Ivory, or any of the other RBs listed above. In other words, keep Young and Gerhart in mind, not on your roster.
Patrick Crayton and Craig Davis, WR, Chargers: What's going to happen with the San Diego receivers this year? Nobody really knows. The only thing that's clear is if Vincent Jackson produces at all in 2010, it probably won't be for the Chargers. Everyone is rightfully drafting Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee as Philip Rivers' top two wideouts, but they're both unproven in those roles, so the quality of the Chargers offense forces us to dig deeper. Patrick Crayton is a bit of a retread, but as we saw with Chris Chambers last season, after his trade to Kansas City, you never know when a trade may rejuvenate a mediocre wideout. Meanwhile, don't forget about Craig Davis, who's been a bust so far but is just 24 and was a first-round draftee. Davis is currently just fourth on the depth chart, but his upside is terrific on this offense, particularly if you're discussing players unowned in all formats.
Seahawks WRs: I'm not surprised by Seattle's decision to cut T.J. Houshmandzadeh, especially with new coach Pete Carroll in the fold. But the first thought that went through my mind was "Wow, somebody's got to catch some passes in Seattle." A look at the depth chart shows Deion Branch and Mike Williams as the starters. Both have significant limitations - Branch with injuries and lack of size and Williams with inexperience and lack of speed - so their upside is limited. Presuming Matt Hasselbeck can stay on the field (a big question given his age and recent injury issues), I'd pencil each in for around 700-800 yards and 7-8 TDs, which probably makes them bye-week fill-ins at best. In other words, I'd rather stash someonel ike James Jones on my bench.
Steve Johnson, WR, Bills: The Bills cut former 1st-round pick Chad Jackson and 2008 2nd-rounder James Hardy, leaving Johnson as the last man standing opposite Lee Evans. There's not a lot of value for the Bills second receiver, but in leagues where that matters, Johnson seems set to get a lot of playing time in 2010.
Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, TE, Patriots: The situation in New England looks crowded, which is why all three tight ends are going undrafted in most leagues. But with Tom Brady at quarterback, we can't end the analysis there, as if one of the tight ends can emerge, there's clearly fantasy value here. Remember, for instance, how Ben Watson reeled in two late TDs from Tom Brady to beat the Bills in last year's opener? (I do. Sigh.) Anyway, Alge Crumpler is just a blocker, so fellow rookies Grankowski and Hernandez are the upside plays. I fear Gronkowski and Hernandez will dilute each other's value, but as Gronkowski showed at the end of the preseason while Hernandez was hurt, if one of them is injured, the other should emerge as a fantasy starter. Keep both in mind in case the other gets hurt or develops a more established role.
Neil Rackers, K, Texans: Kris Brown was waived, so Rackers won the kicking job for the Texans. As Houston is a top-10 offense, Rackers should be a top-10 kicker (if he can keep the job).