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Free Agent Forecast - Week 1
Paul Sandy
September 7, 2004

Each league has its own rules to govern how the waiver wire works. Most leagues don’t allow owners to drop and add players until after Week 1. Others set it up as a free for all, allowing you to acquire new players even minutes after the draft. Whichever method your league uses, it pays to start looking at the free agent market early. By staying aware of the top available talent, you can acquire solid fantasy players one or two weeks before they even catch the attention of your league mates. With that in mind, here are 10 players who may be available in your league. Pay careful attention to them this week or even consider acquiring them if your league says you can do so. They could emerge as reliable fantasy players by Week 3.

1. Sammy Morris, RB, Dolphins

The Miami backfield is downright ugly. You definitely don’t want to be looking to the Dolphins for a starting fantasy running back. However, the Miami media is reporting that Travis Minor has lost the starting job to Sammy Morris. Starting running backs are hard to come by at this point, so make a move to add Morris to your team. Coach Dave Wannstedt might make a move to acquire another ball carrier, but in the meantime Morris appears to be the guy.

2. Nate Burleson, WR, Vikings

The Vikings haven’t had a reliable number two wideout since Cris Carter retired. This off season they inked Marcus Robinson to fill the role, but there are signs that that move might not pay the expected dividends. Robinson has fallen to number three on the depth chart after nursing a hamstring injury all preseason. As a result, Burleson will start opposite Randy Moss and draw single coverage for fair portion of every game. Get Burleson on your team now before he becomes a household name. He could threaten the 1,000-yard mark this season and make an appearance in the end zone six or seven times.

3. Jerramy Stevens, TE, Seahawks

If you didn’t get Tony Gonzalez, Todd Heap or Jeremy Shockey in your draft, you will likely be one of the millions of owners who are in constant search for a viable starter at the tight end position. Consider making Seattle’s Jerramy Stevens your first acquisition. He possesses the size and speed to put fear into the eyes of opposing defensive coordinators. The former first-round draft pick beat out Itula Mili for the starting spot in Mike Holmgren’s offense. With the way Holmgren uses tight ends, it won’t be long before Stevens becomes one of the league’s better tight ends.

4. Tim Brown, WR, Buccaneers

Since Keenan McCardell continues to hold out, the fantasy football community is curious to find out which wide receiver will become the primary target in Tampa’s offense. In most leagues, Joey Galloway has been selected late in the draft. Rookie Michael Clayton has also been a popular late-round sleeper. Many owners are even taking a gamble on McCardell. Meanwhile, fantasy owners have been less than enthusiastic about the prospects of Tim Brown. That could be a mistake. Consider that the last time Brown played for Gruden he finished with 1,165 yards and nine touchdowns. Brown is getting old, but couldn’t last year have been an anomaly? After all, he did have Rick Mirer throwing him the ball for nine games. Grab Brown off your waiver wire and look for him to re-emerge as a solid fantasy receiver.

5. Tommy Maddox, QB, Steelers

Last season Maddox was one of only 10 NFL quarterbacks to throw for more than 3,400 yards. He only managed to toss 18 touchdowns, but should improve that stat in 2004. Pittsburgh ranked 31 st in rushing yards per game last year. The addition of Duce Staley means defenses will have to account for the running game. It’ll also add another potent receiver to the offense. Staley is an excellent pass catcher out of the backfield and has gone over 50 receptions in a season three times. Add in All-Pro Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress, who’s playing for a new contract, and things are looking pretty good for Maddox. Expect him to finish in the top 10 in passing yards and the top 15 in touchdowns. That will make him a viable starter and an excellent reserve.

6.Michael Pittman, RB, Buccaneers

With a three-week suspension looming, Pittman may not have had his name called at your draft. If your backfield is looking a little thin, make a move to acquire Pittman as soon as your waiver wire opens up for business. While he’s historically been pretty inconsistent running the ball, you can count on him for several receptions each game. Pittman is a pass-catching machine. He hauled in 75 passes last year, second only to LaDainian Tomlinson. He’s the quintessential fourth running back because you know he’ll get you at least fifty to seventy yards every week. Perfect for those bye weeks where you’re short a starter.

7. Reno Mahe, RB, Eagles

The Eagles released veteran Dorsey Levens last week, indicating that they have confidence in the trio of Brian Westbrook, Reno Mahe and Thomas Tapeh. Most NFL analysts feel Brian Westbrook is an explosive player, but will likely be incapable of carrying the full load for Philadelphia. Look for Mahe to assume the role of Duce Staley this season and catch a lot of passes. He won’t be a fantasy starter unless Westbrook goes down, but Mahe should be an adequate reserve in bigger leagues.

8. Justin Gage, WR, Bears

There’s a pretty good chance no Bears receivers were selected in your draft. Marty Booker was shipped off to Miami in late August, which left a massive void in the Chicago passing game. Second-year wideout Justin Gage is currently listed third on the depth chart behind Bobby Wade and David Terrell. Even so, Gage may have the most potential for fantasy stardom. He’s a big receiver with tremendous hands and great body control. Gage might’ve won a starting position in the preseason if he hadn’t been battling a stubborn hamstring injury, but will still make an impact because Chicago will frequently line up in three-receiver sets. Look for him to make a box score bang in Week 1 against a soft Detroit secondary.

9. Vinny Testaverde, QB, Cowboys

When Vinny Testaverde maneuvers his walker out of the Metrodome tunnel this weekend, he will likely draw a lot of ridicule and trash talk from the Minnesota crowd. At 41-years old, Testaverde likely didn’t draw much interest in your draft. Many fantasy experts are suggesting that Bill Parcells will rely heavily on the run this season. I’m not so sure. Free agent running back Eddie George looks like he should’ve chosen retirement. Julius Jones looks solid, but Parcells doesn’t strike me as the kind of a coach who will rely on a rookie to carry his team. Look for plenty of passes this season as Testaverde, Keyshawn Johnson and Terry Glenn rekindle the fire they had during previous stints with Parcells.

10. Darius Watts, WR, Broncos

Rookie receivers have garnered a lot of attention this preseason. Larry Fitzgerald and Roy Williams have been the most popular picks, with Michael Clayton, Michael Jenkins and Lee Evans making an occasional appearance. But if you haven’t heard the name Darius Watts yet, now is a good time to get familiar with it. Watts was Denver’s best receiver during the preseason and even made a push for Ashley Lelie’s starting job. In the end, Lelie won out. Watts has a stranglehold on the number three spot and should factor into the offense every week. If Lelie continues to show the inconsistency that has plagued him his entire career, watch out. Watts could go from unknown to super stud in the blink of an eye. Take a shot on Watts if you’re in a deeper league.