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Fantasy Roundtable - Week 7

Various staff members will share their views on a range of topics each week in discussion format. Feel free to eavesdrop.

Quick Links to Topics:

Potential breakout players
Santana Moss and Steve Smith
Backup RBs
Brandon Jones
Looking Ahead

Potential breakout players

Potential breakout players

Maurile Tremblay: We're at about the halfway point in the fantasy regular season. Is there anybody who has been relatively quiet so far this year that you think could really break out in the second half of the season (like Kevin Jones did last year)?

Michael Brown: Aside from the obvious candidates in Peyton Manning and Tony Gonzalez, there are a few guys who will likely receive a huge bump for the second half. Kevin Jones can't do much worse than he's done to this point, and Detroit's schedule is cake the rest of the way. Add to that the return of Cory Schlesinger and possible insertion of Jeff Garcia into the lineup, and I can see all Detroit players getting a huge upgrade. None more so than Jones. Trent Green is bound to pick things up a bit (he is on pace for just 12 TDs on the season). He's not going to match preseason expectations, but he could still perform average 1.5 TDs and 250 yards per game from this point forward and finish with respectable numbers.

Chris Smith: With Brian Griese out of action, Chris Simms will have a shot to put up decent fantasy numbers and has a good mix of talent to get the ball to. Ronnie Brown should emerge as the clear-cut number one running back on the Dolphins as the season wears on. Lee Suggs has been written off by fantasy owners but he'll be available throughout the second half of the season. He is worth scooping up as he brings explosiveness to the table that Reuben Droughns does not. Two more players to watch are WR Eric Moulds and WR Lee Evans. Both have struggled due to poor quarterback play but should have better stats from here on out.

Will Grant: Bryon Leftwich is a prime candidate for a breakout right now. With RB Fred Taylor injured, the Jags are going to have to throw the ball more. Matt Jones and Reggie Williams are emerging to take the pressure off of Jimmy Smith and Jacksonville is ready to take it to the next level. Their schedule is pretty easy from here on out, and with Indianapolis winning like they are, Jacksonville is going to have to turn it up a notch to keep pace or vie for a wildcard playoff birth. Leftwich could finish somewhere in the QB7-8 range when this is all over.

Michael Brown: Steven Jackson and Tiki Barber are two other players I'd be targeting. Neither has been exactly quiet to this point, but I think both of their roles are about to become greatly expanded. Jackson in particular is one player I'm trying to acquire in as many leagues as possible, because I think he's headed for huge things in that offense. He isn't ignored in the passing game, which bodes well for his fantasy opportunities even if the team is struggling as a whole. Barber may see some more goal like work after the costly Brandon Jacobs fumble. That could bump Barber from the 7th or 8th best RB to the 4th or 5th best. A subtle upgrade, but an upgrade nonetheless.

Chris Smith: Ashley Lelie can't be any worse than he has been to start the season and should be more effective from this point on. He certainly gets the targets to be productive. TE Tony Gonzalez is a gimme. He'll have a lot of good games going forward. Finally, look for rookies on poor teams such as Frank Gore to get more looks as the end of the season draws nearer. Teams will want to see what they have in a player and Gore should get more work once the second half of the season begins. My final player is Chester Taylor who may see more and more action behind an ineffective Jamal Lewis.

Will Grant: I'd also be keeping an eye on Billy Volek if I were a McNair owner. McNair is dinged up as usual, but with Volek's performance last season, I can see McNair being pushed aside to rest and Volek brought in. Volek exploded last season, and that potential is still there. At some point you do expect guys like Michael Clayton, Roy Williams and Andre Johnson to head up. These are three big-name WRs who have WAY underperformed their positions.

Jason Wood: At QB, Peyton Manning is the most obvious choice, but I’ll also echo Mike’s thoughts on Trent Green. With only 4 TD passes through Week Six, I expect him and all his co-horts to start showing signs of life as they get to the meat of their schedule. At RB, I didn't expect greatness from Ahman Green this year but this has been ridiculous. I would look for Green, Reuben Droughns, and Chester Taylor (yes, in place of Jamal Lewis) to put together solid second halves relative to their numbers so far this season. At WR? Pick any of the preseason top 12 and you've got good candidates! In all seriousness, I would be surprised if Donald Driver, Roy Williams and Michael Clayton weren't back on the fantasy radar screen in big ways for the second half.

Marc Levin: A lot of the underperforming top notch guys are worth a look: At he top of my list is Peyton Manning. The Colts put up 45 points against the Rams on Monday night and Peyton had a mediocre day. At some point he will start to get his numbers again. Matt Hasselbeck has been tearing it up without his top two receivers. What'll happen when Jackson and Engram return? Aaron Brooks should get a lot of garbage-time opportunities. What else will the Saints do but throw? If he cuts down on the mistakes, he could be really huge down the stretch. I see a lot of 250-300 yard, 2-3 TD days from Brooks, and the occasional huge game. Same with Brett Favre. The Packers’ OL will get Green killed, but Favre will still be back there slinging the ball, especially if he starts to feel like this is it for him.

Cecil Lammey: Ahman Green almost has to bounce back from a horrible start to this season. Green has seen his backups be productive while he was out and hopefully it lights a fire. Ahman is a good receiver out of the backfield so he has a strong chance to have the biggest rebound in the 2nd half of the season. Kevin Jones is a guy that is getting dinged up frequently, but has proven before that he can start off slow and still come back with a fury. Maybe when Jeff Garcia gets back in the lineup then Jones can show the type of playmaking ability that we all know he's capable of.

Marc Levin: Good point about Kevin Jones. Once Garcia gets the start I think he will start to come alive. Willis McGahee and Tiki Barber seem poised to absolutely explode now that hey have legitimate threats at QB. Warrick Dunn will continue to be a nice surprise hit at RB. I do not see "explosion" at WR, but I think the steady and consistent Rod Smith and Donald Driver are great players to trade for right now if you can get them for good value; neither has yet to truly peak this year.

Santana Moss and Steve Smith

Maurile Tremblay: Two guys who I think are very similar receivers are Santana Moss and Steve Smith. Both guys are undersized, but very tough. They both have deep speed as well as the ability to make big plays with their run-after-the-catch ability. Most importantly, both guys are comfortably outperforming their preseason projections. Can they keep it up for the rest of the season, or will they fall back more in line with their preseason projections?

Chris Smith: Both players were projected incorrectly. The only reason either player will see a significant drop in production is if injury strikes, and it is impossible to predict an injury for either player. Steve Smith looks even better than Muhsin Muhammad did last season, while Santana Moss has been very productive and is clearly a favorite of Mark Brunell. I don't anticipate either player to decline noticeably going forward.

David Yudkin: I felt Smith was a shoe-in for the Top 10 at WR this year, so his performance does not surprise me. The loss of Muhammad has only helped his cause. Like last year, however, the injuries to the Panthers' running game have also led to more passing attempts. If their running backs get healthy and more productive, we may see a dip in their passing numbers. I'm not so sure the RB corps will get healthy, so that may not be a huge concern. As for Moss, no one projected Brunell to take over at QB, so we certainly had no idea that he would click with Moss. Similar to the Panthers, if the ground game gets untracked (Portis has not had a TD yet) and teams defend the pass better, Moss' production could suffer. I'd be more comfortable owning Smith right now than I would Moss.

Jason Wood: I was wrong on both of these "mighty mites," and, like most others, I am more surprised by Santana Moss than Steve Smith for a litany of reasons. But, six weeks into the season, presuming they and their supporting casts stay reasonably healthy, I don't see why they should have precipitous declines in productivity. I still wouldn't feel comfortable with Santana as a WR1 but he's obviously a must start until proven otherwise. As for Steve Smith, he's made a believer out of me for sure and is delivering in a year when most consensus top WR selections have disappointed.

Cecil Lammey: Barring injury, both of these smurf receivers should continue to put up great numbers. Washington's passing numbers have shocked the world, but what is also puzzling is the lack of targets to other WRs in Carolina. Steve Smith is awesome, but Colbert is having a big sophomore slump. Good thing Ricky Proehl is there to help out on the other side. Both of these small WRs (Smith and Moss) get double-teamed consistently yet continue to produce.

Will Grant: Steve Smith doesn't surprise me as much because he's been here before. Like most people, I downplayed him a bit at the start of the season because he was returning from a major surgery and I wanted to see how well he recovered. Obviously he's back 100 percent. The surprise in Carolina isn't Smith as much as it is the other Carolina receivers. Smith has almost 600 yards and 7 TDS. Colbert, Gardner and Proehl have 324 yards and 2 TDs combined. Add in DeShaun Foster's 188 yards receiving and you still come up with just 512 yards. How long can Smith command that much of the passing offense before defenses double team him on every play and force the Panthers to go in another direction? I agree with Jason on Santana Moss: He's a must start until proven otherwise. He's actually becoming a bigger part of the offense as the season wears on. Is he going to face KC every week and rack up 10 receptions, 170 yards and 2 TDs? Certainly not. But the next couple weeks are against defenses with weaker secondaries (SF and NYG), and Moss will probably be near the top of the fantasy WR pile in each of those games.

Marc Levin: I can't add much more to what has already been said. Barring injury, both players will be very productive. I can't imagine them keeping up their current pace as that would mean some really astronomical numbers, but they will both keep their place among the top five WRs.

Backup RBs

Maurile Tremblay: On a few teams, it seems like the backup RB is performing as well as or better than the starter, albeit in limited opportunities. In previous weeks, we've discussed Tatum Bell and Mike Anderson in Denver, as well as DeShaun Foster and Stephen Davis in Carolina. But in addition to those situations, Chester Taylor is outperforming Jamal Lewis in Baltimore, and Chris Perry has looked very good in Cincinnati. Is there a decent chance we'll see any current backups work their way into a starting role?

Will Grant: Chris Perry was a first round draft pick brought in specifically to push Rudi Johnson and possibly replace him. I think that you're going to see a lot of RBBC come out of these situations. Cincinnati, Baltimore and even Kansas City are going to a more balanced carry system with two backs carrying the load. For all the success that he's had in Oakland, Lamont Jordan is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry. If that doesn't increase, you may see Justin Fargas and Zack Crockett getting more playing time as change-of-pace backs. I'm not suggesting running out to grab these guys in favor of Jordan, but a 3.6 YPC is nothing to get excited about. By the way, if I were a Cedric Benson owner, I'd be terrified. Minnesota ranked 31st in total rushing yards allowed and 32nd in yards per attempt allowed. The Bears had the game well in hand, Jones was playing hurt, and Benson had a grand total of three carries for two yards. The only way Benson is going to see any playing time this season is if Thomas Jones is seriously injured.

Chris Smith: In regards to the Bears situation, as long as they are in the hunt for the division title, they will likely stick with Thomas Jones, who has been terrific for them this season. If they fall from contention, however, I would expect them to slot Cedric Benson into the lineup to see what he can do. I believe the 49ers are already looking towards the future and in a couple more weeks will begin feeding Frank Gore the ball more often to see what he can accomplish with a greater work load. He has done a good job in limited duty and with an eye towards next season, the 49ers will get him the rock. Another player currently a backup (heck, currently not even playing) to be aware of is Lee Suggs of the Browns. Although he has serious durability issues, he has more explosiveness and an ability to take it to the house than current starter Reuben Droughns and I believe the Browns will give him a chance when he returns from the hand injury. Finally, if Jamal Lewis continues to get stuffed play after play, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Ravens stick Chester Taylor in there with his increased elusiveness.

Jason Wood: History tells us that any number of current backups will see meaningful action at some point this season, particularly at the RB position where health and an overall lack of productivity seem to be constants through the first six weeks of the season. Although I don't think Kevan Barlow has been as bad as some people would contend, I could see San Francisco giving Frank Gore a major look in the second half just because they're clearly focused on 2006 and beyond, and Barlow likely doesn't figure heavily into their long-term plans. As for other backups, you really have to love Chris Perry. The kid seems to be every bit the playmaker he was at Michigan now that his injuries are behind him. For now, they're using him as a change-of-pace guy and Palmer is throwing to him with regularity. But should Rudi Johnson get hurt, I could see Perry being an absolute stud. Another backup worth mentioning is Ciatrick Fason. With the situation in Minnesota being what it is, why shouldn't he get a chance to show management and his new owner whether he's got a place on the team in 2006 as they’ll likely blow up the entire organization and start anew? One last note on backups: this past week was a humbling experience for people in our business. All signs pointed toward Tyson Thompson in Dallas (he got 20 carries the week before) and Alvin Pearman in Jacksonville being the starters in place of their injured teammates; yet much to many a fantasy owner's chagrin, it was A-Train and Greg Jones who got the call.

Cecil Lammey: Greg Jones is a guy who could see some more playing time after a nice performance against Pittsburgh. Jones was a power back at FSU and was very reluctant to switch to a FB in the pros. Marty Schottenheimer tried to take a look at him as a FB during his Senior Bowl and Jones went off and had a terrific game--at tailback. Perhaps he's seen the light and will light it up when given the opportunity. He's very limited as a receiver, but can pound it out between the tackles and is surprisingly fast for a big back. Derrick Ward is a long shot, but a guy whom I've liked since he was a freshman at Fresno State. He is currently seeing some third down duty with the Giants and is having some decent success. Lamar Gordon is a guy we could see moving into a more predominant role with Philadelphia. Brian Westbrook is a game-breaker, but also has been known to get dinged up every year. I think that Andy Reid may spell Westy even more with Gordon, so long as he holds onto the ball. Philly is in a dogfight in their division and Gordon could be a guy they could count on to nurse a lead and keep Westy fresh.

Marc Levin: I really like Ricky Williams' situation (who doesn't), but I agree with the Chris Perry call. Both of those guys are likely already rostered in most fantasy leagues. Lamar Gordon could see increased work, but he is also likely on a roster. Jerome Bettis is arguably the better play these days than Willie Parker. Some waiver-wire guys to look at are Greg Jones, who got the start over Pearman last week in Jacksonville, and Anthony Thomas, who got the start over Anthony Thomas in Dallas. The two best backup in the league, in my opinion, are Domanick Rhodes and Maurice Morris. It looks like they will see a decent amount of action each game, they are in ideal situations, and they are on teams that have strong potential to be grinding out the clock in the fourth with their backup RBs.

Brandon Jones

Maurile Tremblay: It looks like Titan WR Drew Bennett will miss at least a few weeks with a dislocated thumb. Rookie Brandon Jones has physical talent, but is he ready to assume the role of the number one wide receiver in Tennessee?

Chris Smith: The number one receiver in Tennessee doesn't seem to equate to a whole lot this season, as the bulk of the targets go to the tight end position. Brandon Jones will do some good things but he is too green to expect consistent production going forward. I can see him putting up solid numbers in one week only to disappear in the next two. At best, he'll be a serviceable fantasy backup for the rest of this season with tight ends Ben Troupe and Erron Kinney getting the majority of the looks.

David Yudkin: With many fantasy teams having bye week and injury issues, I think Jones will be a decent option in leagues that start three WRs. The Titans face Arizona, Oakland, and Cleveland in the next few weeks, and that should only help his production. For teams with Randy Moss, Roy Williams, Drew Bennett, etc., he will likely be as good an option anyone on their bench at this point.

Jason Wood: It's been a wild season on the WR front. "Consensus" top picks including Randy Moss, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Darrell Jackson, Hines Ward, Nate Burleson, Andre Johnson, Roy Williams, Joe Horn and Michael Clayton have all disappointed to some degree and that's opened the door for a lot of secondary WRs to get starts in nearly every league. Jones appears to be the most involved of the Titans triumvirate of rookie receivers, and I see no reason to think he's not worth picking up in leagues that carry five or six wideouts.

Cecil Lammey: Jones should be a good pickup in larger leagues. As Chris mentioned, most of the targets go the TEs but Jones has been working his way into this role. With the injury to Bennett, Jones will now get his chance.

Will Grant: I think Jones has excellent sleeper potential right now. Bennett is out for a few weeks with his thumb injury, and he has not done nearly as well as a number one receiver as he did last year at the number two spot. The key here will be the Titans’ QB play. If Volek takes over for McNair at some point, I think the Tennessee WRs will take a jump. I've already picked Jones up in one of my leagues and expect that he might be pressing for a starting position over the next couple weeks.

Marc Levin: Man, I steamrolled the Brandon Jones train out of the station a few weeks ago, and he has yet to see the targets to justify a fantasy start. Drew Bennett's injury can only help him see the targets he was seeing in the first three games, and the numbers he produced the last game once Bennett went out is encouraging. I think Jones will be able to handle the number one WR role because he isn't the number one receiving target: TEs Kinney and Troupe are. It is a good time for Bennett to go down if you have Jones; Tennessee's next three games before their bye week are against relatively weak pass defenses: Arizona, Oakland, and Cleveland. That said, once Bennett returns, I fear Jones will return to his minimal receiving numbers.

Looking Ahead

Maurile Tremblay: Let's assume that the top two fantasy picks next year will again be LaDainian Tomlinson and Shaun Alexander. Who will go number three?

Will Grant: Lots could happen between now and then. Assuming that Priest Holmes doesn't retire and Edgerrin James stays in Indy, I think you'll see a wide split between James, and Willis McGahee. With Henry moving on to Tennessee, McGahee has been tearing up the field in Buffalo. He was held in check by Tampa in week two, but since then he's scored a TD each week. He has also proven that he can handle 30 carries a game, and has no reasonable backups to share the load with. James would be the other option if he stays in Indy. Even though he's in his 7th NFL season, James is on pace for 400+ touches this season. Even with all of the focus on Manning and the TD record last season, James finished 6th as a fantasy running back. If Indy can re-sign him this offseason, expect him to be a top five choice in most performance and scoring leagues.

Maurile Tremblay: I think Edgerrin James is probably the right answer if he stays in Indy. Cadillac Williams could be a consideration, as well as Willis McGahee. If Tatum Bell has a nice second half of the season and is the clear starter in Denver next year, he could be a possibility as well. And Steven Jackson is the dark horse. He’s running very strong in Saint Louis and could be the every-down back next year for the Rams.

Chris Smith: After this season, I'll tell you who won't be in the running ever again in my books and that is a quarterback. After all the hype in regards to Peyton Manning this season, look what it has brought. It is very early to tell one way or the other but I would bet it will be one of the younger running backs such as Willis McGahee and/or Cadillac Williams who get hot down the stretch and prompt an owner to take a chance on him early on.

Jason Wood: Well, Willis McGahee is the number four RB right now according to FBG scoring, and that’s despite a complete lack of a passing game until the last two weeks. Assuming he remains healthy, I could see him being the 3rd pick. If Edgerrin James stays in Indy, which I still have doubts about, he would be my other choice.

Cecil Lammey: It has to be Edgerrin James. James is consistent and versatile, something the other backs in the top tier are not. Cadillac Williams doesn't catch enough passes to be considered in the top 3.

Marc Levin: Edgerrin James if he is in Indy. If he is not, maybe Willis McGahee or Priest Holmes, and then, in my opinion, there are a whole slew of backs that will be considered: Steven Jackson, Tatum Bell, Domanick Davis, Clinton Portis -- all of them could compete for top-5 selections next year. Then there is the dark horse shot - someone may take Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, or Torry Holt at number three, given their consistency at the WR spot. (But I doubt it.)

Maurile Tremblay: I think it’ll be interesting to see whether the first round next year will be more or less RB-heavy than it has been in the past couple years. Chris mentioned that he wouldn’t consider taking a QB so high again after Manning has failed to live up to the hype this year. But there have been plenty of flops at RB as well. Meanwhile, Marc mentioned a few WRs who could be considered top five material. That’s a debate for the coming offseason, but I think it’s fun to start speculating on that kind of stuff ahead of time. That’ll do it for this week. Thanks, guys.

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