The Tashard Choice Is Yours in Week 10 Pickups

I have a lot of fantasy football to catch up on since I entered the married world, including several episodes of The League to clean off the DVR, but I’ll get right to it this week.

When it comes to free agents, I was lucky in that no real breakout candidates emerged in my absence. We have just a few names to talk about this week other than the ones we’ve previously discussed.

As bye weeks end, you’ll want to start pruning the low-end starters from your roster and stashing high-ceiling players like Ben Tate, Antonio Brown, and Ronnie Brown for the fantasy playoffs. If starters are injured, you’ll be the one to benefit down the stretch.

LAURENT ROBINSON (Cowboys)

Miles Austin has another gimpy hamstring, which opens the door for even more contributions from Laurent Robinson in this Dallas offense. Tony Romo already trusts him in key situations, but he’ll be an even nicer fantasy play for the next 2-4 weeks, especially with the schedule Dallas has ahead.

ANTONIO BROWN (Steelers)

Emmanuel Sanders had to have surgery and lost all his potential fantasy value for the rest of at least the regular fantasy season. When you drop Sanders, be sure to grab Brown if no one else in your league owns him. He should start opposite Mike Wallace in the Steelers’ offense and has shown plenty of big-play ability.

ROY HELU (Redskins)

Shanahan’s running back of choice is Helu (at least for now). Shanahan gave him all the touches in Week 9, and Ryan Torain should only serve as his change-of-pace back. As long as Helu continues to stay out of the Shanny doghouse, he could be very productive. John Beck checked down to him early and often in Week 9, and while that’s bad news for the Redskins, it’s good news for fantasy owners.

TASHARD CHOICE (Redskins)

I would be remiss if I plugged Helu without also reminding you that Choice, when healthy, could get a piece of the Redskins backfield. He hasn’t looked like the same back since filling in for the injured Felix Jones and Marion Barber for the Cowboys two seasons ago, but Shanahan might make the most of him. Whether you own Helu or not, we can’t be sure how Choice will fit into this backfield yet. He could play as soon as this week.

JACOBY FORD (Raiders)

Ford demonstrated his speed in Week 9 and got a lot of attention from Carson Palmer while Darrius Heyward-Bey warmed the bench. This role seems more like a trend than a fluke, so I’d jump on Ford now if you’re in need of a WR3.

EARL BENNETT (Bears)

Jay Cutler showered his favorite receiver with plenty of third-down passes against the Eagles, and Bennett came through on every one of them. It’s hard to say he’ll have this kind of production every week, but clearly, he’s the receiver to own in Chicago. He could be a nice WR3 the rest of the way.

AUSTIN PETTIS (Rams)

Unfortunately for the Rams, rookie Greg Salas will miss the rest of the season after injuring his leg in Week 9. Fellow rookie Austin Pettis should fill the role as St. Louis’ slot receiver, and Bradford could look his way as much as he did Salas’. This Rams offense is not scoring a lot of points, but we still haven’t seen Sam Bradford at 100 percent with his new No. 1 Brandon Lloyd. Not to mention, the Rams schedule gets much easier the rest of the season. Pettis could have WR3 value if he grows into the slot role as Salas did.

On the Waiver Wire: Brian Westbrook LIVES, Week 13 Pickups, and a Massive Collection of Advice to Get Your Team Right for the Fantasy Football Playoffs

I hate handcuffing. I always feel like handcuffs are a waste of a roster spot, and I’d rather have a starting running back from another team than carry a guy who doesn’t play just in case my starter goes down. The backups are rarely as good or as big a part of the offense as their starting counterpart anyway. At least that’s what I told myself until this week.

Apparently, karma chose to teach me a lesson this season. My top picks in two leagues, Frank Gore and Adrian Peterson, were both hit with the injury bug this week just before I start my playoff runs in Week 14. I don’t own either handcuff.

Obviously, I drafted these two teams on Indian burial grounds. My two starting tight ends in these leagues were Dallas Clark and Jermichael Finley.

Beyond snagging the fantasy fallout from these two studs’ injuries, waiver wire pickups for the rest of the season depend on matchups more than ever. You’d be surprised how many owners don’t look ahead and decide which players they should cut ties with and which ones they should stash for the playoffs. As we round out the regular season, you should fortify your roster for Weeks 14-16, assuming that’s your fantasy football playoff.

Regular season wins don’t matter anymore. It’s all about the playoffs.

I’ll hit the highlights on a few guys I like the most that are readily available this week. As a side note, this post will be our last traditional waiver wire post for the rest of the season. If you’re in the playoffs, I assume you’ve strengthened your roster. If not, look back the last few weeks of “On the Wire” posts.

If you’re not in the playoffs, I’m guessing you don’t want to hear anything more about players that could have made your team better, but you can look back at the archives all the same. It’s always nice to play spoiler at the end of the year, even if you have nothing to gain but pride and a new in-season rival. In-season rivals are the best.

Brian Westbrook, RB, 49ers – He’s obviously the most high-priority add to come out of Week 12. With Frank Gore done for the year, Westbrook will become the engine of this offense. Troy Smith hasn’t been able to learn the full playbook since joining the 49ers, which has forced them to feed the ball to their running game. You’ll hear some warnings out there that Anthony Dixon has more value as the rookie with fresher legs to replace Gore, but I’m still choosing Westbrook over Dixon if given the choice. They went with Westy all night against the Cardinals until the game was out of reach, and I think they’ll continue to do more of the same. San Francisco would rather play it safe with Westbrook and his experience than hand the majority of their offense over to a rookie.

Anthony Dixon, RB, 49ers — That said, Dixon isn’t a bad add if you miss out on Westbrook or get Westy and want to make sure you lock up the 49ers rushing attack. Dixon will at least see some goal line looks, and he’s the better North-South runner at this point. Westbrook, while impressive against the Cardinals, hasn’t seen much playing time and is injury prone late in his career. We’ll know more about how these two runners will split the carries after we see them face the Packers in Week 13, having had a full week to practice together and work on the game plan, but I’m betting Westbrook gets as much as he can handle before Dixon gets his chance.

Toby Gerhart, RB, Vikings — He’s next on the list even though I don’t believe he’ll have much value. The last reports on Adrian Peterson’s ankle injury say it’s only a sprain and that the Vikings fully expect to have him Week 13 against the Bills. Gerhart might see more work to give A.P. a light workload his first game back, but by Week 14 and 15, you won’t want to be relying on a backup running back. If you own Peterson, Gerhart is a must add. Otherwise, put him behind all the other backs listed as a stash in case Peterson’s injury ends up being more serious than what we’ve heard so far.

Tashard Choice, RB, Cowboys — Choice is the running back of “choice” in Dallas now that Marion Barber will be out for at least two weeks. Fantasy veterans will remember how he exploded late in 2008 when Felix Jones and Barber both missed time. While Felix hasn’t shown any signs of slowing, Choice has talent and could carve out a portion of the running game for himself even if Jones continues to start for the Cowboys. He’ll at least see the goal line looks for two weeks with Barber out, and that makes him worthy of being added to rosters this week. You might hit the jackpot if Barber has a setback and if Jones is injured in the next two weeks. The Cowboys’ schedule is inviting with Indy, Philly, Washington, and then the horrible, horrible defense of the Cardinals in Week 16.

Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers — Like a brokeback cowboy, I just can’t quit The Daily Show. Mike Goodson’s been an awakening for the Panthers are running back, but Stewart was more effective with his carries in Week 12. Maybe some of Goodson’s workmanship productivity will rub off on Stewart. He wasn’t able to do much of anything prior to his concussion, but The Daily Show should earn back more and more of the running game as the season winds down.

Goodson will stay involved and has some value since he’s been so productive during Stewart’s absence, but both Stewart and Goodson are interviewing for jobs next season. DeAngelo Williams will be gone, and it’s probably going to be a split backfield with Stewart taking the lead duties and Goodson providing a burst on third downs and catching passes out of the backfield like Williams used to do. The schedule isn’t too kind in Week 14 or Week 16 for either Carolina back, but you’ll definitely want to start either Stewart or Goodson in Week 15 against the Cardinals.

Chris Ivory, RB, Saints – People keep saying that the Saints touchdown vulture is about to fall off the fantasy value cliff, but he’s stuck around. Even with Reggie Bush back on Thanksgiving, he got the touchdowns where it counted and put up decent yardage. I’m sure he’s owned in most touchdown-heavy leagues, but I’d consider picking him up in standard leagues for the fantasy playoffs.

Pierre Thomas may come back in the next two weeks, but with Thomas’ injury taking so long to heal, I don’t think they’ll want to put him in harm’s way near the end zone when they have a proven weapon like Ivory, who hasn’t disappointed. The Saints’ remaining schedule through Week 16 has them facing the Bengals, Rams, Ravens, and Falcons. Those last two are tougher than most, but I’d snag Ivory for this week against the Bengals and next week against the Rams. If the Saints’ offense can deliver him to the goal line for multiple scores in those two, I might even consider giving him a chance in Week 15 against the Ravens as well.

Danario Alexander, WR, Rams — I went on and on about Alexander when he had his first breakout game earlier this season. I loved his potential, and I still do. In his first game back, he was the leading receiver, even though he was only playing 20 snaps. He added that spark the Rams have needed. Outside of PPR leagues, he’s the Rams wide receiver I want to start, and if you look ahead at his matchups (Cardinals, Saints, Chiefs, 49ers), he’s not looking so bad outside of that Week 14 in New Orleans.

Take Alexander’s schedule, add that the Rams like to throw the ball, that Bradford emerged for his first 300+ yard game in Week 12 (with Alexander leading in yards and tied with two other receivers for most targets), and that the tight end Bradford loved the most, Michael Hoomanawanui, is now out with a high ankle sprain, and you have a recipe for another fantasy breakout for the young Rams’ talent.

I’d play him this week against the Cardinals, but all that said, I do have to caution that he is playing on borrowed knees–literally. His injury risk is red on the advisory system, but I’ll still give him the green light if you need that extra something for the playoffs at wide receiver.

Earl Bennett, WR, Bears — When Jay Cutler first got traded to Chicago, Bennett received a lot of talk as a sleeper. They were teammates at Vanderbilt, and Cutler, in a way, made Bennett into a star. In the NFL, the two have not connected as often. Bennett has been the second or third wide receiver on the Bears’ depth chart for some time, but the passing game has never been reliable or explosive enough to make Bennett a fantasy star. It looked like it was getting there in Week 12 against the Eagles.

Mike Martz may have finally settled into a playbook that suits the Bears. All of their weapons, including Devin Hester and Greg Olsen, got involved. Bennett scored twice. If you look at the remaining schedule for the Bears (at the Lions, Patriots, at the Vikings, Jets), they have a nice road ahead until Week 16 against the Jets. And even in that game, Bennett is less likely to get shut down as the No. 3 guy in many sets. If I’m short a wide receiver for the playoffs, Bennett is my second choice after Alexander. Johnny Knox is more reliable, but Bennett should get his looks, too.

Jacoby Ford, WR, Raiders — If no one picked up the speedster in Oakland, you should make a run at him this week. His playoff schedule is nice (Jaguars, Broncos, Colts), and he seems to be the only receiver who can inflict massive damage for the Raiders. As long as Jason Campbell looks his way in Week 13, I’d consider starting him in the playoffs as a WR3.

Blair White or Austin Collie, WR, Colts — Whichever one of these Colts’ receivers starts in any given week will have value. A very angry Peyton Manning will be suiting up against a decent but not formidable schedule in the fantasy playoffs (Titans, Jags, Raiders) and trying to destroy the world to get into Indy into the  real NFL playoffs. I wouldn’t want to stand  in his way. Both of these receivers have a nose for the end zone, and Manning will go to them without hesitation. The only issue I have with them is that they could just as easily have one catch for 7 yards and a touchdown as they could have five catches for 70 yards and three touchdowns.

Davone Bess, WR, Dolphins — Bess is very reliable as a PPR receiver as long as Chad Henne is the Dolphins’ quarterback, but his matchups are tougher than they look for the fantasy playoffs (Jets, Bills, Lions). I’d still consider starting him down the stretch if you need someone consistent, but as  a Marshall owner, I’m still hoping Marshall’s return will steal some of Bess’ thunder and production. Bess outperformed Marshall for a good part of this season, but the Dolphins best matchups in the playoffs (Bills, Lions) could become statement games for Marshall to prove trading for him was not a waste of the Dolphins’ draft picks–fingers crossed. Still, there could be scraps for Bess regardless of the matchup or Marshall’s contributions.

I dug deep for fantasy football advice all over the Web this week since I was trying to turn a dead but playoff-bound team (the one that just lost Frank Gore) into a fantasy zombie for Weeks 14-16. Now 21 waiver wire claims later, I feel pretty good about the team.

Below is my compiled list of waiver wire pickup recommendations, fantasy football playoff advice, and matchup analysis. It’s all worth a read if you have the time, but pay special attention the analysis previewing playoff potential and which players are getting hot at the right time, especially Fantasy O Matic’s look at defensive trends over the last five weeks, which I found especially interesting. H/T to FF Librarian for bringing it to my attention.

  • If you’re looking for something along the lines of an add/drop for the fantasy playoffs, SI’s Fire Sale column by Thomas Casale is it. It’s a great read, and you know I believe in Alexander’s and Bennett’s potential. It also may be time, as Casale notes, to give up on Vincent Jackson. He’ll miss two games, which puts him back to Week 15 as an effective start, and that’s assuming that his injury will heal right back to 100 percent. There are too many targets in San Diego, but if you have the room to keep him on your bench and wait, you might as well see what you have in him.
  • The FF Geek Blog hammers out another spreadsheet this week that lists more quarterbacks than most of the other waiver wire posts I’ve seen. If you’re in need of a playoff passer, take a look at their thoughts.
  • FF Toolbox touches on several of the big name adds, but I imagine most of these guys are taken in competitive leagues.
  • I think he sells a few of these guys short, but Lester’s Legends offers up his Get ‘em or Don’t Sweat ‘em for Week 13.
  • I like everyone Fanhouse and The Hazean tout as an add this week.
  • You’ll always find great links from the Fantasy Football Librarian.
  • NFL.com has some risky quarterback adds but, otherwise, presents a solid lineup of pickups.
  • Hatty Waiver Wire Guru talks through the week’s top pickups and players to watch if you’re still left wanting.
  • To think, last week I almost dropped Jay Cutler, and this week, he’s among the top adds on the waiver wire at Razzball. Glad I didn’t make that mistake.
  • I doubt most of SI’s “Decision Time” players for Week 13 are on the waiver wire, but a few like Jonathan Stewart might be available. Get them on your roster if you’re still trying to make the playoffs this week. SI’s waiver wire column also has some names to target.
  • Be aware that those “Points Against” rankings you’ve been looking at all season may not tell the whole picture. Fantasy O Matic broke down the defensive performances over the past five weeks and compared it to the season-long rankings to give a more accurate picture of who should flourish and who should suffer in the fantasy playoffs. It’s a must read for anyone playoff bound alongside their previous post on the best playoff matchups.
  • Rotoworld’s Chris Wesseling loves him some Westbrook this week and believes he’s capable of RB2 numbers the rest of the way. I missed out on Westbrook, so I’ll have to hope Dixon gets a piece of that.
  • The Fifth Down thinks Sam Bradford is ripe enough to start. I can’t really disagree with them this week as he faces the Cardinals.
  • Matthew Berry, ESPN’s TMR, pays tribute to Leslie Nielsen and plays back all the pickups he’s recommended over the last several weeks as well as the new guys like Westbrook and James Davis.
  • Pro Football Focus runs down all the hot prospects down to the sleepers and ones to watch the rest of this season.
  • The Scores Report may have covered every player that’s out there on waivers right now. Impressive.

Believe it or not, Peyton Hillis is the Juggernaut and More Scoring Leaders from Week 12

I believe it was Andrew Garda who started the #Juggernaut campaign for the Peyton Hillis’ nickname. Once again, it held true this week as Hillis ran over the Panthers for three touchdowns in brutal fashion. Nothing stops that guy. Nothing.

The proof of how great a nickname this is for Hillis is in the Wikipedia:

A juggernaut is a term used in the English language to describe a literal or metaphorical force regarded as unstoppable. It is often applied to a large machine or collectively to a team or group of people working together, or a growing political movement led by a charismatic leader, and often bears association with crushing or being physically destructive.

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Peyton Hillis, RB, Browns: 131 rushing yards and 3 TDs, 6 catches for 63 yards vs. Panthers

Hillis crushed it in the first half of this one, and he didn’t have to do much the rest of the game to keep his fantasy owners happy. If you have Hillis, rejoice. If you don’t, well, at least you’re not Josh McDaniels. Not even a fantasy novice would trade Hillis for Brady Quinn. Complete fail there, Joshy Boy.

Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs: 13 catches for 170 yards and 3 TDs vs. Seahawks

Bowe does. That’s the only thing I can say at this point. Just like those DROID commercials, Bowe DOES. He’s getting open against even stingy opponents (this one, for the record, not so stingy) thanks to the powerful run game that the Chiefs have put together. There’s no reason not to start him the rest of the way. I’m just as shocked as you are. I honestly didn’t think he, or Cassel, had it in him.

Tom Brady, QB, Patriots: 341 passing yards, 4 TDs, 1 rushing yard vs. Lions

Brady put together one of those classic Brady games against the Lions on Thanksgiving. He made all the throws and had a fire raging inside of him both on and off the field. The offense is certainly clicking, but remember: this was the Lions. I don’t know if Brady will be able to produce these stats against the Jets, Bears, and Packers in the next three weeks. But if he gets you to the championship, he faces the Bills.

Matt Cassel, QB, Chiefs: 233 passing yards, 4 TDs, 28 rushing yards vs. Seahawks

Cassel lucked out when Bowe broke out this season. He should have continued to look overpaid and overstarted, but instead, he’s putting up multiple touchdown games like he’s the less mobile Michael Vick. Will you ride him into the playoffs? Other than the Chargers in Week 14…it seems reasonable to expect you can.

Jay Cutler, QB, Bears: 247 passing yards, 4 TDs, 17 rushing yards vs. Eagles

Now THIS Is the Cutler I drafted, ladies and gentlemen. This week he gets the Lions, and I expect this streak to continue. If he could just start blowing people away like I thought he would all season, that’d be great, especially since I just lost Frank Gore.

Sam Bradford, QB, Rams: 308 passing yards, 3 TDs vs. Broncos

The rookie finally reached great heights, 300+ passing yards, even though it was just barely 300 passing yards. And there should really be a deduction when all the scores go to tight ends. Do you know what a wide receiver is Sam Bradford? Those things that can’t stay healthy for you. Well, there ARE still more on your team.

The rookie’s got a pretty nice schedule the rest of the way, if you’re daring enough to believe that this Week 12 performance was the start of his rise. I think this is a spike in his production, but it could carry over into Week 13 against the Cardinals.

Fred Jackson, RB, Bills: 59 rushing yards, 5 catches for 104 yards and 1 TD

Matchup proof? Just maybe. He was phenomenal when he last held the starting gig down in Buffalo, and he made it work this week against the Steelers rough defense. He’ll be tested further against a rejuvenated Vikings’ defense, the Browns, and the Dolphins. But if he’s the guy you have to lean on, I think you can count on consistent, if not spectacular, production.

Maurice Morris, RB, Lions: 55 rushing yards and 2 TDs, 5 catches for 20 yards vs. Patriots

Best really is done for the season, and Morris showed us what a healthy back can do in this offense. He was delivered to the goal line twice by the Lions offense and took advantage with his two scores. But now he’s really done for the year. There’s nothing pretty about the rest of his schedule.

Mike Goodson, RB, 55 rushing yards and 1 TD, 8 catches for 81 yards vs. Browns

The lone bright spot in this offense in recent weeks, Goodson looks like a future star. He shared time with The Daily Show John Stewart this week, but he should not lose more carries than he has already to the fellow runner. Goodson’s earning his spot for 2011, when DeAngelo Williams will probably be out-of-town. He’s not a bad start against the Seahawks in Week 13.

Deion Branch, WR, Patriots: 3 catches for 113 yards and 2 TDs vs. Lions

Branch’s precise routes and nose for the end zone made the Lions secondary, and especially Alphonso Smith, just look baaaad. Too bad you’ll never know which Patriots wide receiver not named Wes Welker is going to show up in the stats column in any given week.

Jacoby Ford, WR, Raiders: 13 rushing yards, 4 catches for 108 yards and 1 TD, 1 return TD vs. Dolphins

Ford looks like the only wide receiver worth trusting in Oakland. He had these numbers with Gradkowski at quarterback, but he have Campbell for the rest of the season. That’s still good news since Campbell was the one who “found” him a few weeks ago, but the Raiders would prefer to keep the ball on the ground if McFadden gets back to action. He still might because the Oakland schedule is pretty nice in Weeks 14-16.

Ben Obomanu, WR, Seahawks: 5 catches for 159 yards and 1 TD vs. Chiefs

The Chiefs were missing their best corner and let Obo break loose for a long score late in this one. Otherwise, his fantasy points wouldn’t have been nearly as generous. Still, he’s got significant value as long as Big Mike Williams is sidelined and retains some value even after he returns. It looks like Williams will be back for Week 13.

Earl Bennett, WR, Bears: 4 catches for 56 yards and 2 TDs vs. Eagles

Is this chemistry between the two former Vandy stars? Cutler sought out Bennett twice by the goal line, and while we can’t say it’s going to continue, Bennett isn’t a bad grab as the second wide receiver in this offense that finally seems to be clicking.

Billy Bajema, TE, Rams: 3 catches for 32 yards and 2 TDs vs. Broncos

Bradford loved his tight ends on Sunday, but Bajema is no great talent. He’s the only tight end in St. Louis with Hoomanawanui sidelined, but I still wouldn’t trust him in the fantasy playoffs.

Nate Kaeding, K, Chargers: 5/5 on field goals and 3 XPs vs. Colts

Not a bad game back for the recovering kicker. If your team is getting held back by a sub-par kicker, go snag Kaeding now that he’s back in action.

On defenses: The Chargers D/ST feasted on Peyton Manning’s interceptions in this one as he uncharacteristically turned the ball over a whopping four times. Don’t expect it to be so easy the rest of the season, but the Chargers D/ST has certainly come on at the right time for fantasy owners.

On productive Bills wideouts: Steve Johnson was not a winner on this list in Week 12, but I expect him to bounce back. As long as God doesn’t smite him for calling him out on Twitter, that is.

Martz be crazy: Why you should draft your Bears this season

As we await the Chicago Bears debut tonight in preseason action, I can’t wait to see if their little offseason experiment worked.

When it comes to offense, Mike Martz is a kamikaze. His “leap of faith” system is as likely to blow up on a game-by-game basis as it is to succeed. While respected at first for his work in St. Louis, in recent years, NFL coaches seem to feel that bringing him in to run an offense is the equivalent of waving a white flag, a last-ditch effort to get their teams on the scoreboard.

Still, Martz’s system shows results. He built the “Greatest Show on Turf,” revived the Detroit Lions passing attack with Jon Kitna, and made J.T. O’ Sullivan fantasy relevant for a time in San Francisco. But one thing he hasn’t had to work with since his days with Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger in St. Louis is a true franchise quarterback.

Why, hello there Jay Cutler. Whatever you think of the shruggy Vanderbilt product, Cutler has an arm, and he’s shown the characteristics of a franchise quarterback in Denver. Granted, he no longer has a true No. 1 receiver like Brandon Marshall to throw to now that he’s in Chicago, but don’t count out Devin Hester and Johnny Knox just yet.

Quick receivers who can get to their spots on time are all an offense like Martz’s really needs, and if you believe in the third year breakout for wide receivers and Hester’s quotes, Hester’s ready to make it big. But you don’t have to take his word for it.

Cutler has bought into Martz’s quarterback-friendly system. So even though we can’t expect Cutler’s interceptions to be drastically reduced when he starts firing passes before receivers are even in place, he should do some serious damage in the passing game–the good kind of damage.

Cutler threw a career high 26 interceptions last season pre-Martz, but he also threw a career high 27 touchdowns. His offensive line wasn’t doing him any favors last year either.

With Martz and a new offensive line coach in Mike Tice, Cutler may excel in the W column and fantasy point columns again just like he did in Denver.

So when it comes to drafting Cutler, I’m all for it. He’s currently going early in the seventh round as the No. 9 overall quarterback, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. While I’m okay with him there as a late starting QB1, I think I’d really love him as a QB2 behind an elite quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, Matt Schaub, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, or Tony Romo.

If he has a huge season, you can start him and trade away your elite guy or just trade Cutler for a high-performing running back to make your championship run.

And without having to rely on him completely as your QB1, you can play the ups and downs that are likely to strike the Bears this season. I expect there will be some growing pains in learning Martz’s system and putting it into action each week.

As for the wide receivers, there’s plenty of speculation out there about how to value them. Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Devin Aromashodu, and Earl Bennett could all see time on the field.

This offseason, the early favorite has been Devin Aromashodu, the tallest Bears wide receiver who came on strong at the end of 2009 and scored four touchdowns. But Aromashodu’s sleeper hype has him overvalued now. He’s being drafted before both Hester and Knox, and that just doesn’t make sense.

I’d much rather draft Hester, the forgotten man in this offense who was holding down the No. 1 role until late in 2009, or Knox, the rookie who picked up the offense and caught Cutler’s eye last season.

Hester worked in the offseason with Isaac Bruce to learn what he could from the Martz-made veteran wide receiver, and I think he’ll be ready to play come Week 1 like a top wideout, rather than just as a converted special teamer.

Now don’t get me wrong, Aromashodu shouldn’t be overlooked. He could play a big part in the red zone, but I just don’t think he’s worth a pick in the eighth round when you can get Hester in the tenth.

Martz isn’t really known for increasing the role of the running back in his offenses, but he has two skilled pass catchers in Matt Forte and Chester Taylor. Forte seems more like his old self now that he’s recovered from 2009’s injuries. Maybe we all just expected too much of him when we launched him into the first round rankings last season.

With injuries, a new quarterback, and a questionable offensive line, it was hard to live up to the hype around his impressive rookie season. This season, he could turn things around, especially if Martz makes him a big part of the offense. Even though Martz isn’t known for making running backs better, he certainly doesn’t neglect them.

Chester Taylor will take some of the work out of Forte’s hands, but that could be a good thing. Forte wore down late in his rookie season when he was carrying the full load, and as long as he gets to take the carries near the goal line, sharing might be caring for Forte. I can learn to love a timeshare that allows Forte to go full speed all season and keeps him free of injuries.

So think about Forte in the fourth round before you start looking at running backs who have the lesser half of a timeshare situation.

The one position we can’t predict with Martz is tight end. Greg Olsen is a star at the position, but Martz has traditionally left tight ends to block at the line while the receivers steal the show. Time will tell if Olsen can sway him. I am not taking that chance in my drafts right now.

So in short, don’t overlook your Bears this season. I expect to see some significant improvements in the passing game, and as late as Jay Cutler and Hester are being drafted, they’re definitely worth a look.

On the Wire: Week 2 Pickups and Sleepers

Welcome to the first edition of our in-season “On the Wire” spectacular, coming to you every week from the sadness of your own heart. If you’re players are underperforming or injured, we’re here to pick you up for the low, low price of four installments of free.

We’ll keep it short and simple — listing a few players each week who could upgrade your team and a few sleepers who might perform well in the next week. If you like what you see, go get them on your waiver wire, and if there’s anyone else you are considering picking up for your fantasy squad, bring him up in the discussion in the comments below.

Here are a few potential fantasy free agents who could help your team this week:

Mike Bell, RB, New Orleans Saints: He’ll have a rough time this week against the Eagles, but as long as Pierre Thomas is out, he’ll get the bulk of the Saints workload.

Cadillac Williams, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: His knees seem better now, but what the hell did they put in there? He looked stronger than ever and bionic on Sunday. He’ll share time with Derrick Ward, but he’s a decent RB3 to consider at this point.

Michael Bush, RB, Oakland Raiders: Bush will be a short-yardage, goal line back for the Raiders, a team who will run the ball plenty this year. When he spells Darren McFadden, he could also be spelling your fantasy team.

Earl Bennett, WR, Chicago Bears: In his second season with the Bears, he’s finally emerging as a possession receiver for Jay Cutler.

Davone Bess, WR, Miami Dolphins: The receiver-by-rotation model the Dolphins are using makes him a risky pickup, but Bess was the Dolphins’ leading receiver this weekend. If that moves him up the Dolphins’ depth chart, he’ll continue to have value in PPR leagues, but he’s unlikely to score a lot of touchdowns.

Pierre Garcon, WR, Indianapolis Colts: If not Garcon, it’s Austin Collie, but whoever fills in for Anthony Gonzalez will have value and will face Miami this weekend.

Laurent Robinson, WR, St. Louis Rams: So they do have someone besides Donnie Avery? Robinson was a sleeper back when he was with the Falcons, but he has finally caught on in St. Louis. They could use the help.

Steve Smith, WR, New York Giants: If undrafted, the other Steve Smith could be a stud in PPR leagues this season as Eli Manning’s No. 1 guy.

Percy Harvin, WR, Minnesota Vikings: Looks like they’ll use him in this offense. You could, too. Harvin’s explosive and could be Brett Favre’s new Chansi Stuckey.

John Carlson, TE, Seattle Seahawks: If no one in your league drafted him this year — probably unlikely — you should correct that. He’s a young tight end who should be one of the top two targets in the Seattle offense, and he’s a great red zone option for Matt Hasselbeck. His two-touchdown performance on Sunday could be repeated against other NFC West opponents throughout the season.

Jeremy Shockey, TE, New Orleans Saints: Don’t expect him to do that every week, but Shockey could be a solid tight end for you this season if your current guy was disappointing in the first week.

Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets: He won’t win you any games, but Sanchez could be a Joe Flacco-like rookie quarterback this season if the Jets continue to dominate Baltimore-style. He has potential as a backup.

Chaz Schilens, WR, Oakland Raiders: Write this one down. Schilens is out right now with a broken foot, but upon his return, he should be the No. 1 in Oakland, where JaMarcus Russell seems able and willing to make big plays. Louis Murphy stood out last night, but Schilens could easily take over that role very soon. Consider this one a longer-term investment.

Washington Redskins, D/ST: St. Louis meets Albert Haynesworth this week. Who wants a Bulger sandwich? How about a pancake?

For more pickups this week, check out FF Toolbox, The Fantasy Football Geek Blog and FF Report.

Foolish Thoughts: Broncos, Bills and Bears! Bowe, my!

Let’s be honest. You can’t believe anything you hear in the preseason.

Head coaches sound more like head cheerleaders. Rookies will all become superstars. Offensive coordinators experiment with plays that could radically change their offense for the better, and trainers expect everyone back at full speed by the first week of the regular season. It just doesn’t get any better.

By September, we’ll all forget we drank this much Kool-Aid, but after one week of the preseason, there are a few story lines worth following.

Jay Cutler finds targets in Chicago

Cutler’s move to Chicago this offseason took him down a few notches in the fantasy ranks due to a belief that the Bears just didn’t have the receivers to support his arm. Devin Hester is still a work-in-progress despite his nice season last year as the Bears’ leading receiver, and rookie Earl Bennett, now slated to start, hasn’t ever seen the field in the regular season.

Cutler certainly has the arm to do many things well for Chicago, things Neckbeard and Rexy could never do consistently, but this preseason will be important in determining how high he can climb up the quarterback ranks. It wouldn’t surprise me if Hester, Bennett and tight end Greg Olsen outperformed expectations, but they will have to prove it on the field.

As a former college teammate, Earl Bennett seems to be on the same page as Cutler this preseason, and Hester can get behind the defense in a hurry as long as Cutler can get him the ball.

Rusty in their first preseason appearance, in which Cutler put some of the blame for an interception on Hester, the Chicago Bears face the Giants this weekend. A good showing from Cutler could prove he is worth consideration as a starter this season.

Denver lost with Josh McDaniels

Left in the wake of the Cutler saga, Denver isn’t very happy with their new quarterback. Kyle Orton is basically just the consolation prize from Josh McDaniels’ botched talks with Jay Cutler this offseason. Neckbeard won’t get much slack if he can’t prove his ability in the Broncos’ new system.

Orton’s first showing could have gone much better, and it might not be long before we see Chris Simms getting a shot at the starting job.

The real story to watch here is the Broncos’ receivers, Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal. Marshall’s got plenty to prove on his own, but neither fantasy stud from last season can do much without a quarterback to get them the ball.

If the Broncos still don’t impress in their second game against the Seahawks, it’s time to get worried.

Bills don’t need no stinkin’ huddle

Trent Edwards is another quarterback who could make a jump into the starting-worthy category this season. The Buffalo Bills are experimenting with a no-huddle offense to take advantage of their two explosive receivers, Lee Evans and Terrell Owens, and minimize the problems associated with having no offensive line. Really, they got nothing there.

The new offense hadn’t quite come together when the Bills faced the Titans in the Hall of Fame game, but Edwards was perfect in his second game and completed all 10 of his passes for 79 yards. If that progress continues, he’s worth considering at the top of the backup quarterback pile — at least until it gets cold in Buffalo.

T.O. sat out the Bills’ second game with a bad toe, but if he can return and prove effective in this offense, he’ll remove many concerns about whether things will work this season in Buffalo.

Who’s Chief in Kansas City?

I generally don’t enjoy watching the Kansas City Chiefs play football, but with Todd Haley running the show, they could become a fantasy receiver factory.

The big story out of preseason is Dwayne Bowe’s demotion to the third team. He’s definitely in Haley’s doghouse for showing up this offseason out of shape, but he’s lost weight and was the best receiver on the field in the first preseason game. If he regains his role as the No. 1, he could be the most targeted receiver in the NFL this season.

I don’t love Matt Cassel or Dwayne Bowe because I fear that Kansas City will fall short of expectations this season on offense, but in a PPR league, Bowe could be a huge weapon. We’ll see the Chiefs try out their new offense against the Vikings this Friday, and perhaps Bowe will be back on top by then.

What are you looking for this preseason? As always, the comments are yours.

Six Well-Received Dynasty Wide Receivers for 2009 Sleepers and Keepers

We started our dynasty talk with a look at the quarterbacks on benches you may have forgotten as the NFL draft approaches, but now it’s time to refresh your memory about a few receivers that could be valuable for keeper leagues and dynasty leagues. Some even have a shot at fantasy stardom in 2009.

Demetrius Williams – Baltimore Ravens
Despite his flashes as a playmaker since joining the Ravens in 2006, Demetrius Williams hasn’t stayed healthy enough to earn his way out of the slot receiver role in Baltimore. Just as he emerged in 2009 with a 70-yard touchdown grab against the Raiders, Williams had to be shut down for surgery on a bone spur that had limited him all season. The Ravens need to get younger — and better — targets for Joe Flacco, and Williams could be the guy to stretch the field for Flacco in 2009 even if Baltimore addresses the position in the draft.

Lavelle Hawkins – Tennessee Titans
Hawkins was supposed to be the answer to Tennessee fans’ prayers when he was drafted last season even though he wasn’t a first-round receiver selection as many had hoped. Though he outshined college teammate DeSean Jackson in the stats department during his last season at California, he spent his rookie season in the shadows while Jackson played his way into a starting role with the Eagles. To his credit, Hawkins struggled to master the Titan’s playbook with all the distractions and challenges of being a rookie in the NFL. In his second season, he’d prefer that his teammates hold the mayo. With Justin McCareins now a free agent, Hawkins could bring a much-needed infusion of young talent to the passing game for Tennessee opposite newly acquired Nate Washington or Justin Gage.

Earl Bennett – Chicago Bears
Much like Hawkins, many Chicago fans jumped aboard the Bennett train expecting him to contribute early and often in a season where Chicago had no receivers to brag about on their starting roster. Bennett must have missed the memo. In 2009, he finds himself in a very intriguing situation with his former college quarterback, Jay Cutler, in town. Cutler could easily make his favorite target from Vandy into a standout in this offense, so watch for Bennett to find his way into the third receiver role or even the No. 2 spot beside Devin Hester if he can make the jump with this offense.

Mario Manningham – New York Giants
As disappointing as his entrance to the NFL was, Manningham has done a whole lot of nothing on the Giants roster so far. The release of Plaxico Burress and departure of Amani Toomer this offseason will give each of the Giants’ young receivers a chance to climb the depth chart. With Steve Smith quickly becoming Eli Manning’s most trusted target, the Giants would love to see Manningham prove his draft stock and push Domenik Hixon, the No. 1 receiver replacement-of-the-moment. Maybe he can defy that 6 on the Wonderlic and grasp the playbook a little sooner than expected.

Davone Bess – Miami Dolphins
His troubled past in college at Oregon State didn’t stop Hawaii recruiters from picking up on Bess’ talents, and despite going undrafted, he still made the Dolphins roster in 2008. When Greg Camarillo went down with an injury, Bess filled his role as Chad Pennington’s most reliable wide receiver, and Bess finished the season with more receptions than all but two rookies, Eddie Royal and DeSean Jackson. With Camarillo returning from his injury, Bess may find himself back in the slot receiver role, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Pennington looked Bess’ way a little more often in 2009.

Mike Walker – Jacksonville Jaguars
While Matt Jones caught most of the nose candy praise and passes in 2008, David Garrard showed that he had a lot of faith in Mike Walker by looking to him to make a big play when they needed it. If Walker can stay healthy in 2009, he might be a big factor now that Jones and Jerry Porter are out of town. His only major competition for the most looks in Jacksonville is an aging Torry Holt unless the Jaguars take a receiver early in the draft.

And if crazy things happen…

Brad Smith / David Clowney – New York Jets
Without Laveranues Coles, the Jets have a hole opposite Jerricho Cotchery. Chansi Stuckey appears to be at the top of the depth chart, but Brad Smith and David Clowney are two of the lesser-known and possibly more promising wide receivers in the Jets’ arsenal. Smith has talents as both a quarterback and receiver, and Clowney sat out most of 2008 with a broken collarbone after blowing up in the preseason. If either takes hold of No. 2 spot or slot position for whichever quarterback steps into the pocket for the Jets, they stand a chance of becoming a household name. Clowney, in my opinion, is currently the more intriguing of the two.

Early Doucet – Arizona Cardinals
It would take an Anquan Boldin trade for Doucet to become relevant, but the coaching staff praised him and his ability after drafting him just last year. Even though Steve Breaston is ahead of him on the depth chart, it’s a proven fact that the Cardinals passing game produces numbers for everyone who gets involved. Watch for Doucet to earn his spot as the No. 3 receiver if any draft-day deals move Boldin from the sunny desert of Arizona.

Steve Johnson – Buffalo Bills
Unfortunately for Steve, who looked promising in the short time he played near the end of 2008, the Terrell Owens signing in Buffalo limits his potential for at least the 2009 season. Second-round selection James Hardy still sits ahead of him on the Bills’ depth chart, and Johnson will be lucky to lock down the fifth receiver spot behind Lee Evans, Owens, Josh Reed and Hardy if Roscoe Parrish stays in Buffalo. He’s still worth keeping an eye on, but it would take some roster moves for Johnson to make an impact anytime soon.