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.

On the Wire: Quick Week 1 Pickups and Sleepers

It’s time…

I’m almost giddy now that I can finally write up a few sleeper grabs that may have gone undrafted in your leagues this season. In less than 24 hours, the 2009 NFL season will be upon us. Are you ready? Probably not, but that’s why you’re doing your homework. Consider this your Week 1 bailout.

For the sake of being more easily absorbed in this 24/7, twittered news cycle, I’m tightening up the weekly “On the Wire” and making it a little more rapid fire — less bulky. If you don’t find what you crave in this handful of player mentions, leave a comment, and we’ll discuss. That’s what we’re here to do.

Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens
If no one drafted Ray Rice in your league, you should go pick him up immediately. Actually, first, you should slap yourself, and then you can go get Ray Rice off that waiver wire. Rice was a popular sleeper pick in the offseason, but he’s been climbing up draft boards all preseason, especially now that he’s officially the Ravens’ starting running back.

Anyone who hasn’t either missed their chance to draft him or secured him on their team’s roster needs to dust off the fantasy cobwebs and wake up before he does — probably this weekend against an incredibly bad Kansas City defense.

Fred Jackson, RB, Buffalo Bills
For three weeks, Jackson will be the feature back of the Buffalo Bills offense while Marshawn Lynch serves his suspension. The Bills let Dominic Rhodes go just days before the season and confirmed their confidence in Jackson’s abilities.

Whether you own Lynch or not, Jackson’s worthy of a roster spot until Week 4.

Chris Henry, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Another of my favorite sleepers this preseason, the troubled young wide receiver is back with the Bengals and seems to be on the right track legally. Henry caught touchdown bombs in all four weeks of the preseason, even while Carson Palmer was out. I’d say that’s a good sign of things to come with Palmer healthy — at least for now.

Get Henry on your team this week before he shows his skills against the Denver Broncos.

Mike Bell, RB, New Orleans Saints
If Pierre Thomas misses the Saints’ Week 1 showdown against the Detroit Lions, who has two thumbs and all the carries near the goal line? THIS GUY. (I’ll admit, that was bad, but you should try to do better.)

Peyton Hillis, RB, Denver Broncos
The other Peyton is a dark horse fantasy back in Denver this season. While Knowshon Moreno gets all the hype, the ladies and the knee injuries, Hillis is the guy who should end up running with the team in two-minute drills and when it counts.

He catches passes, he runs the ball effectively and he’s deceptively known as a fullback on the Broncos’ roster, but you should keep an eye or a roster spot on this rookie standout from 2008.

Shaun Hill, QB, San Francisco 49ers
If Matt Schaub or Kyle Orton is making you nervous, Hill could cure just what ails you. He was productive enough to deserve a few fantasy starts when he finished out the season for the 49ers.

Confirmed as the starting quarterback for 2009, he should take full advantage of all the opportunities exposed when defenses stack the box to stop Frank Gore. Expect Hill to step up this week against the potent Arizona attack.

That’s all for this week. No droppable players to discuss this week, but we’ll revisit next week once we’ve seen how disappointing our fantasy teams can be in real life.

As always, the comments are yours. Have a guy you’re thinking about adding to your roster? Need help at receiver or quarterback this week? Just ask.

How to Draft (or Not Draft) the Houston Texans Running Backs

My first draft of this article was just “AVOID THE HOUSTON RUNNING BACKS AT ALL COSTS. The end.”

While contemplating whether to put that in bold or change the text to some nice shade of red, I realized my very intelligent warning doesn’t help you much. Many people, through bad luck, absent-mindedness or sadistic desires, will be in need of a running back and have to choose between drafting a member of the Houston backfield at some point in their fantasy drafts or skipping over them.

While they’re not ideal roster grabs, the Houston running backs make a decent bye week fill for your fantasy team in a pinch and might even become a low-end starter. The only drawback is that they come as a pack.

Even though the most senior members of the backfield in Houston all have some kind of injury concern, there’s still some upside to be seen.

The Texans have brought in Alex Gibbs and his highly touted zone blocking expertise to put some fire in the running game this year and strengthen the offensive line. With his help, the running game could flourish.

Ahman Green is the big name and the supposed starter, but coming off a knee injury last season, he is likely to share a lot of carries with Chris Brown, the frequently injured former Tennessee Titan. Green is on what’s left of his last legs, and Brown has already been banged up in training camp.

Behind those two, the Texans have rookie Steve Slaton and the recently signed former Bronco Mike Bell.

Bell impressed enough in Denver’s zone-blocking system a couple of seasons ago to beat Tatum Bell for the starting job, but then again, that was Tatum Bell. With the same last name, smooth-as-leather Mike Shanahan might have just gotten them confused.

Despite being buried on the depth chart in Denver last season, Bell must have impressed his former coach at Denver, Gibbs, enough for Gibbs to bring him into Houston with a two-year contract. Like Chris Brown, Bell has had success in a zone running system, but it’s unclear where he fits in the depth chart now.

Rookie Steve Slaton has all the upside with the potential to take over Houston’s patched-together run game. Still, it might not be his year in 2008 unless the RBs are ravaged by injuries. Slaton would have to learn to pass block like a veteran–a necessity with Matt Schaub getting knocked around under center last season.

The two unknowns in the Houston backfield are Darius Walker and Chris Taylor.

Taylor got love in the offseason from the coaching staff, but had received similar praise last year before his season-ending injury. He hasn’t seen the field enough to earn a spot in the run game just yet, so don’t expect him to be a Ryan Grant this year. He is a super, SUPER sleeper–so sleeper he’s comatose.

Darius Walker filled in when needed last season but failed to blow anyone away. He bounced into the active roster from the practice squad last year only because of injuries to Chris Taylor and Ahman Green. He’ll probably bounce to the practice squad by the end of camp.

How do you play this one if you are in need of a running back late in your fantasy draft?
Treat the Houston RBs like Pokemon. You gotta catch ‘em all!

The good thing about the Texans running game is that it comes cheap. If you want another backup or, heaven forbid, need a second starter but waited too long, take both Ahman Green and Chris Brown somewhere near the 11th round or later. You will likely be able to draft both RBs as back-to-back picks and, at the very least, have a decent bye week filler between the two of them.

If you miss on Brown and Green or want a sleeper pick, take Steve Slaton late and sit on him. As injury prone as Chris Brown and Ahman Green tend to be, it wouldn’t surprise me if Slaton starts a game or two late in the season. Even if you don’t look at Green for your roster, Slaton’s probably worth a flier.

It’s a murky situation and difficult to predict this far out, but the Houston running backs still have some value.

In short, AVOID THE HOUSTON RUNNING BACKS AT ALL COSTS. Maybe that is the best way to say it.