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In The Middle
Players To Target Midway Through Your Fantasy Draft

It’s the time of a fantasy draft when owners roll up their sleeves, slide to the edge of their seats and scan their cheat sheets with laser precision. It’s when the prepared owners separate themselves from the also-rans. It’s the middle of a fantasy draft, and perhaps there’s no time more fun during the entire football season than this. The beer is flowing, the pizza is being devoured and snickers or all-out laughter is heard after head-scratching draft picks. This is the time when the well-informed make the bold draft choices that add validity to their roster. Are you the well-informed or the also-ran? The list below should help you be part of the former and not the latter.
  1. Greg Olsen, TE CHI – Mark this down: Greg Olson will be one of the top two TEs by year’s end. QB Jay Cutler arrives in Chicago with one receiver who’s still learning the nuances of the position (Devin Hester), another receiver better suited to be an NFL team’s #4 pass catcher (Rashied Davis), and a receiver who did nothing in 2008 (Earl Bennett). Suffice it say, the need for a receiving threat in the Windy City is dire.

    Enter Greg Olson. The third year TE showed vast improvement last year over 2007. He finished last season with a total of 20 catches and 3 TDs over the last four games. With a better QB under center, the dearth of talent on the outside for the Bears, and a better feel for the NFL game, Olsen is primed to pick up where he left off. His speed and athleticism will cause mismatches all season long, and Cutler will have Olsen in his crosshairs from week 1 forward. The third year TE could finish with 80 catches and 6 - 8 TDs.

    Trent Edwards

    Trent Edwards: Will surprise in 2009.

  2. Trent Edwards, QB BUF – Perhaps no player in the NFL benefits more from the addition of a new teammate than Trent Edwards does with the arrival of Terrell Owens in Buffalo. Edwards was pedestrian at best last year, throwing just as many TDs (11) as interceptions (10). And during the 24 games in which he’s played over the past two seasons, he’s only thrown for multiple TDs in a game three times. So on the surface, Edwards is a bottom-feeder in fantasy QB terms. But T.O.’s arrival in Buffalo catapults Edwards’ stock tremendously and gives the third year signal caller a viable weapon alongside Lee Evans.

    T.O.’s first year with a new team has been well documented. He’s blown up the spot with incredible production, and there’s no reason to bDamoneve he won’t do the same in Buffalo. The young and presumably impressionable Edwards will look to Owens early and often in an attempt to ensure the mercurial WR receives the attention he wants. Edwards will surprise in 2009 while more than doubling his TD output from last year.

  3. Ben Roethlisberger, QB PIT – Ben Roethlisberger entered 2008 a hot QB commodity after a sizzling 2007 season in which he threw for a career high 32 TDs. Somehow along the way during last season, Big Ben’s numbers plummeted from those 32 TDs to 18, and his interceptions more than doubled, from 11 to 23—all of this despite throwing 14 more completions from 2007 to 2008. Due to his struggles last year, Roethlisberger’s value is much lower than 12 months ago, and consequently he should be available several rounds later than 2008.

    One may look at the 46 sacks from last year as the reason why he struggled. But he was sacked 47 times during his career-best season of 2007. So why the problems last year? Injuries at the RB position? Big Ben taking more chances with the ball? Struggles at the WR position? All of those things may be true, but regardless of the reason, Roethlisberger can be had on the cheap in 2009 and should be a suitable back-up. His RBs will be healthy, Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes is primed for a breakout season, and maybe—just maybe—Big Ben can return to his 2007 form. More realistically, however, is Roethlisberger falling between what he did in 2007 and 2008. If that materializes, you’ve got yourself a fantastic #2 QB.

  4. FDamonx Jones, RB DAL – The former Arkansas Razorback displayed a stunning display of athletic talent last year during the six games in which he played. Unfortunately, a toe injury sidDamonned him for the season, but he showed enough to warrant significant playing time in 2009. How much, though, remains to be seen. But how can the Dallas coaches ignore 8.9 yards per carry, or the average of his TD runs being 35 yards, or the vision and patience he displayed on kickoff returns? The short answer: they can’t. And they won’t. He is simply a big play waiting to happen.

    Now, the challenge will be handling those games in which he does little, thanks to limited opportunities. But with the way in which I envision the Cowboys utilizing him, coupled with the always-present threat of Marion Barber getting injured due to his rugged style, Jones will pick up where he left off in 2008. I’ve read material from others who indicated that Tashard Choice’s performance late last year may muddy the waters in Dallas’ backfield even more, but neither Choice nor Barber possess the open field skill set that Jones does. At the absolute least, Jones is a MUST handcuff for those who select Barber. But even without Barber on your roster, Jones will add quality depth to your team.

  5. Braylon Edwards, WR CLE – I’ll admit. I’m a bit biased when it comes to Braylon Edwards. He lived across the street from me in Detroit during his high school and University of Michigan days, so I quietly root for him. But that’s not why he’s on the list. This is a watershed year for Edwards. He’s the unquestioned leader of the receiving corp now that Kellen Winslow resides in Tampa. Although the Browns drafted WRs Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi, Edwards remains the elder statesman of the bunch and, in fact, is the most experienced receiver on the roster. Plus he’s a free agent at year’s end.

    Edwards led the league in drops in 2008, and he’s battling a non-football injury in training camp. His QB situation is rocky and there’s no other WR on the team of any significance to take attention off of him. While others may see all of those facts as reasons to shy away, I don’t. His value hasn’t been this low since his rookie season, so he can be had dirt-cheap this year. Target Edwards as a WR3.

  6. Laveranues Coles, WR CIN – The Cincinnati Bengals replaced one possession receiver (TJ Houshmandzadeh) with another in Laveranues Coles. While Coles isn’t as physical as Houshmandzadeh, he brings the same level of precise underneath route running and the sure-handed receiving skills that made Houshmandzadeh Palmer’s #1 option on most pass plays. Coles has never been a TD machine, but he should be a beast in PPR leagues. Carson Palmer is now healthy, and for my money Coles will be the biggest beneficiary of his return.

    Much like Brett Favre’s arrival in New York last year, Coles’ production should hit his career bests. He finished 2008 with only 70 catches for 850 yards, but his seven TDs matched his highest output. That’s what Palmer’s return to the line-up will do for Coles. Plus, nowadays when a receiver plays opposite Ochocinco—a player who at times seems more interested in marketing himself than bettering his game—he tends to get the lion’s share of Palmer’s attention. Such is the case with Coles in 2009. Expect a boatload of catches with 7 to 9 scores.

    Donnie Avery

    Donnie Avery: The last hope.

  7. Donnie Avery, WR STL – One look at the dwindling skill position talent in St. Louis makes most fantasy owners throw up in their mouth. The Rams’ front office hasn’t done a very good job replacing receiver stalwarts Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. The Drew Bennett and Dane Looker experiments didn’t pan out, so Donnie Avery is essentially the Rams’ last vestige of hope regarding production from the wide out position. It became obvious last season that former St. Louis receiver Torry Holt had lost a step, but Avery showed fantasy owners and the NFL world that he is capable of being a go-to guy.

    I’ve seen several mock drafts online that had Avery drafted as a #4 WR. That’s stealing. Sure St. Louis has a struggling QB and bare cupboards regarding skill position players outside of Avery and RB Steven Jackson, but Avery is the #1 receiver on his team, which should garner enough attention by itself. With a year under his belt, he should show marked improvement from his rookie campaign. He will have inconsistent production week to week to be sure, but having Avery on your team will not be a detriment.

  8. Cedric Benson, RB CIN – Cedric Benson a mid-round target? You bet. I know it’s tough for most fantasy owners to get the stench of Benson’s stay in Chicago out of the air, but he was serviceable in stretches last year while on a team that couldn’t get out of its own way offensively. Eleven passing TDs and six rushing TDs for the season are all one needs to know regarding the limitations of the Bengals’ offense in 2008. Cincy made a concerted effort to fortify its O-line, Chad Ochocinco says he has a renewed love for the game, and QB Carson Palmer returns after missing three-quarters of last year.

    These are all reasons to keep Benson on your radar as a RB3. Palmer will be the best QB Benson has ever played with, so I’m curious to see how well he fares when for the first time in his NFL career defenses won’t stack the line of scrimmage while ignoring the threat of the pass. Benson is nonexistent in the passing game, so don’t expect much there. But he is in line for 18-22 carries per game and there’s little threat of a RBBC.

  9. LeSean McCoy, RB PHI – Honestly, LeSean McCoy’s presence on this list has more to do with his teammate Brian Westbrook that it does the rookie from Pittsburgh. Westbrook battled injuries on and off last year, frustrating his owners (myself included) in the process. Sensing the continued brittleness of its multi-dimensional RB, Philadelphia selected the Westbrook-like McCoy in the second round of this year’s NFL draft. His skill set and his body type are similar to Westbrook’s—shifty and elusive, with deceptive speed and excellent pass catching ability.

    McCoy will get on the field if Westbrook gets injured or not. Westbrook turns 30 before the season starts, plus he had knee and ankle surgery during the off season. Those are enough red flags for me to grab his back-up—even if I don’t draft Westbrook. The Eagles are a pass first, pass often offense that utilizes their RBs in all aspects of the game. That bodes well for McCoy, who at the very least could get 8-10 touches a game.