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Diamonds In The Deep Rough

Fantasy Footballers are a fickle bunch. One off-season a player is a can’t-miss prospect or a future stud and year later that same player is trash, a loser, and has no fantasy value, whatsoever. Here is where the smart dynasty owner who doesn’t necessarily follow the “What Have You Done for Me Lately” philosophy of assessing a player’s talent and potential can swoop in and land a bargain. Here are six players one can land either via trade from a disgruntled owner at a bargain price, or in the later rounds of one’s initial dynasty draft. I believe their true value is higher than their perceived value. Down the road, some of these hidden gems may help you bring home the crown in your fantasy league—perhaps even as soon as 2007.


J.P. Losman: Losman enters his fourth NFL season looking to build on a mildly successful 2006. He showed noticeable improvement over a rocky 2005 when he was benched for journeyman Kelly Holcomb. However, his numbers were not eye-popping and the fact that Buffalo drafted Trent Edwards in Round 3 of the NFL draft will keep his stock down in dynasty circles. Losman certainly has “chutzpah” (cockiness for my non- Yiddish speaking friends). The guy does not lack confidence and I feel that’s a trait that goes a long way in an NFL huddle.

But for those of you that don’t receive points for “chutzpah” in your fantasy leagues, let’s look at numbers. Losman finished with over 3,000 yards and 19 TDs while completing 62% of his passes in his first full season as a starter. The former first round pick out of Tulane has a strong arm, is beginning to read defenses well, and has better than average mobility. What I like most about J.P. though is his supporting cast. Lee Evans is ready to join the elite WR ranks after his breakout year in 2006, which came in large part due to Losman’s progress. While the rest of the receiving core isn’t anything to write home about, Peerless Price and Josh Reed are crafty veterans and Roscoe Parrish has the look of a very dangerous slot receiver who can turn a short toss into a long TD.

The best move for Losman’s development may be the drafting of RB Marshawn Lynch. Lynch is a complete back who is much more explosive than the plodding Willis McGahee. More importantly, he is a very talented pass catcher—something Willis was not. We may be looking at the next Manning-Harrison-James in Buffalo by 2008! Ok, I know that’s going a little too far (since I haven’t been drinking yet today), but Losman is the perfect upside backup QB for your dynasty team. He may crack your starting lineup as early as this year.

Rex Grossman: Go ahead. Cue the sitcom laugh track here. In some dynasty leagues Grossman may even be on the waiver wire, that’s just how low his perceived value is. I think people forget how little actual playing time Rex has had in his young career due to assorted injuries. He has only started 22 regular season games in his four-year career. Quarterbacks need time to grow and learn how to read defenses and develop poise. Perhaps from an NFL perspective a team could do better, but from a fantasy football viewpoint the guy put up pretty good numbers last year (albeit in a wildly inconsistent manner), and I see room for improvement as he learns on the job. He has already shown one important trait for an NFL QB—he has a Favre-like memory on the field and is a gunslinger not afraid to get back out on the field and toss the rock after making a brutal mistake during his last series. Coach Lovie Smith seems to have faith in him (some may say too much, but I think it will payoff in the long run), and unless you think Kyle Orton is the long term answer (if he is I’d hate to see the question), Grossman is still the future in Chicago.

Adding the athletic Greg Olsen at TE to a pretty talented WR depth chart which includes solid vet Muhsin Muhammad, breakout candidate Bernard Berrian, and the talented but inexperienced Mark Bradley will only help in Grossman’s development. I predict that Grossman will be a borderline fantasy starter this year and he’s a nice addition to your dynasty bench that will come very cheap. Next season I think you’ll see a QB that will consistently break 3,300 passing yards and toss 22+ TDs each year.

Running Backs

Mike Bell: That thud you heard a few months back was the sound of dynasty owners jumping off the Bell bandwagon upon hearing the news the Broncos signed Travis Henry as their “featured back”. To this I say while you may not want a ride on the Bell bandwagon, you should at least keep his calling card handy. At 215 pounds, Bell is a powerful runner who can move the pile if called upon, but doesn’t necessarily need to run through defenders due to his quick lateral movement which allows him to sidestep the big hit. While I do think Henry will see the majority of the 2007 carries in Denver, I believe Bell will be on the field more than most seem to think.

Henry has never been a good receiver out of the backfield, while Bell has soft hands. The undrafted free agent had twenty receptions for 158 yards last season despite the presence of smaller, quicker back in Tatum Bell. He also had a nose for the endzone, scoring 8 TDs during his rookie year. I don’t think Denver will automatically pull Henry in the red zone (as Henry is also a powerful runner), but I do think Bell will see some goal line opportunities and will match last season’s scoring total.

Bell should be used as a third down and change of pace back this year, and could see 25-30% of the carries for coach Shanahan. Let us not forget that Henry has been nicked up quite a bit during his career. While he admirably played through some major injuries in the past, he strikes me as the type that may not be so willing to do so now that he “got paid.” Also, remember Henry is one transgression away from a season-long suspension after having been handed a four-game suspension in 2005 for violating the substance abuse policy. Finally, Henry will be 29 during this upcoming season, so his life expectancy as a successful NFL back is not very long. Buy low on Bell while you have the chance.

Cadillac Williams: Mr. Williams is the perfect example of the fickle nature of fantasy football owners. Heading into last season he was considered a first round pick in re-draft leagues, now he may be there in rounds four or five in your re-draft. Dynasty owners must look at the big picture and realize this guy was talented enough to earn rookie of the year honors in a class that included the likes of Ronnie Brown, Braylon Edwards and Cedric Benson. Remember, he rushed for 1,178 yards and six scores as an NFL freshman.

Williams has good vision, acceleration, and has the balance to slip through the line and maintain his footing after initial contact despite not being a large back. Last season he struggled mightily and his owners soured on him. But there were many contributing factors to his poor stats including injury, poor blocking, and bad QB play. Tampa simply couldn’t block for him and the passing game was nonexistent for most of the season with a late round rookie in Gradkowski taking over for a struggling and injured Simms.

From all accounts Williams is in good health and Tampa has improved its offensive line through free agency and the draft. Tampa also added veteran QB Jeff Garcia, who opposing defenses must respect after last season’s success and whose limited arm strength should help Caddy build up his receiving stats—since he should see many dump-offs from Garcia in the West Coast Offense.

Coach Gruden has stated he wants Williams more involved in the passing game and with Michael Pittman being 32 this season, Tampa surely needs Caddy to step up. A good, young RB is the backbone of dynasty leagues and now is the time to get one at a bargain basement price.

Wide Receivers

Troy Williamson: Troy Williamson was drafted 7th overall by the Minnesota Vikings in 2005. That pick was obtained from the Raiders in the Randy Moss deal, so it only stands to reason that Williamson was expected to replace Moss in the Vikings passing game. A mere 61 receptions in two seasons have led many to label him a “bust”. There was a time though when fantasy footballers didn’t expect a WR to produce right away and followed the “three-year rule”.

Well guess what? Williamson enters his third NFL season in 2007 and has dedicated himself to shedding the bust label. To say Williamson is fast is an understatement (4.38- speed). He has a smooth open-field stride and the second gear necessary to fly past NFL defensive backs after the catch. The problem though has been just that, “the catch”. His drops are well documented, however Williamson met with an eye specialist at the Nike world headquarters this off-season and developed a program intended to improve his vision and hand eye coordination. Additionally he has spent countless hours in front of the jugs machine during OTCs.

You got to like the fact that the kid has addressed his issues instead of just expressing entitlement as a first round pick. The Vikings have brought in journeyman Bobby Wade and rookies Sidney Rice and Aundrey Allison this off-season to compete for playing time, but if he gets his act together Williamson should be the clear cut No. 1 WR in Minnesota this season. Already message boards have anointed Rice as the WR to own in Minny, but just wait until next off-season after the rookie predictably struggles. Sure the doubters will say to avoid the Vikings passing game, pointing out that Tavaris Jackson is a raw second-year starter and the wide receivers are void of talent. But those people may want to look up what Brad Childress did with a young starting QB named Donovan McNabb and bunch of forgettable WRs like Torrence Small, Charles Johnson, Chris T. Jones, James Thrash and Todd Pinkston.

Maurice Stovall: Well, here is where I join the fickle dynasty players. Michael Clayton’s time as a starter in Tampa is getting close to an end. Sure his rookie year was very nice, but two straight years of limited production due to off-season laziness (i.e.—he got fat), injuries, and lack of focus is inexcusable. Enter Maurice Stovall, a prototype NFL WR at 6’5”, 222 lbs. He only had 7 receptions during his rookie season which is why his value will be low in some dynasty leagues. In fact, he was a free agent in my league who I was targeting in our rookie/free agent draft, hoping he would be forgotten. Alas, he was snatched up before I was able to grab him.

Joey Galloway has defied father time but needs some one else to step up in the passing game. Who then? Ike Hilliard? This isn’t 1998. David Boston? Please, someone finally stick a fork in him. Stovall has a great shot at the #2 in Tampa this year and could be the man once Joey finally files his retirement papers. While not particularly fast, his tremendous height and leaping ability will make him a tough cover for most NFL corners, especially in the red-zone. The Notre Dame product has fine hands and route running skills. He caught 69 passes for 1,149 yards and 11 TDs during his senior year in college. This could be the player that comes out of nowhere to put up 750+ yards and 7-8 TDs. This is a player you want to target now in your dynasty league since you can get him way below his future value.