Finally, the games that matter are almost here. Next week, recommendations will be based on the on-field action. For now, it's one more week of analysis based on players' ADP, or Average Draft Position, courtesy of our friends at MockDraftCentral.com.
In prior weeks, I talked a lot about "star" players. This week, I flip the script, and "upgrade" only players unowned in many leagues. You'll note, in fact, that all of my upgrades have an ADP of 200 or more. Fantasy leagues aren't usually won by who you draft early. Similar to golf, you can't win a championship in the early rounds, but you sure can lose it. My advice: make solid picks early and find a late-round flier or two who turns into fantasy gold. Here are late round targets who can become fantasy starters.
Matt Leinart, QB, Cardinals (ADP: 208): Early in the season, before NFL teams start their bye weeks, you should devote at least half of your bench spots to players with upside. Fantasy owners frequently do
this with RBs, as backs like Chester Taylor are routinely drafted. The upside with someone like Taylor is apparent — if Adrian Peterson were to get hurt, Taylor would immediately become starter-worthy in all fantasy leagues. The rationale is really no different with Leinart. If Kurt Warner were to get hurt, Leinart would immediately become starter-worthy. After all, the Cardinals have the best WR tandem in the NFL, play several teams with mediocre defenses and get their home games in desert conditions perfect for passing. Kurt Warner is the unquestioned starter, but is 38, has only played 16 games once since 2001, has a history of concussions and is coming off hip surgery.
Cadillac Williams, RB, Bucs (ADP: 200): The Bucs backfield is a mess right now, with Derrick Ward (ADP: 49), Earnest Graham (ADP: 110) and Williams all in the mix. Platoons at RB are bad enough, but a three- headed monster? That's just downright ugly. How will the carries get divided? At this point, it's as clear as mud. That's why, when choosing among the three, it's best to take Cadillac as a late-round flier instead of investing a higher pick on someone who may split carries with two other guys. Cadillac is injury-prone, yes. But late in the draft, it's about upside, and as a former first-round pick, Cadillac has plenty of it. Look at it like this: The only guys standing between Cadillac and a feature role are two injury-prone, career backups. Stash Williams on your bench instead of a no-upside guy like Edgerrin James, ADP: 189.
Robert Meachem, WR, Saints (ADP: 205) and Devery Henderson, WR, Saints (ADP: 208): You don't need me to tell you that the Saints passing offense is really good. And you know that Marques Colston (ADP: 26) is injury-prone. So why not take a late-round flier on Meachem, a former-first rounder, and/or Henderson, one of the fastest players in the league? When a team is as prolific as the Saints on offense, I want "in." Either of these guys is better than no-upside receivers like Demetrius Williams (ADP: 204).
Jermichael Finley, TE, Packers (ADP: 204): Last week I upgraded Aaron Rodgers and Greg Jennings. This week it's Finley. I guess it's safe to say I like the Packers passing offense. Don't misunderstand — Finley is nowhere near the sure thing that Rodgers and Jennings are. But he's just a fraction of the price. He has the upside we want from a late-round flyer. Finley is an athletic freak (and former basketball star), in the mold of Antonio Gates.
Bills passing offense: I participated in an "expert only" auction this week. Across the board, everyone was down on the Bills skill players. I know their stats have been ugly this preseason, but once Week 1 arrives, that means nothing. Plus, Terrell Owens has been nicked up, but seems now to be rounding into form. Don't over-react to the pre-season, folks. And if your fellow owners do, treat it as a buying opportunity. That's what I did when nobody went above my $8 bid on Lee Evans (comparable receivers like Bernard Berrian cost twice as much).
Clinton Portis, RB, Redskins (ADP: 20): Portis has logged 667 carries the past two seasons, 60 more than everyone else in the NFL. With that type of mileage, the risk of injury is significant. Remember, it's better to abandon ship too early than too late. Plus, the Redskins have a sub-par offensive line and quarterback and play in a tough division. Add it all up and I'd gladly prefer a stud WR like Greg Jennings (ADP: 23) or Roddy White (ADP: 22). If you insist on a RB around that spot, take Ryan Grant (ADP: 31), Pierre Thomas (ADP: 32) or Kevin Smith (ADP: 34).
Edgerrin James, RB, Seahawks (ADP: 189): When you're driving down the interstate and see an old tire lying on the side of the road, do you pick it up and put it on your car? I didn't think so. So why grab James?