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Prospecting - Week 6

  Posted 10/14 by Will GRant and Jeff Pasquino, Exclusive for Footballguys.com

The purpose of this column is to spotlight deeper roster moves that could pay off big over the course of the season. Unless stated in a player's write up, we're not looking for one-week wonders here, but shark moves that could really strengthen your team down the road.

Prospecting focuses on low risk players that could be huge payoff roster moves that you might be able make before the guys in your league think about it. The aim of this column is to make you look like a genius to the other owners in your league. When news breaks and the other owners are scrambling to make a waiver wire move, we want them to be upset time and time again that the player is already on your squad.

We will be breaking this down into three major sections:

  • Golden Nuggets - For shallower leagues (10 teams or fewer, 18 or fewer roster spots - About 180 or fewer players that are already rostered in the league). When IDP is included, we will be looking at players that are of use for leagues that use only a handful (1-5) IDP players.
  • Panning For Gold - For medium size leagues (12 teams, 18-20 roster spots a team - About 200-240 players that are already rostered in the league). When IDP is included, we will be looking at players that are of use for leagues that use a moderate amount (6-8) of IDP players.
  • Digging Deep - For large size leagues (14 or more teams and/or 21 or more roster spots a team - Over 240 players that are already rostered in the league). When IDP is included, we will be looking at players that are of use for leagues that use a full setup (11) of IDP players.

Let's get started!

Golden Nuggets - Shallower Leagues

Jermichael Finley, TE, Green Bay Packers

Why did he catch our eye?

Finley caught everyone's eye on Monday night against the Vikings a week ago. He caught six of the seven passes thrown his way for 128 yards and a TD. It was a career game and he tore up the Vikings and was easily the best receiver for the Packers that night. He had a career game and proved that he can be a big part of the Green Bay Offense. He is currently pushing Donald Lee for the #1 TE spot on the Green Bay Roster.

Current Situation

  • Team info: Finley is still listed as the #2 TE on the depth chart for the Packers, and one game doesn't make him a guaranteed starter. However, Finley is definitely pushing Lee for the #1 slot.
  • Age: 22
  • Drafted: 2008 - 3rd Round
  • Contract info: 4 year contract. Free Agent in 2012.

Timeframe

Within the next week or two. Finley blew it up on a big Monday night game. However, with the Packers on a bye week, teams in smaller leagues couldn't afford to run out and pick up a TE only to sit him the next week. This week the Packers are back in action at home against the Lions. Detroit shouldn't be a challenge for Green Bay, especially if Stafford isn't the starting QB, meaning Finley might not have as many opportunities this week either. Cleveland is on the horizon as well, meaning the Packers might not need to air it out for a few weeks. Finley is a guy you need to keep an eye on for the next few weeks.

Final Thoughts

One game doesn't turn a second year TE into superstar fantasy receiver. Finley only had six receptions his entire rookie season. He came up big in a big Monday night game, but wasn't even targeted the week before against St. Louis. Until Finley becomes the undisputed #1 TE on the Packer roster, he's going to be the fourth or fifth option on offense. In games where the Packers don't need 300 yards passing, the fourth receiving option won't have a chance. As a fantasy TE, you can't count on Finley until he can produce solid numbers week after week. Grab Finley and pocket him on your roster so that if he blows up again, you already have him secured.

Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles

Why did he catch our eye?

The rookie wideout for the Eagles lit up the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 5, exploding onto the NFL scene with two long touchdowns on six catches and 142 yards as the starting receiver for Philadelphia.

Current Situation

  • Team info: Entering 2009 the starting wide receivers for the Philadelphia Eagles were DeSean Jackson and Kevin Curtis. As of late, Curtis has been sidelined by a knee injury and some are speculating if the groin issue has reemerged to bother him as well. For now the starting job is going to Maclin, and it is debatable if Maclin has surpassed Curtis on the depth chart for good.
  • Age: 21
  • Drafted: 2009 - First Round (Pick #19)
  • Contract info: 5 year rookie contract. Free agent in 2014

Time Frame

The debate is already out there, as Maclin is starting for Curtis until further notice. The rookie showed excellent capability if he gets open, as the rookie from Missouri has excellent speed. Reporters are already asking head coach Andy Reid if Maclin will remain the starter, and with Kevin Curtis' current injury status and an impending $1 million roster bonus due in June it could be the beginning of the end for Curtis.

Final Thoughts

There's an expectation that a player drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft will eventually become the starter, but for a wide receiver that usually doesn't happen in his rookie season. There's no question that Maclin does not know the entire offense and the nuances of the Eagle's version of the West Coast Offense, but he knows enough to get by. While his best route is still "go deep", Maclin will start to get more and more involved in the offense and is likely to be the starter for the balance of the season and for years to come. Maclin and DeSean Jackson have the potential to compliment each other and become a potent WR duo for Philadelphia.

Panning For Gold - Medium Leagues

Jimmy Wilkerson, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Why did he catch our eye?

Wilkerson had an excellent summer and was finally able to secure the starting DE position this season. After a slow start week one, he has come on strong, culminating in a career performance last week against Philadelphia. Despite being blown out by the Eagles, Wilkerson managed to rack up three sacks, one forced fumble and one pass defense. In the last four games this season, Wilkerson has accumulated more fantasy points than he did in 15 games last season. After six seasons in obscurity, Wilkerson may be emerging as a legitimate fantasy DE.

Current Situation

  • Team info: Wilkerson is splitting time between the DT and DE positions, depending on the formations that are being used and the other players that are available. He began the season as the starting DE and it is his primary position.
  • Age: 28
  • Drafted: 2004 - Sixth Round
  • Contract info: Final year of a two year contract. Free Agent in 2010

Time Frame

Wilkerson has been in the league seven years, but his stats have really taken off since moving to Tampa Bay from Kansas City last season. In 2008 he almost doubled his 2007 fantasy output and he's almost matched his 2008 output in the last four games. Granted, he's not going to ring up three sacks a game like he did last week, but given that increased performance, Wilkerson is an excellent waiver wire candidate this week with an option to start him immediately against Carolina (a team that has allowed 12 sacks already this season).

Final Thoughts

Wilkerson didn't do much in his first five seasons with KC. Last year he improved dramatically but was still not putting up solid numbers as a defensive lineman. This season, he's off to a great start. He's averaging over 13 fantasy points a game over the last four starts, and is currently ranked 5th among fantasy DL. He's definitely worth picking up now, even if his totals take a hit after this week. Even a 20% drop in stats puts him at over 10 fantasy points a game, and that's good enough to start in any 12 team league that requires a DL. Grab him now and ride his performance the rest of the season.

Mike Wallace, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

Why did he catch our eye?

Mike Wallace finally got into the end zone for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 5, scoring on a long toss from Ben Roethlisberger on a play where he blew by the Detroit secondary and scored a 47-yard touchdown. Wallace showed good speed in getting deep, outpacing two defenders to get open. He also nearly had another touchdown when he did the same thing but dropped what could easily have been a 71-yard catch and run for another score.

Current Situation

  • Team info: Wallace and Limas Sweed were thought to have been in competition for the third wideout spot for Pittsburgh, but Sweed has really fallen off in recent weeks while Wallace has stood tall and delivered when it counted. Wallace is at least the 2009 version of Nate Washington for the Steelers - a solid option on passing downs and also a deep threat.
  • Age: 22
  • Drafted: 2009 - Third Round
  • Contract info: Three year rookie contract. (Restricted) Free Agent in 2012

Time Frame

Pittsburgh right now is more of a passing team than a running team despite the history of the Steelers and every effort to give both Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall rushing chances this season. Ben Roethlisberger is playing outstanding quarterback right now, and between Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward he is really moving the ball on defenses. This year Wallace appears to be the #3 wide receiver, which should get him 4-6 targets in most contests.

Final Thoughts

The Steelers are a team in transition right now, as their passing attack is well ahead of their ground game. Santonio Holmes is the top wideout for 2010 and beyond, while it still seems the veteran Hines Ward is sticking around and pushing for "top dog" status this season. For now the third spot goes to Wallace, who is well ahead of Limas Sweed. Longer term one would think that Hines Ward is winding down his career and then a player like Wallace will be given every chance to attempt to fill Ward's role for the next few years.

Digging Deep - Deep Leagues

Brandon McGowan, FS, New England Patriots

Why did he catch our eye?

McGowan actually had some solid games for the Bears back in 2007. That season he had several games where he posted double digit fantasy points and finished the season as the #38 fantasy DB. Last season, he was injured in early September and lost for the season. The Bears did not re-sign him and he came to New England as a free agent. He's currently ranked as the #5 fantasy DB and has 11 fantasy points or more in the last three games.

Current Situation

  • Team info: Starting Free Safety for the New England Patriots
  • Age: 26
  • Drafted: 2005 - Undrafted
  • Contract info: Free Agent 2011

Time Frame

Right now. McGowan has found new life in New England and he's tearing up the field. After a slow start, he has come on strong, averaging 14.25 points per game over the last three. He's had five or more solo tackles in the last four games and has been flying to the ball, creating turnovers and making pass defenses. He's clearly found a new home and should be picked up immediately.

Final Thoughts

McGowan showed some promise back in 2007, but many teams cut him loose in 2008 due to the injury and lack of history performing at that position. This season, he's really come on strong for the Patriots and he is still available in most fantasy leagues. Based on the solo tackles that he's making, you should grab him. A fantasy DB that can post at least five solo tackles in a game consistently is going to do well, and his ball hawking skills are an added bonus each week. He won't score 18 points each game like he did against Denver, but he's a solid starting option and should be used immediately.

Brian Hartline, WR, Miami Dolphins

Why did he catch our eye?

Another rookie wide receiver this week, but bear with us - this one has strong upside. Miami has juggled their lineup at wide receiver since August, and in one of those offensive configurations it was rookie Brian Hartline lining up as a starter. Since then Ted Ginn has virtually locked down the top spot on the depth chart at wideout while Davone Bess and Greg Camarillo are jockeying for the second spot. Hartline has seen 2-3 targets in four of the five games so far this year.

Current Situation

  • Team info: The rookie wide receiver is not exactly close to starting, but he's next in line to see if any wideout can light a spark and get this offense moving the ball via the passing game. Hartline has the physical ability once he is given the chance (6'2", 195) and the coaches are certainly looking in his direction every time they get frustrated with the other options.
  • Age: 22
  • Drafted: 2009 - Round 4
  • Contract info: Rookie contract - 4 years. Free Agent 2013

Time Frame

This one is a bit tougher. Ted Ginn seems to be the top receiver, while both Davone Bess and Greg Camarillo are fighting over the second and third spots at Miami wideout. The deeper question is the one whose answer will really tell the story as to Hartline's future, and that is this - "How satisfied are the Dolphins' coaches with the current crop of veteran wide receivers?" If the answer is "Not very", Hartline could see much more playing time towards the second half of 2009 and be in line for more work next year.

Final Thoughts

The Dolphins are the top team in the NFL when using the Wildcat offense, and with good reason - Ronnie Brown is fantastic when getting a direct snap. Now, that cannot last forever and eventually Miami has to go to the passing game. With veteran Chad Pennington under center, that was not enough to threaten other defenses. Now with Pennington hurt and Chad Henne at the helm, deep throws that stretch the field are back in play, as are other options in the passing attack. That puts more pressure on the current receivers, who must step up and deliver on those much better passes or else get benched. If you believe that they will start to get demoted, Hartline's upside is quite substantial.