Fantasy Finds
By Matt Waldman
October 5th, 2011

There's a subtle difference between writing about what you observe and what you believe. I might observe a doctor caring for a patient, but I might not believe that doctor actually cares about the patient.

The same goes for fantasy football.

I spend a good portion of my time writing about the potential direction of players based on their weekend performances. I might observe a player performing well, but I might not believe he's a good performer. So this piece is my take on which players are fantasy finds. Next week I'll profile those I believe are fool's gold.

Fantasy Finds

Matt Hasselbeck, Titans

I know the Browns aren't the ideal litmus test for Hasselbeck sans Kenny Britt, but you have to credit the Titans QB for his 220-yard, 3-TD day as the first week without his best receiver. But the 1152 yards, 8 TDs, and 3 INTs in four games are not the compelling part of the story. They're just the lead that gets you reading it.

Hasselbeck has three things that make him a fantasy find even without a big-time receiver. First is his hyper-accuracy. Certainly the 66.6 percent completion rate is impressive, but it's how the Titans quarterback completes those passes that makes me a believer. All three of his touchdown passes last week were great examples of anticipation and perfect placement to throw his receivers open.

The crossing route to Jared Cook was thrown to turn his tight end up field rather than lead him across the field. This gave the big tight end the momentum to hit the sideline and build up speed that got him past a few defenders for his 80-yard score. The corner route to tight end Craig Stevens was released just before his receiver broke in front of the safety. And the end zone pass to Damian Williams was placed low and ahead of the cornerback in tight coverage, which gave Williams the chance to make the play. It's these kind of throws that made Mike Williams an occasional big-play threat last year in Seattle. Williams had four catches over 30 yards last year and all of them were excellent anticipation throws. Williams is healthy, but with Tarvaris Jackson he doesn't have a reception over 19 yards.

The second thing Hasselbeck has is an understanding of an offense. Last year Hasselbeck had 8 receivers, backs, and tight ends with at least 20 receptions and 6 of them had at least 30 receptions. Tennessee has much greater potential for a strong ground game than the Seahawks of 2010, but Hasselbeck still has 5 receivers on track for at least 20 catches this year (not counting Kenny Britt's 17 before his injury) and considering Damian Williams saw his first true action last week, that number could be as high as 6.

But the most important factor Hasselbeck brings to fantasy owners is his work ethic and leadership. We observed Kenny Britt getting off to a terrific start (17-289-3), but I believe if it weren't for Hasselbeck making a beeline for his talented but immature playmaker the moment he got in town we wouldn't have seen such a torrid start. Hasselbeck knew that working closely with Britt not only would give the duo rapport but he was taking leadership of the team and instilling confidence – self-confidence and confidence in his quarterback.

Hasselbeck has shown these mentor qualities before he was in Tennessee. He trains with Athlete's Performance Institute director Travelle Gaines during the offseason and works in tandem with younger players like Blaine Gabbert. The Titans had a clear leadership void when Jeff Fisher left town and they knew that Jake Locker was not ready to become that team leader. Hasselbeck buys Tennessee time to develop Locker with a role model to observe at the position while keeping the team competitive.

The Titans schedule after week 8 is a fantasy boon: Indianapolis (twice), Carolina, Atlanta, Tampa, Jacksonville, and Buffalo. Four of these teams have passing defenses that are among the weakest in the NFL, but offenses good enough that the Titans will have to throw the ball to keep pace. Hasselbeck might not be a consistent 300-yard passer (though I think the odds are more favorable than you might think), but I believe he'll be a consistent 2-3 TD producer and that makes him a fantasy find.

Matt Forte, Bears

I've always been a Matt Forte fan and I just don't understand how anyone could look at him and think he was ever an average or below average back. I think they could star in those new Audi commercials as examples of the type of people who would hang Vermeer paintings on their walls because they liked yellow or allow their golden retriever play fetch with a Honus Wagner autographed baseball. Of course, I'm the guy that needed three years to see the light with Darren McFadden.

I know Mike Martz will likely "go out with his boots on" when it comes to his offensive philosophy. However, the Bears are fortunate that Lovie Smith is the man in charge. And I think Smith was behind Forte's 25 carries against the Panthers. I also think Forte will continue to see a workhorse's share against the Vikings (twice), Buccaneers, Eagles, Raiders, Chiefs, and Seahawks. That's 7 of the remaining 12 games where I think you're going to see at least 120 combined yards.

Forte is one of those soft-spoken men. If you didn't know better you'd label him timid. However, the way Forte plays the game there's a fire burning beneath that fašade. The fact that Chicago isn't renegotiating a new contract with Forte this year probably has a motivating factor for Bears feature back. With Marion Barber back to full health we'll probably see more looks going his way, but I think those looks will come at the expense of the passing game and not as much from Forte as one might think.

Eric Decker, Broncos

Hands and toughness are the hallmarks of a quality NFL receiver. Derrick Mason, Donald Driver, Hines Ward, Larry Fitzgerald, and Steve Smith (both of them) are all very different players but they all share these two traits. Fred Gibson, Craig "Buster" Davis, Todd Pinkston, Braylon Edwards, and Troy Williamson were all heralded players that lacked at least one of these two traits. You draw your own conclusion.

I've written at length about his skills during the preseason. However, I think Decker's fantasy prognosis is relatively "Tebow-proof," that is, if Tebow plays poorly and not like the fantasy stud he was at the end of last year. Decker is the more adept receiver at working his way open when a quarterback is in trouble. He's also a more rugged receiver than Lloyd and a more natural fit in the short area of the field. Think of him as a faster version of former Florida security blanket David Nelson.

As a fantasy owner I hope Kyle Orton remains the Broncos quarterback because Oakland, Cincinnati, and Tennessee were much better teams than they appeared when looking at the schedule in August. Not that the schedule ahead is any easier. But hands and toughness get better as the level of competition rises.

Brandon Pettigrew, Lions

Pettigrew was the 11th ranked fantasy tight end last year and this was with Shaun Hill playing most of the year. Matt Stafford favors Pettigrew as his second option. With Calvin Johnson winning balls in bracket coverage in the red zone, one might think that Pettigrew doesn't have a chance to score touchdowns. After four games he doesn't have one yet.

However, I have to believe that last week's ridiculousness that was Stafford and Johnson playing pitch and catch in the end zone at will is going to have a temporary break. At least in the sense that we'll see a Pettigrew touchdown every other game – that's six scores I'm projecting for him by year's end in case you're still staring at your fingers.

Throw in the fact that Pettigrew is headed for an 88-catch, 800-yard season and I think while other fantasy owners are clamoring for Greg Olsen (rightfully so), someone is going to get a relative bargain if trading or acquiring a tight end from the waiver wire. Pettigrew's physical nature and strong hands should make him a strong performer against the Broncos, Panthers, Saints, and Chargers – teams that are relatively weak at linebacker and/or safety.

League Update

Footballguys Alpha (2-2): This squad is an under performing group, but the fact it is still playing .500 fantasy football is especially encouraging with my receiving corps still rounding into form and Aaron Hernandez missing the past few weeks. This is a PPR league where I can start two tight ends.

Pos
Player
Team
Bye
Points
Drafted
QB
Matt Hasselbeck
Ten
6
102.8
FA
QB
Matt Ryan
Atl
8
89.15
5.11
RB
Michael Bush
Oak
8
43.1
9.1
RB
Ryan Grant
GB
8
21.6
5.10
RB
Cedric Peerman
Cin
7
0
FA
RB
James Starks
GB
8
45.7
10.02
RB
Chris Wells
Ari
6
70.3
7.11
RB
Ricky Williams
Bal
5
19.1
15.11
WR
Nate Burleson
Det
9
36.1
11.11
WR
Mark Clayton
StL
5
-
19.06
WR
Randall Cobb
GB
8
29.8
20.02
WR
Jason Hill
Jac
9
16.2
16.02
WR
David Nelson
Buf
7
53.1
21.10
WR
Hakeem Nicks
NYG
7
76.7
2.02
WR
Torrey Smith
Bal
5
47.3
21.08
WR
Roddy White
Atl
8
65.2
1.11
WR
Mike Williams
TB
8
36.8
3.11
TE
James Casey
Hou
11
35.4
FA
TE
Jermichael Finley
GB
8
59.4
4.02
TE
Aaron Hernandez
NE
7
45.5
12.02
PK
Mason Crosby
GB
8
34
18.02
Def
Denver Broncos
Den
3
26
FA

If Hernandez returns to form and my receivers rebound as expected I think this team has a chance to contend even without three strong running backs. I'm not a huge believer in Torrey Smith because Joe Flacco is too inconsistent for my taste. However, I like the concerted effort the Ravens are making to target him in the deep passing game even against an opponent of the Jets' caliber. If some of these key free agent pick ups continue to perform well, I just might have some viable trade bait to land a third RB.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to waldman@footballguys.com.

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