Though my season's a lost cause, these players could win you over

ON FANTASY SPORTS

Commentary

The Kickoff

October 11, 2007

Don't know about you, but I'm ready for this fantasy football season to be over.

No matter where I go - the office, a government meeting, a Hampden pub to watch some playoff baseball - well-meaning folks ask how my teams are doing. They assume, sensibly, that because I put myself out there as some kind of fantasy sage, I'll have good news or at least a little insight.

Well, maybe next year.

My teams stink.

I thought the worm might be turning after both eked out cheap wins in Week 4. Turned out that the low point totals were indicative of their quality. Twin 2-3 records aren't terrible on the surface, but I know the truth.

Donovan McNabb has put up one good game out of four, and his line appeared unable to protect the injury-prone veteran against the New York Giants, who sacked him 12 times Sept. 30.

Larry Johnson is: A.) Two steps slower than he was in 2005; B.) Stuck in such a bad offense that he can't show his still-vital running form; or C.) Some horrid combination of the two.

Even the unjinxable Marvin Harrison has faltered. The most reliable receiver this side of Jerry Rice failed to outproduce Dallas Clark over the first four weeks and is now injured.

Those three were supposed to be my golden core. Instead, they're the lead anchor dragging my teams to the bottom of the standings.

So in honor of my desultory opening, let's look at stars who have started poorly and assess their chances of rebounding:

Larry Johnson: It's bad when, after Week 5, your top pick's only outstanding game was the result of a 37-yard run in garbage time against San Diego. To be fair, Johnson didn't get the ball much in Week 1, then faced Minnesota, which has the NFL's top-ranked run defense, and two other teams with solid run defenses, Jacksonville and Chicago, that focused heavily on stopping him. Only two of his remaining games come against top-10 run defenses, so his numbers should get better. But even mediocre run stoppers are able to load up against him, and Kansas City has a bad offense, so scoring chances come few and far between.

Frank Gore: Well, at least he hasn't made me deeply regret taking Johnson ahead of him. After his 2006 breakout season, Gore has disappointed, failing to post more than 81 yards rushing in any game. San Francisco's general offensive woes have also limited his scoring opportunities. On the plus side, two of Gore's tough games came against the stingy Ravens and Steelers, and the 49ers hardly face a brutal run schedule the rest of the way. Gore's Week 15 and 16 matchups against Cincinnati and Tampa Bay, respectively, look especially nice for potential fantasy playoff teams.

LaDainian Tomlinson: If he's even a little bit available in your league, pounce on the opportunity. I know his numbers haven't met expectations, and I know the Chargers are in some disarray under Norv Turner. But Tomlinson had a big Week 4 and ran well early in Week 5 before sitting out the fourth quarter of a blowout against Denver. I think he's fine, though a spate of tough run matchups might keep him from playing at last year's rarefied level.

Reggie Bush: This is a tough call. He should get the ball more with Deuce McAllister out and thus might be more consistent. But he might be less of a big-play threat in a more traditional running back role. With so much uncertainty, I say hold him if you've got him, but don't pursue him if you don't.

Steve Smith: It's time to sell on the preseason top receiver. He posted great numbers when Jake Delhomme was throwing him the ball, but his production has fallen way off since Delhomme went out with a season-ending injury. Few teams face worse quarterback situations than Carolina, and that means that no matter how talented Smith is, he won't meet expectations the rest of the way.

Marvin Harrison: Mr. Reliable lost half of Week 4 and all of last week to a bruised knee. But he should be fine after a bye this week, and I can't believe that Peyton Manning has lost faith in him as an end zone target. If he's available, trade for him, because he could still be a top-five receiver in the second half.

Laurence Maroney: I touted Maroney in the preseason and still don't feel bad about him despite the groin injury that has kept him out for two weeks. His quality of play was fine, excellent even, before the injury. Sammy Morris has played well enough in his absence that Maroney will probably share duty with him down the stretch. That's a shame for fantasy purposes, but if an owner in your league is too down on Maroney, he might make a nice trade target for the second half.

Drew Brees: You almost can't start him at this point. Things have gotten that bad in New Orleans.

Chicago defense: The Bears have been shockingly vulnerable to the pass, and opposing teams seem to have learned to kick it to anybody but Devin Hester. They might not become the world beaters of years past, but the remaining schedule is manageable enough that I'd still start them every week.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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