Sure, you can easily read the magazines, watch the fantasy specials on ESPN, and scour the internet for information on players to draft in your quest for the coveted Fantasy Football Championship. But what about the guys you need to truly make your team the best? What about the guys you need in the later rounds of your draft, or when your top pick goes down with an injury? Or even just to stay competitive during the dreaded bye week? That’s the hard part. You really need to do your homework to find that gem that will set your team apart. It takes luck sometimes, but if you know what you’re doing you can find your version of Tom Brady, hiding amongst hundreds of names. These are the guys that are just one injury away from making a difference on the field as well as on your fantasy team. In the first installment, I’ll tackle the NFC East for players that could pay huge dividends for you if the guy in front of them goes down for a period of time with an injury.
Martellus Bennett, Tight End-
It’s tough to think that anyone playing Tight End on a team with All-Pro Jason Witten would get a chance to shine, the guy gutted it out with broken ribs last year, but second year player Martellus Bennett has seen enough playing time to prove he has talent. This season if Witten were to go down and miss any games due to injury, Bennett could very easily step in and put up decent fantasy points. In 2008 Bennett caught 20 passes for 283 yards and four touchdowns (Witten also caught 4 TD’s though he had 81 catches for 953 yards). Without Witten in the lineup plus the subtraction of Terrell Owens, Bennett would easily benefit by having the ability to put up similar numbers to Witten’s. Afterall, it is no secret that quarterback Tony Romo loves to throw to his tight end.
David Tyree, WR-
The hero of Super Bowl XLII, David Tyree, did not play in 2008 because of a knee injury suffered during training camp. He also seems to be buried on the depth chart behind young, unproven wide receivers Domenik Hixon, Steve Smith, Mario Manningham, Sinorice Moss, rookies Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden. But he is also the most experienced wide receiver on the team and quarterback Eli Manning has always liked throwing to him in practice. Add that to the loss of Plaxico Buress from last season, and Tyree could get on the field sometime this season. It will most likely take more than one injury for Tyree to see the field, but if he does not get cut during training camp, he could become a productive WR for the Giants.
Ladell Betts, RB-
Clinton Portis is the work horse of the Washington Redskins. He has had 4 seasons of 300 plus carries in his five years with the team. But Portis is the definition of injury prone. Last season, he had nagging injuries that affected his performance late in the season. He averaged just 3.5 yards per carry and put up just 2 TD’s in the second half of 2008. His body is simply breaking down. Projecting him to play all 16 games is beyond a long shot. This is where Ladell Betts comes in. As the starting running back he would fill in nicely for Portis. He won’t put up the numbers that a healthy Portis would, but he would certainly put out a few games that would be respectable for fantasy. Three years ago Betts put up over 1,000 yards and scored 4 TD’s while filling in for Portis. He has not had a lot of opportunities since that year, but if Portis misses more time because of injury he will be the feature back and given plenty of chances to pile up numbers that would benefit a fantasy team. The ability is there, it’s just a matter of when he gets his chance.
Jason Avant, WR
Traditionally, wide receiver has been the Achilles heel for the Eagles. They have not had much depth or even a true number one receiver besides the year and a half long Terrell Owens Experiment. That is not the case anymore. The Eagles have five guys who could play and put up numbers. Second year pro DeSean Jackson is going to be the number one guy this season. Number two is most likely going to go to Kevin Curtis as the Eagles hope he can return to 2007 form (1,110 yards and 8 TD’s). The Eagles seem to be grooming rookie Jeremy Maclin to eventually be their number one guy in a few years, but for this season he will play mostly as a return guy and do spot duty on offense. Hank Baskett, though big, has questionable ability. So who gets the nod in the event that Jackson or Curtis gets injured? Jason Avant has better size (6-0, 212) and better hands then the other receivers on the team. He is also willing to go over the middle of the field to catch passes. If he sees significant playing time he could post the kind of numbers that Jackson is expected to post (According to various fantasy football publications Jackson is projected to put up on average 8-9 FPG).