Waiver Report: A few good men

Brandon Funston
Yahoo! SportsDecember 14, 2004

I won't waste fantasy owners' time with high-risk waiver recommendations this week. After all, at this point, the remaining fantasy teams with title aspirations still hanging in the balance are certain to have fairly rock-solid rosters. So the players presented in this week's Waiver Report will be only those whose value is currently high enough to warrant consideration for even the juggernaut teams.

Billy Volek, Ten – 29-for-43, 426 passing yards, 4 TDs, 0 INT
It's safe to assume that Volek will put up good fantasy numbers when he starts. It's just not safe to assume he's going to start. After rolling up 400-plus yards and four TDs on Monday night, Volek now has 13 TD passes in, essentially, six games played. And he's averaging 285 passing yards in those contests. But head coach Jeff Fisher said Monday night, after a loss to Kansas City that Steve McNair could still play at some point this season if the pain in McNair's bruised sternum eases up and allows him to practice. Basically, that means a headache for fantasy owners as the situation calls for the maximum amount of micro-managing. But it's certainly worth grabbing Volek and throwing him out there against an ultra-soft Oakland pass defense in Week 15. You may have to wait until the 11th hour before Volek is green-lighted, but the payoff is likely to be fruitful.

Brian Griese, TB – 36-for-50, 392 passing yards, 3 TDs, 3 INTs
Griese is completing a whopping 70 percent of his passes and has 12 TD tosses in his past six games. As enticing as those numbers are, the argument for Griese only gets stronger as we look ahead to a Week 15 matchup with New Orleans. Only Kansas City has been a worse fantasy pass defense than the Saints since Week 6. Griese made his '04 debut against New Orleans in Week 5, completing 16-of-19 passes for 194 yards and a TD in just three quarters of duty filling in for Chris Simms. Griese has a very good opportunity to be one of the top half-dozen QB performers this Sunday.

Running Backs
I can't recommend any widely-available running backs this week for fantasy teams still competing in the postseason. While Maurice Hicks (SF), T.J. Duckett (Atl) and Tatum Bell (Den) created heavy buzz with their performances in Week 14, all three will likely be listed as questionable, or worse, for this weekend. Hicks (34 carries, 139 yards, 1 TD) tore cartilage in his rib cage and Bell (17 carries, 123 yards, 2 TDs) separated his shoulder. Both players will be a Week 15 gamble. And Duckett's (12 carries, 65 yards, 4 TDs) big performance will definitely not include an encore. He had knee surgery following the game and is out 1-2 weeks.

Fantasy owners looking to strike it rich on the waiver wire should at least check to see if Kansas City's Larry Johnson is available. He can be found in one-fifth of Yahoo! default leagues. Platoon partner Derrick Blaylock injured his knee on Monday night and that coupled with the fact that Johnson has reeled off five touchdowns and two 100-yard rushing efforts in the past three weeks could open the door for Johnson to grab a featured role this week against Denver.

Another player to check availability on is Emmitt Smith. He'll be found in about the same amount of leagues as Johnson. Smith returned from a toe injury in Week 14 to score his ninth TD of the season. Despite missing nearly all of two games, Smith is ninth among RBs in rushing TD's. And he'll face St. Louis' lightweight rush defense Sunday. The Rams have allowed a 100-yard back in five of the past six weeks.

Drew Bennett, Ten – 12 catches, 233 yards, 3 TDs
Bennett has been the Waiver Report's most frequent visitor. At this point, there is no need to say any more about his fantasy virtues. So I'll simply just use the same text that I used for him last week:
As the saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink." By that, I'm referring to the fact that Bennett has graced the past three (now four) Waiver Report columns, yet he still remains widely available in Yahoo! leagues. His three-TD performance (stat reference is still applicable) on Sunday will rectify that oversight. Bennett remains a tall, sure-handed option in the red zone. And he will continue to face one of the softest schedules for a wide receiver down the stretch.

Eddie Kennison, KC – 2 catches, 67 yards, 2 TDs
Kennison is still available in roughly 30 percent of Yahoo! default leagues despite scoring six TDs in his past four games. And while he may draw the attention of Denver DB Champ Bailey on Sunday, he was able to post 101 yards on the Broncos in Week 1. His Week 16 matchup offers even more promise as he'll face an Oakland squad that he hung 149 yards and a TD on in Week 13. It's really hard to think of a reason why Kennison should still be attainable.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Cin – 12 catches, 145 yards
Houshmandzadeh leads the NFL in receptions during the past two weeks (22) and trails only Drew Bennett in receiving yards during that span. He's also scored all three of his touchdowns in his past three games. In other words, the guy is red hot. Houshmandzadeh has another opportunity for success in Week 15 against Buffalo. The Bills are second-best in fantasy at stopping the opposition's running backs. With Cincinnati RB Rudi Johnson's running lanes closed, the Bengals will be forced to air it out once again. And the Bills have yielded the third-most TDs to wide receivers since Week 9. Regardless of whether it's banged-up Carson Palmer or Jon Kitna behind center this Sunday, Houshmandzadeh is still a good play.

Justin McCareins, NYJ – 4 catches, 78 yards
Big receivers have had their way with the Seattle secondary this season. Randy Moss, Keyshawn Johnson, Chris Chambers and Muhsin Muhammad all went for at least 100 yards and a TD against the Seahawks in the past seven weeks. Seattle has also given up a TD to a wideout in 10 consecutive weeks. McCareins posted decent numbers against Pittsburgh in Week 14. It was enough to make him an excellent looking sleeper this week.

Lee Evans, Buf – 4 catches, 33 receiving yards, 48 rushing yards, 1 TD
Sunday, Evans scored for the third consecutive week. His production during that span ranks him among the top-10 wideouts. The rookie faces a fairly strong fantasy pass defense in Week 15 (Cincinnati), but the Bengals have allowed 100-yard games to Antonio Bryant and David Patten in the past three weeks. Cincinnati has been a sieve against the run, so it will be focused on trying to stop the hot-footed Willis McGahee. That could allow for some opportunties deep down field for Evans. He's a slight risk this week, but he could easily hit a home run.

Chris Cooley, Was – 5 catches, 75 yards
Cooley is currently the best looking widely-available TE. He is among the top-six fantasy scorers at his position since Week 10, which happens to coincide with when Patrick Ramsey took over at QB for the Redskins. Ramsey has proven to be a boon to the team's passing game, and WR Laveranues Coles and Cooley have been the biggest beneficiaries. If you are fighting your postseason battles with a shaky tight end position, don't hesitate to make a move for Cooley.