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Slow starts lead to some bargains

Pop quiz:

Which player has the most offensive touchdowns out of the following group?

A) Tiki Barber

B) Fred Taylor

C) Stephen Davis

D) Warren Sapp

Unbelievably, the answer is Sapp, who caught a touchdown pass while lined up at tight end for the Bucs last week against the Atlanta Falcons.

The average fantasy owner looks at situations like these in the first three weeks of the season and begins to see patterns where there aren’t any. He is seeing an ominous trend develop and looking to deal Barber, Taylor and Davis.

These are first- or second-line fantasy running backs that find themselves at the lower end of the statistical rankings thus far. Sound strategy is to float a lowball offer out to the guy who owns them. Chances are he’s starting to go into panic mode and you can get a star runner for less than face value.

Another guy who you may be able to pick up on the cheap is Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. In McNabb’s first two games, he faced two of the league’s better defenses in Tampa Bay and New England. Additionally, McNabb had no semblance of a running game to rely on. While the Eagles receivers aren’t Pro Bowl quality, McNabb is a multidimensional force who will finish in the upper echelon of fantasy quarterbacks by year’s end.

Speaking of the Eagles, expect Duce Staley to begin producing this week. I guarantee that Andy Reid took notice of the way the Dolphins were able to control the clock against Buffalo on Sunday night. McNabb will still get his fair share of pass attempts, but Staley should finally emerge and get 20 or more carries, with the occasional touch going to Correll Buckhalter and Brian Westbrook.

Because of injuries, this week’s waiver wire has more running back help than usual on it for those of you who need a one-week starter to cover for a bye week. Ricky Williams, Tiki Barber, Shaun Alexander and Michael Pittman are all off this week.

Keep an eye on Charlie Garner’s status for Sunday. Garner left Monday night’s game with bruised ribs, and talk in Oakland is that he may sit out vs. the Chargers. If so, Tyrone Wheatley becomes a solid play for a week.

Another option to cover an injury would be Cincinnati’s Brandon Bennett. Corey Dillon is listed as questionable with a strained groin, and Bennett is his primary backup. The Bengals draw Cleveland this week, who you may remember as the team that surrendered 295 yards to Jamal Lewis two weeks ago. ‘Nuff said.

The Bills’ Travis Henry left Sunday’s game in the second quarter with sore ribs. Rumor in Buffalo says Henry has torn cartilage and will miss four weeks. If that’s true, Joe Burns will take his place as the starter until he returns. Burns carried six times for 22 yards against a better-than-average Dolphins defense and found the end zone 24 times in his final season at Georgia Tech, so he’s worth a shot.

The best bet if he’s available is the Rams’ Lamar Gordon. Mike Martz likes Gordon so much that he made him the starting fullback just to have him on the field. Now that Marshall Faulk is out four-to-six weeks (a broken hand and/or knee surgery — take your pick), Gordon and his 5.1 yards per carry average will assume the workload for St Louis.

Two weeks ago, I told you to trade Joey Harrington immediately. Since then, he’s thrown six interceptions without a touchdown. This week presents a couple more players who have peaked, meaning that you should dump them while the dumping is good.

This week’s most overvalued guy is Eddie George. George finally had a 100-yard game last week, but Steve McNair is and has been the focal point of the Titans offense for over a year. George always seems to be nicked up, has lost a step and celebrated his 30th birthday Wednesday. More often than not, running backs begin to slide after age 30. George won’t hit the century mark as many as three more times this year.

Lewis’ value will never get any higher than it is this week. Never. An interested owner may have waited after the Cleveland game to see if his performance was a fluke. When he came back with another 132 yards and a TD last week against the Chargers, he became a hot commodity to trade.

Don’t wait on this one because the Ravens will probably be playing catch-up early against the Chiefs this week and will need to rely on the passing game. Expect a 60-yard performance from Lewis, which will bring his value right back to earth.


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