- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 7, 2004

The Fantasy Fool is more than earning his moniker this fall, with as many wins as the hapless Redskins in two leagues and just enough to stay in playoff contention in another.

But like him, this is the time to turn your team around if it’s going to happen. Short of making a blockbuster trade, you likely will have to rely on the waiver wire or a low-profile deal to boost your team’s chances. And there are a few players out there who should be available who don’t have big names but could have some big games down the stretch.

Though they were in the Super Bowl less than a year ago, the Carolina Panthers are going nowhere fast because of injuries mostly. But that doesn’t mean their remaining players can’t help you, most notably leading receiver Keary Colbert. There’s a chance the rookie went undrafted in your league, but grab him if he’s still available. The Panthers are facing three of the worst defenses in the league over the next month and have four games with Tampa Bay and New Orleans over the last six weeks — when your team could be in the playoffs.

Colbert has come from nowhere (well, not really — he played on USC’s national title team) to top target in just a couple months. Colbert didn’t even play in Carolina’s season opener, but he has 325 yards and a touchdown over the last four games — all Carolina losses. What do bad teams with no running game do when they’re losing? They throw. And the speedy Colbert will be the beneficiary — as will your fantasy team if you act fast.

Need a running back? Try out Tatum Bell. It looks like Mike Shanahan is finally going to plug the rookie in at the revolving running back spot in Denver’s backfield. Face it — you and your fantasy buddies could keep the chains moving running the ball in Shanahan’s system. Bell, a second-round pick out of Oklahoma State, is surely a better back than you think — and perhaps has more talent than any of the Broncos who have gotten carries this season.

And while they’re painful to watch in person (unless you’re starting a defense against them), a couple Redskins may prove surprisingly valuable down the stretch. If quarterback Mark Brunell continues to struggle — he is, after all, the fourth-lowest-rated quarterback in the NFL — coach Joe Gibbs must turn the offense over to the strong arm of Patrick Ramsey. Right? Another Redskins loss or two should assure Ramsey a full-time gig for the rest of the season.

If that happens, little-used receiver Taylor Jacobs may become even more of a factor. After a rookie season lost to injury, the speedy former Gator has started two of the last three games for Washington and caught seven passes.

Remember Michael Bennett? The 2002 Pro Bowl running back has been a disappointment with the Minnesota Vikings this season, when he was supposed to begin the season as the starter. But injuries and the success of his backups have kept him on the bench until last week, when Bennett got five carries and a touchdown. If he gets back on the field on a full-time basis with the high-octane Vikings, his value will soar. Grab him for cheap, if you still can.

Grabbing guys like these may not save your fantasy football season, but they may help keep things interesting — or even put your team over the top if you’re already in contention.

Hoops, no hockey

The Fool hopes you weren’t banking on fantasy hockey to while away your winter. Fortunately, the young NBA season is off to a fast start, and things are already getting interesting. The multitude of offseason player moves have made it difficult to predict who would do what and where — but the first week of games gave us a few hints.

Surprises: Orlando’s Grant Hill — remember him? — emerged from a year-and-a-half injury silence to average 15 points, 1.5 steals and 32 minutes over the first two games. If he remains healthy — always a gamble — Hill will be a fantasy force again. … Dallas decided to start rookie Devin Harris at point guard, but it looks like veteran James Terry will get most of the time and numbers. … Despite starting and getting plenty of looks, former Spurs role player and Hawks gunner Stephen Jackson so far has numbers somewhere between the two with the Pacers: nine points, nine rebounds and three assists a game.

Rookies: The top two picks have looked good. Emeka Okafor is starting for the Charlotte Bobcats and so far is carrying the load, averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds. Dwight Howard, the high school player drafted by the Magic, is also starting and nearly averaging a double-double with 8.5 points and 10 rebounds.

• If you have a comment, question or idea for the Fantasy Fool, e-mail him at thefool@rotogods.com.

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