FF: Early shifts in player importantance to watch

With the start of the NFL under way, with the Redskins defeat over the Jets, the end of the preseason, unfortunate injuries, and the roster cuts to 53, players that were once an afterthought are quickly being scooped up by owners that are diligent. Recognizing the shift in player's importance as the event happens will help you get the edge in grabbing these players first. E-mail me your questions for my weekly Fantasy Freebie Q&A at bills_report@yahoo.com, that I will post tomorrow afternoon.

Michael Vick: By now everyone had heard of this and it's probably been beaten to death. In all likelihood, Vick will miss at least the first 4 games of the regular season. Owners shouldn't have dropped him, but hopefully had a decent backup that will keep in league contention until Vick makes his way back. Doug Johnson is his interim replacement and an obvious pickup if you need to get someone to fill in for Vick for a while. I think this has a negative impact on a few players even with a decent guy like Johnson in because now without the threat of Vick running, defenses will be able to stay a little more orthodox. Peerless Price is a name that loses some stock immediately because not only did he build a good relationship with Vick, but Vick's ability would have kept secondaries a little more honest. Price is a question mark anyways as to whether he can be a #1 WR, but Vick on the shelf won't help. I think that Alge Crumpler's and Warrick Dunn's value increases a little because Dunn will get more handoffs where Vick could just have dropped back and then taken off he needed to. Johnson won't do that. Crumpler is in a similar position. If Price starts seeing more coverage, Crumpler could be the recipient of short to medium yardage passes. If this team looks lost without Vick, you might want to consider playing opposing defenses against them.

Chad Pennington: The Jets have to get my vote for the having the unluckiest offseason this year. Not only were the Jets raided by the Washington Redskins for 4 of the Jets key players, but they lost their franchise QB for the season. Talk about falling apart. In addition to that, the guy that the team signed to replace G Randy Thomas, one of the defectees to Washington, decided to retire. There wasn't too much to be impressed with even before the injury, but now they could be in serious trouble. Vinny Testeverde is Chad's replacement, so if you are desperate for a QB he might be available. He knows the offense which is a good thing, but at 39, who knows what he has left? The team was 1-4 last year before Pennington took over which doesn't bode well either. The one win was based on special teams play by another former Jet, Chad Morton. It also can't be a good sign when the team tries to lure Elvis Grbac out of retirement, and brought in Jaime Martin, only to cut him and go with Marquis Blackwell. That's not exactly a vote of confidence. Like I said, even before the injury, Curtis Martin and Curtis Conway weren't exactly high on my draft boards, and I've never been enamored with Anthony Becht, but now they might as well be lepers. They deserve a bench spot, until the team can prove otherwise.

Kyle Boller: Right now he's the only rookie QB determined the starter, and he's got a cannon for an arm which should increase the value of WR's Fred Sanders, Travis Taylor, and Marcus Robinson, but rookie QB's tend to be inconsistent so don't expect to much from Boller other than a backup. He's got potential as a steal in keeper leagues, however, so keep that in mind. If you choose him as your starter, expect the potential for a lot of INT's.

Jimmy Smith: A four game drug suspension is not a good thing, but fantasy owners should be ok provided they have enough depth at WR to weather the storm for the first month. He might even be better after getting four more games of rest. For now, JJ Stokes will be the #1 WR which is a lot to ask, but he should at least get more passes thrown to him. Other than that, stick to Stokes as a 4th WR option.

Duce Staley: He finally ended his holdout and should be getting into game shape pretty quickly and could end up being the starter again sooner rather than later. Correl Buckhalter might start out the season as the #1, but if he struggles, Staley will quickly reclaim his job. For now, don't start either, and pick up Staley if he's still available. If you have both, monitor the situation closely and drop whoever ends up becoming the backup for another player.

Kelly Holcomb: In a previous column, I had predicted that Tim Couch would be proclaimed the starter based on his salary and draft position. I have to give Butch Davis credit for having more balls than I thought he was capable of. Holcomb will have every chance to succeed, but if he falters the Browns may again turn to Couch. Couch may also be useful on the bench in the event, although unlikely, he gets traded to another team. On a side note, the Brwons losing LT Ross Verba for the season hurts and could have negative effects for both Holcomb and RB William Green.

James Stewart: Another unfortunate injury in a meaningless preseason game, Stewart is out for the season. The Lions traded for RB Olandis Gary a new free agent from the Bills and will most likely claim the starting RB spot. Although the Lions also have Shawn Bryson, another former Buffalo Bill, Gary has the best chance of winning the job and should emerge as the starter. Drop Stewart if you haven't already and pickup Gary. Take a wait and see approach on him, and hopefully Gary should prove to be a useful backup RB. If you need him as your starter, you're probably in trouble anyways.

Brian Griese: Although he's a backup, his injury could have some fantasy implications. Jay Fiedler has never been a fan favorite, and has been prone to periods on injury. Backing him up for the next month to two months will be Sage Rosenfels. If Fiedler goes down, WR's like Chris Chambers and Derrius Thompson become even less appealing.

Garrison Hearst: Every year for the past three years, owners almost certainly draft Kevan Barlow before Hearst and once again Hearst has held him off and been named the starter. In some leagues, I had even seen that Hearst wasn't even drafted. While they might share some of the workload together, this obviously reduces the value of Barlow once again as nothing more than a 4th option at fantasy RB. Amos Zereoue: There's a new bus driver in Pittsburg. Deemed the main man in the backfield by Cowher, Amos increases the value of Maddox because of his ability to also catch the ball. This could also have a negative effect on the stats of TE's Mark Bruener and J.R. Riemersma, so keep that in mind.

Finally, I'd like to get to a couple of events that happened this Wednesday, just one day before the start of the start of the regular season. One is pretty minor but could have big consequences and another may have shifted the balance of power in the AFC East.

Chris Fumatu-Ma'afala: The reason I am mentioning this player, even after being cut by the Steelers is because of the team he ended up on later, the Jacksonville Jaguars. The main component in here is Fred Taylor. Everyone who knows anything about Taylor is well aware of his injury history. Owners would do well to consider picking this guy up if they have Taylor. In addition, Taylor stats may also drop as Fumatu-Ma'afala is a bruiser and may hear his name called quite often in goal line situations, similar to Stacey Mack of the prior years. Fred Taylor owners should expect to lose some TD production in the long run even if Taylor does stay healthy.

Lawyer Milloy: Normally a defensive player doesn't deserve much press in the realm of fantasy football, but his release by the Patriots and subsequent signing by the Buffalo Bills is pretty noteworthy. For one thing, the Pats D needs to get downgraded. Although Milloy had an off year last year, he's certainly better than anybody that the Pats will be able to come up with to replace him. On the other hand, a Bills D that strengthened itself over the offseason with many additions added another major component and drastically improved its secondary with the addition of this Pro-Bowler. A team that was a good pick as a second defense and potential sleeper could have all the makings of a strong #1 defense for your team. If the Bills are still available, what are you waiting for?

Injuries, new starters, cuts and trades happen constantly throughout the regular season. These happened in the preseason, but these events can turn teams that were once weak into a contender and the teams that were on top of the world, scrapping the bottom of the barrel by the end of the season. Keep on your toes with events and pay attention to what they mean for other players, and you'll be the one reaping the benefits.

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