Dave Richard, Senior Fantasy Writer
The NFL regular season is history, but ardent Fantasy Football owners should always be on the lookout to find the next great player to help their Fantasy teams win. And while the NFL postseason has plenty of players you already know about, there are always a few who either fly under the radar or have something valuable to leave on the field.
We know you're going to be watching the playoffs anyway (even you Bengals and Broncos fans), so here are a dozen players -- one from each playoff team -- that you can keep tabs on. Who knows? This season's playoff heroes could be next season's Fantasy superstars. Just ask Deion Branch.
Joseph Addai, RB, Colts: All right, everyone knows who Addai is, but who am I supposed to pick from the Colts? Ricky Proehl? Ben Utecht? Aaron Moorehead? Here's what you should watch for: Check out how much Addai plays compared to Dominic Rhodes. Rhodes is a free agent after the season and Addai should land the full-time job in 2007. The playoffs will be a great chance for you to see how he does running inside, outside, catching the ball and blocking for Peyton Manning.
Cedric Benson, RB, Bears: Like Addai, you know who Benson is, but you should focus on him. The Bears have been using him more and more and like what they see. He's a fast player with good ball-catching skills and great acceleration in the open field. His center-of-gravity is low to the ground and makes him tough to bring down. He should also end up being the Bears' primary running back next season.
Reche Caldwell, WR, Patriots: This is a name Fantasy owners know, but are afraid to trust. Get over it -- Caldwell is New England's most prominent wideout and is having a career year. He had a pair of 100-yard games in December and has emerged as a fairly reliable option for Tom Brady. When you consider that Caldwell had a better Fantasy season than Chris Chambers, Drew Bennett and Derrick Mason, you can't view him as "just another Florida receiver who can't catch the football" anymore.
Jeff Garcia, QB, Eagles: Sure, here's a guy everybody knows. So why watch him? Because he's going to compete for a starting job somewhere in 2007. Garcia has regained his confidence -- much in part to working in an offense he's comfortable in -- and has played beyond anyone's expectations to help Philly land a playoff berth. Check out his mobility and how he uses it to his advantage, and how he doesn't take as many chances with the football as he once did.
D.J. Hackett, WR, Seahawks: Hackett has grown into Matt Hasselbeck's top target with Darrell Jackson (toe) battling injury and since Deion Branch started dropping passes. Hackett is a lanky receiver with some good speed and may wind up being tough to cover as a No. 3 receiver. He's also a restricted free agent after the season and could fly into someone else's nest during the offseason.
Devery Henderson, WR, Saints: Not that watching Reggie Bush should be ignored (that's more of a prerequisite), but Henderson has plenty to offer. If Joe Horn is healthy, look for Henderson to be more of a No. 3 receiver used as a deep threat in short-yardage situations (first-and-5, second-and-1, etc.). Another late-round type who could help owners next season.
Brandon Jacobs, RB, Giants: You may think of Jacobs as a short-yardage and goal-line specialist, but he can do much more than that. Jacobs is a powerful runner who can also catch the ball. And take it from someone who has stood face-to-face with him, Jacobs looks more like a linebacker than a running back. The Giants will also have a vacancy to fill this offseason with Tiki Barber retiring, so Jacobs is already auditioning for the gig.
Vincent Jackson, WR, Chargers: Jackson has emerged as the top wide receiver on the Chargers despite being fourth on the team in receiving yards and fifth in receptions. He's a wide-bodied target who has good (not great) speed but has a lot of experience working with Philip Rivers as second-teamers in 2005. He's been the Chargers' leading receiver in two of their last three games and will give opponents a ton of trouble if he develops into a reliable target.
Samie Parker, WR, Chiefs: The Chiefs are a lot like the Colts in that they don't have a lot of 'under the radar' players to check out on offense. But Parker is relatively young and has the potential to be a useful No. 2 receiver, which could make him a No. 3 Fantasy receiver in time. He starts and sees a lot of single coverage and is that late-round flier type of receiver that could help owners down the line. It is worth noting that he has improved statistically in each of his first three seasons and is a restricted free agent this offseason.
Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys: Everyone was in love with Romo when he replaced Drew Bledsoe at midseason, but his play in Dallas' last five games has been mostly unimpressive. His completion percentage has tanked (only a pair of games with a percentage higher than 60 pct.) and he has 11 turnovers in that span. He's not a lock to start for the Cowboys in 2007, and thus may not be a No. 1 Fantasy quarterback. See if he can keep the turnovers down and the completions up in the playoffs.
Brad Smith, QB/RB/WR/KR, Jets: Imagine if you could take the versatility of Antwaan Randle El and mix him with the measurables of Lions WR Roy Williams. That's what the Jets have in Smith, but with one caveat: He's a former college quarterback playing at all sorts of other positions. Luckily, the Jets are creative offensively and will find ways to make Smith useful not only in the playoffs but in the seasons to come.
Demetrius Williams, WR, Ravens: It used to be that slot receivers were the 5-foot-9 speedsters who could get open deep. Now the new trend is to use taller guys in the slot against smaller, and less capable, cornerbacks. Williams is 6-foot-2 and has pretty good speed. The Ravens have used him well, connecting with him on passes of 20 yards or more eight times this season, including five times in their last four games. This is the kind of late-round pick you want to take a flier on next year as he's displayed big-play ability and could parlay that into a starting gig.
So there you have it. A dozen players sure to keep your attention during the playoffs. One of these men will earn a Super Bowl ring this postseason, but more than one of these guys should be helpful for Fantasy owners next season. So start scouting!
And if this doesn't do it for you, watch the Senior Bowl on January 27. You'll find plenty of rookie-to-be players on display.
I agree with most these recommendations except for Brad Smith and Samie Parker. The former has no fantasy relevancy and the latter has been a drop-proned receiver on a run-first offense.