- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
By Week 10 of a fantasy football season it might seem more difficult to find sneaky free-agent pickups, but I hearken back to around this time seven years ago. Way back in 2004, the starting quarterback for the Tennessee Titans was Steve McNair, until an injury shortened his season. That's when backup quarterback Billy Volek and ordinary wide receiver Drew Bennett got started. From Weeks 12-14, the combination was lethal; Volek threw 11 touchdown passes and averaged 395 passing yards in that stretch, while Bennett caught eight touchdowns passes and averaged 172 receiving yards. You thought Denarius Moore was good Thursday night? Bennett was unreal for three weeks.
Of course, Volek and Bennett did little before or after that three-week stretch. But I won't soon forget one of my undefeated fantasy teams losing in the first round to an owner relying on the Volek-Bennett combination. Hey, it happens. It's fantasy football.
That brings us to Friday's sneaky pickups blog entry, folks! This isn't about Week 10, but beyond. And if we're talking about unlikely fantasy combinations, you won't find Matt Schaub-Andre Johnson, Josh Freeman-Mike Williams or other highly owned options below. Like Volek-Bennett, we have to go way, way off the grid, and don't worry so much about the veteran-rookie angle, either.
Shaun Hill and Titus Young, Detroit Lions: Nobody is rooting for Matthew Stafford to get hurt, but I've been including Hill in my top 40 quarterbacks in the rest-of-season rankings just in case, based on Stafford's history and the fact Calvin Johnson is unstoppable. Hill had statistical success as recently as last season, and Young, the rookie from Boise State, has shown flashes of breakout ability. If Calvin Johnson gets more defensive attention, Hill and Young could work well together, and the Lions close with an attractive schedule of pass-challenged defenses that get in shootouts, including the Green Bay Packers twice, the San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints.
Blaine Gabbert and Jason Hill, Jacksonville Jaguars: I actually ranked Hill, the trash-talker from before the New York Jets game in September, in my top 50 this week because the opposing Indianapolis Colts are on an historic pace for allowing points and yards. Gabbert isn't doing much and he's a rookie, hardly a veteran in the Volek-Hill mold, but he's readily available, and we hope at some point he will direct the football downfield. The Jaguars close with the Colts in Week 17, so if you own Aaron Rodgers and are worried his well-clinched team won't use him, and it's a deep league, plan ahead now.
Jake Locker and Damian Williams, Tennessee Titans: Williams is owned in 1.4 percent of leagues, despite showing affinity for scoring in-close touchdowns. He has three touchdowns on five opportunities inside the 5-yard line. Again, I'm not rooting against starter Matt Hasselbeck, but if the Titans are sputtering entering December, rookie quarterback Locker could certainly be summoned in preparation for starting in 2012.
John Beck and Leonard Hankerson, Washington Redskins: Hankerson's Week 9 performance, with five targets and four receptions, offers some optimism, and surely Beck is desperate for options. Beck should still be starting in December -- there's no rookie like Locker looming -- and the Redskins close with attractive defenses to throw on, including the New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings. Sure, Santana Moss might come back, but this is also a last-place team, so why rush him? Jabar Gaffney isn't young, either. Hankerson, a big-play guy with the Miami Hurricanes, is.
Billy Volek and Vincent Brown, San Diego Chargers: For those wondering where Volek is now, there's your answer. Philip Rivers doesn't miss games, not like he does his receivers recently, and he won't get benched, but this paragraph is more about Brown. We can't count on Malcom Floyd or Patrick Crayton being healthy, and Brown's Thursday night performance, with 97 yards and a score, was interesting. And if you're looking for a sneaky running back add, there's always the Chargers' Curtis Brinkley. Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert are generally productive but have missed games recently.
Other potential combinations: Vince Young and Jason Avant, Philadelphia Eagles; Christian Ponder and Devin Aromashodu, Minnesota Vikings; Alex Smith and Ted Ginn, San Francisco 49ers; John Skelton and Andre Roberts, Arizona Cardinals; Brady Quinn and Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos; Tarvaris Jackson and Ben Obomanu, Seattle Seahawks.
OK, now here are some running back pickups you might not be thinking about today, but veteran fantasy owners in 16-team leagues who have searched far and wide on Thanksgiving morning for help know every bench spot should be used properly. Among the running backs on my mind today, for help down the line, are Kevin Smith of the Detroit Lions, Taiwan Jones of the Oakland Raiders and Joe McKnight of the New York Jets.
Smith generally tortured Lions fans and fantasy owners after his fine 2008 rookie campaign, and injuries were the main culprit. He was unemployed until re-signing with the Lions a few days ago, presumably healthy enough to contribute. That's more than we can say about Jahvid Best, unfortunately. I don't expect Smith to produce, but there could be opportunity, as with Chris Ogbonnaya in Cleveland, immediately. As for Jones, it looks as if Darren McFadden will remain out of the way another week or more, so if Michael Bush gets hurt, watch out. Jones looks like he can really play.
And then there's McKnight; I actually like Shonn Greene, but when he left early with concussion symptoms in Week 9 (he's apparently fine now), McKnight was given nine carries with the Jets holding a nice lead. McKnight is arguably the best kickoff man in the league, and I think he could do some damage as a running back.
Best of luck to everyone in Week 10 and beyond, and don't forget to thank the veterans -- not the 30-year-olds in the NFL -- but those in the military who have served and continue to do so for our country.
Eric Karabell's sneaky pickups for this week include a number of quarterback-wide receiver combinations and some unsung running backs.