- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Fantasy owners don't seem so excited about St. Louis Rams sophomore quarterback Sam Bradford anymore, and it's understandable. The news that potential top wide receiver Danny Amendola is out for the season doesn't help a corps that was underwhelming to start with. But I have potentially good news as we plan ahead -- that's what we do here in the Friday Sneaky Pickup blog entry -- because Bradford is going to eventually get help in the form of wide receiver Mark Clayton.
The winless Rams are a mess, and Bradford is perceived to have taken a major step backward this season; the truth is he's on pace for 3,396 passing yards, similar to his total last season, when he was fantasy's No. 20 quarterback despite throwing mainly short passes. He's 30th in yards per pass attempt. The Rams are off this week and then face road games with the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys and a home tilt with the New Orleans Saints. Doesn't seem fair.
But if you're patient with Bradford and the fellow who could be his top wide receiver, I think you will find it to be worth it. Bradford's problems -- he is 29th in standard league scoring -- are many. The schedule (the 3-1 Baltimore Ravens, Washington Redskins and New York Giants, plus the Philadelphia Eagles) hasn't been kind and won't be for a month. Amendola's loss hurt and nobody has stepped up; no Rams wide receiver ranks in the top 40 for standard fantasy scoring. Danario Alexander leads the team with 24 fantasy points, or six per game, but has only eight receptions!
Clayton certainly seemed relevant early last season, when he opened with a 10-catch, 119-yard effort in Week 1, scored a pair of touchdowns in Week 2 and averaged 79 receiving yards in the Week 3 and 4 victories. Clayton had a 30-yard reception in those last two games. Then in Week 5 he tore the patellar tendon in his right knee. He's on the physically unable to perform list but could play as soon as Week 7 against the Cowboys. Could he matter right away? Hmm, there's Alexander, Brandon Gibson, Mike Sims-Walker, Austin Pettis and Greg Salas as Bradford's current options. It's underwhelming.
In fairness, Clayton is no star -- he's generally been an underachiever since being a Baltimore Ravens first-rounder in 2005 -- and he's had other knee problems, but there's opportunity here and there's little question he worked well with Bradford. Plus, the Rams play all their NFC West division games from Week 9 onward. The games against the Arizona Cardinals should be fun! The San Francisco 49ers stop the run but have allowed more than 400 passing yards two of the past three weeks. Do the Seattle Seahawks scare you? I'd buy low on Rams right now, notably Steven Jackson and in a deep league Bradford, and try to find room for Clayton just in case.
Here are a few other names that seem like sneaky free-agent adds now, before they get much attention (to be eligible they have to be owned in fewer than 5 percent of leagues, disqualifying Isaac Redman and Jacoby Jones, among many others):
Jackie Battle, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (0.1 percent owned): After receiving five carries the first three weeks, and only a few in the first three quarters of the Week 4 win over the Minnesota Vikings, the large Battle (he's 238 pounds) was used to help run out the clock Sunday. He gained 10 yards on his first carry, bullied for a first down on his next rush and that was it. The Chiefs say Battle will get more chances this week, and why not? They know what Thomas Jones can and cannot do, and they appear unlikely to let Dexter McCluster run wild. Battle is a 28-year-old veteran with 51 career rush attempts. If he gets 10 this week against the brutal Indianapolis Colts run defense, he could become interesting fast.
Steve Slaton, RB, Miami Dolphins (0.9 percent): He didn't do much in his Miami debut, but at least he was out there. Rookie Daniel Thomas, who missed last week with a hamstring injury, is the lone Dolphins running back that really matters, and he claims he'll play in Week 6 after this week's bye. Knowing Reggie Bush's health history, Slaton will battle Lex Hilliard to be next in line. It seems odd to me that Slaton, so successful in 2008 as a rookie, has nothing left.
Chris Ivory, RB, New Orleans Saints (0.3 percent): Darren Sproles is awesome. Rookie Mark Ingram gets most of the carries. And Pierre Thomas is, well, he's still there. The powerful Ivory was the Saints' leading rusher in 2010, and he averaged 5.2 yards per carry. He'll have to leapfrog multiple players, but he'll be off the PUP list (foot) this weekend, and with Ingram sputtering along and Thomas a relative afterthought, he could be used right away. Don't be surprised if he cuts into Ingram's carries.
Terrell Owens, WR, free agent (1.2 percent): Let's have some fun! I don't know which team will sign Owens, recovering from offseason knee surgery, but he says he'll be ready to play within a month. Laugh if you must, but Owens did have 983 receiving yards and nine touchdowns last season. Stranger things have happened.
Have a great weekend everyone and best of luck in Week 5 and beyond!
Eric Karabell's sneaky pickups for this week include a wide receiver who won't make his season debut for another couple of weeks.