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Week 14's sneaky pickup is ...

12/10/2010

St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford didn't have the most impressive of statistical games in Week 13, but I think we have to call his rookie campaign a success. Bradford is the No. 19 quarterback for season fantasy scoring, not starter-worthy but capable and, for the most part, reliable. He's only to going to get better. But who is his top target?

Early in the season, veteran Mark Clayton was obviously the guy. Danny Amendola had his moments, scoring in three consecutive games after that. In the past few weeks, however, the hierarchy has been a bit blunted, and I've looked for signs that someone among the group of Amendola, Laurent Robinson, Danario Alexander and Brandon Gibson would step up.

In deeper leagues, I'd invest in Gibson for these final few weeks because, as we've seen in past seasons, mid- to late-December is often the time when players emerge, and this looks like a point-per-reception asset carving out his place in what on the surface appears a group timeshare. The Rams are tied for first place in the NFC West, so the games obviously matter. This week features an interesting matchup against a New Orleans Saints pass defense that has been among fantasy's toughest against quarterbacks and the stingiest against wide receivers, but in the past few weeks Carson Palmer, Jon Kitna and Matt Hasselbeck have averaged 325 passing yards. This is why season numbers can mislead; the Saints have permitted a league-low 12.3 fantasy points to wide receivers this season, but the unit's three worst performances have come in ... you guessed, it the past three weeks. That's a trend.

Amendola has been seeing primary work on returns of late, Alexander seems awfully raw despite his 95 receiving yards in Week 12, and Robinson, while an obvious field stretcher, doesn't seem to be open much. I like Gibson, actually, and took a shot on him in a deep PPR league a few weeks back. The Washington State product has the look of a possession receiver, with six or more receptions in three of the past five contests. He gets open and, even including this Saints game, I like the Rams' schedule. It's a hunch maybe, but I think we're going to see Bradford's Rams host a playoff game -- it could easily happen -- and at some point, this group timeshare of wide receiver options could thin out. Keep an eye on what happens this week.

Here are some other sneaky pickups on my mind by position this fine Friday:

Quarterback: This is the one position you don't mess with in the fantasy playoffs, as in you shouldn't be using the pride of Fordham, John Skelton. I will say the oft-disappointing Alex Smith has an intriguing schedule, since three of his final four games are in the division. Smith did reach double digits in fantasy scoring four of five weeks earlier this season. Also, while I do not recommend Detroit Lions passer Drew Stanton this week, he did get 18 fantasy points against the Bears. The Lions close with the underwhelming Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings.

Running back: Maurice Jones-Drew looks awesome and might end up leading the league in rushing, but note backup Rashad Jennings has scored in consecutive weeks. It might seem crazy, but if the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Indianapolis Colts in Week 15, all but locking up the division, maybe MJD's workload is lessened. Also, keep on the radar Earnest Graham (goal-line touches?), Isaac Redman (receiving touchdowns in two of three weeks) and Dimitri Nance. Everyone loves James Starks, but Nance is in the Green Bay Packers' rotation. As we saw with Starks, running backs can go from nothing to 18 rushes quickly.

Wide receiver: With this position, there are so many unowned, ignored options playing at close to a WR3 level, maybe the term for adding them isn't "sneaky" at all. Anthony Armstrong of the Redskins is useful and in the top 50 for wide receiver scoring this season yet is owned in 2.8 percent of standard leagues. If the Redskins' running game improves even a bit, that would help a deep threat like Armstrong. Also, with Dez Bryant done for the rest of the season, the Dallas Cowboys will give Kevin Ogletree opportunities. Emmanuel Sanders has become the No. 3 wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Seyi Ajirotutu, Golden Tate and Donte' Stallworth are three others owned in less than 1 percent of leagues I'm watching.

Tight end: Todd Heap and his sore hamstring might not play this week, so Ed Dickson jumps into my rankings. Just when you learned to pronounce the name Michael Hoomanawanui, he's out awhile, so Daniel Fells replaces him. And the Seattle Seahawks finally gave Cameron Morrah a chance last week, and he produced 69 receiving yards.