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Ladd Biro | Waiver-wire wonders prove title-worthy

By LADD BIRO
Special to The Star

It’s that magical time of year again, when Santa takes requests at the local mall, true characters are exposed at company holiday parties and fantasy owners lament the injuries and draft-day miscues that cost them a shot at postseason glory.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but … Santa’s a bit over-extended on his credit cards, some people simply shouldn’t drink in public, and bad drafting wasn’t your problem.

Indeed, a quick scan over the rosters of most playoff teams reveals the indisputable truth about successful fantasy play: The real work begins after the draft.

Don’t believe me?

Tell me how confident you’d feel facing this lineup next weekend: Michael Vick, Peyton Hillis, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Lloyd, Steve Johnson, Sidney Rice, Marcedes Lewis, Dan Carpenter and the Seahawks defense.

I manage three formidable, playoff-bound teams, with a few of these players sprinkled on each, but I’m not sure any of my rosters could take down that gang. Of course, the common denominator is that virtually every one of these fantasy sensations went undrafted in the vast majority of leagues.

That’s not all. You could easily contend for a title with a plethora of other waiver-wire wonders, such as Kyle Orton, Sam Bradford, Mike Tolbert, Chris Ivory, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Marshawn Lynch, Tashard Choice, Jacob Tamme, Sebastian Janikowski and the Titans defense.

To be sure, none of the above is infallible. Orton, Bradford, Tolbert and Johnson each had lousy days at the office yesterday. But so did Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Chris Johnson. It happens.

So enough with the excuses, already. Frank Gore’s season-ending injury wouldn’t have been so devastating if you’d picked up Hillis after the season opener, would it? Stop poking holes in your Ryan Mathews voodoo doll, and blame yourself for not jumping on Tolbert when you had the chance. Heck, I don’t feel nearly as bad about taking Miles Austin in the second round, or Matt Schaub in the third, now that Johnson and Vick are in the fold.

We’d all love to set our starting lineups in Week 1 and never make anything but the occasional bye-week adjustments on our way to a 13-0 regular-season record and a first-round bye. But I haven’t seen that happen yet in my two-plus decades as a player. And I don’t think I ever will.

Just something to ponder for those of you whose fantasy season has come to an abrupt, and premature, end. There’s always next season.

Free agent picks and pans

To win a fantasy championship, you need to start with a good draft. But filling in your roster throughout the season with the right free agents can also make a big difference. Here’s a look at a few players worth considering, and others who would look better in someone else’s line-up.

Catch ‘em while you can

James Starks, RB, Packers. The rookie bruiser was given the bulk of the backfield workload on Sunday, and he responded with 18 carries for 73 yards. Brandon Jackson saw four meaningless carries, and was relegated mostly to pass-catching duties. Starks is a big back whose talents will likely be utilized even more as the weather deteriorates up North. He could prove to be a genuine late-season gem.

Tashard Choice, RB, Cowboys. I urged you to grab him last week, but that advice went unheeded by many. In fact, Choice is still available in the vast majority of fantasy leagues. After Sunday’s 100-yard, one-touchdown performance, perhaps the doubters will be convinced that Choice is the best back in Dallas. Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett, in particular.

Roy Williams, WR, Cowboys. No, I’m not predicting a complete turnaround in Dallas. But with Dez Bryant done for the season with a fractured ankle, Williams gets a new lease on his fantasy life. The Cowboys’ upcoming schedule offers favorable matchups with the Redskins and Cardinals, but Williams remains little more than a desperation play. Miles Austin and Jason Witten are more likely to capitalize on Bryant’s absence. Don’t be fooled

Tarvaris Jackson, QB, Vikings. He looked sharp against the Bills in relief of the injured Brett Favre. Alas, the ageless one isn’t necessarily going to miss his first start since the Vietnam War with a sprained shoulder; and even if he does, the Giants won’t be as accommodating as the Bills were. At the postseason looms, I hope you’re not counting on either Minnesota passer.

Mike Williams, WR, Seahawks. A foot injury will cost the Seahawks’ leading receiver at least one game, and probably more. Though his renaissance is one of the most compelling stories of the NFL season, he’s not so valuable that you should keep him on your bench “just in case.” Feel free to make room for other potential contributors. Amazingly, Sidney Rice is a free agent in nearly half of all leagues.

Todd Heap, TE, Ravens. He won’t be available to help you in Week 14, and most likely not beyond that, either, thanks to a hamstring injury he incurred against the Steelers. You’ll need to go waiver-wire shopping if Heap’s your tight end.

Ladd Biro is a syndicated fantasy football columnist and host of Sporting News Radio’s weekly Fantasy Files show (Saturdays, 8-9 am CT). Follow his daily fantasy advice at the Fantasy Fools blog and via Twitter.

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