Commentary

The dollar store: Late-round gems

Updated: August 28, 2008, 11:45 AM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

There's a first time for everything.

Among my many fantasy football leagues is one auction-based league, which has been in existence for over a decade. We drafted (auctioned?) this past Saturday, and it was a quick auction at that, under three hours, incredibly.

Maybe it was the fast pace of things, maybe it was the sugar rush from the chocolate chip cookies one of our owners kindly brought, maybe it was the prospect of a hearty chicken parmigiana sandwich to come afterwards, but for some reason, on this night, I came out firing fast and furious with my auction dollars. Purchase after quick purchase, I found myself having rostered an entire starting lineup of nine players and a defense/special teams about an hour-plus in ... but I had entirely blown my budget.

It was a strange, unfamiliar feeling, being stuck with nothing but $1 bids to fill an entire seven-man bench (per league rules). It's the first time in that league I had ever had to roster that many $1 players. Uncharted territory, if you will.

After snatching up another of those mighty tasty cookies, I had a new, unfamiliar task on my hands: scratching up a list of "one-buck candidates" I actually thought might have a chance to sneak through for that little. Oh, sure, you might think, "Just nominate the highest player on your draft list and hope for the best," but that's no winning strategy. You're not going to sneak Roddy White through for a simple buck when half of the teams in the auction still have double-digit auction dollars and multiple receiver spots left open. No, you'll wind up getting quickly outbid, and by the time the "$1 round" arrives at auction's end, either many of your sleepers will sell before you can nominate them, or there'll be that one pesky owner ready to go to $2 and break your heart.

So, pen, paper and cookie in hand, I worked up my list, the 10 names that you'll read below. From an ESPN standard league standpoint, they're guys drafted outside the top 150 on average, or who have been selling for less than a $2 average price tag in live auctions. They're not world-beaters, they're not necessarily starters, they might not even be draftable if your league is painfully shallow (my advice there: find a deeper league!). But if you're nearing the end of your auction or are in the late rounds of your draft and running dry on your cheat sheet, give a few of these guys a shot.

(You'll notice I transcribed the list instead of scanning the original scrap of paper, both to allow for a brief write-up of each player and so that the coffee-ring stain that wound up on it afterwards might not confuse owners into picking Kevin Kasper instead of Kevin Walter.)

Experts' dirt-cheap gems
Curious to hear their $1-bid candidates, I asked our staff to share their choices for dirt-cheap sleepers. The same rules applied: The player could not be picked among the top 150 on average in ESPN live drafts, or have sold for a $2 price or more on average in ESPN live auctions.

Matthew Berry -- James Jones, WR, Packers: The recent injury news will certainly keep his value down, but it doesn't seem super serious and when healthy, you have to like a guy who caught almost 50 balls for 700 yards last year. Remember, while Brett was throwing to Donald and Greg, Aaron Rodgers was practicing with Jones.

Ken Daube -- Steve Slaton, RB, Texans: Too many people are viewing him as undersized and labeling him as incapable of being more than a third-down back. They're wrong. Slaton's combination of speed and receiving skills make him a perfect fit in the zone-running scheme employed by the Texans. Considering the talent in front of him, or more appropriately the lack of talent in front of him, Slaton has a real chance of being an every-down back. And if you are truly concerned about his size, then take Brian Westbrook and Reggie Bush off your draft boards, because they are the same size as Slaton.

Christopher Harris -- Josh Morgan, WR, 49ers: Morgan's college teammate, Eddie Royal, is getting love in Denver, but Morgan is starting on Mike Martz's offense. Remember Mike Furrey and Shaun McDonald? That's Morgan this year.

Eric Karabell -- DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles: The rookie will play a major role in the receiving game, and return punts. I could see a real breakout campaign.

Eric Karabell -- Garrett Wolfe, RB, Bears: The Bears have rookie Matt Forte, brittle Kevin Jones and that other Adrian Peterson, but I'd still like to see college rushing champ Garrett Wolfe get a chance. If he does, watch out.

Keith Lipscomb -- Josh Morgan, WR, 49ers: He has had a great camp, while the expected starters have been either rested or hobbled. And hey, it's Mike Martz, and anyone who enjoyed owning No. 84 in Detroit last year (Shaun McDonald) -- or was burnt by him at some point -- knows that even No. 3 receivers can have great value in his offense. San Francisco's No. 84 could be this year's big bargain at WR.

AJ Mass -- Kevin Walter, WR, Texans: He averaged over 40 receiving yards and caught three touchdown passes in the six games he played after Andre Johnson returned from his injury.

Jim McCormick -- Anthony Fasano, TE, Dolphins: He's familiar with the coaching staff and could emerge as a nice safety valve for quarterback Chad Pennington.

Jim McCormick -- Jalen Parmele, RB, Dolphins: Deep on the depth chart but behind a gimpy Ronnie Brown and a rusty Ricky Williams, who has just six carries in the past two seasons.

James Quintong -- Lorenzo Booker, RB, Eagles: He has the same type of game as Brian Westbrook (somewhat small, can catch a lot of passes out of the backfield) if something should happen to Westbrook.

Nate Ravitz -- Tarvaris Jackson, QB, Vikings: You heard me. He had a passer rating better than 90 in four of his final six starts last season, and Bernard Berrian is a significant upgrade at wide receiver. He's also a threat on the ground.

Ted Ginn Jr., WR, Dolphins: He's showing decent chemistry with new quarterback Chad Pennington, and should be much improved upon his rookie numbers with a year's experience and a better quarterback slinging him the ball. Ginn should also reprise his role on special teams, a nice little bonus for fantasy owners. He has already returned a punt for a score in the preseason, and in ESPN standard leagues, that's a six-point play. A lot of people seem to be going nuts over return man/receiver Devin Hester, but it's Ginn who might have the better chance at consistent production.

Tim Hightower, RB, Cardinals: If I'm so down on Edgerrin James -- and I am -- then it'd figure that I like the designated goal-line back behind him on the depth chart. The Cardinals aren't stupid; they know they're going to need to protect the aging James, now 30. Who else do you think will offer him a breather, J.J. Arrington? Puh-leeze. Expect a healthy number of touches for Hightower, who is averaging 4.3 yards per carry with three touchdowns on 24 rushing attempts in the preseason. He's a must-have handcuff if you get saddled with James, and he's going cheap, often for $1 in auctions.

Randy McMichael, TE, Rams: Though Al Saunders' presence mattered little to the team's tight ends in his previous stint as Rams offensive coordinator, let's face it, Roland Williams and Ernie Conwell are no Randy McMichael. Plus, those Rams teams went at least two quality receivers deep, while this year's team boasts Drew Bennett as the No. 2 option. Folks, Bennett is no Torry Holt, and he might not even be an Az-Zahir Hakim (the No. 3 back then). That thrusts McMichael into the forefront in the passing game, maybe not to the extent a Tony Gonzalez or Chris Cooley was in past Saunders offenses, but enough so that there'll be a few quality matchups for him to exploit.

Robert Meachem, WR, Saints: Normally I'm one to say don't be fooled by the preseason numbers, but when it comes to Meachem, I say throw caution to the wind. He has 23.4 yards per reception and has a score among his nine catches, and if not for a comparably strong performance by David Patten, might have made a case to start alongside Marques Colston in Week 1. No matter, Meachem will get his catches, playing in an offense that threw the ball an NFL-most 652 times in 2007. There's a good chance that by midseason, he'll have supplanted Patten in the starting lineup.

Josh Morgan, WR, 49ers: The San Francisco papers seem to suggest he's in a battle with Bryant Johnson for the starting split end role, but the 49ers would be fools not to get Morgan into the starting lineup, or at least regular action in the slot. If you watched him play this preseason, surely you saw a glimpse of his deep-threat ability, which perhaps gives him greater upside than any other receiver on the roster. Morgan already has demonstrated good chemistry with the team's new quarterback -- read up on him below -- and he's a nice fit in Mike Martz's offense. You want cheap, high-ceiling picks like him.

J.T. O'Sullivan, QB, 49ers: Mike Martz sure seems to have an affinity for players who know his offense, like Mike Furrey and Shaun McDonald each of the past two years in Detroit, after they had worked with Martz previously in St. Louis. Along those same lines, O'Sullivan and Martz worked together in Detroit, so it shouldn't be too shocking to learn he'll be the Week 1 starter. This one is totally a boom-or-bust prospect, with the "bust" portion a stronger probability, but when you're digging this deep at quarterback, it's not a bad chance to take. After all, O'Sullivan is in a quarterback-friendly system, will get better protection than you might think, his receivers have enough talent to help him and his division is littered with soft pass defenses he can exploit.

Eddie Royal, WR, Broncos: A zero-catch preseason effort this past Friday will help keep his draft stock reasonably low, but Royal finds himself in a splendid opportunity for a rookie receiver. Initially expected to be merely a reserve and return specialist, Royal did enough in camp to make a case to start, evidenced by his not being used at all to return punts in that most recent preseason contest. That's usually a sign a team is protecting its starter, and with Brandon Marshall out for at least two weeks of the regular season, Royal will get a prime chance to strut his stuff. He's a high-upside player to stash and watch.

Steve Slaton, RB, Texans: What a mess that Texans running back position has become. Ahman Green has been hurt the entire preseason, and Chris Brown offers no better track record in the health department. Chris Taylor got the start in the third preseason game, but note that Slaton, a third-round rookie coming off a great camp, did come on in relief and played behind the first-string offensive line. Slaton is currently battling a turf-toe problem that must be monitored, but he's the most explosive of the team's options when healthy. He could quickly leap to the top of the depth chart.

Kevin Walter, WR, Texans: There's a common misconception that when Andre Johnson was hurt last season, Walter stepped up and offered respectable fantasy numbers, and when Johnson returned, Walter's numbers went back into the tank. Sure, Walter's number of targets declined beginning in Week 11, when Johnson returned to the lineup, but he actually offered up more double-digit fantasy efforts from that point forward (3) than he did in the seven games Johnson missed (2). And with Matt Schaub and the Texans' passing game seemingly firing on all cylinders this preseason, there should be enough throws to go around to make Walter fantasy-worthy.

Kurt Warner, QB, Cardinals: Come on, Ken, just admit Kurt's your starter. I'm speaking of Ken Whisenhunt, who, for some bizarre reason, won't admit to having made the reasonable decision of picking Warner. No matter; all it's doing is allowing the veteran to sneak through at a discount rate so, in a way, Whisenhunt is doing us all a favor. The numbers tell it all; Warner averaged 295.3 passing yards per game and threw for 21 touchdowns in his final eight games of 2007, and had more fantasy points than any quarterback other than Tom Brady from Week 11 forward. Do we need any further evidence that he's a far better fit to the offense than Matt Leinart?

In case you're curious how the strategy panned out, here's what the 10 players wound up selling for: Ginn $2, Hightower $1 (nominated before I could get to him), McMichael $1 (my purchase), Meachem $2, Morgan $2 (a heartbreaking theft from me by a guy who didn't even know who Morgan was when I picked him in another draft of ours a night earlier), O'Sullivan $1 (mine), Royal $1 (mine), Slaton $4, Walter $5 (his owner forecasted a 1,000-yard season after the auction), Warner $1.

The other four $1 picks I ended up taking: James Jones (great hands), Sammy Morris (goal-line carries?), Jerious Norwood (talented second stringer) and Matt Ryan (my No. 3, and at least Ben Roethlisberger is my No. 1).

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball, football and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.