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The Colts' Reggie Wayne has elevated his game--and stats--to starting-wideout-caliber
THOSE FANTASY owners who thought they were getting the Colts' second-best receiver when they drafted Reggie Wayne have to be ecstatic about their good fortune. As dangerous as fellow wideout and perennial Pro Bowler Marvin Harrison remains, Wayne, 28, has blossomed as a threat, and now the two are equals. Wayne already is on pace to lead the Colts in both receiving yards and touchdowns for the first time in his six-year career (he has 62 receptions for 1,119 yards and eight touchdowns in 12 games), and he might well be a top five fantasy receiver in many of next year's drafts.
Wayne's emergence is more a testament to his maturation and the way defenses have played the Colts than to any decline in the 34-year-old Harrison's play. Says one AFC personnel director, "Marvin will always be [quarterback] Peyton [Manning]'s favorite because they have a rapport, but Reggie looks like he's become more [integral to] their passing game. You can see that Peyton is willing to spread the ball around a lot more than he did earlier in his career. He's shown more trust in Reggie every season."
STUMBLING BLOCK Chargers Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates is on pace for his worst statistical season since his rookie year of 2003. After catching 170 passes and scoring 23 touchdowns over the past two seasons, Gates has 57 receptions and six scores through 12 games this year--and that's including his seven-catch, 90-yard, touchdown day in a win over the Bills on Sunday. The problem? Aside from not having enough proven weapons at wide receiver to divert the extra coverage on Gates, in recent weeks the Chargers have become more reliant on, and dominant in, the running game. "We're not feeding the ball to Antonio as much this year, but people don't realize he's having his best season as a run blocker," says Chargers backup left tackle Roman Oben. "He's been killing people at the point of attack. It's hard to measure that aspect of his game with numbers." Unfortunately for Gates owners, it's also impossible to get excited about a stud tight end who hasn't been catching a lot of passes.
THE GRAND DISTRIBUTOR A willingness to share the wealth has been the biggest reason that Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has thrived in his first six NFL starts, to the benefit of his owners and his receivers. As Cowboys wideout Terrell Owens says, "Everyone is running their routes while knowing that they're a viable option [in the passing game]. Each week a different guy is stepping up and making plays. It's going to be that way the rest of the year." In his first six starts Romo has thrown touchdown passes to five receivers, and as long as he maintains that approach, he'll continue to be an impact performer for those owners who were smart enough to grab him when he replaced Drew Bledsoe six weeks ago.
TOP BILLING Though Buffalo quarterback J.P. Losman hasn't proved to be a reliable fantasy starter, he is helping wideout Lee Evans bloom as a big-play wide receiver. After 12 games Evans has 65 receptions for 925 yards and four TDs, and he's displaying the explosiveness that had fantasy owners hyping him for a breakout season last year. Those owners who are wondering if Evans can continue that production as the season winds down should be encouraged by the steady improvement of Losman (six TD passes in his last five games). Says Bills offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild, "The confidence in [Losman] is growing every week. [Furthermore] we've decided to be a little more aggressive with him, and he's certainly played well."
PETER KING I THINK ...
... you should review your draft mistakes as you head into the off-season
Everyone makes mistakes in the fantasy draft. I made quite a few in the mock draft conducted at SI last summer, and here are the lessons I've learned:
? Pay attention to news out of training camp. In August I said on TV that the Cowboys would go to Tony Romo this season. Didn't look too good for a while, but it looks real good now. Romo's the kind of guy you should take in the 14th round of an 18-round draft. When you see a veteran coach ( Bill Parcells) clearly enamored with a young player ( Romo) and dissatisfied with a veteran ( Drew Bledsoe), figure the kid's going to get his shot. Just be prepared to wait for a risky pick to pay off.