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Lessons Learned
GENE MENEZ
December 18, 2006
So your plan to build a playoff powerhouse didn't pan out, and you're thinking there's no sense in dwelling on the past. But as you look to next year, history is your best teacher
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December 18, 2006

Lessons Learned

So your plan to build a playoff powerhouse didn't pan out, and you're thinking there's no sense in dwelling on the past. But as you look to next year, history is your best teacher

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4 FOLLOW THE FREE AGENTS

Chester Taylor is the anti-Edge. Taylor was an unrestricted free agent in the off-season who signed with the Vikings and became a dependable fantasy back. There are several backups, including the Chargers' Michael Turner, the Raiders' Justin Fargas and the Redskins' T.J. Duckett, who could be free agents next summer and emerge as the '07 Taylor.

Potential free agency has also made the Ravens' backfield the one to watch in the off-season. Starter Jamal Lewis is owed $10 million over the next two years, and it's likely that Baltimore will cut him before the contract kicks in. The club may well try to bring him back at a lesser price, especially considering his performance of late (299 yards and five touchdowns in his last four games). Backup Musa Smith is an unrestricted free agent next year, which could leave Mike Anderson (who is signed through '09) as the Ravens' only experienced running back. However this game of musical chairs plays out, the best-positioned survivor has a chance to be a solid fantasy contributor.

5 FILE AWAY THE LATE BLOOMERS

The supersleeper of the 2006 season not named Drew Brees was 49ers second-year running back Frank Gore. But this shouldn't have come as a shock: The way Gore finished last season (255 rushing yards and two touchdowns in his last three games) foreshadowed his '06 success.

No one has come on stronger in the last few weeks than Titans rookie quarterback Vince Young, whose knowledge of the offense and familiarity with his receivers should only grow next season. And with DeShaun Foster sidelined by an elbow injury, Panthers rookie running back DeAngelo Williams was finally given a chance to contribute and has responded with 445 total yards in his last four games. If he can improve his pass blocking, this gamebreaker will be hard to keep off the field.

Meanwhile, receivers such as New England's Reche Caldwell (24 catches in his last five games) and Miami's Marty Booker (26 in his last four games, with four TDs) have stepped up their production down the stretch and are well worth taking a flier on next year.

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