October 24, 2008

Prior to the '06 season, I'm proud to say, I listed Bernard Berrian and Greg Jennings as deep sleepers. Both stepped right up and had some very nice games, while displaying their bright NFL and fantasy futures.

Last year, with Brett Favre chucking the ball, Jennings exploded for 920 yards and 12 touchdowns, cementing his status as a fantasy stud. He hasn't slowed down in '08, even without Favre at the helm. Jennings and Aaron Rodgers have teamed up to average 108.8 yards per game thus far.

I believed in Rodgers, so I wasn't really concerned about a drop off from Jennings this season.

I can't say the same for Berrian, who signed a big free-agent deal with the QB-less Vikings.

Maybe it's not fair to say QB-less, but when you were looking at a third-year quarterback -- Tarvaris Jackson -- who had more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (9) last year and a backup journeyman quarterback -- Gus Frerotte -- who's most memorable moment as a pro was spraining his neck by head-butting a cement wall in celebration after scoring a touchdown in a Monday Night game ... well, clearly there wasn't much hope for getting the ball thrown were Berrian could catch it.

Of course, Berrian has plenty of experience dealing with pathetic quarterback play. After all, he spent his first four seasons with the Chicago Bears -- home of such legends as Brian Griese, Rex Grossman and a young Kyle Orton.

Despite the sketchy QB play around him, Berrian still managed to produce at a respectable pace. In '06, he pulled in 51 passes for 775 yards and six scores; last season, he caught 71 balls for 951 yards and five touchdowns.

What's his secret? It's his blazing speed -- as in a 4.27 40-yard sprint at the Combines before the Bears drafted him in '04.

If the free-agent speedster had landed this summer on a team where he was the No. 1 option for a quality quarterback, he would have been at least 10 spots higher on most preseason cheat sheets. Instead, Berrian was a boom-or-bust pick taken in the middle-to-later rounds.

Then he stumbled out of the gate, catching three balls for just 38 yards in the opener, then failing to even catch a single pass in Week 2.

Luckily for fantasy heads, the Vikings were staring into the abyss after starting 0-2 and coach Brad Childress yanked the struggling Jackson and replaced him with Frerotte. Don't get me wrong, it's rough to be in a spot where having to use Frerotte is a good thing, but at least the veteran can get the ball downfield and limit turnovers.

Despite facing some tough defenses in Carolina and Tennessee, the next two weeks, Berrian clearly benefited from having Frerotte at the helm, as he caught three balls for 79 yards in Week 3 and five for 78 the next game.

But we've seen the best the past three weeks, when Berrian pulled in six passes for 110 yards and a TD against the Saints, five for 131 and a score against the Lions, and six for 81 and a TD versus his old Bears teammates.

Berrian has a tendency to drop passes, and obviously the Vikings ride Adrian Peterson in the run game, so Berrian isn't likely to catch double-digit passes any time soon. That's okay, though. He just needs to beat a safety once or twice a game to make his fantasy value.

Consider that his long receptions for the six weeks in which he caught a pass are: 24 yards, 48, 28, 36, 86 and 34. And he's currently tied for fourth in the NFL at 18.5 yards per catch and fifth in YAC (6.3) out of receivers with at least 25 catches.

That makes him a pretty solid fit as a WR2 in most formats, especially with a nice schedule during fantasy playoff weeks 14, 15 and 16, when the Vikes face the Lions, Cardinals and Falcons, respectively.

Berrian makes for a good buy-low candidate, and he might even be floating around waiver wires in shallow leagues.

Tom Carpenter is a freelance writer, who has been covering fantasy sports professionally since 1999. He spent nearly eight years as a Senior Editor for Rototimes.com, was ESPN.com's original Pistons Field Correspondent and a featured columnist for USAToday.com from 2003-2005. He can be reached at tecarpenter@comcastDOTnet.

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