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Cruz, Tebow offer potential to become season-making linchpins


No less an authority than the New York Times wrote, "Giants games boil down to Victor Cruz." Playing in the New York media market will give a guy some extra attention, but Cruz has been a revelation this season, moving up the Giants depth chart as receivers ahead of him got hurt and putting up good fantasy numbers the last three weeks.

His three-catch, 110-yard, two- TD performance in Week 3 against the Eagles could be written off a bit -- it, after all, came against a defense run by an offensive line coach -- but Eli Manning targeted the second-year man out of UMass nine times against Arizona the following week. On Sunday, he was targeted 11 times, most on the team, in the Giants' loss to Seattle. A chunk of his 161 yards (on eight catches) came on a wild tipped catch-and-run, but he still would have serviceable fantasy numbers without it.

Cruz is now a hot waiver pickup, now owned in 61 percent of Yahoo! leagues mostly due to ones that don't feature a waiver system. (The waiver system is what most leagues switch to when an owner or two sits in front of his computer on Sunday and picks up the backups of guys who get hurt immediately. It's much fairer, and your league should have one.) The question is: How much of a factor will he be as the season continues? He's still a third wide receiver, after all, and Mario Manningham (the Giants' No. 2) was targeted nine times by Manning.

Well, no less than another respected authority, the Wall Street Journal, explored this in a piece Tuesday, pointing out that Cruz has the most receiving yards by a reserve in a three-game stretch since 1991. (No. 3 on that list, interestingly enough, is Steve Smith of the Panthers, in 2003, their NFC Championship year. The other name with a pedigree is Gary Clark of the Redskins, but his three-game stretch as a reserve came toward the end of his career.) The Giants rushing attack is weaker than usual, ranking 30th in yards per attempt; the Giants defense is giving up 24.6 points per game.

It's likely the Giants will continue to throw a lot, and Manning seems to have developed a rapport with Cruz in a short time. Cruz, who played three games without a catch last year before a hamstring injury ended his season, will likely continue to get better with ball security and could be an every-week fantasy starter by year's end.

Tim Tebow, Broncos (12 percent owned in Yahoo! leagues): As Eric Mack pointed out on Sunday, Tebow won many owners their fantasy leagues last season with a solid performance in Weeks 15 and 16. (He was, amazingly, the leading fantasy scorer from Weeks 15-17 last year, although most leagues don't play in the final week of the season.) The Broncos have an open date this week, but Tebow will be the starter against the Dolphins in Week 7. Tebow is especially valuable in leagues where quarterback touchdowns are worth three or four points; he had a rushing touchdown Sunday, carrying the ball six times for 38 yards. He's an intriguing pickup, especially if he gets a long look as a starter. It won't be pretty -- watching Tebow's throwing motion is as fun to watch as it was to watch Shaq shoot free throws -- but he could put up solid fantasy numbers.

Alex Smith, 49ers (16 percent): That's two good games in a row for the 49ers quarterback, the latest an 11-for-19, three-touchdown, 180-yard performance in a 48-3 rout of the Buccaneers. San Francisco runs too much for Smith to become an every-week starter, but he's thrown for seven scores and is the 16th-rated quarterback in the league. Those in two-quarterback leagues ought to give him a look.

Andy Dalton, Bengals (14 percent): With a suspension looming over Cedric Benson and the standout rookie season of A.J. Green (24 catches, 402 yards, 3 TDs on 42 targets), Dalton could be throwing a ton in Cincinnati. He's a rookie, but he's having a decent enough year.

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Jackie Battle, Chiefs (12 percent): Thomas Jones certainly doesn't appear fit to be the every-down back in Kansas City, and Battle came through in his first opportunity Sunday, rushing 19 times for 119 yards and catching two passes for 21 yards. (Jones had 10 carries for 55 yards against a Colts rushing defense that came into the game pretty solid this year, actually.) Kansas City won't run the ball every week as much as it did on Sunday, but Battle's worth a flier if you're in need of a running back. (Or, if you're the anonymous letter-writer who told Chiefs coach Todd Haley to use Battle.)

Delone Carter, Colts (12 percent): Joseph Addai went out with a hamstring injury against the Chiefs on Sunday, and the first-year running back from Syracuse took the bulk of the work, rushing 12 times for 22 yards and a score. Donald Brown (two percent) had eight carries for 38 yards, but Carter got all of the work near the goal line. Brown has been a fantasy starter before and hasn't produced all that well; Carter is the better speculative pickup.

Kevin Walter, Texans (14 percent): Jacoby Jones (41 percent) caught just one of the 11 passes thrown his way while Walter had five catches for 81 yards and a score on six targets on Sunday. Walter is the better pickup if you're still looking for a stop-gap while Andre Johnson is out. Once Johnson returns, Jones is the better option due to his big-play ability.

Doug Baldwin, Seahawks (7 percent): Mike Williams was out and Baldwin picked up a lot of the slack, catching eight passes for 136 yards and a score against the Giants. His touchdown came on a blown coverage by New York's secondary, but he was targeted 10 times, most on the team. Seattle's quarterback situation isn't great, but Baldwin could become a sneaky third- or fourth-fantasy wideout option in weeks when Seattle faces a weak secondary.

Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders (10 percent): The Raiders have a lot of options at wide receiver (Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford, Louis Murphy) but it's Heyward-Bey who has put up double-digit fantasy points in consecutive weeks. He's had good weeks before, and the Raiders spread the ball around, but Heyward-Bey leads the team in targets so far and could be on the verge of breaking out.

Jared Cook, Titans (39 percent): He didn't have a huge touchdown catch like he did the previous week, but Cook had his most catches of the year (four) on none targets Sunday. Not a great catch rate, but he's a solid pickup for owners in need of a tight end, as Matt Hasselbeck is looking his way.

Jake Ballard, Giants (3 percent): In addition to Cruz, the Giants' second tight end has had back-to-back solid weeks, including a three-catch, 72-yard performance with a touchdown on Sunday. He was targeted four times while Travis Beckum, the Giants' other TE, was targeted just once. He's worth keeping an eye out or picking up in deep leagues.

Buffalo (14 percent): The Bills' defense battered the Eagles up and down the field on Sunday. Although the Bills can give up a lot of points, they've been making up for it so far in takeaways, including 12 interceptions. Will this last the entire season? Probably not. Should you ride their success until it ends if you need a defense? Absolutely.

John Kasay, Saints (64 percent): The No. 3 fantasy kicker is still available in almost 40 percent of leagues. He's the kicker for the Saints! If he's available in your league, you'll likely want to replace your kicker with him.

Nick Novak, Chargers (18 percent): The Chargers' replacement kicker hasn't missed all season, and San Diego's offense is good enough that he's getting a lot of opportunities. He's just outside the top 10 despite not playing in Week 1.