I aim to include only those receivers who are question marks for their fantasy owners. This means the pool of candidates is constantly churning, because a player's question mark status can change over time. If a player has been putting up at least seven fantasy points per week (using standard yardage league rules), I won't include him on the "Start" list because it is likely already known that he belongs there.
On the flip side, there are certain wide receivers who simply don't produce enough points to be considered for this list. The rule of thumb I use for "Sits" is that a player has to be coming off a good game or have a recent history of putting up at least seven points per week.
The "Sleeper" criteria are quite simple. I look for players with favorable matchups who are available as waiver candidates in at least 50 percent of ESPN's fantasy leagues. That ensures that they are sleepers in the truest sense of the word, and also ensures that as many owners as possible can take advantage of the picks. The limitation on player choice does make it harder to get the picks right, but I believe it makes the information much more valuable.
I noticed in the ESPN Conversation comments on last week's article that some readers had questions about the injury status of players and how those might affect the picks. I write these articles on Wednesday evening and as part of the selection process, I do review the Wednesday injury report. Since that report is, at best, a preliminary injury report, there may be times when the later injury reports change a player's status, or effectiveness, for the game. Be sure to check back with ESPN Fantasy for updates on any such players leading up to game day. We've got you covered.
Now on to the picks!
Starts (12-18 for the season, but 8-5 the past four weeks)
Derrick Mason, Ravens: Mason, for the most part, has been a solid week-to-week No. 3 candidate this season, but he is coming off a three-point performance against the Steelers, his lowest point total of the season. That might prompt some fantasy coaches to consider benching him, but Mason's matchup against the weak Bengals secondary, and more specifically the hot/cold Deltha O'Neal, says he has a lot of upside.
Calvin Johnson, Lions: After a fairly strong start to his 2007 season (30 points in the first three games), Johnson has come back down to earth. He has only 15 points in his past four starts and four of them came on running plays. Despite this, Johnson is still owned in 94.8 percent of ESPN leagues, so he is a huge question mark for most fantasy coaches.
This is a week to take him off the question mark list. Johnson is slated to face Antrel Rolle. Rolle's career has taken a big step back this season; he was demoted to the nickel back position early on. I have Rolle rated as a C-level cornerback in coverage, and Johnson is certainly capable of beating someone of that coverage level.
David Patten, Saints: I normally wouldn't include a player performing as well as Patten in this list (he has 37 points during the past four weeks), but despite his fantastic numbers he is still owned in only 7.1 percent of ESPN leagues. The Rams' secondary has been mediocre to awful all season long and Tye Hill, Patten's lineup matchup this week, is rated as a C-minus. Patten should have another good day and given how well the Saints' offense is performing of late, he could have potentially explosive fantasy numbers.
Sits (19-7 for the season)
Isaac Bruce, Rams: The Rams' passing game has bounced back of late (Marc Bulger has thrown for 535 yards in the past two games), so that might seem to make Bruce a possible start candidate. Two things should make fantasy coaches think twice before doing that, however. Bruce's lineup matchup is Mike McKenzie, who is playing quite well this season (I have him rated as a B). The other issue is that the Saints have two other weak targets in their secondary in Jason David and Jason Craft. Expect the Rams to throw at those two and avoid McKenzie and, thus, you should sit Bruce accordingly.
Amani Toomer, Giants: Toomer has totaled 24 fantasy points over the past three weeks, but only one of those points came in the Giants' most recent game. That kind of inconsistency makes him a fantasy headache, but I'm here with the fantasy aspirin. Toomer's lineup matchup is Terence Newman. It is possible that Newman will be moved around to face Plaxico Burress, but even if that happens, Anthony Henry is coming back from his ankle injury and would cover Toomer. Henry isn't as good as Newman, but he is good enough to hold Toomer in check.
Muhsin Muhammad, Bears: Twenty-five points in the past four games says that Muhammad is a start candidate. His matchup against a much-improved Stanford Routt and a strong Raiders secondary say he is a sit. Expect the Bears to run the ball quite often against Oakland's suspect run defense, so Muhammad should not see many passes thrown his way.
Sleepers (3-14 for the season, but 3-7 in past 10)
Nate Burleson, Seahawks: Burleson is scoring only 3.8 fantasy points per game over the past five games, which is the main reason he is available in 78.7 percent of ESPN leagues. This is a week in which he should be a big blip on many fantasy football coaches' radar screens, though, as the Seahawks are facing a 49ers team with a very banged-up secondary. Depending on how Seattle's coaches utilize him, Burleson will be facing either Shawntae Spencer (rated F-plus) or the struggling Walt Harris (rated C-plus). Either of those matchups are favorable enough to warrant playing Burleson as your No. 3.
Drew Bennett, Rams: I mentioned in the "Sits" that the Saints have some big question marks in their secondary. The biggest might be Jason Craft. I detailed in this week's ESPN The Magazine fantasy football section how Craft has been struggling on long passes the past few weeks. This could be another of those weeks, because Bennett's specialty is the vertical pass.
KC Joyner, aka The Football Scientist, is a regular contributor to ESPN Insider.