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Reading something into these trends is a wise move

What do Oakland's Jerry Porter, Cincinnati's Chad Johnson, Green Bay's injured Javon Walker and Denver's Ashley Lelie all have in common?

They're all NFL pass catchers who help prove author Michael Harmon's point about the breakout potential of third-year receivers.

In his book "The Savvy Guide To Fantasy Sports," Harmon uses numbers to hammer home his point. Porter went from 19 catches, 220 receiving yards and no touchdowns as a second-year player in 2001 to 5 1/6 8 8/9 the next season. Johnson (from 6 9/1 ,16 6/5 to 9 0/1 ,35 5/1 0 in 2003), Walker (from 4 1/7 1 6/9 to 8 9/1 ,38 2/1 2 in 2004) and Lelie (from 3 5/5 2 5/2 to 5 4/1 ,08 4/7 in 2004) all increased their stats dramatically in their third year.

That's why Harmon likes guys like San Francisco's Brandon Lloyd, Washington's Taylor Jacobs, Philadelphia's Greg Lewis and Chicago's Bobby Wade to emerge as better fantasy options this season.

Jacobs, who is basically the Redskins' No. 3 receiver behind Santana Moss and David Patten, could prove another of Harmon's theories.

His advice is that No. 2 and No. 3 receivers can be every bit as valuable as No. 1 guys. Indianapolis' second and third options, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley, both placed among the top 20 fantasy scorers at the position last season and 11 of the top 20 touchdown scorers among receivers were second or third receivers.

Chapter 10, "Going Deep with Fantasy Football," also contains essays about the dangers of dwindling production from running backs over the age of 30, round-by-round draft analysis, working the waiver wire, the contributions of rookies and running backs by committee, cleverly titled "Platoons: It's a Conspiracy, Just Like an Oliver Stone Film."

Whether you're trying to get an edge on owners who have been playing in leagues for decades or just thinking about getting involved for the first time, Harmon's book covers the gambit of fantasy sports.

"Sometimes all the basics about playing fantasy sports are just assumed," said the 31-year-old Albany-based staff fantasy writer and columnist for Yahoo! Sports. "We assume a lot of knowledge such as tricks and tips about setting up leagues. I didn't want to limit the focus of this book to just a few people."

Much like Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts had a knack for incorporating all the receivers, tight ends and running backs into the San Diego Chargers' passing game, there's something in Harmon's book for everybody. It explains how to set up leagues for traditional fantasy sports and others you may never even have heard of, much less played.

"If you're going to sit and watch it, you might as well make it a competition," said Harmon, a Chicago native and Northwestern graduate who also received an MBA in marketing and management from Santa Clara. "There are games to be had involving nearly everything and everyone."

Harmon speaks from experience. Since he considered walking on as a Wildcat, college football is his favorite sport. He's played football, baseball, basketball and hockey, and lots more since getting the fantasy bug in 1994. His book offers tips about fantasy pro wrestling, bass fishing, horse racing, rugby and cricket. There's also a chapter dealing with fantasy games based on reality television shows. Fantasy American Idol, anyone? How about Fantasy Survivor?

"If it's out there, I've probably tried it at least once," Harmon admits.
He says fantasy football is the most popular game going today because "of the immediacy of the head-to-head competition, the fact that it's frenetic, plus the smack talking. Not to mention that since the games are basically played on Sundays, it's a relatively easy game to manage."

He contends that fantasy NASCAR is the fastest growing game and doesn't envision a drop-off in fantasy hockey participation despite the NHL's one-year absence.

"Fantasy hockey is generally played by hard-core fans," he said. "I don't think it will take the same hit baseball might in a similar situation."

The 368-page book sells for $26.95 and is available at Barnes & Noble, Borders and on-line through amazon.com. It's the closest thing to a fantasy sports bible I've come across.

e-mail: tborrelli@buffnews.com

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