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Vincent Brown's lightning will strike Bolts receivers

By Tim Heaney

Primed to pick up where first-name twin Vincent Jackson left off, wide receiver Vincent Brown had a stellar preseason and was lining up to "figure real strongly in what [the San Diego Chargers] do," per Norv Turner. Coach speak? Perhaps. But a full offseason after a lockout-shortened prep stint caused things to click.

San Diego Chargers TE Antonio Gates
Gates closing?

This was one of those staff proclamations you believed. Though his size doesn't, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Brown's downfield prowess (17.3 yards per grab on 19 receptions last year) mirrors Jackson's. San Diego wasn't exactly spilling over with reliability besides Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd, with the erratic Robert Meachem and depth piece Eddie Royal filling the other gaps.

Talk about bad timing: Before the 2012 campaign started, Brown broke his left ankle and was placed on the new Injured Reserve, which required him to miss six weeks of practice (this'll be his last required absence) and eight weeks of games. This worked well for a team with a Week 7 bye. Since we're rapidly approaching Brown's eligible return date, it's time to tuck him away, especially since he's on schedule in his recovery.

Players coming back from ankle fractures are typically tenuous fantasy assets. The rehabber needs time to build up strength and increase the pressure he can put on the joint. Ergo, Brown might prove a bit weak in his first action back.

But if you need coverage for the late run of off-weeks, this is an optimal chance to take.

In Weeks 9 through 11, San Diego faces the Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Denver Broncos.

KC ranks near the bottom in terms of WR matchup in the last month (6.75 catches, 96.0 receptions, 0.75 scores per game), but despite the improved pass rush Tamba Hali creates, this success comes more so from being abused on the ground instead of being a product of a sound pass D. Their DBs are steady but not this good, and sometimes they can be too aggressive.

Tampa, meanwhile, has been one of the position's best fantasy opportunities. Denver ranks in the middle of the pack, but outside of Champ Bailey, they're inconsistent. And even Bailey is showing more vulnerability recently.

Brown could have some use after we resume fully loaded weekends anyway. The Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers are iffy, but in Weeks 15 and 16, the Bolts face the Carolina Panthers and New York Jets, two teams likely to remain sketchy versus the passing game. For those whose championship takes place in Week 17, he gets the aerial sieves in the Oakland Raiders resistance.

Sure, the schedule is pretty good, but what about the cluster of options at Philip Rivers' disposal? Gates, well, isn't right - he's not cutting or playing with the same intensity as he did in years past, and he's the focus of opposing defenses just because of his name. Separation is becoming an issue. You hate to give up on someone this talented, but it might take a few weeks for him to show he's back. Regardless, he's currently more valuable as a decoy.

San Diego Chargers WR Eddie Royal
Will they still need Royal?

Capitalizing on Gates' underwhelming showing, Floyd is fulfilling the V-Jax role as the top outside snare and shouldn't lose many looks upon Brown's return.

That dubious warning instead goes to Meachem, a rising waiver wire addition who snared two touchdowns in the first half Sunday night but was held quiet the rest of the way. He'll need to prove that this performance wasn't a fluke before Brown returns, because before Week 5, Meachem wasn't in Rivers' good graces. It was a superb statistical matchup that Meachem abused.

Brown isn't just a go-route guy (a GRG, as I refer to them). As Bill Williamson noted in August, all but two of the receptions logged by the second-year snare in his first NFL go-round went for first downs, so there's a security factor here, too. He can also play every wideout position. This flexibility should strip some targets from slot man Eddie Royal. With Ryan Mathews kicking back into gear, Royal might not be needed as much anymore for his chain-moving approach.

Will Brown's health catch up to his skills in time to help owners for a significant chunk of 2012? San Diego could use Brown's field stretching, and the third-ranked receiver in this offense has palpable fake football value. Brown ranks as a valuable late-season speculation for those with stash room to act on now, before the hype gets louder.

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