Chris Johnson, NYJ - There is no denying that Chris Johnson is not the running back he used to be. The guy who electrified the league in his first two years in the league is long gone and what we are left with is an undersized speedster heading into his seventh NFL season, looking to revive his sagging career with a new franchise. In New York, he will be working with a much better offensive line than he had recently in Tennessee, and although Chris Ivory is around to eat into his carries and steal goal-line carries, Johnson will still be the primary third-down back and the lead-dog in any committee. Add in the fact that Ivory has a penchant for getting injured and you can at least see a scenario for some upside. He looks like a bargain buried at the end of the RB2 ranks, and I think I would be satisfied hoping he slides down the draft board than grabbing equally risky Frank Gore or the unproven Toby Gerhart too early.
Trent Richardson, IND - One sure way to land on the undervalued radar is to come off a season where you simply stunk up the joint. To say that Richardson was terrible last season is actually understating how bad he really looked and how much he killed anyone who wasted a first round pick on him last year. The Colts invested a number one pick in Richardson and they have not shown any signs that they are ready to abandon their belief that he can still be a workhorse for their offense. They allowed Donald Brown to leave via free agency, didn’t draft any running backs and lost Vick Ballard to an achilles injury. That leaves only Ahmad Bradshaw, who is coming off a season lost to neck surgery, as a realistic threat to Richardson’s workload. The Colts will have one of the more explosive offenses in the league this year, and T-Rich will be in the middle of it all. Best of all, you should be able to roster him as a RB3/Flex option who could give you a really nice edge when he rebounds.
BOOM OR BUST
Doug Martin, TB - Martin comes into this season with much less hype than he did a year ago, when he was a consensus Top-3 pick looking to build upon his breakout rookie season. Instead, he injured his shoulder, missed most of the season and crippled many owners' playoff hopes in the process. Truth be told, he wasn’t looking nearly as effective for the six games he did play, which led Tampa Bay to draft receiving back Charles Sims in the third round. Sims will immediately cut into Martin’s work on third down and veterans Mike James and Bobby Rainey are lurking to steal touches if new coach Lovie Smith goes the committee route. We also can’t overlook the addition of WR Mike Evans and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who along with Vincent Jackson provide the Bucs with three massive targets in the red zone, which likely means more passing and less touches for Martin there as well. I still think he has the talent to finish in the Top-5 if everything breaks right, but there are plenty of red flags that could be enough to make you think twice before burning a second round pick on the third-year back.
Ryan Mathews, SD - Mathews finally stayed healthy last year and played an entire 16-game season, finally delivering on the promise that a healthy season would bring results. The only question remaining is if you believe he can do it two years in a row. The Chargers obviously still have their doubts, as they signed Donald Brown for insurance should the oft-injured Mathews prove fragile once again. The biggest problem facing Mathews, aside from remaining on the field, is the fact that the Chargers could go to a RBBC with Mathews, Brown and Danny Woodhead rotating in and out, allowing new coach Mike McCoy (a John Fox disciple) to ride the hot hand. Mathews is the ultimate Boom or Bust player. If others let him slide, then you can take a chance on the obvious upside. But you won’t feel good about it, that much I can guarantee.
Bishop Sankey, TEN - If you are looking at drafting a rookie running back at the draft table this year, then the Titans rookie should be at the top of your wish list at this point. The reasoning is easy enough, since unlike his fellow rookies, Sankey looks like he will have a starting job when Week 1 rolls around. Shonn Greene is still around, and if Sankey struggles, then it is possible he could cede the starting job to the veteran. But new coach Ken Whisenhunt has already gone on record saying he sees Sankey as a three-down back. Rookie backs are always risky, but if he can lock down the starting job, he will be a solid RB2 all year.
Lamar Miller, MIA - When the Dolphins went out and signed Knowshon Moreno in the offseason, Miller’s days as the starter seemed numbered. But Moreno injured his knee in workouts, and he is just now trying to get back into game shape. Moreno’s best attributes are mainly that he does everything you need a running back to do fairly well, especially pass protection. Miller has the better tools, however, and all he will need is the brittle Moreno to revert back to the guy who underperformed his entire career, before cashing in on the Broncos offensive explosion a year ago. Taking a flier on the talented player entering his third year could pay dividends if he can seize the starting job and relegate Moreno to third-down work.
Devonta Freeman, ATL - I think if you took a poll of fantasy players and asked which starting running back is the most likely to lose his job this year, Steven Jackson would be the choice of many. Jackson will be 31 and is coming off a season where he missed time with a torn hamstring and failed to top 100 yards in any game when he was healthy. To make matters worse, the veteran injured his other hamstring in camp and will miss much of the preseason as a result. Freeman was already slated to have a role in the offense, but it is easy to see him beating out Jacquizz Rodgers for the #2 job and eventually taking over for Jackson when the inevitable injuries occur.
Terrance West, CLE - Ben Tate was signed to be the lead back for the Browns, but the team didn’t hesitate drafting the talented rookie out of Towson State when he was still on the board in Round 3. Tne team has already signaled that they will be going with a very run-heavy scheme this year, which means West is already slated to split time with Tate when the season begins. One of the reasons the Browns tabbed the 225-pounder was his familiarity with the zone-blocking schemes utilized by new OC Kyle Shanahan as well as his ability as a pass blocker. While Tate has shown flashes, he has never been able to avoid racking up injuries, and he has already missed time in camp this season, which is allowing West to flash his ability and win over the coaching staff. If I was going to draft a Browns running back, then I would rather take the chance on West reaching his upside than Tate staying healthy.
Andre Williams, NYG - Williams’ stock is rising thanks to his performance in the Hall-of-Fame game against the Bills as well as the unfortunate retirement of David Wilson due to his neck injury. Williams looks like he is close to locking up a role as the goal-line back and is now the clear handcuff to anyone drafting Rashad Jennings. The Giants invested plenty in Jennings in hopes he could help solidify their running attack, but he is 29 years old and has never been a feature back before in his career. Tom Coughlin historically takes a long time to trust any rookie running back, but Williams should at the very least be able to carve out a big enough role to be a Flex-worthy player with upside if Jennings should stumble.
OTHER HANDCUFFS TO REMEMBER
Carlos Hyde, SF - If Steven Jackson would win the poll I mentioned before, then Frank Gore would likely be a close second. Hyde is another must-get handcuff as a guy who can get the job done if he gets the chance.
Charles Sims, TB - Sims can catch the ball out of the backfield, giving him immediate value in PPR leagues. If Martin struggles in his return from injury, the rookie could get even more work.
Tre Mason, STL - Zac Stacy has the starting job, but Mason arguably is the better athlete with the higher ceiling. However, he has a lot of work to do when it comes to pass protection, so he will need an injury to see any real time early on.
James White, NE - White is drawing raves in Patriots camp, and you know how the genius loves to mess with us when it comes to running backs.
Jay Cutler, CHI - If you like to play the waiting game and draft your starting quarterback as late as possible, then Cutler is the guy you should be targeting. I know that advice is perhaps difficult for many fantasy owners to embrace enthusiastically, since Cutler often tantalizes with elite talent, only to frustrate his owners with bouts of immaturity and injuries. Concerns about his ability to stay healthy for the full season is the main reason the Bears gunslinger is out of the Top 12, but it also makes him one of the bigger potential bargains if he can manage to stay on the field. He heads into his second year in Marc Trestman’s pass-happy offense and gets to hoist it up to the league's best WR duo in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. The Bears return the entire offensive line and that cohesion should help them move up the ranks and hopefully help Cutler remain upright. Matt Forte, Martellus Bennett and second-year receiver Marquess Wilson only add to the weapons that Cutler will have at his disposal, which gives the veteran a great chance to outperform his draft position and even threaten to crack the Top 5 if everything breaks right. If you are going to wait, you want to take a chance on a guy with as much upside as possible and Cutler certainly has that going for him. Waiting as long as possible to grab your starter also generally means you will grab your backup earlier, and if you embrace the risk of Cutler, then it isn’t the worst idea to pair him with another QB from his range such as Tony Romo, Philip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger.
BOOM OR BUST
Cam Newton, CAR - Someone will pull the trigger on Newton early based on what he has done in the league his first three years, but this is shaping up to be the year that you should happily let someone else vie for his services. The Panthers had a brutal offseason, letting their entire wide receiving corps go as well as losing their starting left tackle, Pro-Bowler Jordan Gross, to retirement. They were not very aggressive in free agency, instead settling for uninspiring veteran wideouts Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood. They did draft exciting rookie Kelvin Benjamin in the first round to help replace the loss of Steve Smith, but only Greg Olsen has any real chemistry with Newton. Newton’s value has always been boosted by his running ability, but there are questions there too this year coming off ankle surgery along with questions on his blind side, where former defensive lineman Nate Chandler will try to fill the shoes of Gross. If there are any concerns about the ankle, he could run less than before and his touchdowns have dipped considerably from the 12 he scored in his rookie season. The biggest problem I have with drafting Newton this year is that there are plenty of safer options in the area where he is being drafted that I would feel much better hitching my wagon to, like Tom Brady, Matt Ryan or even Nick Foles.
Andy Dalton, CIN - The Bengals quarterback comes into 2014 lumped firmly in the top group of QB2’s. He is also coming off a great 2013 that saw him pass for over 4,000 yards and 33 touchdowns, which ranked him inside the Top 5 in standard leagues. So why are we so down on “The Red Rifle” when all he has done so far in his career is improve each and every season? First off is the change in offensive philosophy with Jay Gruden giving way to the much more conservative Hue Jackson. Jackson runs a very run-heavy scheme, and the team added RB Jeremy Hill in the draft to compliment Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, further signalling that they intend to keep the ball on the ground more. Dalton still has A.J. Green and an exciting group of complementary weapons, which gives him a solid floor to stand on, but the reduction in volume means he’ll be hard pressed to match last season’s numbers. I still like him as a backup to any of the running quarterbacks, but he’s not going to be an every-week starter handing the ball off more than half of the time.
Ryan Tannehill, MIA - Tannehill made some very nice strides in his second year and was really coming on strong as the season came to an end before putting up two consecutive stinkers, including an ugly three-interception game against the Jets, which meant missing out on the playoffs. But the team will be switching to a more up-tempo attack as Chip Kelly disciple Bill Lazor takes over the offense. Hopefully, Tannehill can pick up the new playbook fast, but if he can, there is definitely plenty of upside for a player that you can get relatively cheaply.
Josh McCown, TB - There isn’t much room left on the McCown “sleeper” express train, but it is understandable considering he was one of last season’s best stories after taking over for Jay Cutler when he was injured. He parlayed his career year into a new job and a chance to start for the Buccaneers, who boast a similar pair of “big” WR’s in Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans to what McCown had to work with in Chicago. He’ll be a quality backup and a guy to stream in and out when the matchups are right.
Geno Smith, NYJ - Michael Vick’s signing cast a little cloud on Smith’s value, but it is still his job to lose and he should be able to build on the strong finish to his rookie season. The team added plenty of weapons in the passing game in WR Eric Decker, TE Jace Amaro and RB Chris Johnson. Smith also has the ability to make plays with his legs, and those rushing stats will help him score consistently every week, which is exactly what we want out of our late-round quarterback fliers. I personally think he is perfectly poised to make a sizeable jump up the rankings by season’s end.Johnny Manziel, CLE - If you want to draft a rookie in this year’s draft, then Johnny Football is the guy to get. While the team has said all the right things about Brian Hoyer, the fact is the career backup won’t be able to hold off Manziel for the starting job. The only real question is how long it will take for the switch to be made. Like Smith above, Manziel’s upside comes from what he can do with his legs, not only running the ball, but extending plays and finding open receivers downfield. Losing the services of Josh Gordon for at least half a season doesn’t help, but Kyle Shanahan knows how to build an offense to make the most of what Manziel brings to the table and the Browns boast one of the best offensive lines in all of football. Whenever he takes over, he’ll be fun to watch as well as fun to own. Just be prepared for the possibility that he may start the season on the bench.
Week 16 of the Waiver Wire Report has finally arrived and that means championship games are finally upon us. Hopefully, you have a fighting interest in reading this week's column, but if you do, the chances that you will need to make any significant moves should hopefully be minimal this week. Still, injuries, slumps and of course bad weather are always part of late-season fantasy football, so we will once again dish up a plate full of options for leagues of all sizes. Good luck to everyone still playing and here's hoping you all get an early Christmas present from your fantasy teams this week. This will be our final week of highlighting players to grab off the wire for this season, but we'll offically close the book on the fantasy football season next week by handing out some presents (or lumps of coal) to deserving players.
Kirk Cousins, WAS - We first mentioned Cousins in this space back in Week 13, and correctly speculated that he would see the field at some point this season. Since then, things have gotten pretty sticky in Washington, as Mike Shanahan finally benched Robert Griffin III. The writing was clearly on the wall last week, and we listed Cousins again in light of that fact for all RG3 owners. If you had the balls to roll with him last week, you were rewarded with 381 yards and three touchdown passes. He did turn the ball over three times, but all that did was dampen what could have been an even bigger day against the reeling Falcons. Now he gets to feast on a Cowboys defense that is ranked dead last against fantasy quarterbacks. Yes, it is risky to start an inexperienced QB with all the marbles on the line, but the ‘Boys have gotten roasted by Josh McCown and Matt Flynn in back-to-back weeks. That’s not exactly Montana and Marino, folks. Even if you don’t need him this week, pick him up just so your opponent can’t use him against you.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, TEN - Fitzpatrick has performed quite well as a fantasy QB2 since he took over for Jake Locker in Week 10. We have highlighted him a couple times since and our recurring refrain was that we liked most the fact that rather than some other options that emerged late in the year, he was a guy that had a lock on his job the rest of the way, plus a favorable playoff schedule. He likely put a few lucky teams into the title game with his 402 yards and four touchdowns, and while it would be crazy to expect those kind of numbers this week, he does get to play the Jaguars in warm weather, which at least puts him on the QB1 radar for this week. If I was an Andrew Luck owner this week for instance, I would make the switch and hope for some more magic.
Matt Cassel, MIN - Cassel has strung together two quality starts as the Vikings play out the string, but he faces a very tough test this week against a very solid Bengals defense. Add in the possibility that Adrian Peterson makes it back, and you can see the recipe for very pedestrian numbers this week. The only people who might consider Cassel are those in really deep leagues, but they might be better served by looking at E.J. Manuel, Matt McGloin or even Kellen Clemens this week.
Matt Flynn, GB - I personally would not want to rely on Flynn this week if I could avoid it, since he isn’t a sure bet to start with Aaron Rodgers’ return looming. Even if he does start, the Steelers will not give him nearly as much time to throw as the Cowboys did. Keep him as Rodgers insurance if you like, but if you need a guaranteed QB2 this week, make sure you have a backup plan if you are currently using Flynn in that role.
Week 15 Updates
Ryan Tannehill, MIA - Tannehill more than justified his ranking from a week ago with a signature comeback win against the Patriots on Sunday. He topped 300 yards again and passed for three touchdowns for the second week in a row. He has another solid matchup against the Bills this week, but it is a road game, and that does temper our enthusiasm just a bit. It doesn’t mean I won’t tip my cap to him again for his late-season play that has lifted the Dolphins into the playoff picture.
Jason Campbell, CLE - Campbell didn’t really perform up to expectations a week ago, but gets a chance at fantasy redemption against the Jets this week. The Jets are dominant against the run, something the Browns are pretty lousy at to begin with. Hopefully the veteran can shake off last week’s lackluster performance and get back to targeting Josh Gordon. The two could be in for another big day and Campbell is a solid plug-n-play in two-quarterback leagues.
Jordan Todman, JCK - Todman got the start last week and showed that he could handle the workload, toting the rock 25 times for 109 yards and catching four passes for an additional 44. Maurice Jones-Drew could be back this week, but with the season gone and free agency looming, there isn’t a ton of incentive for the team to rush him back. Hopefully, Todman can enter the day as the clear starter against the Titans so you can feel confident rolling with him as a RB2 this week. Even if MJD does play, expect Todman to still see significant carries.
Dennis Johnson, HOU - Ben Tate may have re-injured his broken ribs against the Colts last week, and that puts his backup back in the picture this week as a potential injury replacement. Tate doesn’t really have anything left to prove, and the Texans are pretty much in full tank-mode anyway. If Johnson gets the start, he should get enough work to be a decent enough flex option.
Edwin Baker, CLE - I’ll admit, when the Browns claimed Baker off the Texans practice squad last week, I certainly didn’t envision him getting much playing-time, let alone leading the team in rushing. If Willis McGahee doesn’t play again, Baker will likely be the lead back, which makes him a desperation play in deeper leagues. As mentioned earlier, the Jets don’t do a lot well, but stopping opposing running backs is the one thing they excel at.
Matt Asiata, MIN - When I listed Toby Gerhart atop the list last week, I did note that he had suffered a hamstring injury of his own, and that the situation was fluid as we went to press. What I failed to mention was that Asiata was the next in line. Peterson owners, who had likely grabbed Gerhart as insurance heading into the playoffs, had to be tortured seeing the average talent score three touchdowns on Sunday, while many of their teams possibly went down in defeat. If you are a lucky AP owner who survived, you can add Asiata to your bench, since the Vikings very well might just shut Peterson down for the rest of the year.
Week 15 Updates
Trent Richardson, IND - This season has been one to forget for Richardson and his owners, and some may have jettisoned him in disgust after they likely failed to make their league's playoffs thanks to their first-round bust. Donald Brown’s injury allowed T-Rich to top 20 touches for the first time since Week 6. If Brown can’t go this week, then Richardson could be worth starting as a flex, but not much more thanks to a date with the Kansas City defense.
Lamar Miller, MIA - Miller made it back from his concussion and regained his role as the top-dog in the committee with Daniel Thomas. If you have to rely on a ‘Fins back this week, Miller is the horse to bet on.
Montee Ball, DEN - Ball might have submarined a few teams with last week’s stumble against the Chargers. If you are still playing this week, don’t be afraid to go back to the well in a game against a Texans team that is already thinking about next year.
Marvin Jones, CIN - Jones has gotten back into the mix for the Bengals again, just in time for a matchup against the Vikings excuse for a pass defense. They have been getting lit up through the air, and that gives Jones some nice appeal as a sleeper play this week. He has scored the last two weeks, and Andy Dalton trusts him in the red-zone. His four-touchdown day back in Week 8 illustrates the potential upside, and the matchup makes him a very intriguing dart to throw this week if you need to take a shot with your WR3/Flex spot.
Andre Caldwell, DEN - The Broncos threw us a curveball by sliding the former Bengal into Wes Welker’s slot role instead of rolling with Jacob Tamme for another week. He responded with the best fantasy game of his career, since he had never caught two touchdowns in a game prior to last week. It is yet another example of how Peyton Manning can elevate otherwise mediocre talents into fantasy relevance. The downside is the fact that there is no guarantee that the Broncos will turn to him again next week, and Welker could make it back from his concussion. While anyone who might start for the Broncos has obvious upside, you will have to monitor this situation closely to avoid coming up empty, like Tamme owners a week ago.
Doug Baldwin, SEA - Baldwin had another strong game against the Giants, hauling in six passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. Golden Tate will see Patrick Peterson most of the day, and that should set up Baldwin for another solid day. He's unlikely to put up big numbers, but he has exhibited a stable floor at home of late, and the weather-proof game makes him an attractive WR3/Flex this week.
Robert Woods, BUF - Woods and E.J. Manuel were showing some emerging chemistry early in the year, before the young quarterback injured his knee in Week 5. By the time he made it back, Woods was on the shelf with an ankle injury that caused him to miss multiple weeks. They are both finally healthy again and last week they started to rekindle their friendship in the red-zone.
Santana Moss, WAS - Kirk Cousins has breathed some life into the passing game, and after targeting the wily veteran nine times in his first start, it puts Moss into Flex territory in PPR leagues. Playing out of the slot with Jordan Reed still sidelined, Cousins will likely continue to look to Moss as a safety valve.
Week 15 Updates
Cordarrelle Patterson, MIN - Patterson scored a late touchdown to boost an otherwise ho-hum game, as Greg Jennings took over as the top WR last week. The game against the Bengals isn’t the most inviting for this Boom/Bust talent.
Da’Rick Rogers, IND - Rogers was worth grabbing a week ago to see if he was more than a one-week wonder. If you need his roster spot this week to address other needs, cut him loose.
Delanie Walker, TEN - Walker was able to deliver against the Cardinals a week ago in his first game back from a concussion and will continue to be a key target for Ryan Fitzpatrick in the passing game. He's got a great chance to find the end-zone again this week.
Timothy Wright, TB - Wright is better suited to deep leagues but he is coming off his best game of the season (7/82/1). The Rams defense is pretty solid, and could scheme to take Vincent Jackson away from Mike Glennon. If that happens, Wright could match the nine targets he saw last week.
Zach Ertz, PHI - Ertz found the end-zone again last week, and despite a Week 14 bagel, looks like an emerging talent in this offense. He’s a risky play, but one that could pay off in an expected shootout.
Andrew Quarless, GB - Matt Flynn has something going with Quarless, as he scored for the second week in a row, and even put up the exact same totals across the board. Fans of The Omen may be spooked by the fact he had six catches for 66 yards in back-to-back weeks. If that doesn’t phase you, then you might as well try to take advantage of the roll he is on.
Week 15 Updates
Dennis Pitta, BAL - Pitta took a step back last week, just when it looked like he was ready to be a real difference-maker for playoff teams. He now is a risky start against the Patriots.
Rams - The Rams are coming off a great game against the Saints and will take on a much less formidable Tampa Bay team at home in the dome.
Browns - The Browns defense was the only thing that kept the team in the game against the Bears a week ago, and if you like to stream against turnover prone quarterbacks, take a hot defense that is facing Geno Smith and roll with them.
KICKERSAlex Henery, PHI - The game against the Bears figures to be a scoring bonanza, giving the Eagles kicker ample opportunities at home. Robbie Gould should have a nice day as well.
Now that the NFL Draft is complete, there is no better time to take a little break from your struggling fantasy baseball teams and take a look at the incoming class of offensive talent to get on your radars for the upcoming fantasy football season. They are ranked by position with a quick Top 10 overall list to follow. This is an early rankings list, and will very likely change as preseason arrives and players get their first chances to stake a claim to starting jobs and/or more playing time. Consider this list a starting point for names you want to keep track of when training camps open in just a few short weeks.
1. Johnny Manziel, CLE - The Browns made the biggest splash of the first day of the draft when they moved up via a trade with Philadelphia to draft Manziel with the 22nd overall pick. I was in attendance and I can testify that the crowd in Radio City Music Hall went nuts when his name was finally announced. The former Heisman winner’s stock took a hit with the news that his top receiver, Josh Gordon, is facing a suspension for failing another drug test, but Johnny “Football” still ranks at the top of this year’s incoming rookie class due to his ability to scramble and improvise on the run. The Browns have publically stated that their new franchise player is the backup to Brian Hoyer, but the Browns didn’t draft Manziel to plunk him on the bench. Hoyer is a nice story, as a local product, and he played well in his short stint last year, but he doesn’t even come close to matching Manziel’s natural ability. Gordon’s suspension has the Browns publically stating that they will dial things back offensively and go with a run-heavy attack, which actually will play to the rookie’s strengths as he hones his passing game. His rushing ability will bolster his pedestrian passing numbers to make him a quality QB2 in his rookie year.
2. Teddy Bridgewater, MIN - The Vikings landed Bridgewater with the final pick of the first round, and then came out and said that he will be given every chance to compete with Matt Cassel for the starting job in training camp. The Louisville product tumbled in the draft due to questions regarding his technique, but he couldn’t have asked for a better landing spot than with the VIkings. Norv Turner loves to throw the ball vertically and Adrian Peterson is there to take the pressure off. Throw in a nice set of weapons in Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright and Kyle Rudolph and it is easy to see Bridgewater making some noise as a QB2 at some point this year.
3. Blake Bortles, JCK - Although the 6’5” Bortles was the first quarterback selected in the draft, with the number three pick by the Jaguars, unlike Manziel or Bridgewater, he doesn’t figure to play that much in his rookie season. Chad Henne will continue to start as Bortles learns the ropes and waits for his first opportunity, which could come sometime in the second half. Bortles has potentially more value than those above him in dynasty formats, but expectations for this season aren’t quite as rosy.
1. Bishop Sankey, TEN - The running back out of Washington was the first tailback selected in this year’s draft, as the Titans grabbed him with the 54th pick. If you need further evidence that the NFL is a passing league, not only did no running backs get selected in the first round, but Sankey is the latest that the first running back drafted has gone in the history of the draft. The good news is that he has landed in a spot that will lead to immediate production, thanks to the Titans moving on from Chris Johnson, leaving only the plodding Shonn Greene standing in his way. Sankey has drawn comparisons to Tiki Barber, and he should start in a committee with Greene from day one and should get the most consistent work of anyone in this class. The Titans have a great offensive line and will continue to lean on the running game. Sankey rates as a RB3 with upside, whose stock could soar with a solid preseason.
2. Jeremy Hill, CIN - The Bengals signaled that BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ days could be numbered in Cincinnati. The “Law Firm” scored seven touchdowns last year to help obscure the fact that his skills are on the decline. Hill (6’1”, 233) has the size to take over as the power back alongside Giovanni Bernard, and provide owners who take a shot at him flex-worthy stats as the new short-yardage back. If Hill can show enough in camp, then the Bengals could wave goodbye to Green-Ellis and save $2.5 million, a move that Hill should have no trouble convincing them to make.
3. Terrance West/Isaiah Crowell, CLE - Ben Tate will be the starter for the Browns in new OC Kyle Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme, and as mentioned earlier, the Browns plan to run the ball a ton this year as Manziel breaks in and Gordon serves his likely suspension. That means carries for all the backs in Cleveland’s backfield, and potential upside for whoever emerges as the number two behind the oft-injured Tate. West has been compared to Alfred Morris, who emerged as a fantasy star in Shanahan’s offense and played his college ball at Towson State. West isn’t the only rookie the Browns are bringing in though, as they also signed troubled Isaiah Crowell as an undrafted free agent. Crowell very well may have been the top back in this class were it not for a long list of off-the-field problems. He has the skills to be a complete back but just has to prove he can be a model citizen. It’s a nice gamble by the Browns that could pay off big time if Crowell matures. This will be an interesting battle to keep track of, because if you draft Tate, you will want to grab his handcuff late for insurance.
4. Devonta Freeman, ATL - Steven Jackson will be 31 when the season starts, and he is coming off his worst season as a pro. Freeman will immediately put pressure on Jacquizz Rodgers for the number two spot in the lineup, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him sharing the workload with Jackson when the season starts. He can catch passes, which is a vital part of what the Falcons want to do on offense, and if Jackson succumbs to injury again, Freeman could be a lottery ticket that pays off in spades.
5. Carlos Hyde, SF - Hyde is a bruising runner whose value in redraft leagues is muted by landing in San Francisco. Frank Gore will be 31 but has remained healthy and productive the last three years. Add in the fact that the Niners have Kendall Hunter and Marcus Lattimore on the roster, and it is easy to see the potential for Hyde to be brought along slowly. However, Lattimore has a history of knee injuries and Hunter doesn’t profile as a feature back anymore, so there is a chance that Hyde could be the guy the team turns to if Gore were to go down.
6. Charles Sims, TB - Sims will be thrown right into the battle for the No. 2 job with Mike James and Bobby Rainey, and seeing as the Bucs burned a third-round pick on the 24-year-old, they obviously expect him to win the job. Sims is definitely one to watch in camp, since Doug Martin is returning from shoulder surgery. It’s a crowded backfield, but Sims can catch passes as a kind of poor-man’s Matt Forte.
7. Tre Mason, STL - After a record-setting career at Auburn, Mason lands with the Rams and more than likely signals the team is ready to move on from both Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson. Mason is smaller than you might like out of a starting RB at 5’8”, and he is not much of an asset in the passing game either as a blocker or a receiver. Zac Stacy should be able to hold him off for early down work to start the year, but Mason will apply some pressure to the incumbent for sure. Benny Cunningham is also in the mix, which means that Mason won’t be rushed into the lineup, despite his collegiate heroics.
8. Ka’Deem Carey, CHI - Matt Forte is still the man in Chicago, but since the team allowed Michael Bush to walk in the off-season, Carey already lines up as the clear backup to Forte, who has battled injuries at various times in his career.
1. Sammy Watkins, BUF - Watkins was the most talented receiver in this year’s draft and the Bills paid a premium to move up to draft him. Afterwards, they traded Steve Johnson to San Francisco, which clears the way for Watkins to be the No. 1 WR for E.J. Manuel right out of the gate. Watkins is a little undersized (6’1”, 211) by today’s standards, but he is an electrifying playmaker who will bring a new level of excitement to the Bills' atack. He looks like a solid WR3 at this point, with room to move up the ranks if Manuel can elevate his game in his second full season.
2. Mike Evans, TB - There are plenty of people who prefer Evans to Watkins, being that he is much taller (6’5”, 231), making him a serious weapon in the red zone. He is often compared to Vincent Jackson, who is now his teammate. The only thing holding down Evans this year will be the fact that he won’t be the primary option in the passing game and the less than stellar options at quarterback for the Buccaneers. Evans should hold more value in touchdown-heavy leagues thanks to his ability to win the “jump” balls in the endzone. If everything breaks right, he could easily be the best rookie receiver this year.
3. Kelvin Benjamin, CAR - The 6’5” Benjamin doesn’t have as much skill as some of the other receivers behind him on this list, but he has the size and the opportunity to make an impact immediately for a Panthers team that is thin at WR, thanks to the departure of Steve Smith. The Panthers love to run the ball, but Cam Newton is going to love looking Benjamin’s way in the red zone, where his huge wingspan will make him a nightmare to defend. Like Evans above, he’ll have more immediate value in TD-heavy formats, and is worth speculating on as a WR 4/5 with upside.
4. Odell Beckham, NYG - Beckham is someone to watch in camp this year, since the Giants have clearly signaled they aren’t really sold that Rueben Randle is the answer to replacing Hakeem Nicks as the starter opposite Victor Cruz. Beckham should be able to beat out Randle to become the “X” receiver in the revamped Giants passing offense, and he could easily lead all rookies in catches if he gains Eli Manning’s confidence. His lack of size (5’11”, 198) doesn’t give him as much scoring upside as those higher on the list, but he could turn out to be a better option than anyone outside of Watkins for PPR leagues.
5. Jordan Matthews, PHI - Matthews (6’3”, 212) comes to Philly from Vanderbilt, where he finished as the SEC’s all-time leader in receptions (262) and yards (3,759). He will get to strut his stuff in Chip Kelly’s explosive offense and should take over as the primary slot receiver to start the year. Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper will begin the season as the primary outside receivers, but it isn’t that far fetched to think that Matthews will challenge Cooper for more playing time as the season progresses. He will likely be slightly undervalued on draft day and might present the most affordable route to buying into the Eagles offense this year.
6. Marqise Lee/Allen Robinson, JCK - Lee has the better pedigree of the two Jaguars rookies, but Robinson may end up having the better rookie season. Robinson is the bigger target (6’3”, 220) and doesn’t come with as many red flags as the more heralded Lee (6’0”, 199). Lee dropped in the draft due to questions about his knee and his work ethic. Throw in the fact that both will take a back seat to Cecil Shorts in a passing game that will rely on Chad Henne and neither player really projects to make a huge impact in their first year.
7. Brandin Cooks, NO - Cooks landed in the perfect place for a player with his skill set. Speed is his calling card, and with both Darren Sproles and Lance Moore gone, he will get the opportunity to fill the void created, especially out of the slot. But, as with any Saints wide receiver, predicting success on a weekly basis will be a fool’s errand, meaning you will be frustrated trying to figure out when Drew Brees will look his way. He is still worth a late-round flyer. Just be aware that you will likely never feel comfortable starting him.
8. Martavis Bryant, PIT - Bryant (6’4”. 211) slipped in the draft, and the Steelers feel like they got a potential steal in their fourth-round pick. Emmanuel Sanders is gone, and the Steelers will have an open competition to fill his spot across the field from Antonio Brown. Markus Wheaton failed to impress last year and Lance Moore is on the downside of his career, so Bryant will have an opportunity to play. His size will make him an option in the red zone and give him some sleeper appeal in deeper formats if he can lock down the number two spot in camp.
9. Davante Adams, GB - Adams will be given time to learn behind Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and Jarrett Boykin, and he is more of a name for owners to keep on file if injuries strike or Boykin doesn’t build on last year’s mini-breakout.
10. Cody Latimer, DEN - Latimer will enter the year fourth on the depth chart behind Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Emmanuel Sanders. He’s in an ideal spot for a rookie to learn the ropes, but unless injuries strike, he is more of a dynasty grab than a redraft target. However, he is just one Wes Welker concussion from being an every-week player.
1. Eric Ebron, DET - The Lions broke the Giants' hearts when they grabbed the best tight end in the draft just ahead of them. He is a physical specimen at 6’4”, 250, and brings wide receiver speed to the position. People are already salivating over drafting the next Vernon Davis or Jimmy Graham, but it should be noted that tight ends rarely make a splash in their first season. Ebron will be utilized enough to catch anywhere from 50-75 balls as a rookie, but you will be better served by grabbing him as your TE2 than elevating him to TE1 status before he’s even played a snap.
2. Jace Amaro, NYJ - Amaro will be given every chance to start over veteran Jeff Cumberland, but with Geno Smith under center, expectations should be kept fairly low. A better dynasty target who could emerge as a solid TE2.
Overall Top 10 Rookies
Stankey, Watkins, Manziel, Evans, Benjamin, Beckham, Hill, West, Matthews, Ebron
Losing a star player just as the playoffs arrive is every fantasy owner’s worst nightmare. It can be a real dilemma since this late in the season, it can be very difficult to replace a key performer, especially in deeper leagues. Rob Gronkowski was the biggest casualty as he blew out his knee and is done for the year. Last week also saw significant injuries to Adrian Peterson and Wes Welker as well as potentially troublesome hits to various starting running backs. All you can do is gut it out by grabbing the best options available and hope for the best. If you didn’t get nailed by any injuries, that doesn’t mean you necessarily want to sit back this week. Don’t be afraid of cutting loose a non-essential player if it means keeping a key replacement away from your opponents. Everything is fair game once playoff time is here. Good luck and we will see you next week for our final installment of the Waiver Wire Report for 2013.
Ryan Tannehill, MIA – Tannehill kept his nice late-season run of improved production going against the Steelers last week. While he only passed for 200 yards, he notched three touchdown passes and added a season-best 56 yards on the ground to help boost his overall point total. This week, he gets a Patriots team that just made Jason Campbell look like Warren Moon, so he should be able to deliver multiple scoring plays for a third straight week. As a plus, the Dolphins are at home where weather won’t be an issue. He gets the Bills in Buffalo in Week 16, so you may not want to use him past this week, but he could be a viable alternative to a mid-range starter with a tough/cold weather matchup this week.
Jason Campbell, CLE – Campbell gets a prime spot on the list again this week after finally making it back from the concussion he suffered against the Steelers in Week 12. He fed the ball to Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron early and often and finished with 391 yards and three touchdowns for a surprisingly monster day. One key for Campbell has been protecting the ball, one of the many ways he has distanced himself from Brandon Weeden. He gets the Bears defense that on paper doesn’t look like a great matchup, but a big part of that has been teams running the ball at will on them this year. The Browns, however, do not possess the talent at RB to exploit the true weakness, so they will air it out instead. Campbell’s stock is also boosted by a juicy Week 16 date against the Jets. He could be a real difference-maker in two-quarterback leagues to finish the year.
Andy Dalton, CIN - We haven’t checked in with Dalton since his mid-season explosion. We mentioned back then that he might find success with some of his late-season matchups, mainly a Week 16 meeting with the Vikings. While this week’s game against the Steelers doesn’t instill a ton of confidence, if you want to speculate for next week, then Dalton has the matchup, albeit at home, in what could be less than ideal conditions.
Case Keenum, HOU – I won’t sugarcoat it, the young quarterback hasn’t instilled much confidence with his erratic play of late. However, the firing of Gary Kubiak should at the very least lock him in as the starter the rest of the way, since the team has conceded they are turning the page and will evaluate their players for next season going forward. The Texans get the Colts in Indy and then Denver at home the next two weeks, so there is a least some appeal to taking a shot on him as a QB2 in leagues that use two quarterbacks.
Kirk Cousins, WAS – The whispers that the Redskins might finally bench Robert Griffin for Cousins as they close out a lost season are growing again, and could finally result in the team officially shutting down their franchise QB for the season. If you have Griffin, you may want to grab his backup as insurance, especially in two-quarterback leagues. Embattled coach Mike Shanahan is supposed to announce his plans sometime tomorrow.
Week 14 Updates
Aaron Rodgers, GB – Rodgers still seems like a shaky bet to make it back on the field this week, but the fact that the Packers are still in the hunt for the playoffs means the pressure will be on for him to suit up if he is able. If you have been waiting on Rodgers, then cross your fingers and hope he makes it back to take advantage of the leaky Dallas pass defense. If he doesn’t get cleared for action, Matt Flynn will get the prime assignment and would make a serviceable start on the road in Jerry’s house.
Josh McCown, CHI – The legend of Josh McCown continues to grow after his monster day against the Cowboys playing in place of Jay Cutler, who couldn’t make it back from his injured ankle. Coach Marc Trestman has stated that Cutler will be the starter when he is cleared to play, but the strong play of McCown clouds the issue. If you have McCown and have been riding him, you have to keep him and hope he keeps the job for this week’s game against the Browns. Your best option could be owning both Bears quarterbacks and then just starting whichever one plays.
Joe Flacco, BAL – Flacco was able to deliver against the hapless Vikings and owners in deeper formats without better options can at least feel better about potentially riding him again this week against the Lions. If you like to avoid the weather this time of year, Flacco should get a boost on your list this week.
Toby Gerhart, MIN – Making sure you have key handcuffs locked up heading into the playoffs is always sound advice, and we are no different in reminding you to get your ducks in a row when playoff time approaches. In weeks 12 and 13, we told you to get Gerhart on board since there was a likelihood that Adrian Peterson could be shut down with the Vikings season already in the toilet. If I ran the Vikings, I would shut AP down, but of course I don’t, and X-Rays show that the foot isn’t broken. So what looked like a devastating injury on Sunday suddenly doesn’t look so bad and Peterson has shown the ability and desire to play through pain before. Complicating matters is the fact that Gerhart, who rushed for 89 yards and a touchdown in relief last week, tweaked his hamstring on a long touchdown run. If still unowned, he is a must grab as he has shown he can produce solid, if not spectacular, numbers as the lead back. Just be aware that the situation is very fluid as of today.
Jordan Todman, JCK – Maurice Jones-Drew injured his hamstring and could very well end up as a game-time decision this week for a prime matchup against the Bills. Jordan Todman is the next guy in line, and he has been waiting ever since the season started for a chance to really strut his stuff. MJD has vowed to play, but with his availability for the next two weeks in doubt, Todman has to be owned. If he draws the start, he’ll do damage against the Bills.
Daniel Thomas, MIA – We wrote up Mike Gillislee in Week 13 since reports had Thomas out for the season with an ankle injury. But there he was, miraculously back on the field last week, running for a season-high 105 yards and a touchdown after Lamar Miller sustained a concussion. Miller is showing signs of making it back in time for this week’s game, but Thomas at least merits a grab on the chance that he could be the primary ball-carrier against the Patriots this week.
Chris Ogbonnaya, CLE – I am loathe to lobby for the Browns running game again this week, but after it looked like Willis McGahee was back in control of things, he suffered a concussion and is in doubt for this week’s game against the Bears. As mentioned earlier, they are giving up tons of yardage to opposing running backs, so even someone as mediocre as Ogbonnaya has appeal in this scenario. Heck, Fozzy Whittaker has flex appeal against the Bears this week as well.
James Starks, GB – If I was sure that Eddie Lacy wouldn’t suit up this week, after spraining his ankle last week, then Starks would be higher on the list. The matchup versus the Cowboys is a good one, and Lacy’s injury at the very least means Starks should be owned again since he has shown nice burst when he has been called upon this year.
Marcel Reece, OAK – Reece was an All-Star in the column a year ago, and he finally got a chance to strut his stuff this year after both Rashad Jennings and Darren McFadden were sidelined. He rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown, and chipped in his usual receiving yards as well. Jennings has been cleared from his concussion this week, which likely sends Reece back into a secondary role. Reece, however, should still get enough touches to have some flex value in PPR leagues, and is a great bench stash in case Jennings goes down again and Reece gets thrust back into the starter’s chair for Week 16.
Knile Davis, KC – Jamaal Charles’ backup got some garbage-time carries in the blowout against Washington. You can’t count on him to get more than 2-4 carries in a normal week, so he’s nothing more than an emergency handcuff.
Week 14 Updates
Joique Bell, DET – Bell was recommended last week after rebounding from his lousy Week 12, since Reggie Bush could get injured at any point making Bell an every-week starter. Well, thanks to lousy conditions and a calf injury to Mr. Glass in pre-game warmups, Bell got a chance to carry the load and gave a decent impression. He did fumble twice, but we can give him a slight pass on that considering the weather. I expect Bush to make it back for the Monday Night contest, but he might have a setback or leave the game at any moment. If you didn’t make the move last week, he’s a must-own the rest of the way, with big upside if he gets starter's touches.
Donald Brown, IND – Brown couldn’t build on the momentum he seemingly had coming into the week, and the Colts aren’t giving up on Trent Richardson without a fight. For fantasy owners, all it does is make both of them risky starts.
Cordarrelle Patterson, MIN – We have been waiting for the talented rookie to have a true breakout game, and it finally happened last week as he caught five passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. I said last week that the Eagles matchup presented a prime opportunity to unleash him in your lineup, and with the injury to Peterson, it presents even more opportunities for the team to put the ball in the hands of their best remaining playmaker. Remember, if you start him, you do so hoping for more fireworks. Just be aware that there is still plenty of risk here due to the offense he plays in.
Da’Rick Rogers, IND – Rogers has traveled a long road before busting out with six catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns, but Colts fans have been waiting for the team to finally step up opposite T.Y. Hilton. LaVon Brazill also caught two touchdowns on Sunday, but Rogers is the more physically gifted of the two. There is no denying that both young receivers will get more opportunities to make plays at the expense of Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Rod Streater, OAK – Streater took a back seat to Andre Holmes in Week 13 but was back in his role as the number one target for Matt McGloin, and produced his best line (7/130/1) of the season. He looks like a pretty reliable WR3 the next two weeks, and that could come in handy, say if you just lost Wes Welker or want to bench your Giants wide receivers this week against Seattle. Speaking of Holmes, he had another solid day, but his production could take a hit if Denarius Moore makes it back this week.
Kenbrell Thompkins, NE – Someone is going to have to step back up with the season-ending injury to Rob Gronkowski. Aaron Dobson also could be in the mix, but the last time both rookies played, it was Thompkins who was on the field making plays, and he seems the better bet to draw the start this week. Tom Brady will have to rely on his outside receivers to make plays again, especially in the red-zone.
Ace Sanders, JCK – I almost added Sanders to the list last week as a PPR sleeper, since the Jaguars were finally finding ways to incorporate him into the offense. This past week, an unlikely passing touchdown buoyed his value, but just shows that he looks like a reasonable flex option against the Bills.
Jerricho Cotchery, PIT – The last time I listed the wily veteran, he promptly laid an egg, so I won’t blame you for not risking it a second time. Still, he is up to an improbable nine touchdown grabs on the year, seven of which have come in the last six weeks.
Week 14 Updates
Julian Edelman, NE – Edelman was solid again (6/64/1) and will undoubtedly be leaned on even more with Gronk’s injury. No reason to get off this train since it is picking up steam.
Michael Crabtree, SF – Crabtree knocked off more rust, but I am still waiting one more week before really feeling confident enough to start him as anything more than a WR3/Flex.
Brian Hartline, MIA – Hartline found the end-zone for the second week in a row and has a great chance to make it three against the Patriots.
Dennis Pitta, BAL – Anyone who stashed the Ravens tight end had to be very pleased that he got right back up to speed as an integral part of the offense. He was a little shaky early in the game but came up big in crunch time, catching some key passes and scoring at the goal-line. He is likely the best option for anyone who lost Rob Gronkowski. The Lions will bring the heat to Joe Flacco, which could mean another boatload of targets for his tight end.
Garrett Graham, HOU – Graham (8/73/1) got the job done last week against the Jaguars and this week’s game against the Colts sets him up for another solid week. As long as he is getting double-digit targets, he has a chance to rack up the numbers. He doesn’t possess the upside of Pitta, but he doesn’t make such a bad alternative plug-n-play this week.
Jacob Tamme, DEN – Tamme’s value will hinge a bit on Wes Welker’s health, but it seems doubtful the slot receiver will make it back from his concussion by tomorrow night’s game. Tamme will be his replacement in the slot and that alone puts him into consideration in the always potent Broncos offense.
Delanie Walker, TEN – Walker missed last week’s game with a concussion, but he is on track to play this week against the Cardinals. While they have been very tough against opposing wide receivers this year, the Cardinals are dead last when it comes to defending TE’s. If you like to play those angles, then Walker is a bet that could pay off in spades.
Week 14 Updates
Ladarius Green, SD – Okay, so maybe I got a little too excited about Ladarius Green. The Chargers got Eddie George back and Antonio Gates isn’t done just yet either. It all led to a drop in usage, and he’s back to being just a keeper play rather than a fantasy savior this year.
Eagles – The Vikings have been a pretty good team to pick on this year when it comes to streaming defenses and they could be without Adrian Peterson, which obviously is a big hit to an already struggling offense.
Saints – Plugging the Saints in is always a little risky, but they do generate sacks and turnovers by forcing teams to abandon their running game early. Kellen Clemens could be in for a long day.
Adam Vinatieri, IND – The Colts offense figured out how to score touchdowns last week but could easily revert to the form that provided the veteran kicker with five attempts just a week earlier.