Making Giant Mistakes on the Waiver Wire
Bryan: Welcome back to Scramble for the Ball, where we're getting prepped for the fourth and final preseason game to whet our appetites before the regular season sta—
... wait, what? This Thursday? Kickoff? But what about the meaningless cutdown game? Cancelled? A 17-game season? The same opening joke as last year? Uh, if you'll excuse me for one moment, I have to ... make sure my fantasy teams are ... as good as I remembered them being. Yes. Because I am definitely a prepared fantasy manager.
Andrew: Ah, fantasy football. As if we didn't already have enough reasons to curse the randomness of football, let's each pick between ... let's say eight and 16 players at a variety of positions, toss them into the weighted RNG that is the NFL season, and declare war on our closest friends based on the results. That always ends superbly!
Bryan: I'm sensing a faint whiff of negativity here. Don't you play in a league where you start four punters, a long snapper, and a conditioning coach?
Andrew: You're exaggerating ever so slightly, as usual. This year is a 16-team, four-keeper IDP dynasty league where the starting lineup is QB, 2RB, 2WR, TE, FLEX, LB, ER, CB, S, DP, K, and P. That's tame! We have had years in the past where we specifically picked KR and PR positions and gained one point per 10 return yards. My championship game MVP in 2005 was Tab Perry of the Bengals. There's a reason we traditionally haven't written quite as many fantasy columns as our editors have requested. Fantasy advice that is effective for me is utterly useless in pretty much any sensible league.
Bryan: Similarly, there's a reason I'm the one writing the Loser League column this year, and it's not because my fantasy drafts have traditionally gone smoothly. I'm generally much better at identifying the Nathan Petermans of the world than I am at finding the Patrick Mahomeses.
Nevertheless! Even two blind squirrels will eventually find some nuts. And if your fantasy roster is populated primarily by blind squirrels at this point after a disastrous draft day, then we're here to help bail you out with some emergency fantasy options.
Andrew: For simplicity's sake, we're basing our recommendations on availability in Yahoo! leagues, going position by position, and completely ignoring the existence of individual defensive players.
Bryan: If you're in a league that's starting individual defenders, you're probably competing with a bunch of people who are, you know, paying attention and not letting valuable players sink to the bottom of the draft pool. We're looking at players available in less than half of Yahoo! leagues, where you have a chance to steal some valuable players from under the noses of your less-watchful rivals.
I mean, it's just an excuse to weep at the fallow running back fields, but that's neither here nor there.
|Best Quarterbacks Still Available|
Andrew: It really seems like the quarterback field here is far more interesting than in most years. Last year, sure, we had Ryan Tannehill at the top of the list, but there was a real suspicion then that Tannehill was simply a one-year wonder. This year, we get tons of genuine intrigue. Trey Lance is rostered in more leagues than Jimmy Garoppolo! Deshaun Watson is rostered at all, presumably in some kind of blind optimism.
Bryan: The Watson rostering is evidence that about 23% of fantasy managers really aren't paying attention at this point in time. Some of them will presumably wake up by kickoff, or at least before September ends, but there's a not-insignificant number of people in public leagues who draft a team and then forget about them all year long.
It's always interesting to see the quarterback battles playing out in the minds of fantasy managers. Lance over Garoppolo, despite the fact that Jimmy G is the Week 1 starter and Lance isn't actually throwing the ball as we write this due to a chip in his finger. Also not pictured: Justin Fields (55%, and thus too frequently rostered to appear) over Andy Dalton (2%, and thus too infrequently rostered to appear). We are all, apparently, wiser than Kyle Shanahan and Matt Nagy.
Andrew: The optimist in me figures some of that bump will be dynasty leagues, where grabbing Lance or Fields while you have the chance is more valuable in the long term than having whoever starts in Week 1. I'm pleased that Jameis Winston won out over Taysom Hill in the minds of everybody other than Sean Payton's Mr. Hyde alter-ego, amused that Mac Jones ranks above Daniel Jones, and altogether satisfied to see Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston right next to each other in the table considering how their time together in Tampa Bay played out.
Bryan: Last year, we were rather high on Carolina's unheralded passer, with you actually picking Teddy Bridgewater and me strongly considering it before going with the Man with a Mustache. Well, both Bridgewater and Carolina's new unheralded passer are both widely available, theoretical replacement options for anyone blindsided by Cam Newton's release. Any takers this year?
Andrew: Ah, that's another one of the many interesting pairings on this board. I really can't fathom why Sam Darnold has so many more takers than Teddy Bridgewater, unless supporting cast is doing a lot of the heavy lifting.
Bryan: I think part of it is the supporting cast, and part of it is thinking Vic Fangio and the Broncos are going to be content to run the ball a lot and play defense, as opposed to Matt Rhule (and Joe Brady!) wanting to air it out in Carolina.
Andrew: That may be, but Bridgewater would be among my picks here again. Last year, the Panthers offense was superb until it got into scoring range. That sort of thing usually regresses toward the mean. Also, Bridgewater was critical of the lack of situational practice following his departure from Carolina. I'm confident that he'll be a better red zone passer in Denver. The only issue might be Drew Lock lurking over his shoulder, but really I think that ship has sailed even farther than one of Lock's overthrows for the Broncos.
Bryan: I rather like Daniel Jones, actually. KUBIAK has him rushing for something like 65 yards a game, making him a top-10 rusher at the position, which has significant value. Giving him Kenny Golladay as a deep threat isn't a bad addition, either. Plus, all those planned jet sweeps to Kadarius Toney? Passing plays, baby. Give me all that YAC value that has little to no correlation with quarterback skill. I may also be a little higher on the Giants than the general populace, in that I think they'll avoid double-digit losses and, thus, are serious contenders in the NFC East.
Andrew: For me, I have to go with the homer pick. Jameis Winston gets all manner of stick for his final year in Tampa Bay, and his very up-and-down career there, but he was almost always a productive quarterback in fantasy terms. Somewhat bizarrely, you could even argue that Winston's penchant for pick-sixes is more valuable than regular picks in fantasy, as they put the offense straight back onto the field for another drive.
Bryan: You have no idea how much restraint it took for me not to make this a double-homer spot and go with Lance to match your Winston pick.
Andrew: At least Lance isn't the opening-day starter. He'll be in there in time for the fantasy playoffs though, so he might be worth a stash. If you're stuck because the auto-draft landed you Watson and Carson Wentz, though, Winston and Bridgewater would be my go-to pairing for upside when you need it with a solid backup plan.
|Best Running Backs Still Available|
|Phillip Lindsay||HOU||49%||Darrel Williams||KC||15%|
|Alexander Mattison||MIN||40%||Travis Etienne||JAX||14%|
|J.D. McKissic||WAS||37%||Malcolm Brown||MIA||13%|
|Giovani Bernard||TB||31%||Boston Scott||PHI||13%|
|James White||NE||30%||Marlon Mack||IND||12%|
|Ty'Son Williams||BAL||27%||Tarik Cohen||CHI||11%|
|Rhamondre Stevenson||NE||25%||Ty Johnson||NYJ||11%|
|Latavius Murray||NO||24%||Kenneth Gainwell||PHI||9%|
|J.K. Dobbins||BAL||23%||Devontae Booker||NYG||8%|
|Rashaad Penny||SEA||21%||Todd Gurley||NONE||7%|
|Tevin Coleman||NYJ||21%||Cam Akers||LAR||6%|
|Chubba Hubbard||CAR||20%||Tony Jones||NO||6%|
|Mark Ingram||HOU||19%||Damien Williams||CHI||5%|
|Carlos Hyde||JAX||17%||Justice Hill||BAL||5%|
Andrew: What I learn from this table is exactly 14% of fantasy leagues draft too early.
Bryan: What a motley crew of rostered players. Travis Etienne, J.K . Dobbins, and Cam Akers, all out for the year. But at least they make more sense than rostering Todd Gurley, who hasn't been on a team at any point in the offseason after his much-ballyhooed Atlanta revival petered out. Some people really do draft by name recognition alone.
Andrew: There's another intriguing juxtaposition in this table, however. In fourth place we find Giovani Bernard, Tom Brady's newest target out of the backfield in Tampa Bay, and the guy who will hopefully fill the receiving woes that the Buccaneers experienced from their backs last year. Directly below him we find James White, who had the least productive receiving season of his career in his first year not catching passes from Brady. I have been shipping a reunion for Brady and White all summer, but both have ended up with very positive potential outcomes even while remaining apart.
Bryan: Not to spoil too much from the staff predictions article upcoming, but I have White as the player most likely to overperform his KUBIAK ranking in 2021. Going from Cam Newton to Mac Jones is likely going to help him a lot, as Newton tends to scramble when pressured, and I expect Jones to look for the checkdown more frequently. The backfield becoming less crowded with Sony Michel shipped out of town doesn't exactly hurt either; both White and Rhamondre Stevenson look like more solid picks today than they did two weeks ago.
Andrew: Stevenson was one of my late-round fliers, courtesy of fantasy football draft Twitter. I agree on White being in a much better spot now than he was last year, even if he's unlikely to repeat his 100-target, 750-yard career year from 2018. He's definitely a player I'd take a shot on. Sure, you're dependent on those pass targets, but you could do far worse than White and Bernard from this list.
Bryan: There's a lot of interesting head-to-head battles on this list between backs on the same team. White and Stevenson is the biggest one, sure, but you also have Phillip Lindsay and Mark Ingram in Houston, Tevin Coleman and Ty Johnson in New York, and Boston Scott and Kenneth Gainwell in Philadelphia, just to name three. It strikes me that there's a lot of value to be found just by guessing right on the outcome of backfields like that.
Andrew: Or by blowing a couple of bench spots early to stash both while the backfields shake themselves out. That's a strategy I used to good effect with James Robinson, Ryquell Armstead, and Devine Ozigbo last year. Armstead went on injured reserve, Robinson took over as the lead back immediately, and I still had the bench spots free by the time I needed them.
Bryan: I think you're right in that White and Bernard are the best picks here, but in the interest of variety, I'll go elsewhere. I'll take Phillip Lindsay out of the committee in Houston; I know Ingram is currently penciled in as the early-down back, but Lindsay's the better player and I think that will shake itself out sooner rather than later. And then, as a bit of a flier, I'm going to go down the list a little bit and take Carlos Hyde. James Robinson was obviously great last year, but Urban Meyer didn't just draft Travis Etienne as a replacement: he also brought in Hyde, whom he coached at Ohio State way back when. If Meyer was happy just running Robinson out there as his undeniable lead, I don't think he would have gone an added a first-round back to compete with him. Plus, I don't think Meyer is, y'know, good at strategy at this point in time, and could totally see him slamming Hyde into the line a bunch in his first year in the pros.
Andrew: From last year's list, I nabbed both Robinson and Nyheim Hines, and that served me well for most of the fantasy season. This year, there are a lot of flier options. Alexander Mattison and Latavius Murray have clear paths to very productive years and could be great bench stashes by October. I was very keen on Chuba Hubbard until the Panthers snapped up Royce Freeman. But unlike you, I will be boring and pick the two guys with clear paths to starting production regardless of what happens to the guys ahead of them. That's Giovani Bernard and James White.
|Best Wide Receivers Still Available|
|Cole Beasley||BUF||45%||A.J. Green||ARI||18%|
|Henry Ruggs||LV||43%||Randall Cobb||GB||16%|
|DeVante Parker||MIA||41%||Rashod Bateman||BAL||14%|
|Elijah Moore||NYJ||40%||Bryan Edwards||LV||13%|
|Sterling Shepard||NYG||39%||Christian Kirk||ARI||12%|
|Jamison Crowder||NYJ||33%||Marquez Valdes-Scantling||GB||12%|
|Nelson Agholor||NE||35%||Parris Campbell||IND||11%|
|Tyrell Williams||DET||31%||Juwan Johnson||NO||10%|
|Russell Gage||ATL||27%||Gabriel Davis||BUF||9%|
|Jalen Reagor||PHI||23%||Sammy Watkins||BAL||9%|
|Emmanuel Sanders||BUF||21%||Amon-Ra St. Brown||DET||8%|
|Rondale Moore||ARI||21%||Tre'Quan Smith||NO||6%|
|Terrance Marshall||CAR||19%||John Brown||NONE||6%|
Andrew: Avoid Cole Beasley like the pla—wait, am I violating his HIPAA rights by using that expression?
Bryan: I took several shots at Beasley over the course of this year's offseason stat review articles, which of course is several more shots than Beasley himself has taken. With a couple of players already out for Week 1 due to not being vaccinated (most notably Dolphins tight end Adam Shaheen), it's something you have to at least consider when picking your team, the best ability being availability and all that.
Of course, the next-best ability is "being a high-volume slot target in an offense that throws the ball 70% of the time." In an ideal world, that will be the story of Beasley's 2021.
Andrew: There are several players on this list who seriously intrigue me. A few weeks ago, I would have been cautiously optimistic about Terrace Marshall in Carolina. Now that they released David Moore, I am no longer so cautious. DJ Moore and Marshall were the replacements for free-agent departure Curtis Samuel, one of the team's four 1,000-scrimmage-yard players last year. If they were happy to release Moore, that suggests Marshall is living up to his billing in practice. His billing is a receiver with first-round talent who was overshadowed by Justin Jefferson and Ja'Marr Chase in college. That's not exactly shameful company to be overshadowed by, and Marshall was still a productive player in his own right. I'm very excited to see him in the NFL. I'm considerably less excited to see him trying to catch passes from Sam Darnold, but that's another story.
Bryan: The player catching my eye is Russell Gage, who has a path to much more playing time now that Julio Jones is in Tennessee and Arthur Smith is in Atlanta from Tennessee.
Andrew: I surmise that Gage's value is being depressed by the addition of Kyle Pitts, but that's not good reasoning to me. Gage was very productive alongside Jones and Calvin Ridley last year. Replacing Jones with Pitts isn't going to reduce Gage's impact this time out.
Bryan: Going back to that best ability chestnut—Gage isn't going to come off the field much, considering the state of Atlanta's receiving corps. Pitts and Calvin Ridley aren't going to be open every play; the Falcons don't have a Derrick Henry-type to soak up 300 rushing attempts; and I suspect Arthur Smith is wise enough to know that if you have Matt Ryan at quarterback, you should probably throw the ball some.
Andrew: I agree on Gage, and he would definitely be my top target. I opened by talking about Marshall because I love the long-term potential, but I prefer Gage catching passes from Matt Ryan over Marshall being targeted by Sam Darnold. The other guy I like to be productive has a pile of reasons to be skeptical, but also a clear role as a starting receiver in New England. Nelson Agholor's going to drop some passes. It's what he does. Have you seen the rest of that receiving corps though? He's going to be targeted a TON.
Bryan: I fear that the Patriots going to two-tight end sets a lot is going to reduce the workload for any and all of their receivers, but considering we're down in the comparative dregs of the fantasy position, gambling on Agholor's value as a deep threat is far from the worst idea I have heard!
Andrew: Two tight ends likely means both run-heavy and play-action heavy. That's a recipe I like if I'm a deep threat.
Bryan: I'm going with Beasley and Gage, and then as a flex play, I'm adding in Sterling Shepard. If I like Daniel Jones' value, then I presumably must like the value of his receiving corps more than the average fantasy manager. And Shepard has the benefit of being, erm, the only healthy option for the Giants to start the season. That means he and Jones have had the most consistent connection this preseason, and if I'm going a little bit in on Big Blue, I might as well go all the way in.
Andrew: Shepard's productive when he's on the field, but unfortunately he has missed a wee bit too much time over the past couple of seasons. He should be a solid high-floor option, but he's also the kind of player you might be able to surpass on waivers in any given individual week. I'll go with Gage and Agholor, then rely on the legendary stubbornness of Aaron Rodgers pointedly targeting Randall Cobb way more than he merits at this stage in his career.
|Best Tight Ends Still Available|
Andrew: Spoiler: Irv Smith is not the player you should be targeting here. However, I could be persuaded by Chris Herndon, despite Herndon falling off the bottom of the card.
Bryan: For the record, Herndon is owned in 2% of leagues, as managers continue to shy away from starting the Vikings' third tight end in their fantasy lineups. Who knew?
I should also note that Juwon Johnson has WR/TE eligibility in Yahoo! leagues, and so he appears on both lists. He's substantially more valuable here than he is as a wideout, mind you, and I'm not sure that he's enough more valuable to even be worth considering here, but positional versatility is always worth mentioning at the very least.
Andrew: Don't be fooled; this is not Marques Colston 2.0. Johnson is a former undrafted free agent receiver who spent some time with the tight ends this summer. He's a depth option at either spot, hoping to eventually emulate Dan Arnold's career pathway. Or Nate Jackson's, for those of a more bookish persuasion.
I hate trying to grab fantasy tight ends, and I say that as a guy who always has a well-stocked tight end group. There's such a gulf between the top handful and everybody else, and usually barely a third of the starters are even worth bothering with, that I'd be in favor of all leagues just lumping them in with receivers.
Bryan: You make this argument every year, which is both repetitive and also correct. Especially with players such as Jared Cook being essentially large slot receivers, and no tight end getting fantasy points for awesome pancake blocks, there's an argument for just treating all pass-catchers the same way. Heck, just make them all skill position players, have six slots, and let players choose if they want to run out five running backs or not. Variety is the spice of life and all that.
And from the highs of imagining a positionless fantasy world down to the lows of trying to figure out if Eric Ebron is worth considering as an emergency option. The drudgery of reality strikes again.
Andrew: I'm honestly more than a little surprised Cook is still available in that many leagues. Hunter Henry had 613 yards and four scores in 14 games last year, averaging just outside starter territory in a 12-team league. Cook is his direct replacement, and he averaged almost exactly the same number of points across 15 games last year. Age is against him, but he's a productive pass-catcher at a position starved of productive pass catchers. He's way ahead of Evan Engram, Austin Hooper, and Cole Kmet.
Bryan: I'm surprised the two Pittsburgh tight ends are right next to each other at 9% rostered. If you want to make an argument that neither player should be on a team, fine, but Ebron had a bounceback year with 558 yards and five scores, so right in that Henry category you were talking about. Pat Freiermuth is a second-round rookie out of Penn State, and we all know the long and troubled track record of rookie tight ends. Yes, Ebron drops the ball too much, but he actually had the lowest drop rate of his career in 2020 in his first year in Pittsburgh. If you're taking a Steelers right end for this season, it's gotta be Eric Ebron, and he's my choice here.
Andrew: Ebron is a solid second option for your bench. He's also a solid second option on this list, behind Jared Cook.
|Best Kickers Still Available|
Bryan: Don't draft fantasy kickers. Well, OK, if you're drafting today, draft a kicker for Week 1, but if there's any amount of training camp remaining when you draft, take people who have a chance to start at a position of value, and drop/stash on IR anyone you end up being wrong about.
Andrew: This advice does not apply if you happen to be in a 16-team league full of people who will literally roster three kickers for Week 1 just to troll anybody who doesn't draft one, but none of us are that foolish, are we?
Bryan: Spite is, of course, one of the primary motivations of deep benches in fantasy leagues, so your mileage may vary.
Also, Michael Badgley got cut and Nick Folk is on the practice squad. So, y'know, check those rosters.
Also also—it's Jason Myers, right? That's the answer here?
Andrew: Myers has the advantage that Pete Carroll never saw a fourth down he wasn't happy to kick on, and the Seahawks are otherwise pretty productive on offense thanks to that insanely good quarterback thing. There's a similar case to be made for Daniel Carlson, albeit with a somewhat lower standard of good quarterbacking. I'm the fool who would be tempted by Mason Crosby here, but really just play matchups if you can. Who's playing the Lions or the Jets this week?
Bryan: Yeah, if you don't have a kicker now, a) kudos to you, and b) just play matchups. For Week 1, from this list, that ... well, it's probably still Myers, in a dome on the road, even if the Colts aren't exactly Jets-esque.
Andrew: Just whatever you do, no matter how cruel your league-mates are during bye season, never trust a Vikings kicker. The answer here is Myers, but we'll accept just about anything other than Greg Joseph.
|Best Defenses Still Available|
|Los Angeles Chargers||38%|
|New Orleans Saints||34%|
|Green Bay Packers||19%|
|New York Giants||5%|
Andrew: Ah, it's the kicker position's ugly cousin.
Bryan: I'd argue it's the prettier cousin. I can justify drafting one of the top defenses late; being able to plug a Tampa Bay or a Washington in week after week isn't the worst thing in the world. But yeah, what we have here is not a list of teams you should be targeting. No, this is the priority streaming list—the teams good enough to plug in against the correct matchups, as opposed to the eight teams which are basically unrostered at this point (Dallas, Jacksonville, Atlanta, New York Jets, Las Vegas, Cincinnati, Houston, and Detroit)
Andrew: At a guess, the only reason Tennessee isn't among those eight is that they get to play Houston twice, whereas Houston's stuck playing Tennessee twice. I'm a little bothered that New Orleans is so low. The Saints have their share of tough games, but they also get Sam Darnold twice, Daniel Jones, Jalen Hurts, and the New York Jets, and they should be a tough matchup for even good teams most weeks. Whereas I really like Carolina's prospects for this year, but their offense is likely to land them in some tough, tough spots from a fantasy perspective.
Bryan: I was not expecting to pick the Giants three times in one article, but they were fairly solid last season, again speaking only from a fantasy perspective. Their defense ranked 13th in most formats, they had 40 sacks and 11 fumble recoveries ... there's a lot of year-to-year, and even game-to-game variance there, but that's why they're a streaming option and not a plug-and-play option. Having to face Dak Prescott twice hurts, but that may be offset by getting to face Ryan Fitzsixpicks twice. And even outside of the division, the Giants have a lot of promising streaming opportunities, including Philadelphia and Chicago in the playoffs. Obviously, you're not going to be trotting them out against Patrick Mahomes, but there are enough Darnold-type passers on the list to feast off of.
Andrew: Maybe it's just the homer in me, but at one point our offseason projections had the Saints as the top defense, and even by the time the book came out they remained in the top three. There are enough juicy matchups in there to make them a popular streaming option, but they really do have the potential to be your every-week solution in a similar vein as the likes of Tampa Bay, Buffalo, or Pittsburgh.
Bryan: The Saints do still have a high projection in KUBIAK, but their overall ranking takes a hit because they're the one defense with a yellow risk. Replacing Trey Hendrickson and Janoris Jenkins isn't easy, but they did add defensive players with their first three picks. If they all hit, I'm with you; the Saints could be an every-week option. They just might be an unusually risky option, considering all the youth they're counting on.
Andrew: The trouble with fantasy columns, as we alluded to at the start, is that a lot of this comes down to what you're looking for. Do you have a strong group of starters, meaning you're looking for bye-week cover that can boom big in the right matchups? Do you have a stellar set of backs and receivers, and just need a quarterback with a high floor? Did you draft Travis Etienne and J.K. Dobbins, and watch your season go on injured reserve before opening day? In any case, though, it's pretty clear that all hope is not lost.
Bryan: It's a matter of degrees, to be sure. If you're trying to build a roster from scratch like we are, well, you're probably not going to finish above midtable, even if you're super active on the waiver wire over the course of the season. But if all you're looking to do is patch a hole or two, there are some solid players out there, both in terms of decently high floors and intriguing potential. You can survive a bad early-round pick or two by being prudent with your scrounging. Just maybe not making the entire team out of spare parts.
Andrew: No, making the entire team out of spare parts is our old segue, which has now been reinvented as the coolest fantasy competition in site history. For which, I should note, signups are still open!
Here's to a fun season, in both fantasy and real-life terms.
Money-Back Guaranteed Lock of the Week
Bryan: The goal in Week 1 is to find a team that the general public is crazy about so you can pump the brakes against them. For me, that's the Los Angeles Chargers. The general consensus, reflected in Vegas' lines, is that Justin Herbert is the second coming of Patrick Mahomes, and that Brandon Staley is going to immediately turn the defense into something highly competitive. Color me several different shades of doubtful, however. Herbert is good, no doubt, but he's not a top-five passer yet. And as Staley isn't actually Wade Phillips after a massive facelift, I think the Chargers are going to follow the usual path when getting a new defensive playcaller, one that struggles for a season before putting it all together. Give me a dose of Fitzmagic early, and the Washington Football Team (+1).
Andrew: The other option is to find a team the general public is very, very down on, playing against an opponent giving them favorable odds. I feel very confident in asserting that the Houston Texans are going to be bad this season. I feel just about as confident in asserting that the Jaguars will be worse at most positions. Sure, if Trevor Lawrence blooms immediately then all bets are off, but the Jaguars went 1-15 for more reasons than Lawrence alone will fix. The Jaguars should not be favored on the road against anybody. For all their flaws, the Texans are a seasoned group of veteran professional football players. They'll have too much for the rookie on his debut, then the franchises will trend in totally opposite directions from there. Houston (+3) vs. Jacksonville.