The fantasy waiver wire report

While we touch on this subject further down the page, those who plan to blow a highly coveted waiver wire priority on a New England running back this week may want to rethink their strategy.

Yes, it’s difficult to remain emotionless and analytical when news hits that a starting running back—in this case, Stevan Ridley—has gone down for the season, opening up a roster spot for a fantasy free agent to cut his teeth. But the truth of the matter is that this is still Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, which means that this is still the same football team that has produced only two 1,000-yard rushers (Ridley, BenJarvus Green-Ellis) since the conclusion of the 2004 season.

In addition to Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, rookie James White and Jonas Gray could all be in line for a piece of the backfield pie moving forward, which is why it might be a better idea to focus instead on widely available running backs like Isaiah Crowell and Jerick McKinnon before committing to what could be a low-upside timeshare situation in New England.

QUARTERBACKS

Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens (vs. Atlanta, owned in 50% of Yahoo! leagues): The seven-year veteran out of Delaware is currently on pace to throw for 4,256 yards and 32 touchdowns this season, both of which would be career-high marks. The addition of Steve Smith to the wide receiving unit via free agency has given the Super Bowl winner one of the best pass-catching duos of his young career, which was evidenced in Sunday’s 48-17 dismantling of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Note that while consistency is an issue when it comes to Flacco, Sunday’s matchup against a shaky Falcons defense offers up another soft spot on the schedule.

Derek CarrCarr looked sharp in Sunday's loss to San Diego.

Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders (vs. Arizona, owned in 4% of Yahoo! leagues): Sunday’s divisional matchup with San Diego served as a coming out party for Carr, who threw for 282 yards and four touchdowns in Oakland’s best offensive performance of the season. Maybe it was the bye week rest or perhaps it had to do with the switch from Dennis Allen to Tony Sparano at head coach, but it’s possible that the Raiders could have something brewing here. Be advised that while garbage time statistics are a big plus, consistency is an issue, making Carr a QB2 recommendation for owners in leagues with 12 or more teams only.

Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals (at Oakland, owned in 30% of Yahoo! leagues): Returned from a shoulder injury Sunday to throw for 250 yards and two scores in a 30-20 win over Washington that now gives the 11-year veteran a QB rating of 100.5 on the season. While Palmer’s upside is relatively limited, he does play with one of the league’s better receiver tandems in Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd and has an excellent Week 7 matchup against a Raiders defense that is surrendering an average of 26.8 points per game on the season (seventh-most in NFL). Consider the Arizona signal-caller a QB2 with situational QB1 upside based on bye weeks or favorable scheduling spots.

RUNNING BACKS

Ronnie Hillman, RB, Denver Broncos (vs. San Francisco, owned in 45% of Yahoo! leagues): Following the loss of starting running back Montee Ball to a groin injury sustained in Week 5, Hillman stepped up into the lead dog spot and handled the rock 27 times for a grand total of 116 yards Sunday against the Jets. Between that type of production and the fact that fellow backs Juwan Thompson (9 touches) and C.J. Anderson (0 touches) were hardly utilized, it’s safe to say that for the time being Hillman is the featured back in Denver worthy of a roster spot until Ball makes his way back into the rotation.

Isaiah CrowellCrowell has been Cleveland's best running back so far in 2014.

Isaiah Crowell, RB, Cleveland Browns (at Jacksonville, owned in 19% of Yahoo! leagues): While the Browns continue to employ a running back-by-committee approach, Crowell continues to produce the best results of the bunch. The rookie from Alabama State has already found the end zone four times this season and is currently averaging one touchdown for every 11 rushing attempts. Take note that rookie Terrance West was a healthy scratch from Sunday’s game against the Steelers while free agent pickup Ben Tate amassed only 78 rushing yards on 25 carries (3.1 YPC) compared to Crowell’s 77 rushing yards on just 11 attempts (7.0 YPC). As for the icing on the cake, Crowell faces a Jacksonville defense on Sunday that is currently surrendering an average of 23.5 fantasy points per game to opposing running backs this season (fifth-most in NFL).

Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders (vs. Arizona, owned in 40% of Yahoo! leagues): I laughed a bit at first here as well, but new Raiders head coach Tony Sparano told the media last week that his team needed to put more emphasis on the running game. In the Raiders’ first outing since that statement, McFadden rolled up a season-high 80 rushing yards on 14 carries (5.7 YPC) in a 31-28 loss to division rival San Diego. Consistency and health are both issues when it comes to McFadden, but a heavy workload is reason enough to roster this guy as we enter the heart of the bye weeks.

Antone Smith, RB, Atlanta Falcons (at Baltimore, owned in 28% of Yahoo! leagues): What the hell is wrong with Falcons head coach Mike Smith? He’s got a fresh, five-year veteran who leads the team in touchdowns (5) while averaging a game-changing 15.04 yards per touch this season, and he’s only given the guy 23 touches through six games. No wonder Atlanta is 2-4 with Smith on the hot seat now that the head coach has won just six of his last 22 games. Regarding the productive Smith (Antone), owners should consider rostering the Florida State product in the event Mike Smith wakes up and starts feeding the rock to one of his only viable playmakers.

Joseph Randle, RB, Dallas Cowboys (vs. NY Giants, owned in 3% of Yahoo! leagues): Super stud DeMarco Murray is on pace for an NFL record-breaking 424 rushing attempts this year and hasn’t completed a full 16-game season in any of his previous three professional campaigns, so Randle may be called into action in the coming weeks if that expensive Porsche the Cowboys have been driving breaks down at an inopportune moment. On the year, Randle is averaging a healthy 7.1 yards per carry, so Murray owners and snakes alike should be keeping a close eye on this guy.

Jerick McKinnon, RB, Minnesota Vikings (at Buffalo, owned in 37% of Yahoo! leagues): Week 6 marked the first time this season that the rookie from Georgia Southern recorded more touches (17-82-0) in a game than veteran Matt Asiata (3-13-0). We’ll take that as a positive sign moving forward since there’s virtually no chance of Pro Bowler Adrian Peterson returning to the Minnesota lineup in 2014. However, be advised that McKinnon should still be viewed as a situational play until the Vikings offense finds a way to start clicking.

Brandon Bolden, RB, New England Patriots (vs. NY Jets, owned in 2% of Yahoo! leagues): With starting running back Stevan Ridley out for the year due to a knee injury suffered in Sunday’s win at Buffalo, Bolden should get first crack at the available rushing attempts that just hit the market. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to get excited about a guy who has notched just 570 rushing yards in 28 career games. Be advis ed that outside of Bolden and Shane Vereen, fellow Patriots running backs James White, Jonas Gray and James Develin (fullback) could try to make a case for more playing time as well. The upside here is extremely limited.

Storm Johnson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. Cleveland, owned in 18% of Yahoo! leagues): Now that the Toby Gerhart experiment looks to be nothing more than a waste of both time and money, Johnson has an opportunity to prove his worth as an NFL starting running back. The problems, however, are that the rookie from Central Florida is slow to the hole and playing on an offense that currently ranks dead last in the league in scoring (13.5 pts/gm). While Johnson did find the end zone Sunday at Tennessee, he also recorded just 21 rushing yards on ten carries. There’s minimal upside here.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Note: Bengals wide receiver Mohamed Sanu is worth a roster spot if he’s still available in your league (owned in 68% of Yahoo! leagues).

Andre Holmes, WR, Oakland Raiders (vs. Arizona, owned in 7% of Yahoo! leagues): Any recommendation regarding a player from the Oakland roster warrants a tempering of expectations, but nevertheless, Holmes is going to be a popular prospect on the wire this week following Sunday’s 4-121-2 breakout performance against the San Diego Chargers. There will definitely be some growing pains here due to the presence of rookie signal-caller Derek Carr, but it’s definitely worth noting that Holmes notched a team-high eight targets in Carr’s best game at the professional level.

Malcom Floyd, WR, San Diego Chargers (vs. Kansas City, owned in 23% of Yahoo! leagues): He’s a big, physical target playing with one of the hottest quarterbacks in football at the moment, so that alone should grab your attention. In addition, Floyd has found the end zone in two of his last three starts and just racked up a season-high 103 receiving yards on seven targets Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. A good WR3/4 option for owners in leagues with 12 or more teams.

Cecil Shorts, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. Cleveland, owned in 38% of Yahoo! leagues): Returned from a hamstring injury to notch ten receptions for 103 yards on a team-high 16 targets in Sunday’s 16-14 loss to the Tennessee Titans. The Jaguars may boast a semi-impressive display of young talent at the wideout position (Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns), but Shorts is still the most polished and experienced of the group, which means rookie signal-caller Blake Bortles should continue looking his way on a consistent basis. And as always when it comes to Jacksonville, garbage time statistics are in full effect here.

Louis Murphy, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Bye, owned in 2% of Yahoo! leagues): Despite the return of Mike Evans to the starting rotation, Murphy hauled in seven passes for 72 yards and a score Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. While the upside here is fairly limited, note that Murphy has now recorded 16 grabs for 206 yards and two scores on 27 targets over his last three outings. Owners in leagues with 12 or more teams should consider the former Florida Gator a WR4 with starting potential during the bye weeks.

Brandon LaFell, WR, New England Patriots (vs. NY Jets, owned in 7% of Yahoo! leagues): Don’t look now, but the former Carolina Panther has topped 90 receiving yards in two of his last three games to go along with an impressive three touchdown receptions. LaFell isn’t a lock for the starting lineup, but he’s been coming on strong in New England in recent weeks and is worthy of a roster spot for WR needy owners who are heading into the meat of the bye weeks.

Robert Woods, WR, Buffalo Bills (vs. Minnesota, owned in 2% of Yahoo! leagues): The second-year receiver out of USC has been targeted ten or more times in two of his last three outings and just recorded a season-high seven receptions for 78 yards and a touchdown Sunday against the Patriots with Kyle Orton under center. While it’s still more likely that Orton leans on rookie Sammy Watkins over Woods, the young pass-catcher is definitely worth keeping an eye on over the next few weeks to see if he continues to build a rapport with his new quarterback.

Jarvis Landry, WR, Miami Dolphins (at Chicago, owned in 2% of Yahoo! leagues): The rookie from LSU just posted his best stat line since turning pro by racking up six receptions for 75 yards and a score on eight targets in Sunday’s 27-24 loss to the Green Bay Packers. While Landry is a speedster with plenty of upside, the problem in Miami is that quarterback Ryan Tannehill has yet to take the next step in his development, which is severely hindering the Dolphins offense. Recommended as a WR4/5 with upside for owners in leagues with 12 or more teams.

TIGHT ENDS

Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins (vs. Tennessee, owned in 59% of Yahoo! leagues): Returned to the gridiron for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury in Week 1 to notch eight receptions for 92 yards on 11 targets. Reed is an athletic tight end who presents serious matchup issues for opposing defenses…just as long as the former Florida Gator can find a way to stay on the field. Note that this Sunday’s matchup against Tennessee features a Titans defense that is currently surrendering an average of 10.6 fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends this season (eighth-most in NFL).

Jermaine Gresham, TE, Cincinnati Bengals (at Indianapolis, owned in 2% of Yahoo! leagues): Gresham isn’t the answer to any long-term issues at the tight end position, but the five-year veteran did just post a season-high six receptions for 68 yards on seven targets in Week 6 against the Carolina Panthers with Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green sidelined due to a toe injury. And since it looks as if Green could miss another game this weekend, expect Gresham to see a healthy dose of targets against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 7, who are currently permitting an average of 10.0 fantasy points per game to opposing TEs this season (ninth-most in NFL).

Tim Wright, TE, New England Patriots (vs. NY Jets, owned in 24% of Yahoo! leagues): We recommended Wright following his breakout 5-85-1 stat line on Sunday night football against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 5. And even though the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer was targeted just one time in New England’s Week 6 win at Buffalo, he still managed to notch a touchdown. Consistency will more than likely be an issue here, but the upside that comes with playing tight end in Tom Brady’s offense definitely makes Wright worthy of consideration.

DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS

Cleveland Browns, D/ST (at Jacksonville, currently owned in 16% of Yahoo! leagues): This unit has been torched for an average of 409.2 total yards per game in 2014 (fourth-most in NFL), but they won’t find a more favorable matchup anywhere on the schedule than this Sunday, which features a trip to Jacksonville to challenge rookie quarterback Blake Bortles and the NFL’s worst offense. Note that the Jaguars currently rank dead last in scoring (13.5 pts/gm), dead last in total offense (290.0 yds/gm) and 26th in turnovers (12).

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