Quite a bit has changed if a fantasy draft occurred early in the preseason. Position-battle upsets, injuries and even a discouraging article could make a fantasy owner second-guess late-round selections. Some owners hate their team before the season even begins.
Luckily, some high-upside playmakers could still be available. If you're looking at the waiver wire this early in the season, you should only care about one thing: upside! Hopefully, for your sake, anyone you add before Thursday's season opener won't have to start for your fantasy team anytime soon. So why waste a bench spot with a mediocre veteran when you can take a chance on finding 2013's overlooked difference-maker?
The key is identifying players who could be added for virtually nothing today, but would be trendy pickups with a big Week 1 performance.
• Felix Jones, Pittsburgh Steelers: Jones was probably the fourth stringer on the Eagles when your league drafted. Well, if you haven't been paying attention, the former No. 1 pick was traded to Pittsburgh. Since Pittsburgh is the land of mediocre running backs, he's now only one big game away from being the sexiest free agent in your league. The Steelers cut Jonathan Dwyer, paving the way for Isaac Redman, LaRod Stephens-Howling and Jones to battle for carries. Redman seems to be the favorite, but he's not talented enough to run away with the job. Stephens-Howling is serviceable at best and Jones must be aware this is his last chance in to make an impact in the NFL.
Owners thinking Le'Veon Bell will return in Week 4 to carry the ball 25 times shouldn't hold their breath. Bell was overworked in college, and foot injuries are tricky. Jones has a chance to get significant touches -- not a huge chance... but he's got a chance. Let's say, hypothetically, Jones breaks an 80-yard touchdown run in Week 1. He'd clearly be the most added player in all leagues heading into Week 2. Even the slightest chance of becoming the starting running back for the Steelers makes him worthy of a bench spot in deeper leagues.
• Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams: Bradford is still only 25 years old and, if you forgot, was the No. 1 overall pick in 2010. He hasn't produced like other young, franchise quarterbacks such as Cam Newton, Matt Ryan and Matt Stafford, but it's not too late. Bradford has two new toys in Jared Cook and Tavon Austin, plus Chris Givens could be ready to emerge. Steven Jackson isn't around anymore and the Rams are expected to take more chances downfield and let Bradford air it out. Wouldn't you like to own him if for some reason he explodes like Stafford in 2011? Crazier things have happened...
• Ryan Williams & Stepfan Taylor, Arizona Cardinals: In layman's terms, I have zero faith in Rashard Mendenhall. Whoever emerges as the primary backup between Williams and Stepfan will have some big fantasy weeks when called upon. They'll be called upon, too, because Mendenhall can't stay healthy. I've always been a huge fan of Williams, but he's not the same player that we saw back at Virginia Tech as a result of knee injuries. Taylor is a rookie out of Stanford who can run people over, but doesn't have much breakaway speed. It's a coin flip, but one of these running backs will get a chance eventually. Williams has a higher ceiling, but he's just as injury prone as Mendenhall. Don't be shocked if Taylor leads Arizona running backs in fantasy points when the season wraps up.
• Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings: Patterson isn't starting for the Vikings yet, but he will eventually. The rookie out of Tennessee is arguably the most talented playmaker in this year's rookie class. Patterson is big, strong and can run by almost anyone. Last year, his 1,858 all-purpose yards were a school record. Patterson tools could emerge as a full-blown superstar, but most scouts consider him a little "raw" and think he needs time to develop. In my opinion, he's one big game away from becoming a household name on the waiver wire. Jerome Simpson isn't good enough to keep Patterson off the field for too long.
• Other owner's handcuffs: Have an extra bench spot? Find an owner in your league that didn't select his best running back's backup, and claim that backup. Why not? If Jamaal Charles goes down in Week 1, and you own Knile Davis, you'll look like a genius and simultaneously ruin the season for the Charles owner. You're already aware of trendy backups such as Ben Tate and Bryce Brown, but many off-the-radar handcuffs would become serviceable RB2s if given ample carries. My favorites are Davis, Vick Ballard, Joique Bell, Mike James and Christine Michael. Unfortunately, Michael would be the best of the bunch, but he's also behind arguably the most durable starter among these guys.
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