Tuesday December 30th, 2014

Writing the “Waiver Wire” column each week is always an interesting exercise. For 16 weeks of the fantasy football season, we’ve looked at and recommended players available in 30 percent of leagues or more. Essentially, we pick through your league’s trash in an attempt to find some treasure. There were plenty of fantasy gems on the waiver wire this season, and we’re proud to say we helped point many of those out. In most cases, the fantasy football waiver wire is a reactive task, replacing dead weight on your roster with unowned players coming off big weeks.

• SI's 10 favorite NFL moments of 2014

However, we tried to look ahead -- especially during the bye weeks -- to help you fill your roster with players we expected to have upcoming success. Our 2014 Fantasy Waiver Wire All-Star team is indicative of that – and since we’re in the holiday season, we thought we’d focus on the fantasy gifts of the year rather than the lumps of coal (looking at you, Johnny Football).

All of these players were recommended to our readers when they were owned in 30 percent or fewer fantasy leagues on CBSSports.com, ESPN.com and Yahoo! Sports.

Quarterback: Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings

Choosing fantasy football's most valuable player of the 2014 season

We recommended picking up Bridgewater numerous times this season, including Weeks 4, 5, 13, 14, 15 and 16. The rookie finished the fantasy season strong, ranking as the 12th-best in the league after Week 12. The tricky part about recommending fantasy quarterbacks is there are only 32 of them expected to play each week. There just aren’t many to choose from under 30-percent ownership, much less ones suggested to play in 12-team leagues. The new Teddy Ballgame has been a top-10 player over the past two weeks, which should have benefitted owners of players like Jay Cutler or Carson Palmer.

Honorable Mention: Mark Sanchez, Philadelphia (suggested pickup in Week 10)

Running Back: Justin Forsett, Baltimore Ravens

In the grand scheme of things, Forsett is more like an RB2 from week to week, but from the beginning of the season on, he has played well enough to be a top-10 running back in fantasy points. In PPR play, he has been even better, as there have been just seven running backs with more than his 42 receptions. Obviously, Forsett’s climb up the fantasy mountain was in part due to the Ray Rice suspension and the inability of Bernard Pierce to establish himself. From Weeks 10-14, Forsett had 503 total yards and five touchdowns, ranking sixth among running backs in that span. But he ranked just 53rd among running backs in Weeks 15 and 16 combined, likely sinking his fantasy owners in the playoffs.

Running Back: C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos

Going into this season, we all knew what a fantasy asset the starting tailback in Denver’s offense was going to be. Much to my chagrin, people were taking a very unproven Montee Ball in the second round of many drafts. I hitched my wagon to a late-round pick in Ronnie Hillman – and both he and Ball proved to be short-time starters. But once Anderson took over in Week 10 for an injured Hillman, he became a regular fantasy starter as well. The only running back with more fantasy points since Week 10 is Le’Veon Bell.

Honorable Mentions: Tre Mason, St. Louis (Weeks 7 & 8); Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland (Weeks 2 & 11); Dan Herron, Indianapolis (Week 12); Latavius Murray, Oakland (Weeks 12 & 13); Denard Robinson, Jacksonville (Week 8); and Jonas Gray, New England (Week 9).

Wide Receiver: Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants

If the owners of Victor Cruz were able to grab Beckham with their waiver pick in Week 7, after Cruz was ruled out for the season with a torn patellar tendon in his right knee, then they likely made the fantasy playoffs. If, however, a fantasy owner rolled the dice on OBJ in Week 6, before Cruz’s injury, like we had recommended after Beckham’s hamstring healed, then they likely made the fantasy championship game.

Not only is Beckham my 2014 SI Waiver Wire MVP, but he’ll end the season as one of the best fantasy rookie WRs ever in fantasy points per game (23.4 in PPR in 11 games). Even Randy Moss, who had the greatest rookie season for a wide receiver ever, scored just 18.9 fantasy points per game (16 games).

The 2014 Class of Rookie WRs is by far the greatest in fantasy history, and Beckham is the easy ace of this bumper crop. Since Beckham started playing in Week 5, Demaryius Thomas is the only wide receiver to score more fantasy points, and since we recommended picking him up in Week 6, no player has outscored him.

Wide Receiver: Brandon LaFell, New England Patriots

Fantasy owners were a little skeptical when the Patriots signed Lafell in March, mostly because the track record for first-year receivers in Bill Belichick’s offense hasn’t been great. Veterans like Brandon Lloyd and Chad Johnson soured us a bit after they joined the Patriots, but LaFell was much younger than either of them when he arrived. Lafell ranks as a top-25 wide receiver in fantasy points, both over the course of the entire season, and since Week 7, when we recommended picking him up.

Wide Receiver: Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers

From Murray to Cutler: Players who tell the story of 2014 fantasy season

Though a shoulder injury slowed down the start of his Bryant’s rookie season, allowing owners to consider Markus Wheaton instead, Bryant certainly deserves a spot here. He scored a touchdown in each of his first four NFL games, and we were actually a little late on recommending him, giving the green light in Week 9, rather than Week 8, when he broke out with two touchdowns against the Colts. We’re still looking for some consistency out of the rookie receiver (four games with 16 fantasy points or more and four games with four fantasy points or less). But from Weeks 7 through 10, the only wide receiver to outperform him was Emmanuel Sanders.

Honorable Mentions: Mohamed Sanu, Cincinnati (Week 3); Kenny Stills, New Orleans (Week 10); and Jarvis Landry, Miami (Weeks 8, 11 & 12).

Tight End: Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

We recommended Kelce before the season started as a pre-Week 1 waiver-wire option, and by Week 3, he was a regular fantasy starter in most leagues. His first half of the season (32 receptions, 419 yards and four touchdowns in eight games) was better than the second half (28-359-1 in seven games). His average of four catches for 51 receiving yards is fifth-best among tight ends since Week 10. We did, unfortunately, miss the boat by not recommending Coby Fleener early in the year.

Honorable Mentions: Larry Donnell, N.Y. Giants (Week 2)

Kicker: Connor Barth, Denver Broncos

When Matt Prater started serving his four-game suspension at the start of the season, Brandon McManus was a hot pickup. But once he flamed out, Connor Barth, who was cut by the Buccaneers in the preseason, took over as the placekicker in Denver. From Weeks 13 through 16, only Matt Bryant outperformed Barth (11 FG, 10 XP) in fantasy.

Honorable Mentions: Shaun Suisham, Pittsburgh (Week 10) and Randy Bullock, Houston (Weeks 12 & 13).

Defense/Special Teams: Philadelphia Eagles

Ten things we learned in the 2014 fantasy football season

In the first four weeks of the season, the Eagles scored five DST touchdowns, which is an unusually high number in just four games. We held back on recommending them before then because defensive touchdowns are very difficult to predict. Once we were sold on this unit, with Darren Sproles returning kicks, they were still available in over three-quarters of all fantasy leagues. If you picked up the Eagles DST in Week 5, when we recommended them, you would have the highest scoring defense/special teams since then. This unit would go on to score five more touchdowns, but it’s the other big numbers that helped you, like Philadelphia’s 42 sacks or 14 fumble recoveries, which both lead the NFL in that span.

We also recommended grabbing the Giants DST for the fantasy football playoffs, as the schedule giftwrapped holiday goodness for fantasy owners, pitting the Giants DST against soft offenses from Week 13 through 16: Jaguars (32nd vs. DSTs), Titans (26th), Redskins (30th) and Rams (23rd). No team has as many sacks (24) or fantasy points since Week 13.

Honorable Mentions: Dolphins DST (Week 2) and Lions DST (Week 1).

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