The great fantasy owners know how to shop for bargains. They work the waiver wire, picking up prospective talent and dumping the dead weight. When a fantasy owner makes a wise pickup that player often provides his team with an instant boost. Make enough wise pickups and it's a recipe for fantasy success.
The best waiver wire pickups of 2009 offered consistency, a big week or two, and filled holes for fantasy owners in need. This season wasn't packed full of bargains, but there were a few that proved to be difference-makers.
Before selecting the year's best it's important first to separate a few of the year's pleasant surprises from the list -- guys like Miami running back Ricky Williams, Minnesota wide receiver Sidney Rice and Dallas wide receiver Miles Austin -- as these players were late draft picks in most leagues and not available for pickup.
Here is the Best of Wire Tap for 2009 ...
QB Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers
Smith has now played eight games since regaining his spot in the starting lineup, and the results have been better than expected: 1,721 yards, 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Averaged over a full season that would give Smith almost 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns, making him a solid starter in most leagues. Best yet, Smith has been consistent (two or more touchdown passes in six of eight contests). Smith is the comeback story of the season, and fantasy owners that picked him up after Week 7 got one heck of a bargain.
RB Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
Once Larry Johnson burned his last bridge in Kansas City, the starting running back job was left open for someone to claim. Charles stepped to the challenge. He has averaged a healthy 5.2 yards per carry this season, and since Johnson's departure has gained 90 or more yards in three of the last five contests -- far better than what Johnson accomplished running behind the same line. Charles hasn't scored many touchdowns (who from Kansas City has?) and he doesn't catch many passes, but his ability to rack up yards has kept him in the good graces of fantasy owners.
RB Justin Forsett, Seattle Seahawks
Forsett has out-performed Julius Jones and has put together a string of strong fantasy efforts in the second half of the year. Forsett has averaged 5.2 yards per carry, caught 36 passes and scored five times. Most fantasy owners picked him up after his 123-yard performance in Week 10, but Forsett delivered in the weeks that followed, scoring at least one touchdown in each of the next three contests (he also gained 130 yards rushing in Week 12).
WR Mario Manningham, New York Giants
Manningham's Week 2 performance against the Cowboys was one of the season's most surprising (10 catches for 150 yards and a touchdown). After that fantasy owners rushed in a mad panic to pick up the Giants sudden superstar. Manningham has had a few low points this season (four games with fewer than three receptions) but for the most part he's been a steady fantasy performer. He's on target to catch nearly 60 balls for 850 yards and five touchdowns -- not bad for a player who caught just four balls a rookie.
WR Mike Sims-Walker, Jacksonville Jaguars
Torry Holt was supposed to be the Jaguars standout wide receiver in 2009. Instead, Sims-Walker has stolen Holt's thunder, besting the veteran in every significant receiving category to date. The Central Florida product grabbed six passes for 106 yards in the second week of the season, then scored twice in a Week 4 meeting with Tennessee. In Week 9 he racked up 147 yards, and scored at least one touchdown in Weeks 9-11.
TE Fred Davis, Washington Redskins
Davis has built up steam over the course of the season, offering a little more value to his fantasy owners with each passing week. It all started in Week 7 when he stepped in for an injured Chris Cooley and torched the Eagles for eight catches and 78 yards. In the last three weeks Davis has been a viable No. 1 fantasy tight end, catching 12 passes for 146 yards and four touchdowns over the span.