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  • With David Johnson on the shelf, it's obvious that the Cardinals will have to rely more on their passing game. Enter: J.J. Nelson.
By Michael Beller
September 17, 2017

Injuries in Arizona, Jacksonville, Cleveland and Washington, and clarity in Seattle and Baltimore led to the highlights of this week’s waiver wire. There’s still time to find season-long gems on the wire early in the season, and we might be looking back at Week 2 as the week during which a handful of players, most notably the first two running backs listed below, helped shift the balance of power in fantasy leagues.

Chris Carson, RB, Seahawks

Thomas Rawls made his season debut on Sunday, but he was no more than a footnote, carrying the ball five times for four yards. Instead, it was Carson who took the Seattle running back gig and ran with it.

Carson had 20 carries for 93 yards in the Seahawks’ 12–9 win over the 49ers in Week 2. Seattle’s offense struggled to find any sort of rhythm, finally scoring a touchdown to take the lead for good on a pass from Russell Wilson to Paul Richardson about halfway through the fourth quarter. For most of the afternoon, Carson was the only reliable threat on the Seattle offense.

Marshawn Lynch may be gone, but the Seahawks offense is still built similarly to the way it was when Beast Mode rampaged in Seattle. As great as Wilson can be—and he flashed his unique skill set on the touchdown pass to Richardson—the Seahawks need a reliable running game alongside him to alleviate some of the pressure. Rawls will be in the mix, but appears to be in a secondary role. Eddie Lacy was a healthy scratch on Sunday. C.J. Prosise has been relegated to pass-catching duty. Carson is in the driver’s seat in the Seattle backfield. That will have him on the flex radar in Week 3.

Buck Allen, RB, Ravens

Allen is still available in 44% of Yahoo leagues, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t include him even though he’s above the ownership threshold typically applied in these columns. Allen out-touched and out-snapped Terrance West again in Week 2, an arrangement we can now take as gospel. Allen had 66 yards on 14 carries and caught five of six targets for 35 yards and a touchdown in the Ravens 24-10 win over the Browns. West, meanwhile, carried the ball eight times for 22 yards and caught both of his targets for 23 yards. Allen will likely cede short-yardage touchdowns to West, as he did in Week 2, but he is in command of the Baltimore backfield.

As expected, the Ravens didn’t change their scheme after losing Danny Woodhead to a hamstring injury. Allen got a ton of work as a receiver, and looked up to that particular challenge. The Ravens are sitting pretty at 2-0, and while those wins were over the Bengals and Browns, the fact that they’ve outscored their opponents 44-10 says a lot about how good they might be. Allen could be in positive game script more often than not this season, and that could help push him into comfortable RB2 territory. If he’s somehow still available in your league, he’s the top add of the week.

J.J. Nelson, WR, Cardinals

Nelson took on a larger role in the Arizona offense in Week 2 with John Brown out because of a quad injury, and he made the most of his opportunity. He racked up seven targets, catching five of them for 120 yards and a touchdown. He was the one consistent threat in the Cardinals’ offense, and while he won’t have the benefit of playing the Colts every week, the fact that he’s a playmaker on a team desperate for them bodes well for his future.

Chris Johnson was the most effective back for the Cardinals in their first game without David Johnson, but that only translated to 44 yards on 11 carries. Kerwynn Williams ran the ball nine times for 22 yards, and Andre Ellington had 23 total yards on five touches. In other words, the Cardinals are likely going to have to rely on their passing game to move the ball down the field with Johnson on the shelf.

The issue for Nelson, if there is one, will be workload. Larry Fitzgerald is locked atop the depth chart, and Jaron Brown totaled 11 targets in the win over the Colts. John Brown has been unable to stay healthy the last few seasons, but his role in the offense appears safe for the time being. There are only so many targets to go around, and Nelson will be on the short end of the stick from time to time this season.

The Cardinals offense, too, could lead to a boom-or-bust nature to Nelson’s fantasy production. The struggled mightily to move the ball against a Colts defense that made Jared Goff look like an MVP candidate in Week 1. Even with all that in the equation, Nelson is worth a shot on waiver wires in all formats this week.

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Samaje Perine, RB, Redskins

Rob Kelley ran the ball well early in the Redskins win over the Rams on Sunday, picking up 78 yards on 12 carries. Unfortunately, he left the game with a rib injury, the severity of which won’t be known until early this week. Jay Gruden said after the game the team suspects it’s a broken rib, but it won’t know for sure until it gets back to Washington. Should he miss time, it looks like Samaje Perine will get a shot to take over in the Washington backfield.

Perine, the rookie out of Oklahoma, had 67 yards on 21 carries, most of which came after Kelley’s injury. While the efficiency numbers leave plenty to be desired, the fact that he dominated the touches out of the backfield cannot be overlooked. Chris Thompson scored two touchdowns, but he got just six touches, three of which were carries. The Redskins have had Thompson in their building long enough to know exactly what he is. If they were going to thrust him into a featured rushing role, it would have happened by now. Perine looks like the man, should Kelley miss time.

The Redskins have a couple of tough games looming on the schedule, with a brief swing through the AFC West the next two weeks. The Redskins will host the Raiders next week, and then visit the Chiefs in Week 4. If Kelley’s injury is minor, Perine isn’t likely to have a huge role in the offense for the long term. He should definitely be on your waiver-wire radar, but he’s safely behind Carson in the pecking order at running back.

Alvin Kamara, RB, Saints

Kamara racked up seven targets in the Saints Week 2 loss to the Patriots, catching three of them for 51 yards. He got just one carry, but the fact that he was second on the team in targets for the second straight game speaks volumes. Despite a seemingly crowded backfield, the Saints are dedicated to keeping Kamara involved in the offense.

Mark Ingram had a productive game on a per-touch basis, totaling 76 yards from scrimmage on 12 touches. Adrian Peterson was quiet again, running for 26 yards on eight carries. It may be just two games, but at some point the Saints are going to have to admit the sunk cost and significantly reduce Peterson’s role in the offense. Ingram and Kamara are too potentially explosive for an 0–2 team to ignore. Kamara’s role is large enough to make him a worthy add in deeper formats, and should the Saints cut Peterson’s presence, both Ingram and Kamara will move further up the rest-of-season rankings.

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Chris Thompson, RB, Redskins

Perine would be in the driver’s seat if Rob Kelley has to miss time, but Thompson would clearly be riding shotgun. He made the most of his touches on Sunday, turning three carries and three receptions into 106 yards and two touchdowns in the Redskins 27-20 win over the Rams. The issue with Thompson is opportunity. Even with Kelley out, Washington isn’t going to lean on Thompson much as a runner. He made a couple big plays in Week 2, but Perine got seven times the carries he did. We know he’s an adept receiver, but a running back can only take a heavy receiving role so far. Thompson should be on the radar this week, but he’s toward the bottom of the priority rankings at running back.

Mike Tolbert, RB, Bills

This one is mainly for LeSean McCoy owners who watched their likely first-round pick run for nine yards on 12 carries in the loss to the Panthers in Week 2. I’m typically anti-handcuff this early in the season, but McCoy has dealt with a recurring wrist issue in both games, and Tolbert’s status as his backup is beyond reproach. McCoy is a high-usage back with an injury history that isn’t quite extensive, but does make him a tricky player as he approaches his 30th birthday. If you own him you’d be wise to reserve a spot on your roster for Tolbert. He obviously doesn’t have anywhere near McCoy’s ceiling, but he’d likely inherit the full role should McCoy’s wrist prove more than just meddlesome.

Giovani Bernard, RB, Bengals

This is more of a hopeful prediction than one based on what we’ve seen on the field early on this season. After their second straight embarrassing offensive performance, the Bengals fired offensive coordinator Ken Zampese, handing the reins to quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor. It was clear a change was needed after the team scored nine points in its first two games of the season. Could that change involve a larger role for Bernard? He hasn’t done much in the first two weeks of the season, but his reconstructed knee has held up well, and the Bengals are looking for any help they can get offensively. Nothing may come of it, but we’ve seen Bernard thrive in the past with a meaningful role in Cincinnati. At this point, he’s worth a small bid as we wait to see how Lazor will put his stamp on the Bengals offense.

Jalen Richard, RB, Raiders

With a win over the Jets well in hand, Marshawn Lynch spent much of the second half on the sidelines. He ended up carrying the ball just 12 times for 45 yards and a touchdown. The Raiders have legitimate Super Bowl hopes this year, and if they are going to realize them they’ll need Lynch just as strong in January as he is in September. That will mean a lot of quick hooks in games like Sunday’s, and even a judicious usage rate in games that aren’t quite so laughable.

That’s where Richard enters the fantasy picture. It appears he is second in command in the Oakland backfield after the show he put on against the Jets. He ran the ball six times for 58 yards and a score, and caught two passes for 51 yards. He had two plays of at least 39 yards on his eight touches, including his 52-yard touchdown run that was the final nail in the Jets coffin. DeAndre Washington, meanwhile, had 20 yards on six carries and caught three passes for 15 yards. In other words, if you’re speculating in the Raiders backfield, Richard is your man.

Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns, WR, Jaguars

In the Jaguars first game without Allen Robinson, both Lee and Hurns gave reason to believe in what they can do in a fantasy context this season. Lee led the team with 12 targets, catching seven of them for 76 yards. Hurns reeled in six of his seven targets for 82 yards and a touchdown. If you only saw the 37–16 final score of this game, you might assume that the Titans were in control from start to finish, forcing Blake Bortles to chuck the ball 50-plus times. That was not the case. The Titans led just 6–3 at halftime before pulling away in the third quarter. Bortles threw 34 passes, a perfectly reasonable number in any game script.

In other words, neither Lee nor Hurns were dependent on the Jaguars amassing huge passing volume to get their numbers. In an offense largely devoid of receiving talent outside the two of them, they’re both going to have substantial roles in the passing game every week. The overall value of the Jacksonville offense will leave a bit to be desired, but Lee and Hurns will not lack for opportunity. Both are great depth receivers in all fantasy formats, and will be part of the WR3 discussion more often than not, especially when the bye-week portion of the schedule arrives.

Rashard Higgins, WR, Browns

Corey Coleman suffered a broken bone in his hand in the Browns loss to the Ravens on Sunday. The Browns won’t know how much time he’ll miss until he sees a hand specialist this week, but he is definitely going to be on the shelf for a significant amount of time for the second straight year.

With Coleman out in the loss to the Ravens, Higgins took over as the Browns primary receiver. He netted 11 targets, catching seven of them for 95 yards. Kenny Britt, the team’s nominal No. 1 receiver entering the season, had two targets in Week 2, and just five total on the season. It’s shocking to see Britt so quiet while coming off his first career 1,000-yard season, but fantasy owners can safely assume that Higgins is the top receiver in Cleveland with Coleman out.

Not including Coleman, who had seven targets before his injury, the only other Brown with more than five targets in Week 2 was Duke Johnson, who had six. Game script shouldn’t be a problem for Higgins, and DeShone Kizer has looked competent in the first two starts of his career. Higgins immediately enters the WR3 discussion.

Jermaine Kearse, WR, Jets

No one wants to buy into the Jets offense, and with good reason. This is a team built to lose games and fall into Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen next year. Still, numbers are numbers, and it’s hard to ignore the role Kearse has carved out for himself in New York. 

Kearse had four catches for 64 yards and two touchdowns in the Jets 45–20 loss to the Raiders in Week 2. Even taking the touchdowns out of the equation, Kearse is on a pace that would make him an occasionally viable WR3. Through two games, he has 11 receptions, 15 targets and 123 yards. Over 16 games, that comes out to 88 catches, 120 targets and 984 yards. It may not be pretty, but Kearse will have plenty of opportunity as the No. 1 receiver on a team that is going to be trailing a whole lot this season. You’ll be happy to have a guy like him on your roster when the bye weeks start taking your normal starters away from you on a regular basis.

Devin Funchess, WR, Panthers

My bet for the biggest value bump in Carolina with Greg Olsen out for the next six weeks because of a broken bone in his foot? It’s Christian McCaffrey, who should see his target load increase significantly. McCaffrey can’t pick up the slack entirely by himself, though, and Ed Dickson, the Panthers backup tight end, is not a real receiving threat. If not now for Funchess, when?

Funchess got seven targets on Sunday, just one fewer than Kelvin Benjamin. He caught four of them for 68 yards, giving Cam Newton a third reliable pass-catcher after losing the trusted Olsen. Like most of the receivers we discussed in this column, he’ll be in the WR3 discussion with regularity, though he will not quite project as a WR3 most weeks. He’s on a better offense than Higgins or Kearse, but those two players have more bankable roles. At this position, volume is king. Funchess will have more of it with Olsen out, but not enough to be a receiver fantasy owners feel great about starting. Before this week, he was a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency player. Now he can provide valuable depth.

Mohamed Sanu, WR, Falcons

Sanu is off to a strong start this season, catching 11 passes on 15 targets for 132 yards. At this point of his career, we know exactly what he is. He’s not going to suddenly vault into the WR2 class, and he’s going to spend more weeks on your bench than in your lineup, unless disaster befalls you at the receiver position. Still, he’s one of the four best weapons in one of the most prolific offenses in the league, and that’s enough to land him on the backend of a roster in most fantasy formats. Like most of the receivers we’ve discussed in this column, most of his fantasy value derives from the depth he provides with byes right around the corner, but he has the added bonus of playing in an explosive offense.

Geronimo Allison, WR, Packers

Jordy Nelson left Sunday night’s loss to the Falcons in the first quarter with a quad injury, while Randall Cobb exited after hurting his shoulder. There’s no word yet as to the severity of either issue, but should one or both of them miss time, Allison would step into the breach.

Allison got five targets in Week 2, catching three of them for 24 yards. Davante Adams, Ty Montgomery and Martellus Bennett picked up the most slack, combining for 28 targets, 19 receptions, 221 yards and two touchdowns. That would be the case for the Packers in a Nelson- and Cobb-less world, but they’d have to elevate at least one playmaker on the outside. Allison would be that playmaker. He’s the lowest-priority player on this week’s waiver wire, but there’s rarely bad way to get invested in the Green Bay offense. Those of you in deep leagues should kick the tires, even if his increased presence in the offense is only for the short term.

Ben Watson, TE, Ravens

Greg Olsen is out for at least six weeks after breaking a bone in his foot. Jordan Reed suffered a chest injury that knocked him out of the Redskins Week 2 win over the Rams. Tyler Eifert might miss the Bengals Week 3 meeting with the Packers because of back and knee injuries. Rob Gronkowski left the Patriots victory over the Saints with a groin injury, though that was believed to be precautionary. Jimmy Graham missed a chunk of Seattle’s win over San Francisco because of a balky knee, though he did return to the game.

With injuries at the tight end position starting to pile up, Watson is looking like a strong fallback option. He caught all eight of his targets for 91 yards on Sunday, leading the Ravens in receptions, targets and yards. Remember, it was just two years ago that he had 74 catches for 825 yards and six touchdowns with the Saints. This Ravens offense clearly doesn’t have the ceiling that Saints one did, but Watson is going to have a significant role to play in Baltimore all season. Few teams throw to their tight ends and running backs as often as do the Ravens. Just last year, Dennis Pitta led all tight ends with 86 receptions, totaling 729 yards and a pair of scores. Watson steps right into that role, and can make it his own. He looks like a backend TE1.

Trevor Siemian, QB, Broncos

Here’s the full list of quarterbacks to finish in the top five in fantasy scoring in both of the season’s first two weeks: Siemian and Carson Wentz. Matthew Stafford could join them on Monday night, but short of a huge game from the Lions quarterback, Siemian will enter Week 3 as the No. 1 fantasy quarterback thus far in 2017.

Siemian proved himself a viable streaming quarterback last season. At the very least, he has that status this year, and is worth considering as a starter in Week 3 when the Broncos visit the Bills. He might be more than that, though. The Broncos have an enviable cache of talent out wide with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, and a reliable run game led by C.J. Anderson. Siemian has been efficient in both games, completing 65% of his passes for 7.5 yards per attempt. There’s a lot to like about what he has shown this season, and while he has been a bit fortunate with his touchdown rate, he has to be considered, at worst, as a mid-tier QB2. 

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