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  • From Jared Goff to Alvin Kamara, these are the fantasy players who started out as afterthoughts and ended up as some of the most important players in all of fantasy.
By Michael Beller
January 03, 2018

Quite often, the best acquisition a fantasy owner makes happens in the middle of the season. We spend months preparing for drafts and auctions, but the days spent mining the waiver wire can be just as crucial. Sometimes, waiver wire targets turn into regular starters, fantasy MVP candidates and league winners. This column honors those players—the ones who were afterthoughts in July and August, but by October and November had become some of the most important players in the fantasy landscape.

Below is the SI.com 2017 Waiver Wire All-Star Team. All average draft positions are courtesy of 4for4’s ADP Tracker, which averages ADP across the seven most popular fantasy league sites.

Quarterback: Jared Goff, Rams

ADP: 227.3, QB31

2017 Finish: QB12

It might be hard to remember, but there was once a time when Sean McVay wasn’t the Millennial King, the offensive genius, the maker of quarterbacks. Back then, the jury was very much out on Goff, the No. 1 overall pick in 2016. That’s no longer the case after Goff, with the help of McVay and some shrewd offseason acquisitions by Les Snead, threw for 3,804 yards, 7.98 yards per attempt and 28 touchdowns against seven interceptions in 15 games. Goff had more touchdowns than Drew Brees, more yards than Cam Newton, fewer interceptions than Tom Brady, and more YPA than every quarterback other than Brees and Alex Smith. He was one of seven quarterbacks in the top 10 in yards, touchdowns and YPA, along with Smith, Brady, Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers, Kirk Cousins and Ben Roethlisberger.

Goff was consistent from week to week, as well. He gave his fantasy owners at least 16 points in nine games, including a 25.4-point performance in Week 16. Sure, he came up short at times, but those were in predictable spots, such as at Jacksonville and at Minnesota, meaning many of his savvier owners had him on the bench for his worst games. Smith and Carson Wentz both had ADPs too high for the waiver wire in most leagues. Case Keenum was Goff’s closest competitor, but the latter had more usable weeks, mostly because he earned the fantasy community’s trust earlier in the season. Goff helps makes the Rams legitimate championship contenders, something he surprisingly did for his fantasy owners, as well.

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Running Backs: Alvin Kamara, Saints; Dion Lewis, Patriots

Kamara ADP: 188.9, RB55

2017 Finish: RB4 in standard, RB3 in PPR

Lewis ADP: 184.7, RB54

2017 Finish: RB12 in standard, RB15 in PPR

Rarely do we get such star power at the running back position on the Waiver Wire All-Star Team. Kamara and Lewis were both legitimate league winners this season, carrying their owners in the back half of the year. We’ll start with Kamara, who was the best fantasy player in the league for a stretch in the middle of the season.

Kamara hinted at his greatness over the first few weeks of the season, but his rookie year took off in Week 4, when he caught 10 passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. From Week 7 through Week 13, Kamara had at least 100 total yards or a touchdown in every game. He hit both of those thresholds in five straight games from Week 9 through Week 13. That streak broke when he suffered a concussion early in the Saints’ Week 14 loss to the Falcons, but he returned to total 307 yards and two touchdowns over the final three games of the year. He vaulted his teams to the playoffs with his seven-game run from Week 7 through Week 13, when he racked up 903 total yards, 36 receptions and nine touchdowns. All told, he had 728 rushing yards, 81 receptions, 826 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns, ranking sixth in yards from scrimmage and second in scores. He’s sure to be a first-round fantasy pick in 2018.

Lewis emerged right about the same time as Kamara, and while he wasn’t quite as explosive as the Saints rookie, he brought his own brand of consistency to every game that made him a common member of championship teams. Lewis wrested the primary back job from Mike Gillislee in Week 5, when he ran for 53 yards on seven carries. He was quietly one of the best fantasy and real-life backs in the league from that point forward, totaling 797 rushing yards, 26 receptions, 256 receiving yards and eight touchdowns over his final 11 games. Lewis was at his best when it mattered most, running for 129 yards, catching five passes for 24 yards, and scoring two touchdowns in Week 16. If you made your championship with Lewis on your team, chances are you’re one trophy richer right now.

Wide Receivers: Juju Smith-Schuster, Steelers; Robby Anderson, Jets; Robert Woods, Rams

Smith-Schuster ADP: 248.7, WR93

2017 Finish: WR17 in standard, WR21 in PPR

Anderson ADP: 193.4, WR67

2017 Finish: WR15 standard, WR18 in PPR

Woods ADP: 224.2, WR79

2017 Finish: WR33 in standard, WR33 in PPR (WR17 in PPG in both formats; missed four games)

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The depth of the wide receiver pool leads to the existence of wavier wire gems every season. All three of these players emerged in October, turning into reliable starters just when bye weeks were starting to hit the fantasy community in earnest.

Smith-Schuster surprisingly turned into the No. 2 receiver in the Pittsburgh offense, becoming the complementary player to Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown that Martavis Bryant was supposed to be. He scored two touchdowns in his first four games, but it was a three-game stretch from late October into early November, when he had 14 catches for 329 yards and three scores that he truly arrived in the fantasy world.  He was effective in the fantasy playoffs, as well, hauling in 12 of 13 targets for 189 yards and a touchdown in Week 15 and 16 combined. Smith-Schuster finished the season with 58 catches for 917 yards and seven touchdowns.

There was a time this season when Anderson ranked inside the top 10 at the position in scoring, and he may have ended the year there had Josh McCown not suffered a broken hand. Anderson was held in check for the first six weeks of the season, making him waiver fodder in mid-October. He then went on a six-game tear, during which he scored in five straight games, and piled up 31 catches for 525 yards and six touchdowns. That’s good for 14.75 points per game in standard-scoring leagues, and 19.92 points per game in PPR formats. In other words, Anderson spent six weeks putting up DeAndre Hopkins numbers at an initial DeAnthony Thomas cost. The second-year receiver out of Temple ended the year with 63 receptions for 941 yards and seven scores.

Woods edged out Nelson Agholor for the final wide receiver spot on the Waiver Wire All-Star Team. Agholor had better overall numbers, but Woods was better on a per-game basis. Fantasy is a weekly game, and while Woods missed the home stretch of the fantasy regular season because of his shoulder injury, he gave the fantasy community more useful weeks than did Agholor. In 12 games this season, Woods had 56 catches for 781 yards and five touchdowns. A two-game stretch in November, during which he had 12 grabs for 241 yards and four scores, was the highlight of his season. Those games came during Week 9 and Week 10, two of the heaviest bye weeks of the season. That means Woods’s owners likely took advantage of his two best games of the year. He was back in time to score a touchdown in Week 15, the fantasy semifinals.

Tight End: Evan Engram, Giants

ADP: 174.7, TE20

2017 Finish: TE5 in standard, TE5 in PPR

Engram was drafted in many leagues, but as the 20th tight end off the board by ADP, chances are he was available on the waiver wire early in the season in just as many leagues, if not more. It was a particularly bad year for the tight end position, with the upper crust even further removed from the rest of the pack than usual. Engram was one of the few players in between, not quite in the Gronk-Kelce-Ertz group, but comfortably ahead of most of the rest of his peers. He quickly established himself as a reliable fantasy option, totaling at least four catches for 40 yards or a touchdown in eight of his first nine games. He hit paydirt in five of those contests, confirming his touchdown upside at a position where finding the end zone makes all the difference between a consistent starter and an irrelevant player. Engram ended the season sixth among tight ends with 64 receptions, fifth with 722 yards, and tied for seventh with six touchdowns. He’ll enter 2018 with a legitimate chance to join the elite at his position.

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Flex: Alex Collins, RB, Ravens

ADP: N/A

2017 Finish: RB16 in standard, RB19 in PPR

4for4’s ADP data goes 300 players deep, and includes the likes of Gerald Everett, Donnel Pumphrey and ArDarius Stewart. Collins did not make that cut. He was inactive for the first game of the season, but made it clear by October, after consecutive games with 82 yards on nine carries, that he was the best back in Baltimore. He was a fantasy regular for most of the rest of the season, riding reliable volume and a few big games to comfortable RB2 status. Collins was at his best in the run-up to the playoffs, scoring four touchdowns from Week 11 through Week 13. He had one of his best games of the year in Week 14, racking up 166 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown, helping many of his owners advance to the semifinals. Collins wrapped up the season with 973 rushing yards, 23 receptions for 187 receiving yards, and six touchdowns. Backs he outscored this season included C.J. Anderson, Marshawn Lynch, DeMarco Murray and Latavius Murray, his closest competitor for the flex spot on the Waiver Wire All-Star Team.

Kicker: Harrison Butker

ADP: N/A

2017 Finish: K4

4for4’s ADP data includes 20 kickers, but Butker wasn’t among them. Of course, Butker wasn’t on an active roster at the start of the season. The rookie out of Georgia Tech was on Carolina’s practice squad when Cairo Santos suffered an injury during the Chiefs Week 3 win over the Chargers. The team signed Butker off Carolina’s practice squad before its Week 4 game with the Redskins, and he made three of four field goals in a 29-20 win that week. He would go on to make his next 20 attempts, including two games in which he went 5-for-5. Butker made an astounding 12 field goals during the fantasy playoffs, including his third five-FG game of the season in Week 16. In leagues without distance bonuses, he scored 43 points during the fantasy playoffs. That ranked 33rd among all players, ahead of Tom Brady, Michael Thomas and Kenyan Drake, just to name three. Butker made 38 of 42 field goals on the season, including four from beyond 50 yards, and racked up 142 points.

Defense: Jacksonville Jaguars

ADP: 223.6, DEF14

2017 Finish: DEF1

More fantasy owners stream at defense than any other position, so I wasn’t even sure I was going to include one on the Waiver Wire All-Star Team. A unit would need to meet a few certain criteria to qualify. First, it would have to be one of the few defenses that proved worthy of keeping around all season. Once satisfying that requirement, it would have to also have had a low ADP. The Jaguars checked both boxes. After being the 14th defense off the board in a typical draft, the Jaguars were the best defense in the league, from both fantasy and real-life standpoints. They led the NFL with 55 sacks and seven touchdowns, and ranked second with 33 takeaways. They were also second in total defense and scoring defense, allowing 286.1 yards and 16.8 points per game. The 32 defenses in the league averaged 100.16 points this season, which comes out to 6.26 points per game. The Jaguars scored nearly 11 points per game, and hit double-digits seven times, including three 20-point games.   

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