With a slew of running backs succumbing to injuries in Week 2, expect spirited competition for waiver-wire running backs this week. Who’s worth your money or the use of your waiver priority?
Welcome to the Waiver Warehouse, your one-stop emporium for upgrades and Band-Aids. Each week we’ll list the best widely available free agents for fantasy football. (We define “widely available” as being owned in less than half of all Yahoo! leagues.) We’ll also list a few more names in the “window shopping” category—players worth monitoring or perhaps worth rostering in deeper leagues. In addition to a brief overview of each player, we’ll grade each player on talent, opportunity and schedule (with an emphasis on near-term schedule), then provide a composite grade. Please note that for quarterbacks, we replace the opportunity grade with a grade for the QB’s supporting cast.
With a slew of running backs succumbing to injuries in Week 2, expect spirited competition for waiver-wire RBs this week. Who’s worth your money or the use of your waiver priority? Read on ...
Ryan Fitzpatrick, New York Jets (41% owned)
The Jets played contract hardball with Fitz in the off-season because they know he’s nothing more than a bountifully-bearded stopgap until the team can find a young quarterback who’s better and more mature than Geno Smith. But Fitz is more than passable in the fantasy game because his low completion percentages and high interception totals don’t hurt as much as they do in reality. Fitz already had the dynamic WR duo of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker at his disposal last year, and now he also has accomplished pass-catching RB Matt Forte and exciting young WR Quincy Enunwa as targets. His upcoming schedule is difficult, with games against the Chiefs, Seahawks and Cardinals over the next four weeks, but Fitz has a chance to exceed the career-best numbers he produced in 2015.
(Talent: C | Supporting cast: A | Schedule: C | OVERALL: B)
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins (28% owned)
No quarterback has faced a more rugged pair of matchups to start the season. After road games in Seattle and New England, Tannehill gets a well-deserved breather with a home date against the Browns. The Dolphins dug themselves a massive 31–3 hole against the Patriots on Sunday, but Tannehill rallied his mates to within a touchdown before the insurrection fell short. Tannehill has completed 64.9% of his passes so far and is averaging 7.77 yards per attempt, with two TD passes and two INTs. DeVante Parker’s eight-catch, 106-yard game against the Patriots suggests that Jarvis Landry isn’t Tannehill’s only useful wide receiver.
(Talent: B | Supporting cast: B- | Schedule: B+ | OVERALL: B)
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens (29% owned)
In Marc Trestman’s 11 seasons as an NFL play caller, his offenses have run the ball on only 36.9% of their total snaps and 39.5% of their red-zone snaps. Bottom line: With Trestman as his OC, Flacco is going to air it out. He’s thrown 78 passes in his first two games of 2016, and with the Ravens struggling to run the ball effectively, Flacco’s passing volume should continue to be ample.
(Talent: B | Supporting cast: B | Schedule: B+ | OVERALL: B)
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys (36% owned)
After averaging 5.04 yards per passing attempt in his Week 1 debut against the Giants, Prescott averaged 9.73 yards per pass against Washington on Sunday and scored the first touchdown of his career on a six-yard run. The rookie from Mississippi State hasn’t thrown a TD pass, but nor has he thrown an interception. And after completing just one pass to star WR Dez Bryant in Week 1, Prescott found Bryant seven times for 102 yards in Week 2. Prescott has nice matchups coming up the next two weeks, first against the Bears, then against the 49ers. He’s worth a modest bid if you need a short-term patch at quarterback.
(Talent: C | Supporting cast: A- | Schedule: A- | OVERALL: B-)
Sam Bradford, Minnesota Vikings (8% owned)
Yeah, his Vikings debut was a nice one, but hold on. Stefon Diggs is Bradford’s only credible receiver, the Minnesota offensive line is a row of turnstiles, and the upcoming schedule is murderous, with a road game against the stingy Panthers, then home games against a much-improved Giants defense and the J.J. Watt-led Texans defense. But yes, Bradford was sharp in guiding the Vikings to a Sunday-night win over the Packers, and his schedule lightens up considerably after Minnesota’s Week 6 bye. If you buy now, you’ll have to settle for delayed gratification.
(Talent: B | Supporting cast: C | Schedule: C- | OVERALL: C+)
Brock Osweiler won’t be a popular waiver wire target this week due to a tough Thursday-night matchup in New England, but this is a good time to get him cheaply if you’re interested in using him against the Titans in Week 4. Likewise, Jay Cutler doesn’t have an ideal matchup this week, as he travels to Dallas to face the glacier-paced, clock-bleeding Cowboys, but then come favorable matchups against the Lions, Colts and Jaguars. Carson Wentz had a strong Week 1 debut against the Browns, and if he fares well against the Bears on Monday night, he might be a popular waiver add this week.
Kenneth Dixon, Baltimore Ravens (8% owned)
Justin Forsett is averaging. 3.25 yards per carry with a long gain of 11 yards. Terrance West is averaging 3.22 yards per carry with a long gain of 10 yards. Buck Allen has been a healthy inactive the first two weeks. Despite a tradition of running backs in Marc Trestman offenses catching a large volume of passes, Forsett and West have eight combined receptions for 45 yards. My friends, this is Dixon’s backfield for the taking. The rookie from Louisiana Tech has missed the first two games with a sprained MCL but should be back within the next week or two, and it won’t take much for him to topple the replacement-level veterans currently manning the RB position for the Ravens. I think it’s worth investing as much as 30-35% of your FAAB budget to land Dixon.
(Talent: B | Opportunity: A | Schedule: B | OVERALL: A-)
Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata, Minnesota Vikings (22% and 1 % owned)
Adrian Peterson left Sunday night’s game with a torn meniscus and is out indefinitely. The analytics crowd has expressed great zeal for McKinnon as a dual run-catch threat, and there’s no denying that McKinnon has some electricity. But McKinnon’s track record is sparse, and the plodding Asiata is bound to have a role while Peterson is sidelined. (He’s a good bet to get short-yardage and goal-line work.) If you’re among the many owners who lost a running back to injury over the weekend, consider making an aggressive bid for McKinnon—up to 40% of budget if Peterson is ruled out for the year. Asiata is worth no more than a minimum bid in standard scoring leagues only
(McKinnon: Talent: A- | Opportunity: A | Schedule: B | OVERALL: A-)
(Asiata: Talent: D | Opportunity: B | Schedule: B | OVERALL: C-)
Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins (27% and 1% owned)
The injury-plagued Arian Foster is dealing with a groin malady, leaving the Miami backfield temporarily up for grabs. Ajayi is expected to start this week when Miami hosts Cleveland, but the Dolphins don’t seem particularly enamored with their second-year RB. Ajayi sat atop the depth chart for much of the offseason, but the Dolphins extended an offer sheet to C.J. Anderson, and after the Dolphins matched, Miami eventually signed Foster. Ajayi was a healthy scratch in Week 1 and coughed up a costly fumble in Week 2. Drake was largely forgotten by fantasy owners during draft season, going unselected in most leagues as an apparent third-stringer. But the rookie from Alabama now has a chance to claim a prominent role. He had two carries for 12 yards and a TD Sunday against the Patriots and caught two passes for six yards. This is a sticky situation for waiver-wire shoppers. Ajayi is apt to draw the bigger bids in most leagues, but I’d be reluctant to bid more than 10% of budget. Drake is probably the savvier purchase, but there’s apt to be at least one owner in your league who feels that way. Anything more than 15% would be a risky investment, but that’s probably what it will take to land Drake. (Beware: Damien Williams might also be involved in the Miami backfield in the weeks to come, though he isn’t worth a bid — at least not yet.)
(Ajayi: Talent: B- | Opportunity: B+ | Schedule: B- | OVERALL: B)
(Drake: Talent: B | Opportunity: B | Schedule: B- | OVERALL: B)
Shane Vereen, New York Giants (19% owned)
Amidst all the carnage at running back this week, Vereen could provide a safe haven. He doesn’t offer a high ceiling, but the floor is stable, especially in PPR leagues.
(Talent: B- | Opportunity: C | Schedule: B+ | OVERALL: B-)
Fozzy Whittaker and Cameron Artis-Payne, Carolina Panthers (2% owned and 1 % owned)
After Jonathan Stewart left Sunday’s game against the 49ers early with a hamstring injury, Whittaker came on and ran 16 times for 100 yards, adding 31 receiving yards on three catches. Stewart has to be considered a long shot to play in Week 3. Whittaker may cede some carries to Artis-Payne and Mike Tolbert, but the Foz is likely to be the lead back against a tough Minnesota defense this week if Stewart can’t go. He’s worth a bid if you only need a one-week RB fix. Artis-Payne is worth a small bid in only the deepest of leagues.
(Whittaker: Talent: C | Opportunity: B | Schedule: C | OVERALL: B-)
(Artis-Payne: Talent: C | Opportunity: C- | Schedule: C | OVERALL: C-)
Chris Thompson hasn’t had more than six touches in either of Washington’s first two games, but his receiving ability gives him value, and he’s playing behind one of the shakiest starting RBs in the league, Matt Jones. If Ameer Abdullah’s foot injury causes him to miss time, intriguing rookie Dewayne Washington could get some run for the Lions. Veteran scatback Darren Sproles is ticketed for a significant jack-of-all-trades role for Philadelphia. The versatile Shaun Draughn already has 16 carries and might have sneaky upside in Chip Kelly’s fast-paced 49ers offense. With Danny Woodhead out of commission due to a torn ACL, former University of Houston star Kenneth Farrow could see some work as the backup to Melvin Gordon. Thomas Rawls is hurt again, and Christine Michael yet to seize a lead role, so there might be a window of opportunity opening for Seattle rookies Alex Collins and C.J. Prosise.
Tyrell Williams, San Diego Chargers (48% owned)
Williams was already an alluring waiver target after the season-ending injury to Keenan Allen, and now the injury to Danny Woodhead leaves even more targets to be claimed in San Diego. Williams caught three passes for 61 yards against the Jaguars on Sunday, highlighted by a catch-and-run on a shallow crossing route that resulted in a 44-yard TD. His next three matchups—vs. the Colts, Saints and Raiders—are all delicious. Consider bidding up to 25% of budget if you need urgent help at receiver.
(Talent: B+ | Opportunity: A- | Schedule: A | OVERALL: A-)
Quincy Enunwa, New York Jets (10% owned)
Not to be confused with Quincy M.E., the savvy TV medical examiner played by Jack Klugman in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Quincy WR3/TE has emerged as a two-in-one performer for the Jets, serving as a hybrid third wide receiver and tight end. Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and Matt Forte will continue to lay claim to the vast majority of targets in the Jets’ offense, but Enunwa has thus far been targeted on 20.3% of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s throws, catching 13 of his 14 looks for 146 yards and a TD. The Jets simply don’t have a pass-catching tight end, nor do they have much else at receiver beyond Marshall and Decker, so Enunwa should continue to play a prominent role. His six-catch, 92, yard performance against the Bills last Thursday night drew attention, so you may need to bid at least 15-20% of your waiver budget to have a shot at him.
(Talent: B+ | Opportunity: B+ | Schedule: C | OVERALL: B+)
Sammie Coates, Pittsburgh Steelers (18% owned)
Think his average of 38.3 yards per catch is sustainable? OK, probably not. But while Coates’s target share may be light, his big-play ability is undeniable. Bet on the talent and hope that the opportunity increases in the weeks to come.
(Talent: A- | Opportunity: C+ | Schedule: B+ | OVERALL: B+)
Phillip Dorsett, Indianapolis Colts (42% owned)
Dorsett has yet to become a consistent playmaker despite 4.2 speed, but a shoulder injury to Donte Moncrief gives him a near-term opportunity to make a splash.
(Talent: B | Opportunity: B | Schedule: B | OVERALL: B)
Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints (48% owned)
TE Coby Fleener is looking like a terrible free-agent signing for the Saints, and with Fleener in the process of falling on his face, QB Drew Brees might turn to Thomas, the king-sized rookie from Ohio State, as a middle-of-the-field anchor. This would be a good time to buy, before Thomas has a breakout game.
(Talent: B+ | Opportunity: C+ | Schedule: C | OVERALL: B-)
Victor Cruz, New York Giants (37% owned)
Cruz has compiled a stat line of 8-125-1 through two games and is getting plenty of snaps, since the Giants use more three-receiver formations than any other team in the league. It’s safe to jump back into the water.
(Talent: B | Opportunity: B | Schedule: C+ | OVERALL: B-)
Tyler Boyd and Brandon LaFell, Cincinnati, Bengals (13% and 9% owned)
The Bengals have a lot of targets to go around after the free-agent departures of WRs Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, and with A.J. Green commanding heavy defensive attention, Boyd and LaFell should see some favorable matchups against lesser cornerbacks. LaFell has thus far gotten more snaps than his rookie counterpart, but Boyd is the slightly better buy, especially in PPR leagues. Boyd had a 1,000-yard receiving season as an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Pittsburgh and should become a reliable contributor for the Bengals in short order.
(Boyd: Talent: B- | Opportunity: B- | Schedule: C | OVERALL: C+)
(LaFell: Talent: C+ | Opportunity: B- | Schedule: C | OVERALL: C)
Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola are bound to have some big weeks for the Patriots, but good luck guessing when they’ll come. Torrey Smith had 10 targets on Sunday but only three catches; if it’s possible to be “intriguingly inefficient,” Smith is exactly that. There are an awful lot of mouths to feed in the Washington passing game, but diminutive slot man Jamison Crowder seems intent on carving out a niche for himself. Markus Wheaton is close to returning from a shoulder injury, but he’ll have to fight Sammie Coates and Eli Rogers for Antonio Brown’s table scraps. Kenny Britt is the Rams’ best outside receiver, which is like being the most outgoing monk in the monastery. Nelson Agholor showed a pulse in Week 1 after a disappointing rookie year and is worth monitoring. Cole Beasley isn’t worth your time in standard formats but is worth a look in PPR leagues.
Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens (29% owned)
His career once threatened by multiple hip dislocations, Pitta has made an inspiring comeback and has emerged as an improbable source of fantasy production. He already has 12 receptions through two games and is coming off a nine-catch, 102-yard day against the Browns in which he led Baltimore in targets and catches. Pitta has to be considered something of a medical risk, but he’s quickly re-established chemistry with Ravens QB Joe Flacco and should continue to put up strong numbers. Bid robustly if you’re in dire need of a tight end.
(Talent: B | Opportunity: A | Schedule: A | OVERALL: A-)
Jesse James, Pittsburgh Steelers (25% owned)
Ben Roethlisberger frequently throws to his tight end in the middle of the field, and James already has eight receptions on 12 targets. The second-year pro from Penn State is averaging just 7.5 yards per catch but had his first TD reception of the season Sunday against the Bengals.
(Talent: C | Opportunity: A- | Schedule: C | OVERALL: B-)
Jacob Tamme, Atlanta Falcons (5% owned)
The 31-year-old journeyman is playing a substantial role in the Atlanta passing game thus far, with 11 catches for 126 yards and a TD on 16 targets. (He has actually out-targeted Julio Jones 16-13.) Tamme won’t sustain this pace, but he can be useful, since productive TEs are in such short supply.
(Talent: C | Opportunity: B+ | Schedule: B- | OVERALL: B-)
Vance McDonald has turned a meager five targets into 3-75-2, but he’s not getting enough snaps to warrant anything more than a speculative bid. Clive Walford has nine catches on 13 targets for the pass-happy Raiders, but he’s averaging just 8.3 yards per catch. Chicago’s Zach Miller is a modestly talented oldster who may have a small degree of value by virtue of his starting role on a team that has minimal WR depth. If Austin Seferian-Jenkins can ever get back in Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter’s good graces, look out. Chronic underachiever Jordan Cameron teased us with 5-49-1 against the Patriots on Sunday — damn you, you handsome devil!