By: Zach Haugen (Twitter: @zhaugenfootball)
Predicting The Week 1 Waiver Wire
We did it everyone. We made it to Week 1 one of the 2017 Fantasy Football season. Most people have already drafted their teams, and are planning out their starting lineups with optimism. This is just the beginning though. Once the excitement of week 1 has settled, we will have our first waiver wire frenzy.
Maybe you drafted your team weeks ago and have players sitting on the end of your bench that seem useless now. Maybe you just drafted your team, but feel uncertain about the bottom of your roster. It can be valuable to get ahead of the week 1 waiver wire frenzy by nabbing the top targets before you have to invest waiver wire capital to get them.
How can we spot players whose value will rise a week from now? It isn’t an easy task, but there are certain criteria that can point you in the right direction. Look for players who are involved in murky situations where the starter is not totally clear. Often times one guy will emerge from this mess, and it might surprise people who it is. Look for players who are primed for success in week 1 because they have favorable matchups. Finally, look for players who have been gaining buzz due to chemistry with their quarterback, or positive comments from the coaching staff. Often times the key is to nab the guy who is catching fire at the right time. I have decided to help you out, by giving you a list of 16 players (4 of each position) who are under 50% owned in at least one of the ESPN or Yahoo platforms. I believe these players could be coveted waiver wire darlings after week 1.
Carson Palmer (Yahoo-63% ESPN-33%)
I just don’t get this one. Palmer should be owned in every league with at least 12 teams, and is still a nice asset in smaller leagues as well. He opens the season against the Lions, Colts, Cowboys, and 49ers, and is has solid weapons and one of the leagues best coaches. If you are an Andrew Luck owner and don’t have Carson Palmer, you are doing fantasy wrong. A 25 point implied team total should be plenty enough for Carson Palmer to score as a Qb1 in week 1, and lead people to realize he needs to be added to every roster.
Sam Bradford (Yahoo-18% ESPN-11%)
It doesn’t feel good to start Sam Bradford when all he does is dink and dunk and he had an awful preseason. The Vikings first team didn’t score a single touchdown in preseason. But hear me out. Bradford is surrounded with dangerous weapons including Diggs, Thielen, Rudolph, and Cook. He was actually pretty good for fantasy to end the year last year, including scoring 25 and 22 points in the last two games. Most importantly he is playing the Saints. Not only is the Saints defense pretty awful, but their offense is potent. That combination bleeds fantasy points and puts Bradford in the perfect position to succeed. If Bradford looks confident and plays up to the 26 point implied team total, people will likely begin to pick him up as a high end streaming option week to week.
Tyrod Taylor (Yahoo-51% ESPN-47%)
It has been a rough month for Tyrod Taylor. He was one of my favorite late round quarterback targets a few weeks ago. But then Bills got rid of Sammy Watkins, the only receiver they had left on the roster that he had previous experience with. They continued to make moves proving that they have no interest in winning this year, leading trusted veteran Anquan Boldin to retire. To top it off Taylor is recovering from a concussion.
All that being said, if Tyrod Taylor does indeed get the week 1 start, there are still reasons for positivity. Watkins has missed plenty of time in the past and Taylor has shown that he can produce for fantasy at nearly the same clip without his star receiver. In fact he has finished as a top 8 fantasy quarterback in each of the last two years. He did this under Rex Ryan with passing attempts very near the bottom of the league. While the Bills should still be a very run heavy team, worse game script and a new coaching staff could actually lead to a slight uptick in pass attempts. Most importantly, Tyrod gets to play the Jets week 1. While the Bills may want to lose this year, they don’t want it as badly as the Jets who will field a historically inept roster and should allow Taylor to rip it up week 1.
DeShone Kizer (Yahoo-10% ESPN-8%)
This one is a bit of a risky prediction. I don’t generally advise people to start rookie quarterbacks who are still very raw and on a bad team. But while I expect Kizer to struggle throughout the year, he could have some interesting fantasy upside in the right situations. Kizer actually has decent weapons with Corey Coleman, Kenny Britt, Crowell and Johnson out of the backfield, and a great offensive line to protect him. He is also playing at home which should make him feel a little bit more comfortable, and the Steelers should have no problem putting points on the board, which means they will be asking Kizer to make some plays for them right off the bat. While his passing may be erratic, his affinity for the big play combined with his rushing ability could lead to early fantasy success for the young rookie.
Rex Burkhead (Yahoo-32% ESPN-45%)
All offseason long Mike Gillislee was seen as the replacement for LeGarrette Blount and his 18 touchdowns. But Gillislee missed some preseason time with an injury and didn’t like anything special in the time he did play. Burkhead was just as involved as Gillislee was. Belichick was quoted as having said that Gillislee has ground to make up. Gillislee is still the favorite for the early down work, but this is the Patriots, so we actually have no idea. The possibility is very real that Burkhead comes out week 1 as the lead back for a historically great offense. He is also a better pass catcher than Gillislee, which increases his value even more. The running back role is valuable in New England, but we won’t know how owns that role until after week 1. You might as well buy your lottery ticket now, stick it on the end of your bench, and hope that your numbers are called.
Jamaal Charles (Yahoo-44% ESPN-45%)
In my opinion, Charles is one of the best running backs of the last decade. I mean, other than last year, which you can’t really count, he averaged over 5 ypc in every single year of his career. That is just ridiculous. Now he did just turn 30 and has a knee that looks like a softball, so I’m not calling for half of fame type of season, but he is a nice bench stash. The Broncos decided to keep Charles on the roster, following a solid preseason performance. Considering Charles offers nothing in special teams, I have a hard time believing they are keeping him if they don’t plan on utilizing him in some fashion. While CJ Anderson is still there, he hasn’t shown the ability to hold up for a full season as a workhorse back and the Broncos seem to know that. They also are one of the most improved offensive lines in the NFL, and should be able to open up holes for whoever is running behind them. Charles should be relatively efficient as both a runner and a pass catcher, so if the Broncos give him enough touches, he could be a popular add heading into week 2.
Jeremy Hill (Yahoo-48% ESPN-17%)
As a huge believer in Joe Mixon, this one is tough to write. But Jeremy Hill is being undervalued right now. While he has been straight up bad the last couple years, there is no denying that he looked like an elite talent only a few years ago, and has been one of the most efficient goal line runners since entering the league (30 touchdowns over 3 years). He also looked legitimately good in the preseason before tweaking his ankle. I am still of the belief that Mixon takes over a workhorse role by year end, but if they treat Hill as the starter week 1 and give him double digit carries and all the goal line work for a good offense, then he should be owned in every league.
Deandre Washington (Yahoo-9% ESPN-5%)
I am as excite as anyone to watch Marshawn Lynch play for the Oakland Raiders, and his upside is massive. But there are a lot of questions for the former superstar. He is getting older, he has had chronic back issues as well other nagging injuries, and he isn’t historically an elite pass catcher. Nobody really knows just how much they are going to use Lynch. That could leave an opening for Deandre Washington. Washington averaged 5.4 ypc last season and had the looks of a promising young back who can be utilized in all facets of the game. If the Raiders decide to use Lynch in a limited role, or if God-forbid Lynch gets hurt, Washington all of a sudden becomes a talented back, behind an elite offensive line, in a potent offense. We will just have to see how the Raiders decide to deploy that backfield.
Kendall Wright (Yahoo-11% ESPN-7%)
I can’t say I was ever super excited about drafting a bears pass catcher, as this offense has the appearance of being one of the worst in the league. But there will be pass attempts, as the Bears should trail early and often, and with Cameron Meredith out of the picture, the options become pretty limited. Kevin White is the favorite for targets, but he just hasn’t looked good since returning from injury, and appears to be a shell of himself. Victor Cruz has recently been cut and the depth is pretty shallow in the wide receiver corp. Wright is the only receiver on the depth chart with a season over 750 yards, topping 1,000 yards back in 2013. I think there is a real chance Kevin White continues to bust, which means Wright, should be peppered with targets as a safety blanket for these inexperienced quarterbacks.
J.J. Nelson (Yahoo-8% ESPN-3%)
I don’t believe that Nelson is built to be a go to receiver, but he is a clearly talented player with a quarterback and coach that fit well with his strengths, and he may be looking at increased opportunity in his third year in the league. Michael Floyd is gone, John Brown is back but there are serious questions about his health and ability to stay on the field at full strength. The Cardinals have a beautiful early season schedule as mentioned in the Carson Palmer section. Nelson ended the year strong last year averaging 10 targets per game over the last 3 games, and scoring a touchdown in 4 of the last 5 games. While I am not betting on Nelson to become a weekly starter, it is a possibility and he has been given the opportunity to make the early season impact that brings fantasy football owners flocking to the waiver wire.
Paul Richardson (Yahoo-3% ESPN-1%)
Paul Richardson is the kind of flyer I love to take deep in drafts. He is talented as a true burner down the field, with an affinity for acrobatic catches, and a second round draft pedigree. He plays in a good offense with one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL in Russell Wilson. He is currently number 2 on the depth chart so he should see enough targets to be fantasy relevant if he can hold off Tyler Lockett. He also has a delicious early season schedule starting off against the Packers defense, which was one of the worst against the pass last year. I expect one of two big plays from Richardson in that game, which will lead to increased demand on the waiver wire.
Cooper Kupp (Yahoo-25% ESPN-16%)
I am by no means a leader of the Cooper Kupp hype train. I think he has similar talent to Cole Beasley, and almost no shot at stardom. That being said, Beasley had fantasy success last year, and Kupp has a real chance at being peppered with target the same way Beasley was last year. Sammy Watkins should be able to take the defenses attention downfield, allowing Kupp to eat in the short to intermediate sections. Unfortunately Goff is not Dak Prescott so the touchdown upside for Kupp is extremely low. But if Kupp catches 5 to 6 passes against a bad colts defense in week 1, he could be seen as a useful asset in ppr leagues.
Vance McDonald (Yahoo-6% ESPN-1%)
McDonald got traded to the Steelers right before the season begins, so it may take more time than this for him to become an impact player for this team, but I could certainly see a scenario where he becomes a waiver wire pick up early. The Steelers historically target the tight end at a high rate. Heath Miller was yearly a tight end 1, and Ladarius Green showed very high upside in the few healthy weeks he had last year. Tight end was the one missing piece to this potent offense that should have plenty of touchdown opportunity. Vance McDonald is an athletic freak who has shown the ability to get open down field and make plays on the ball, and it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see him make a play in the end zone week 1 against a young inexperienced Browns defense that will be on their heels.
Cameron Brate (Yahoo-63% ESPN-23%)
Brate finished as the number 6 tight end last year scoring 8 touchdowns, but is going undrafted in many leagues. The Bucs didn’t draft O.J. Howard to sit on the bench, but the learning curve for tight ends in the NFL is generally very steep, and I wouldn’t expect anything more than 50 targets for Howard in his rookie year. While this may eat into Brate’s upside potential, he is still the one that has shown high levels of chemistry with Winston and should be heavily utilized in the red zone. The truth is that after the top 6 or 7 tight ends the position becomes heavily tight end dependent, and after week 1 we may see that Brate is one of the more likely tight ends to pay up with a touchdown on a weekly basis.
Austin Hooper (Yahoo-50% ESPN-36%)
Hooper has a similar draft pedigree to Hunter Henry, and although his rookie season was quieter, it was overall solid for a tight end when looking back at historical trends. It was also nice to see him develop into a near full time player towards the end of last year, a role he should continue to hold this year. Hooper is a talented well-rounded tight end on one of the leagues most potent offenses. Matt Ryan also has a history of utilizing his tight ends heavily in the red zone. There are a lot of talented passing game targets in Atlanta and Hooper is still extremely young for a tight end. That being said, his touchdown upside in this offense could be realized early leading to heavy usage in fantasy lineups throughout the year.
Colby Fleener (Yahoo-49% ESPN-25%)
Fleener disappointed fantasy owners last year that saw his upside taking over the Jimmy Graham role in a potent offense. I think we now know that Fleener is not a superstar tight end. He doesn’t have the upside to finish top 5 at the position. But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be considered a fantasy asset. Despite the disappointment he still finished as a top 12 tight end last year, and could easily build on that this year. The Saints boast a high volume passing offense that should allow Fleener to finish top 10 in targets at the position and see at least a handful of end zone targets. His chance at early season success jumped up even higher with the suspension of Willie Snead leaving the middle of the field targets largely to the tight end position. In week 1, the Saints play the Vikings who boast one of the top secondaries in the NFL. If the corners shut down the receivers on the outside Brees could be looking to target Fleener in the middle of the field early and often. I wouldn’t be surprised if Fleener catches 6 or 7 passes, leading him to be the top waiver wire add at the position heading into week 2.