This Waiver Wizard article is part of the Xclusive Edge In-Season Fantasy Football package, which will be available on September 14. This is a free preview.
I looked over at my friend as I put the bottle down slowly back on the rack in front of me.
Pumpkin beer? In August? Seriously?
All he could do was smile and explain that due to popular demand this much maligned craft beer offering was being released earlier and earlier in the year, to the point that it was nearly comical. I live in Georgia after all, and sipping on a pumpkin-flavored beer while relaxing by the pool when it’s 90 degrees outside just didn’t mesh. Yet for all the flack that the style of beer catches, it does have one massive benefit; pumpkin beer signals that Fall is here, which means that football is right around the corner, thankfully.
This offseason marked my first foray into the world of having my work published, as I was invited by my friend from FanDuel, Joe Pisapia, to co-author “The Fantasy Black Book” while representing RotoExperts. Preparation and research began for me shortly after the Super Bowl ended in February, and although it was a rather daunting process for me to undertake at the time, I’m certainly glad that I began early, given the uncertainty atop draft boards for the first few slots. Now that the winter and summer have officially passed us by, it is time for fall to overtake us and for the football season to finally kick off on September 10.
So, now that the season is upon us and with the opener just days away, my “Waiver Wizard” column has officially shifted away from baseball and is instead focused on the pigskin. Like many of you, I’m beyond pumped to get this underway. For those of you reading this column for the first time, its intent is simple; each week I’ll provide a number of under-the-radar recommendations that owners should focus on in deeper leagues. In addition to giving you a list of several players to target, I’ll also provide a rough estimate of how much free agent acquisition budget (FAAB) I’d drop to acquire their services, and an assessment of how the player should be viewed for the remainder of the season. My goal is to only discuss players who are nominally owned, accounting for the knowledge base our readers possess and the deeper leagues that they typically favor.
So, let’s get this party started.
Kirk Cousins (Washington Redskins) – Cousins’ Jekyll-and-Hyde nature isn’t particularly inspiring to an owner in terms of confidence, as he nearly threw as many interceptions as touchdowns during his six week stint as the starter last season. So, why the optimism? Simply put, “Captain Kirk” has all the weapons to succeed in 2015, including a now-healthy Jordan Reed and Pierre Garcon. Cousins has the aptitude to spread the ball around and make use of all his targets, and although he doesn’t possess elite arm strength or talent, he is certainly capable of big games at this stage (see his 427 yard, three touchdown performance in Week 3 of 2014 as an example).
Recommendation: Spend 5-7 percent of FAAB to acquire Cousins as a secondary option in QB2 formats or as an upside backup.
Tyrod Taylor (Buffalo Bills) – Taylor was recent anointed the starter by coach Rex Ryan after he out played both Matt Cassel and E.J. Manuel during the preseason, in a rare occurrence of a coach actually selecting the correct option based upon upside and not blind loyalty. While he doesn’t possess the most accurate arm, his ability to scramble and pick up yards on the ground puts him among esteemed company. Don’t sleep on the wide receiver corps of Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Percy Harvin providing him ample options at his disposal either. Make no mistake about it, the Bills will still be one of the most run-heavy teams in the entire league, but Taylor’s upside is intriguing.
Recommendation: Spend 5-7 percent of FAAB to acquire Taylor as a secondary option in QB2 formats or as an upside play in daily leagues.
Dion Lewis (New England Patriots) – Lewis is especially relevant in NFL Week 1, when lead option LeGarrette Blount will serve a suspension. Lewis will only compete with Brandon Bolden for carries against the woeful Pittsburgh Steelers defense. A shifty runner with the ability to run both inside and outside the tackles, Lewis’ stock dramatically rose when the team opted to cut Jonas Gray. Normally I’d shy away from recommending any Patriots running back, so view this as more of a one-week suggestion than long-term addition to your Fantasy team, given the turmoil at the position thanks to Bill Belichick.
Recommendation: Spend 0-5 percent of FAAB to acquire Lewis as a third-down back and PPR play for Week 1 in daily leagues.
Benny Cunningham (St.Louis Rams) – Similar to Lewis, view this recommendation as a temporary one. With lead back Tre Mason still nursing the hamstring injury he sustained earlier this month and being considered a (much hated for good reason) game-time decision, Cunningham is currently in line to receive the bulk of the carries in the team’s opener versus the Seattle Seahawks. The matchup isn’t particularly favorable, but with few remaining options on the team, Cunningham will at least receive the lion’s share of carries in all situations, especially on the goal line.
Recommendation: Spend 0-5 percent of FAAB to acquire Cunningham as a flier for Week 1 in daily leagues or as a temporary stop gap for Le’Veon Bell/LeGarrette Blount owners.
Karlos Williams (Buffalo Bills) – Although LeSean McCoy appears to be ready to start Week 1 against the Indianapolis Colts, his health is still a major question mark heading into the season, especially when you consider his expected workload in this offensive scheme. Enter Williams, a 22-year-old rookie from Florida State, who rose to the backup position during training camp. At 6’1”, 230 lbs. he has a much bigger frame to handle short yardage situations, or those around the goal line (an area where McCoy notably struggled last season). Despite starting behind McCoy on the depth chart to enter the year, he remains an intriguing handcuff option with immense upside if “Shady” gets hurt.
Recommendation: Spend 0-5 percent of FAAB to acquire Williams as an upside NFL Week 1 play if McCoy sits and as an upside handcuff option on a run-heavy team in deeper formats.
James Jones (Green Bay Packers) – Shortly after the New York Giants released Jones despite an impressive preseason showing, the Packers scooped him up in an attempt to shore up a receiving corps that is still reeling after the loss of Jordy Nelson for the season. He immediately slots ahead of both Ty Montgomery and Jeff Janis as the team’s third wideout, a position that provided a great deal of Fantasy success in his last stint with the team from 2007-13. He will remain behind Randall Cobb and Davante Adams, but given the Packers’ propensity to use a three-wide set, he will see his fair share of targets amidst one of the league’s most potent offenses.
Recommendation: Spend 10-15 percent of FAAB in deeper formats to acquire Jones as an upside FLEX play.
Danny Amendola (New England Patriots) – Based purely his name, owners will be shying away from this once-promising but oft-injured receiver. Look past that for a moment and focus on just the current situation in New England. Aside from Julian Edelman, the team is without a secondary receiver, especially after the sudden release of Reggie Wayne. For the moment, Amendola is healthy and his tenure with the team suggests that upside remains there while Brandon LaFell is on the reserve/PUP list costing him the first six games of the season. The targets will remain there, and expect a vengeful Tom Brady to throw the ball early and often.
Recommendation: Spend 5-10 percent of FAAB to acquire in deeper PPR formats as an upside FLEX play until LaFell returns.
Leonard Hankerson (Atlanta Falcons) – Currently the third wideout behind Julio Jones and Roddy White for the Falcons, Hankerson caught seven passes for 78 yards and a touchdown during the preseason to lock down the role in late August. While coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s offense doesn’t throw to many targets outside of the “X” receiver (Jones), neither player ahead of him is capable of staying healthy for an entire season, and this is a team that will need to throw the ball frequently, based upon their atrocious defense.
Recommendation: Spend 0-5 percent of FAAB to acquire Hankerson as an upside flier in deeper formats.
Cecil Shorts III (Houston Texans) – Despite recent reports that Nate Washington is the starter opposite DeAndre Hopkins, I’ll still take Shorts in the long-term (hope you enjoyed that wordplay). Over the first three to four weeks of the season, when the team will be without star running back Arian Foster, Shorts will accumulate plenty of targets as the slot receiver for this team, which will be in permanent catch-up mode. Similar to prior seasons, when most of his production came during “garbage time” in the fourth quarter, Shorts is a player I’m looking to add in deeper formats, especially while his ownership remains below eight percent.
Recommendation: Spend 0-5 percent of FAAB to acquire Shorts as an upside flier in deeper formats.
Crockett Gillmore (Baltimore Ravens) – Gillmore’s name making this list is based on a few factors. First and foremost, he currently faces little competition at the position, with rookie Maxx Williams nursing several injuries (hamstring, eye, heart). He might not register much in terms of name value, but Joe Flacco loves throwing to his tight end up the seam, so Gillmore will see his fair share of targets thanks to a lackluster receiving corps.
Recommendation: Spend 0-5 percent of FAAB to acquire Gillmore as an upside flier in deeper formats.
Scott Chandler (New England Patriots) – During my recent Twitter “Bold Predictions”, I mentioned that Chandler would be another beneficiary of this team’s lack of passing options other than Edelman and Gronkowski. The production will be sporadic, akin to Tim Wright’s 2014 season, but Chandler is fully capable of posting the occasional eyebrow raising performance over an extended period of time. The Patriots have an affinity for running two tight end sets, and Chandler’s combination of size, speed and catch radius makes him an option in the red-zone.
Recommendation: Spend 0-5 percent of FAAB to acquire Chandler as an upside flier in deeper formats.