49ers

Fantasy football waiver wire: Target ex-49er Vance McDonald in Week 5

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Fantasy football waiver wire: Target ex-49er Vance McDonald in Week 5

Whether your fantasy-football league crowns a champion in Weeks 16 or 17, teams are already starting to separate themselves. 

Winless teams could find themselves trailing playoff spot by two, three, or even four games, and the clock is ticking with nine weeks before the playoffs tend to start. Teams at the top, then, have a real opportunity to separate themselves from the pack. 

But no matter where you sit, finding capable players on the waiver wire is vital during the dog days of the fantasy football season. Here's who you should target ahead of Week 5. 

Nyheim Hines (14.5 percent of ESPN leagues, 13 percent of Yahoo leagues)

Hines exploded in Week 4, despite only rushing for 10 yards. He caught nine passes for 63 yards, and also caught two touchdowns. The rookie out of North Carolina State also tied for the team-lead in targets (11). 

Through four games, Hines has been targeted 26 times, and he's caught no fewer than five passes in three out of four games so far. That makes Hines an intriguing option in PPR leagues, but a touchdown-dependent one in non-PPR setups. 

Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars QB (Owned in 18.5 percent of ESPN leagues, 32 percent of Yahoo leagues)

We can't believe it either, but Bortles has been one of the better fantasy quarterbacks this season. He bounced back from a down week against the Tennessee Titans with 388 passing yards and two touchdowns, and his only blemish against the New York Jets on Sunday was an interception. 

Picking up Bortles for Week 5 could put your fantasy team in a good place, especially if you have one of the many big-name QBs who has struggled so far in 2018. With a matchup against a porous Kansas City Chiefs pass defense, Bortles is a great streaming option if you're looking for an improved signal-caller. 

Dede Westbrook (12.7 percent of ESPN leagues, 17 percent of Yahoo leagues)

Westbrook benefitted from Bortles' big day. He hauled in a team-high nine catches (on a team-high 13 targets) for 130 yards and scored two touchdowns. Westbrook led the Jaguars in total targets for the second time in four weeks, and has finished no worse than second among Jacksonville wideouts in targets every week.

He's the No. 2 wide receiver in a pass-happy offense, and has a very favorable matchup in Week 4 against the Chiefs. Mike Evans, Desean Jackson, and Allen Robinson are all off during Week 5, and Westbrook offers plenty of upside in their absence. 

Vance McDonald, Pittsburgh Steelers TE (31.3 percent of ESPN leagues, 43 percent of Yahoo leagues) 

We swear we're not just watching the AFC South. It would have been hard for McDonald to top his viral stiff arm, but the former 49ers tight end followed it up with a solid performance nonetheless. He caught five passes for 62 yards, but a fumble prevented him from hitting double-digit points in PPR leagues for the second straight week. Injuries at the position make that blemish easy to overlook. 

Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 4, and Rob Gronkowski is banged up on a short week. McDonald's gotten more targets than teammate and Week 1 stud Jesse James each of the last two weeks, so he's a solid option if you're looking to ride the hot hand at a volatile position.

How Emmanuel Sanders trade helped 49ers, likely hurt Patriots' offense

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How Emmanuel Sanders trade helped 49ers, likely hurt Patriots' offense

Two of the NFL’s best teams in 2019, the New England Patriots and 49ers, both faced a similar problem as the trade deadline approached.

The seemingly well-oiled machines had identified an identical issue: A lack of consistent play from the wide receivers.

While both teams attempted to rectify their passing-game issues at the deadline -- the 49ers dealt a pair of draft picks to the Denver Broncos for Emmanuel Sanders while the Patriots used a second-round pick to acquire Mohamed Sanu from Atlanta -- the results weren’t exactly analogous for the two contenders.

Sanders just completed a dominant performance in New Orleans, catching seven passes for 157 yards and a touchdown -- he threw for one, too. Meanwhile, Sanu caught just one pass for 13 yards in Week 14 as New England suffered a home loss at the hands of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Since Oct. 22, the day both players found their new homes, Sanders is averaging 10.44 receiving yards per target. Sanu? The former Falcon is averaging just 4.66 yards per target.

The 49ers reportedly balked at the price Atlanta wanted for Sanu, but the Patriots might have been better off bringing Sanders in, according to The Athletic’s Mike Sando.

"Sanu has been a solid receiver for a long time, but not as much of a downfield threat. Over the past four seasons, Sanders holds a 67-44 edge over Sanu in passes gaining more than 15 yards, despite Sanu playing four additional games. Sanu could have been a natural fit in San Francisco given that Shanahan was previously his offensive coordinator in Atlanta. He might even be flourishing there, given San Francisco’s superior surrounding talent, including George Kittle. The fit has been questionable in New England.”

The 49ers also have an obvious advantage in fielding George Kittle, who continues to cement his status as one of the NFL’s top tight-ends week in and week out.

[RELATED: Where 49ers, Raiders stand in NFL power rankings now]

But imagine what Josh McDaniels, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady could have whipped up with Emmanuel Sanders stretching the field.

This might go down as a rare mistake in player personnel from the Patriots’ front office, and it also might just be the move that propels the 49ers into playing February football.

Chris Simms breaks down George Kittle's catch in 49ers' win vs. Saints

Chris Simms breaks down George Kittle's catch in 49ers' win vs. Saints

George Kittle made the most significant play of the NFL’s Week 14 slate, catching a short fourth-down pass from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and willing his way into field-goal range.

The herculean effort from Kittle set kicker Robbie Gould up for a game-winning 30-yard field goal to give San Francisco a crucial 48-46 victory in New Orleans that propelled the 49ers back to the top of the NFC standings.

Unsurprisingly, coach Kyle Shanahan diagrammed this play for Kittle to be the No. 1 option, and that’s exactly what happened.

“The rookie [C.J.] Gardner-Johnson is matched up 1-on-1 with Kittle,” NBC Sports NFL analyst Chris Simms said. “The beauty of this play is, a lot of times the 49ers will run an in-breaking route off of this, but here he had the option to break out and he breaks out.

“Gardner-Johnson, who’s kind of laying inside for it, now is at a disadvantage and he’s trailing behind and that becomes the completion to George Kittle.”

[RELATED: Injuries continue to pile up for 49ers after extended trip]

Kittle’s wise decision to break outside put San Francisco back into the driver’s seat for the NFC playoffs, but the 49ers will need to keep the momentum going as the final weeks of the season roll on in order to secure the home-field advantage NFL teams so desperately crave come postseason time.