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Waiver Wire: Week 1

by Adam Levitan
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:09 pm ET

More than any other fantasy sport, the football landscape is dominated by the waiver wire. The constant flow of injuries leads to holes in fantasy rosters and simultaneous real-life opportunities for players. And that’s what makes this column so crucial.

My goal here is to make you aware of players that can help you now (plug-n-play), later on (stash) and everything in between. I’ll appeal to all formats -- everything from 10-team standard scoring to 16-team PPR. The only rule is that they must be available in at least 50 percent of Yahoo leagues.

Sometimes, we’ll be forced to plug in an inferior talent who happens to find himself in a good situation. Other times we’ll be adding physical freaks without a role yet. When we can combine athletic ability and playing time, we’ll strike gold. Julius Thomas led this column 365 days ago, and it also featured Knowshon Moreno and Joique Bell. Later on, Zac Stacy, Keenan Allen, Nick Foles and Julian Edelman became 2013 waiver scoops that ended up wearing a lot of fantasy title rings. The point is that the active owner is the successful one.

As for Week 1, it’s a slow time on the wire. I’d much rather roster a talented guy with a questionable role than a short-term plug-n-play. We have no byes to contend with and our teams are relatively healthy, so let’s hold onto our favorite fliers and see how the usage shakes out.

On to the assets. Here is how I would rank the players available in at least 50 percent of Yahoo leagues right now. Notes and recommendations on each player will follow.

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Editor’s Note: Rotoworld’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,000,000 Fantasy Football Contest for Week 1’s games. It’s only $25 to join and first prize is $100,000. Starts Sunday, September 7th at 1pm ET. Here’s the link.

1. Ryan Tannehill
2. Jake Locker
3. Geno Smith
4. Shaun Hill
5. Johnny Manziel
6. Derek Carr

Running backs
1. LeGarrette Blount
2. Chris Ivory
3. Devonta Freeman
4. Benny Cunningham
5. Roy Helu
6. Jonathan Stewart
7. Isaiah Crowell

Wide receivers
1. Jarrett Boykin
2. Mohamed Sanu
3. Jordan Matthews
4. Cody Latimer
5. Andrew Hawkins
6. Brian Quick
7. John Brown

Tight ends
1. Travis Kelce
2. Tim Wright
3. Richard Rodgers

Defense/Special Teams
1. Lions
2. Jets
3. Texans
4. Saints

1. Matt Bryant
2. Nate Freese
3. Cody Parkey
4. Brandon McManus

1. Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins – Owned in 41 percent of Yahoo leagues
I’m very confident that Ryan Tannehill is at least capable of a breakout year. Despite a brutal offensive line, inane play-calling and zero running game last year, Tannehill led his team to eight wins and finished as fantasy’s No. 16 quarterback. Now Mike Sherman is thankfully out and Bill Lazor is in as offensive coordinator. Expect an Eagles-like offense that gets the ball in Mike Wallace’s hands on more high-percentage throws and runs the ball with more efficiency. I prefer Carson Palmer (51 percent owned) or Ben Roethlisberger (83 percent) as my QB2, but Tannehill is a reasonable consolation prize.
Recommendation: Should be owned in 12-team leagues as a backup

2. Jake Locker, Titans – Owned in 10 percent of Yahoo leagues
A true cannon for an arm, plus running ability, a top-tier offensive line and two receivers that can dominate 1-on-1 matchups (Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter). Jake Locker has a lot going for him this year, and I haven’t even mentioned a Ken Whisenhunt scheme that revitalized Philip Rivers last year. Locker, entering the final year of his rookie contract, has the tools to have a “make” year instead of a “break.”
Recommendation: Should be owned in 14-team leagues as a backup

3. Geno Smith, Jets – Owned in 8 percent of Yahoo leagues
Here’s a sneaky one for owners in 2-QB formats or those playing FanDuel this week. Over the final four games of last year, Geno Smith flashed with a 4:2 TD-to-INT ratio, 58.6 percent completion rate and 83.6 passer rating. Most importantly for our purposes, Smith rushed 31 times for 186 yards with three touchdowns during that four-game span. We saw more of that rushing ability in the preseason, as he posted an 8-47-1 line on the ground on just 85 snaps. This week, Geno gets as soft of a matchup as he’ll find all year: the Raiders at home. A Smith/Eric Decker stack on FanDuel is not as crazy as it sounds.
Recommendation: Should be owned in 14-team leagues as a backup

4. Shaun Hill, Rams – Owned in 3 percent of Yahoo leagues
Sam Bradford is done for the season after re-tearing his left ACL. Before we go and completely write off the Rams' passing game, note that Shaun Hill has been a better quarterback. In 34 career games, Hill has a 62.0 percent completion percentage, 6.68 yards per attempt average, 41:23 TD-to-INT ratio and 85.9 percent passer rating. In 49 career games, Bradford has a 58.6 completion percentage, 6.28 yards per attempt average, 59:38 TD-to-INT ratio and 79.3 passer rating. If you thought Bradford could be a viable QB2, there’s little reason to think Hill won’t be.
Recommendation: Should be owned in 14-team leagues as a backup

5. Johnny Manziel, Browns – Owned in 47 percent of Yahoo leagues
Obviously, Johnny Manziel is merely a stash as Brian Hoyer has won the starting job. But no one should be surprised if Manziel emerges from the Week 4 bye with the starting gig. Hoyer has to face at PIT, vs. NO and vs. BAL in the first three games, each of which the Browns will be underdogs to win. Manziel will be facing the same weaponry concerns and run-first hurdle that will cap Hoyer’s box scores, but the rookie brings the running game. Johnny Football rushed 12 times for 88 yards with a touchdown on 130 preseason snaps.
Recommendation: Should be stashed in 14-team leagues

6. Derek Carr, Raiders – Owned in 4 percent of Yahoo leagues
In the past couple years, the bungling Raiders have traded for Matt Flynn, drafted Tyler Wilson and traded for Matt Schaub. They finally made a good decision Monday, using Schaub’s “sore elbow” as an excuse to name Derek Carr their starter. It was obvious to anyone with two eyes that Schaub was done last year when he was benched for Case Keenum, but better late than never for Oakland. However, let’s not go overboard on Carr. In a normal organization, he’d be a developmental prospect that could sit and learn. Our Evan Silva described Carr’s arm as “Cutlerian,” but also noted mechanical issues and struggles when under pressure as he came out of Fresno State. Even against a rancid Jets secondary, I’d keep expectations in the bottom-barrel QB2 range for Carr.
Recommendation: Should be owned 14-team leagues as a backup

Honorable Mention: Kyle Orton, Blake Bortles, Matt Cassel – Given the way E.J. Manuel has played and the coin Orton got, we can expect Orton to be starting games by Halloween. … The Jags are going to stick with Chad Henne for as long as possible, but Bortles was extremely impressive in the preseason. …One of my favorite preseason bets is Vikings over six wins. Cassel is going to be just fine operating Norv Turner’s typically productive vertical scheme. RUNNING BACKS
1. LeGarrette Blount, Steelers – Owned in 31 percent of Yahoo leagues
During the preseason, Le’Veon Bell got 36 first-team snaps and LeGarrette Blount got 33. In their careers, Bell has a 3.52 YPC average and Blount is at 4.68. Now I’m not saying that Blount is going to steal the starting job or that he’s a superior player, but I am saying that talk of a committee is real. Bell is obviously the player I’d much rather own as the Steelers want to go hurry-up a lot and Blount doesn’t play in the passing game. But Blount has been pegged as the goal-line guy, and projects to get 2-3 series to himself per game.
Recommendation: Should be owned in 12-team leagues

2. Chris Ivory, Jets – Owned in 34 percent of Yahoo leagues
Don’t expect Rex Ryan’s patience with Chris Johnson to last very long. Rex wants to Ground ’N Pound, so a finesse back that doesn’t break tackles isn’t going to fly. CJ?K also loved to complain that the Titans’ offensive line wasn’t opening holes, but this Jets unit is far inferior. Add it up and we have a nice opportunity for Chris Ivory, an injury-prone runner but one with truly special traits in terms of physicality. He led the NFL in yards after contact per attempt last season, according to PFF. Ivory, armed with a goal-line role already, has room to make this a full-fledged committee.
Recommendation: Should be owned in 12-team leagues

3. Devonta Freeman, Falcons – Owned in 44 percent of Yahoo leagues
Devonta Freeman’s ownership percentage is on the decline because he ran behind Jacquizz Rodgers throughout the preseason and Steven Jackson’s hamstring is nearing health. But we need to take a long-view here. Although Freeman blew a block that led to a blocked punt and got chewed out for it on Hard Knocks, his preseason was actually awesome. He finished as PFF’s No. 1 running back among 128 qualifiers, rushing 32 times for 134 yards with one touchdown and catching 11 passes for 146 yards. The Falcons know what they have in Quizz, and know that Freeman will give them more. He’ll be the change-of-pace back in a committee sooner rather than later, and is well worth holding in hopes of another inevitable S-Jax injury.
Recommendation: Should be owned in 12-team leagues

4. Benny Cunningham, Rams – Owned in 5 percent of Yahoo leagues
Here are two facts about the Rams’ running back situation. 1) Benny Cunningham started the third preseason game, which everyone knows is the dress rehearsal game for NFL teams. 2) By media accounts, Cunningham has outplayed Zac Stacy throughout camp. “If Benny Cunningham isn’t challenging Zac Stacy for the starting job, he’s certainly pushing him for playing time,” wrote the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. ESPN’s Nick Wagoner has repeatedly said that Cunningham has been “sharper” throughout the preseason. I still like Stacy to be the main man, but there’s enough smoke here for Cunningham to be worth a hold.
Recommendation: Should be owned in 12-team leagues

5. Roy Helu, Redskins – Owned in 6 percent of Yahoo leagues
Way back in February, I outlined why I am not on Alfred Morris this season. I think he’s an excellent running back, but he will be less productive now out of the Shanahan scheme. I also think Jay Gruden likes his backs to be good in the pass game, something Roy Helu certainly is and Alf definitely isn’t. Last year, Gruden gave his big back (BenJarvus Green-Ellis) 220 carries and his change-of-pace back (Giovani Bernard) 170 carries. And if/when the Redskins are trailing this year, it’s going to be all Helu. Morris is a complete zero on third downs, two-minute drill and four-minute drill. Helu easily iced Lache Seastrunk and Chris Thompson in training camp.
Recommendation: Should be owned in 14-team leagues

6. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers – Owned in 20 percent of Yahoo leagues
Coming off his healthiest offseason as a pro and still just 27 years old, Jonathan Stewart is 100 percent right now. That alone should be enough to pique owners’ interest. Stewart holds a 4.63 career YPC, highlighting the front-end skills the former No. 13 overall pick has. He’ll start off behind DeAngelo Williams in this committee, but has enough ability to push for 8-12 carries per game. 
Recommendation: Should be owned in 14-team leagues

7. Isaiah Crowell, Browns – Owned in 0 percent of Yahoo leagues
Isaiah Crowell is not your average UDFA. He was a five-star recruit to Georgia that was the SEC Freshman of the Year before his career was derailed by off-field woes. The Browns are clearly buying, as they let go of two pretty decent backs in Dion Lewis and Chris Ogbonnaya on Saturday. Now Crowell is only behind injury-prone Ben Tate and Terrance West, a fellow rookie that has disappointed in his first training camp. The Browns are going to be among the run-heaviest teams in the entire league, so West is not as far away from fantasy relevance as it seems.
Recommendation: Should be owned in 16-team leagues

Watch List: Lance Dunbar, Andre Williams, Shonn Greene, Khiry Robinson, Ronnie Hillman, Jonathan Dwyer, Knile Davis, James Starks – The Cowboys reportedly have a plan up their sleeve for the talented Dunbar. … Williams is a goal-line threat to three-down workhorse Rashad Jennings, but nothing more. … Zero. That’s how many first-team snaps Bishop Sankey got in the preseason. Shonn Greene opens the year as the starter and two-down workhorse behind a plus offensive line. … Robinson is the No. 2 ball-carrier behind Mark Ingram and an underrated receiver. … Hillman has beaten out C.J. Anderson for backup duties. … Dwyer is worth watching because Andre Ellington was Injury Predictor’s player most likely to get injured this year. … Davis is one Jamaal Charles injury away from RB1 status. … Starks is the preferred handcuff for Eddie Lacy owners even though he’s only a two-down player. He’ll get the touchdown opportunities in the event of a Lacy injury. WIDE RECEIVERS
1. Jarrett Boykin, Packers – Owned in 37 percent of Yahoo leagues
Second-round rookie Davante Adams was supposed to mount a challenge to Boykin for the No. 3 wideout duties at camp. It didn’t happen. Boykin has “taken the next step,” according to coach Mike McCarthy and is locked as an every-down player for Aaron Rodgers in the Packers’ three-wide base. That’s more than enough for Boykin to be owned in just about all leagues, as evidenced by the 64-784-14 line James Jones popped off for in 2012. Boykin isn’t a good option against Seattle Thursday, but will be a surefire WR3 in Weeks 2 through 5: vs. NYJ, at DET, at CHI, vs. MIN.
Recommendation: Should be owned in 10-team leagues

2. Mohamed Sanu, Bengals – Owned in 5 percent of Yahoo leagues
When Marvin Jones (foot) went down, my first reaction was to brush off Mohamed Sanu. I had him pegged as a low-upside slot receiver and nothing more. But after further examination, I think Sanu has shown enough improvement to warrant a look until Jones gets back in Week 5. Sanu was the star of OTAs, the star of camp and posted a 7-126-1 line on just 65 preseason snaps. He’ll play outside in two-wide sets and inside in three-wide, the kind of usage we love to see from our wideouts.
Recommendation: Should be owned in 12-team leagues

3. Jordan Matthews, Eagles – Owned in 31 percent of Yahoo leagues
If Jason Avant is a 3 out of 10 in terms of talent, Jordan Matthews is a 30. So note that Matthews, who will be a 6-foot-3 slot man, can certainly improve on the meager numbers Avant produced on a reasonable 4.7 targets per game last year. Along with Zach Ertz and Darren Sproles, the second-round rookie will be charged with replacing DeSean Jackson’s catches. The real payoff for Matthews’ owners will come if the oft-nicked Jeremy Maclin goes down or if he’s able to usurp role-playing Riley Cooper.
Recommendation: Should be owned in 12-team leagues

4. Cody Latimer, Broncos – Owned in 6 percent of Yahoo leagues
Wes Welker (concussion) is currently on track to play in Week 1 despite sustaining three concussions in the last nine months. But his risk factor has only gone up, making projections about Denver’s backup wideouts vital. Note that in preseason action, veteran Andre Caldwell clearly ran ahead of rookie Cody Latimer, and I’d expect nothing less from a John Fox team. But when the chips are down later in the season, I’d expect the physically gifted Latimer to get the call. He’s had a strong first camp by all accounts and already has a role in red-zone packages.
Recommendation: Should be owned in 12-team leagues

5. Andrew Hawkins, Browns – Owned in 20 percent of Yahoo leagues
The Browns starting wide receivers in Week 1 will be Miles Austin and Andrew Hawkins. After you’re done puking, consider that the jitterbug-quick Hawkins posted a 51-533-4 line in 14 games for Cincy in 2012. His ceiling is limited by a 5’7/180 frame, but there should be enough volume here for deep leaguers to take a look. Opponents are going to sell out to stop Jordan Cameron.
Recommendation: Should be owned in 12-team leagues

6. Brian Quick, Rams – Owned in 1 percent of Yahoo leagues
Every year, the Rams say this is the year for Brian Quick. There are signs they’re telling the truth this time around. Still just 25 years old and entering his third NFL season, the 6-foot-3 Quick reportedly put together “the best training camp of his young career.” He’s starting opposite Kenny Britt and looked really sharp in exhibition games, posting a 5-88-1 line on just 58 snaps. As mentioned above, I don’t consider Shaun Hill a downgrade on Sam Bradford in terms of statistical projections.
Recommendation: Should be owned in 14-team leagues

7. John Brown, Cardinals – Owned in 5 percent of Yahoo leagues
The unquestioned breakout star of Cardinals camp has been third-round rookie John Brown out of Pittsburg State (yes, there’s no H there). Brown has easily run away from Ted Ginn and won the No. 3 job, a gig that certainly has upside in a Bruce Arians offense. Note that when similarly sized and T.Y. Hilton was a rookie for Arians, he played on 57 percent of the snaps for Arians. Brown, who had 10 catches for 165 yards and one touchdown in the preseason, is expected to get similar usage.  
Recommendation: Should be owned in 14-team leagues

Watch List: Danny Amendola, Mike Williams, Marqise Lee, Jerricho Cotchery, Nate Washington, Frankie Hammond, Allen Hurns, Malcom Floyd – Amendola will play in all 3- and 4-wide sets, but a healthy Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Dobson hurts. … Williams is the TD-scorer for Buffalo if E.J. Manuel can get it to him. … Cecil Shorts is healthy, knocking some luster off Lee. The rookie will still play every snap. … Cotchery is the possession complement to No. 1 wideout Kelvin Benjamin. … Washington plays opposite Kendall Wright in all 2-wide sets. Justin Hunter is the No. 3 receiver. … Frankie Hammond is expected to start in suspended Dwayne Bowe’s place Week 1. … Malcom Floyd’s neck is fine and he’ll get a few deep shots from Philip Rivers each game. TIGHT ENDS
1. Travis Kelce, Chiefs – Owned in 15 percent of Yahoo leagues
We’ve talked about Travis Kelce extensively over the last month. Read all of his blurbs here and my discussion on him in Preseason Winners. The bottom line is that the Chiefs are desperate for playmakers in the passing game. With Dwayne Bowe suspended for Week 1, their wide receiver depth chart reads: Donnie Avery, Frankie Hammond, Junior Hemingway, Albert Wilson, A.J. Jenkins. Kelce is certainly a playmaker. The dude literally looked like Rob Gronkowski in the preseason, both outrunning defenders and shoving them out of the way as he racked up a 11-193-2 line. Kelce was PFF’s No. 1 tight end in the preseason. So although we’re not certain he’s going to get a ton of first-team snaps out of the gate, logic suggests it will be coming soon if not Sunday. Kelce is my favorite TE2.
Recommendation: Should be owned in 12-team leagues

2. Tim Wright, Patriots – Owned in 35 percent of Yahoo leagues
Let’s get one thing straight right away. Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright play different positions. Wright is a 6’4/220 agile and athletic route-runner that gets overwhelmed when asked to do in-line things. That’s part of why the Bucs traded him away. So, is there a role for this kind of player with the Patriots? Of course, we saw it with Aaron Hernandez. However, the Patriots don’t cram square pegs into round holes, so they won’t go back to a “12” base unless Wright earns it. They can happily go three-wide this year with Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson and Danny Amendola. So Wright is a stash for me while we see how this develops. I’d still rather own Travis Kelce, Heath Miller and possibly Ladarius Green as my TE2.
Recommendation: Should be owned in 14-team leagues

3. Richard Rodgers, Packers – Owned in 4 percent of Yahoo leagues
Has a starting tight end playing with a future Hall of Fame quarterback ever generated less hype? Third-round rookie Richard Rodgers seized control of the Packers’ starting gig way back in OTAs and hasn’t looked back, starting each of the first three preseason games. On 67 exhibition snaps, he caught four passes for 67 yards and saw seven targets. Yes, Rodgers will have to rotate some with Andrew Quarless and is an average talent at best, but he’s the primary pass-catching tight end playing with Aaron Rodgers.  
Recommendation: Should be owned in 14-team leagues

Watch List: Garrett Graham, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Levine Toilolo: New Texans coach Bill O’Brien brings a Patriotsesque scheme to Houston, which means he’s more than willing to feature his tight end. Graham profiles as the “move” tight end complement to rookie blocker C.J. Fiedorowicz. … Reports out of Tampa say ASJ is progressing quickly after a slow start. He’ll overtake Brandon Myers soon as Josh McCown’s new Martellus Bennett. … Toilolo is stiff as a board, but he’s 6-foot-8 and locked in as the starting tight end with Matt Ryan. He’ll at least get red-zone targets.

1. Lions – Owned in 16 percent of Yahoo leagues
Eli Manning led the league in interceptions last year with 27 and has more over the last four years (83) than anyone in the league. This preseason, he was PFF’s No. 97 quarterback out of 98 qualifiers. Now he has to go on the road on Monday Night Football, with question marks all over his offensive line, and face arguably the best front four in the entire league. Expect tons of disruption, which will mean production for the Lions D/ST.

2. Jets – Owned in 8 percent of Yahoo leagues
This would have been the No. 1 streamer play of the week if pick-6 machine Matt Schaub was starting. It’s still a strong play. The Jets feature one of the league’s best fronts, yet one of its worst secondaries. Regardless, I’m confident Rex Ryan can scheme up a toxic cocktail that will have Derek Carr’s head spinning – especially with the game at home.

3. Texans – Owned in 43 percent of Yahoo leagues
With DE J.J. Watt, ILB Brian Cushing and OLB Jadeveon Clowney, the Texans have three of the league’s better playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. This week, they get a home game against Robert Griffin III -- who has frankly looked uncomfortable, wildly out of control and inept as he transitions out of Mike Shanahan’s gimmicky scheme and into Jay Gruden’s more traditional offense. RG3 also takes sacks despite his athletic ability: Four on just 67 snaps this preseason and 38 last year (14th in the league).

4. Saints – Owned in 19 percent of Yahoo leagues
I wouldn’t love using the Saints at Atlanta this week, but I think they’re worth holding. Long known for offense, the Saints now feature the league’s best safety duo (Kenny Vaccaro/Jairus Byrd), a plus pass-rusher in Junior Galette, a beast end in Cameron Jordan and a serious breakout candidate in Akiem Hicks. This loaded group will be a super play at CLE in Week 2, vs. MIN in Week 3 and vs. TB in Week 5.

Matt Bryant, Falcons – Owned in 32 percent of Yahoo leagues
Matt Bryant fits the two most important qualifications we need when looking for a kicker: He plays in a dome and his offense is very capable. I imagine that his ownership percentage is down because he was fantasy’s No. 19 kicker last year, but that wasn’t his fault. He went 24-of-27 (88.9 percent), a mark that included 5-of-5 from 40-49 yards and 3-of-5 from 50-plus. With Matt Ryan’s weaponry back healthy and a run game that leaves a lot to be desired, we could very well be looking at a lot of long drives that stall out.

Nate Freese, Lions – Owned in 4 percent of Yahoo leagues
Nate Freese was the Lions’ seventh-round pick this year and beat out Giorgio Tavecchio to win the Lions’ kicking job. As a senior at Boston College last year, Freese was a first-team All-American on the back of a perfect 20-for-20 season. In his NCAA career, he went 70-of-81 (86.4 percent). In the preseason, he went 6-of-6 including 3-of-3 from 50-plus. Most importantly, he plays in a dome for one of the league’s most explosive offenses.

Cody Parkey, Eagles – Owned in 6 percent of Yahoo leagues
Cody Parkey did not come out of nowhere to steal Alex Henery’s job. Parkey was the No. 1 kicker in the country coming out of high school, led the NCAA in touchbacks last year and went 5-of-5 in the preseason – including two bombs from 50-plus. Parkey’s spot is right this week as he’s home against the Jags, but I have him third on this list because of a somewhat shaky college resume. He went 15-of-21 (71.4 percent) for Auburn last year, including two misses from under 40 yards.

Brandon McManus, Broncos – Owned in 3 percent of Yahoo leagues
For now, it looks like the Broncos are going to go with unknown Brandon McManus while Matt Prater is suspended. McManus was a second-team All Big East kicker during his senior year at Temple in 2012, and lost a camp battle to Adam Vinatieri as a UDFA with the Colts. He does have a big leg despite missing from 52 and 53 yards in the Broncos’ preseason finale. There’s obviously risk here, but a strong-legged guy kicking in Mile High with the Broncos offense has upside written all over it.

Adam Levitan
Adam Levitan is in his seventh season covering football and basketball for Rotoworld. He won the Fantasy Sports Writers Association award for Best Series in 2011 and 2009, and ESPN's overall fantasy football title in 2000. Find him on Twitter.