Waiver Wire Pickups for Week 5
Every Tuesday I will be bringing you the NFL players who have somehow flown under the fantasy radar and are owned in far too few leagues given their production and/or ceiling. Injuries and byes are inevitable, too.
With the first game of the week a mere 48 hours away, here are some players that are on quite a few waiver wires out there that simply shouldn’t be.
Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs (Yahoo 52% owned; ESPN 45.6%) – 8% FAAB
Is Smith the prototypical fantasy quarterback? No. His game is more predicated on not making big mistakes than it is making big plays, but he been very consistent through four games and in an Andy Reid led offense, I expect him to maintain his fantasy value. Despite top receiver Dwayne Bowe having a mere 13 catches for 148 yards through four weeks (averaged 20.5 catches for 316.5 yards over the first four weeks in the last two seasons), Smith has increased his passing yardage each week this season and has attempted more passes Andrew Luck.
His sneaky athleticism has allowed him to extend plays and rush 30 times for 151 yards. He will rarely win you a week, but he is equally unlikely to produce a stinker that puts you out of contention. There are few fantasy playoff schedules I prefer to that of Smith (Redskins, Raiders, and Colts), suggesting that his peak value could be at the perfect time for fantasy owners who either lost their starter due to injury or ineffectiveness.
Matt Cassel, Minnesota Vikings (Yahoo 3% owned; ESPN 1.0%) – 3% FAAB
I said it last week and I’ll say it again, a semi-competent quarterback should have value in this Minnesota Vikings offense. They own the league’s premier running back and have a solid offensive line, theoretically two of the most important qualities of an offense that has a successful quarterback that isn’t an elite talent. With Christian Ponder (broken rib) inactive for this one, Cassel completed 64% of his passes for 248 yards and two Greg Jennings touchdowns against a Steelers defense that had only allowed two passing touchdowns in three weeks (and an average of 183 yards).
While I’m not ready to declare Cassel a fantasy savior, he showed some signs of being able to lead this offense in an efficient manner. The Vikings have made no indications that they are ready to pull the plug on Ponder, but should they, Cassel deserves a little bit of consideration in deeper leagues (especially in the near future with the Giants, Packers, Cowboys, and Redskins on the schedule for weeks 7-10).
Danny Woodhead, San Diego Chargers (Yahoo 42% owned; ESPN 17.8%) – 12% FAAB
Judging by the ownership percentages, I’m must not be writing in an effective manner. Maybe I ramble too much, so I keep it short and sweet this time. As I said here, here, and here, Danny Woodhead is very much a part of this offense and he’s going to continue to be. The upside is even greater when you consider Ryan Mathews’ health history. Phillip Rivers is not comfortable throwing the ball down the field, making the pass catching specialist as valuable as anybody to this Chargers offense.
Pick up Woodhead.
Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers (Yahoo 72% owned; ESPN 93.5%) – 12% FAAB
The fact that he is un-owned in any league is concerning and should be changing after a solid career debut against the Vikes in London. Sure, he found the endzone twice, but I’m more excited about how often the Steelers looked his way (20 touches for a rookie on a desperate team after missing three weeks is impressive) and how he was utilized as an every down back. I’d pick up Bell immediately if he is left on your waiver wire, but I’m not breaking the bank on him because I don’t trust that Pittsburgh offensive line. If you’ve got room for an RB3 with strong upside, Bell is your man. But if you’re looking for a weekly contributor, I’d prefer trading for a player in a better offensive situation.
Roy Helu, Washington Redskins (Yahoo 13% owned; ESPN 44.0%) – 5% FAAB
The early reports are that Alfred Morris does not have any broken ribs and, after the Redskins week five bye, should be ready for a week six showdown with the Cowboys, but Helu looked impressive enough for me to consider him as a handcuff. Morris is a physical runner who takes a beating over the course of a season, and without Robert Griffin III being nearly the running threat he was last season (has 72 rushing yards this season, one year after recording at least 72 rushing yards in six individual games), the number of hits figures to be considerably higher this season.
Helu, albeit against the Raiders, produced 84 yards and a touchdown on 15 touches after Morris departed, showing a level of versatility that their starter simply lacks. That being said, Helu had averaged only two touches per game when Morris was healthy, so he doesn’t have the week to week upside as a player like Woodhead, but he becomes a viable option should this rib injury linger with Morris.
Nate Washington, Tennessee Titans (Yahoo 15% owned; ESPN 17.8%) – 9% FAAB
For the second consecutive week, Washington put up solid fantasy numbers, and for the third consecutive week, he hauled in a pass over 30 yards. Normally, a receiver on a team that will be without its starting quarterback for the foreseeable future should be avoided like the plague, but in this instance, I’m remaining optimistic. Ryan Fitzpatrick makes his fair share of mistakes, but he proved capable of producing reasonable fantasy stats last season (in a very similar situation) and did connect with Washington on a 77 yard score last week. Tennessee has a few tough matchups before their week eight bye, but the schedule opens up nicely after that, making Washington a nice bye week filler.
Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears (Yahoo 47% owned; ESPN 83.9%) – 11% FAAB
For what feels like the first time in his Chicago Bears career, Jay Cutler is moving through his progressions in an effective manner. This is a big step forward when it comes to the fantasy value of the talented Jeffery, who has already been targeted 32 times this season after seeing only 48 balls thrown his way last year. Brandon Marshall is an obvious deep threat that defenses key on, but Jeffery should also benefit from opponents being more worried (for now at least) about Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett in the short passing game.
The Bears are going to continue to throw the ball in this Marc Trestman offense, and I expect Jeffery to only get better as he gains more experience with the NFL game and familiarity with the new offensive system. The NFC North is a very good division, but not because of the defenses. Look for Jeffery to continue this nice two game stretch (12 catches on 19 targets for 158 yards and a touchdown) as the Bears face the Saints, Giants, Redskins, Packers, and these same Lions over the next six weeks.
Jerome Simpson, Minnesota Vikings (Yahoo 10% owned; ESPN 3.0%) – 6% FAAB
We may have found the leader of #TeamCassel in Simpson, a 27-year old wide out who was heavily involved in the Vikings passing attack in London (seven catches on 11 targets for 124 yards). In the previous two weeks, Simpson had totaled five catches on 13 targets for 78 yards, and has yet to score a touchdown in 15 games with Christian Ponder under center. Simpson flashed some field stretching ability when he first entered the league (14.3 yards per catch over a two year span), something that he may be able to rediscover should the Vikings make a change at quarterback. Make sure you monitor the situation, but should Minnesota throw in the towel on Ponder, Simpson becomes an interesting pickup in an offense that often sees it’s receivers in a lot of single coverage.
Robert Woods, Buffalo Bills (Yahoo 13% owned; ESPN 5.0%) – 10% FAAB
E.J. Manuel is going to have his rookie moments, as any first year signal caller will, but he seems to like Woods’ ability down the field and has been making a concentrated effort to look his way over the past few weeks. After targeting the USC rookie only eight times in the first two weeks, Manuel has thrown his at least eight times in each of the past two weeks, with the majority of those passes being thrown down field (his 16.7 aDOT is 53.2% higher than that of Stevie Johnson).
Woods ranks fifth (minimum 10 catches) in yards per catch this season (18.3), not bad for a quarterback who has been erratic in his first month in the NFL (currently ranks 28th in completion percentage). It’s not hard to imagine that both Manuel and Woods improve at a rapid pace as the get more comfortable with the NFL style and pace of play, thus making them both decent flier options right now. It is also worth noting that following a week 12 bye, the Bills finish the fantasy season with three dome or warm weather games in the final four weeks, an ideal situation for a deep threat like Woods.
Sean McGrath, Kansas City Chiefs (Yahoo 0% owned; ESPN 0.2%) – 2% FAAB
The Bearded Wonder has caught all nine passes thrown his way over the last two weeks and is making a very strong case to be the team’s starting tight end moving forward (Anthony Fasano is currently dealing with an ankle injury). He doesn’t have the strong basketball background that is seemingly becoming a prerequisite to be a fantasy worthy tight end, but he does have the ability to find holes and fall forward. While elite athletic tools would be nice, McGrath’s move the chains style is a perfect fit for this methodical Chiefs offense. He’s not going to light the world on fire, but should he gain the starting role, don’t be surprised if he catches 45 balls and a handful of touchdowns the rest of the way.
Soppe’s Spot Start Specials
This segment will typically be filled with players poised to breakout, in an effort to help you navigate your bye weeks. For the first few weeks, before byes start in week four, you’re probably starting your studs, so I’ll mention some bargain players if you play weekly fantasy football or are in a deeper league where these are players on your roster that deserve starting consideration.
Eli Manning (vs Philadelphia Eagles)
Manning has been awful. There is simply no two ways about it. Yea, yea, yea, you can talk about the two Super Bowl rings all you want, but how many fantasy owners are happy with those after Manning has laid four eggs to start this season? The league leader in interceptions (nine) hasn’t been worth a roster spot (let alone the starting spot that you likely drafted him for), but the Eagles pass defense has been just as bad (nine touchdown passes allowed, 70.2 completion percentage against, and only Minnesota has allowed more than their 1,3000 passing yards).
The Eagles porous defense was picked apart by the elder Manning this past week, and while Eli is no Peyton, his 10.5 aDOT (fifth highest in all of football) indicates that he is taking shots down the field, a definite weakness for Philadelphia (nearly four 20-plus yard passes allowed per week and 42.9% of completions have resulted in first downs). For one week, I’m feeling comfortable with Manning as my starting quarterback in a standard league.
Eddie Lacy (vs Detroit Lions)
These NFC North games are ones to target for fantasy owners, and this tilt should be no exception. With the Packers fresh off of their bye week, I expect a healthy Eddie Lacy (concussion) to handle most of the ground work, something that should elevate him to an RB2 against the Lions. Detroit is allowing 5.2 yards per carry this season, and with the Packers lethal passing attack, they simply won’t be able to risk stacking the box with eight defenders.
With Green Bay at home watching, the Bears jumped out to an early lead over the Lions with a strong run game (Matt forte finished with 95 yards on only 14 carries), only to dig themselves a hole with mistakes in the passing game. The Packers aren’t prone to “Jay Cutler moments” in the passing game, but I do expect them to try to establish a physical style early in an effort to make the Lions prove that they can stop the run.
Rod Streater (vs San Diego Chargers)
Assuming that Terrelle Pryor is back under center and the Raiders are without their top two running backs (Darren McFadden and Marcel Reece), Streater is a better play this week than he will be any other week this season. Oakland has been unable to run the ball at all this season, and while I expect them to try, it will be a one dimension when they fall behind. The Chargers, in terms of yards against, have been the fourth worst pass defense in the league this year and have given up more yards per attempt (8.4) than any of the other bottom six yardage defenses. Streater is a deep threat (14.5 yards per reception for his career) when Pryor is running for his life, and it only takes one big play to elevate him from bench warmer to WR3 with upside.
Jermaine Gresham (vs New England Patriots)
As impressive as the Patriots were in a 30-23 victory over the Falcons last weeks, they couldn’t stop Tony Gonzalez even a little bit (12 catches on 14 targets for 149 yards and two scores), struggling with his size and athleticism. Gresham obviously lacks the hall of fame resume of Gonzalez, but he boasts an eerily similar build (6’5” 260lbs as compared to 6’5” 247lbs) and is every bit the athlete. In that game, the Patriots lost Vince Wilfork (Achilles) for the season, an injury that will give Andy Dalton more time in the pocket. The New England secondary’s ability to take away the big play was impressive (Julio Jones and Roddy White recorded only nine catches despite 22 targets) on Sunday night, and if A.J. Green is limited, the upside for Gresham only grows.
Cleveland Browns (vs Buffalo Bills)
In a Thursday night battle of teams off of impressive upset wins, I expect the defenses to reign supreme. E.J. Manuel’s QB Rating has dropped every single week this season (bottoming out at 48.9 last week), and a short work week is unlikely to change that in a big way. The game-time decision tag will likely be placed on both C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, and while I expect them both to suit up, expecting them to be anywhere near 100% is a reach.
The Bengals are fresh off of a dominating defensive performance against the Cincinnati Bengals as they were once again paced by a solid push up front and the shut down abilities of Joe Haden. As you read above, I like Robert Woods, but if Haden erases Stevie Johnson and the running back tandem is hurting, I’ll take my chances on a physical defense limiting the overall production of two rookies. This feels like a 13-10 type of game, with potentially a big defensive play being the difference. This won’t be the last time you can turn to the Browns stingy defense for fantasy purposes, so make sure to keep them on your radar moving forward.