Welcome to the Waiver Warehouse, your one-stop emporium for upgrades and Band-Aids. Each week we’ll list the best widely available free agents for fantasy football. (We define “widely available” as being owned in less than half of all Yahoo leagues.) We’ll also list a few more names in the “window shopping” category—players worth monitoring or perhaps worth rostering in deeper leagues. In addition to a brief overview of each player, we’ll grade each player on talent, opportunity and schedule (with an emphasis on near-term schedule), then provide a composite grade. Please note that for quarterbacks, we replace the opportunity grade with a grade for the QB’s supporting cast.
The RB cupboard has been full of cobwebs and dust bunnies recently, but the supply of waiver-wire running backs looks a little more bountiful this week, thanks to the impending return of two playmakers, a noteworthy promotion and a possible change in offensive philosophy. Who’s worth grabbing this week? Read on …
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Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears (7% owned)
With some good quarterbacks (Derek Carr, Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford, Tyrod Taylor) on bye this week, the lightly owned Cutler is a reasonable Band-Aid thanks largely to his favorable Week 10 matchup against the Buccaneers. Cutler is a mercurial talent who could roll snake eyes for his fantasy owners in any given week, but with the Bears seemingly intent on finding a new QB for 2017, Cutler should have every incentive to spruce up his resume with a strong drive down the stretch.
Smith is expected to return this week from the most concussion-looking non-concussion in the history of football, and he’ll have a delectable matchup against Panthers, followed by another juicy one in Week 11 against the Buccaneers. Of course, Smith hasn’t always been able to take advantage of choice matchups. He also might be without WR Jeremy Maclin, who’s dealing with a groin injury.
Let’s not debate whether Siemian is a good quarterback or a bad one (though I think the answer is obvious). What matters is his matchup this week against a Saints defense that just managed to let Colin Kaepernick, who has the accuracy of a sawed-off shotgun, throw for 398 yards and two TDs. Disregard the lack of pedigree here and tee up Siemian with confidence if you need a Week 10 streamer.
Flacco has thrown only three TD passes in his last six games and is averaging a pedestrian 6.15 yards per pass attempt this season. On the other hand, he’s averaging 259.8 yards per game and has thrown for at least 210 yards in all eight of his starts. A Week 10 matchup with the Browns gives him undeniable streaming appeal.
Kaepernick had been a train wreck as a passer this season before lighting up the Saints for 398 yards and two TDs in Week 9. Those numbers should come with an asterisk, of course, since the New Orleans pass defense is so shoddy. Kap won’t put up those kinds of stats against the Cardinals this week, but his rushing ability gives him some low-level streaming appeal. It’s worth noting that this is the last unfavorable matchup Kaepernick will have for a while.
(Talent: C | Supporting cast: D | Schedule: B- | OVERALL: C)
It’s only a matter of time before the Rams bench Case Keenum for the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, Jared Goff. If it happens this week, Goff will make his NFL debut in a favorable matchup against the Jets, albeit in a hostile road environment. There are two ways to look at the delay in turning the reins over to Goff. The pessimist’s view is that Goff’s inability to quickly shoo away Keenum is a bad sign. The optimist’s view is that spending half a season watching and learning will have Goff better prepared for his first dose of NFL action. Either way, Goff won’t exactly be entering a bountiful offensive ecosystem.
(Talent: C+ | Supporting cast: D | Schedule: B+ | OVERALL: C)
Carson Wentz hasn’t put together a decent fantasy performance in a month but has some streaming appeal this week against the Falcons. Perhaps bye-week desperation will force you to hold your nose and pick up Brock Osweiler, who’s been mostly terrible this season but has a tolerable matchup against the Jaguars this week. With a good set of pass-catching weapons and the inevitability of playing from behind, the Browns’ Cody Kessler is a potential streaming option this week, even though his matchup against the Ravens isn’t ideal. Start Ryan Fitzpatrick at your own risk this week against the Rams, with your eyes open to the possibility that the Jets could bench him for continued ineffectiveness.
Dion Lewis, New England Patriots (37% owned)
Lewis has participated in several practices and might be ready to make his return this week against the Seahawks. He was an electrifying dynamo for the Patriots last season before tearing his ACL on Nov. 8 of last year. Thing is, LeGarrette Blount is enjoying a career season, and James White has performed well in a third-down/change-of-pace role. Although it’s difficult to predict how the Patriots will deploy their running backs, it stands to reason that they’ll manage Lewis’ workload carefully, and least in the first few weeks that he’s back. Lewis figures to be a popular waiver wire target this week, but I recommend caution here. It’s by no means a certainty that Lewis will play a large enough role in the coming weeks to warrant a spot in your starting lineup, let alone be a true difference maker.
Rob Kelley and Chris Thompson, Washington Redskins (28% and 33% owned)
With Matt Jones out of the lineup in Week 8 due to a knee issue, Kelley carried the ball 21 times for 87 yards and a TD in Washington’s 27–27 tie with Cincinnati on the other side of the Atlantic. Now, as Washington returns from its post-London bye, Jay Gruden is saying that Kelley is the lead back and that Matt Jones will have to earn his work. Kelley has averaged 5.0 yards per carry this season but has been a complete nonfactor in the passing game, with only one reception all year (granted, it was a one-yard TD catch in Week 7). Obviously, his new role gives him value, though he has a tough matchup with the Vikings this week, and the four-game suspension just handed down to stud left tackle Trent Williams could really hamstring the Washington offense. Thompson has 418 yards from scrimmage this season, with just over half of that yardage coming on his 27 receptions. Thompson’s value is modest yet stable—he’s the designated passing-down guy. Before you bid on either of these two (and particularly Kelley), realize that the remainder of Washington’s schedule is decidedly RB-unfriendly.
Before you assume that Ivory took command of the Jacksonville backfield with an 18-carry, 107-yard rushing day Sunday against the Chiefs, consider that he was out-snapped by T.J. Yeldon 43-34 and that he also fumbled away a goal-line carry late in the game to kill any possibility of a Jaguars comeback. (In fairness, the slo-mo replay suggested that Ivory may have crossed the goal line before the ball squirted out.) Ivory advocates will nonetheless be encouraged that he more than doubled Yeldon’s seven carries and broke off an impressive 42-yard run. Also encouraging was the fact that the Jacksonville offense was more run-heavy in its first game under Nathaniel Hackett, who took over as offensive coordinator after the team jettisoned Greg Olsen from that role on Oct. 29, Ivory has a nice matchup this week against a Houston run defense that’s giving up 4.4 yards per carry and 125.8 rushing yards per game, and has allowed 10 TD runs.
(Talent: B | Opportunity: B | Schedule: B+ | OVERALL: B)
Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise, Seattle Seahawks (38% and 17% owned)
We could see a “Game of Thrones”-style power struggle in the Seattle backfield over the next several weeks. Rawls might return from a broken fibula in Week 11 to challenge current starter Christine Michael, who, entering Monday night’s tilt with the Bills, hasn’t produced more than 64 rushing yards in a game since Week 3. Rawls was terrific for the Seahawks last season, but it’s hard to tell whether he’ll immediately get a crack at being the lead runner. Prosise, a rookie out of Notre Dame who had 23 rushing yards and 80 receiving yards in Week 8, could start to contribute as a pass catcher, though the Seahawks haven’t traditionally gotten their running backs heavily involved in the passing game. Rawls is worth a substantial investment, as he has a real chance to be a meaningful fantasy contributor down the stretch. Realize, however, that the late-season schedule isn’t very favorable for the Seattle RBs. Prosise is no more than a speculative play in large PPR leagues.
(Rawls: Talent: A- | Opportunity: B | Schedule: C- | OVERALL: B) (Rawls: Talent: B | Opportunity: D | Schedule: C- | OVERALL: C-)
Kenneth Dixon (12% owned)
John Harbaugh talked about getting Dixon more work once the Ravens emerged from their Week 8 bye, But Dixon played only 20 of Baltimore’s 70 offensive snaps in Sunday’s win over the Steelers. The Ravens’ running game hasn’t been working lately regardless of who lines up at tailback. Terrance West has carried 23 times for 31 yards in his last two games for an average of 1.3 yards per carry. Dixon has also averaged 1.3 yards per carry in his last two contests, gaining 13 yards on 10 rushing attempts. It’s still possible that Dixon could blow past West and take control of the Baltimore backfield, but the rookie from Louisiana Tech has given us little reason for optimism thus far.
(Talent: B- | Opportunity: C | Schedule: B | OVERALL: B-)
Paul Perkins, New York Giants (6% owned)
Perkins and Rashad Jennings both had 14 touches for the Giants in their Week 9 win over the Eagles, and Perkins edged out Jennings in yards from scrimmage, 47-39. Jennings still got a majority of the snaps, however, and there’s no real reason to get excited about having a stake in the Giants’ anemic running game. If you’re going to acquire the rookie from UCLA, make no more than a small speculative investment.
(Talent: C | Opportunity: C | Schedule: B | OVERALL: C+)
Harris will lose most of his fantasy value as soon as Carlos Hyde returns from a shoulder injury, which may well be this week. Still, Harris was impressive in rolling up 142 yards from scrimmage and a TD against the Saints on Sunday. Even when Hyde comes back, Harris may well settle into the complementary pass-catching role that we originally expected Shaun Draughn to play for the Niners this year.
(Talent: C | Opportunity: C | Schedule: C- | OVERALL: C)
Peyton Barber, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (18% owned)
If Doug Martin (hamstring) and Jacquizz Rodgers are both back this week, Barber’s fantasy value will be virtually nil. If only one of those two is back this week, Barber might have some low-level Week 10 value. If neither is back, Barber will be a popular opportunity play this week. Check the injury news out of Tampa this week and scale your expectations accordingly.
Bilal Powell is a capable run-catch threat, but the cold, hard truth is that he hasn’t gotten more than a half-dozen carries in any game this season and has scored only one touchdown. Ronnie Hillman has joined an increasingly perplexing Minnesota RB committee and looked better than either Matt Asiata or Jerrick McKinnon in Week 9, but the Vikings can’t run the ball consistently because of their poor offensive line. Terron Ward would be worth consideration in deep leagues this week if Tevin Coleman remains out with a hamstring injury. Dwayne Washington, who had 10 carries for 26 yards on Sunday, is Detroit’s designated between-the-tackles runner, but Theo Riddick now owns the Lions’ backfield. DeAngelo Williams is owned in 38% of Yahoo leagues and should probably be scooped up by Le’Veon Bell owners. Ditto for Ezekiel Elliott owners who have a chance to grab Alfred Morris. With LeSean McCoy expected to be fit to start in Monday night’s game against Seattle, and with the Bills going on bye in Week 10, Mike Gillislee now has handcuff value only. Derrick Henry is a logical handcuff for DeMarco Murray owners, but Henry reportedly pulled his calf in pregame warm-ups Sunday and might not be ready to play this week. Now that we’re fairly late in the fantasy season, Andre Ellington might be a worthwhile handcuff for David Johnson owners.
Coates took the collar against the Ravens on Sunday, and his catchless effort is bound to throw a lot of people off his trail. It was obvious that Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t quite himself after returning from a knee injury ahead of schedule. As Roethlisberger gets back in sync, we’ll see more deep balls to Coates, who’s already connected with Big Ben on several home-run balls this season. This is an excellent time to invest in the fleety young receiver.
Michael Floyd’s pass-catching ability has gone off the radar somewhere inside the Bermuda Triangle (in a contract year no less), and Nelson has usurped Floyd’s snaps as a result. With stopwatch-melting 4.28 speed, Nelson offers a fairly high weekly ceiling, though the overall decline of the Arizona passing game makes for an unstable floor. Nelson had a big 8-79-2 day against the Panthers in Week 8 and draws a favorable matchup against the 49ers this week.
Rishard Matthews and Kendall Wright, Tennessee Titans (29% and 16% owned)
Matthews caught a pair of TD passes against the Chargers on Sunday and has scored five touchdowns in his last five games. He hadn’t caught more than four passes in a game this season before recording a season-high six catches vs. San Diego. The Titans aren’t a source of prolific WR production, but Matthews has emerged as the most reliable of the Tennessee receivers. Wright has averaged 73.3 yards over his last four games, and while he’s been getting fewer snaps than rookie Tajae Sharpe, he’s been the more impactful receiver in recent weeks. Shedding his reputation as a low-YPC possession man, Wright is averaging a robust 16.6 yards per catch. The schedule sets up nicely for the Titans’ receivers in the weeks to come, with a depleted Green Bay secondary on the menu this week, followed by the Colts in Week 11 and the Bears in Week 12.
Shelved with a foot injury after only two games this season, Watkins could potentially return to practice when the Bills come back from their Week 10 bye, and he’s eligible to play as early as Week 12. It’s unclear whether he’ll be able to adhere to that rather sunny timetable, but Watkins is a supremely talented receiver who’s certainly stash-worthy. (The schedule grade below reflects the health uncertainty.)
(Talent: A | Opportunity: B | Schedule: D | OVERALL: B)
Cordarrelle Patterson (7% owned)
Patterson’s strange reincarnation as a PPR specialist continues. He caught six of eight targets for 45 yards in Sunday’s overtime loss to the Lions and has now caught 25 balls in his last five games. Patterson also gets the occasional handoff, and he’s capable of scoring from anywhere on the field.
With Travis Benjamin ailing, Dontrelle Inman could make an interesting play against Miami this week; he’s caught 10-128-0 over his last two games. Marqise Lee is on a 68-catch, 884-yard pace but has scored only one touchdown and plays in an unreliable Jacksonville offense. The Chiefs have endeavored to find ways to get the ball into Tyreek Hill’s hands, and the explosive rookie has lethal speed. Brandon LaFell has caught 28-378-4 for the Bengals, but his production is likely to fall off now that Bengals TE Tyler Eifert has returned to action. Chris Hogan has produced double-digit fantasy points (standard scoring) in three of New England’s first eight games, but he’s scored fewer than four fantasy points in half of his games and is averaging just 3.25 targets per contest. Brian Quick has averaged 62.3 yards per game over his last six outings and has three TD catches this year. The Buccaneers’ Adam Humphries could be a sneaky-good play this week against a weak Chicago secondary. This hasn’t been a productive season for Tyler Lockett, but the diminutive receiver has undeniable talent and could potentially come on as Russell Wilson starts to get healthier. Minnesota’s Adam Thielen has quietly averaged 71.8 yards over his last four games. Eli Rogers’ 6-103-0 performance on Sunday was heavy on garbage-time yardage, but he might have some low-level PPR value in the weeks to come. Cameron Meredith was a valuable fantasy asset a month ago, but his value began to fizzle when Josh McCown was knocked out for the year with a broken arm. Ted Ginn has had five catches in each of his last two games, but he hasn’t scored a touchdown this year and hasn’t been making big plays with the frequency to which we’ve become accustomed. Dorial Green-Beckham is going to pay dividends one of these days … maybe. (Nah.)
C.J. Fiedorowicz, Houston Texans (11% owned)
Maybe it’s the long, hard-to-spell surname, but Fiedorowicz’s ownership rate is far lower than it should be for a guy who’s been returning TE1 value for more than a month. Over his last five games, Fiedorowicz has 24 receptions for 272 yards and three TDs, with a catch rate of 70.6%. His matchup against the Jaguars this week isn’t ideal—Jacksonville has been tough on opposing tight ends this season—but Fiedorowicz then will enjoy some pretty nice matchups from week 11 through Week 14.
(Talent: C+ | Opportunity: B+ | Schedule: B | OVERALL: B)
Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons (13% owned)
A shoulder injury to Jacob Tamme has opened up an opportunity for Hooper, a third-round rookie for Stanford, who’s caught eight passes for 87 yards and a TD over the last two weeks. There’s a good case to be made that Hooper deserves to start even after Tamme comes back. NFL teams often defer to veterans, however, so it’s hard to tell how long the window of opportunity will remain ajar for Hooper. The schedule is stacked against the Falcons’ tight ends, with a difficult matchup against the Eagles this week, a bye in Week 11, then touch matchups against the Cardinals and Chiefs. Hooper is a nice prospect, but it seems unlikely that he’ll fully break out this season.
(Talent: C+ | Opportunity: C+ | Schedule: D | OVERALL: C)
Kendricks took advantage of a great matchup against the panthers in Week 9, catching seven passes for 90 yards, and gets another favorable matchup against the Jets this week. The biggest drawback here is the Rams’ QB situation, which wouldn’t necessarily improve if the team pulled the plug on case Keenum and inserted rookie Jared Goff.
(Talent: C | Opportunity: C- | Schedule: B | OVERALL: C+)
Window shopping:Dwayne Allen, who returned from an ankle injury on Sunday, will be on bye in Week 10 but returns to a favorable matchup against the Titans; unfortunately, he’ll have to share TE targets with Jack Doyle. A knee injury and the re-emergence of Antonio Gates have take some of the shine off Hunter Henry, but the Chargers rookie is undeniably talented and could resurface as a fantasy asset at some point. The Saints’ Josh Hill out-snapped Coby Fleener by a whopping 20-28 margin in Week 9, but Hill only ran routes on one-third of his snaps, according to Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus, and his modest four catches for 40 yards were season highs in both categories.