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The foundational idea of this column is to make waiver wire additions before they become the cover guy for every waiver wire column on the world wide web.
So it goes with Jeff Wilson, who headlines this and every other waiver breakdown headed into Week 2, following Elijah Mitchell’s Week 1 knee injury against Chicago that will keep him shelved for upwards of two months. I did everything short of stand on the roof of my house and holler from a megaphone to add Wilson as an insurance back for a massively run-heavy 49ers offense, just in case anything befell Mitchell (my wife wouldn’t tell me where we keep the megaphone).
If you’re like me and are always on the lookout for running backs who could stumble into weekly volume, hopefully you added Wilson last week. If you didn’t — if you decided to use your bench for other purposes — you’re now in a scrum with your league mates for Wilson’s services. Buckle your chinstrap. Don’t forget your mouthpiece. Prepare the smelling salts.
Identifying backfields that lend themselves to concentrated usage is a key to successfully working the waiver wire before the chaos of the NFL season takes hold and makes a certain running back the apple of every fantasy managers’ degenerate eye. Don’t wait until everyone in your league desires the same guy who suddenly has a path to 20 weekly touches. Get ahead of it. You won’t believe how superior it will make you feel.
Marcus Mariota (ATL)
Rostership: 9 percent
Fantasy football doesn’t have to be hard: No matter what you think of Mariota’s accuracy — or lack thereof — and his mind-dumbing decision making, his rushing makes him fantasy viable. Against the Saints in Week 1, Mariota scrambled on 11 percent of his drop backs and, more importantly, he accounted for 22 percent of Atlanta’s designed rushing attempts. The team’s increased pistol formation usage — which we saw quite a bit in the preseason — is custom made for Mariota to call his own number in the rushing attack.
Mariota posted a gaudy 12/72/1 rushing line against New Orleans. That’s 13.2 fantasy points on runs alone. Only nine quarterbacks had a higher adjusted expected points added (EPA) per play in Week 1.
Taking on the Rams in Week 2 is far from a favorable spot for Mariota, though he fared fine (for fantasy purposes) against a tough New Orleans defense. Remember: Matchup doesn’t matter nearly as much when we’re using a dual-threat QB. The Falcons, entering as 11-point dogs, might have no choice but to have Mariota drop back early and often against LA.
Mariota has a far better Week 3 matchup against Seattle.
Matt Ryan (IND)
Rostership: 43 percent
Ryan was helped out by runaway negative game script against the Houston Texans, of all teams, on his way to 352 yards, a touchdown, and a pick. Ryan was 24th in average depth of target and 22nd in completion rate over expected.
Try to ignore all that ugliness and pick up Ryan as a streaming candidate against a Jacksonville defense that made Carson Wentz look fantastic on opening day. Wentz was sixth in quarterback EPA per play against the Jaguars, and it resulted in a shockingly solid fantasy outing. Ryan is up next. The Colts head into Week 2 with an implied total of 25 points.
Ryan Tannehill (TEN)
Rostership: 18 percent
Quarterback is mostly a wasteland on the waiver wire this week. Tannehill has some Week 2 streaming appeal against Buffalo in what should be a game script that forces the Titans to the air, though that hasn’t typically been great for Tannehill’s production. He works best in neutral and positive script, when the defense can’t sit back and play the pass.
Tannehill showed out in Week 1 against the Giants. He had the week’s fourth highest combined completion rate over expected and expected points added (EPA) per play (this is a mouthful but it’s a good measurement of a QB’s overall performance). His 9.3 adjusted yards per attempt was worlds better than his 6.6 AY/A in 2021. It all resulted in 266 yards and two scores against a middling Giants secondary.
You’d have to be borderline desperate to play Tannehill this week in one-QB leagues, however. The Bills and their suffocating defense are at home, favored by 9.5 points. In 21 career games that saw Tannehill enter as an underdog of at least six points, he averaged 15.12 fantasy points on 1.1 touchdowns and one interception per game. He’s an OK superflex option for Week 2.
Other quarterbacks to roster
Jameis Winston (46 percent): After a 2021 season in which Winston was far more accurate than he was during his Bucs days, he posted Week 1’s fifth highest completion rate over expected against the Falcons. Winston’s eight yards per attempt ranked ninth on the week. He could be interesting in Week 2 against the Bucs, the league’s most extreme pass funnel defense.
Baker Mayfield (18 percent): The new Carolina quarterback was bad in his debut against the Brown. He was 24th in completion rate over expected, continuing his inaccurate ways. His Week 2 matchup is on the soft side though as the Panthers take on a leaky Jets secondary. You could do worse (barely) than Baker.
Jeff Wilson (SF)
Rostership: 16 percent
No other San Francisco running back besides Wilson saw a carry after Elijah Mitchell left Sunday’s game against the Bears with a knee injury. That the veteran of Kyle Shanahan‘s system didn’t do much with his nine rushes (22 yards, no touchdowns) shouldn’t deter fantasy managers from scooping up Wilson, especially if they’re needy at RB.
Rookie RB Tyrion Davis-Price, by the bye, was inactive for Week 1. Expect him to be up for Week 2 if Mitchell is out. There’s also Jordan Mason, the buzzy rookie, who could be involved if Wilson struggles or gets dinged up. Mason being active for Week 1 while Davis-Price was in street clothes is a decent indication that Mason is ahead of TDP in the team’s backfield pecking order.
Wilson ran ten pass routes (and saw one target) after Mitchell’s exit, leading all Niners backs. In a 49ers offense that ran the ball on 56.9 percent of its Week 1 plays, Wilson could get to 20 touches this week against the Seahawks. Wilson has averaged 82.56 rushing yards and 0.66 touchdowns in nine career games where he had a minimum of 15 carries. I like his chances of seeing solid volume even with Deebo Samuel once again working as a running back/wideout hybrid.
Rex Burkhead (HOU)
Rostership: 13 percent
I highlighted Burkhead (Goathead) in this space last week and was threatened with jail time. My right to free speech triumphed and I remain a free man.
Now Burkhead — in some ways the Texans’ franchise player — appears to be Houston’s lead back. The Dameon Pierce hype train derailed and exploded as if in a Michael Bay film in Week 1 against the Colts, with the rookie playing a meager 20 snaps, gaining 33 yards on 11 carries and catching his lone target for six yards. Burkhead logged 48 snaps, going for 40 yards on 14 carries and catching five of his eight targets for 30 yards. He ran a route on 70 percent of Davis Mills‘ drop backs against Indy. Pearce’s route rate: 13 percent.
Burkhead, for now, is a decent PPR floor option in 12-team leagues. Perhaps Pearce will take over Houston’s backfield later in the fall, but Burkhead’s Week 1 usage can’t — and shouldn’t — be ignored. Pearce isn’t startable in 12-team formats based on his snap share, his early-down split with Burkhead, and his almost total lack of pass-catching opportunities.
Rachaad White (TB)
Rostership: 38 percent
White finished the game as Tampa’s lead back in Week 1 against Dallas after Leonard Fournette gimped off with some sort of injury that doesn’t seem to be major in scope. I wouldn’t be surprised if Lombardi Lenny, who has missed games in each of the past two seasons with soft tissue injuries, is questionable for Week 2. In any case, White is by far and away the No. 2 back in Tampa’s offense.
Jamaal Williams (DET)
Rostership: 47 percent
This isn’t about his two short touchdowns in Week 1 against the Eagles as much as it is about Williams’ massive contingency value if D’Andre Swift were to miss games in 2022. Williams’ 11 Week 1 rushes were just four short of Swift’s 15. Williams would be Detroit’s RB1 if Swift were to get dinged up this season. We could see him cede pass-catching duties, but his goal line role would make him valuable as a plug-and-play fantasy starter.
Khalil Herbert (CHI)
Rostership: 41 percent
Herbert won’t be a plug-and-play fantasy option unless and until David Montgomery misses time. The second-year back’s Week 1 utilization against the Niners, however, should make every fantasy manager bullish on Herbert’s long-term prospects.
Montgomery was the established starter and lead runner for Chicago in Week 1. He played 38 snaps to Herbert’s 17 and had a yawning pass route advantage against the Niners (leading the Bears with four targets). Among Herbert’s nine rushing attempts for 45 yards were some critical touches late in the fourth quarter as the Bears tried to salt away the game. Herbert, as he was throughout 2021, was the superior runner: His 2.22 yards after contact per attempt dwarfed Montgomery’s rate of 1.41, per Pro Football Focus. Herbert notched five yards per carry; Montgomery averaged 1.2 yards per tote.
Herbert needs to be rostered in far more 12-team leagues in case he gets the starting gig in the coming weeks (or months). Probably he won’t be usable for managers unless Montgomery misses time.
More running backs to roster
Jaylen Warren (5 percent): Warren, by every indication, would be Pittsburgh’s top back if Najee Harris is sidelined with an ankle injury he picked up in Week 1 when he was bent in a way no human should be bent. Warren took every snap for the Steelers after Harris’ late-game ankle issue.
Eno Benjamin (8 percent): Benjamin will have zero fantasy relevance for as long as James Conner is upright. Benjamin’s contingency value is tremendous though, and he should be stashed by any fantasy manager looking to make the most of their bench. He was the only other Arizona back besides Conner to see the field in Week 1 against Kansas City, totalling seven (mostly late) touches, including three receptions on three targets (12 pass routes). Darrel Williams is apparently a nonentity in the Cards backfield. Get Eno in 12-team formats.
Isiah Pacheco (30 percent): The rookie subbed in for Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the fourth quarter and acquitted himself well against the lifeless Arizona defense. Pacheco led the Chiefs with 12 carries for 62 yards and a late goal line touchdown. He established himself as the team’s early-down back should CEH miss games in 2022. Jerick McKinnon‘s presence means Pacheco doesn’t have an avenue to a three-down role. Pacheco is a 12-team add.
Dontrell Hilliard (7 percent): Don’t be fooled by the two touchdown receptions for Hilliard against the Giants. He only managed five touches and ran a route on 20 percent of the Titans’ drop backs. Hilliard, who out-snapped Hassan Haskins against the Giants, profiles as Tennessee’s primary back should Derrick Henry struggle with injuries this season. I’d rather acquire the aforementioned backs in 12-team formats.
Raheem Mostert (55 percent): Mostert was a distant RB2 to Chase Edmonds in Week 1, but was one of two Miami backs who saw the field. He ran 14 routes while Edmonds ran 21 routes last week against the Patriots. Mostert would operate as an every-down runner should Edmonds get hurt.
Joshua Palmer (LAC)
Rostership: 21 percent
It’s all happening for Palmer truthers. While they wish no harm on Keenan Allen, who will likely miss Week 2 with a hamstring injury, the Palmer acolytes finally get their guy into two receiver sets in Justin Herbert‘s electric LA offense.
Palmer — mentioned in this space a week ago — ran the second most routes among Chargers receivers in the team’s Week 1 win over Vegas and reeled in all three of his targets for five yards. Forget all that. When Allen last season missed Week 14 against the Giants, Palmer nabbed five of seven targets for 66 yards and a touchdown, while leading LA in targets per route run and dominating weighted opportunity rating (WOPR), a measurement of a player’s share of air yards and targets. He’s a top-30 receiver if Allen indeed misses Thursday night’s game against KC.
Jahan Dotson (WAS)
Rostership: 24 percent
Dotson was always being underestimated as a locked-in part of the Commanders’ two-wideout sets. He was always going to run a lot of routes and see targets in a somewhat concentrated target tree. In Week 1 against the Jaguars, the rookie ran a route on 88.9 percent of Carson Wentz‘s drop backs. Two of his five targets were touchdowns — a nice result fantasy managers should look beyond to focus on Dotson’s utilization.
Dotson should be rostered in well over half of 12-team leagues. I don’t see much reason to chase him in 10-team formats unless your league has a bunch of flex spots to fill.
Donovan Peoples-Jones (CLE)
Rostership: 4 percent
Peoples-Jones looked for all the world like Cleveland’s top receiver in Week 1 against Carolina. Not only did he lead the team in pass routes; he was targeted on a stellar 31.4 percent of those routes. His six catches for 60 yards is not the whole story of DPJ’s opening day.
While Amari Cooper was used almost exclusively on the outside, the Browns had Peoples-Jones in the slot for 30 percent of his routes against the Panthers. His 8.5 average depth of target probably makes him more viable than Cooper in an offense headed by Jacoby Brissett. Peoples-Jones, a former five-star recruit who caught 14 touchdowns in his final two collegiate seasons, is an intriguing waiver add in deeper 12-team leagues and 14-team formats. That is, at least, until Jameson Williams (ACL) is able to suit up. That could be as late as November.
D.J. Chark (JAC)
Rostership: 40 percent
I know, I know. Not in your league. Chark was taken before Amon-Ra St. Brown in your league. I get it.
If he’s somehow available on the wire, Chark is worth a look. Along with St. Brown, Chark ran a route on 92.3 percent of Jared Goff‘s drop backs in the team’s Week 1 loss to the Eagles. Chark was second, trailing ARSB, with a 21.62 percent target share. And three of Chark’s eight looks were of more than 20 yards downfield — the third highest mark in the NFL last week.
It’s encouraging usage for the former Jaguars great. Operating as Detroit’s lone deep threat should give Chark plenty of chances to make big plays with high-value targets from Goff.
Robbie Anderson (CAR)
Rostership: 11 percent
Anderson in Week 1 garnered an impressive 29.6 percent target share from the quarterback he did not see, enthused about playing with this season. The downfield threat scored on a 75-yard touchdown in an otherwise moribund Panthers offense.
The downside here is that Anderson would probably have to command a 25-30 percent target share every week if he were to truly emerge as a WR2/3 option in 12-team leagues. His 12.7 yards per target in Week 1 against the Browns is a welcomed departure from his crushingly low 4.7 yards per target in 2021. He should be a frustrating fantasy producer in a Panthers offense that wants to be as run heavy as humanly possible.
Other receivers to roster
Garrett Wilson (21 percent): The tenth overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft was indeed part of the Jets’ three-receiver sets in Week 1 against Baltimore. His route participation rate of 56.45 percent leaves a little to be desired. It was his targets per route run rate of 23.5 percent that caught my attention. The hope, if you pick him up this week, is that Wilson eventually usurps Corey Davis as the team’s No. 2 wideout.
Kyle Phillips (1 percent): The little slot receiver has that dawg in him, per the analytics. Phillips could profile as what Patrick Daughtery would call a PPR scam after his pro debut, in which Phillips was targeted on an eye-popping 42.8 percent of his 21 routes. Ryan Tannehill trusted the rookie in crunch time too. You could do far worse in deep PPR leagues.
Greg Dortch (0 percent): Taking Ronalde Moore’s spot in the slot in Week 1, Dortch ran as the Cardinals’ No. 1 receiver against the Chiefs. He tied Marquise Brown for the team lead in pass routes and led Arizona with a 27.4 percent target share. Moore’s return from a hamstring injury will end Dortch’s fantasy relevance. Until then, I think he should be taken seriously as a major part of a terrible Cardinals offense.
Corey Davis (6 percent): For now, Davis is the Jets’ WR2 behind Elijah Moore. He ran a route on nearly 70 percent of Joe Flacco‘s Week 1 drop backs and had a team-high nine targets against the Ravens. Sideways game script generated a mind boggling amount of throws for Flacco (59), skewing numbers for every New York pass catcher. I’d rather add Wilson than Davis.
Ben Skowronek (1 percent): Skowronek appears to be the No. 3 receiver in the Rams offense for however long Van Jefferson is sidelined. On Thursday night against Buffalo, Skowronek had an 88 percent route participation rate on his way to four catches for 24 yards on six targets. But maybe no Rams receiver matters besides target eater of worlds Cooper Kupp.
Taysom Hill (NO)
Rostership: 12 percent
We are all Taysompilled now.
The Sean Payton era has ended, yet the Taysom Hill era persists in New Orleans. Curious. Hill in Week 1 against Atlanta gained 81 yards and scored a touchdown on four rushes. The so-called tight end accounted for 57 percent of the Saints’ rushing production. Alvin Kamara drafters can’t stop dry heaving.
Hill played just 16 snaps and ran a mere four routes against the Falcons. If he really is the primary green zone rushing threat for New Orleans, Hill needs to be rostered in every league. Such a role would instantly give him a better shot at weekly touchdowns than any other tight end you could grab off the waiver wire.
Hill’s Week 1 usage could have been the result of Alvin Kamar struggling through a rib injury that, per reports, is not serious. Perhaps a healthy Kamara could change the calculus for how the Saints deploy their Swiss army knife TE/RB/QB.
Gerald Everett (LAC)
Rostership: 27 percent
It wasn’t exactly a glorious Chargers debut for Everett. He tied for the team lead with a meager four targets against the Raiders, and thankfully for those who faded the tight end position in redraft leagues, he snagged a touchdown.
Everett’s route participation (67.8 percent) wasn’t exactly hateful. Tre McKitty ate into Everett’s route involvement, however. He should be a fine streaming option in 12-team leagues against Kansas City in Week 2 if the game shoots out the way we all want it to.
Hayden Hurst (CIN)
Rostership: 10 percent
Hurst could get by on volume alone in Cincinnati. In Week 1, he ran a route on 78.6 percent of Joe Burrow‘s drop backs, with 30 percent of his routes coming from the slot.
That resulted in a humble five receptions on seven targets for 46 yards. As far as streaming tight ends go, we’ll take it. An extended Tee Higgins absence could open up looks for Hurst.
Other tight ends to add
Tyler Higbee (55 percent): Higbee is again doing that thing where he’s running a pass route on nearly every Rams drop back and barely doing anything for fantasy purposes. Nevertheless, he’s out there running around in a good offense. Maybe Higbee could accidentally fall into the end zone one day.
Kylen Granson (0 percent): Frank Reich remains determined to drive us insane with his tight end usage. It wasn’t Mo Alie-Cox, but second-year TE Kylen Granson, who operated as the Colts’ primary pass-catching tight end in Week 1 and saw a target on 20.6 percent of his routes. Only add Granson if you’re desperate.
Juwan Johnson (0 percent): The big third-year tight end, who accounted for four touchdowns on 13 receptions in 2021, was very much involved in the Saints offense in Week 1, running a route on 80 percent of the team’s drop backs. He turned five targets into two catches for 43 yards.
Rodrigo Blankenship (IND)
Rostership: 24 percent
Yes, it’s tough to roster a kicker who just last week missed a back-breaking field goal. Another critical miss or two and Goatenship could be seeking employment elsewhere. Until then, he fits the kicker process; that’s all that matters.
Blankenship had three field goal tries despite the Colts being mired in negative game script for much of their Week 1 game against the Texans. They’re now four-point road favorites against a Jacksonville defense that last week allowed the eighth highest EPA per play to Carson Wentz and the Commanders. Blankenship should be in for another multi-attempt outing in Week 2.
Cade York (CLE)
Rostership: 4 percent
The kicking prodigy out of LSU had a dream-scenario debut in Week 1, drilling a long, drawing field goal for the win over Carolina. Browns coaches have been smitten with York since the start of rookie camp. We can now see why.
The Browns are six-point home favorites against the woeful Jets this week. First and foremost, we want our kickers to benefit from neutral and positive game script. There’s little chance the Jets will force the Browns into a script that requires Kevin Stefanski to forgo second half field goal tries. York probably isn’t an every-week starter but he should be fine for Week 2.
Other kickers to roster
Brandon McManus (48 percent): I didn’t highlight McManus above because he’s rostered in nearly half of leagues. He should be a priority add over the above kickers though. He racked up four attempts in Week 1 against Seattle and Denver enters Week 2 against the Texans as 9.5-point favorites. There should be plenty of positive game script with which to operate.
Greg Joseph (54 percent): Another highly-rostered kicker who should be a priority over York and Blankenship, Joseph has every chance to be an every-week fantasy starter thanks to the Vikings potent offense. He made all three of his field goal attempts in Week 1 against Green Bay. The Vikings are now at home, favored by 1.5 points over the Eagles.
For the week’s best waiver wire defenses, check out Gary Davenport’s Getting Defensive column.