In hindsight, the turning point of our fantasy season is often a waiver wire move we made - or didn’t make. The first few weeks of waiver wire moves are the most important because they are most likely to land you a player that was being found out after collective neglect by the fantasy community, and you’ll get to enjoy the benefits of that player for a vast majority of the season. Obviously having good instincts about the factors that created a hot start and their likelihood of persistence is a big part of winning the waiver wire war, but having more bullets to fire can also enhance your chances. If you prioritize players who will have early reveals on where they fall in their range of outcomes in your last few bench players, you’ll give yourself a win-win situation where you either hit on a late pick or have a bullet to fire at the early season waiver wire shooting gallery.
Sam Bradford, PHI - Bradford appears to be the anointed one in early camp practices, with Mark Sanchez in the background. We all know the Chip Kelly offense has turned three meh quarterbacks (including Sanchez) into low-end QB1s, and for a while it turned Nick Foles into Peyton Manning. Bradford opens at Atlanta. If he doesn’t look good against them, Dallas at home is a make or break game with the Jets on the road up next. Bradford and Carson Palmer are terrific lead-off hitters in a streaming approach. He might not be available in your league's late rounds with his current ADP momentum, but this a reminder just in case he is overlooked.
Jameis Winston, TB, Marcus Mariota, TEN - The chances of either one of these rookies hitting as a true fantasy QB1 are slim, but recent years have shown us that they are not zero. The Titans can make Mariota viable if they leverage his running ability in the offense and unleash his Konami Code (cheers Rich Hribar) potential. Winston has tri-towers in the passing game and he hasn’t seen a throw he doesn’t like. Did I mention these bottom dwellers open against each other? If your league tends to hoard backup quarterbacks and leave only a few non-horrible starters on the wire, one of these rookies is worth a look late.
Tyrod Taylor, BUF - There's that Konami Code again! Taylor is exciting for fantasy because he is cheap and the Bills could commit to a read option offense fully for lack of fear of losing him. With a defense/running game-based team around him, Taylor might become a low QB1/high QB2 simply virtue of game scripts allowing him to stay in his comfort zone and benefit from the run after catch ability of his receivers.
DeAngelo Williams, PIT - This one is pretty simple. Williams will get two starts in one of the best offenses in the league. He still has game and retains high ceiling handcuff value even when Le’Veon Bell is back in Week 3. If Williams shows out well in Weeks 1 and 2, he’s at least trade bait for the Bell owner. Josh Harris is getting good reviews in camp and Dri Archer could play Bell's passing game role, so they are darkhorses to matter here and make Williams droppable after Week 1.
Darren McFadden/Christine Michael, DAL
Lance Dunbar, DAL - ...which brings us to Dunbar, a Cowboys back who already has his foot in the door via a role in the passing game. Marcus Mosher of Cover32.com broke down how Dunbar fits in the Cowboys running game blocking scheme and his similiarity to Justin Forsett from a frame/ability standpoint . This is closest thing there is to a pick you should put in pen on your late round list. Dunbar has shown burst and juice in his cuts in the past and he could pop off of the screen more than Randle in Week 1 and not look back - if he can stay healthy and avoid fumbles. Week 1 could also be a major downer as Dunbar falls prey to one or both of his bugaboos. Either way, Dunbar typifies the win-win proposition you want to create with late picks.
Alfred Blue/Chris Polk, HOU - The news on Arian Foster is getting more optimistic with each report. He might even be ready to play Week 1, but the Texans should err on the side of caution. Not to mention Foster isn’t going to play until his body tells him it is ready. Blue or Polk (or an free agent to be named later) could get a start or three early, and be poised to benefit if Foster just breaks down this year (which would shock no one). I prefer Polk because he has the clearest three-down skillset and talent as a runner, but Blue could have temporary value and trade value to the Foster owner as the incumbent backup. The Texans are breaking into two new offensive linemen, but their defense should allow them to have plenty of run-friendly game scripts.
Khiry Robinson, NO - Even if CJ Spiller is ready to go Week 1, Robinson should play a larger role as Spiller is coming back from minor knee surgery. If Spiller gets dinged or heals slowly, or Mark Ingram suffers an early season injury like he did last year, Robinson will be a jackpot handcuff. We know he's good and he's in an offense that loves to feed running backs in the red zone.
Fred Jackson, Karlos Williams BUF - LeSean McCoy is hurt and I don't see any reason to believe that he'll become a courageous inside runner after abandoning that approach in Philadelphia last year. The timeless one is over his hamstring injury, and Jackson is much better suited for running behind a suspect offensive line. This will be the year he fully declines, right? Don't bet against Jackson, but if you feel so inclined, hope for good news on Williams' mystery surgery. The team likes him and he could be the most valuable back in this backfield in short order
Zach Zenner, DET - Joique Bell hasn't practiced yet and Zenner is pushing George Winn for a roster spot. If Zenner can get on the field, he might show out better than Bell and force the Lions' hand. If Bell ends up being a loss for the season at some point, Zenner could and should matter in fantasy leagues. Both as a short and long play, Zenner is underrated in redraft leagues.
Donte Moncrief/Phillip Dorsett/Duron Carter, IND - There’s a larger end game theory at play here of collecting the ceiling of talented but lesser targets in great pass offenses, but the Week 1 matchup at Buffalo and Leodis McKelvin injury should also encourage the Colts to attack the nickel/dime back and spread out the stout Bills defense. Moncrief is the leader, but Dorsett and Carter (monitor his groin injury) have also garnered praise in camp. There’s a short term/long term angle here. Short term, Dorsett or Carter could surprise and be a waiver wire sensation in Week 1, or be on the fringe with Moncrief getting the bigger share of WR3 snaps/targets, making it easier to release them for a waiver wire pickup early. Long term, you always want the speculative value of players like this trio who can blow up if injuries increase their role if you don’t have clearly better alternatives on the waiver wire.
Markus Wheaton, PIT - Wheaton was promising coming out of Oregon State, but he wasn’t on the same page as Ben Roethlisberger last year and Martavis Bryant eclipsed him in the offense at times. Wheaton is still being billed as the #2 receiver in this burgeoning juggernaut of an offense, and getting a lot of buzz for his offseason progress, but some of those could be confidence-boosting on the part of his team. Still a shot at the #2 wide receiver in what should be a top five offense is an easy call in the last 4-5 rounds of your draft. If he misfires like last year in the opener against the Patriots, then he’s easy to release with impunity.
Greg Jennings, MIA - Veteran wide receivers aren’t the most exciting late-round picks, but with Jennings’ prowess as a route runner and early reports of good chemistry with Ryan Tannehill, who excels in the short and intermediate passing game, Jennings could have a big Week 1 against a currently banged up Washington secondary. DeVante Parker could be brought along slowly and give Jennings a starter’s role for that game. Kenny Stills is also a great talent in a combustible Week 1 situation if he slips too far in your draft.
Steve Johnson/Malcom Floyd, SD - Keeping with the boring vets theme, the Chargers will be without one (Antonio Gates) for the first four weeks, which dictates larger roles and bigger red zone opportunities for the other targets. Johnson in particular is riffing with Rivers, and he could be more prominent than Floyd, who is likely in his last year in the league, according to the player himself. Floyd caught Philip Rivers’ first NFL touchdown pass, but he’s not done catching them yet.
Eddie Royal, CHI - Rounding out of the boring vets to target, Royal has PPR appeal being reunited with Jay Cutler, who fed him to the tune of his best season as a pro - as a rookie! #7 overall pick Kevin White still hasn’t practiced and while his talent could overwhelm once he gets on the field, Royal and Cutler are getting back to their old ways in the meantime. What could be a high-scoring opener with lots of catch-up ball vs the Packers should fuel Royal to a solid Week 1.
Danny Amendola, NE - Amendola is actually the healthiest wide receiver on the Patriots roster, no joke. He has been playing a ton in two and three wide sets while Julian Edelman has been nursing a foot/ankle injury and Brandon LaFell has been on the missing persons list. Amendola has a lot more to offer than recent signing Reggie Wayne and should be valued over him for redraft leagues.
Allen Hurns, JAX - Hurns was the surprise big hit of Week 1 that we didn’t see coming. Now with Marqise Lee still banged up and Hurns consistently running with the ones, it is easier to envision a good first week against the Panthers. That game could be a 13-9 offensive stalemate type of contest, but if Hurns does look improved, potential track meets against the Patriots, Colts, and Bucs are coming up in Weeks 3-5.
Ladarius Green, SD - Old man Gates has swung open with a four-game suspension, and Green can walk, nay, run through the opening and not look back. Green has already converted splash plays and looked ready for more in the past, but future Hall of Famers are hard to overcome on the depth chart. Green could cause the Chargers to re-evaluate their plans of his usage after Gates returns and otherwise increase his fantasy relevance right away. Or the Chargers could continue to marginalize him, allowing us to move on quickly. Win-win.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TB - Seferian-Jenkins shouldn’t be falling to the 13th/14th round of drafts because of his upside combined with Jameis Winston and his dynamic duo of wideouts, but that’s not stopping it from happening. While his durability issues could rob him of games and production again this year, Week 1 promises a great opener against a Titans defense in transition, and the Saints aren’t too shabby of a matchup in Week 2.