Fantasy Football: Rookies dominate your Week 4 waiver crop, starting with the Ravens’ Lorenzo Taliaferro

Lorenzo Taliaferro

On Sunday, the impressive 2014 draft class saw breakouts from a number of its talented rookies (namely the Ravens’ Lorenzo Taliaferro), and your waiver wire will reflect that this week.  Two first-round QBs took their team’s reins, probably for good.  Several rookie WRs played big roles and produced well.  And one RB took a big step in proving he’s the most talented option on his depth chart, while another established himself as the true handcuff to an injury-riddled superstar.

Without further ado, your definitive guide to working the wire for Week 4:

RB Lorenzo Taliaferro, Baltimore

With Bernard Pierce out, fourth-round rookie Taliaferro posted a very impressive debut as the the Ravens’ mail-carrier on Sunday, turning 18 rushes into 91 yards and a goal-line TD.  As I’ve already told you, Justin Forsett is nothing more than a change-of-pace back utilized on outside runs and swing passes.  That will leave the primary job to be decided between Pierce and Taliaferro, who managed a 6.3 YPC and 29 total TDs as a Coastal Carolina senior.  ESPN Ravens writer Jamison Hensley assumes Pierce will take back the job once healthy, but I don’t think it’s cut-and-dried at all; Pierce is averaging a pitiful 3.1 YPC in 18 games since 2013 and was benched just two weeks ago.

And the team is certainly intrigued by Taliaferro, feeding him a league-high 65 carries this preseason, 22 more than anyone else in football.  John Harbaugh is a sharp coach who values the run, and I’m sure he’s realizing now that Taliaferro gives the Ravens their best chance at an effective ground game.  The rookie has some flex value going forward, with a solid RB2 expectation should he banish Pierce to a bench role.  Target Taliaferro for a solid 25-30% of your FAAB cap, and don’t be afraid to cut loose a Justin Forsett type to add him.

WR Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia

It’s no secret that I’m not a big fan of Matthews.  For all of his college production and the masses of draftniks who swoon wildly over the guy, I don’t love his chances at a huge NFL career.  (And I certainly don’t buy his domination of the SEC as a predictor of his NFL success: of the conference’s top-ten reception leaders, the best NFL career to date belongs to Earl Bennett by a mile.)  There are definite positives to his game, but to me, he simply lacks the speed and physicality to be a difficult NFL matchup.  Much of his college success came on manufactured touches, specifically screens that college defenses struggled to contain.  Matthews doesn’t look like the dynamic, elusive athlete needed to create big screen production in the NFL, and he’s certainly no deep threat, so it’s hard to see a mismatch for Chip Kelly to exploit.

But Matthews is fairly talented, with good size and even better hands, and he was drafted into an ideal situation.  The Eagles’ is a high-tempo offense that runs lots of plays (71.7 per game, third-most in the league) and lacks a true possession receiver.  In this role, Matthews could shine; I see a lot of James Jones in his game, and the Eagles are a screen-loving team.  Matthews’ Week 3 breakout wasn’t as impressive as the fantasy line suggests – a 7.4 YPR is pretty fullback-esque – but it certainly showed he has a major role in the Philly passing game.  Your fantasy box score doesn’t care how impressive Matthews’ catches were, only that they were plentiful, and Matthews has a realistic shot at notching 60-70 of them as a rookie with weekly TD potential.  The problem, as Patrick Mayo points out, is that Matthews’ 8-59-2 represents his absolute upside; if you pick him up now, you’re paying full price for the guy.  He’s a high-priority pickup, but temper your expectations and hold tight at around 20-22% of your budget.

RB Alfred Blue, Houston

I told you last week to snap up Blue if you had room at the bottom of your roster as the emerging handcuff to the brittle Arian Foster.  Like clockwork, Foster suffered a hamstring setback and missed Sunday’s game, and as I had expected, most of his workload fell to Blue.  While his line (88 scrimmage yards, one reception) likely didn’t swing any matchups, it was serviceable and very encouraging for savvy owners who heeded my advice.  Blue out-touched the combination of Jonathan Grimes and Ronnie Brown 14-6, showing definitively whom the Texans view as insurance for their franchise runner.  Blue isn’t the most gifted back, but he averaged 6.0 YPC and would have made an easy run at 20+ touches had Houston not fallen behind big.  Foster is a weekly question mark, and the Texans’ run-oriented offense will afford Blue easy RB2 volume anytime he gets the call.  If Blue remains unowned in your league, you need to place a real bid on him, something in the 20% vicinity.  He’ll pay great bye-week dividends to owners who monitor the injury reports.

WR Allen Robinson, Jacksonville

Like Matthews, Robinson is a speed-deficient rookie I don’t love as an NFL prospect.  But he’s a tall, experienced wideout with good leaping ability, and it appears his time has come.  His competition for targets among Jaguar receivers is very shaky: Cecil Shorts is an inconsistent injury case, Marqise Lee is the same, and Allen Hurns is a project.  And Robinson has shown very well lately, drawing a team-high 16 targets over the last two weeks and posting lines of 4-75 and 7-79.  Just as importantly, he’s earned the attention of new starter Blake Bortles, who targeted Robinson seven times in two quarters of play on Sunday.  He’s not much of a downfield threat, but Robinson has a golden opportunity to become the borderline top target for an exciting rookie QB rebuilding a passing game from scratch.  And the Jags will be throwing the ball plenty this year, with a lot of huge deficits likely in their future.  Frankly, I think his fantasy outlook is similar to that of Matthews, so take the plunge and bid confidently on the guy, around 15-18% of your cap.

WR Davante Adams, Green Bay

I wrote up Adams last week, so I won’t bore you with more heavy man-love.  I just want to point out that Jarrett Boykin has another nightmarish week, dropping two balls and catching just one.  Adams saw 35 snaps to Boykin’s 36, even playing ahead of Boykin at times, so please, please go pick the guy up.  Spend 15-18% of your cap if you have to; Adams will flirt with WR4 production off the bat and vault into the WR2 discussion should Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb go down.

WR John Brown, Arizona

Brown looks like a special weapon.  He’s pint-sized for sure at 5’11 179, but runs like the wind and has a nose for the end zone, with three scores among his nine catches thus far.  He’s drawn numerous T.Y. Hilton comparisons and is being coached by Bruce Arians, who (a) loves the deep ball and (b) coached Hilton as a rookie, utilizing him much more heavily than anyone had anticipated.  Holding back his fantasy outlook is volume: he’s drawn just 15 targets in a scheme that funnels the ball heavily to its top two wideouts, Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald.  Brown has value, but it’s of the inconsistent, upside-based kind, so expect a healthy mix of 5-70-1 and 2-10 lines.  In other words, he’s unlikely to be very startable in 12-team leagues, though he’ll be an intriguing dice roll when bye weeks gut your roster a week at a time.  Brown is probably worth a bid of around 10-12%.

TE Owen Daniels, Baltimore

With Dennis Pitta almost certainly done for the year – he reportedly remains hospitalized in Cleveland with a dislocated hip, the same injury that sidelined him for most of 2013 – Daniels is the next (and only notable) man up.  His years of borderline TE1 production with coordinator Gary Kubiak seems to point toward a major role in Pitta’s absence, and I don’t doubt that there will be some big games coming, but I’m not spending big on Daniels.  And I owned Pitta in about half my leagues.  The Ravens have thus far thrown the ball less than they have in years, and have used their TEs strictly for underneath purposes (Pitta and Daniels have a combined 7.5 YPR at this point).  Also, let’s not forget what an injury magnet Daniels is himself; he’s missed 26 of 80 games since 2009 and struggled this offseason to recover from a broken leg.  As I said, I’m sure Daniels will sprinkle some TE1 performances throughout the season, but he’s a TD-dependent TE2 you’ll rarely want to start.  With so much dynamic talent at the TE position, he’s unlikely to return much on an investment beyond about 10-12% of your cap.

QB Blake Bortles, Jacksonville

Chad Henne’s quarterbacking has been almost unimaginably bad, as NumberFire’s Leo Howell pointed out this week.  Despite the Jaguars’ offseason claims that Bortles will not be considered as a starter for quite some time… the time came Sunday, when Henne’s atrocious first half landed him on the bench, and head coach Gus Bradley announced post-game that Bortles is the team’s starter for the rest of the season.  There’s a lot to like about Bortles: he’s huge, athletic, and strong-armed, and he has the tenacity and improvisational skills of a young, raw Ben Roethlisberger.  There are warts, too, of course, as Bortles shows inconsistency in his footwork and ball placement; there will be some rough, rough starts for the youngster on this God-awful team.

But the Jags’ ineptitude will work in his favor from a fantasy standpoint.  The Jags have been outscored 119-27 since halftime of Week 1; they’ve been in catchup mode for most of their action and similar struggles are on the horizon, so big deficits are likely here to stay.  That will mean lots and lots and lots of attempts for the talented Bortles.  The volume alone makes him an intriguing QB2 and streamer option, but you’ll want to wait until he proves for a game or two that he’s not in terrifyingly over his head.  At this moment, the proper bid is around 10% of your budget, though the ideal situation is to wait a week and gauge his first NFL start.

QB Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota

I run very hot-and-cold on Bridgewater, who will likely quarterback the Vikings for the remainder of the season.  On the plus side, he’s a very NFL-ready a QB prospect above the shoulders, with pro-style experience and a great feel for the game.  On the minus, he’s a very slightly-built QB with a very questionable arm.  He’ll likely manage the offense in a short-game capacity as a rookie – only 12 of his completions on Sunday traveled more than 10 yards downfield, according to CBS Sports – so the deep element missing under Matt Cassel won’t suddenly appear under Teddy.  But his running ability (27 yards on six rushes) makes him an intriguing QB2 play, though I wouldn’t suggest streaming him until he proves himself with two to three solid games.  If you’re looking for a QB2 upgrade on someone like Eli Manning, or if you had been rolling with Cassel or Chad Henne (yeesh), you could do a lot worse than Bridgewater, but don’t expect a rookie explosion.  Bid around 8-10% of your budget here if you need QB depth.

WR Eddie Royal, San Diego

Eddie Royal Eddie Royal’d on Sunday, poaching two short TD grabs from his more talented teammates but doing little else.  He sees plenty of targets (22 through three weeks), but catches a startlingly low percentage of them for a slotman and doesn’t generate yardage (a 12-131 line thus far).  For whatever reason, Philip Rivers trusts Royal on screens and underneath routes, allowing him to post 10 TDs over his last 18 games, but don’t take the bait and submit a claim or bid.  He’s merely a desperation play and doesn’t belong on a 12-team roster unless byes slaughter your depth for a week; you can do much, much better in your WR4/5 spots.

RB Joe McKnight, Kansas City

Against all odds, I went up against McKnight in a FanDuel H2H matchup.  (It was clearly a joke/mistaken entry; the guy also started Will Ta’ufo’ou and Marcus Easley.)  The Jamaal Charles-less Chiefs turned to the underachieving ex-Jet, who hadn’t played since December 2012, to handle passing down duties, and were rewarded with 67 scrimmage yards and two receiving scores.  Do not chase this.  Even if Charles misses further time, McKnight is a weak waiver option; with 17 career receptions entering Sunday, he certainly doesn’t profile as a passing game specialist.  Sunday should go down as a career-best performance for McKnight, who is best suited to kick returns and will remain there once Charles is healthy.  I won’t even place a bid or drop an end-of-bencher for the guy.

PANIC ON THE STREETS OF LONDON

RB Bobby Rainey, Tampa Bay

My readers know I’m not sold on Doug Martin as a full-time back.  I maintain that Rainey is the Buccaneers’ most dynamic back, and that savvy fantasy owners won’t overreact to his two-fumble performance in Atlanta.  Rainey has earned at least a timeshare with Martin, who has averaged just 3.6 YPC over his last 13 games and is maladroit as a receiver.  And there’s solid potential for Rainey to take the majority of work going forward; he’s simply a more elusive runner with much better playmaking ability.  Don’t jump ship on Rainey, who’s already been cut from 2,492 Yahoo leagues, until you absolutely have to.

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