Injuries again shook the fantasy landscape in Week 5, with several starting RBs facing murky situations going forward – and some talented backups, like Andre Williams, looking at golden opportunities. So whom can you trust as you work your league’s waiver wire?
RB Andre Williams, N.Y. Giants
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A little personal backstory on Williams: I drafted him in nearly every league. Drafted him kinda high, too. In my home league, I even passed on a major object of my man-love, Zach Ertz, to snag him in the ninth round. I was convinced that the combination of Rashad Jennings’ underwhelming history and Williams’ sheer run-you-overness would likely thrust him into a solid role from the start, and a major role once Jennings got hurt or ineffective. Sadly, due to roster constraints, I’ve bailed on Williams almost everywhere, and the chickens may be coming home to roost: Jennings sustained an MCL sprain Sunday and Williams took the every-down in his place. I’ll be looking to re-add Williams this week, but I’m not knocking over old ladies to the gate. First, I’m keeping in mind that it was the Falcons that Williams racked up 83 scrimmage yards against, and it’s scary that he managed just 3.3 YPC on a defense that has been gashed by several mediocre RBs elsewhere. Secondly, I’m noting that Williams is a notoriously poor receiver – he registered all of 10 catches in four years of college, with ZERO in his 355-carry senior year, and hasn’t looked good in the Giants’ passing game. Not catching passes doesn’t kill a RB in fantasy football, but it can certainly knock a high-volume guy who should be a RB1 into RB2 territory and limit the upside of a guy like Williams. If Jennings is out awhile (he’s currently without a timetable), I suspect the Giants will give notable reps to Peyton Hillis, especially on passing downs. As a result, I’m making a RB2 bid for Williams – somewhere around 25-27% of my cap space – but I’m not going to weep if I don’t get him. Though I’d happily part ways with someone like Terrance West for him.
RB Ronnie Hillman, Denver
Ugh, what a lost-looking season for Montee Ball. He looked like one of the safer, if lower-end, RB1 options going into the season. But his lack of running room and general athleticism made him a candidate for reduced playing time even before his potentially serious groin injury. As a result, we’re likely looking at some type of committee involving Hillman and #3 types C.J. Anderson and Juwan Thompson. On Sunday, Hillman was the clear leader, out-touching Thompson 15-3 after Ball left the game (Anderson was inactive). Hillman has had major issues staying on the field throughout his young career, mainly due to fumbling and consistency issues, but he’s by far the team’s most talented back for the near future. And we all know the impact Peyton Manning can have on an average RB’s fantasy value – Dominic Rhodes, Joseph Addai, Knowshon Moreno, and The Ghost of Willis McGahee can attest to that. Confidently bid around 18-20% of your budget on Hillman, an aggressive bid for an inconsistent back with RB2 potential in the short term.
RB Branden Oliver, San Diego
I blurbed on Oliver last week, but my opinion is shifting just a bit. I’ll be putting in a claim, of course, but I’m not going nuts. I’m not entirely blinded by his Week 5 showing, in which he stepped in for an injured Donald Brown and racked up 182 yards and two scores from scrimmage. This was a monstrous line, but let’s slow down just a bit. First and foremost, the Charger run game is a mess, and their RBs have been putrid all season. Take away Oliver’s 52-yard third-quarter scamper, and he averaged 3.2 YPC, which is right in line with the team’s pathetic rushing performance for the rest of the season. Which looks like a safer sample size: that one run, or the other 137 by Charger RBs thus far? Furthermore, it’s troubling that after Brown’s injury, Oliver split time pretty evenly with plodding special teamer Shaun Draughn. In fact, after Oliver’s long run, Draughn handled 10 carries to Oliver’s six. Don’t get me wrong: Oliver is a quality pickup on an increasingly RB-starved fantasy landscape. But with Ryan Mathews due back within two weeks, and the Chargers’ apparent desire to run a committee at RB regardless of personnel, I’m holding tight at a 17-20% FAAB bid.
RB George Winn, Detroit
Yeah, I don’t know either. I pride myself on some fairly in-depth scouting of the bottoms of NFL depth charts, but I never saw a thing in Winn that suggested he would be the Lions’ contingency plan. And yet he’s clearly in the driver seat for inside running duties while Joique Bell (concussion) is sidelined. Winn was involved throughout Sunday’s loss to the Bills, even before Reggie Bush left with an ankle injury, seeing complementary carries and even a handful of targets. He’s not a particularly special talent, but Winn is worth watching if either Bell or Bush remains hobbled. He’d be the only healthy guy expected to see touches – Theo Riddick remains an afterthought after receiving no carries or targets Sunday – and this is an offense capable of propping up a mediocre talent as a usable flex option. If you’re extremely RB-needy this week, monitor the Lions’ injury report closely; make a bid of around 8-10% of your budget if one of their key backs is out, and bump it to 12-15% if both are sidelined.
WR Odell Beckham, Jr., N.Y. Giants
What a crappy landscape for waiver wire wideouts this week; Beckham is the only notable name. One of my NFL Draft favorites, Beckham looked great on (some of) his college tape. But RotoViz has some pretty compelling reasoning to doubt his NFL success, which doesn’t even consider his startlingly slow recovery from preseason hamstring woes. Beckham is indeed fast, smooth, and sleek-looking like a Dodge Viper. But he’s also a pretty dinky wideout with a poor track record against good college competition. The above article points out that, through 26 career SEC games, Beckham managed to catch TDs in just two of them. He typically posted fairly average performances against big-time competition while teammate Jarvis Landry did the heavy lifting. Beckham’s small build is also cause for concern; I love Steve Smith as much as the next guy, but the fact is that bigger, stronger wideouts are much more dependable in dominating DBs and catching TDs. While Beckham is a moderate dynasty hold, I don’t like his chances of contributing much as a rookie. I don’t even think he’ll hold off Preston Parker for #3 duties, which is why I’m not bidding more than 7-8% of my budget for his services. Frankly, if I’m dipping into free agency for WR help, I think I’d rather take a flier on a guy like Brian Hartline or John Brown.
RB Antone Smith, Atlanta
You may add him if you’d like, as this might be the most dynamic part-timer in all of football. He’s averaging 11.0 YPC and 26.0 YPR on his tiny smattering of touches, and his four TDs have come from an average of 53.5 yards out. He’s a sparkplug for sure. But before you drop Bobby Rainey for him, ask yourself honestly: would you EVER start the guy? Ever? His weekly upside is 4-5 touches (he averages 3.4 a game), and unless you’re in a 20-team league, starting a RB with such low usage and praying for a 60-yard TD is a shaky strategy at best. Go ahead and bid 5-7% based on Smith’s talent, but recognize he’s a thoroughly expendable stash, nothing more.
TE Tim Wright, New England
When Wright came over from the Bucs following his breakout 2012, lazy fantasy analysts pegged him as a real TE2 sleeper with Aaron Hernandez potential. That line of thinking just assumes that any player can step into a vacated role and produce similar numbers regardless of talent or cohesiveness. Wright is a decent player, but not nearly special enough to expect Hernandez’s usage or production. He’s worth a look as a TE2 going forward, as the Patriots’ poor WR corps prompted them to run more 12 (two-TE) formations against the Bengals, resulting in a 5-85-1 line for Wright. But the shakiness of his usage – he still saw the field on just 23% of their snaps Sunday night – make him a very risky streaming option. There will be games with TDs, but even more games with lines around 2-15. If you’re starving for a TE this week, bid 7-8% of your cap, but the Patriot Prestige Factor will likely land him on someone else’s roster. Roll the dice instead on a proven contributor like Owen Daniels or an upside play like Josh Hill.
QB Michael Vick, N.Y. Jets
Geno Smith clearly hasn’t progressed much from his all-over-the-charts rookie season. He’s still a turnover machine, and he’s still thoroughly incapable of moving the football without a major receiving threat. (I know that without Eric Decker in the lineup he’s throwing to castoffs, but this is getting ridiculous.) As a result, Rex Ryan yanked Smith at halftime and inserted Vick. This is likely to happen again at some point this year, but I’m not biting. First and foremost, Ryan has already stated Smith will be his starter again next week against Denver. But even if that weren’t the case, Vick would remain hands-off. He looked awful yesterday, perhaps even worse than Smith, going 8-of-19 with an embarrassing 2.5 YPA and taking two sacks, adding just 14 yards on two runs. The Jets reportedly spent the offseason frustrated by Vick’s perceived lack of commitment, and his performance Sunday suggests why. At 34 with rapidly declining skills, Vick is at the end of the NFL line, and the Jets’ talent-starved offense does him no favors. I’m not bidding on Vick, nor should you be. Even if Vick becomes the starter, there are significantly better streaming options out there.
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RB Lorenzo Taliaferro, Baltimore
Justin Forsett scored a TD and caught seven passes Sunday, leading the lazy fantasy owner to assume he’s the leader of the Raven backfield and move on from Taliaferro. Don’t buy it. Taliaferro has outcarried Forsett 38-31 over the last three weeks, and it seems like only a matter of time before he takes the definitive leap over Bernard Pierce to dominate Baltimore’s inside running game. (He’s also the more effective short-yardage back, with three rushes inside the five over that span.) Almost all of Forsett’s appeal comes from his passing game usage, but the Ravens are a solid team that won’t be in catchup mode often enough to make him startable, so I’d say Taliaferro is the premier Raven back to own going forward.
RB Toby Gerhart, Jacksonville
Just ditch the guy and let go of your misery. If you’re really RB-starved, you can hang on and hope for a rise to RB3 levels at some point, but I don’t see it happening. This is drastically under-talented 27-year-old back with no track record, on a poor offense with a poor line. And the Jaguars’ propensity to be trailing by a wide margin makes it unlikely they’ll use their plodding power back much; Gerhart is already splitting touches evenly with Denard Robinson and promising rookie Storm Johnson. Gerhart was (inexplicably) a pretty highly-valued guy this draft season, so maybe there’s enough name value left to fetch something in return. But he’s not going to be helping you anytime soon.