There is more to making a championship fantasy football team than just having a solid draft, and knowing who to look for on the waiver wire can be just as important; sometimes even more so.
Each year there are players who seemingly come out of nowhere to strike gold for fantasy owners that have their eyes open. Some of the names that struck gold last year were Darren Sproles, Victor Cruz, Jordy Nelson and Laurent Robinson. The owners that had their eyes open and noticed the opportunity these players represented were paid back with huge dividends.
2012 will be no different, but the names that will populate the list of waiver wire gold may not even be known yet, but the following are players that may just be on it at some point in 2012. These are players that won’t be drafted in any leagues, except maybe very deep dynasty leagues, but they should be on your radar just in case they get the opportunity to take that next step.
They aren’t really sleepers because some of them may not even make the final roster cut down this year, but if the right things go their way, they may be that one player who comes out of nowhere to lead your team to a championship.
Streater was an undrafted free agent out of Temple who has been having a very strong preseason with Oakland. With starter Denarius Moore hurt, Streater has been getting more reps working with the first team offense.
There is no doubt that when healthy, Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey are the starters, but both have had injury issues. Moore is fighting a lingering hamstring injury, and last year Heyward-Bey was carted off the field with a concussion, neck and back injuries after a big hit by Minnesota linebacker EJ Henderson.
Streater was the lone bright spot in the team’s first preseason game as he had six receptions for 66 yards.
Right now Streater is buried on the depth chart, but if Moore’s hamstring issues continue into the season, or if either Moore or Heyward-Bey suffer an injury that keeps them out of the lineup for any length of time, Streater may just be the guy you are turning to in October for waiver wire relief.
The Dolphins signed Wallace as an undrafted free agent in 2010 and he has been a project, but the team is now looking for that project to take the next step. He is a big receiver at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, and he can run a sub-4.5 40, but he has always has suspect hands and has not been a great route runner.
He is eligible to be a restricted free agent after this season, so the team wants to finally see what they can get out of him, especially with the issues they currently have at wide receiver after the release of Chad Johnson; they will give him plenty of opportunities to see if he has improved enough to help this offense.
Right now the receiver corps is led by Brian Hartline, Davone Bess and Legedu Naanee, but Hartline has been sidelined for most of the offseason with a calf injury and Naanee is a journeyman receiver who has never caught more than the 44 passes he caught in 2011 with Carolina.
Wallace is getting more work these days and finally starting to make something of his chances. He had five targets in this week’s preseason game against Tampa Bay and caught four of them for 71 yards.
What? There’s another running back we may have to be worried about in Washington? Peter King of Sports Illustrated seems to think so.
Sure there is a glut of running backs in Washington that fantasy owners need a crystal ball to decipher every week, with Evan Royster, Roy Helu and Tim Hightower fighting for that top spot. But, Hightower is still not 100 percent after having surgery on a torn ACL and both Helu and Royster have durability concerns.
This doesn’t mean that Morris should be drafted anytime soon, there is still a chance that he doesn’t make the final 53-man roster, but he should definitely be on your radar. Remember that Shanahan has made stars of other no-name backs including Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and Rueben Droughns.
Morris had 54 yards on 15 carries in the team’s first preseason game this week against Buffalo, but if he can just stay on the field, anything is possible when you play for Mike Shanahan.
Joique Bell used to work security at Lions’ home games, but now he is doing everything he can to keep security from having to escort him out of the building. He is currently fighting Stefan Logan and Keiland Williams for a possible roster spot. Logan is probably assured a spot because of his value on special teams, but if Jahvid Best is cleared anytime soon, one of Williams or Bell may be on the outside looking in.
But, when you look at the three guys that are on top of this depth chart—Best, Leshoure and Kevin Smith—that depth chart starts to look a lot like a hospital chart.
Kevin Smith has only played in parts of 13 games in the last two years and is always battling some form of injury. Mikel Leshoure missed all of last season with an Achilles injury, plus he will be suspended for the first two games and is currently hurt with a hamstring injury.
If Bell can make the final 53-man roster then he has as good a chance as any to get playing time behind the walking wounded. He did rush for 89 yards on 16 carries in the team’s first preseason game against Cleveland.
Damaris Johnson is a small receiver at 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds, but he has been turning heads in the Eagles’ training camp. According to Brad Wilson of The Express Times, Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has been impressed:
"You have seen his athleticism, quickness, ball skills, these types of things. He can make plays and he's quite dynamic," Mornhinweg said. "I think our personnel department did an outstanding job there in acquiring Damaris. Most guys that size at this level, they sort of get engulfed just a little bit, so you have to have one, two or three of several different qualities to be able to play at that size in this league."
Johnson made a very nice catch and run in this week’s preseason game, that he took 70 yards for a touchdown. The best part was that Johnson reacted to quarterback Nick Foles being chased out of the pocket and created a space for Foles to hit him.
Johnson isn’t a lock to make the final 53-man roster, but if he continues to play like this, he should have no problem doing just that. Right now he is the player that special teams coach Bobby April wants to see as the punt returner.
If DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin go down for any length of time, then Johnson may just play himself into some starting snaps.
Is he a running back? Is he a wide receiver? Is he a Prius? Fortunately for Rainey, it may well be the latter. Of course by Prius I mean a hybrid; a little bit running back and a little bit wide receiver.
When offensive coordinator Todd Haley was in Kansas City, he first tried to fit Dexter McCluster into a certain role before realizing that utilizing his talents in different ways made him a more effective weapon. The same will be said for Rainey.
Rainey is another small player at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, but he has been compared to Darren Sproles and Percy Harvin.
The Steelers are thin at running back with Rashard Mendenhall most likely starting the season on the PUP list and missing at least the first six weeks; Baron Batch is coming off a season-ending knee injury suffered in last year’s training camp and Jonathan Dwyer is currently dealing with a shoulder injury.
Isaac Redman is slated to be the starter and Dwyer should be the one backing him up, but if either falters at all, don’t be surprised if Rainey’s talents are used more extensively than first thought.
Taylor Thompson was drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft and most were scratching their heads at the pick. Here was a kid that played defensive end in college but moved to tight end just before the draft. At 6-foot-6 and 268 pounds, he is the size that most general managers are looking for at the tight end position, but most expected him to be a long-term project.
But not so fast.
“He’s big, he’s fast, and he catches the ball. The fact that he’s getting reps is helping him for sure, too.”
He may not move Jared Cook off the position right away, but if Cook doesn’t pick up where he left off last season, then Thompson may get a chance to surprise.
Titans’ offensive coordinator Chris Palmer also praises the rookie:
“I think Thompson is rare,” Palmer said. “This guy…it’s just a question of how good he can be. How good does he want to be? How fast will he grow? I could not be more excited about a young player and his development. He’s a natural bender, he plays low…he can run. Everything he does…there’s not a lot of those guys around. You watch him.”
It may not happen right away, but Jared Cook better look in his rearview mirror.
Remember that these are not players that should not be drafted now, except in very large roster dynasty leagues, but if the right pieces fall into place, sparks may fly.
They are not sleepers yet, but they should at least be blips on your radar come waiver wire time.
Follow Jim Day on Twitter @Fantasytaz and visit his website Fantasytaz.com. He hosts the Twitter Roundtable podcast on BlogTalkRadio each Wednesday night at 8:00pm EST and will be appearing at the Fantasy Football Fest in Atlantic City on August 18th and 19th.