Fantasy Football 2012: Predicting 10 Hot Waiver Wire Pickups After Week 1
Remember when Cam Newton went off for 422 passing yards, two passing touchdowns and a rushing score in Week 1 of 2011, but everyone screamed “Don’t pick him up for your fantasy team”?
Remember when he did it again (432 passing yards, one passing touchdown, one rushing touchdown and 53 yards rushing in Week 2)? Remember when he finished his rookie year as a top-five fantasy quarterback?
Because I listened to the guys who screamed not to add Cam. I didn’t add Cam, and that turned out to be a major mistake.
Sure, some guys pop in Week 1 and aren’t heard from again for the remainder of the season. But the lesson to be learned is this: don’t let anyone tell you not to take a chance on a player you like. It’s your team. The farthest I’ll go in that vein is to suggest which guys I wouldn't draft , pick up or start.
Week 1 of the NFL season is a time of overreaction. There are certain to be players who surprise in their first games of the regular season.
If you have one of those on your roster before Week 1 in an expendable role, he could become instant trade bait. You won’t even have to waste a waiver claim on him if you’ve got the foresight to add him prior to the start of the season.
Here’s who I expect to be in demand from the waiver wire after Week 1.
Two rookie kickers make up the Honorable Mentions:
10. Donnie Avery, WR, Indianapolis Colts
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
ESPN Ownership Percentage: 0.5
Week 1 Matchup: at Bears
Reggie Wayne should have a better fantasy year in 2012 than he experienced in 2011. But Andrew Luck could very well make a pair of receivers fantasy relevant.
In the Colts’ third preseason game (and Avery’s first), Avery caught six of Luck’s passes. Those throws went for just 38 yards, but if he has a similar number of opportunities in the regular season, he could surprise.
The Bears were 28th in the NFL in pass defense in 2011. Granted, they share a division with Aaron Rodgers' Green Bay Packers and Matthew Stafford’s Detroit Lions. No team in the NFC North finished higher than 22nd in passing yards surrendered. There will be passing yards to go around in that division, which means the same thing for receiving yards.
The Colts play the NFC North this year.
9. Leonard Hankerson, WR, Washington Redskins
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
ESPN Ownership Percentage: 28.0
Week 1 Matchup: at Saints
Hankerson’s got prototypical NFL wide receiver size at 6’2”, 211 lbs.
He only caught one ball in each of the Redskins’ final three preseason games, but chances are that the Redskins will be chucking the ball all over the place in Week 1 in order to keep up with Drew Brees and the high-octane Saints offense.
The second-year receiver is a former third-round pick in the NFL draft, so Hankerson should at least get a shot to show his skills in the regular season.
The Saints gave up passing yards in bunches last season, so look for Robert Griffin III to have a solid (if not impressive) professional debut.
Hankerson could be a beneficiary of that production.
8. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Atlanta Falcons
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
ESPN Ownership Percentage: 18.4
Week 1 Matchup: at Chiefs
The consensus on Atlanta’s offense entering the 2012 season seems to be that the team will opt to throw the ball much more than they did last season. That’ll be hard to do, since the team was already fourth in the NFL in passing attempts in 2011.
But the team was also one of only two squads to hand the ball off to a single running back over 300 times.
That running back was Michael Turner, not Jacquizz Rodgers. Rodgers, however, is a better receiver out of the backfield than Turner. If the Falcons use him to spell Turner more often in terms of running the ball, Rodgers should retain fantasy value as a good depth option.
7. Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay Packers
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
ESPN Ownership Percentage: 15.5
Week 1 Matchup: vs. 49ers
Cobb has already made his way onto many sleeper lists prior to the season. If he happens to stuff the stat sheet like he did at the beginning of last season, he’ll be flying off the waiver wire.
It’s very possible that Cobb will make an impact in the passing game, as he’ll be looking at the 49ers defense on the other side of the field. San Francisco retained its defensive starters and was the league leader in rushing yards allowed (77.2 yards per game).
Second place wasn’t close.
The Baltimore Ravens allowed 92.6 yards per game on the ground. Green Bay will have to throw it to win, and with Aaron Rodgers, the Packers would prefer to throw anyway.
Unless Cobb can wrestle the Packers’ No. 3 WR slot from James Jones, I don’t see him making a consistent fantasy impact this season outside of leagues that award points for return yards.
But he makes for a fine keeper option; he’ll be entering his third NFL season in 2013.
6. Robert Turbin, RB, Seattle Seahawks
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
ESPN Ownership Percentage: 7.6
Week 1 Matchup: at Cardinals
Marshawn Lynch’s season status carries essentially the same concerns as that of Kenny Britt for the Tennessee Titans. Britt was suspended by the NFL for the first game of the 2012 season in response to an offseason DUI. He’s also recovering from an ACL tear.
Lynch is awaiting news on whether he will be suspended for his own DUI, in addition to working to return from a back injury.
Meanwhile, Lynch's primary backup, Robert Turbin, has impressed during the preseason, collecting 151 rushing yards on 34 attempts (a 4.4 average).
If Lynch misses any time, Turbin appears to be the main man. If not, he still may have played his way into a few touches per game in the regular season.
The Cardinals have looked awful this preseason. If that effect carries over into Week 1, Turbin should get work by virtue of the Seahawks leading the game regardless of whether Lynch plays.
5. Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images
ESPN Ownership Percentage: 26.5
Week 1 Matchup: vs. Falcons
Brent Grimes, Dunta Robinson and Asante Samuel play cornerback for the Atlanta Falcons. Grimes, Robinson and Samuel each stand 5’10” tall.
Jonathan Baldwin is 6’4”.
That’s not to say the Falcons corners can’t do their jobs against this guy. He’s still inexperienced (entering his second season) and they collect paychecks just the same as he does. But Baldwin was a first-round draft pick last year and is only now completing his first NFL offseason and preseason.
If the Chiefs get to the red zone during their matchup with Atlanta, Baldwin represents a great mismatch and could find himself jumping his way into several touchdowns this season.
A big game against the Falcons—combined with his pedigree—will get his name taken off of the waiver wire in many leagues.
4. Mikel Leshoure, RB, Detroit Lions
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
ESPN Ownership Percentage: 10.3
Week 1 Matchup: vs. Rams
Leshoure’s Week 1 matchup is irrelevant. So is his Week 2 matchup.
He will be suspended by the NFL for both of those games.
But the Lions are in need of a dependable running back and selected this rusher out of Illinois in the second round last year. He missed his rookie season with an Achilles tear but is still in the mix for carries this season.
An astute fantasy owner in need of a running back might look to Leshoure following Week 1, so waiver claims after Week 2 can be used on players who have already performed strongly through the first two weeks.
Leshoure will be eligible to play at the Tennessee Titans in Week 3.
3. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
ESPN Ownership Percentage: 35.6
Week 1 Matchup: at Cardinals
The new Seattle Seahawks’ starting quarterback might be owned in the majority of fantasy leagues by the time the season kicks off.
With a strong performance against a division rival in the opening game of the regular season, Wilson’s fantasy stock might just skyrocket.
I don’t have him listed as a No. 1 fantasy QB entering the season, but there’s no denying that he’s got a skill set that lends well to fantasy football success. He’s exceptionally fast at the quarterback position and can make some nice throws.
Wilson has a couple of talented, if declining, pass-catching tight ends and a revolving door of veteran wide receivers to target in the passing game. In addition, he’s got talent in his backfield in Marshawn Lynch and fellow rookie Robert Turbin.
Wilson’s recent national exposure increases his potential trade value with each statistically abundant outing he has.
2. Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee Titans
Joe Murphy/Getty Images
ESPN Ownership Percentage: 15.8
Week 1 Matchup: vs. Patriots
The Titans unleash their second-year quarterback on the NFL after keeping him under wraps for the better part of his rookie season. Jake Locker has the ability to get some rushing yards on the ground like Wilson does, but he should have better prospects for impressive passing statistics because of the weapons around him.
Locker’s got the best wide receiver of the two teams in Kenny Britt, who will return to the team following the Titans’ Week 1 matchup. He also holds the advantage in the tight end department with the promising Jared Cook.
The contributions his running backs can provide are essentially the same as Wilson’s. Chris Johnson and Marshawn Lynch are both accomplished pass catchers.
Jake Locker should be able to put up numbers in his first game at home against the New England Patriots. The Patriots’ defense gave up the second-most passing yards last season.
Tom Brady’s offense puts up points in a hurry, and the Titans will have to keep up.
1. Dwayne Harris, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
ESPN Ownership Percentage: 1.4
Week 1 Matchup: at Giants (Wednesday)
Perhaps the above header should read “Dallas’ No. 3 WR”.
The reason a wide receiver tops this list is that a breakout player at that position stands a better chance to break into fantasy starting lineups than, say, a quarterback.
Whoever distances himself from Dallas’ other depth options at wide receiver should be worth a look in fantasy football this year. That position held value last season when occupied by Laurent Robinson, now with Jacksonville.
Second-year receiver (and former sixth-round draft pick) Dwayne Harris has made his case to occupy that position in the third preseason game against the Rams, scoring two long touchdowns.
Dallas’ Week 1 opponent, the New York Giants, gave up the fourth-most passing yards last season and their cornerbacks are already banged up this year. But so are Harris’ teammates—Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. The injured Cowboys may make an appearance in the NFL’s first 2012 regular season game.
Dallas has shown an ability to make multiple skill-position players relevant in fantasy football, however. If the players in front of him happen to miss any time, Harris (or Dallas’ No. 3 WR) will get a chance to put up starter-worthy numbers.