Week 1 Waiver Wire: Top Pickups and Drops
Being a fantasy jerk is bad enough; being a knee-jerk owner in fantasy is even worse. You likely have just finished drafting your team, and now you're ready to replace the players you picked for ones no one wanted.
Sounds like a great strategy—not really.
Still, there might be some moves to make before you set your Week 1 lineup, and we outline the best options out there on the waiver wire. This week, we pick ESPN's ownership data as the guinea pig for our research.
Most jerks—err, we mean fickle fantasy owners who like to make rash decisions—tend to play on a free site with shallow 10-team leagues like ESPN.
After consuming my comprehensive Early Advice Heading into Week 1, here are the top pickups and drops before Thursday night's season opener between the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens in a six-part slideshow. Now you can join the knee-jerk herd.
Quarterbacks: Add EJ Manuel, Drop Josh Freeman
Week 1 Quarterback Adds
EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills
Manuel practiced Monday for the first time since his preseason knee injury, so the Bills might not have to suffer the indignity of being the first team in NFL history to start an undrafted free agent rookie quarterback in Week 1 of the season.
Manuel, who is owned in just 13.9 percent of ESPN leagues, is going to face a Patriots secondary that was third-worst against quarterbacks in fantasy a year ago.
Manuel isn't just a one-week deal either. The rookie has a great running game (C.J. Spiller is a Bill, after all), and the recent history of mobile rookie quarterbacks has been great for fantasy owners (Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck). Manuel isn't in that class, but most of us probably didn't think Wilson was either going into last season.
Matt Schaub, Houston Texans
He has been one of the most underrated fantasy quarterbacks in the fantasy era. He has a great running game with the combination of Arian Foster and Ben Tate. And he faces a Chargers defense that gave up 28 passing touchdowns a year ago. Only seven teams gave up more.
Schaub also finally has a secondary wide receiver to take some double coverage away from veteran Andre Johnson. Rookie DeAndre Hopkins out of Clemson has been raved about by the Texans and their local media. Schaub, available in 38.4 percent of ESPN leagues, is a must-start in two-quarterback formats in Week 1.
Geno Smith, New York Jets
Don't laugh. The Jets have a notoriously, or famously, bad quarterback situation, but Smith is a decent add in the "just in case" category. The recent success of rookie quarterbacks might be reason enough to stash him.
Owned in just 3.3 percent of ESPN leagues, Smith faces a Buccaneers defense at home that gave up the second-most points to fantasy quarterbacks a year ago. Granted, the Bucs are improved defensively, but it might also take some time for the unit to gel. This is a bit of a reach, but you're the one looking to make gutsy add-drops before Week 1 of the season, not me.
Week 1 Quarterback Drops
Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
We generally believe Freeman is a lot better than his draft position and ownership percentage (26 percent on ESPN) suggest, but if you drafted a quarterback early in a standard 12-team league, you really don't have to stash a second one on your bench.
Your starting quarterback should play every week, regardless of the matchup, particularly if you drafted one of the top 12 (Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck, Tony Romo or Russell Wilson).
Freeman's low ownership is a primary reason he can be subjected to waivers. The masses just don't like him enough, and he can be picked back up. Also, the Jets were terrible last year and quietly finished fifth against quarterbacks and No. 1 against wide receivers in fantasy. This stands to be a disappointing week for Freeman owners.
Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
He is another quarterback who is closer to a sleeper than a bust this season. Like Freeman, though, his ownership (21.8 percent on ESPN) and Week 1 matchup (vs. the Houston Texans) make him a candidate for the waiver wire.
Rivers might need some time to develop a rapport with his makeshift receiving corps that lost Danario Alexander (knee) for the season and now features Vincent Brown as the No. 1 target coming off an ankle injury that cost him the entire 2012 season.
Brown figures to be rusty, and Rivers needs time to prove he is not headed for the twilight of his fantasy career. Beginning the season against a good Texans defense makes it tough to prove starter-worthy.
Running Backs: Add Ronnie Hillman, Drop Jonathan Dwyer
Week 1 Running Back Adds
Ronnie Hillman, Denver Broncos
Despite the presence of second-round rookie Montee Ball and incumbent veteran Knowshon Moreno, the Broncos are going to start the youngest running back on their roster—that is, the second-year man out of San Diego State. Hillman isn't a great start against what should be an improved Ravens run defense, but the mere fact he starts for one of the most potent offenses in football should have him owned in fantasy.
Hillman is available in over one-third of ESPN's leagues. All the starting running backs in the NFL are must-owns in all fantasy leagues, even if the Broncos are going to run a rotation series by series at the position to start the season, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.
Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons
No matter what you think of the diminutive Rodgers or the oft-hyped risk of 30-year-old running backs, you should have Rodgers rostered in your fantasy league. He is available in over one-quarter of ESPN leagues.
Steven Jackson is 30, the age of breakdown for backs, and the Falcons are one of the most potent offenses in the NFL. They also play arguably the worst defense of 2012, if not NFL history, in the New Orleans Saints in Week 1. The Saints were dead last in fantasy against quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers a year ago. Rodgers might not only be an "add" in fantasy; he might qualify as a "start" too.
Kendall Hunter, San Francisco 49ers
OK, we admit you have to be in a pretty shallow league to have Hillman and Rodgers available still. Odds are your league has Hunter on waivers, though. He is owned in just 8.7 percent of ESPN leagues.
As the primary backup to Frank Gore, especially with LaMichael James (knee) out for about a month, Hunter is a must-have fantasy handcuff. Not only is Gore 30 like the Falcons' Jackson, but he is also the front man of arguably the best running team in all of football. Hunter is a must stash, even if the Packers are a matchup you won't consider playing him in this Week 1.
Knile Davis, Kansas City Chiefs
Flash back to a year ago: The Chiefs were pitiful, and Davis was on the preseason preview cover of Sports Illustrated as a Heisman Trophy candidate at Arkansas. After suffering through another injury-plagued year, he slipped in the draft and now sits behind Jamaal Charles on the Chiefs' depth chart.
That is quietly a great place to be for a fantasy sleeper. Andy Reid's offense makes stars out of his running backs, and Charles is an oft-injured star who might not be able to handle the workload week to week, much less for an entire season. Davis is a legit talent who is a must-have handcuff for all fantasy owners, not just Charles ones. Davis is owned in less than five percent of ESPN leagues.
Felix Jones, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers made a surprise decision to cut Jonathan Dwyer this past weekend, and it might be because they like what they have seen in the recently acquired Jones. He is a former first-round pick who was lost in Dallas and Philly, but the Steelers won't have Le'Veon Bell's services for about a month due to his foot injury, and they couldn't have liked what they saw from Isaac Redman this preseason.
Heck, they hardly saw Redman in uniform this injury-plagued training camp.
Jones is woefully overlooked in all formats and owned in just 4.8 of ESPN's leagues. The Titans are the Steelers' Week 1 opponent, and they were third-worst in fantasy against running backs a year ago. Even if Redman starts and La'Rod Stephens-Howling gets all the third-down duty, Jones can pick up some fantasy-worthy numbers—and love—in garbage time.
If you own Bell, are waiting on him and don't have Redman, you will want to pick up Jones.
Week 1 Running Back Drops
Jonathan Dwyer, Free Agent
He doesn't have a job at this point, and we aren't limiting that statement to the "starter" variety. He is on the street and is likely to stay there. Heck, running back-needy teams are advised to consider the likes of Willis McGahee or Michael Turner off the street over the Steelers castoff.
At 51.3 percent ownership on ESPN, Dwyer is the most worthless use of roster space in all of fantasy football right now.
Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers
This is another easy one, particularly if you drafted before Stewart (ankle) was placed on the PUP list to start the season. He will be out at least six weeks—perhaps for the season—and is not worth rostering in fantasy any longer.
Heck, Marcus Lattimore, whose leg almost came apart less than a year ago at South Carolina, might take a handcuff for the 49ers before Stewart does for fantasy owners. Lattimore is on the NFI (non-football injury list) and is eligible to return about the same time as Stewart.
Andre Brown, New York Giants
Brown was supposed to be a touchdown vulture for David Wilson owners, but the only thing he is vulturing right now in fantasy is a roster spot. He is out four to six weeks with a leg fracture, an injury that ended his year a season ago.
It isn't just this injury that should concern you about Brown. It is all of his myriad maladies. He just hasn't stayed healthy for a full season, and that is with a limited number of carries.
If you are looking for a fantasy handcuff of Wilson with the Giants, it is now seventh-round rookie Michael Cox. Da'Rel Scott is more of a speed guy, while Cox is a big power back who could emerge as a short-yard and goal-line threat to complement Wilson.
Wide Receivers: Add Kenbrell Thompkins, Drop Denarius Moore
Week 1 Wide Receiver Adds
Kenbrell Thompkins, New England Patriots
After all that training camp hype we put out on Thompkins, it is astonishing ESPN drafters didn't catch on. You don't need Matthew Berry to say this, folks: Thompkins is going to be a legit fantasy option this season. He is still available in over one-quarter of ESPN's leagues.
The Patriots face a Bills defense that has been abused by Tom Brady over the years, and Rob Gronkowski (back) isn't there to suck up targets, particularly in the red zone. The Pats are going to target Danny Amendola 10 or more times every game—as long as he stays healthy—but a guy like Thompkins can have a huge Week 1 as the Pats blow Buffalo out early and leave all the special Amendola packages for games they actually need to compete in.
Rueben Randle, New York Giants
We have to admit, Randle was underrated in drafts, particularly in my Top 300 at SI.com. He is likely available in your league right now too.
Randle is the No. 3 receiver in what should be a pass-happy Giants offense, especially with the lameness of their defense and the injury-prone nature of Hakeem Nicks. Victor Cruz (foot) is not 100 percent yet either.
Randle can emerge as a fantasy starter if anything happens to Nicks or Cruz. Heck, he is still a sleeper if somehow all of the Giants receivers stay healthy. They won't. Something is always wrong with the Giants receivers.
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
Tavon Austin is not only the most-owned rookie receiver, but he is also one of the most-owned receivers in all of fantasy at 100 percent on ESPN. Get this: Hopkins is going to be better this year, and he is available in over one-third of those same leagues.
Hopkins was a productive high-volume receiver in college and will be a sneaky-good secondary option to Andre Johnson. With the age and injury-prone nature of Johnson, Hopkins is not far from being a No. 1 receiver for one of the best contenders in football. Hopkins is a legit candidate to be an immediate fantasy star and Austin, despite potential, is not.
Austin has a weaker offense and might merely open the season as the Rams' No. 3 receiver, working out of the slot. Hopkins as the Texans' No. 2 is greater than the Rams' No. 3.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, Oakland Raiders
Everyone loves T.Y. Hilton in drafts this summer, perhaps because Andrew Luck is going to be so darn good. They even drafted the second-year man, Hilton, as a starter in some leagues. They ignored the fact that DHB is the one who will be starting opposite 34-year-old breakdown risk Reggie Wayne in Week 1. Hilton will be the No. 3.
DHB will be making his Colts debut at home against his former team, Oakland, which was in the bottom half of fantasy against wide receivers a year ago. If you are anything like this writer, you can see DHB kicking his former team in the gut while it is down in Week 1.
Week 1 Wide Receiver Drops
Denarius Moore, Oakland Raiders
He is the most over-owned receiver in fantasy football at 95.6 percent on ESPN right now. Not only are the Raiders shaping up to be a pitiful offense this season, but Moore also had an awful camp during which coaches called his maturity into question.
Carson Palmer is zipping passes into double coverage in Arizona now, and Terrelle Pryor is reportedly going to be named the starting quarterback for the Raiders. Moore is headed for a season of fantasy worthlessness.
Percy Harvin, Seattle Seahawks
You likely drafted well after it was announced Harvin was going to miss the majority of the season to a hip injury. You still own him before it will eventually be announced Harvin won't play at all this season. That is mere speculation here, but Harvin's awful history of health issues suggests that is inevitable.
Harvin is a waste of a roster spot in all leagues right now. Even if he manages to work his way back by Week 13 as he hopes, he will be worked into the Seahawks offense slowly. The fantasy postseason is a bad time to consider an injury-prone receiver merely being worked in to the mix.
Also, Harvin is just as likely to come down with another injury as he is to recover in expected time from his current one.
Tight Ends: Add Zach Sudfeld, Drop Jared Cook
Week 1 Tight End Adds
Zach Sudfeld, New England Patriots
Somehow, preseason hype just didn't give Sudfeld enough love. He is owned in just 47.1 percent of ESPN leagues.
The Pats cut Jake Ballard and have just two healthy tight ends on the roster until Rob Gronkowski (back) is cleared to be full-go. That might not happen for a few weeks.
Sudfeld is a huge target at 6'7" and will run relatively unopposed at tight end until Gronk returns. With the shakiness of Tom Brady's young receivers on the outside, Sudfeld can get into the end zone once or twice in Week 1 at Buffalo.
Coby Fleener, Indianapolis Colts
Fleener had an injury-plagued preseason and is coming off a terrible rookie year by most expectations, but he is a bargain at a mere 12.1 percent ownership in ESPN. He is also the healthier of the Colts' two tight ends. Dwayne Allen (foot) didn't play at all in the preseason.
The Raiders allowed the fifth-most touchdowns to tight ends a year ago, so Fleener stands a decent chance of getting into the end zone and starting what should be a fantasy breakthrough for him this season.
Week 1 Tight End Drops
Jared Cook, St. Louis Rams
Yes, we understand what kind of talent Cook is, but he was a fantasy bust a year ago, and the Rams won't be considerably better than the Titans were in the passing game a year ago. There are just too many options in a mediocre Rams offense.
There are also too many people who have faith in Cook finally living up to his fantasy potential. He is owned in an astounding 97.3 percent of ESPN leagues. Martellus Bennett, Brandon Pettigrew, Jordan Cameron, Sudfeld, Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert, Allen and Fleener are all equally intriguing prospects.
None of those have to face an Arizona Cardinals defense that was top-10 against tight ends in fantasy a year ago. Also, incumbent Lance Kendricks might be a better choice as a red-zone target for the Rams than Cook, who is more of a seam-buster in the middle of the field.
Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen, Denver Broncos
Not only are there too many wide receiver targets in the Broncos offense, but second-year tight end Julius Thomas has been named the Broncos' starter over these two veterans. Tamme and Dreessen are lucky to have NFL roster spots, much less fantasy ones right now.
Also, the Broncos face a Ravens defense that was No. 1 in fantasy against tight ends a year ago, allowing a league-low two touchdowns. Sure, Thomas is going to sneak up on people and maybe even score in Week 1 when the rebuilt Ravens defense focuses on Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker in the end zone, but Tamme and Dreessen won't hold any fantasy value for you this year.
Defense/Special Teams: Add Colts, Drop Falcons
Week 1 Defense/Special Teams Adds
We have already given you Early Advice Heading into Week 1 that trumpeted These Defenses That Are Going to Pick on Shaky QBs. The Colts, Buccaneers, Chiefs and Lions are the leading streaming options available on waivers. Reference that link for must-have analysis on defense/special teams to pick up as one-week fill-ins.
They were drafted in just 4.4 percent of ESPN leagues, but the Week 1 game at home against the Raiders and untested quarterback Terrelle Pryor promises to propel them into the top 12 in fantasy scoring for this week. The Colts are a defense you might only use this one time this season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs had the No. 1 rush defense in the NFL last season and match up well with a Jets team that wants to impose the running game and cannot afford to take chances through the air. Drafted in 32.5 percent of leagues, they are a trendy sleeper among fantasy defenses. It's all the more intriguing that they get to face the mess that is the Jets' quarterback situation. The Jets were the fourth-most generous opponent for defenses a year ago.
Kansas City Chiefs
Like the Jets, the quarterback-shaky Jags were a favorable matchup for defensive units (sixth-worst). Without Justin Blackmon, the Jags don't figure to be that much of a challenge for a talented and rising Chiefs defense. Drafted in just 3.8 percent of ESPN leagues, this is a viable starting unit in deeper leagues this week.
The Lions defensive front is as talented as any, and they figure to give Adrian Peterson a stiffer challenge than you might expect. Also, Christian Ponder shouldn't scare you after they stack the box. This is a rebound year for the Lions. and it will start with the defense that showed some signs of life in the preseason. The Lions are available in almost 95 percent of ESPN's leagues.
Week 1 Defense/Special Teams Drops
You drafted this unit late not for its actual strength as a defense, but its strength as a contender. Teams that win a lot of games generally produce defensive points for fantasy owners. The Falcons do it with turnovers, especially interceptions.
With Atlanta facing Drew Brees and the Saints in the Superdome in Week 1, you should want no part of that matchup. Drop the Falcons for one of those units facing a weak quarterback above.
Historical reputation has the Ravens owned in 68.7 percent of ESPN's leagues. They should be active in zero lineups for Week 1 at Denver.
It might take a while for a rebuilt defense missing its heart (Ray Lewis, retired) and soul (Ed Reed, signed with the Texans) to regain its strength. You should be able to pick this unit back up after this week, if you even need to.
Kickers: Add Greg Zuerlein, Drop Sebastian Janikowski
Week 1 Kicker Adds
Greg Zuerlein, St. Louis Rams
Legatron is owned in less than 50 percent of ESPN leagues. That Rams offense has a lot of new parts, and it might take time to get them to gel in the red zone. Zuerlein has a huge leg and is a viable regular fantasy starter in all leagues.
Dan Bailey, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys historically engage in shootouts with the rival Giants, and Bailey is woefully underrated at just 40.1 percent ownership on ESPN. Bailey, because he has a late bye week, is a set-it-and-forget-it kicker in fantasy.
Garrett Hartley, New Orleans Saints
Like everything in fantasy, you have to follow the elite quarterbacks. They make offenses productive and do the same for kickers. Hartley is headed for a rebound year like the Saints, and his ownership is a mere 22.5 percent on ESPN. Get a piece of the shootout that will be Atlanta-New Orleans this weekend.
Steven Hauschka, Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks face an underrated Panthers defense in Week 1 on the road. Russell Wilson might be disappointing, and the Seahawks might not get into the end zone. That will mean ample field goals for this underrated kicker, who is owned in just 22 percent of ESPN leagues.
Week 1 Kicker Drops
Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland Raiders
He is the most overrated player in all of fantasy. Frankly, he shouldn't have been drafted. The Raiders offense is going to be pitiful, and even the Colts might shut out Oakland at home this Sunday. Ninety-plus percent of ESPN leagues wasted a pick on Sea-Bass.
Josh Brown, New York Giants
Lawrence Tynes was a huge success with the Giants a year ago because the offense struggled to reach the end zone when it got inside the 20. With the offensive line woes the Giants are facing, it might struggle to even reach the red zone now.
Brown is old and just not one of the top 20 kickers to own in fantasy right now, even if he is owned in more ESPN leagues (70.9 percent) than the likes of David Akers (61.4), Zuerlein, Bailey, Hartley, Hauschka, Robbie Gould (16.3), Mason Crosby (12.0), Adam Vinatieri (9.8), Kai Forbath (5.1), Alex Henery (4.5), Mike Nugent (4.5) and Shaun Suisham (2.4).
Forget Brown not being among the top 12 kickers in fantasy. We just named 12 that are better than him that are owned in fewer leagues than he is at ESPN. Astounding.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this season. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game. You can also listen to him on his podcast that he deprecatingly dubbed the Fantasy FatCast.