Even the best fantasy football plans are laid to waste by injuries and crushed expectations, but savvy owners find ways to overcome these difficulties with smart waiver-wire pickups.
Some injured players who are close to coming back 100 percent healthy have gone under the radar. Scouring sites like Rotoworld.com can be highly valuable when deciding whether to pull the trigger on players who can help your team in the near future.
Heading into Week 10, there are excellent players surprisingly still available in many fantasy leagues. Though not highly touted at this time, these men will become key players for your team heading into the final weeks of the fantasy season and playoffs.
Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Michael Crabtree isn't likely going to be back from his Achilles injury for a couple more weeks, but it's a risky move to wait to pick him up off the waiver wire. NFL.com's Marc Sessler reported Mike Silver as saying the 49ers are hoping for a return in "mid-to-late November" for the talented receiver:
Crabtree is available in over 95 percent of ESPN.com fantasy leagues heading into Week 10, but he won't last long once he's listed on the team's active roster.
The 49ers have notably missed Crabtree's presence on the field. Not only was he the team's leading receiver last year, but he's an adept run-blocker who has opened up more than a few holes for Frank Gore in years past.
After Colin Kaepernick replaced Alex Smith last season, Crabtree's numbers skyrocketed. He was one of the league's most effective receivers toward the end of the season, totaling 35 receptions for 538 yards and four touchdowns in his final five regular-season games.
He also caught 20 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns in the 49ers' Super Bowl run.
Pick up Crabtree before he's already gone, because he'll be a huge addition to San Francisco's offense once he returns.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina Panthers
Picking up any running back from Carolina's roster is risky considering the way the Panthers spread the ball around.
However, if you're looking for a running back for added depth or as a potential flex option, then recently activated Jonathan Stewart is an intriguing option, and he's still available in over 95 percent of ESPN.com fantasy leagues.
The former star of the Oregon Ducks missed the entire season with injured ankles before being activated for Week 9's contest against the Atlanta Falcons. He played limited snaps in Sunday's game but was productive, totaling 65 yards (43 rushing to lead the team and 22 receiving).
Fantasy owners in points-per-receptions (PPR) leagues will want to scoop Stewart up, as he's an adept pass-catcher out of the backfield. He caught three passes for 22 yards on Sunday and caught 17 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown in nine games last year.
Cam Newton is becoming more and more comfortable checking down to his receivers, meaning Stewart will likely see plenty of balls coming his way in the weeks to come.
Nate Burleson, WR, Detroit Lions
Don't look now, but the offense of the Detroit Lions could receive a boost in the near future.
Nate Burleson will make his return to the field of play sooner than later. Chris McCosky of The Detroit News reported on Oct. 9 that the talented receiver is targeting a return in Week 10, which was supported by Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com on Oct. 28. While ESPN's Chris Mortensen, courtesy of Rotoworld's Staff, reported on Nov. 1 that Burleson now isn't expected back this week, he's still a smart pickup for proactive fantasy owners.
Bleacher Report's resident injury expert Will Carroll seemed to back up this target after Burleson was held out in Week 8 before the team's bye:
Before infamously breaking his arm trying to catch a falling pizza while driving by himself, Burleson was on a tear for the Lions. He'd caught 19 passes for 239 yards in the team's first three games.
He'll be a huge part of Detroit's offensive plans the rest of the season, and fantasy owners in need of a productive receiver would be smart to pick him up before he's already gone. Luckily, he's still available in over 97 percent of ESPN.com standard fantasy leagues.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78