Now that injuries and bye weeks are robbing rosters of several players in fantasy leagues, owners must fill in the blanks through trades and waiver-wire pickups. This week, the waiver-wire bounty in many leagues is plentiful.
This is not the week to waste your waiver picks on kickers, defenses and backup tight ends. There are some impact players available at fantasy’s most important positions (running back, quarterback and wide receiver) who could help you in your 10-team year-to-year league or 12-team dynasty league.
Here are four players fantasy football owners should pick up ASAP.
Brandon LaFell, New England Patriots (WR)
It takes wide receivers some time to grasp the New England Patriots' complicated offense. Just ask all-time greats Joey Galloway and Chad Ochocinco. So it should come as no surprise that LaFell needed a few games to get used to how Tom Brady and Co. wanted him to run his routes.
LaFell broke out in a big way three weeks back with 119 yards and a touchdown. Last Sunday, he racked up 97 yards and two more touchdowns against the Buffalo Bills. Not only has LaFell appeared to learn the offense, but Brady has also developed a chemistry with him.
LaFell was no slouch with the Carolina Panthers. Even though he was the No. 2 receiver in a run-based offense with a quarterback in Cam Newton who does not exactly make his pass-catchers look better, LaFell was able to break the 600-yard mark the past three seasons.
Fantasy owners thought LaFell’s numbers could rise after he signed with New England, but after he went without a catch in the Patriots’ opening two contests, there was worry that he was going to be another Ochocinco-like fantasy failure.
Julian Edelman will remain Brady’s top target over the middle and on third down, and Rob Gronkowski will remain his favorite find around the end zone, but LaFell has emerged as Brady’s big-play deep threat. He should be one of the top available receivers on fantasy free-agent lists, so feel free to take a flyer on him.
Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders (QB)
Did you drop or ignore Carr after he threw for fewer than 200 yards in three of his first four starts and injured his knee and his ankle? Do not fret, fantasy folks! Women dropped or ignored me for years, and now I am a fantasy football columnist. We can only hope Carr becomes more successful.
Carr was extremely impressive last week, torching a superb San Diego pass defense (fourth in NFL) for 282 yards and four touchdown tosses. His ragtag corps of no-name receivers made big plays downfield, and Carr showed off his powerful arm.
Carr is likely available in many fantasy leagues, especially the ones in which you use only one quarterback per week. For those fantasy owners in need of a backup quarterback because they have tired of Jake Locker, Geno Smith or Kyle Orton, Carr is a good get. He may end up having a better rookie campaign than Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles or Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater.
Jerick McKinnon, Minnesota Vikings (RB)
If you own Matt Asiata, you should have traded him a minute after his three-touchdown fluke happened three weeks ago.
McKinnon had 11 carries and six receptions during Detroit’s drubbing of Minnesota this past weekend, while Asiata was handed the ball just twice and caught only one pass. This was probably not a one-time occurrence.
Asiata is averaging 3.5 yards per carry. McKinnon is averaging 5.0. Asiata’s longest run this year is 12 yards. McKinnon’s is 55. Asiata is a power runner with very little burst for big plays. McKinnon has speed and elusiveness and can make more things happen after he reaches the secondary.
Minnesota’s offense is in such disarray that Chuck Foreman could be the starting tailback by Week 9, so do not go penciling in McKinnon for a DeMarco Murray-like weekly 100-yard barrage.
But McKinnon should be the running back getting the most touches for the Vikings in the immediate future, and with Asiata not getting any faster and Adrian Peterson not returning anytime soon, McKinnon is now a running back to have on a fantasy roster.
Justin Hunter, Tennessee Titans (WR)
The former second-round pick has been a fantasy dud since being drafted by Tennessee. He was limited to 354 yards and four touchdowns and had a half-dozen games in which he did not even catch a pass during a rookie campaign that made Ryan Leaf’s look Pro Bowl-worthy.
Now, Tennessee appears to be trying to get Hunter more involved in the pass offense, so credit head coach Ken Whisenhunt for recognizing that Hunter is something the stagnant Titans offense needs—a game-breaker.
Hunter had 99 yards and a touchdown two weeks ago and followed up that performance with a 77-yard game last weekend. He is averaging 20.9 yards per catch and is someone Tennessee quarterbacks are looking for downfield more often as the season wears on.
Tennessee might not be reminiscent of the BYU teams of yesteryear when it comes to its passing acumen, but the Titans will be trailing many of their games the rest of the way, and Whisenhunt is a coach who brings out the best in his quarterbacks and his receivers.
Fantasy owners of Kurt Warner during his years with the Arizona Cardinals would likely buy Whisenhunt a drink if they bumped into him at a bar. So Hunter is in good hands.
Hunter’s fantasy value is going to need some time to blossom, though. While I am talking him up and saying he should be picked up, he has not had a four-catch outing this season. But the signs are there for a big breakout in the coming weeks, and if you do not latch onto him now, you may not get the chance in two weeks.