Week 1 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 25 Players Available on the Waiver Wire

Alessandro Miglio@@AlexMiglioFeatured ColumnistSeptember 6, 2012

Week 1 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 25 Players Available on the Waiver Wire

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    The season is under way and we already have a waiver wire hero in Kevin Ogletree. Or do we?

    Here are 25 waiver wire pickups you should consider heading into the first full weekend of competition. If your team has already been hit by injuries, you are in a deep league, or you just plain hated your draft, these guys should help shore things up for your squad.

25. Greg Zuerlein

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    This is for all those savvy fantasy owners who drafted an extra skill position player instead of a kicker. 

    "Big G-Z" is a rookie, but he has a big leg and plays indoors at least half the season. The Rams figure to kick a decent number of field goals to boot.

    If you need to drop a player or you are convinced Zuerlein is better than your current option, he is likely the best available kicker in your league.

24. Steve Smith

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    The forgotten Steve Smith is reviving his career in the Midwest.

    It was all but dead after his second knee injury in as many seasons put him on injured reserve with the Eagles. The receiver-needy Rams took a chance on him, and he has performed so well for them that he is the third receiver on the depth chart behind inconsistent Brandon Gibson.

    If Smith can stay healthy, he could prove to be a valuable fantasy option.

23. Dallas Clark

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    You would think Peyton Manning would have pushed for Clark to join him in Denver if he thought there was anything left in the tank, but things are not that simple in the NFL.

    The fact remains that Dallas Clark has been productive throughout his career when healthy—though Peyton Manning may have had something to do with that—and he is once again a starter. Josh Freeman is no Manning, but that does not mean Clark will not see targets and opportunities to score fantasy points.

    There are so many viable fantasy tight ends that Clark is really a deep or two-tight end league pickup, but one or two injuries will alter the landscape if and when they occur. Be at the ready.

22. Vick Ballard

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    Donald Brown is getting a lot of fantasy love this preseason as he finally appears to have made a breakthrough as the main man in Indianapolis.

    While he may fulfill those expectations, his history in the league indicates it could be more preseason bluster than regular season muster. Brown does not exactly have a sterling fantasy football reputation heading into 2012.

    Ballard might be a rookie, but he's already won the backup role in Indianapolis and could be pressed into action sooner than later if Brown reverts to his old ways. The rookie is merely a deep stash for now; do not drop any viable players for him.

21. Dexter McCluster

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    The third-year back is back to his original role as slot receiver for the Chiefs, but the versatile McCluster can be used in a variety of ways.

    It remains to be seen if that means any sort of consistent fantasy output, but he is talented enough to do so if Kansas City would get him the ball more often in space. Perhaps a new coaching regime will do just that.

    It is difficult to gauge what kind of fantasy value McCluster will present, so he is not as valuable as some other waiver-wire candidates. If you are looking to bolster your bench in deep leagues, though, McCluster is a fine choice.

20. Alfred Morris

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    I know what you're thinking, "Did he name Alfred Morris the starter or is he third on the depth chart?"

    Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a Mike Shanahan backfield, the most muddled backfield in the world, and would blow your mind clean insane, you've got to ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?"

    Well, do ya, punk?

19. Ryan Fitzpatrick

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    Looking for a decent starter with some decent weapons? Look no further than Ryan Fitzpatrick.

    Actually, look a great deal further than him—after all, Russell Wilson or Jake Locker could be available—but Fitzpatrick is not a bad pickup if you need a backup quarterback in a two-quarterback league. He's got Stevie Johnson and Scott Chandler—I did manage to write that with a straight face—not to mention threats out of the backfield in Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.

    Stifled laughter aside, Fitzpatrick did wind up as the 12th-best fantasy quarterback last season. Some of that had to do with attrition, but he outperformed plenty of quarterbacks who were supposed to be better. 

18. Brian Hartline

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    While the Dolphins might have a receiving corps that resembles a Pop Warner team's, they will get a big boost from their de facto No. 1, Brian Hartline, when he returns from injury.

    A balky calf kept Hartline out of most of training camp and all of the preseason, which is part of the reason Davone Bess has looked like the only respectable receiver on the team. Hartline's return is imminent, however, and he should see plenty of playing time and targets if he can stay on the field.

    He has had a bit of a history with injuries, but Hartline has flashed his potential before. With few good options in Miami, he could bolster the depth on your fantasy team if you are in need of a wideout.

17. Mikel Leshoure

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    This is a bit of a pre-emptive strike against the Kevin Smith owner—or, if you are the Kevin Smith owner, it is an early way of saving you from yourself.

    Leshoure is suspended for the first two games of the season, but he has been practicing with the team and looks like he will be ready to roll in Week 3. That is about as many weeks as I give Kevin Smith before rolling an ankle or breaking a toe or cracking a rib.

    That is not to say I wish injury on the brittle back—far from it—but he carried a huge workload in college that is still affecting him today. Leshoure is good insurance, even if Jahvid Best can come back after Week 8.

16. Jacksonville Jaguars D/ST

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    The Jaguars were not ranked at the top of the fantasy heap last season, but they were the sixth- and 11th-best total and scoring defense last season. 

    They retained much of that defense.

    Jacksonville's defense and special teams got off to a slow fantasy start, but they rebounded mid-season and had a couple of huge fantasy scores. They tied for the most defensive touchdowns—albeit an unpredictable statistic—and they forced turnovers at a good rate.

    They also happen to play in the relatively soft AFC South. If you need a defense, they will have some sneaky value this year.

15. Lance Kendricks

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    Much like last year's preseason, Lance Kendricks was a favorite target for Sam Bradford. Will the regular season be similar as well?

    That would be a terrible thing for Kendricks and his owners. He was near the bottom of the league with just 33.9 standard points scored on 53 targets. Sam Bradford was out of sorts last year, which did not help Kendricks' fantasy cause.

    Much like Kellen Davis, Kendricks is a speculative add right now. He could break out, or he could fade to the back of the pack. 

14. Daniel Thomas

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    There was little to love about Daniel Thomas as a rookie despite some promise. He was not good in short-yardage situations, nor was he particularly effective in passing situations. The Dolphins tried to force feed him at the expense of the offense and Reggie Bush's touches toward the beginning of the season before they smartly gave up.

    Despite his Hard Knocks scolding for being late, Thomas looked halfway decent during the preseason. Bush has the starting gig on lockdown, but Thomas could see his playing time go up, particularly in goal-line situations. He scored one such touchdown in the preseason, and he averaged 5.1 YPC over the last three preseason games.

    Preseason stats are meaningless, but it is a welcome departure from an abhorrent rookie campaign, preseason or not. Thomas may have earned himself a decent helping of playing time.

13. James Jones

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    According to some fans in the Wisconsin area, James Jones is worth a second-round pick in trade value.

    While that might be a stretch, Jones is the third man on the depth chart in Green Bay. That means plenty of playing time in a high-octane offense. He just has to hang on to the ball more often and he could be the next Kevin Ogletree.

    He has Randall Cobb nipping at his heels, and the Packers seem ready to trade him for the right price, but Jones is a decent stash on a deep bench. Should Greg Jennings or Jordy Nelson get injured, Jones would become a good fantasy starter.

12. Danny Amendola

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    Danny Amendola is 100 percent healthy, making him one of the more underrated fantasy commodities in the league—particularly in PPR leagues.

    The Rams starter caught five passes a little over half of one game last season before injuring his elbow. That injury would keep him out for the rest of 2011, part of an injury-marred season for St. Louis.

    He is back and starting opposite Brandon Gibson. Much like Brian Hartline, starter status alone gives Amendola some value. He should catch plenty of passes if he can stay healthy.

11. Jonathan Dwyer

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    The Pittsburgh backfield is a bit of a mess. Isaac Redman was in line for starter duties while Rashard Mendenhall made his way back from a torn ACL, but Redman has battled injuries during the preseason and Mendenhall has made a rather quick recovery.

    Both have fully practiced recently, but is either fully healthy?

    This does not mean Dwyer will step in as a heavy producer, but the second-year back was pushing Redman to start before news broke that Mendenhall was practicing. If either of those guys is banged up or worse, Dwyer could see a good workload.

10. Kellen Davis

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    Trivia time.

    Who led the Bears in touchdown receptions last season? That man is pictured to the left, naturally.

    Of course, the Bears featured a toothless receiving corps that has gotten a major upgrade this year. Does that mean Davis will be left in the dust?

    Mike Martz's departure should theoretically balance things out for Davis; the Bears' former offensive coordinator seems to have a particular disdain for tight ends.

    Davis is more of a deep-league stash or flier as your backup tight end, but he could pay some Martellus Bennett-like dividends down the line.

9. Robert Turbin

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    How much do you trust Marshawn Lynch?

    The Skittles Man is heading into Week 1 with back spasms, and the threat of a lengthy suspension looms over him after his arrest for a DUI.

    Turbin has been impressive enough to wrest the backup role away from incumbent Leon Washington, and he will get a big workload should Lynch miss any time. At this stage, he seems like a great spot start in Week 1 if Lynch is out, though he has gone through walkthroughs and looks to practice with the team.

8. Kyle Rudolph

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    If you are in need of a tight end, look no further than Kyle Rudolph. That is, if he is available.

    The massive tight end is primed for a big breakout in his second year with the Vikings. He has taken over as the starter, even with John Carlson signed to a five-year, $25 million deal. He has been compared to Rob Gronkowski—a bit of a lofty comparison for anyone—but Gronkowski's massive breakout did come in his second year.

    Christian Ponder is no Tom Brady, but Rudolph is a 6'6" monster in waiting.

7. Kendall Hunter

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    Frank Gore is 29 years old, and he has 1,940 career touches. 

    He is still the 49ers' starter, but the time may have come for him to give up the lead back label. This is where Kendall Hunter could come into his own in the NFL, and he looks the part thus far (via Eric Branch of SFGate.com):

    After earning training-camp raves from head coach Jim Harbaugh, Hunter's performance has carried into the preseason. In two games, he has 70 yards on 11 carries, flashing decisiveness, quickness and Herculean lower-body strength that belies his size.

    "You can tell that from his first year to this year that he grew a lot," 49ers running backFrank Gore said. "It's his second year in the offense. He knows what he's doing now. He's not thinking. He's just playing football, and that's what he's good at."

    He might still be stuck behind Gore on the depth chart with LaMichael James and Brandon Jacobs vying for playing time as well, but Hunter could be a difference-making waiver wire pickup on his own merit. If Gore goes down, there will be a frenzy to pick him up. 

    Get him before then.

6. Evan Royster

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    Everything that was said about Alfred Morris applies here, only Royster is a bit less risky.

    The second-year back got the Shanahanigans started this preseason when he began as the starter over presumed incumbent Roy Helu. He failed to impress, leading to Alfred Morris' mini-breakout. Now the situation is even messier than it was last season.

    Helu is likely owned—not that Royster isn't—but if you are looking to throw your hat in the Shanahan Backfield Sweepstakes, Royster is the pickup you want to make.

5. Doug Baldwin

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    All the hoopla surrounding Braylon Edwards and Terrell Owens has obscured one simple fact: Doug Baldwin led the Seahawks in receiving last season.

    He heads into 2012 as the starter opposite Sidney Rice, and he looks to build on a good rookie campaign. He had 792 yards receiving on just 84 targets, a number that figures to increase because he begins the year as a starter as opposed to working his way up the depth chart.

4. Russell Wilson

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    Is Russell Wilson the real deal or was his fantastic preseason a mirage?

    Charlie Whitehurst might have had a great preseason for Seattle last year, but every indication is that Wilson will actually make good on his potential. He has answered the bell at every juncture in dazzling fashion for the Seahawks. 

    How much that translates to the fantasy football realm is unclear. For every Cam Newton there are a dozen Blaine Gabberts. Wilson figures to have a much better rookie season than his Jaguars counterpart, but to expect a Newton-like season would be folly.

    At any rate, he will not be cheap if he is not snapped up soon. If you are looking for a backup or just someone with huge upside, Wilson is your man.

Kevin Ogletree

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    Don't overreact.

    This might seem like a gut reaction, but he was in here well before he took the field against the Giants. Granted, his magnificent performance was a bit unforeseen, but Ogletree stepped into the Laurent Robinson role rather nicely.

    The fourth-year receiver caught eight passes on 11 targets for 114 yards and two touchdowns in the NFL's first regular season game. It will likely be his best fantasy output of the season, but Ogletree will be a nice pickup for whoever is first on the wire. He is worth a good payout in FAAB leagues, but don't break the bank.

2. Austin Collie

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    One more knock to the head could end Austin Collie's career. It almost happened during the preseason.

    Whatever steam Collie had heading into the majority of fantasy drafts sublimed back to ice when he was knocked out of a preseason game with his fourth concussion in 21 months. Fears that his career was over then were premature, though, as Collie is healthy and starting in Week 1.

    Collie represents a gamble, but he is a cheap one at this point. He is the WR2 in Indianapolis, a spot in which he thrived with Peyton Manning—he was leading the league in fantasy scoring at his position back in 2010 before his concussion issues began. Andrew Luck might not be to Manning's level yet, but he is light years ahead of most rookies.

1. Jake Locker

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    One year after the Titans made him their quarterback of the future, Jake Locker takes the reins of the offense. The future has arrived.

    It was a highly limited sample size last year, but Locker led the league in points per snap and was second in points per attempt, all despite his 51.5 percent completion rate. This was made possible by Locker's Tebow-like running ability.

    He might not be built like a tank, but Locker has some wheels and a great set of weapons at his disposal. If he is somehow available, snap him up.

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