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Working the Wire: Keep Stashing High-Upside RBs

Mark Stopa

Mark Stopa

Mark Stopa has been sharing his fantasy insights for Rotowire since 2007. Mark is the 2010 and 2012 Staff Picks champion (eat your heart out, Chris Liss) and won Rotowire's 14-team Staff League II in consecutive seasons. He roots for the Bills and has season tickets on the second row, press level to the Rays.

Finally, it happened. If you've been stashing backup running backs with upside, the sight of Maurice Jones-Drew on crutches is what you've been waiting for all season. We don't root for injuries, of course, but this is why we stash Rashad Jennings (and Kendall Hunter and Jackie Battle and Robert Turbin and others who are one play away from fantasy relevance). As we forge through the bye weeks, keep using your last few bench spots for players with upside - players who are one play away from being a weekly fantasy starter. That way, maybe you can avoid the mad rush to the waiver wire that we'll see for Jennings this week.

Robert Griffin III may be the most valuable asset in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers has an argument, of course, but Griffin is six years younger. And to think the Rams passed up Griffin. Yes, they got a boatload, but it still feels like they got ripped off. Speaking of the Rams, everyone has apologized for Sam Bradford's middling career since he has such a bad supporting cast. You tell me - is Griffin's any better? You could argue Griffin has the wost compilation of receivers and tight ends in the NFL, particularly now that Fred Davis is out for the year.

Watching what Griffin and Andrew Luck are doing as rookie quarterbacks, I'm ready to admit it. I want my Bills to suck. Stop pretending. Stop being mediocre. Just go 3-13 already. If rookie quarterbacks can succeed this quickly, I'd gladly tolerate a year of suckitude if it meant getting a chance at a franchise quarterback. With no quarterback, I feel like Red in Shawshank Redemption - I'm without hope.

The Patriots are a team whose whole is less than the sum of its parts. It's hard to explain why, but two things stand out to me - Brandon Lloyd has been a disappointment, with just one TD and zero catches over 40 yards, and Bill Belichick has been uncharacteristically conservative on fourth and short, playing #punttowin instead of going for the jugular, as he's typically done in years past. Lloyd's inability to make plays downfield helps explain Tom Brady's 7.4 YPA, a total exceeded by 11 quarterbacks.

Whatever was wrong with Chris Johnson, it was obviously nothing the Buffalo Bills defense couldn't cure. The bye will temporarily stop the bleeding for Buffalo, but Chris Johnson doing that after his pathetic start to the year has to make you curious about the Bills schedule. Reggie Bush owners, lick your chops - you have two games with Buffalo still left, including fantasy championship Week 16.

Speaking of schedules, have you seen what's on tap for the Eagles? Sure, there are two games left with Dallas, but other than that, it's a never-ending run of fantasy goodness: Falcons, Saints, Redskins twice (including Week 16), Panthers, Bucs, and Bengals. If you're 6-1 or 5-2 and already thinking about the fantasy playoffs, check out the playoff schedule: Bucs, Bengals, Redskins. It doesn't get better than that, folks. Go get any and all Eagles in trades, including, yes, Michael Vick. If you don't like Andy Reid's crew, check out San Diego and Denver - they're also coming off byes and have schedules softer than toilet paper.

In the history of the NFL, nobody had fewer INTs at the moment he threw his 150th TD than Dan Marino, who had just 69. Aaron Rodgers just broke that all-time record - by 27 INTs. Yes, Rodgers just threw his 150th career TD and has just 42 INTs. That's just sick - the equivalent of a sprinter lowering the world record in the 100-meters by half a second.

How good of a season is Josh Freeman having? He second in the NFL in YPA at 8.2, first in completions of 40(+) yards, and has a better TD:INT ratio than Eli Manning. Incredibly, the top two receivers in yards/reception (minimum 15 receptions) both catch passes from Freeman - Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson.

Maybe it's unfair to criticize Vincent Jackson after such a ridiculous stat line, but man did he look S-L-O-W on that 95-yard catch. Watching live, it looked like he was carrying a refrigerator on his back. To have a little fun, and try to get some marketing, I sent him a tweet, challenging him to a 95-yard footrace. If I won, I'd get nothing, but if he won, Stopa Law Firm (my Tampa-based law firm) would pay $5,000 to the charity of his choice. The official response from One Bucs Place? "Thank you for the generous offer, but we don't want a publicity stunt to make fun of the team." Ummm... who's making fun? No matter how slow Jackson looked on TV, he'd win by 15 yards... right?

Did the Browns really punt from the Colts 41 on fourth and 1 with 6:38 left, down 17-13? Apparently, Pat Shurmur was offended about being left out of the Norv Turner, Andy Reid, Jason Garrett and Chan Gailey quartet from last week. Seriously, what a disgrace.

Eli Manning and Peyton Manning have each thrown for exactly 8.0 YPA and exactly 301.3 yards/game. Prompts an interesting question... who's better, not long-term, but right now?

The rematch of SF/SEA shouldn't be an NFL game. When they play football, it's so physical, so ugly, and has so little passing... let's make it an MMA event instead. 22 matches, all 11 starters on offense and defense go against each other, whichever team wins more matches wins. MMA is what those teams do to each other on the field anyway, but actually having 22 MMA matches would be a heck of a lot more entertaining.

A boring SF/SEA game was saved by a totally insane gambling moment, with a safety getting called, then declined, with SF up by 7 and giving 7.5 points. The winner ATS hung in the balance three times on the final play - first by the penalty (which put two points on the board for SF), and then the measurement for first down (which, since it was short, prompted Jim Harbaugh to decline the penalty, taking the two points off the board), and then by the replay on whether it was a first down (which, since it was short, ensured Harbaugh would still decline the penalty). Even the Pitt/SD play from a few years ago (where Polamalu scored on the final play but it was disallowed) wasn't that crazy because, at least as I recall, it wasn't reviewed. Anyway, put aside the gambling craziness and put your coaching hat on. Was Jim Harbaugh right to decline the penalty? It made an extremely small difference, but I'd say so. The chances of SF losing with the ball up 7 with 45 seconds left were probably 1 in 100,000 (think Joe Pisarcik), whereas the chances of SF losing up by 9 with 45 seconds left but SEA kicking off were probably 1 in 10,000 (think Tenn/Det from a few weeks ago, which wasn't the same, but it's the best I've got). Small, yes, but there was a difference, and I'm really impressed Jim Harbaugh was heady enough to realize it in that situation. At least 25 NFL coaches would have just accepted the safety and not given it a thought.

Here are my waiver suggestions as we enter Week 8:

Josh Freeman, QB, Bucs: I talked about Freeman, above, but let's add this. The schedule. Going to Minnesota on a short week isn't terribly appealing this week, but after that it's Oakland, San Diego, Carolina, Atlanta, and Denver. On a Bucs team that can't stop anyone through the air - 8.5 YPA, 323 yards/game - Freeman will be airing it out much of the year. Forget the regression in 2011 - Freeman is going to finish 2012 as a top-12 fantasy quarterback. Let's just hope Vincent Jackson leaves the refrigerator at home.

Carson Palmer, QB, Raiders: While I fully advocate streaming defenses against Carson Palmer, that doesn't mean Palmer should be avoided for fantasy purposes. You see, when Palmer throws a pick-six, it puts him right back on the field, chucking it again. This week, Palmer gets a Chiefs squad that's allowing 8.9 YPA, 13 passing TDs, and a 106.5 QB rating. For some perspective, everyone picks on the Saints defense, and they allow a 106.6 QB rating. Not a bad week to "plug and play" Mr. Palmer.

Rashad Jennings, RB, Jaguars: I made some trade offers for Maurice Jones-Drew last week (before his injury, obviously) because I liked the Jaguars schedule. That same schedule will bode well for Jennings, particularly if MJD is out for the year, as it currently appears. Bid whatever you need to bid to get Jennings - who knows how many more chances you'll have to get a weekly fantasy starter from the scrap heap.

Ben Tate, RB, Texans: I haven't really talked about Tate this year in this column. Shame on me. In my leagues, he's universally owned, as he should be in deeper formats. But he's down to 60% ownership in Yahoo! leagues, a number that may go down with the Texans entering their bye. I think that's a mistake. Yes, he's been quiet, and yes, the Texans aren't run-blocking as well this year. But Arian Foster has been run into the ground, and Tate remains the epitome of high-upside - a top-10 RB, maybe top-5, if Foster were to get hurt. He's the exact type of player you should be stashing. In fact, right after the bye, Tate may be worth starting even with Foster healthy, as the Texans play the Bills in Week 9. I don't typically like holding backup running backs through their bye, but I'd make an exception for Tate.

Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Steelers: Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman were declared "out" relatively early in the week last week, creating optimism that Dwyer will get another chance for starter's touches. Dwyer was compared favorably to Jerome Bettis last week - an insane comparison given Bettis' resume, but at least that gives you a feel for Dwyer's body type and running style. You may recall Dwyer was the guy I profiled right before Week 1, not because there's anything special about him, but there is some upside on this Steelers offense. (Quick aside here: Dwyer had turf toe a few weeks ago, but after basically taking a month off, he showed no signs of it this week. I guess it is possible to return from turf toe in that period of time.)

Larod Stephens-Howling, RB, Cardinals: Last week, I cut Howling in the Stopa Law Firm League because William Powell was getting the touches. So, naturally, Howling posted a career-best rushing total against a Vikings defense that's stout against the run. Anyway, enough about me. If your league is deep enough that the Cardinals backs are relevant, Howling is obviously the guy you want. I'd rather own Jennings, Dwyer, and even Tate, though.

Phillip Tanner, RB, Cowboys: Felix Jones is hurt. Again. Perhaps the only surprise is that he was hurt so quickly - just two plays into his new starting role. Supposedly Jones may play this week, but follow the updates. If Jones plays, I'd prefer Howling over Tanner, but if Jones is out, I'd rather have Tanner than Howling.

Montario Hardesty, RB, Browns: Trent Richardson's rib issues are worse than the Browns let on. Let's keep following his progress through the week. Hardesty stands to gain if Richardson can't go.

Lance Moore and Joseph Morgan, WR, Saints: In some ways, Moore and Morgan could not be more different. Moore is a possession receiver and is owned in most formats, whereas Morgan is a deep threat that is unowned everywhere. They're similar, though, in that both benefit from the Saints fantasy carnival. I particularly like Moore again this week if Jimmy Graham is out again, as Moore clearly benefits from Graham's absence. Morgan, meanwhile, looks like a superior and more athletic version of Devery Henderson. Morgan may be a year away from being usable in standard leagues, but it's at least time to keep him on the radar. In shallower formats, I'd probably rather own Moore than Jennings.

Josh Gordon, WR, Browns: What more does this guy have to do? He's scoring from deep every week yet still unowned in the majority of fantasy leagues. The Browns aren't a doormat any more, folks - that offense is middle-of-the-pack, and Gordon is a big reason why.

Santana Moss, WR, Redskins: I dumped on Moss a couple of weeks ago, calling his long touchdown a fluke. At this point, though, Moss is like the winner of a reality show - he's the last man standing, as the competition around him as crumbled. Just be forewarned that he's only getting 4-5 targets per week, so expectations must be in line with that usage level.

Dexter McCluster, RB/WR, Chiefs (owned in 8% of Yahoo! leagues): Brady Quinn loves checkdowns. McCluster is the checkdown receiver. In PPR leagues, McCluster needs to be monitored, if not owned.

Vincent Brown, WR, Chargers: Brown hasn't played all year, having broken his ankle in the preseason. Recent news from the Chargers, wasn't good, either, as there's no timetable for his return. However, the Chargers just had their bye, they have a soft remaining schedule, and Philip Rivers isn't quite right. For deeper leagues, maybe Brown can make a difference in San Diego in a few weeks. At least keep Brown in mind, depending on your format.

Ryan Broyles, WR, Lions (owned in 0% of leagues): Titus Young has really stunk this year, and Nate Burleson is out for the year with a broken leg. With Calvin Johnson constantly getting double and triple-coverage, there's an opportunity for someone to emerge in Detroit. Broyles has the talent to do so - he's a rookie second-rounder but would have been drafted higher if not for a November, 2011 ACL tear. Frankly, I'm mildly disappointed Broyles scored on Monday night - he'd have really flown under the radar this week otherwise.

Heath Miller, TE, Steelers: Who would you rather own the rest of 2012, Miller or Vernon Davis? I get that Davis is the far superior player. Fake football, though, is all about setup. Davis is struggling on a 49ers offense that seems unwilling and unable to utilize his freakish athletic talents. Miller, meanwhile, has the perfect setup in Pittsburgh. The Steelers don't have a dominant running game, the defense has fallen off, and the receivers are better suited to work outside the numbers. Miller's five touchdowns so far are no fluke - he has 7 (yes, seven) targets inside the five. There's no way Miller should be on waivers - he's clearly an every-week fantasy starter.

Brent Celek, TE, Eagles: Michael Vick has struggled with deep throws this year, which sounds bad, but it actually helps Celek. I also like Philly's schedule, as I explained, above. Celek may just be a top-10 tight end the rest of the way. I'd rather have him than Scott Chandler

Matt Prater, K, Broncos: The over/under between Denver and New Orleans on Monday night is 54.5, and I like the over. Every Saints game except one has been over that total so far. Why not take the home kicker, at altitude, in a game we know will be high-scoring?

Vikings D/ST: There aren't a lot of defenses worth streaming this week, but if the Vikings are available in your league, I like their setup this week. It's a short week for Tampa, which has to go up to Minnesota off a demoralizing loss. The Thursday night games have basically all been low-scoring, and with one exception (Giants/Panthers), the home team has dominated.

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