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NFL Waiver Wire: Early Look at the Waiver Wire

Kevin Payne

Kevin has worked for Rotowire just under a decade and has covered basketball, baseball and football. A glutton for punishment, he roots for his hometown Bills, Sabres and the New York Yankees. He hosts the RotoWire SiriusXM show every Wednesday and Friday and you can follow him on Twitter @KCPayne26.

Welcome back to another season of "Working the Wire." Hopefully this column helped you last season, and if you're a new subscriber, welcome aboard.

This column is geared toward "standard" 12-team leagues and based on a $100 budget for free agents. Please, please adjust for your league based upon both the number of teams (I play in a 24-team hometown league) and budget.

I'll use the format I used last year, which seemed to go over well. However, please feel free to make suggestions if there's anything else you'd like me to cover. I will cover all the skill positions in the following ways: Primary Targets, Secondary Targets and Hail Mary's. Not to insult your intelligence, but they're just how they sound:

Primary Targets are players you should go after aggressively; Secondary Targets are players you're taking a chance on; Hail Mary's are long shots, players who pan out usually once in 50 times (and they did a couple times last season).

There aren't a ton of waiver pickups this week, so I'll talk a little bit about my strategy heading into drafts and players I will target and avoid.

First, I'm on board with waiting for a quarterback in leagues that start only one quarterback. I'm perfectly fine with waiting until after round five and grabbing someone like Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck, Nick Foles, Robert Griffin, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton or Tony Romo. I'm probably more bullish on Romo than most given that the healthy, non-suspended players of the Cowboys' defense could be historically bad. That could lead to Romo leading the league in pass attempts and by sheer volume make him a top-5 fantasy quarterback. I'm also more than comfortable taking Dez Bryant in the late first, early second round and pairing him with Romo parlaying the idea above.

I recently drafted Doug Martin in the fourth round of my NFFC draft, and while I've never been high on him, I think he's a good value there. Charles Sims is out for a long time, and I can easily see Martin getting 20-plus touches every week.

Toby Gerhart is another player in line for a big workload and doesn't have a ton of mileage. He's a great player to target around round five who will see a heavy dose of touches. The Jaguars defense has improved and could end up in a lot of low-scoring, grind-it-out games where Gerhart is heavily utilized.

Eddie Lacy is the running back version of Keenan Allen. Lacy had 1,127 rushing yards and 10 of his 11 touchdowns last season after Week 4. Allen had 1,016 receiving yards and all eight of his touchdowns accumulated after Week 3. Prorating those numbers shows the potential of both players with Allen likely returning the most profit as a lower draft pick.

Call me stubborn, and usually I love young players with upside, but I'm not ready to rank the young receivers in Chicago and Arizona ahead of the veterans. I'm still taking Brandon Marshall over Alshon Jeffery and Larry Fitzgerald over Michael Floyd in any draft. The youngsters will be more valuable at some point; but not this season.

I spent a lot of my Saturday nights last fall watching Brandin Cooks light it up for Oregon State and put up video game numbers. He's done nothing but impress at Saints camp and could be PPR gold this season. However, the price tag on him is getting a little steep, and if you are really set on getting him you'll need to use as high as a fourth-round pick. I'm not sure I'm ready to make that big of an investment.

Unlike past years, I'm extremely high on rookies this season, besides Cooks. I've bought into the idea of drafting a bunch of rookies in the mid-rounds and seeing who pans out. I'd target Devonta Freeman, Carlos Hyde and Terrance West after round six. Each player has the ability to overtake the veteran playing ahead of them and get the lion's share of touches after a few weeks.

Rookie wide receivers can be taken much later, and probably the most intriguing is Marquise Lee. Cecil Shorts isn't the best model of health, and Lee was widely considered the top college wide receiver before suspect quarterback play and injuries derailed his season last year. Teammate Allen Robinson can be taken later and also has upside.

Panthers rookie Kelvin Benjamin has looked fantastic during camp, and for "not being polished" he certainly passes the eye test. He likely will see a lot of one-on-one coverage with teams having to respect the run game and should be targeted heavily in the red zone.

Giants rookie Odell Beckham has been banged up but should be ready for Week 1. He'll probably be a hit-or-miss player who can go 4-108-1 or disappoint with 4-30.

I want to be higher on Mike Evans but I can't make the leap. I love him from a skill set standpoint, it's his quarterback that's holding me back. It's easy to knock a quarterback who isn't ranked in the top 20 by most, but that's what I'm going to do with Josh McCown. He was a nice story for the Bears last season, and it's hard outside of Nick Foles to find someone with a 13:1 TD:INT ratio. However, I went back and watched a lot of his game film and saw multiple passes that should have been intercepted. If I'm in a two-quarterback league I'd steer clear of the Tampa Bay quarterbacks but, gun-to-head, I expect Mike Glennon to put up more fantasy stats than McCown this year.

I took Sammy Watkins during my NFFC draft (full point PPR) at pick 67 with the idea the Bills are going to force the ball to him on a weekly basis. Of course, he suffered a rib injury Saturday night, and his health is now a concern. He's a high-risk, high-reward player.

Now, players I'm avoiding.

Let's start with "husband of the year" Ray Rice. I know he's an easy target given his off-field transgressions, but let's look at what he did last season on the field. First, he ran the ball a ton in college and had a whopping 3.1 YPC mark last season. In fact, Rice had 45 or fewer rushing yards in 11 of his 15 games last season. Bernard Pierce is in a great position to get most of the workload if he gets off to a good start facing two divisional rivals in the first two weeks of the season.

Aside from Michael Crabtree, I'm avoiding all of the 49ers receiving corps. Anquan Boldin, according to Chris Liss, is as old as Jeff Erickson and has the same speed. I'm not sure if the latter was a compliment or insult, but there's something to read into there. Boldin is actually only 33 and outside of his 208-yard, Week 1 performance he had only one game with more than 100 yards (Week 17). Now, Colin Kaepernick has to spread the ball to not only him but Stevie Johnson (good riddance, from a Buffalo fan) and Vernon Davis after he looks at Michael Crabtree as his favorite target. Yes, Johnson, Davis and Boldin will have good games, but each will also be inconsistent.

I'll pass on the running back situations for the Jets, Saints, Raiders. If anything, pick one and don't get caught up in the handcuffing strategy. You could easily end up with two wasted spots on your roster.

Onto some waiver adds for the week for those who have already drafted. Usually the prices will be higher on players but given that most drafts have happened there's no reason to blow your money, and if you can first-come-first-served these players, more power to you.


Primary Targets

Jonathan Grimes, HOU -
I love reading pieces about how Arian Foster is going to be a bust but never mention Grimes would benefit if something happens to Foster. A product of William and Mary, Grimes recorded 126 yards from scrimmage Week 17 in place of Foster and is the clear-cut backup after the release of Andre Brown. Even if Foster is healthy, Grimes is going to get 5-10 touches per game. FAAB: $3-5

Bobby Rainey, TB -
With the injury to Charles Sims, Rainey finds himself as Doug Martin's backup. It remains to be seen how much Martin will be used, but Rainey should find his way to a handful of touches at a minimum. He totaled three touchdowns and 163 rushing yards in a game against the Falcons last season, so there is some upside here. Just keep in mind he needs an injury to Martin to truly become fantasy relevant. FAAB: $3-5

LeGarrette Blount, PIT -
It appears Blount is in line for the goal-line work ahead of teammate Le'Veon Bell, which means something in standard, non-PPR formats. Blount has actually rushed for more than 770 yards in three of the last four seasons, and it seems like a decade ago he was sucker-punching a player from Boise State. Just keep in mind that he has 23 career catches in four seasons, so his rushing ability is all you're getting. FAAB: $3-5 in non-PPR leagues

Secondary Targets

Latavius Murray, OAK -
He's third on the depth chart but could find his way into a share of the carries with two injury-prone running backs (Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden) in front of him. The Raiders expect to split touches between the two veterans, and Murray would step into one of those roles should an injury occur. That's not a far-fetched scenario. FAAB: $1-2


Secondary Targets

Markus Wheaton, PIT -
After a rookie season marred by injury, the Steelers are counting on Wheaton to become the second receiver after Antonio Brown. Each has a similar skill set in that they aren't big targets but are fast, shifty players who can make a big play after the catch. If he's polished his route-running and has the confidence of Ben Roethlisberger, Wheaton could be primed for a breakout season. FAAB: $2-4


Secondary Targets

Travis Kelce, KC -
There's a lot made of the three big quarterbacks to draft with Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, yet there's the same situation with the tight ends in Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Julius Thomas. As mentioned, I'm comfortable waiting on a quarterback. With tight ends, if I miss out on the top 3, I'll take two guys who I hope will be diamonds in the rough. Kelce makes that list as the top tight end in Andy Reid's system and a nice safety blanket for Alex Smith. Preseason doesn't mean a lot, but it was nice to see him go for a 69-yard touchdown on a play that displayed his athleticism. We have him penciled in for 544 receiving yards and five touchdowns, but he has the upside for more. FAAB: $1-2