Week 1 Waiver Wire Pickups (2020 Fantasy Football)
Somehow, someway, the 2020 NFL season is scheduled to start this Thursday.
It could feel sudden for everyone watching the NHL and NBA playoffs instead of preseason football throughout August. While this could have saved drafters from hasty overreactions in some cases, it also robbed us of the chance to chance to scout newcomers and analyze new coaching schemes. There’s been little to whet our appetite for news beyond camp reports, speculation, and coach speak.
Despite this unconventional summer, a couple of high-profile cuts at running back provide motivation for swift waiver-wire activity before the season kicks off. And due to the enhanced risks for injuries and COVID-related absences, it pays more than ever to eye handcuffs who are one step away from becoming fantasy fixtures.
Note: Rostered percentages provided via Yahoo leagues.
Top 5 Waiver Targets of Week 1
DeSean Jackson (WR – PHI): 50% Rostered
Jackson opened 2019 with 154 yards and two touchdowns against Washington. Because of an abdominal strain, he played just once more. After receiving an offseason to heal, the 33-year-old is poised to once again make an instant impact against the same Week 1 opponent. Washington doesn’t have the secondary to contain Jackson, and that’s before accounting for the newly signed Kendall Fuller not practicing in recent days. The Eagles, meanwhile, will open the season without rookie wideout Jalen Reagor. While certainly still an injury risk, Jackson maintains major downfield upside when active in an advantageous matchup. Add him and toss him right into your starting lineup.
Tony Pollard (RB – DAL): 42% Rostered
It’s surprising that Pollard has gone undrafted in more than half of Yahoo leagues. While he’s highly unlikely to contribute immediately behind Ezekiel Elliott, the second-year back is arguably the NFL’s premier handcuff who brandishes sky-high upside.
Elliott played all 16 games last season, so Pollard did not see more than 36% of Dallas’ snaps in a single contest. He nevertheless exceeded 100 rushing yards with a touchdown in a pair of blowout wins. The 2019 fourth-round pick demonstrated a big-play burst by breaking off five of just 86 handoffs for at least 15 yards. If anything happens to Elliott, who accrued 736 touches over the last two seasons, Pollard would immediately slide into a high-volume starting gig in last year’s top-ranked offense. There’s even a chance he carves out a more significant supplementary role and produces standalone flex value more often in 2020.
Chris Thompson (RB – JAC): 39% Rostered
Even if the Jaguars hadn’t sent shock waves through the fantasy community by cutting Leonard Fournette last week, Thompson may have very well received a larger pass-catching role than anticipated. He averaged 3.9 catches per game in his final three years with Washington. Unfortunately, injuries limited him to just 31 games. While investors can’t count on him for the long haul, Thompson could replicate last year’s strong September, in which he racked up 49.7 PPR points in four bouts without a single touchdown.
If the Jaguars are as bad as everyone thinks, they’re going to have to pass a lot. Fournette, never known for his playmaking in open space, reeled in 76 receptions on 100 targets after catching 58 of 74 targets in the previous two seasons combined. Ryquell Armstead will also start on the COVID-19 list and isn’t expected back anytime soon. That means Thompson could see most of Jacksonville’s early snaps and again open 2020 as a PPR monster … or at least a high-floor flex option.
Jack Doyle (TE – IND): 30% Rostered
As noted by The Athletic’s Stephen Holder, an NFL-high 36.3% of the Chargers’ targets went to tight ends from 2014 to 2019. Second on that list at 31.9% are the Eagles, who had Frank Reich as their offensive coordinator when Zach Ertz averaged 7.9 targets per game in 2017. Reich now coaches former Chargers quarterback Rivers in Indianapolis. While the Colts led the NFL with 28 touchdowns at tight ends in the last two years, Eric Ebron is now in Pittsburgh. His potential goal-line replacement, Trey Burton, is expected to miss the start of the season after injuring his calf in practice.
That’s a whole lot of checks pointing to a big campaign from Doyle.
Playing without Andrew Luck last year, Doyle mustered just 43 catches for 448 yards in a full season. Before 2019, however, he averaged 4.5 catches for 41.1 yards per game over the prior three years. The reliable safety valve had notched a catch rate over 71.0% every season before the rate tumbled to 59.7% alongside Jacoby Brissett and Brian Hoyer. Now that he’s upgrading to Rivers as the team’s clear top tight end, Doyle could be in store for a PPR goldmine. If Burton misses multiple weeks, Doyle may also match or exceed his modest career-high of five touchdowns.
Gardner Minshew II (QB – JAC): 27% Rostered
While nobody should draft Minshew in the first round, feel free to claim him off the wire. Although he gained popularity as more of a cult hero than a strong NFL quarterback, he averaged more fantasy points per contest (16.8) than Jared Goff, Jimmy Garoppolo, or Baker Mayfield. The mustachioed Minshew padded that output with 344 rushing yards, but a 1.3% interception rate and 33.6 passing attempts per contest — despite entering two of 14 games from the bench — also helped.
Having ransacked the roster even more, the Jaguars are a primary contender for next year’s No. 1 pick. Expected to often play from behind without Fournette commanding carries, Minshew should receive an even meatier aerial workload in 2020. It won’t always be pretty, but the unlikely starter could leverage his legs and heavy passing volume into a top-15 finish at quarterback.
Notable Players 35-50% Rostered
Allen Lazard (WR – GB): 44%
Being Aaron Rodgers‘ No. 2 receiver doesn’t hold the same weight as it used to. A starting role doesn’t guarantee fantasy stardom for Lazard, but he’s certainly earned a larger opportunity in 2020. Having not received a single target until Week 6, Lazard eventually saw the field. He immediately scored a pivotal fourth-quarterback touchdown in a Monday Night Football win, leading Rodgers to call for more of the Iowa State alum.
While Lazard still mustered a pedestrian 43.3 receiving yards per game from Week 6 onward, he received just 52 targets in occasionally uneven playing time. Given his 67.7% catch rate and 13.6 yards per catch, that should change. Lazard has WR3 capability if given a proper workload.
Sammy Watkins (WR – KC): 42%
The year everyone gives up on Watkins is finally going to be when he delivers on his untapped potential, right? The former fourth overall NFL Draft pick hasn’t logged a 16-game season since his 2014 rookie campaign, and he hasn’t even topped 675 receiving yards since tallying 1,047 in 2015. One could argue that only past expectations and name value are keeping Watkins relevant.
An easy counter for that: Patrick Mahomes. One cannot ignore a 27-year-old with all the physical tools one would want in a top receiver when he’s teammates with the best quarterback in the land. As far as the regular season goes, Watkins faded into obscurity after misleading everyone with a wild 198-yard, three-touchdown Week 1 showing. He rebounded, however, to record 288 yards and a touchdown in three playoff wins. We’re probably just holding on to an unrequited dream at this point, but Watkins remains in the perfect situation to shine as a post-hype gem.
Boston Scott (RB – PHI): 40%
The Eagles probably wouldn’t have limited their 53-man roster to three running backs if they were truly concerned about Miles Sanders‘ Week 1 availability. Besides, the 5’6″ Scott would be unlikely to assume a leading running role regardless. However, far too many gamers appear to be overlooking his pass-catching potential.
Scott hardly played before an in-game Sanders injury pressed him into action Week 14. He led the Eagles to victory over the Giants with 128 yards (59 rushing, 69 receiving) and a touchdown. Although Sanders returned, Scott still submitted 350 yards in the final four weeks, again torching the G-Men for three touchdowns in the season finale. With the help of 23 receptions, he was the half-PPR RB9 during that span. Doug Pederson tends to prefer teamwork in his backfield, so Scott could pay off as a Thompson or Tarik Cohen type of flex option in full or half-PPR formats.
Preston Williams (WR – MIA): 40%
Before tearing his ACL midway through the season, Williams registered 32 catches for 428 yards and three touchdowns in eight games. While not too economical in his opportunities, his 60 targets jump off the page. Since all those scores came from Ryan Fitzpatrick, Williams averaged 11.1 fantasy points (half-PPR) in five full games played with the veteran quarterback. The Dolphins declared Fitzpatrick their Week 1 starter, so look for the undrafted free agent to re-establish that rapport as an unheralded No. 2 receiver alongside DeVante Parker.
Tennessee Titans D/ST: 37%
There aren’t too many Week 1 defenses to stream, so hopefully you considered the opening matchup when selecting your defense. The best widely available option is the Titans, who have the potential to emerge as a top-tier unit after signing Jadeveon Clowney. They produced 43 sacks and 23 takeaways last season while ranking 12th in points allowed (20.7 per game), putting them 11th in fantasy scoring. While the Broncos spent the offseason accumulating skill-position players for Drew Lock, Denver still represents a solid matchup for an opposing defense. Adding Clowney to their pass-rush gives this unit immense upside heading into 2020.
Notable Players 10-35% Rostered
Darrel Williams (RB – KC): 23%
Damien Williams‘ decision to opt out immediately vaulted Clyde Edwards-Helaire into the first round of fantasy drafts before ever playing an NFL down. Starting in the NFL’s most dangerous offense justifiably has everyone envisioning fantasy stardom. But what if he’s not the only name on the calling card? The Athletic’s Nate Taylor suggested that the rookie could share the backfield touches with Darrel Williams in Thursday night’s opener against Houston. At the worst, that speculation seems to fortify the 25-year-old as CEH’s direct understudy.
Darrel Williams averaged a minuscule 3.4 yards per carry last season, but the Mahomes-led juggernaut could nevertheless turn any active participant into a major fantasy contributor. To wit, he received double-digit touches just three times (14 in Week 3, 11 in Week 4, and 13 in Week 11) in 2019. Even that modest usage resulted in 43.8 combined half-PPR points, or 14.6 per game. Only 14 running backs averaged 14.0 PPG or more last season. Williams isn’t receiving enough recognition as a handcuff who would instantly become an every-week starter if given top billing — or a flex candidate in a fairly even split — in Kansas City.
Hunter Renfrow (WR – LV): 19%
Bryan Edwards (WR – LV): 17%
Before he could make his team debut, the Raiders placed Tyrell Williams on the injured reserve with a torn shoulder labrum. Now that he newly signed receiver is out for the season, Derek Carr will need someone else to make a splash in their Las Vegas unveiling. Henry Ruggs III is a worthy upside choice who is only available in 31% of Yahoo leagues. Add the first-round draft pick now if he’s still unclaimed. Although Renfrow is a far less exciting option, he closed his rookie season with a pair of 100-yard performances, scoring a touchdown each time. That was after returning from a broken rib and a punctured lung that figured to end his season. He had previously procured 281 yards and two scores over his prior five contests.
Another first-year addition to the Raiders’ receiver room, Edwards could end up making a bigger mark than Ruggs. Last month, Carr compared the 81st overall pick to Davante Adams in terms of his aggressive route-running. A Week 1 clash against Carolina opens the door for someone to jump out of the gate.
Devine Ozigbo (RB – JAC): 12%
Thompson is Jacksonville’s top RB to add, but nobody expects him to claim significant handoffs. Somebody needs to run the ball sometimes, so expect Ozigbo and/or James Robinson to see plenty of action. The 6’2″, 225-pound Ozigbo is a bruiser more likely to fill a high-volume rushing void, particularly in goal-line situations. Those seeking more upside may want to instead throw a dart on Robinson, who has a better chance of eventually eating into Thompson’s targets. Although both Ozigbo and Robinson are expected to get touches early, it may not stay a committee for long if one proves himself worthy of the spotlight.
Bryce Love (RB – WAS): 11%
Antonio Gibson should be long gone, but that’s not the case in 18% of Yahoo leagues. Double-check the waiver wire if you drafted early. The rookie was already gaining steam before Washington tore its backfield expectations into shreds by releasing Adrian Peterson.
Like Gibson, Love has never gotten a taste of NFL action. The Heisman Trophy finalist sat out his entire rookie campaign due to an ACL injury, but he’s on the way back to a wide-open depth chart. We’ve seen what a healthy Love is capable of when running for 2,118 yards and 19 touchdowns in his junior year at Stanford. While Washington is likely to ease him into action, the 23-year-old could make a real impact sometime this season.
Joshua Kelley (RB – LAC): 10%
Can Austin Ekeler handle an every-down role for the Chargers? Probably. Yet it’s far from a certainty he assumes a bell-cow allotment in place of Melvin Gordon. Even when dominating during Gordon’s four-game holdout, Ekeler etched out 14 carries per contest without ever playing more than 75% of the offensive snaps. Ekeler should be a fantasy stud anyway, but there’s also room for Kelley to assume some ground work. Those who stash the rookie in leagues with ample bench space should receive an answer soon enough; each of the Chargers’ first three opponents (Cincinnati, Kansas City, and Carolina) finished 2019 in the bottom 10th of fantasy points allowed to running backs.
Notable Players <10% Rostered
Tyrod Taylor (QB – LAC): 8%
Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn has labeled Taylor his Week 1 starter over rookie Justin Herbert. That gives the well-traveled Taylor a golden opportunity to open strong against the Bengals, who ceded an NFL-worst 148.9 quarterback rating last season. Per NFL.com, they also surrendered a league-high 441 rushing yards to quarterbacks. Taylor averaged 35.8 yards per game on the ground when starting for Buffalo from 2015-17, leading him to finish each season as the QB16 or better. He’s also incredibly careful with the pigskin, surrendering just 20 interceptions over 1,362 career passing attempts. Consider Taylor an intriguing early-season streamer, as other potential shootouts await in Kansas City, Carolina, and Tampa Bay.
Steven Sims Jr. (WR – WAS): 6%
Sims quietly closed his rookie campaign by registering 230 receiving yards and four touchdowns over Washington’s last four games. As things stand now, he looks like the team’s second wide receiver behind Terry McLaurin with the added bonus of seeing slot work. Don’t be surprised if Sims counters Jackson with a big Week 1 play or two and becomes one of next week’s most popular pick-ups.
Frank Gore (RB – NYJ): 5%
As his son begins his college football career, the indestructible Gore will look to exceed 150 carries for the 15th straight season. Write off the 37-year-old at your own risk. Some fantasy managers may be counting on a big bounce-back year from Le’Veon Bell, but Adam Gase doesn’t seem as convinced. He doesn’t want to deploy Bell as a bell-cow, so the former Dolphins coach could return to a familiar face for some handoffs. Since Gore averaged 3.6 yards per carry last year, it probably won’t matter beyond truly deep leagues unless some of those touches come in the end zone. Just don’t forget about the ageless wonder in larger competitive contests, especially if Bell once again fails to stay upright for 16 games.
Darrynton Evans (RB – TEN): 4%
While Derrick Henry is the rare running back who doesn’t have to share, Evans is the only other tailback on Tennessee’s 53-man roster. Including the playoffs, Henry carried the ball 386 times in 18 games. If he wears down from that gargantuan workload, stashing the third-round pick on a deep bench would pay handsome dividends. After depositing 23 touchdowns in his junior year at Appalachian State, Evans displayed blazing speed by running a 4.41-second 40-yard dash. Maybe he gets a few chances to break off a big play as a change-of-pace back to the bulldozing Henry.
Scotty Miller (WR – TB): 1%
Tom Brady only has one football to feed Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, Leonard Fournette, and Ronald Jones. Miller, as a result, has been relegated to no more than a last-round flier in Best Ball drafts. Be sure to keep tabs on the 2019 sixth-round pick in deeper formats. Per the Tampa Bay Times‘ Rick Stroud, Brady called Miller a “great, consistent, dependable, trustworthy player” who has “earned a big role.” Just don’t fall into the trap of labeling the undersized wideout as the new Julian Edelman. Weeks ago, Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians said Miller offers more speed on the outside, and he’d rather keep Godwin in the slot.
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