Fantasy football’s volatile storyline is often dominated by injuries, at least as much as with the real NFL. The Eagles and Cowboys appeared to be poised for a season-long power struggle to control the division, if not the conference as well. The Redskins may as well have been an afterthought, sitting at 3-6. But week nine revived the harsh reality that any team could be one hit away from a lost season. Tony Romo and Nick Foles each have fractures with uncertain timetables for return, while Robert Griffin III just made his first start since leaving week two with a dislocated ankle. Arian Foster and Giovani Bernard joined a long list of fallen running backs, and their backups will have opportunities that come paired with great responsibility. Hopefully your fantasy football team is insulated with depth to survive the winter weeks that loom ahead.
Here are some thoughts on the top waiver wire pickups to add to your fantasy football lineup.
Brian Hoyer (owned in 33.6 percent of ESPN leagues)
Cleveland has gotten off to a 5-3 start thanks, in part, to starting quarterback Brian Hoyer. Without Josh Gordon and with limited contribution from Jordan Cameron, the sixth-year veteran has tossed a touchdown in all but one game this year. No quarterback has led more game-winning drives (3) or fourth-quarter comebacks (3) this season. Hoyer throws interceptions on just 1.6 percent of his passes, which is sixth best in the NFL. In the last two games, Hoyer ranks sixth with 287.5 yards passing.
Mark Sanchez (owned in 0.1 percent of ESPN leagues)
In week nine’s 31-21 win over Houston, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles left with a broken collarbone. Adam Schefter reported Monday that he will not need surgery, but will miss the next six to eight weeks. Backup Mark Sanchez stepped in to fill the void Sunday, and will remain at the helm until Foles is cleared for return. Playing in relief against the league’s 29th ranked pass defense, Sanchez completed 15 for 22 (68.2 percent) for 202 yards, two scores, and two interceptions. On the slate for Philadelphia are Carolina, Green Bay, and Tennessee, who own the NFL’s 17th, ninth, and 16th best pass defenses, respectively.
Past targets include: Ryan Tannehill and Ben Roethlisberger (week 9), Derek Carr, Joe Flacco, Kyle Orton, and Mike Glennon (week 8), Carson Palmer and Kirk Cousins (week 7), Teddy Bridgewater (week 5).
Bobby Rainey (owned in 42.7 percent of ESPN leagues)
With limited opportunity this season, Bobby Rainey has run 81 times for 374 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and a touchdown. He has also added 23 catches for 214 yards and another score. Starting for the Buccaneers in week nine, Rainey got 20 touches for 121 total yards. Over his three 2014 games without Doug Martin, the backup has averaged 21.0 touches for 133.3 total yards and no scores. Rainey’s two touchdowns this season have come during games with both rushers in the lineup. Martin is running for 2.9 yards per carry, and has yet to break 45 rushing yards in a game this year.
Tre Mason (owned in 49.1 percent of ESPN leagues)
Over the last three weeks, the St. Louis backfield has taken shape, albeit a new shape. Opening day starter Zac Stacy has run five times for 17 yards, Benny Cunningham has carried the ball 10 times for 40 yards, and rookie Tre Mason has garnered 44 rush attempts for 182 yards and a touchdown. Stacy and Cunningham are each averaging just 3.9 yards per carry in 2014, which matches what Stacy did a year ago. Mason is running at a clip of 4.5 yards per attempt. Beginning week five of 2013, when Stacy rose to the starting role, only Eddie Lacy carried the ball more through week 17.
Alfred Blue (owned in 7.0 percent of ESPN leagues)
Through nine weeks, only DeMarco Murray has more carries and yards than Arian Foster. Foster has averaged 20.1 run attempts and 102.8 rushing yards each week, with an additional 3.3 catches for 28.6 yards. Backup Alfred Blue started week three with Foster sidelined, using 14 touches to create 88 total yards. He rushed for 6.0 yards per carry that day, though Blue has an average of only 3.4 yards per attempt this year. Foster left week nine’s game in the third quarter. ESPN Texans reporter Tania Ganguli wrote Sunday at 5:52 PM that she was “sensing some pessimism about Foster’s groin injury. MRI will give a clearer picture.” Time will tell, while the rookie backup awaits his next start. Houston is on bye week 10, before facing Cleveland’s 31st ranked run defense week 11.
Jeremy Hill (owned in 76.8 percent of ESPN leagues)
After playing second fiddle to Giovani Bernard for seven games, Jeremy Hill got his first NFL start Sunday. The rookie rushed 24 times for 154 yards and two scores, and added a nine-yard reception. He ran for 6.4 yards per carry against Jacksonville’s 24th ranked run defense. Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer said Monday that Bernard would not play Thursday night against the Browns. ESPN Bengals writer Coley Harvey reported “Zero” chance that Hill replaces Bernard in the starting role. That’s well and good, but starter had produced just 2.7 yards per carry in his two previous games, and Hill next gets to face Cleveland’s porous run defense (139.6 yards per game).
Past targets include: Ronnie Hillman, Charles Sims, Jonas Gray, and Christine Michael (week 9), Denard Robinson, Bryce Brown, Anthony Dixon, and Jonathan Stewart (week 8), Branden Oliver, Juwan Thompson, and Chris Ivory (week 7), Antone Smith , Joseph Randle (week 6), Jerick McKinnon, Khiry Robinson (week 5), Lorenzo Taliaferro (week 4), and Knile Davis (week 3).
Donte Moncrief (owned in 8.5 percent of ESPN leagues)
In week eight’s 54-31 loss to Pittsburgh, Donte Moncrief caught seven of 12 targets for 113 yards and a touchdown. With Reggie Wayne sidelined during that game, the rookie led the team in receptions and trailed only T.Y. Hilton in yards. So far this season, Moncrief has 16 catches for 216 yards and the lone score. Over his final two of three seasons at Mississippi, the 6-foot-3 receiver caught 62.5 passes for 958.5 yards and 8.0 touchdowns per season, with 4.8 grabs for 73.7 yards and 0.6 scores each week.
Malcom Floyd (owned in 42.7 percent of ESPN leagues)
Malcom Floyd is a 6-foot-5 receiver who is brother to former NFL receiver Malcolm Floyd. Just don’t confuse him with Michael Floyd of the Arizona Cardinals. The Chargers starting wideout caught four of five targets for 60 yards in Sunday’s 37-0 blowout loss in Miami. After nine games, Floyd has caught 3.1 of 4.9 targets for 58.9 yards each week. Only three times this year has second-year receiver Keenan Allen out-produced the 11-year veteran. San Diego gets a week 10 bye after losing three straight. They will face the winless raiders in week 11.
Doug Baldwin (owned in 75.7 percent of ESPN leagues)
Since losing Percy Harvin in a trade to the Jets, Seattle has won two of three to improve their record to 5-3. Doug Baldwin, meanwhile, has been the most prominent piece of the passing game by far. His 25 targets, 18 receptions, 222 yards, and one touchdown are all best on the team since the trade. Similar to DeMarco Murray’s dominance over second place all season, Baldwin stands atop second place in targets by 36.0 percent (Jermaine Kearse, 16 targets), receptions by 50.0 percent (Paul Richardson, nine catches), and yards by 56.8 percent (Marshawn Lynch, 96 receiving yards). For the season, Baldwin is first on the team with 49 targets, 34 receptions, and 409 yards.
Past targets include: Brandon LaFell, Martavis Bryant, Josh Gordon, and John Brown (week 9), Jermaine Kearse (week 8), Rueben Randle, Odell Beckham Jr., Mohamed Sanu, Cecil Shorts, and Andre Holmes (week 7), Terrance Williams, Andrew Hawkins (week 5), Jordan Matthews, John Brown, and Brian Quick (week 4), Allen Hurns and Steve Smith Sr. (week 2).
Jared Cook (owned in 50.3 percent of ESPN leagues)
St. Louis placed Brian Quick on injured reserve October 30, ending his season. Quick leads the team with 375 yards, and ranks second with 39 targets, 25 catches, and three touchdowns. Enter Jared Cook, the 6-foot-4 tight end from South Carolina. The sixth-year veteran leads the Rams with 53 targets and 29 receptions, while his 343 yards rank second to Quick. Week nine’s 13-10 win over San Francisco was an abysmal passing exhibition, as the two teams combined for 285 yards passing. Good thing this wasn’t one of the London games designed to attract new fans. Cook led the team with five targets, but only managed to catch two passes for 12 yards. Arizona’s 32nd ranked pass defense is up next.
Stats and data courtesy of pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, spotrac.com, footballguys.com, and profootballfocus.com.