In a year overwrought with uncertainty from its veteran studs, the NFL is manufacturing new stars faster than the average fan can keep up. The running back landscape once dominated by guys like Adrian, Ray, LeSean, and Maurice is now littered by up-and-comers named Boom, Boobie, Shoelace, Storm, and Christine. It may sound like a rerun of American Gladiators, but they are the future of the league you’ve grown to love. Especially in keeper and dynasty leagues, you better keep up if you have hopes of keeping your franchise afloat.
Here are some thoughts on the top waiver wire pickups to add to your fantasy football lineup.
Zach Mettenberger (owned in 4.1 percent of ESPN leagues)
In his first NFL start, Zach Mettenberger completed 65.9 percent of his passes for 299 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. The Titans rookie quarterback has ranked 17th in the NFL with 15.3 fantasy points per week. On Sunday against the Eagles’ 28th ranked pass defense, Mettenberger threw for 345 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Tennessee’s next two games are versus Chicago and Cincinnati, who own the 25th and 20th ranked pass defenses, respectively.
Ryan Tannehill (owned in 49.6 percent of ESPN leagues)
Since Week 4, Ryan Tannehill has led the NFL with his 70.3 completion percentage. During this stretch, he has averaged 247.0 yards, 1.9 scores, and 0.7 interceptions, while also ranking seventh among all quarterbacks with 19.3 standard points per game. Tannehill has only scored below 13 fantasy points once since Week 4, which came Week 10 against Detroit’s league-leading defense. Miami has a slate of favorable matchups ahead for the young passer, including the 13th (Packers), 23rd (Panthers), and 16th best (Jets) pass defenses.
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Latavius Murray (owned in 10.1 percent of ESPN leagues)
Prior to Week 12, Latavius Murray had 10 career carries for 54 yards. On Thursday Night Football last week, the second-year back exploded with four carries for 112 yards and two scores. But as exciting as that sounds, it should be seen to be appreciated. After scoring his first NFL touchdown on an 11-yard run in the first quarter, Murray broke free for a 90-yard score in the second period. Murray left later in the first half with a concussion, and did not return. He may have earned the starting job after contributing more than one-eighth of Oakland’s season rushing total in one night (112 of 809 yards).
LeGarrette Blount (owned in 20.1 percent of ESPN leagues)
Pittsburgh served their bye Week 12, and on Tuesday released fifth-year veteran LeGarrette Blount. After he went unclaimed on waivers, New England signed him to a two-year contract Thursday, in a backfield missing Stevan Ridley for the rest of the season. Rookie Jonas Gray overslept Friday, and got sent home as soon as he arrived late to practice. He did not play a single snap Sunday against Detroit. Blount stepped in for an immediate impact, rushing 12 times for 78 yards and two touchdowns. He even broke free for a 33-yard scamper against the number one run defense. With the Patriots last year, Blount ran 153 times for 772 yards (5.0 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns. Gray may return from the doghouse next week, but it’s conceivable for Blount to remain heavily involved moving ahead.
Daniel Herron (owned in 15.1 percent of ESPN leagues)
Dan Herron, Boom Herron, Daniel Herron. He’s a new enough face that there remains no consensus for what to call him. It make take a couple tries to find him on the Internet. There was no difficulty finding him on the field last Sunday, when Herron played 33 of the team’s 76 offensive snaps (43.4 percent). Opening day starter Trent Richardson played 42 snaps (55.3 percent) against the Jaguars, but it was the no name second-year back who got the start. For the day, Herron got 17 touches for 96 total yards, while the former third overall pick touched the ball 14 times for 42 yards and a trip to pay dirt. Richardson’s lone score came from 1 yard out in the third quarter. Owners already know what to expect from the former Cleveland back; the ceiling is still unknown for Herron.
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Stedman Bailey (owned in 0.1 percent of ESPN leagues)
Shaun Hill was promoted to starter in advance of Week 11’s game against Denver. In the last two weeks, Hill has completed 59.4 percent for an average of 209.0 yards, 1.0 touchdown, and 1.0 interception. Kenny Britt has led the team with 13 targets and 165 receiving yards. But Stedman Bailey has caught a team-high 10 passes in Hill’s offense. During this time, the second-year wideout has caught 10 of 12 targets for 115 yards and a score. His 83.3 catch percentage is also best among his teammates, and Bailey’s red zone numbers area all team highs as well, where he’s caught both of his two targets, for 13 yards and a touchdown. Bailey was the third West Virginia player taken in the 2012 NFL Draft, and second by the Rams. In their final year of school, Geno Smith completed 71.2 percent of his throws for 42 scores and just six picks. Tavon Austin caught 114 passes for 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Bailey made 114 receptions for 1,622 yards and 25 scores.
Jarvis Landry (owned in 11.2 percent of ESPN leagues)
As Ryan Tannehill has been on fire lately, Jarvis Landry has been there to reap the rewards. Since Week 9, the rookie has led all Dolphins with 29 targets for 24 receptions, 192 yards, and four touchdowns. He’s also reeling in a team-high 82.8 percent of his targets over this span. Only Mike Evans (six touchdowns) and Dez Bryant (five) have more scores than Landry in the past four weeks. His 24 receptions rank seventh among all wide receivers since Week 9. Being the second-most successful Landry in the history of the NFL wouldn’t be a bad ending to his story.
Chris Hogan (owned in 1.5 percent of ESPN leagues)
Chris Hogan is in his fourth NFL season, and third with the Bills. Prior to this year, he had 10 career catches for 83 scoreless yards. Hogan’s first professional touchdown came on an 8-yard pass from Kyle Orton in Week 6 against the Patriots. Since that day, he ranks second on the team with 25 receptions (Robert Woods, 31), and leads the team with his 80.6 catch percentage. Insert your own Hogan-themed joke here.
Justin Hunter (owned in 14.5 percent of ESPN leagues)
Zach Mettenberger made his first career start Week 8 against the Texans. In the last four games, no Tennessee player has been targeted more than Justin Hunter (26 targets), or scored more than his two touchdowns. The second-year receiver has caught 11 passes for 160 yards during the new Mettenberger era. Hunter is on pace for 93.1 targets for 39.3 catches, 698.2 yards and 4.4 touchdowns. Extrapolating his numbers with the rookie passer, and Hunter would be on pace for a 16-game total of 104 targets for 44 catches, 640 yards, and eight touchdowns.
Honorable Mention: Anquan Boldin
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Tim Wright (owned in 4.5 percent of ESPN leagues)
On August 26, Tampa Bay traded Tim Wright to the New England Patriots in exchange for Logan Mankins and a 2015 fourth-round draft pick. Last year as a Buccaneer, he caught 54 of 76 targets for 571 yards and five touchdowns. This year, he is the 11th highest scoring fantasy tight end (57.8 standard points). And he’s accomplished that while catching just 23 passes for 220 yards. The trick is scoring six touchdowns in the process. Since Week 5, Wright has played just 161 of New England’s 541 offensive snaps (29.8 percent), contrasting Rob Gronkowski‘s 445 snaps (82.3 percent). Over that period, Gronkowski has caught 45 of 62 targets for 665 and six scores, while Wright has reeled in 19 of 22 passes for 79 yards and his six touchdowns. Yes, obviously the Gronk is more valuable if you have the luxury to choose. But owners in need of tight end help would be wise to start Wright over many available options. Through Week 11, the second-year tight end had played just 20.3 percent of New England’s snaps, before hitting the turf for a season-high 61 of 81 snaps last Sunday against Detroit (75.3 percent). Wright’s six touchdowns since Week 5 are sixth best in the NFL, and second only to Julius Thomas (seven scores) at the position.
Honorable Mention: Delanie Walker
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Stats and data courtesy of pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, spotrac.com, footballguys.com, fantasypros, and profootballfocus.com.