Waiver wire: Viable difference makers are waiting for you

Waiver wire: Viable difference makers are waiting for you
September 2, 2014, 1:45 pm
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Draft night might be the single most important day on the fantasy calendar. When it comes to roster building, the work certainly doesn't stop there, at least not for owners with designs on winning their leagues. Adding key free agents during the season can offset injuries or roster deficiencies if not carry a team to a title. Last year waiver wire finds like Nick Foles, Julius Thomas Kennan Allen, Zac Stacy and Knowshon Moreno did just that.

Early each week during the regular season I'll be providing a list of those players worthy of a roster space in shallow or deeper leagues. Obviously Week 1 isn't a go-to time for free agents, but roster maintenance never sleeps. Players listed below have an Average Draft Position (ADP) of 110 or higher, making them possible targets in 10-team or larger leagues.

Quarterbacks

1) Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins- Rarely discussed as draft target, but it won't stun me if the dual threat finishes the fantasy season as a top 12 QB.

2) Jake Locker, Titans - This is a make-or-break season for the former top 10 pick. Tennessee has a strong offensive line, an exciting set of skill players and best of all Locker is healthy.

3) Geno Smith, Jets - This recommendation is largely Week 1 only for those in 2-QB leagues as Smith faces the Raiders. That said, the Jets made significant upgrades on offense since last season and the early schedule includes several beatable secondaries.

4) Johnny Manziel, Browns - Might not be until after Cleveland's Week 4 bye, but Johnny Football starts for the Browns sooner than later. It's fair to be skeptical about Manziel as an NFL quarterback - or whether he can outrun NFL defenders. Based on his freewheeling style, the Heisman winner has fantasy potential even as a rookie.

5) Shaun Hill, Lions - This won't be Kurt Warner 2.0, but Hill is not a slouch either. Admittedly, the ex-Terp is better in smaller doses than a full 16-game slate. In Week 1 Hill faces a Vikings defense that surrendered the most points to fantasy QBs last season.

6) Derek Carr, Raiders - Just named Oakland's starting back. There will be bad days, probably lots of them, but David's younger brother has cannon for an arm and gives Oakland the best chance for success.

Others: Blake Bortles, Kyle Orton

Running backs

1) Devonta Freeman, Falcons - Lots of interesting "lottery ticket" types out there (Andre Williams, Carlos Hyde, etc), but give me the one playing behind the fading Steven Jackson and the underwhelming Jacquizz Rodgers.

2) Ahmad Bradshaw, Colts - Trent Richardson posted a 2.55 yards per carry average during preseason. Even if the coaching staff gives T-Rich a long rope,  they will also give Bradshaw enough touches to show who the better option is.

3) Chris Ivory, Jets - The issue with the physical runner is never talent, but health.  Chris Johnson starts, but Ivory will be the goal line back and possibly more if CJ2K dances more than desired.

4) LeGarrette Blount, Steelers - The ex-Patriot is expected to be the goal line runner. That's enough to warrant a roster spot. Le'Veon Bell's 3.5 ypc average last season is as well.

5) Benny Cunningham, Rams - Bizarre that St. Louis started Cunningham over Zac Stacy in the third preseason game, a.k.a. the Week 1 dress rehearsal. Then again, most reports had him looking better this offseason than the power-packed Stacy. All of that was enough for me to shy away from Stacy while targeting Cunningham in drafts late last week.

6) Jonathan Stewart, Panthers - Carolina's backfield remains a messy scenario loaded with big names and uncertainty. That said, Stewart's ADP (138) is crazy attractive as a flyer in the late rounds, especially since he looked sharp at times during the preseason. Cam Newton's various injuries should have the Panthers relying on the run early on.

7) Shonn Greene, Titans - Yes, we get it, Greene's not the most talented back in the league. He is however a projected Week 1 starter on a team that will run the ball.

8) Handcuffs - If a running back goes down in Week 1, every owner in your league will pounce. That includes the guy or gal who starts forgetting to submit a lineup midway through the season. Therefore, in 12-team or larger leagues with a decent amount of bench space, it's wise to hold at least one of your main running back's backup. The list of viable options includes Knile Davis (Chiefs), James Starks (Packers), Ronnie Hillman (Broncos), Lance Dunbar (Cowboys), Jonathan Grimes (Texans), Roy Helu (Redskins), Jonathan Dwyer (Cardinals).

Wide receivers

1) Jarrett Boykin, Packers - Looking at the receivers with an ADP of 120 or higher, the best hope for a high profile option during the season is the shifty Boykin. Not only did he step up with 49 receptions in a limited role last season, the shifty target is the third receiver in Green Bay's potent passing attack.

2) Markus Wheaton, Steelers - Nugget uncovered during an examination of all my fantasy rosters to date: I own Wheaton in more leagues than any other receiver. The speedster could be Ben Roethlisbeger's go-to target in Week 1 against Cleveland as Antonio Brown contends with Browns Pro Bowl corner Joe Haden. Wheaton and Big Ben weren't in sync during preseason, but the second-year receiver's potential is sincere.

3) Mohammed Sanu, Bengals - Became the starter for the opening 4-5 weeks opposite A.J. Green when Marvin Jones went down with an injury.

4) Cody Latimer, Broncos - Denver drafted the 6-foot-2 Latimer in the second round as a nod toward the future. Uncertainty over Wes Welker's concussion scenario could turn the future into the present. Owners in 14-team or larger leagues should find space for Latimer.

5) Jordan Matthews, Eagles -Last season DeSean Jackson stood out as Philly's top target. For now, that role remains an open competition. Jeremy Maclin and Zach Ertz have the inside track with Riley Cooper in the mix. Why not the 6-foot-3 Matthews, who will often work out of the slot in his first NFL season. Factor the major amount of plays the Eagles run per game and this rookie could be the top receiving rookie this season.

6) Jaguars - Cecil Shorts' ADP is down to 131. Rookie Marqise Lee might be Jacksonville's most polished receiver before long. Undrafted rookie free agent Allen Hurns rocked the preseason. All three are intriguing because the pecking order isn't set in stone especially with Shorts' injury history.

Others: Andrew Hawkins (Brown), John Brown (Cardinals), Miles Austin (Browns), Brian Quick (Rams)

Tight ends

1) Travis Kelce, Chiefs - Even though the rugged Kelce plays behind Anthony Fasano on the Chiefs, he enters the season as the No. 12 TE on my board. It's an upside thing thanks to his TD-scoring potential and the lack of receiving options elsewhere on Kansas City's roster.

2) Richard Rodgers, Packers - Green Bay's third-round pick could be this year's Julius Thomas because he's a talented pass catcher and the awesome Aaron Rodgers is his quarterback.

3) Tim Wright, Patriots - Come on, will it really surprise you if New England figures out how to make a second TE viable in fantasy?

Others: Garrett Graham, Eric Ebron, Austin Seferian-Jenkins

Defenses

1) Bears - Hosting E.J. Manuel and the Bills Week 1

2) Jets - Hosting the Raiders and rookie QB Derek Carr in Week 1

3) Lions - Hosting the Giants and Eli Manning (NFL-high 27 interceptions last season) in Week 1

Kickers

For now let's just make sure everyone has a viable option for Week 1. The Eagles, Saints, Titans, Cardinals and Buccaneers have all changed kickers over the last week or so. That's not even counting Matt Prater's four-game suspension.

(In addition to 20-plus years of playing fantasy football, Ben Standig covered fantasy football for the past several years at FFToolbox.com and helped direct the site to generating the industry's most accurate preseason rankings in 2012. Ben is also a noted NFL Draft reporter.)

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