Fantasy Football Waiver Wire Watch Week 1: Reed Between the Lines
As a refresher, The Drop List consists of players who are rostered in at least 50% of Yahoo leagues and are no longer must-have assets, recommended additions are available in over 50% of Yahoo leagues, the Watch List contains in-depth notes on fringe waiver adds, and Deep Cuts includes player notes on those rostered in 5% or fewer of Yahoo and FFPC leagues.
The Drop List
Ezekiel Elliott was presumably signed because he registered a first down on 64.7% (second) of his third-/fourth-down carries last year (per Sports Info Solutions), ranking as a touchdown-or-bust RB5/6 within New England's offense. Simply put, that role is not one to count on against Warren Sharp's toughest projected schedule. The Patriots also permitted 29 points per game (would have been the most allowed by any defense) in nine contests against Tua Tagovailoa, Lamar Jackson, Aaron Rodgers, Justin Fields, Kirk Cousins, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, and longtime play-caller Josh McDaniels, which bodes well for Rhamondre Stevenson's receiving outlook ahead of Elliott; the team's defense padded its stats with 10.7 points per game allowed in eight surrounding wins.
Adam Thielen's yards per target dipped for the fifth consecutive season to a career-low mark (6.7) in 2022. Three-year, $25 million contract be damned, I would stash any of the prioritized running backs over him.
Cole Kmet's 4.1 targets per game last season ranked 21st among tight ends for an offense that did not have either D.J. Moore or Robert Tonyan at the time. His career-high seven touchdowns (after totaling two through his first two seasons) also accounted for 34% of his fantasy points. All of the listed tight ends are stronger weekly options.
Overall Top 10
1. Jayden Reed
3. Evan Hull
4. Deon Jackson
5. Zack Moss
6. Ty Chandler
8. Tyjae Spears
9. Sean Tucker
10. Noah Gray
For those looking to roster the best available player(s) regardless of position, the rankings above take into account every factor from the positional lists minus players’ actual positions for all formats. These are listed in the precise order I would prioritize waiver claims in those leagues for Week 1. Adjust for what you need on your roster—touches, high-upside bench stashes, targets, one-week spot-starters, etc.
As TJ Hernandez pointed out, rush attempts per game are the stickiest stat year-to-year for fantasy quarterbacks. And Sam Howell not only averaged 9.9 carries across 37 games with the Tarheels (including 5.4 rushing points per week), he's leaned on that trait with 19 carries across 146 dropbacks (13%) dating back to last preseason.
Tennessee's offense, fresh off a league-low pace and the fourth-lowest pass play rate from neutral game script (52.7%), teases ambiguity after the organization moved on from Todd Downing in favor of new OC Tim Kelly. Ryan Tannehill, the QB29 in points per game with five top-12 finishes last year, also trades in Robert Woods for DeAndre Hopkins inside a dome for sneaky upside during the season opener.
Chicago allocated the most money in free agency to LBs Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards (among others), putting the weight of the world on their shoulders in Week 1 after the team's defense permitted 31.3 points (32nd) and 158.8 rushing yards (32nd) per game upon trading Roquan Smith. This is exclusively a bet on Green Bay's offense bouncing back after it posted Matt LaFleur’s lowest mark in points per drive (14th) as head coach last year. The Packers' 57.9% pass play rate in neutral game script should also begin regressing to the 64.5% rate it utilized from 2019-21.
Titans are leaning on free agent pickups Arden Key and Sean Murphy-Bunting to turn last year's 6.7 yards per attempt (23rd) allowed through the air around overnight. Tannehill offers a higher ceiling than Carr in any perceived negative game script but New Orleans' 22-point team total is the safer route indoors.
Watch List: Ignore New England's most recent dip in yards (26th) and points per drive (24th) compared to Mac Jones’ rookie year (ninth and seventh, respectively) as former Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien enters the fray with an uptempo game plan for increased pace. The Patriots' 20.5 implied team total (23rd) against the Eagles leaves a lot to be desired, but we're still in the portion of the year where we're betting on long-term outlooks, including Jones' as a QB2/3 in Superflex leagues...Atlanta's 52% run play rate from neutral game script was the highest for any team in the last 12 years. But the offense averaged an increased 66.2 plays (fifth) and 28.8 pass attempts per game (27th) with Desmond Ridder over the final month of the season. Lent confidence with that increased passing volume and, for this upcoming season, an untouched starting role, Ridder is viable as a platoon-QB2/QB3 for Superflex and 2-QB leagues.
Jaylen Warren is rostered in 46% of Yahoo leagues. No. 1 RB add if available.
Tank Bigsby is rostered in 47% of Yahoo leagues. No. 2 RB add if available.
Devon Achane is rostered in 48% of Yahoo leagues. No. 3 RB add if available.
Where to begin...
There's a great amount of risk involved with any of Indianapolis' running backs since Jonathan Taylor could return as early as Week 5.
We're also betting on them alongside Anthony Richardson, who averaged 8.1 carries per game over his last two seasons with the Gators. For reference, 24 quarterbacks have reached 100 carries (which we expect Richardson to do) since 2013 and the leading running back in those offenses averaged 13.5 PPR points for an RB26 finish; Christian McCaffrey (x2) and Marshawn Lynch were the only two to eclipse 18 PPR points per game among that group.
As it stands, Zack Moss is recovering from a broken right arm but will reportedly be the starter if healthy. His pending absence would leave Deon Jackson and fifth-round rookie Evan Hull as the only two available running backs for the Colts in Week 1.
Deon Jackson only logged 40% of the team’s snaps in four games all last year, but he did earn a double-digit target share in each one for a 15.7% share, which would have ranked sixth among all running backs. The issue is that he's never reached 200 touches as a three-down option dating back to high school—a span of six seasons across Duke and the Colts—whereas Hull, a 93rd percentile athlete who averaged 3.6 catches and a 15.1% target share over his last two years at Northwestern, totaled at least 220 touches in each of his last two campaigns.
Jackson can be plugged in as an RB3 in the season opener but clearly does not fit into the bucket of players we should be splurging on for the long haul. That's why I'd rather allocate a tad more towards Hull if I'm not aching for an immediate plug-and-play option.
Recommendation: All should be rostered individually in 10-team leagues
Injuries to be ahead of for waiver bids this evening:
• injured player = beneficiary who is available on waivers
— John Daigle (@notJDaigle) September 5, 2023
If you are not planning to start any of the Colts’ running backs this week, I suggest skipping the headaches and prioritizing Ty Chandler as a long-term stash overall. He's the exact archetype we reserve our benches for given his 95th percentile speed (4.38 40) at 5-foot-11, 204 pounds, comping to Jamaal Charles and Tevin Coleman as an 85th percentile athlete.
Recommendation: Should be stashed in 10-team leagues
Guaranteed to be active for his prowess (and Captain badge at Texas) on special teams, Roschon Johnson’s avoided tackle rate increased in every season (21% < 34% < 42% < 49%) behind Bijan Robinson (per Sports Info Solutions), displaying that elusiveness during the preseason with 104% of his 98 rushing yards earned after contact. With only eight total pressures (and two sacks) permitted across 157 career pass-blocking snaps, Johnson additionally couples as Chicago’s best option in pass-pro.
Those traits make the fourth-round rookie the most appealing long-term option among Chicago’s inevitable committee, especially since Khalil Herbert has merely earned a 3% and 4.4% target share in his first two seasons.
Recommendation: Should be rostered in 12-team leagues
Tyjae Spears finished as one of only six running backs (among 38 qualifiers with at least 20 carries) to average over 5.0 yards per carry in the preseason, additionally finishing second among that group in yards after contact per attempt (4.7) with 89% of his rushing yards (117) earned after contact.
It's the same thunder he brought to the table at Tulane with 1,052 (66.3%) of his 1,586 rushing yards in 2022 occurring after he took a hit. Spears' outs in his rookie year include receiving work on third down and an injury (or trade) for Derrick Henry.
Recommendation: Can be stashed in 12-team leagues
Once the dust had settled following the 2023 NFL Draft, Sean Tucker was handed the largest cap hit ($750,000) of any undrafted free agent at his position. And if Rachaad White were to fail in his every-down role as Tampa's starting runner, Tucker fits the mold of a player who could pick up the pieces with an increased target share (5.4% < 9.4% < 14.6%) in every season in college, registering uber-production with 17 100-yard rushing performances (out of 33 appearances) at Syracuse.
Tucker has already reportedly been fast-tracked as a role player on early downs. His receiving skillset beyond that usage is what could allow him to emerge if White stumbles.
Recommendation: Can be stashed in 12-/14-team leagues
Watch List: With Damien Harris missing a majority of training camp with a back injury, the jury's out on whether it's him or Latavius Murray who has a leg up inside the five-yard line, where James Cook did not receive a single carry last year...As much as I would like to logically give Nick Chubb the first double-digit target share of his career without Kareem Hunt, it’s prudent to understand each player’s range of outcomes—in this case, understanding that those targets could go to either Jerome Ford or Pierre Strong behind him instead.
Deep Cuts: Joshua Kelley presumably remains Austin Ekeler's direct backup since he handled just two carries with Easton Stick in Los Angeles' final preseason game. Isaiah Spiller was fed five carries into the second quarter...Arizona's current backfield on the 53-man roster includes James Conner, Keaontay Ingram, and undrafted rookie free agent Emari Demercado, suggesting an every-down role for Ingram if Conner were injured...Rico Dowdle survived cutdown day as Tony Pollard's contingency plan once Malik Davis was waived.
Marvin Mims is rostered in 40% of Yahoo leagues. No. 1 WR add if available.
Romeo Doubs said he "felt something in his hamstring" ahead of Green Bay's preseason finale and remains questionable for Week 1.
That does not necessarily mean Jayden Reed will start in two-wide sets: He only ran two routes (7%) from that position during the preseason. But we should bet on him to outscore Doubs in fantasy given 1) the team’s ambiguous target tree from Jordan Love, 2) Reed's 20% target share in each of his four seasons in college, 3) his No. 50 overall draft capital to Doubs’ fourth-round standing from last year, and 4) Reed’s proven pedigree across from 2021 Day Two receiver D'Wayne Eskridge as an 18-year-old freshman at Western Michigan with 56-797-8 receiving to Eskridge's 38-776-3.
The Packers also have the easiest projected passing schedule based on last year's metrics, parting the seas for Reed to emerge as a FLEX option as early as Week 1.
Recommendation: Should be rostered in 12-team leagues
Cooper Kupp's ominous stay in Minnesota to get a second opinion on his hamstring injury has left the team's target tree up for grabs.
For what it's worth, Van Jefferson and Tutu Atwell overlapped for seven games without Matthew Stafford to close the year and it was Jefferson who led his teammate with an 18.5% target share and 8.6 PPR points per game to Atwell’s 17.4% share and meaningless 6.1 points.
Now a full year removed from the knee surgery that forced him to miss the first six games of last season, Jefferson's range of outcomes includes leading the Rams in targets.
Recommendation: Should be rostered in 10-team leagues
Assuming the Patriots default to 12-personnel as their base package, their two primary receivers will undoubtedly be JuJu Smith-Schuster, whose knee is reportedly "a mess" and could "explode at any point," and DeVante Parker, who received a three-year, $33 million extension with $14 million guaranteed this offseason.
Last year’s offense was Bill Belichick’s first to average fewer than 61 plays per game (59.2, 28th) in his illustrious tenure as New England’s head coach, suggesting more volume for everyone involved.
Recommendation: Can be rostered in 12-team leagues
The Giants didn’t add Isaiah Hodgins—a 6-foot-4, 210-pound specimen with 85th percentile arm length standing head and shoulders above the team’s redundant pile of slot receivers—until Week 10 when the Bills cut him. From that point forward, though, he led New York with nine red zone targets and five receiving scores on a team-high route rate from the boundary (87%). Guaranteed to start in two-wide sets, Hodgins’ pedigree includes soaking up a 30.2% target share across three seasons at Oregon State.
Recommendation: Can be rostered in 12-team leagues
A 19-year-old breakout with 56-672-5 with Stanford, Michael Wilson (6'1/216) suffered a Jones fracture in 2020 and proceeded to miss more games (16) than he could stay healthy for (14). All reports out of camp, however, are glowing, ensuring he opens the year (as a 90th percentile athlete) in two wide sets in an ambiguous target tree across from Marquise Brown.
Arizona's ongoing rebuild is no concern for Wilson's playing time given that developmental reps from Josh Dobbs and Clayton Tune are of the highest priority.
Recommendation: Can be rostered in 12-/14-team leagues
If any coach was ever determined to find the next Deebo Samuel to use at every position across the formation, odds are it's the one who has seen Samuel average 11.2 yards per touch against him since 2019.
Puka Nacua was reportedly used as such throughout offseason workouts and camp, entering the league with 350 rushing yards and five touchdowns from the ground over the last two years. If anyone could make it work in a Kupp-less world, it's Sean McVay.
Recommendation: Can be rostered in 12-/14-team leagues
Watch List: Consider Curtis Samuel in a pinch if Terry McLaurin (toe) is ruled out. Samuel already proved he can earn volume under Ron Rivera with a team-high in targets (and 22% target share) in each of Washington's first seven games last year...Exclusively asked to run deep with a 16.8-yard career depth of target in college, Alec Pierce’s ability to earn downfield opportunities carried over as one of only 44 players in the entire league with an average depth of target over 12. His 93rd percentile vertical at 6-foot-3, 211 pounds make him the most likely beneficiary, Michael Pittman included, from Anthony Richardson’s absurd arm strength...Joshua Palmer will reportedly open the season in three-wide sets ahead of first-round rookie Quentin Johnston, who ran 90% of his career routes from the boundary at TCU. Although Palmer can certainly be added for speculative reasons in 12-team leagues with large benches, it's a situation reminiscent of Bisi Johnson starting ahead of Justin Jefferson for three games to open the 2020 season...Jonathan Mingo never recorded a 900-yard season and averaged just 3.2 catches per game over his four-year career but turned heads at the Senior Bowl with a 4.46 40 at 6-foot-2, 220-pounds, landing him in the 90th percentile for speed (which no one else in Carolina offers) at his prototypical size. It's the type of profile we should be stashing in 14-team leagues for a second-half breakout.
Deep Leagues: There are few leftover targets in New Orleans for as long as Michael Thomas is on the field, but Rashid Shaheed warrants our attention on deeper benches for registering the fourth-most Yards Per Route Run (2.59) among 115 qualifiers with 30 targets...Corey Davis' retirement opens the door for Mecole Hardman to squeeze through in three-wide sets for the Jets. I have my doubts it amounts to anything since five of Hardman's six touchdowns (which accounted for 52% of his fantasy points) last year came from inside the 10-yard line. Except the Chiefs ranked first in red zone touchdown rate whereas Aaron Rodgers' Packers finished 23rd in scoring rate inside the 20...Josh Downs registered 30.8% of the Tarheels' targets from NFL prospects Sam Howell (Commanders) and Drake Maye the last two years, being exclusively deployed as a slot receiver (89%) throughout his career. It's likely going to take Anthony Richardson's passing ceiling coming to fruition for Downs to produce in 14-team leagues, but he did piece together a hyper-productive collegiate career with 7.2 catches per game and 3.72 YPRR against man coverage as an 89th-percentile athlete..Deonte Harty lost practically all of 2022 to a nagging toe injury. Now having won Buffalo's WR3 role ahead of Khalil Shakir, note that 41% of Harty's receptions in 2020 and 2021 went for 10-plus yards as an explosive over-the-top option...Trey Palmer won Tampa Bay's illustrious WR3 role behind Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and, much like Tyjae Spears at an entirely different position, has multiple outs for production including Evans being dealt. 22-year-old Palmer registered a career-high 32.7% target share in his lone (and final year) with Nebraska, showcasing 98th percentile straight-line speed (4.33 40) at the combine at 6-foot-0, 192 pounds.
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Chiefs believe Travis Kelce's ACL is "intact" though he's considered doubtful for Thursday night. And if you're drafting over the next 48 hours, a multi-week absence ahead of the season opener during Kelce's age-33 season is enough to push him out of the first round. This is where I would rank Noah Gray, who improved his yards per target from 3.6 as a rookie to 8.8 (on 52% of Kansas City's snaps) last year, assuming Kelce is scratched.
At the very least, Kansas City's team total (29.25) remains the highest on the board with no competition for Gray's role. I'm more prone to bid fearlessly for him in TE-Premium leagues where multiple starts could land him in FLEX slots.
Dalton Schultz's absence vacates 5.2 tight end targets per game for Jake Ferguson to soak up after the latter spiked one top-eight finish and a 13.3% target share in two starts for the veteran last year. Including his three targets from Cooper Rush in Dallas' first preseason game, Ferguson has now been targeted on 22.8% of his routes—would have ranked seventh among TEs in 2022—since last season. He also led the preseason in Yards Per Route Run (4.75) at his position.
Just one year removed from finishing as the fantasy TE13 in points per game with a career-high nine touchdowns, Hunter Henry’s (foreseeable) decline as the TE27 in 2022 still included a team-high in red zone targets (7) with Jakobi Meyers, who has since moved on with the Raiders. Every report from camp suggests Henry is one of only three players (along with Smith-Schuster and Parker) guaranteed an every-down role in the receiving game under Bill O'Brien.
A 97th-percentile athlete reportedly given all of Green Bay's starting reps throughout camp, Luke Musgrave (6'6/253) earned the second-highest rate of targets 20 yards deep among all tight ends in this class. With Romeo Doubs (hamstring) teetering towards questionable for Week 1, Musgrave's 22% target share from Jordan Love during the preseason could carry over.
Juwan Johnson was prioritized by the Saints on a two-year, $12 million contract (including $8.5 million guaranteed) as a restricted free agent following career-highs in receptions (2.6) and yards per game (31.8). His usage of more "choice and short-game routes" creates a heightened weekly floor to pair with his previous touchdown-or-bust outlook.
Watch List: First-round rookie Dalton Kincaid ran 55% of his collegiate routes from the slot, logically entering the league as more of a detriment to Khalil Shakir than Dawson Knox. With the second-most end zone targets of any tight end the past two years as the TE9 (2021) and TE12 in points per game in that span, Knox remains more than viable as a starter in TE-Premium leagues.
Deep Leagues: Cade Otton ran a route on an elite 84% of Tampa Bay's dropbacks in six starts for Cameron Brate (free agent) last year...If Kendre Miller (knee) were ruled out, odds are Taysom Hill mixes in since the Saints would be down to Jamaal Williams and Kirk Merritt in their backfield. Friendly reminder Hill led the team with 12 carries inside the 10-yard line as a "tight end" last year...George Kittle (groin) is questionable/doubtful for Week 1 against the Steelers, but there's arguably no player on the roster who benefits at his position. Charlie Woerner, the team's 2020 sixth-round pick, has totaled eight career receptions with none occurring last season.
Washington Commanders rostered in 69% of Yahoo leagues. No. 1 DEF add if available.
Denver Broncos rostered in 77% of Yahoo leagues. No. 2 DEF add if available.
New Orleans Saints rostered in 76% of Yahoo leagues. No. 3 DEF add if available.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Rostered in 28% of Yahoo leagues
Anthony Richardson's mobility (8.1 carries per game since 2021), inexperience (455 collegiate dropbacks), and horrific 14.3% completion rate under pressure during the preseason (albeit on only eight dropbacks) has left the Jaguars as a high-floor option with upside in the season opener.
2. Seattle Seahawks – Rostered in 14% of Yahoo leagues
Cooper Kupp's ominous status has moved the Rams from 3.5-point road dogs to 5.5-point liabilities against Seattle. The team's implied total (25.75) meanwhile remains the fourth-highest of Week 1, suggesting more passing volume for Los Angeles in negative game script for Seattle's defense to get there.
3. Cleveland Browns – Rostered in 5% of Yahoo leagues
Exclusively an option if Joe Burrow's day-to-day status becomes more serious.
The following list couples John Paulsen's projections with long-term outlooks. Adjust accordingly if shuffling through kickers weekly:
High-Stakes Top 10
1. Noah Gray
2. Evan Hull
4. Deon Jackson
5. Zack Moss
8. Sean Tucker
9. Puka Nacua
10. Rico Dowdle
For those looking to roster the best available player(s) regardless of position, the rankings above take into account every factor from the positional lists minus players’ actual positions for 20-round high-stakes leagues: FFPC, NFFC, etc. These are listed in the precise order I would prioritize waiver claims in those leagues in Week 1. Adjust for what you need on your roster—touches, high-upside bench stashes, targets, one-week spot-starters, etc.
Contingency Top 10
1. Ty Chandler
2. Tyjae Spears
6. Sean Tucker
8. Rico Dowdle
9. Zamir White
For those looking to stash the best available backup(s) with minimum standalone value, the rankings above were designed to help prioritize direct backups in the event the player in front of them was absent. These are listed in the precise order I would stash them ahead of Week 1. Presumed targets, touches, environment, remaining schedule, etc. are included in the process.