The 2014 NFL season may be remembered as the year of the breakout. With so few solid proven commodities, the opportunities are abundant, and several new stars have already begun to rise. Here are some thoughts on the top pickups to dominate your fantasy waivers.
Jerick McKinnon (owned in 16 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Given his first significant action this week, rookie Jerick McKinnon rushed 18 times for 135 yards and grabbed one reception for 17 yards. Prior to week four, the former Georgia Southern running back had only nine career touches for 21 yards. Against the Falcons Sunday, Matt Asiata rushed 20 times for 78 yards and three touchdowns. When one runner puts up 3.9 yards per carry, and his backup averages 7.5 yards on a similar workload, it’s worthy to question when the dam will break. McKinnon is a highly-touted freak talent, for owners with the luxury to look further down the road.
Khiry Robinson (owned in 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
For the second straight week, Khiry Robinson led the New Orleans backfield. Dallas led the Saints by at least two scores for the last 35 minutes and 38 seconds of the game, and New Orleans abandoned the run as a result. The Saints called just 13 run plays, with Drew Brees dropping back 46 times. Even with this limited opportunity, Robinson created 105 yards with 10 touches. After four weeks, the second-year back has run for 5.4 yards per carry, and is on pace to run 160 times for 860 yards and four scores. Extrapolating the last two weeks, Robinson is on pace for 1,092 rushing yards. Mark Ingram may be able to return following the week six bye, which could restore the Saints backfield as a fantasy situation to avoid. The old coaching adage says that if you have two good quarterbacks, then you really have none. In fantasy, if your running back plays alongside two others of equal value, it’s time to pick up fishing.
Terrance Williams (owned in 80 percent of Yahoo leagues)
It’s rare for this article to delve into a player of such high ownership. But it becomes just as notable when a player of this talent and opportunity remains available in any leagues at all. In his final collegiate season, Terrance Williams caught 97 passes for 1,832 yards and 12 touchdowns. That was with Baylor, the year following Robert Griffin III’s departure. Of all 2013 rookies, only Keenan Allen (1,046 yards) and DeAndre Hopkins (802) produced more receiving yards than the Cowboys’ number two wideout (736). Dallas was the fifth-highest scoring offense last year, and fourth in passing touchdowns. Jerry’s boys have finished in the top seven in passing touchdowns for four straight years, and top seven in passing yards for four of the last five years. Williams is currently tied for fifth in the NFL with four receiving touchdowns, and leads the team in red zone targets (five).
Teddy Bridgewater (owned in 13 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Teddy Bridgewater has now played in two NFL games, having just started his first. Against Atlanta’s 32nd ranked pass defense this week, the rookie completed 19 of 30 (63.3 percent) for 317 yards. With his first professional action in week three, Bridgewater threw 12 of 20 for 150 yards. He has yet to throw for a touchdown or interception. Last year at Louisville, the 6-foot-2 quarterback completed 71.0 percent of his passes for 3,970 yards, 31 touchdowns, and four interceptions. The Vikings have a short week, traveling to Green Bay for Thursday Night Football. Head coach Mike Zimmer said his quarterback would not miss any time with the sprained ankle he suffered near the end of the Falcons game.
Darrin Reaves (owned in 1 percent of Yahoo leagues)
“Found 0 hits that match your search,” it said. A search on pro-football-reference.com rarely comes up blank, outside of user error. But that’s how new Darrin Reaves is to the NFL, and that’s how bleak things are in the Carolina backfield. For a team who once owed their backfield over $80 million combined, the news continues to hurt. The Panthers cannot wait to get out from under the mistakes of former general manager Marty Hurney. In the meantime, DeAngelo Williams sprained his ankle week four, and will miss at least a week. The starter had just returned after missing two games with a hamstring injury. Jonathan Stewart may miss about a month before he can return from a sprained knee. Mike Tolbert has a hairline fracture in his leg, and was placed on injured reserve, with designation to return later this year. Playing in relief for Williams Sunday, Reaves got 15 touches for 37 yards in his first career game. Williams may be back after just missing one game, but Reaves has the opportunity to face Chicago’s 20th-ranked run defense this week.
Travis Kelce (owned in 67 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Travis Kelce leads the Chiefs with 24 targets, 18 receptions, 259 yards, and two scores. Second on the team is Donnie Avery, who has caught 14 of 24 targets for 156 yards. According to Pro Football Focus, Avery has totaled 1.26 yards per pass route run, while Kelce is currently leading the team with 3.60. Though Avery has garnered equal attention, Kelce has run far fewer routes (72) than Avery (124). On a team with Alex Smith at quarterback, and on a team with Andy Reid as head coach, it would make sense for the tight end to play a pivotal role in West Coast check-down passes. After four weeks, Kelce ranks fifth among all tight ends in receiving yards.
Rueben Randle (owned in 62 percent of Yahoo leagues)
In his third NFL season, there is a lot of hope invested in Rueben Randle, with fantasy owners, and for the real New York Football Giants. So far this year, Randle has made 19 receptions for 156 yards and a touchdown. Randle was the 122nd player taken in fantasy leagues this year, around the 10th or 11th round. He was likely dropped in many leagues after two weeks, when he had made just six receptions for 40 yards and a touchdown. The last two weeks have been different, however, as the former LSU wideout has led the team with 20 targets for 13 catches. Randle’s eight red zone targets are second best on the team this season, behind only Larry Donnell (nine). Until he can demonstrate any consistency with Eli Manning, Randle will be a boom-or-bust receiver with waning upside. Sell high if the opportunity arises.
Jarius Wright (owned in 1 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Prior to Teddy Bridgewater’s first professional start, Jarius Wright had only three catches for 37 yards. In his third NFL season, that brought his career totals to 51 receptions for 781 yards. This week, though, a different era began in Minnesota. Wright had more than twice the targets, and more than double the receptions of anyone wearing purple this week. The third-year wideout caught eight of 10 targets for 132 yards. The Vikings stunned Atlanta with 558 yards of offense, and punted just twice. While the Falcons may rank 31st in defense (429.8 yards per game), Bridgewater appears to have promise. The running game looked strong as well, and that’s all much-needed good news for a team in transition.
Andrew Hawkins (owned in 39 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Through three games, the leading receiver in Cleveland is Andrew Hawkins. The fourth-year veteran leads the team in targets (32), receptions (21), and yards (244). No Browns receiver has more red zone targets (two) either. Miles Austin is second on the team with 21 targets for 14 catches and 115 yards. Brian Hoyer will remain the starting quarterback as the team comes back from a week four bye. Jordan Cameron could certainly come in handy for this 1-2 team, whenever he’s back to 100-percent from his twice-injured shoulder. The 6-foot-5 tight end accounted for 80 receptions, 917 yards, and seven touchdowns a year ago. Josh Gordon will be eligible to play again when the Browns travel to Atlanta week 12.
Kyle Orton (owned in 0 percent of Yahoo leagues)
It isn’t easy to find stat-accruing players with 0 percent ownership. After nine NFL seasons, Kyle Orton announced this summer that he would retire from the Dallas Cowboys. Ending a long offseason standoff with Jerry Jones, the quarterback was released on July 15. This decision cost Dallas his $3 million signing bonus, which Orton would have owed the team by filing retirement papers. Instead, Buffalo signed Orton to a two year, $11 million deal through 2015. As far as this year, Orton is being paid $5.5 million by Buffalo and $1.1 million by Jones.
Bills head coach Doug Marrone announced Monday that Orton will replace E.J. Manuel as starter this week. Since the end of 2011, Orton has thrown only 61 passes, with a record of 0-1 (missing the playoffs for Dallas in week 17 of 2013). In his first seven seasons, the 6-foot-4 journeyman completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 80 touchdowns and 57 interceptions, on the way to a 35-34 record. He averages 204.7 yards per game, with 1.1 scores and 0.8 interceptions. From 2009 to 2011, when Orton suited up for Denver and Kansas City, he threw 60.3 percent complete, for 242.4 yards, 1.3 touchdowns, and 0.8 interceptions. In Orton’s two full seasons in Chicago (2005 and 2008), the team boasted 1,200 yard rushers (Thomas Jones, 1,335 yards; Matt Forte, 1,238). During those run-centric years, Orton completed 55 percent of his passes and averaged 161.4 yards, 0.9 touchdowns, and 0.8 interceptions. Orton’s biggest fantasy impact this year will likely be the increased production for Sammy Watkins.
Past targets include Larry Donnell, Knile Davis, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Justin Forsett, Bernard Pierce, Owen Daniels, Eddie Royal, Allen Hurns, Blake Bortles, Jordan Matthews, John Brown, Alfred Blue, Donald Brown, Andrew Hawkins, Niles Paul, Bobby Rainey, Kirk Cousins, Shonn Greene, Terrance West, and Isaiah Crowell, among others. Check out waiver wire targets from Week 4, Week 3, and Week 2.
Stats and data courtesy of pro-football-reference.com, footballguys.com, espn.com, profootballfocus.com, and spotrac.com.
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