Free-agent finds: Week 11
The trade deadline in standard ESPN.com leagues approaches, and that will dominate fantasy football chatter for a little while. Buy low, sell high, rob your friends blind, all that. But don't lose sight of the waiver wire. It can still be your friend.
Last season, Rashad Jennings took advantage of a Maurice Jones-Drew knee injury to become a top-15 back in December. Jacoby Jones did similar things after Andre Johnson got hurt. Jimmy Graham emerged from Jeremy Shockey's shadow. Jerome Simpson shook up the fantasy world. Heck, Jason Campbell became a top-10 fantasy QB. If Campbell can finish strong like that, there's hope for us all.
So don't give up just yet. In fantasy football, until you're mathematically eliminated there's always a chance. It may be time to try a Hail Mary or two, and make a bold roster move. What's the worst that could happen?
Incidentally, I don't mean to minimize the importance of the trade deadline. In fact, later this week I'll have two separate columns about trade possibilities: one about players to deal for, and another about players to deal away.
Week 11 byes: Colts, Saints, Steelers, Texans.
ESPN standard-league finds
Denarius Moore, WR, Oakland Raiders (owned in 31.7 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Moore posted a breakout game Thursday against the Chargers: five catches for 123 yards and two TDs. Even better for his fantasy prospects is the fact that Jacoby Ford suffered a sprained foot in Week 10 and isn't expected to go against the Vikings on Sunday. Incredibly, Darrius Heyward-Bey (53.9 percent) has gone from October's leading man in Oakland to a receiver afterthought; I believe he played the most snaps of any wideout against the Chargers -- he was on the field in single-receiver sets -- yet wasn't targeted even once. I don't believe we've seen the last of DHB. His drop-off in usage is just bizarre, but we have to go by what we see on the field, and Moore was everywhere in San Diego. He's the best bet of anyone currently on the waiver wire to have value through January.
Laurent Robinson, WR, Dallas Cowboys (13.1 percent): Robinson was also listed second in this column last week, so forgive the repeat. Then again, judging by the numbers, not very many of you listened. Robinson was a clear waiver favorite heading into Week 10 because of Miles Austin's hamstring injury, and Robinson didn't disappoint, posting two more TDs, which gives him four in his past three games. Obviously, don't get carried away here. Robinson had three targets all day against the Bills. Dez Bryant is still the man you'd rather own. But Dez gets tons of defensive attention, often leaving Robinson singled up on a lesser corner. The Redskins have actually been pretty good against opposing receivers over the past three weeks, but I still don't mind Robinson as a No. 3 WR again this week.
Matt Leinart, QB, Houston Texans (0.0 percent): It looks like Matt Schaub is out for the season with a Lisfranc injury to his foot, meaning the former No. 10 overall pick in the '06 draft is suddenly thrust into the national spotlight, starting for a team with designs on the Super Bowl. It's not going to go as poorly as you might initially think. Houston doesn't need Leinart to carry the team. Heck, Schaub hasn't been carrying the team. The past four weeks, the Texans have run it 170 times and thrown it only 91. Why, that's positively Tebow-esque! That 65.1 percent run play-calling is highest in the NFL in that span (yes, even higher than the Broncos'). However, from a fantasy perspective, the very run-heaviness that might save Houston's season will devalue the Texans' pass attack. Leinart won't be listed in ESPN.com's top 10 QBs once Houston returns from its Week 11 bye, and his ascension to the starting gig will limit Andre Johnson's awesomeness, too. (I'll still be putting AJ in the lower reaches of my top 10 each week, however.) But for desperate Schaub owners, Leinart is addable.
Vince Young, QB, Philadelphia Eagles (1.0 percent): Michael Vick broke two ribs against the Cardinals last week and admitted he probably should've come out of the game thereafter. But given VY's only other cameo this season -- a one-pass, one-pick-six appearance against the Redskins -- Philly fans probably weren't crying in their beer when Vick toughed it out. As of this writing, nobody knows for certain whether Vick will be able to play Week 11 versus the Giants, but the Eagles will certainly get Young ready to play during the week just in case. If VY does go, it's a relatively steep downgrade for a Philly pass offense that might also be without Jeremy Maclin (shoulder and hamstring injuries). Young can run a little bit and has the arm strength to make any throw Vick can, but he's mercurial, to say the least. If he's thrown into a national TV game against the NFC East leaders, I'm skeptical the results will be favorable. But Vick owners should assuredly be adding Young anyway.
Chris Ogbonnaya, RB, Cleveland Browns (14.0 percent): Good for Obie. Yes, it was a relatively cake matchup against the Rams, but Ogbonnaya produced a fine game as Cleveland's starting RB in Week 10: 21 touches for 109 yards. I'd read too many clever wags writing about how Ogbonnaya is currently one of the worst starting players in the NFL. Come on. He's not that bad. Is he a star? Absolutely not. Will the sledding probably be tougher this week versus the Jaguars? Probably, but the deck is already stacked against any Browns rusher because teams know Colt McCoy won't even try to beat them deep, and the Cleveland O-line has been spotty at best. Ogbonnaya isn't a terrific fantasy option, but 21 touches are 21 touches. If you're down to the felt at the RB position, you could do worse.
Lance Ball, RB, Denver Broncos (0.3 percent): When Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno each got hurt Sunday in Kansas City, Ball stepped up to the tune of a career-high 30 carries for 96 yards. Heck, until Week 10, Ball had 79 carries in 20 career games played. There are a couple of obvious factors working against Ball this week. First, the Broncos play Thursday night and it's hard to imagine a guy who took the kind of pounding he took in Week 10 being able to turn around and do it again four days later. Second, McGahee is tentatively expected to play despite his injured hamstring, though Moreno is out for the year with a right knee injury. Ball is worth an add for RB-needy fantasy squads because McGahee just turned 30 and has been banged up all year. That said, Ball isn't going to be startable in standard leagues just yet.
Vincent Brown, WR, San Diego Chargers (0.2 percent): Malcom Floyd still hasn't been able to practice because of an injured hip, so Brown's spot in San Diego's starting lineup looks secure for the moment. The rookie had a coming-out party Thursday, hitting the Raiders up for five grabs, 97 yards and a TD, and making another spectacular catch in the end zone only to have it overturned because a falling-down defender was in contact with him and the sideline at the same time. Philip Rivers continues his mediocre play, and Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates will be fed first in this offense, but Brown deserves some respect and deserves to be rostered in most leagues.
Kevin Smith, RB, Detroit Lions (0.4 percent): Smith graduates from last week's "deep-league" list by dint of his usage in a blowout loss to the Bears last week. Maurice Morris (12.5 percent) is still the starter with Jahvid Best out, but Smith climbed over Keiland Williams for the No. 2 RB job after walking in off the street just a few days prior to Week 10. The Lions reportedly like what they've seen from Smith, who's battled myriad injuries in his brief NFL career but who at one time was more talented than either Morris or Williams. Folks looking for someone to fill a hole for them in Week 11 would be better advised to add Morris, but if you've got a free bench spot and want a lottery ticket, Smith would be the man I'd try. If he keeps progressing, he could have Detroit's starting gig in a matter of weeks.
Jacksonville Jaguars' Defense (6.9 percent): I reclaimed the Dolphins' D off the ash heap last week to the tune of 12 fantasy points, and this week I'll take a shot with Jacksonville. The Jags took advantage of a winnable fantasy situation in Week 10 and crushed the hapless Colts offense; there's no reason they shouldn't be able to do the same thing to the Browns in Week 11. Yes, Rashean Mathis is out for the year with a torn ACL, and against teams with viable passing games, that's going to sting. But Cleveland isn't such a team. Quietly, the Jaguars' D has amassed 35 fantasy points over the past three weeks. The streak continues Sunday.
Other solid waiver adds, about whom I've written in previous weeks: Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (24.6 percent); Carson Palmer, QB, Raiders (25.7 percent); Marion Barber, RB, Chicago Bears (6.9 percent); Kendall Hunter, RB, San Francisco 49ers (5.4 percent); Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (53.8 percent); Earl Bennett, WR, Bears (10.1 percent); Jake Ballard, TE, New York Giants (35.0 percent); Heath Miller, TE, Steelers (41.4 percent); Brent Celek, TE, Eagles (16.0 percent).
Harry Douglas, WR, Atlanta Falcons (0.3 percent): Matt Ryan looked Douglas' way time and again on the game-tying drive against the Saints on Sunday, and Atlanta's slot wideout finished the day with eight grabs for 133 yards on 14 targets. That was partly because the New Orleans D was playing back, and giving up the short stuff, but it was also because Julio Jones had to leave Week 10 in the first half because of an injured hamstring. We probably won't know Jones' status for at least a few days, but my initial guess is that he'll sit against the Titans on Sunday, and that Douglas will be pressed into full-time starting duty. That didn't go particularly well for Douglas during Jones' earlier injury, which is why I'm recommending him as only a deep-league add. But still
Steve Smith, WR, Eagles (1.8 percent): I have to admit, I have little faith that Smith will turn things around at this late date. For the season, he's got only 10 grabs for 110 yards. But it's true that with DeSean Jackson suspended and Jeremy Maclin hurt, it was Smith (and not Jason Avant or Riley Cooper) who saw the most work among Philly's wideouts. Jackson will return for Sunday night's game against the Giants, and there's no guarantee about which receivers Vince Young might favor if Michael Vick can't play. However, in the interest of due diligence, I do inform you that Smith was the most targeted Eagles WR in the late stages of Week 10.
Shaun Hill, QB, Lions (0.4 percent): Matthew Stafford reportedly fractured the ring finger on his throwing hand in Week 8 against the Broncos, and played through the injury Sunday in an awful performance versus the Bears. Stafford was wildly, almost preternaturally inaccurate, but after the game he blamed the Soldier Field winds rather than his hand. We'll see. Stafford owners would do well to stash Hill if they don't have another viable starting QB on their fantasy roster. Hill proved last year that he's at least capable of median fantasy QB performances on a weekly basis, so he might keep you afloat if called upon.
Golden Tate, WR, Seattle Seahawks (0.2 percent): A fave draft pick of mine a couple of years ago, Tate has been invisible through a season and a half in the Pacific Northwest. But Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin each suffered concussions in Seattle's surprise win over the Ravens last week, and Tate caught three passes for 46 yards in their absence. Hey, baby steps. At this early date, we don't yet know whether Rice and/or Baldwin will pass their concussion tests this week and be able to go in what should be a tasty matchup against a Rams secondary that's lost an incredible five cornerbacks this season (Al Harris is the latest to go down). If Tate is in the starting lineup, he could be worth a Hail Mary.
Joe McKnight, RB, New York Jets (0.8 percent): LaDainian Tomlinson suffered a sprained MCL in Sunday night's loss to the Patriots and might miss Thursday's game against the Broncos. That would push McKnight into a third-down role behind Shonn Greene. The kid has only 21 touches from scrimmage all season, so my hopes aren't high for a sudden breakout performance. But once again, beggars can't be choosers. If you're in a very deep league, at least McKnight has a possible path to some playing time.
Donald Jones, WR, Buffalo Bills (0.3 percent): Jones led the Bills with 10 targets in Week 10's disastrous loss in Dallas, and Steve Johnson suffered a shoulder injury late in the game. Johnson could miss some practice time this week but currently isn't considered a threat to miss the Dolphins' game on Sunday. However, Jones could benefit from being the healthiest outside receiver on the roster. Again, don't expect miracles. But targets? Those are possible.
Rex Grossman, QB, Washington Redskins (7.4 percent) and Tyler Palko, QB, Kansas City Chiefs (0.0 percent): Grossman took his starting job back from John Beck on Sunday and did nothing with it: no TDs and two more INTs, giving him six TDs and 11 INTs for the season. Good luck if you need to start him. You might actually be better off giving Palko a try; he'll be the Chiefs' starter for the foreseeable future because of Matt Cassel's hand injury. Palko is a weak-armed game manager who does have a nice matchup against the Patriots, but this will be his first NFL start and it'll come on "Monday Night Football." Good luck, kid.
Jacob Tamme, TE, Indianapolis Colts (0.2 percent): Indy is off this week and buying into any aspect of their offense would appear to be fantasy self-immolation. But it's at least worth noting that Dallas Clark has a long-term leg injury and Tamme will be the starter at tight end going forward. Against the Jaguars on Sunday, he was the only Colts player who did anything positive from a statistical perspective: six grabs for 75 yards. We remember Tamme as a wonderful waiver-wire acquisition last year when Clark hurt his wrist, but that was with Peyton Manning at the helm.
Jeremiah Johnson, RB, Broncos (0.0 percent): Johnson was actually a super-deep sleeper of mine last season when he was with the Texans, simply because there was so much uncertainty surrounding Steve Slaton and Ben Tate. Of course, Arian Foster ran with that starting job and Johnson never got a sniff, and he's spent most of this year on Denver's practice squad. With Knowshon Moreno out for the season, Johnson is active now, and will be third on the RB depth chart going forward. Of course, Willis McGahee has suffered multiple injuries, and Lance Ball is nothing special, so there's a non-zero chance that Johnson could eventually see action. I always liked him at the University of Oregon, and he's the kind of quick, mighty-mite player who could surprise given a chance.
Other solid waiver adds for deep-leaguers, about whom I've written in previous weeks: Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota Vikings (11.4 percent); John Skelton, QB, Arizona Cardinals (0.0 percent); Tashard Choice, RB, Redskins (1.6 percent); Kregg Lumpkin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0.6 percent); Taiwan Jones, RB, Raiders (0.3 percent); Early Doucet, WR, Cardinals (18.7 percent); Damian Williams, WR, Tennessee Titans (1.7 percent).
Christopher Harris is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy. He is also the author of the newly published football novel "Slotback Rhapsody." Get information about this book at www.slotbackrhapsody.com, and for an excerpt, click here.
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