Commentary

Free-agent finds: Week 12

Running backs get plenty of attention this week thanks to injuries

Updated: November 22, 2011, 12:15 PM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

The byes are over. The fantasy playoffs are nigh. And the trade deadline for standard ESPN.com leagues is Wednesday. I talked about these on the early edition of Fantasy Football Now this past Sunday, but I'll repeat them here: My three rules for the trade deadline.

1. Trade your depth. You don't need five good WRs any longer. You don't need to worry about byes. And most importantly, you don't need to give yourself a migraine every week trying to figure out which stars to start. Consolidate your season-long waiver-wire excellence into as many studs as you can wrangle. I'm not saying don't protect yourself against injury. I'm just saying most fantasy trades are won by the team acquiring the best player. So two-for-ones in which you're getting the best player? I like those.

2. Sell a stud's slump. "Boy, Wes Welker is terrible, isn't he? I mean, two catches for 22 yards on Monday night? His studly days are over. In fact, you know what? I'll take him off your hands on the cheap, just because I'm a good person. Here. Here's Jackie Battle. Let's call it even." OK, maybe that's a slight exaggeration; there probably aren't too many leagues in which Battle-for-Welker would be accepted. But how about Reggie Bush? If Bush was on my fantasy bench anyway, and I had a need at WR? I'd do that deal in a heartbeat. Talk bad about slumping fantasy superstars, and buy low.

3. Handcuff! Handcuff! Handcuff! The recent medical mishaps of Adrian Peterson, Darren McFadden, Fred Jackson, Ahmad Bradshaw, et al should teach you a lesson: You can't get stuck in your fantasy playoffs without potential replacements. If you're an Arian Foster owner, you must go get Ben Tate. Overpay a bit if you have to. If you've got Ray Rice, get Ricky Williams; if you've got Frank Gore, get Kendall Hunter. You get it.

Of course, not all ills can be cured by trading. Let's check out the week's top free-agent adds:

Standard ESPN League Finds

[+] EnlargeKevin Smith
Mike Carter/US PresswireKevin Smith set a career-high in rushing yards and had his second-most receiving yards in a game against the Panthers.

Kevin Smith, RB, Detroit Lions (owned in 0.8 percent of ESPN.com leagues). I've already written at length about why Smith is a good waiver add, both in Monday's Instant Impressions column, and in last week's Free-Agent Finds, where I ranked him as a standard-league add. But it's worth mentioning him again this week, considering his 201 yards from scrimmage Sunday versus the terrible Carolina Panthers run D. He's your obvious No. 1 add this week, though there's a good chance he'll actually be behind some of the guys below him on this list in Week 12's rankings, because he has a much tougher matchup against the Green Bay Packers on Thursday. Still, while most of the RBs below are one- or two-week solutions, Smith has a chance to stick as the Lions' starter.

Toby Gerhart, RB, Minnesota Vikings (1.7 percent). Adrian Peterson won't play in Week 12, making Gerhart an option for AP owners Sunday against a strong Atlanta Falcons run D. Frankly, I'm skeptical the Vikings will be able to do a thing offensively without All Day, and Gerhart didn't do much in the second half versus the Oakland Raiders in Week 11. But he should have a full workload to himself, and that's worth something. And a somewhat easier matchup Week 13 at home against the Denver Broncos looms as well, because there's no guarantee Peterson will miss only one game.

Ryan Grant, RB, Green Bay Packers (64.1 percent). Grant violates the unwritten rule of this column that I not include players owned in well more than half of ESPN leagues, but I figured I'd mention him just in case he's been dropped in your league. James Starks suffered a knee and/or ankle sprain in Week 11, and considering the Packers get only three days off before their Turkey Day tilt in Detroit, I find it tough to believe Starks will be able to play in Week 12. That likely means Grant gets the most backfield touches Thursday, and that puts him into flex consideration. However, realize that neither Starks nor Grant has sniffed the field in many goal-line situations lately; John Kuhn appears to be the short-yardage halfback right now.

C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills (51.0 percent). Fred Jackson reportedly won't practice much this week because of an injured calf, which makes it sound like there's a fairly decent chance he sits out Week 12 against the New York Jets. That would likely mean Spiller gets the nod. The Buffalo offense looks just awful these days; Ryan Fitzpatrick was never as good as his early-season numbers looked, and now that his offensive line and receiver corps are decimated by injuries, he's been exposed, as has Chan Gailey's Harry High School offense. Spiller was one of my favorite draft-low options this summer because I still believe in his talent, but he hasn't shown a dang thing in nearly two full NFL seasons. The Jets are clamping down on the run quite well, so my hopes are severely constrained here. But again, touches from scrimmage are sometimes hard to find, and Spiller is a good pass catcher.

Montario Hardesty, RB, Cleveland Browns (22.2 percent). Chris Ogbonnaya has submitted two good games in a row, racking up 243 yards from scrimmage in Weeks 10 and 11 combined. My inner Longhorn is pleased. But Hardesty was able to practice on his injured calf last week, which could mean he's in for a bigger practice workload this week, which could mean he gets worked into the backfield mix Sunday versus the Cincinnati Bengals. Considering how fragile Hardesty is, I don't think Ogbonnaya goes completely away even when Hardesty is ready to go. But Hardesty is a stronger, tougher runner, and would be a natural for early-down work while Obie focuses more on the finesse stuff. Peyton Hillis has already been ruled out for Week 12.

[+] EnlargeJoe McKnight
AP Photo/Jack DempseyJoe McKnight, who had a 158-yard rushing day in Week 17 last year, put up 121 yards from scrimmage last Thursday with Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson hurt.

Joe McKnight, RB, New York Jets (1.0 percent). When Shonn Greene took a helmet to the ribs Thursday against the Broncos, McKnight took over as the Jets' primary rusher, and he acquitted himself well: 121 yards from scrimmage on 22 touches. New York's offensive line isn't what it was last year, and no running back figures to be a fantasy stud in December, plus Greene is expected back against the Bills in Week 12. Still, McKnight provided a spark in the receiving game that LaDainian Tomlinson doesn't, so even if LDT gets healthy for Sunday, Rex Ryan would be wise to use McKnight as his change-of-pace back. There's not much upside here, but at the very least, Greene owners should think about handcuffing McKnight.

Jerome Simpson, WR, Cincinnati Bengals (32.8 percent). Don't lose your mind over Simpson's 152 yards receiving on eight grabs versus the Baltimore Ravens last week. A.J. Green was out of the lineup, meaning Simpson bumped up to the No. 1 receiver role, and Green was reportedly close enough to playing in Week 11 that it would be something of an upset if he doesn't take on the Browns on Sunday. Still, the Bengals are reportedly taking it slow with Green, meaning Simpson could get Andy Dalton's primary looks again. I think the only way you can feel OK about putting Simpson in your lineup is if Green sits.

Santana Moss, WR, Washington Redskins (55.3 percent). This is just a reminder that Moss is close to returning from his broken hand. He may be able to play in Week 12 against the Seattle Seahawks, or he might return soon thereafter, but he should instantly reassume his role as the most valuable receiving target in D.C. Jabar Gaffney (25.5 percent) had a nice game against the Dallas Cowboys last week, but he's typically got so little upside that I'm not racing out to add him right now. Moss would be the most interesting add if he was dropped in your league, though we'll need to see him perform well before we can think about actually starting him in the fantasy playoffs.

Oakland Raiders' defense (15.0 percent). Hopefully you listened to my advice to grab the Miami Dolphins' D last week; they tied for Week 11's best mark with 19 fantasy points against that awful Bills offense. This week's desperation defense is a bit shakier, as Oakland has three negative-fantasy-point days this season. Still, the prospect of a home game against the Chicago Bears with Caleb Hanie under center is tough to ignore. The Raiders produced five turnovers against Christian Ponder and the Vikes last week, and I can envision more of the same versus Hanie. I'm in.

Other solid waiver adds, about whom I've written in previous weeks: Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals (24.4 percent); Vince Young, QB, Eagles (4.3 percent); Matt Leinart, QB, Texans (1.7 percent); Chris Ogbonnaya, RB, Browns (15.9 percent); Marion Barber, RB, Bears (13.0 percent); Kendall Hunter, RB, 49ers (40.1 percent); Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers (53.3 percent); Laurent Robinson, WR, Cowboys (50.1 percent); Torrey Smith, WR, Ravens (43.8 percent); Jake Ballard, TE, Giants (40.4 percent); Heath Miller, TE, Steelers (34.1 percent); Brent Celek, TE, Eagles (18.2 percent).

Deeper League Finds

[+] EnlargeMatt Moore
AP Photo/Gregory BullMatt Moore has taken advantage of recent soft matchups to put up decent numbers during the Dolphins' winning streak.

Matt Moore, QB, Miami Dolphins (2.8 percent). Don't look now, but Moore is at the heart of the Dolphins' three-game winning streak. He's produced adequate fantasy numbers and steady overall QB play for about a month. Let's not get crazy: Swiss-cheesing the Chiefs and Bills is far different from going to Dallas on Thanksgiving and playing an actual playoff contender. Thursday will be a step up in weight class, and even while he's been decent, Moore doesn't have a single 250-yard day. But in two-QB leagues, he's usable.

Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee Titans (0.3 percent). Matt Hasselbeck left Week 11's loss to the Falcons because of an injured throwing elbow, and Locker stepped in and added some much-needed aerial energy. The difference between the veteran and the rookie was palpable, as Locker zinged a few throws about which latter-day Hass can only dream. And to my eyes, Locker looked pretty darn accurate. As of this writing, it was unclear whether Hasselbeck will be able to play in Week 12 versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but it's fair to question whether Locker shouldn't play anyway. If he does, there's a bit of upside there.

Riley Cooper, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (0.1 percent). If Jeremy Maclin sits against the Patriots, Cooper will be on some sleeper lists. New England's secondary is incredibly banged-up and isn't particularly good even when it's healthy, so DeSean Jackson is a great play Sunday regardless. But while Steve Smith did grab a TD, Cooper was the man Vince Young looked for most: He had 12 targets to Jackson's eight (and Smith's one). Of course, if Maclin is ready to play, Cooper belongs on the waiver wire.

Arrelious Benn, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1.1 percent). Mike Williams finally scored a TD on Sunday (his first since Week 1) and had a whopping 11 targets as Tampa fought valiantly to keep up with Aaron Rodgers & Co. Benn was obviously a secondary receiver after Williams and Kellen Winslow, but he proved that when the Bucs need to air it out, he's a reliable outside target and deeper threat, catching five of his six targets for 75 yards. It wasn't so long ago that Benn was considered the high-upside player and Williams the problem-child potential possession receiver.

Charles Clay, RB, Miami Dolphins (0.1 percent). Clay is listed at RB in fantasy leagues, but doesn't have a single carry in his rookie season. He's an H-back, and truthfully is more of a tight end than anything else for fantasy purposes, but no matter what you call the former Tulsa player, he was involved in Miami's game plan last week, catching all four of his targets for 69 yards and a score. At this point, Anthony Fasano (2.6 percent) is more likely to be a deep-league factor on a week-to-week basis. But in the Dolphins' conservative passing attack, Clay's could be a dynasty-league name to remember.

[+] EnlargeShane Vereen
Stew Milne/US PresswireShane Vereen got his first significant action Monday night against the Chiefs, scoring a late touchdown.

Shane Vereen, RB, New England Patriots (0.1 percent). It was utter garbage time Monday night, but Vereen scored New England's only RB TD, and performed well in clock-killing mode, to the tune of eight carries for 39 yards. Stevan Ridley (5.0 percent) didn't get a touch and Kevin Faulk (6.9 percent) was inactive, so it's possible that Vereen has jumped them both on the RB depth chart. But predicting what the Patriots will do with their backfield on a weekly basis is fruitless. Add Vereen in a 16-team league, but have low expectations.

Kyle Williams, WR, San Francisco 49ers (0.0 percent). Williams is the son of White Sox GM Kenny Williams, and in the second half against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, he got a call-up to the big leagues. Braylon Edwards was his typical mercurial self, catching zero of his four targets (including one shorty that just bounced off his mitts), and Williams appeared to replace him later in the game. The slot-sized Williams grabbed all five of his targets and scored his second NFL TD, which might give the Niners pause moving forward.

Caleb Hanie, QB, Chicago Bears (0.1 percent). My hopes aren't high. Mike Martz spent training camp talking up rookie Nathan Enderle, often giving Enderle the No. 2 QB snaps instead of Hanie. And heck, who can forget last year's NFC title game after Jay Cutler got knocked out; rather than use Hanie, Chicago went with an ossifying Todd Collins who'd been just awful during a regular-season cameo, and by the time Hanie got in there, it was too late. Expect to see Lovie Smith drag the Bears back into their offensive shell with short passes and lots of running.

Other solid waiver adds for deep-leaguers, about whom I've written in previous weeks: Christian Ponder, QB, Vikings (8.4 percent); Rex Grossman, QB, Redskins (7.4 percent); Tashard Choice, RB, Redskins (1.3 percent); Kregg Lumpkin, RB, Buccaneers (0.5 percent); Early Doucet, WR, Cardinals (21.2 percent); Damian Williams, WR, Titans (9.4 percent); Harry Douglas, WR, Falcons (2.0 percent); Vincent Brown, WR, Chargers (3.1 percent); Jacob Tamme, TE, Colts (0.2 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.

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