Free-agent finds: Week 13
Thin week for must-have pickups, but Helu, Cooper, Morris stepping up
A week after some of the worst running back carnage among fantasy studs the league has seen in some time, the NFL was relatively calm in Week 12. There probably isn't one player available in a majority of leagues right now that I consider a must-add. But with one week remaining before standard ESPN.com leagues begin their fantasy playoffs, tweaking is encouraged. You never know when one week's waiver trash becomes the following week's roster gold.
Remember, Thursday night features a Philadelphia Eagles versus Seattle Seahawks barnburner (one in which I don't expect to see Michael Vick, Jeremy Maclin or Sidney Rice play, though stay tuned for more news). At the very least, owners of LeSean McCoy and Marshawn Lynch should plan on getting those guys in their lineups early.
There are no byes for the rest of the season, so let's take a look at the best-tasting Brussels sprouts of Week 13:
Standard ESPN League Finds
Roy Helu, RB, Washington Redskins (owned in 33.1 percent of ESPN.com leagues). Would I love to endorse Helu with full throat? Of course I would. I was all over the Nebraska rookie before the season, because I believed neither Ryan Torain nor Tim Hightower was a legitimate every-down back. Alas, Mike Shanahan has become a caricature of himself, a guy who seems to lie compulsively in the media about his RBs, just for the sport of it. This time last week, Shanny was telling reporters he didn't yet believe Helu had all the skills necessary to be an every-down back. Then the Skins went to Seattle and Helu got 30 touches from scrimmage, compared to one for Evan Royster and zero for Torain. Based on the last thing we've seen, and the last thing we've heard from Shanahan ("for sure" he is Washington's starter, quoth Shanny), Helu could be a fine No. 2 fantasy back this week. Or else Shanny could decide to bring Earnest Byner out of retirement and give him the rock 42 times Sunday against the New York Jets. I'd add Helu. But if I had a fantasy playoff spot on the line, my tummy would hurt at the thought of starting him.
Maurice Morris, RB, Detroit Lions (32.6 percent). It's unclear whether last week's waiver darling, Kevin Smith, suffered a high-ankle sprain or just a "normal" ankle sprain on Thanksgiving versus the Packers. As of this writing, the Lions have been tight-lipped. However, roster moves may speak louder than words, and the Lions placed Jahvid Best on IR while signing Aaron Brown (0.1 percent) to their depth chart. Reading the tea leaves, I'd say that means they are at least considering the possibility that Smith could be out for Week 13 versus the New Orleans Saints. If that happens, Morris is the starter, and with Keiland Williams (0.4 percent) fading into the background, that would likely mean a full accompaniment of touches for the pedestrian Morris.
Riley Cooper, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (0.5 percent). As I mentioned above, I have serious doubts about Maclin being able to play Thursday night after he suffered a setback to his hamstring injury in practice last week, and I'm guessing Cooper gets another start catching passes from Vince Young. Cooper has 176 yards receiving on eight grabs (and 17 targets) the past two weeks, clearly answering the question of which WR benefits most from Maclin's absence. With DeSean Jackson etching his name above the doorway to Andy Reid's doghouse, it's not inconceivable that Cooper is the Eagles' No. 1 wideout for this meaningless tilt against the Seahawks. He can be added in all leagues, and started in quite a few.
Donald Brown, RB, Indianapolis Colts (11.8 percent). It's important not to get carried away with Brown's performance Sunday, during which he sat for the first quarter and watched Joseph Addai run, only to steal the starting job away with a strong effort in the final three quarters: 15 touches for 97 yards. You see, this fine effort came against the Carolina Panthers, my nominee for the second-worst run defense in the NFL right now (only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are worse). I think Brown is addable for those who've seen their backfield depth chart exploded by injuries, because he really has played pretty well lately for the moribund Colts (at least 60 yards from scrimmage in three straight, and a TD in three of his past six). But Indy takes a step up in weight class in the next few weeks: Patriots, Ravens, Titans, Texans, Jaguars. I'm skeptical any RB on this roster will have value, and I'm also skeptical we've heard the last of Addai.
Kyle Orton, QB, Kansas City Chiefs (15.8 percent). Tyler Palko has produced seven turnovers the past two weeks, and during an early stretch against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night seriously looked as though he didn't understand the rules of football, throwing it directly to Steelers defenders again and again. Todd Haley, whose employment status may be hanging by a thread, is saying all the right things early this week about how the starting gig still belongs to Palko, but he can't be that stupid. (Can he?) Orton is a godsend for a team that lost Matt Cassel for the year, and he simply must be under center versus the Chicago Bears on Sunday if Haley is to have any reasonable case for keeping his job. Orton would salvage Dwayne Bowe's fantasy value, and could have a modicum of value in standard-sized two-QB leagues himself. He may be a below-league-average talent, but he's miles and miles better than Palko.
Greg Little, WR, Cleveland Browns (11.1 percent). I did an ESPNEWS segment on Sunday afternoon, and my hosts, Steve Bunin and Max Bretos, threw a bucket of cold water on my fantasy analysis. I was (I'll admit it) raving a little bit about the fact that Little got 13 targets in Sunday's loss to the Bengals, when Steve and Max turned to me and said, almost in unison, "Yeah, but he caught only five of them, and that's supposed to be a good thing?" The thing is: Yes. It is. Little may have suffered four drops in Week 12, bringing his season total to a whopping 12, but the fact that he's pretty much the only game in town for Colt McCoy speaks well of his fantasy potential. I admit that Little is more attractive in PPR leagues than standard ones, and I also admit it would be tough to start him with a fantasy playoff spot on the line. Still, I don't think Week 12 is the last time we're going to see Little find the end zone this year.
Tennessee Titans' Defense (13.7 percent). Last week's call of the Raiders' D was an acceptable one, as it scored seven fantasy points in an upset over the Chicago Bears. I don't feel great about this week's pick of the Titans' D, but they're my favorite among defenses that are available in more than three-quarters of leagues (barely beating out the Broncos' D, which is owned in 4.8 percent of leagues). I'm not picking the Titans because they scored a league-high 19 fantasy points against the Buccaneers last week, though it doesn't hurt. The fact that the Titans keep returning special teams plays for TDs is a nice thing. No, mostly I'm just suspicious of a Buffalo Bills offense that's among the league leaders in fantasy points allowed to opposing defenses in the past five weeks.
Other solid waiver adds, about whom I've written in previous weeks: Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (28.9 percent); Vince Young, QB, Philadelphia Eagles (6.3 percent); Toby Gerhart, RB, Minnesota Vikings (21.5 percent); Marion Barber, RB, Chicago Bears (13.9 percent); Kendall Hunter, RB, San Francisco 49ers (30.5 percent); Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (56.3 percent); Laurent Robinson, WR, Dallas Cowboys (56.2 percent); Jermaine Gresham, TE, Cincinnati Bengals (23.1 percent); Brent Celek, TE, Philadelphia Eagles (24.5 percent); Jake Ballard, TE, New York Giants (31.2 percent).
Deeper League Finds
Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks (12.0 percent). Sidney Rice suffered another concussion in Week 12 and my money says he won't play Thursday on short rest. Mike Williams suffered a shoulder injury and, while that may not keep him out of action in Week 13, it obviously limited his play versus the Redskins on Sunday. That left Baldwin and the ever-disappointing Golden Tate (0.2 percent) as the Seahawks' playmakers, and Baldwin was clearly better: five catches on 10 targets for 60 yards (though Tate scored the TD). In a deeper league, with the Seahawks' receiving corps in pieces, the slot-bound Baldwin looks like a smart add once again.
T.J Yates, QB, Houston Texans (0.0 percent). Matt Leinart will join Matt Schaub on IR, and the rookie Yates suddenly helms a team that still has designs on a division title and a first-round bye. Those who remember Yates from his collegiate days at North Carolina remember that this kid isn't shy about flinging it down the field; I daresay the Texans' offense was more in danger of becoming check-down happy with Leinart at the helm. Then again, aggressiveness doesn't always equal success. (Isn't that right, John Skelton?) Yates will take a few shots, but Gary Kubiak will try to limit his exposure, and go as conservative with his play calling as humanly possible. Against the Atlanta Falcons this week, Arian Foster is going to find some tough sledding, and Yates may have to throw some. But I certainly wouldn't feel great about hitching my fantasy team's wagon to his star just yet.
Jason Avant, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (4.7 percent). DeSean Jackson's fourth-quarter benching against the New England Patriots last week almost certainly won't carry into Thursday night versus Seattle. To at least some degree, Andy Reid is fighting for his job, and he knows that D-Jax is his most talented receiver. That probably means Avant will sink back down into the fantasy morass, because all eight of his catches and all 110 of his yards came in that same fourth quarter, after Jackson's benching. Still, deep-leaguers can dream about the possibility of Jackson piping off or turtling on the field again, and Avant catching garbage-time darts from Vince Young once more.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (4.2 percent). Before the season began, I pegged Sanders as one of my favorite value plays for the '11 season, because I like his talent and loved his situation. I get full demerits for the pick itself, but full marks for sussing out a good situation. Hines Ward has become an afterthought, which means the No. 2 job in Pittsburgh was going to be a valuable one. I just picked the wrong second-year WR. Antonio Brown took advantage of Sanders' lingering foot troubles and now has a chokehold on a great fantasy job, while Sanders, who's only just returning from minor knee surgery, is left to pick up the scraps. That's probably how the arrangement will remain for the rest of the season. But in my heart I still believe Sanders is talented enough to take advantage should another opportunity present itself.
Brad Smith, WR, Buffalo Bills (0.2 percent). Hey, I told you this was kind of a crummy week for waiver adds. Smith is that guy who's been making about three big plays a season throughout his entire six-year NFL career, which is always just enough for na´ve fantasy owners to get suckered in. Why should we consider last week's four-catch, 77-yard, one-TD effort any different? We probably shouldn't. But it should be noted that Smith started as an outside receiver alongside Steve Johnson, and did see an impressive seven targets in the Bills' pass-happy scheme. Johnson is the top target here and David Nelson (23.7 percent) is typically a better threat to score in the red zone, but Smith could finally be in a position where his team has no choice but to keep throwing it to him on a weekly basis.
Marcel Reece, RB, Oakland Raiders (0.8 percent). Reece is a pass-catching fullback, which isn't exactly what you imagine when you think of the term "fantasy gold." The reason I include him here is that the Oakland receiving corps is crushed by injuries now, and Reece actually led the team with five catches for 92 yards Sunday against the Bears. He had receiving gains of 47, 29 and 11 yards. No, it probably won't continue. But deep-league PPR owners can add him as a lottery ticket anyway.
Chaz Schilens, WR, Oakland Raiders (0.2 percent). As I just mentioned, Oakland is hurting in its receiving corps. Denarius Moore missed Week 12 with an injured foot, and Jacoby Ford (36.0 percent) hasn't played since Week 10 because of his sprained foot. That left Darrius Heyward-Bey (26.0 percent), Louis Murphy (0.6 percent) and Schilens as the Raiders' top three WRs, and Schilens played the most consistently of the lot. It sounds like there's a decent chance Ford can return to the lineup in Week 13 versus the Miami Dolphins, which would make him the guy you'd most want to add. But just in case he can't go, Schilens would be my choice in a very deep league.
Brandon Saine, RB, Green Bay Packers (0.0 percent). I really only mention this undrafted rookie out of Ohio State to touch on James Starks, who didn't get a carry after the first play of the third quarter on Thanksgiving. Green Bay has 10 days between games and there are conflicting reports about how badly Starks aggravated his injured knee; if he's able to practice this week, he's the guy you'd prefer to use in fantasy leagues. But Ryan Grant (nine touches from scrimmage Thursday) is in the mix, John Kuhn (2.8 percent) is a short-TD maker, and Saine (three touches) might get looks, too. I don't really believe anyone needs to be adding Saine just yet, but his presence could be the kind of nuisance that keeps you away from the Packers' other RBs.
Other solid waiver adds for deep-leaguers, about whom I've written in previous weeks: Matt Moore, QB, Miami Dolphins (3.7 percent); Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota Vikings (7.9 percent); Joe McKnight, RB, New York Jets (2.8 percent); Kregg Lumpkin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0.4 percent); Shane Vereen, RB, New England Patriots (0.2 percent); Early Doucet, WR, Arizona Cardinals (21.5 percent); Damian Williams, WR, Tennessee Titans (6.9 percent); Harry Douglas, WR, Atlanta Falcons (1.4 percent); Jacob Tamme, TE, Indianapolis Colts (0.3 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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