Standard ESPN League Finds
Cecil Shorts, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (owned in 3.4 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Remember the good ol' days back in Week 1, when Alfred Morris was on your league's waiver wire? Now the best I can offer up is Cecil Shorts? Clearly, it's been a very tough year for bargain hunting; other than Morris, the most valuable fantasy player who was undrafted this summer probably has been Andre Roberts. After that, it's Jeremy Kerley. Yuck. Shorts made last week's Free-Agent Finds column as a "deep league" addition, but he caught another eight passes for 116 yards Sunday against the Green Bay Packers and has established himself as the Jags' No. 1 wideout, for whatever that's worth. Of course, Blaine Gabbert has produced more than 186 passing yards in just two of seven games, so rein in those expectations. But Shorts -- a small-college kid without elite size but featuring above-average speed -- is on pace for 46 catches, 914 yards and seven touchdowns, which is more than Hakeem Nicks can say.
Chris Givens, WR, St. Louis Rams (2.9 percent): The pickings get even slimmer fast. Givens was a deep-league add two weeks ago but graduates to the bigger stage because the Rams aren't shy about sending it to him long. He caught a bomb to open the scoring in London on Sunday, but injured a toe and had to leave the game. He returned but didn't get open deep again. The Rams are off in Week 9, so you'll have to stash this deep threat, but, as I wrote in mid-October, he has some Mike Wallace potential in him. Of course, Danny Amendola seems set to return in Week 10, so everyone else probably takes a step back in the WR pecking order in St. Louis. Still, Givens has a 50-plus-yard gain in five consecutive outings, the first time a rookie has done that in NFL history.
Daryl Richardson, RB, St. Louis Rams (12.0 percent): Richardson, too, has been a deep-league pick of mine this year (noticing a trend?), and he's also off in Week 9. He's been a bigger part of the St. Louis game plan in the past month, but that's not the reason to add him. The reason to add him is if you think the Rams might actually trade impending free agent Steven Jackson to a contender such as, perhaps, the Packers. Major midseason NFL trades almost never happen, but standard ESPN leagues' waiver periods will pass before the trade deadline (which was moved to Thursday because of Hurricane Sandy), so if you're in a speculative mood, you could be adding a No. 1 back if S-Jax leaves town. In that case, Richardson's fellow rookie Isaiah Pead (2.6 percent) also would get in the mix.
Beanie Wells, RB, Arizona Cardinals (49.6 percent): I know, right? Beanie is on injured reserve with a turf toe injury but is eligible to return in Week 12 and has told reporters he feels as if he can play right away. Do I believe Wells would suddenly become all-world despite his injury-checkered history and terrible offensive line? I do not. But barring other major injuries around the league in the next month, he might just be your best shot at finding a true No. 1 RB languishing on the waiver wire. I would stash him in all leagues, then try not to be bothered by the stench.
Ryan Broyles, WR, Detroit Lions (1.0 percent): Broyles wasn't a good receiver at the University of Oklahoma; he was a great one. But he tore an ACL last November and his NFL draft stock suffered as a result; the Lions took him with the 54th pick in April. With Nate Burleson out, Titus Young is establishing himself as Matthew Stafford's new No. 2 WR, and Broyles is playing about half of Detroit's snaps as the No. 3. Of course, behind Calvin Johnson, Young, Brandon Pettigrew and maybe even Tony Scheffler, the workload could be spotty from week to week, which is why Broyles probably isn't quite a starting candidate in 10-team fantasy leagues yet. But he does have a TD in back-to-back weeks, and his talent makes him worth a bench spot in all leagues.
San Diego Chargers defense (25.8 percent): Last week, I gave you the Oakland Raiders as a streaming-defense solution for no better reason than that they were facing the Kansas City Chiefs. Well, guess whom the Chargers host Thursday night? As I did in recommending the Raiders, I offer the caveat that Jamaal Charles can wreck your best-laid plans -- if the Chiefs actually decide to use him. (Recall that J-Mail produced 111 yards from scrimmage and two TDs versus San Diego in Week 4.) Also, the fact that Matt Cassel might be under center instead of Brady Quinn at least opens the possibility for some K.C. aerial upside. Still, by my metrics, the Chiefs' offense has been the NFL's most generous to opposing fantasy defenses this season, and it's not close. On average, they've tacked 7.5 fantasy points onto the average total of opposing defenses, and that number is 9.1 in the past five weeks.
Other solid waiver adds, about whom I've written in previous weeks: Christian Ponder, QB, Vikings (33.9 percent); Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Steelers (29.6 percent); LaRod Stephens-Howling, RB, Cardinals (33.0 percent); Titus Young, WR, Lions (49.8 percent); Danny Amendola, WR, Rams (42.9 percent); Josh Gordon, WR, Browns (49.8 percent); Brandon LaFell, WR, Panthers (18.0 percent); Leonard Hankerson, WR, Redskins (46.1 percent); Kendall Wright, WR, Titans (16.4 percent); Andre Roberts, WR, Cardinals (40.9 percent)
Daniel Thomas, RB, Miami Dolphins (43.8 percent): Thomas was a flag player of mine this summer, but two concussions rendered him unreliable and thus unstartable in most fantasy leagues. However, Thomas returned healthy from Miami's bye and served as the power complement to Reggie Bush in a demolition of the Jets; he has three TDs this season, all from inside an opponent's 3. Let's be fair: Although Bush hasn't played well since hurting a knee in Week 3, he's in no danger of losing early-down work to Thomas. Still, it does appear that, for as long as the bruising second-round RB is healthy, he's the man Joe Philbin prefers to use in the red zone. If you're looking for a cheap vulture, here he is. And Bush's fantasy value has taken a hit, as he doesn't seem likely to register many short TDs.
Shane Vereen, RB, New England Patriots (49.6 percent): Vereen doesn't play in Week 9, but he's probably worth a deep-league add if you have bench space because Bill Belichick is a fickle master. Stevan Ridley plays only about half the time, but so far he's gotten the majority of the carries and did well with them in Week 8: 127 rushing yards on just 15 carries. Danny Woodhead is in the mix on many third downs and often even in goal-to-go situations. But Vereen is playing the Brandon Bolden role now that Bolden is down with a mysterious knee injury, and if you were a Bolden owner, it's acceptable to go get Vereen. He has two TDs in four weeks and appears to have the Pats' trust in short yardage.
Mike Tolbert, RB, Carolina Panthers (13.7 percent): As with my Richardson recommendation above, this is mostly about the possibility of a deadline trade. Should the Panthers part company with DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart would be left with the starting gig and Tolbert would be his backup. Tolbert is an accomplished goal-line runner, plus, considering Stewart missed two of the season's first three games with toe and ankle injuries, Tolbert could conceivably find himself in a valuable position later in the season. There are a few pretty major flights of fancy between there and here, but I'm just saying it could happen.
Matt Moore, QB, Miami Dolphins (0.2 percent): As of this writing, the Dolphins haven't said whether Ryan Tannehill, who left Week 8's win over the Jets with an injured quad, will be able to play Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. If he can't go, Moore would start, and those desperate for help in deep two-QB leagues could take a look. Moore didn't have to do much Sunday; he went 11-of-19 for 131 yards and a TD. But we've certainly seen him turn in fantasy-worthy games before: He had a 15-5 TD-INT ratio in the final nine games of '11.
Other solid waiver adds for deep-leaguers, about whom I've written in previous weeks: Brandon Weeden, QB, Browns (12.3 percent); Tim Tebow, QB, Jets (10.9 percent); Andre Brown, RB, Giants (40.7 percent); James Starks, RB, Packers (5.1 percent); Kendall Hunter, RB, 49ers (15.0 percent); Ronnie Hillman, RB, Broncos (0.6 percent); Joique Bell, RB, Lions (2.7 percent); Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Falcons (10.0 percent); Phillip Tanner, RB, Cowboys (1.5 percent); William Powell, RB, Cardinals (3.2 percent); Jamie Harper, RB, Titans (0.4 percent); Santana Moss, WR, Redskins (30.5 percent); Golden Tate, WR, Seahawks (4.0 percent); Dexter McCluster, WR/RB, Chiefs (6.8 percent); Devery Henderson, WR, Saints (3.9 percent); Donnie Avery, WR, Colts (15.7 percent); Jerome Simpson, WR, Vikings (4.0 percent); Brandon Myers, TE, Raiders (5.1 percent); Logan Paulsen, TE, Redskins (0.6 percent).