Funny how time works. This time last year, Elijah Mitchell was the top waiver wire pickup after an injury to Raheem Mostert. Now, another 49ers RB is among the top pickups after an injury to Mitchell. Fantasy life is a flat circle. And a dog-eat-dog world where we spend half the week chasing our tails, barking up the wrong tree, or whining about the goose-eggers in their coaches' doghouse (looking at you DeVonta Smith and Cole Kmet).
But, now that we've dispensed with all the canine idioms, we can spend the other half of the week feverishly combing the waiver wire for new beacons of hope. Despite all the fanfare surrounding your fantasy draft, this is where championships are won. The waiver wire is the narrow road to victory, guiding the dedicated few through harsh landscapes of injury and past bottomless bye-week pits.
This article's got league-winning handcuffs, surprise target hogs, seventh-year breakouts and more! Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son! Oh no, wait, that's a Star Wars quote. What I meant was: join me, and together we can rule over your family/co-workers/vague acquaintances as fantasy champion and that nerd guy from NFL.com!
We'll workshop it ...
To the wire!
(Rostered percentages are from NFL.com's fantasy football player trends. Players are roughly ordered by priority within position.)
Elijah Mitchell went down in Week 1 with a knee injury that will sideline him at least a few weeks. Over the last three seasons, 49ers RBs have scored the seventh-most combined fantasy points as a team unit, and last year the team produced 10 top-24 weeks at the position. All of this with unheralded guys like Mitchell (sixth-round draft pick), Raheem Mostert (undrafted) and Wilson himself (also undrafted). If you need evidence of what Wilson could do as Shanahan’s lead dog: he led the team with 600 rushing yards and 10 total touchdowns in 2020 and was the RB3 in Week 15 last season (19.9 fantasy points on 23 touches). He’s a plug-and-play starter as long as Mitchell is out.
Continuing the trend of "next-men-up," may I interest you in the guy who got literally all of the non-Najee-Harris snaps at running back for the Steelers in Week 1? Harris is undergoing further testing on his foot injury, which could be an aggravation of his preseason Lisfranc issue. In the unfortunate case Harris misses time, Warren would be in line for a metric ton of touches (assuming the Steelers don't trade for someone). Given how stagnant the run game looked even with Najee, and the potentially short recovery time, I wouldn’t necessarily blow all your FAAB or the No. 1 waiver priority on Warren ... but he should absolutely be a top add in every league.
Honestly, shame on all of us for leaving Jamaal Williams at 86% available entering Week 1. He’s basically a poor man’s Kareem Hunt, except the two goal-line TDs in Week 1 can hardly be classified as “poor” in any sense of the word. Williams capitalized on the four goal-line carries he received (to D’Andre Swift’s one), and while Williams is not necessarily a reliable starter (like Hunt), he is a top-tier handcuff with FLEX-ability in a pinch. Plus, have you seen Hard Knocks? Guy is awesome. “I am about to cry, because I care about y’all.”
Anyone remember these words? “For now, Herbert is a very valuable handcuff -- with the emphasis on ‘very’ -- but a surprise shift in Week 2 or 3 could turn him into a massive steal.” That was a week ago in this very column. On Sunday, Herbert led the Bears with 45 rushing yards -- on eight fewer carries than David Montgomery -- and scored the team’s only rushing touchdown. Most notably, he took both goal-line carries (including the one he converted for a game-sealing TD). I expect Montgomery to remain the starter for now ... but that shift is looking more and more realistic. Get Herbert on your roster ASAP, before the move is made.
Is Dontrell Hilliard blossoming as Mike Vrabel’s version of the James-White-in-New-England archetype? Well, maybe it’s a bit early for all that. He only had four targets in Week 1 after all. Then again, he turned those four targets into three catches, 61 yards and a pair of touchdowns. That’s 5.3 fantasy points per target. Snazzy. And he played 64% of third-down snaps (to Henry’s 36%). Add Hilliard in deeper leagues, primarily as a handcuff to Derrick Henry. And if he does become a regular PPR stud, thank me later.
Guys to 'Stache: What on earth is Isiah Pacheco doing in the "Guys to 'Stache" and not at the top of this article?! Did I not see his late-game touchdown?! Yes, I did, and the key phrase there is "late-game." Pacheco played 4 of 56 snaps in the first three quarters and only became relevant in garbage time. He's worth 'stache-ing as a handcuff to Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but that's it. ... Rex Burkhead logged 19 touches (22 opportunities, including eight targets) in Week 1 and managed 70 total yards against the Colts defense. As uninspiring and anti-Dameon-Pierce as this may be (to my own chagrin), Burkhead is the clear-cut leader in passing situations and will likely continue to split the early-down work as well. ... Believe it or not, Zack Moss snagged six receptions vs. the Rams (on six targets) and added six carries to boot. He played 38% of snaps (to Devin Singletary's 59%), and while Singletary looked like the most effective runner, it appears the Bills might have interest in involving Moss in the (extremely productive) passing game. ... Nyheim Hines caught all six of his targets for 50 receptions in Week 1 (adding three carries for only 4 yards), reminding us that he is a legitimate PPR option in deeper leagues. ... Oh, and just in case Kyle pulls any Shanahanigans in San Francisco (see what I did there?), Jordan Mason is a name to monitor as a potential alternative to Jeff Wilson Jr.
My goodness was the Jaguars-Commanders game full of fantasy surprises. Chief among them: Samuel looks like Carson Wentz’s favorite target. Specifically, Samuel snagged a team-high eight balls on a team-high 11 targets, converting those snags into 55 yards and a tuddie -- and adding four carries for 17 rushing yards as the cherry on top. While Samuel played in only five disappointing games with Washington in 2021, he was the WR24 back in 2020 with Carolina (just ahead of WR25 and teammate DJ Moore). It’s entirely possible we could see something similar with Terry McLaurin and Samuel for the Commanders this season -- though we also need to consider the next guy on this list.
While Samuel was responsible for the biggest chunk of Wentz’s completions, rookie Dotson out of Penn State was responsible for TWO of Wentz’s touchdown passes. He displayed some pretty nifty moves on both plays, and the second was the game-winning TD with under two minutes remaining. Dotson’s five targets were the fourth-most on the team (behind Samuel, RB Antonio Gibson and TE Logan Thomas), so this is a tentative add-and-watch move. Still, the Commanders picked him 16th overall in the 2022 NFL Draft for a reason -- probably the reason(s) we saw Sunday -- and he’s worth rostering for the upside if you’ve got a spot.
Continuing the theme of youngsters with multiple scores in Week 1, may I introduce Duvernay, a speedster out of Texas. Duvernay ran a 4.39 in the 40-yard dash back in 2020 before being drafted by the Ravens in the third round ... and then disappearing. No joke, those two TDs in Week 1 matched his career total (in a full 32 games) entering the season. Those two plays were also basically the entirety of Duvernay’s contribution Sunday, and he is very unlikely to jump Mark Andrews or Rashod Bateman in the pecking order. But given the dearth of health in Baltimore’s running back room, Lamar Jackson will be doing all the heavy-lifting for this team (no surprise there) and Duvernay could be productive even as a third-favorite receiving option.
Thanks primarily to a 75-yard TD in the fourth quarter, Anderson finished Week 1 with 21.2 fantasy points as the leading scorer on the Panthers. But it wasn’t just the one massive play that lands him on this list -- he also led the team with eight targets (DJ Moore had six, Christian McCaffrey had four) and 76 air yards (Moore had 59). That kind of valuable attention could return Anderson to the heights he reached in 2020, when he finished as the WR19 with Carolina, or 2019, when he finished as the WR18 with New York (the green ones).
With Tee Higgins in concussion protocol this week, Boyd becomes an absolute must-add for the foreseeable future. In the two games Higgins missed early last season, Boyd totaled 17 targets, 13 receptions, 154 yards and a TD, and finished as the WR9 in an impressive Week 4 performance. Boyd is a trustworthy target that Joe Burrow will look to in a pinch (like if, say, he’s being sacked seven times by the Steelers), who has a proven track record for fantasy. He’s a startable WR3 for as long as Higgins is out.
After an explosive start to the game against the Raiders, Keenan Allen exited with a hamstring injury and did not return. In his stead, Carter and Palmer both saw significant usage, with Carter logging the more productive day (three receptions for 64 yards and a TD). Carter ran eight routes from the slot and 14 routes overall, while Palmer ran seven from the slot and 25 overall. It’s tough to say which player will be more productive if Allen misses significant time, but I would put in a bid for both with Palmer a hair higher.
Guys to 'Stache: There was a whisper of hype around Titans rookie wideout Kyle Philips (fifth-round pick out of UCLA) in the offseason, but after leading the team in targets (nine), receptions (six) and receiving yards (66) in Week 1, the hype is reaching murmur status. ... The Patriots did not look great in Week 1, but leading receiver Jakobi Meyers looked solid and -- more importantly -- necessary. Mac Jones is likely going to be peppering Meyers throughout the season, making him a decent FLEX option in PPR. ... Zay Jones finished with six catches and 65 yards on nine targets for the Jaguars in Week 1 (tied with Christian Kirk for most snags on the team). Jones will likely be unreliable at best, but nine targets simply can't be ignored. ... Kadarius Toney truthers (like me) were met with a big helping of mashed disappointment in Week 1 that looked oddly like an amorphous mix of Giants receivers Sterling Shepard and Richie James. Shepard is the much more attractive option here, since we've seen him be fantasy relevant before, but I don't hate grabbing James in deeeep leagues as well. ... Just as we all expected, the leading receiver in Arizona with DeAndre Hopkins and Rondale Moore out was ... Greg Dortch? Somehow, the third-year wideout from Wake Forest led the Cards in targets (nine), receptions (seven) and receiving yards (63) in the Week 1 shellacking against the Chiefs. Worth a side-eye glance.
If Everett is not yet rostered in your league, run with all haste and put in a waiver claim. Everett looked like an absolute monster on his 18-yard TD reception and finished with 54 yards on three catches in total. Justin Herbert has a good chance to lead the NFL in passing TDs and safety-blanket Keenan Allen is dealing with injury. Everett has all kinds of upside at a bleak position in fantasy. He should be rostered in just about every league come Wednesday morning.
He may be a hundred years old, but Hurst appears to have found new life in Cincinnati (this is a joke about Hurst being 25 when he was drafted, he’s not actually that old). On a day where Joe Burrow spent half the game on his backside and Tee Higgins spent more than half the game on the sideline (concussion protocol), Hurst racked up five catches for 46 yards on eight targets (third-most on the team behind Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Mixon). Given the fact that the Bengals have clearly not resolved their offensive line woes, outlets like Mixon and Hurst are likely going to continue paying dividends for Burrow and for fantasy.
Apparently we’re adding all the formerly promising tight ends that disappointed for years and are now experiencing resurgences in new cities. Now, for what it’s worth, Howard only saw two targets from Davis Mills down in Houston ... but both of them resulted in touchdowns. Obviously we can’t expect that kind of TD rate on a regular basis, but there is little else worth targeting on the Texans depth chart (outside of Brandin Cooks). If you were planning on streaming “meh” tight ends all season, Howard is one with the upside to become “mehtter” over the coming weeks.
Guys to 'Stache: Alright, I'll say it. If Taysom Hill is tight-end-eligible in your league, he's worth an add. The Bayou army knife took four carries for 81 yards and a touchdown (including a 57-yarder) in Week 1. He isn't going away anytime soon, which means he's spot-startable as a tight end. ... While not a riveting add by any means, Tyler Conklin saw seven targets and scored a touchdown with Joe Flacco at the helm of the Jets offense Week 1. He's more of a 14-team guy or bench insurance.
How much of Wentz’s 313 yards and four TDs (and two picks) were a product of the Jaguars defense, and how much were they a product of Wentz’s new home in Washington? Well, we probably won’t find out in Week 2, when Wentz takes on the hapless Lions. But that’s good for fantasy. And with all the excitement we generated over his receivers above, it only makes sense to double-dip and throw Wentz on the roster as well. Remember, Wentz has finished as the QB5 (in 2017) and the QB10 (2019) before. With a productive supporting cast, it’s very feasible that he is a QB1 the rest of the season.
Prior to Monday Night Football, Mariota’s 19.8 fantasy points made him the QB9 in Week 1, thanks (almost entirely) to 72 rushing yards and a rushing TD (on 12 attempts). Now imagine he gets in sync with TE Kyle Pitts (who caught only two of his seven targets in Week 1) and continues getting strong production from rookie Drake London (74 yards). If you waited on QB (good for you), Mariota could be the surprise QB1 pickup that finishes 2022 with 500+ yards and 5+ scores on the ground, and starts for your fantasy team the whole way through.
Guys to 'Stache: Decent floor, lowish-upside guys like Ryan Tannehill and Baker Mayfield had solid showings in Week 1 (19 fantasy points for Tanny, 18 for Bake-Bake) and are at least worth a look if you're streaming the position. Tannehill gets the Bills in Week 2, so you're probably skipping that one, but Mayfield gets the Giants (who Tannehill handled in Week 1). ... I also don't mind a flier on Davis Mills (at DEN in Week 2) or Daniel Jones (vs. CAR).
The Steelers D/ST is somehow only rostered in 35% of NFL.com leagues. Even without T.J. Watt (pec), it is a force to be reckoned with and gets the rudderless Patriots in Week 2. ... The Browns D/ST, led by Myles Garrett, is going to be a weekly threat and is only rostered in 16% of leagues. It gets the Jets in Week 2. That equates to a top-tier waiver priority if you don't need any of the guys above. ... While the Ravens D/ST's strong start can be primarily attributed to its Week 1 opponent (the Jets), it gets the Dolphins in Week 2 -- an offense I'm not overly concerned about -- and the Patriots the week after that. Nice little stretch of streamability and only 27% rostered.