Fantasy football waiver wire ticker: A bear market for running backs

Ramin Talaie

It's not such a great time to be a ball-carrier. Or a New York Giant. But hey, it's a heck of a time to be a tight end! This week's Ticker looks at the waiver wire, just in time for you to do the same.

I'm leading off with a thing that is not a secret: Byes start this weekend. For this first week, there's only two - Green Bay and Carolina - so the impact won't be huge, except for at quarterback, where fantasy players will be without Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton (who just so happen to be the quarterbacks on four of my five fantasy teams, wheeeee). Beyond those guys, DeAngelo Williams, Greg Olsen, and the plethora of Green Bay pass-catchers will need to be replaced for the weekend to come, making the waiver wire all the more important.

Beyond that, football is starting to get some clarity three weeks into the season. Well, except for the fact that presumptive stud teams in San Francisco, Atlanta, and Green Bay are 1-2, assumed contenders in Washington, New York, and Pittsburgh are 0-3, and the Chiefs of all teams are 3-0. From a player standpoint, we've got Tom Brady barely top-20 in passing yardage, Bilal Powell has more rushing yards than Arian Foster, if Calvin Johnson had just one more yard he could be tied for top ten in receiving yards, and...

Crap, we don't know anything yet, do we?

Things are starting to round into form, sure, but we're a ways from really knowing what the story of the 2013 season will be.

With that in mind, this is the newest week in The Ticker. There are six categories: Buying/not buying; selling/not selling; futures market; and hedges. A guy deemed a Future is one owners might jump on now in hopes of high value a few weeks later. Hedges are presumptive injury replacements or fill-ins. And anyone I'm advocating is 50-percent owned or lower as of Monday morning. Get down on it.

Stocks I'm buying

Pierre Thomas
, RB, NO (45 percent in Yahoo! leagues)

We - fantasy players, real fans, front offices, whoever - love our high draft picks. It's why the Trent Richardson trade was huge news, it's why Vince Young and JaMarcus Russell were news items in training camp, it's why Corey Patterson to this day still gets looks from Major League Baseball teams. There's a reason guys go high in the draft, of course; we see athleticism and college track record and all manner of fancy things and are blown away.

But we are so loathe to give up on a failed high draft pick that it leads to things like Mark Ingram getting more touches than Pierre Thomas. Ingram, 3.8 yards per carry over his career and no rushes of over 35 yards, starting over Thomas, 4.7 and 48 in more than twice the touches. That's all before looking at receiving totals, which believe me, do not help Ingram's case. The team has already started looking more toward Thomas; I wouldn't be shocked to see Ingram gone before too long. Thomas is at best a flex play right now, but he still, especially with bye weeks upon us, needs to be owned in way more than 45 percent of leagues.

Danny Woodhead
, RB, SD (36 percent)

I picked up my buddy Hays on the way to our fantasy draft. Hays was woefully unprepared, and so spent the entire drive asking me about my prep. One of the tips I gave him: Woodhead. It elicited scoffs and derision from Hays, the ungrateful grouch. But, on a San Diego Chargers with reasonable deep threats - Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd, and Keenan Allen all like to take the ball for distance - and not much in the way of a slot receiver - okay, Eddie Royal has caught touchdowns, and Vincent Brown is still there, but no, there's nothing to write home about - a pass-catching running back like Woodhead stands to get a lot of looks from Philip Rivers. The Chargers QB has morphed into a check-down quarterback in the last couple years. So far, some of my prediction has come to pass, as Woodhead leads the Chargers in receptions through three games. There's no reason to think this will stop. He's going to be a poor man's Darren Sproles or Joique Bell going forward.

Brandon Bolden
, RB, NEP (2 percent)

A couple weeks ago in this space, I touted LeGarrette Blount as the Shane Vereen replacement in New England. Blount Sunday looked decent, if not spectacular, so that call hasn't been proven bad quite yet. But Sunday's guy to look at was Bolden, who ran the ball only three times (for 51 yards), and caught five of his six targets for 49 yards. It was Bolden's second career 100-yard game, after a 148-yard outing against Buffalo last September. Starter Stevan Ridley has five such games out of 45 career outings, a lower ratio than Bolden's two in 11 games, and Bolden only has two games with double-digit touches. It seems clear that the people who bought high on Ridley in drafts this season were higher on him than Bill Belichick is, and the Patriots are looking for a solid No. 2. Bolden and Blount are both fine candidates, and both need looks.

Stocks I'm not buying

Bilal Powell
, RB, NYJ (46 percent)

Powell had a huge game Sunday, rushing for 149 yards on 27 carries against the Bills. Of course, that's the same Bills team that gave up 159 all-purpose yards to Shane Vereen in Week 1. Buffalo kept all the Carolina rushers in check in Week 2, but the track record there isn't great. Yeah, Chris Ivory might miss some time with a hamstring injury, so if you want to grab Powell as a "guy with a starting job" sort of thing, I can't argue. But we have no reason to believe Powell has any of the kind of explosiveness you'd want to see out of a premier running back. His 27-yard run Sunday is already the longest of his career. Sure, he'll get carries, and maybe sheer quantity will give him decent fantasy production, but there's nothing special there.

Donnie Avery
, WR, KC (11 percent)

Listen, Thursday's game was great. Avery caught all seven of his targets against the Eagles, going for 141 yards. On the other hand, remember Dwayne Bowe? I mean, maybe the Chiefs didn't on Thursday, but I remember him. Bowe is still a No. 1 receiver. Avery is still the guy who has played on four teams in the last four years. It will be nice for Bowe to have a running mate out there, but if the Chiefs are really going to make this 3-0 start real, they'll need Bowe, not Avery, to be the main guy.

Brandon LaFell
, WR, CAR (10 percent)

Two touchdowns? Good. Two touchdowns against this New York Giants defense? I mean, yeah, still good, but not quite as impressive, you know? From a Brandon LaFell who has averaged two touchdowns every ten games over his career to score two in five minutes of game time is about as close to the definition of fluke as using the dictionary definition of something to prove a point is the definition of hackery. That was the most tortured analogy ever. I hope it made sense. Anyway, LaFell isn't worth getting excited over.

Stocks I'm selling

Adrian Peterson
, RB, MIN (100 pecent)

I love Peterson as much as you do. No, really, I do. He's so fun to watch, and his season last year was just amazing. It shouldn't have been possible. That said, we can all agree that he's been...not that great this year? Take out that 78-yard run on his first touch of the season, and Peterson is averaging less than 3 yards per carry. The argument against that is that super-long rushes are part of Peterson's game, but the argument against that is that his owners are looking for him to have those runs more often.

Peterson's game-by-game YPC averages so far are 5.2, 3.8, 3.5. Peterson had only three games under 4.0 YPC a year ago, and two of those came early in the season when he was still working back to full strength. He's not done. He's still Adrian Peterson, getting massive touches. But he was the clear-cut, no-question No. 1 running back in drafts, and at this point I'd slot him...maybe number one. But I could make a valid argument to have him anywhere in the top five or six, which would have been a ludicrous statement a month ago.

San Francisco 49ers
defense/special teams (99 percent)

The 49ers' defense has 14 points in three games. Units that have outscored that in any single game so far: New England. Miami. Tennessee. Baltimore. Cincinnati. Kansas City. Dallas. Carolina. Minnesota. Chicago. Green Bay. Seattle. And now Aldon Smith is gone for...some amount of time. Ian Williams is on injured reserve. Patrick Willis might miss this Thursday's game with a groin injury. Basically the 49ers started the season as the No. 2 defense. Now, they might be the No. 12. They've gone from a must-start to a must-stream. In a great matchup, sure, toss them out there. But it's not a unit that you toss into your lineup and just forget about.

Ahmad Bradshaw
, RB, IND (72 percent)

Before Sunday's game, Bradshaw's appearance here would have been pretty far from an insight. Trent Richardson's arrival in Indianapolis appeared to herald Bradshaw becoming a glorified backup, the Ben Tate to Richardson's Arian Foster. Then on Sunday, Bradshaw had his most productive game this season, rushing for 95 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, and against what was expected to be a tough defense in San Francisco. Meanwhile, Richardson only ran for 35 yards on 13 carries, adding a touchdown of his own. But Richardson had been on the Colts for all of three days by that game. Give him a week to learn the whole Indianapolis offense, and Richardson will be the clear-cut top guy. Richardson owners should really try to own Bradshaw, and he will likely be a fine handcuff, but anyone hoping his performance Sunday makes him a Flex option is going to be sad.

Stocks I'm not selling on

Victor Cruz
, WR, NYG (100 percent)

Even if we accept that the Giants are terrible, are going to go 4-12 or whatever, will fire Tom Coughlin and look to replace Eli Manning and whatever else, Victor Cruz will get his. He had 118 yards apiece in Weeks 1 and 2, catching three touchdowns in the Dallas game. Three catches on eight targets for 25 yards Sunday is his low-water mark for the season, and it won't be close, barring injury. When teams struggle, the next tier of guys - maybe David Wilson, maybe Rueben Randle, maybe Brandon Myers, maybe even Hakeem Nicks - see their stats fall. The stars get their numbers. Cruz will be fine. And Cruz owners will be fine.

Colin Kaepernick
, QB, SF (100 percent)

After a great Week 1 against the Packers, Kaepernick had an expected down week against the Seahawks, then fell apart completely against the Colts. So, to recap: Did What We Expected, Did What We Expected, Didn't Do What We Expected. He's 2-for-3 on the season. Next up, Kaepernick gets a Rams defense that struggled against the Cowboys on a short week, then a decent Texans defense, then Arizona-Tennessee-Jacksonville. That's a decent get-right slate for a quarterback, even if Tennessee's defense is better than we thought. I own Kaepernick in two leagues, with Michael Vick behind him in one and Tony Romo behind him in the other. And I'm starting Kaepernick. He's still who we thought he was.

Roddy White
, WR, ATL (99 percent)

Seven catches for 56 yards and no touchdowns would have been a disappointing game for White owners entering the season, yet that's his three-game total as he works his way back from a high-ankle sprain. But I feel comfortable saying White will be back to his third- or fourth-round value self in good time. It's possible the next couple weeks - with home games against New England and the New York Jets - will still feature poor White performances. But the Falcons have a bye in Week 6, and then have a nice three-game stretch against Tampa Bay, Arizona, and Carolina. I wager White gets to Week 10 with at least two 100-yard games and three touchdowns.

Futures Market

Percy Harvin
, WR, SEA (31 percent)

A lot of people burned a draft pick on Harvin, under the thinking that he'd be back eventually and healthy and produce like he did when healthy with the Vikings. I had two problems with this process. The first is that Harvin was looking like he wouldn't be back until Week 13. The problem with that is, even if you were to draft Harvin and stash him for 12 weeks without needing that roster slot, you would then have to feel confident enough in his skills upon his return to run him out there cold in a season finale or a playoff opener over whatever receivers got you to that point. That would only make sense if, I don't know, T.Y. Hilton was your third receiver and he got hurt in Week 12. There are just too many moving parts for it to make sense. But there have been inklings that Harvin might get back sooner, so I'll concede that point.

My second problem with the "draft Harvin" strategy is that, come draft time, you want to take guys who could explode. I drafted Zach Sudfeld, Ronnie Hillman, Quinton Patton, Alshon Jeffery, Rueben Randle, other maybe-could-be-whatever guys. Lottery tickets. But by now, three weeks in, we know by and large who will hit the jackpot. In any kind of deep league, the waiver wire could be devoid of help. For example, all those guys and Da'Rel Scott are sitting on my bench in one league. I'd be fine dropping them, but there's no one out there to help. Now that we're out of lottery-ticket time, grabbing Harvin makes way more sense.

Joseph Fauria
, TE, DET (1 percent)

Can we all agree that Brandon Pettigrew is terrible? I didn't think it would be true, drafting him to a combined seven teams in the last two fantasy seasons. Ouch. It is well-documented at this point that the Lions struggled mightily to actually score touchdowns a year ago, having receivers tackled inside the 5-yard line 23 times. Through three games, quarterback Matthew Stafford has hit Fauria with a pair of touchdown passes inside the five-yard line. Maybe that's a fluke - I certainly wouldn't consider Fauria a starting option right now - but if he continues getting Stafford's looks, he might be worth a shot.

Mike Glennon
, QB, TB (0 percent)

Having worked for a year in Manhattan, Kan., I want ex-KSU Wildcat Josh Freeman to be good. And that is now the end of the good things I can say about Josh Freeman in 2013. He's been a quarterback abomination so far, and "Glennon is warming up on the sideline!" tweets started coming down the pike in the middle of Sunday's game. It's hard to picture Glennon being a superstar quarterback if he were to take the starting job. That being said, it's almost as hard to picture him being Freeman-level bad. Doug Martin, Mike Williams, and assuming-he's-healthy Vincent Jackson ought to be a heck of a group of offensive weapons, but they've been hamstrung. The reasonable best-case scenario for Glennon is a bye-week fill-in or a low-end two-quarterback flyer, but that's still more than what Freeman has offered.


Bryce Brown
, RB, PHI (49 percent)

When LeSean McCoy had to briefly leave Thursday's game with injury, I got panicked texts from the McCoy owners in all my leagues. Those texts came a minute or two after I had scoured every waiver wire in every league, in hopes someone had been foolhardy enough to leave Brown out there. One of them actually had, and I snapped him up, so that one McCoy owner got back a "haha" text. Of course, that "haha" was returned fivefold when McCoy returned to the game and was his normal strong self down the stretch. But still - McCoy has to be considered maybe the most likely to get injured of the top tier of running backs, if for no other reason than the sheer number of plays that offense wants to run. Brown is a must-own, with the possibility of performance like he offered down the stretch last year.

Lance Dunbar
, RB, DAL (2 percent)

Speaking of running backs likely to get injured, DeMarco Murray is a big one, yeah? Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner would stand to be the beneficiaries if (when?) Murray goes down. While Dunbar missed the Cowboys' season-opening win over the Giants, he has gotten seven touches this year; Tanner has five, and he's been active for all three games. Murray is far and away the Guy in Dallas, but Dunbar is the handcuff Murray owners want to have.

Zac Stacy
, RB, STL (2 percent)

There are a lot of running backs in this week's Ticker. That's not an accident; part of the reason running backs went so highly in drafts this year is that there simply weren't many fantasy owners could count on, and as a result there were sure to be a lot of wild cards and question marks. All year long, running backs are going to be the gotta-keep-an-eye-on-them guys. As for Stacy - Daryl Richardson was a veritable no-show Sunday with a foot injury. Isaiah Pead rushed the ball six times for 20 yards, which was not impressive. Benny Cunningham got the next touches, but his four rushes for 16 yards weren't anything special either. The rookie Stacy has only one carry for four yards this year, so it's not like he can lay claim to anything better than the other guys, and he might be in line to see a large increase in carries if Richardson misses more time and/or Pead remains ineffective.

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