In my main fantasy league, I decided my season was over a week ago. That decision was prompted by a 1-6 start, so perhaps I should say it was decided for me, but either way, I knew I was done.
It's a two-keeper setup, so I figured my best chance for the rest of the season would be to maximize my 2014. I already have Aaron Rodgers, but my No. 2 keeper was shaping up to be Ray Rice, Doug Martin, or Josh Gordon, which was not nearly the coup I thought it was a couple months ago. I packaged Rice, Gordon, and Cecil Shorts III for A.J. Green, deciding that Rodgers and Green were my hopes for 2014.
Then I won this week's matchup.
As luck had it, I was playing my buddy Greg, who was also the guy I made the trade with. After weeks of rooting for Gordon and Shorts, I spent Sunday rooting fervently against them. It worked out, as my 1-6 team upended Greg's 5-2 squad. As soon as the win was locked up Sunday night, I started looking ahead at my schedule, trying to find a way I could still make it a season. I've had the second-most points scored against me; luck hasn't been on my side. It's not exactly likely at this point, but teams have made our playoffs at 6-7 before; I'm 2-6 now, so a 4-1 stretch over the next five weeks could leave me with a chance. Not much of a chance, but a chance.
The moral to this story is that you are rarely finished in fantasy football. Even now, at 2-6, tied for last, and looking up at all sorts of teams, with DeAngelo Williams and Bilal Powell my starting running backs, I can create a scenario that has me in contention.
That's why you need to keep active on the waiver wire. At a bare minimum, keep active on it until you're mathematically eliminated, but I'm of the "play the game to play the game" school, and I think you try your darnedest to win right up until they take the ball away from you.
With that in mind, this is the Week 9 edition of The Ticker, my weekly look through the waiver wire possibilities. There are six categories: Stocks I'm buying and not buying, selling and not selling, futures market for guys whose value should rise soon, and hedges for guys who could get more play as things change. The first two and last two categories are only for guys owned in 50 percent or fewer of Yahoo! leagues as of Sunday night.
In the words of Alan Rickman in Galaxy Quest, "Never give up; never surrender." To the names!
Stocks I'm buying
Two years ago, Ryan Mathews had the best year of his disappointing career, with 1,091 rushing yards, 455 receiving yards, and six touchdowns. Tolbert, as his backup/handcuff/touchdown vulture, only rushed for 490 yards, but his 433 receiving yards had him near 1,000 overall, and he notched ten touchdowns. Mathews was a top-ten fantasy running back, and Tolbert still had huge value. This year, with Jonathan Stewart still sidelined (for now at least, though I'm not buying into him if and when he does return), Tolbert is the backup/handcuff/touchdown for DeAngelo Williams, who is not what Mathews was. The yardage isn't there - Tolbert's season-high in all-purpose yards is 64 - but he's already scored five touchdowns through seven games, with four of those in the last three. Tolbert isn't a high-end RB by any means, but at least through the byes, he's a fine flex play.
Chandler found himself vaulting into fantasy viability a year ago, mostly on the back of his six touchdowns (he didn't even reach 600 yards on the season). A year before that, he only managed 389 yards, but, again ... six touchdowns. This year, Chandler is stuck at two scores, but he's on pace to get close to 700 yards. He had two career games over 70 yards receiving entering this year; he has two this season. Look, if you have Jimmy Graham or Jordan Cameron or something, this is a meaningless paragraph (but thanks for reading). But Chandler is owned like he's in the twenties among tight ends, and I'd consider him in the Coby Fleener-Greg Olsen-Garrett Graham tier, at worst. Could he be any more underrated? (Sorry, Chandler joke.)
At this point, a Browns quarterback doesn't have many jobs. Get the ball to Josh Gordon. Get the ball to Jordan Cameron. Don't turn it over. Sunday - facing one of the NFL's best defenses - Campbell had no turnovers, and Gordon and Cameron combined for 213 of Campbell's 293 yards. With Willis McGahee proving more and more that he's not really a football player anymore, the team's going to have to throw, and there are weapons out there. Campbell, like Brian Hoyer before him, is the ultimate game manager, a guy who's just there not to kink up the works. Brandon Weeden kept trying to make things happen (see his awful interceptions), which this team doesn't have the skills for. Just don't screw up. Campbell can not screw up with the best of them.
Stocks I'm not buying
There's not much to say here. Hillis has averaged 10.5 points per game through two appearances with the Giants - only 36 yards, but a score, in his debut, then 70 yards (and a surprisingly decent 3.5 yards per carry) Sunday. But between the fact that he's actually not very good and the impending return of about a thousand different (and better) running backs from injury, this was likely Hillis' swan song in New York. I'm happy he got this last gasp, but if you're buying into him expecting any kind of return, you're going to be disappointed.
Ginn's five catches and 80 yards Thursday were season highs for him (though not by much). With two touchdowns, he's already equaled his career high as a wide receiver. Good chance he sets a career-high in yards, too, at this pace. But Ginn followed up back-to-back 70-plus-yard games earlier this year with 22 and 34 yards in his next two, before his 80-yard performance Thursday. A boom-or-bust player is all well and good, and definitely has his place in fantasy, but on the whole, you need way more "boom" potential than Ginn has to make such an investment worthwhile.
Without checking this (or knowing how to check this - I can be a dummy about technology), I would wager that this ownership percentage is basically the lowest it has ever been in McCluster's career, despite one touchdown a season and never reaching even 500 yards in a season. Of course, McCluster had years (if I recall correctly, every year of his career until this one) where he was fantasy-eligible at both running back and wide receiver, so theoretically savvy fantasy owners nabbed him as a versatile bench option. That's great, except for the fact that he never offered any production. This year, as a WR only, McCluster has amped up his production, with 133 yards in his last two games. Still, though, he's at best the fourth option in that offense, and it's not like the Chiefs are known for lighting up the scoreboard. Hard to imagine him having any value.
Stocks I'm selling
Maybe I just haven't been noticing it, but there has been no blowback against Witten this year in fantasy, despite the fact that he has only had two useful games out of eight opportunities. He has 90 receiving yards total in the last three weeks. There are a lot of mouths to feed in Dallas, and maybe Witten will get his in the long run, but right now, he has two fantasy games in the high teens, and six with less than seven. He has three games of either one or two points. That's a lot of uselessness, especially for a guy who was theoretically one of the most solid fantasy starters entering the season.
Jackson's fantasy owners have to be pleased as punch that he managed a touchdown Sunday, because without it, he had only 45 rushing yards, wasn't really a factor in the receiving game, and looked worse than (gulp) Tashard Choice out there. Great that Jackson has six touchdowns already this year, and it's looking increasingly unlikely that C.J. Spiller is going to have much to say in the fantasy game, but Jackson is an oft-injured 32-year-old running back, and two of his next three games come against the Chiefs and Jets run defenses. It's about to get bad for ol' FJax, and if I own him, I'm getting out now.
Honestly, other than "results," I can't figure out what clicked in Dalton's game between Week 5 (212 passing yards, no touchdowns) and Week 6 (337 passing yards, three touchdowns). Through five weeks this year, the Bengals quarterback had five scores and five interceptions. In the three games since, that ratio is 11 to two. After five games in the 200s in passing yards, he's been above 300 for three straight. But his completion percentage is basically at his average, and these games have come against bad-defense Buffalo, bad-defense Detroit, and a Jets team that was having its annual "don't show up" game. Maybe I'll be the last one to climb on board, but I just don't see Dalton having finally figured it out. I'm on record as buying Marvin Jones, but Dalton? Not as much.
Stocks I'm not selling
We're a week removed from Griffin putting up 25 fantasy points against the Bears. So, I'll concede that Sunday's game against the Broncos (three fantasy points) was a disaster, if you'll concede to me that it's a mere data point, of equal significance as his explosion only a week earlier. Griffin had scored double-digit points in every game before Sunday; he had been at 19 or higher three times. I'm chalking Sunday up as one of those things, especially with games against Minnesota and Philadelphia in the next three weeks. Stick with him. (And no, I'm not worried about his late-game knee injury, at least not until something more comes out about it.)
Jackson's return to the Atlanta playing rotation could scarcely have gone worse, as he got only 13 total yards against Arizona. But it was fairly clear that Jackson's return was based more on team desperation than individual health; in an ideal world, the Falcons likely would have given their free-agent acquisition another week or two to get better. It might take a couple more weeks (especially with games against Carolina and Seattle coming up), but if I have Jackson - and I do in one league - I'm holding fast for now. His eventual value will be more than any trade return an owner is likely to receive.
Blackmon returned strong from his four-game suspension, with 136 yards and a touchdown in his debut and 190 yards in game two. He's turned cold since, though, with 89 yards combined in the two games since. Rookie Mike Brown has suddenly been the go-to guy in the Jacksonville offense, with 163 yards and a score in those same games. It's got to be a fluke, though, unless Brown, with that vanilla name, is actually, like, Terrell Owens in witness protection (which would be the best thing ever). I still think Blackmon is a fine start, even with that quarterback, even with that new weapon.
I'm something of a Bears fan-by-proxy, as I am the best in the world at making friends with people I later learn are Bears fans. If you're watching games often enough with people who are saying "Go Bears," you kind of end up thinking it, too. So when I heard that Jay Cutler was out for a while, and McCown was taking over, I had one of those "Oh no, not again" feelings that Bears fans are so used to at this point. But it didn't take me long to realize I was overreacting. For starters, the Bears offense - Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall, yeah, but Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett are there now, too - is significantly better that it ever was when Todd Collins, Caleb Hanie, or Jason Campbell had to shoulder the load. For another thing, go back through McCown's career. He hasn't gotten significant playing time in six years, but he wasn't actually a bad quarterback for Arizona or Oakland way back when. I mean, he wasn't great or anything, but he was acceptable. He's not worth anything in fantasy yet, but keep an eye on him. In a two-quarterback league, McCown stands to actually have some value.
Through seven games, Pierre Thomas' 36.1 rushing yards a game is the best rushing total of any Saints running back. Drew Brees and the passing game are great, but a 6-1 team needs to have multiple ways to attack a team; if the Saints don't get a running game together, that will be their fatal flaw on the season. Mark Ingram clearly isn't the guy; Darren Sproles never rushes it anymore; Thomas is increasingly unimpressive with rushes. Robinson, an undrafted free agent out of West Texas A&M, is already second on the team in rushing yards, despite only one game over 40 yards, and has seen his touches increase lately. At 4.4 yards per carry, he's far and away the team's best in that category. They're been easing Robinson in, but soon enough, he's got to be the guy.
Through six weeks of the season, Nelson had three catches for 20 yards for the Jets. Then, in the last two weeks, he's caught 12 passes for 160 yards (80 in each game). Nelson missed last year with a torn knee ligament, but was fantasy-useful in 2010 and '11 with Buffalo, when he caught eight touchdowns over two years. With the Jets, he's in a group of pass-catchers who are about as healthy as the quarantined block on this season of Walking Dead (pop-culture reference!), and Nelson is, right now, the last man standing. He could very easily have value before too long.
Wilson is now the fifth Giants running back I have chronicled in the Ticker, and Michael Cox is still out there, just waiting for me to write up. Anyway, Wilson, a preseason darling, has fallen low enough in ownership that he's worth a look again. His biggest problem - the fumbles - only popped up in Week 1, and, while Tom Coughlin is famous for his lack of fumble forgiveness, he's not going to stick to that in order to give Peyton freaking Hillis more carries. If Wilson gets healthy before Andre Brown, he'll get the lion's share of the work. If he and Brown return together, he'll still be useful. You can't dump anyone you are using to pick Wilson up, but there aren't many better lottery tickets out there.
Knowshon Moreno has been good; Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman have ... not. Hillman was deactivated Sunday after his fumbling problems, and I don't expect him to even be on the Broncos' roster much longer. Ball was a forgotten man after his own fumbling issues, going three straight games with no more than three touches before carrying it 11 times Sunday. Anderson, meanwhile, is a rookie who forced his way into play, and got four carries Sunday, going for 22 yards. In the long run, maybe he never cracks the regular usage rotation, but Moreno is hardly known for his health, and Ball hasn't blown anyone away yet. Anderson could be "next man up."
Boy, that Andre Ellington sure had a good game, huh? If only some nice soul had said how much better he was than Rashard Mendenhall weeks earlier. (Yes, I know that wasn't really a secret; let me toot my own horn, dangit.) Anyway, Ellington ought to have pretty firm dibs on the starting job now, with Mendenhall hoping for the scraps. That said, Mendenhall is only on a one-year deal with Arizona, while Taylor is a rookie. Mendenhall is going to be an ex-Cardinal in a couple months. There's no future there. There's no reason not to stick with Taylor as the backup.