The first time I ever won a fantasy football league, it was on the strength of an undrafted player. In 2004, I came out of the draft unhappy with my wide receiver depth, and so I knew I would be using the waiver wire for something as soon as I could.
Three games into the season, Brandon Stokley, a second-year Colt, had three touchdowns and 214 yards in three games, and I snapped him up. He went on to have 1,077 yards and 10 scores on the season, easily the best year of his career, and he was one of the main reasons I won the league.
A few years ago, I made my team slogan "This sounds like a job for Kolb and Schaub!" First off, that proves I am the corniest person ever. Secondly, it proves that I was a bad judge of quarterback ability in 2010, as I drafted Matt Schaub as my starter early and Kevin Kolb late as a backup, sure I was going to run through things. That (obviously) didn't work out, and when Tony Romo was lost for several games, I grabbed Jon Kitna as my new starter, and stayed with him all the way to a second-place finish.
I don't tell these stories to brag (which is a total lie; I just don't tell them entirely to brag), but to explain that the waiver wire is at least as important, and frankly, is probably more important, than your draft. We all have preseason ideas of who will be good and who won't be. We're going to be wrong a heck of a lot. You have to be willing to recognize when you're wrong and correct. And correct. And correct and correct and correct.
This is The Ticker, a weekly trip through the waiver wire at some options. It's a tool, just like me (I had to make that joke before my friends who read this do). Six categories - stocks I'm buying; stocks I'm not buying; stocks I'm selling; stocks I'm not selling; futures market; hedges. Futures market guys could see their values rise in the coming weeks; hedges could see their usages change for a variety of reasons. Other than the guys related to "selling," everyone is owned in 50 percent or fewer of Yahoo! fantasy leagues, as of Sunday night (except E.J. Manuel, who I decided to feature after Monday's news).
That's the intro. What comes next is the rest of the stuff that isn't the intro. That's how writing works.
Stocks I'm buying
Nick Foles, QB, PHI (23 percent owned in Yahoo! leagues)
I didn't have it in me to hype Nick Foles weeks ago, when he was the most half-hearted inclusion ever in my Hedges, under the auspices that of course Michael Vick would get hurt eventually, and Foles wouldn't have a choice but to stumble into some level of production. And now, Foles has 13 touchdowns and no interceptions on the season, and the team is 3-1 in his four starts. Now, he's never having another seven-touchdown game (insight alert!), and the three wins have come against the Giants, Buccaneers, and Raiders, so let's not get crazy or anything, but the Eagles don't play many strong defenses down the stretch, and a 13:0 TD:INT ratio is a 13:0 TD:INT ratio. Foles has played himself into high-end QB2 territory, and if you end up missing someone like Aaron Rodgers for some time, you could do way worse.
Doug Baldwin, WR, SEA (11 percent)
Okay, the obvious reaction to Sidney Rice's injury a week ago was "Percy Harvin becomes even more valuable upon his return!" Which might well be true, but that's putting a heck of a lot of faith in a wide receiver who has played nine of a possible 26 games the last two seasons, who has had more maladies in his career than Drew Carey has had improv shows (random zing!), and who has been "maybe back" for the last couple weeks, only to end up out, isn't it? Now we're hearing Harvin might stay out until after the team's bye week. The Buccaneers put Darrelle Revis on Golden Tate Sunday, an obvious setup, and one that the Falcons and Vikings might try to emulate (albeit with sub-Revis options) in coming weeks. Baldwin is easily the next-best option the Seahawks have. Baldwin stands to have a couple big games coming up.
Zach Sudfeld, TE, NYJ (8 percent)
A lot of the reasons Sudfeld was a preseason darling ("Hey, he's tall, a tight end, and a Patriot") were, in retrospect, kind of silly. It was some of the shallowest analysis. That said, Sudfeld is healthy, and that's more than can be said about pages and pages of New York Jets pass-catchers. Sudfeld caught two passes for 46 yards Sunday, and, with guys like Jeff Cumberland, Jeremy Kerley, Santonio Holmes, and everyone else in the world still banged up, those stats could improve.
Stocks I'm not buying
Shonn Greene, RB, TEN (16 percent)
Greene scored his first touchdown with the Titans Sunday. He missed five games before returning in Week 7 for a single rush against the 49ers, but was a real part of the offense Sunday, gaining 38 yards on nine carries and adding 28 receiving yards on a single catch. When Greene joined the Titans, there was a lot of talk of him vulturing Chris Johnson touchdowns, of being the goal-line back in the vein of Mike Tolbert with the Panthers. And sure, Greene's a big dude, that might happen. Except that the Titans' offense has a hard enough time even reaching the red zone (tied for 18th in the league in red-zone scoring attempts) that Greene might not see enough opportunities to do what he's there to do.
Jerricho Cotchery, WR, PIT (4 percent)
Cotchery really is the figurehead for the trio of don't-believe-it three-touchdown guys from this week (Andre Johnson and T.Y. Hilton excepted, as they are believably excellent). But you guys know better than to believe in Darrel Young. So that leaves Cotchery and Riley Cooper. While I subscribe to the "Nick Foles is decent" newsletter, we have four years of evidence that Cooper is nothing special, and sure, he seems to work well with Foles, but I'm not about to buy in just because of a couple games. Cotchery, meanwhile, is in his tenth season, and his three touchdowns Sunday were as many as or more than he's had in any season since 2008. Forgive me if I'm not buying into a resurgence.
Marquise Goodwin, WR, BUF (0 percent)
Oftentimes, these Ticker entries are matters of scale. If we're talking about the next two or three seasons, I can totally see Goodwin, with all his blazing speed, being a perfectly good fantasy player. For now, though, I fear he's too raw, and too far down the depth chart, to be of any use. Even this season, he's seen the field in five games, and had zero yards twice. When he gets receptions, he goes awfully fast, but he's not there yet.
Stocks I'm selling
Ray Rice, RB, BAL (99 percent)
I don't necessarily think Ray Rice is just done as a productive football player. On the flip side, I can't say he's not done, either. Really, all I know for sure about Ray Rice is that he's not a part of the Ravens' offense, despite the fact that the Ravens don't really have much of an offense right now. He's only topped 15 rushing attempts once this season (not coincidentally, he scored two touchdowns that game). At only 2.7 yards per carry on the season, 2013 has been an abject disaster for Rice and his fantasy owners, but, whether because he's done or because the Ravens just really want to throw the ball, it doesn't look to get better any time soon. Sorry, Ray, but I'm out.
Marques Colston, WR, NO (90 percent)
Right now, Colston has played in seven of the Saints' eight games, having missed Sunday's game against the Jets with a knee injury. He has 342 receiving yards and one touchdown. If I had to guess his end-of-season numbers, I would say 800-some yards and maybe five scores. So why, if I think he'll improve that much in the second half, am I selling? Because I forecast him for four touchdowns down the stretch, and dollars-to-doughnuts three of those touchdowns come in one game. Year-in, year-out, Colston ends up with fine end-of-season numbers, but week-to-week he's spotty and unreliable. Take a typically unreliable receiver and add in deterioration due to age and injury, and Colston is just too dodgy to bother with.
Kenbrell Thompkins, WR, NE (52 percent)
Yeah, the fact that Thompkins is down to 52 percent owned shows that most fantasy owners have decided the same thing I have, but I can imagine some people chalking up his healthy scratch to "one of those things" and holding fast, or assuming Danny Amendola will get hurt again and Thompkins will get right back into the fold. But the Patriots were looking away from Thompkins for a few weeks before his scratch, and, even if Tom Brady is "back," between Amendola, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson, and even Austin Collie, there won't be enough touches to go around for Thompkins. In the preseason, Thompkins had one big game (ignoring the fact that he was a non-factor in the other three), which made him the preferred rookie over Aaron Dobson, despite the fact that Dobson was a second-round pick, while Thompkins was an undrafted free agent. I didn't get it then, and I get it even les snow.
Stocks I'm not selling
Dez Bryant, WR, DAL (100 percent)
The dirty little secret of Bryant's season is, despite the fact that he's on pace for 1,250 yards and 14 touchdowns, he has been wildly inconsistent, with three games of 110 or more yards, three below 40, and three in the middle. His yards-per-reception averages have ranged from 5.5 to 24. Even more infuriatingly, his worst games have come against the Giants, Rams, Redskins, and Vikings, which ... aren't the offenses you want your stud receiver to struggle against. But still, this is Dez Bryant. Where Marques Colston is inconsistent with middling totals, Bryant is inconsistent with enormous totals. You don't want to suffer through 25 yards and no scores if the ceiling is 80 yards and one; you'll happily suffer through 25 yards and no scores if the ceiling is 150 yards and two, and that ceiling is hit three times a season.
DeMarco Murray, RB, DAL (97 percent)
If I were to rank the NFL teams on my own personal fandom scale, the Cowboys would beat out the Ravens and maybe the Patriots, and that's about it. So I don't really understand why I'm choosing to support two consecutive Cowboys any more than I understand why I always seem to end up debating Tony Romo-bashers on Twitter about why he's not really the problem in Dallas. But that's where we are. I can't for the life of me understand how the Cowboys ended up calling only nine rushes in Sunday's game against the Vikings, with only four going to Murray. If not for his six receptions (on seven targets), I'd play it off as the Cowboys trying to limit Murray's touches in the wake of his injury, but that's clearly not it. I'm chalking this up as fluke, and saying I'm on board with Murray going forward.
Antonio Gates, TE, SDC (96 percent)
Gates started the season hot, with 364 yards and two touchdowns in his first four games. In the four since, he's fallen to 186 yards and no scores. He looked like he was back to being an upper-tier tight end, then he didn't anymore. It doesn't matter to me, though; Gates still leads the Chargers in targets and receiving yards, and is only one reception behind team leader Danny Woodhead. The Chargers have been a surprise contender so far this season, but their schedule gets significantly tougher down the stretch; they'll need to rely on their studs if they want to keep in the race, and that's Gates.
Mike Brown, WR, JAC (7 percent)
This is record-setting speed on my flip-flop on Brown, who only two weeks ago I was calling a one-game fluke. In the two weeks since, though, Brown has scored his first touchdown, and the Jaguars have lost Justin Blackmon for the rest of the season to suspension. Cecil Shorts III is still the No. 1 guy, of course, but with Brown developing and really no one else to talk about in the Jacksonville pass-catching game, the rookie could easily become a worthwhile fantasy play in deeper leagues.
LaVon Brazill, WR, IND (2 percent)
The best bet among Colts wide receivers in the wake of Reggie Wayne's season-ending injury is that T.Y. Hilton continues developing into a star while Darrius Heyward-Bey fills the No. 2 slot. But, while Hilton seems to be a fairly sure thing at this point, Heyward-Bey has way more question marks, between his frequent drops and his injury worries. If Heyward-Bey struggles, Brazill, in his second year in Indianapolis, would be the likely one to pick up the slack. He's more of a wait-and-see idea for now, but it's not like DHB has done a heck of a lot to reassure us thus far.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, CAR (0 percent)
If I had to pick up one running back, and Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, and Mike Tolbert were all on the waiver wire, Stewart would be the last one I'd choose. But that's not the situation in any league. Williams is owned in basically all of them; Tolbert is owned in the majority. Stewart, as you can see above, is basically untouched. In his first game back from injury, the Panthers showed that no one of the three is likely to be a stud. But if Williams' injury woes continue, if he misses any time, Stewart could revisit some of his glory days, when he topped 1,100 yards in 2009. If you're desperate, Stewart could be a late-season lottery ticket.
Owen Daniels, TE, HOU (18 percent)
Daniels has missed three games and four weeks since being put on the designated-to-return injured reserve in early October with a fibula fracture. In his absence, Garrett Graham, who was a popular add, has been unimpressive. Daniels won't be back until early December at the earliest, but Graham hasn't done a lot to make the team move on from their long-time tight end. If Graham comes back healthy, he could be a sneaky tight-end play for the end of the season.
E.J. Manuel, QB, BUF (5 percent)
Reports came out early Monday that Manuel was cleared to return to action, and none too soon for a Bills team that, with even mediocre quarterback play, could be 5-4 or 6-3 by now. The team has gone 1-3 in Manuel's absence, but only the 35-17 loss to the Saints was a clear defeat; the Bills lost in overtime to the Bengals, 27-24, and had no business losing by ten to a Kansas City Chiefs team that couldn't even score an offensive touchdown. Manuel wasn't blowing anyone away in his first four-and-change games, but he won two, barely lost two others, and did enough to justify his slot in this season's draft. In two-quarterback leagues, or in desperate situations, Manuel's return could bring with it some fantasy assistance.
Knile Davis, RB, KC (2 percent)
I'm not going to lie, I was pretty sad Jamaal Charles was limited to only 96 total yards in Sunday's game; he was the only player in the NFL with at least 100 yards from scrimmage in every game this season, and I was enjoying that. But the dark side of Charles' season is that he's on pace for almost 386 offensive touches this season, which would top his previous career high by more than 60, and he's only topped 285 touches once. And all that is before considering the fact that Charles is likely to play in the postseason this year, adding more to that number of touches. The Chiefs could really stand to find a way to curtail Charles' use, even as they go for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Davis is the only viable backup the team has, and he's averaging less than two rushes a game. That number will have to rise in order to keep Charles fresh, and could give Davis a hint of some value.
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