james-starks-again2

We’re setting sail on this week’s trip into the wavier wilderness with heavy hearts, because between Steven Jackson, Ray Rice, Eddie Lacy, Maurice Jones-Drew, and a hobbled but likely still playing Reggie Bush, running backs were struck down with fury in Week 2. We must find new peons, fast.

You know what happens now: I go through the jungle of waiver gambles, and together hopefully we’ll find solutions for what ails us. Because I enjoy some variety in life, I tried not to duplicate too much from last week, but it’s inevitable/unavoidable sometimes.

Alright then, let’s do this.

Quarterbacks

1. Alex Smith: There’s nothing really exciting about Smith. He’s a fine quarterback in reality, but in fantasy he’s really just a guy, though he’s the sort of guy who at least won’t hurt you much since he rarely throws an interception. Over his 27 starts since the beginning of the 2011 season, Smith has thrown just 10 picks while attempting 733 passes (five each in 2011 and 2012).

This week, he’s more than just a dude who throws a football in Kansas City. That’s because this week, he’ll be doing it against the Eagles, and a secondary that mostly resembles a giant crater. Philadelphia has given up 721 passing yards over just two games.

Percentage Owned: ESPN – 17%, Yahoo – 39%

2.Philip Rivers: Yes, one of them came against the aforementioned putrid Eagles secondary, but Rivers has now put together two solid weeks, which already beats his consecutive non-brutal game streak from last year (it ended at zero). Regardless of the opponent, a quarterback completing 76.6 percent of his passes in a game when he threw 47 times and Eddie Royal, Keenan Allen, and Malcom Floyd are his receivers is something that’s just so NFL, in that the league is taunting us with oddities through two weeks (this includes the weather).

Percentage Owned: ESPN – 34%, Yahoo – 42%

3.┬áRyan Tannehill: While finally connecting with Mike Wallace — who was targeted 11 times in Week 2, catching nine of them for 115 yards, including a 43-yarder — Tannehill averaged 9.4 yards per carry in a win over Indianapolis with a passer rating of 107.4. It’s rather early, yes, but we were given signs of Tannehill being what we thought he would be: a quarterback who would descend through the cracks in the machine, and then be a great weekly steaming option.

Percentage Owned: ESPN 9%, Yahoo – 16%

4. Terrelle Pryor: You know the drill here by now, and with Von Miller on the third game of his suspension and Champ Bailey possibly still out too, a matchup against Denver isn’t nearly as threatening for Pryor. Just like the 2011 Tim Tebow — a comparison I’ve jammed down your throat at every possibly opportunity — Pryor’s value lies in his legs, and that part of his body alone has been responsible for 16 fantasy points through two games (162 rushing yards).

Percentage Owned: ESPN – 22%, Yahoo – 25%

5. Matt Cassel: This may be a little premature, and it’s clearly a speculative add for those of you in two-QB leagues. But with Christian Ponder slugging away with his passer rating of 67.0 (29th) and he can be relied upon to chuck two picks per game, Cassel will start at some point, and likely soon. When he does, he could fall somewhere between not awful and OK with great run support, and quality receiver options in Greg Jennings, young speedster Cordarrelle Patterson, Jerome Simpson, and Kyle Rudolph. Sure, Ponder has them too, but he also has a piece of pasta for an arm.

Percentage Owned: ESPN – 0.4%, Yahoo – 0%

Running Backs

1. James Starks: Starks sits in this pristine territory atop the waiver running back hierarchy because although we don’t know Eddie Lacy’s playing status this week, it seems likely that he’ll take a game off prior to the Packers’ Week 4 bye (indeed, that’s what the Green Bay Press-Gazette reported earlier today). And since he’ll then be a primary running back for at least one week with little threat from Johnathan Franklin and he’s widely available, Starks is an automatic claim if you’re in need of a player at his position. Here’s lookin’ at you, Jackson or Jones-Drew owners, and those who are concerned about a hobbled Bush (obviously Lacy owners too).

But there’s also concern with Starks. See, if Lacy’s concussion really isn’t that serious and he’ll only miss one game, you’re likely about to spend either a high waiver priority or far too much FAAB cash on essentially a one-and-done RB before he fades back into a platoon. In Week 1 before Lacy’s brain was scrambled, Starks didn’t receive a single carry while catching just one pass for eighth yards. With or without Lacy his role should increase now after 168 total yards against the Redskins, but Starks will still take at least a side seat to the rookie once he’s healthy. The question you’re asking is then simple but awful: how badly do you need a running back who has a crappy matchup (at Cincinnati) for just one week?

Percentage Owned: ESPN – 6%, Yahoo – 14%

2. Jacquizz Rodgers: Similar to Starks, Rodgers deserves your attention because of the swift uptick in carries he’s about to receive with Steven Jackson out for up to a month. That’s great and all, but realistically Rodgers’ value is highly limited even with that greater workload (especially this week with a far less than favorable matchup against New England). He won’t score unless he busts one long either on the ground or through the air, as Jason Snelling (also not a horrible flex add) is still a pounder, and that’s what he’ll do in all short-yardage situations.

Rodgers is a fine add in PPR leagues with his 28 yards on four catches last week, and 402 yards on 53 grabs in 2012. But here’s all you need to know about his inability to run between the tackles with a diminutive frame: on 11 carries he finished with 17 yards against the Rams after Jackson went down, while Snelling had 19 yards on two carries.

Percentage Owned: ESPN – 81%, Yahoo – 23% (yeah, a little scattered)

3. Bernard Pierce: I wasn’t even going to bother listing Pierce here despite Ray Rice’s hip injury and questionable status, because I just assumed he was owned in every league everywhere (he was a 10th round pick on average). But since I use the two most commonly traversed fake football outposts and he’s widely available in one of them, Pierce has to be included. Hell, he’s nearly available in 30 percent of CBS leagues, which is also pretty nuts.

We all realize that even in a secondary role behind Rice, Pierce still had 789 total yards last year (including playoffs), right? Yeah, he’ll be do some good things if Rice is out (he’ll likely be a game-time decision).

4. Andre Ellington: Rashard Mendenhall is still the primary horse in Arizona, but an offense that thoroughly enjoys passing is quickly figuring out ways to get Ellington the ball, making him a sort of Joique Bell-lite pickup this week after his two receptions for 42 yards against the Lions, most of which came on a 36-yard touchdown. The Ellington dollar signs should be particularly bright in PPR leagues, where he holds fine flex value.

Percentage Owned: ESPN – 1%, Yahoo – 1%

5. Jordan Todman: This is the claim Maurice Jones-Drew owners are regretfully making out of obligation, although there’s optimism MJD will be fine after injuring his ankle in Week 2. Neither running back will do much of anything against the Seahawks defense, but those in deep leagues likely don’t have a better option than either Jones-Drew or his backup. Consider this both an insurance claim and a reason to hate yourself. Enjoy.

Percentage Owned: ESPN – 1%, Yahoo – 0%

Wide Receivers

1. DeAndre Hopkins: Like Pierce above, Hopkins’ ownership numbers (or a lack there0f) are a little staggering. This is a first-round pick with stupid speed, and he’s the complement — and later heir — to Andre Johnson. Yes, Johnson gets targeted a crap ton, and currently leads the NFL with 29 of them. But over two games Hopkins still has 183 receiving yards, including a 20-yarder in each game. After an 117-yard game Sunday, his ownership numbers are about to spike fast.

Percentage Owned: ESPN – 67%, Yahoo – 52%

2. Eddie Royal: Many of you with sweaty and irritable trigger fingers are about to lose your damn minds on the waiver wire over Royal, and maybe for at least one more week you’ll be right, and I’ll be the dumb one (because that can only happen for one week). Malcom Floyd is out for Week 3 with a neck injury that’s thankfully not nearly as scary as it looked initially, meaning Keenan Allen (also a decent pickup in deep leagues) will start in his place, and Royal will continue to get a steady helping of targets.

But even with the apparently rosy connection between Royal and Rivers and what Mike McCoy has done with other similar nothings in the past (Brandon Lloyd’s 1,448-yard season in 2010), it’s difficult to see a future where the regression darkness doesn’t occupy Royal’s inner man. Two weeks ago he had 10 career receiving touchdowns, a number he’s now halfway to in only two weeks this year. You’re seeing a mirage.

Percentage Owned: ESPN – 18%, Yahoo – 24%

3. Stephen Hill: In this week’s reminder that someone has to catch footballs on the Jets’ offense, we have a receiver who had a career long catch during last Thursday night’s game that set football back at least eight years. Hill’s 37-yarder was part of an 86-yard day overall in which he was targeted eight times by Geno Smith. We knew from his Georgia Tech days when Hill had a per catch average which should be illegal (29.3) that Hill can either go boom or blah, and he flexed that speed muscle against the Patriots with an average of 21.5 yards on his four receptions.

Percentage Owned: ESPN – 4%, Yahoo – 2%

4. Austin Pettis: There may be a few more booming weeks for Pettis that match or exceed his 78 yards and a touchdown against Atlanta, and his snap count (69 out of a possible 77 to lead the Rams’ primary offensive playmakers) hints strongly at an increased role for the No. 2 receiver. If you want to use a lower waiver priority to stash and flex him while hoping for a few such weeks, claim away, fine sir. But do so knowing that between Brian Quick, Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, Jared Cook, Stedman Bailey, and now even Isaiah Pead, there are a whole lot of hands demanding balls in St. Louis.

Percentage Owned: ESPN- 1%, Yahoo – 1%

5. Nate Burleson: The passing volume will always remain high in Detroit, giving targets not named Calvin Johnson plenty of opportunities. That last part could be even more true this week if Bush is indeed slowed, which would give Matthew Stafford one less intermediate option. That will in turn make Burlson another nice PPR flex play, as he has 13 receptions through two weeks.

Oh and hey, I’m not listing Joique Bell anywhere in this space today because he was prominently featured last week. But he could have a massive week if Bush is limited, and he should be owned in all formats.

Percentage Owned: ESPN – 5%, Yahoo – 10%

Tight Ends

1. Charles Clay: Seriously guys, get this kid’s ownership numbers up. I know you’re aware of Clay’s yardage Sunday (109 receiving yards, including a 67-yard catch), but he also brings an extra little bit of gadgetry. He scored a rushing touchdown on a goal-line carry in Week 2, and Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman later said he’s looking to get Clay more involved in similar situations. His targets are also highly encouraging, as he has 13 through two games, a fine number for a tight end — and formerly a backup tight end prior to Dustin Keller’s injury — who’s fighting for targets in a passing offense focused on Wallace and Brian Hartline.

Percentage Owned: ESPN – 1%, Yahoo – 4%

2. Coby Fleener: Dwayne Allen remains day-to-day with a hip injury, and we saw what happens when Fleener assumes the primary tight end duties in Pep Hamilton’s offense which spotlights that position. Fleener had the longest reception of his career in a loss to the Dolphins Sunday (40 yards) and a touchdown in a day that ended with 12 fantasy points (16 in PPR leagues).

Percentage Owned: ESPN – 8%, Yahoo – 11%

3. Tyler Eifert: Jermaine Gresham will lead the Bengals’ tight ends in targets, and therefore also most other things. But Eifert showcased his breakaway speed last night with a 61-yard catch and run in just his second game. He’s widely available, and in a deep league where you’re rolling tight ends anyway, there are worse options than hoping for more long jogs deep into the night as Eifert continues to develop quickly. At worst, on a small sample size Eifert has also shown he cane provide replacement-level production to coast through a week with either byes or poor matchups elsewhere. He had 47 yards on five receptions in his NFL regular-season debut.

Percentage Owned: ESPN – 8%, Yahoo – 20%

4. Heath Miller: Miller might return as soon as this week, and while it’s difficult to know what to expect after a devastating knee injury, he could be effective immediately even at less than full health. Intermediate dinking is the foundation of Todd Haley’s offensive thinking, and that’s what led to a career high 816 receiving yards for Miller last year even though he missed one game.

Percentage Owned: ESPN – 7%, Yahoo – 22%

5. Garrett Graham: No, Owen Daniels didn’t take a stroll through traffic. He’s still around, and he’ll still get most of the tight end targets in Houston. But a funny thing is happening: Graham is starting to matter. He’s been targeted 10 times through two games, which is a pretty vicious pace considering both Daniels’ presence, and his 39 total targets last year over a full season. Even better, Graham is becoming a consistent red-zone target, with two touchdowns on only seven receptions.

Percentage Owned: ESPN – 1.5%, Yahoo – 2%