As we have now reached the unofficial halfway point of the regular-season schedule, we have a chance to briefly reflect and hand out some hardware. For fantasy purposes, I believe you’d be hard-pressed to find more compelling candidates for first-half MVP on ESPN Fantasy than Kareem Hunt, the Chiefs’ All-Everything rookie running back, and Todd Gurley II, the Rams’ phenomenal back who has been rejuvenated under new head coach Sean McVay’s system. Their respective average draft positions were 20.4 and 22.7, the 16th- and 22nd-highest during draft season. They have carried your squad. And they are good bets to continue to do so. They are marvelous talents.
But a good reminder: It’s always worth continuing to scour the waiver wire to plug the holes filled by players such as Hunt or Gurley. Last season, amongst the top 10 players most commonly rostered by ESPN Fantasy championship teams was Redskins running back Rob Kelley, who didn’t see regular work until Week 8. Keep an eye on the waiver wire this week and — candidly — every week going forward. You could find a league-winning player.
Without further ado, here’s the ESPN Fantasy Week 9 waiver wire column.
Note: Players available in less than 50 percent of leagues on ESPN.com do not qualify for this list.
Remaining bye weeks are as follows:
Week 9 (six teams): Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles Chargers, Minnesota, New England, Pittsburgh
Week 10 (four teams): Baltimore, Kansas City, Oakland, Philadelphia
Week 11 (four teams): Carolina, Indianapolis, New York Jets, San Francisco
Alex Collins, RB, Baltimore Ravens (32.3 percent): The surprising leader in yards per carry in the NFL this season is Collins, the Seahawks castoff who has worked his way up the depth chart in Baltimore. With Terrance West (calf) injured, Collins has assumed a larger role, and we’ve reached the point where it seems unlikely that will change. He runs hard, creates yards after contact and sprinkled in two catches in Week 8 (he had zero before that). Collins is an add for any sized league, with the hope that he can sustain 12-15 carries per week going forward.
Alfred Morris, RB, Dallas Cowboys (30.0 percent): Over the next six weeks, the Cowboys are almost assuredly going to be without Ezekiel Elliott, opening the door to someone stepping in to fill his prominent role. Choosing between Morris and Darren McFadden is a projection: it’s perhaps most likely that they split this job. But I’ll give the slimmest of edges to Morris, who has served as Elliott’s backup in games so far this season.
Darren McFadden, RB, Dallas Cowboys (41.8 percent): Could it be that McFadden steps into a starting role? Unquestionably. But he’s yet to play in a game this season, as he’s been a healthy scratch while Elliott has been on the field. He’s the more proficient pass catcher as compared to Morris, but it’s no certainty that McFadden will step into a lead-back role. There is no perfect answer as to which running back one should roster, but McFadden should certainly be added in all leagues, as should Morris.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (28.9 percent): There might not be an organization better at identifying and developing wide receiver talent than the Steelers, with Smith-Schuster the latest example of what looks like a stud in the making. Smith-Schuster had his breakout game in Week 8, tallying seven catches for 193 yards and a touchdown that traveled 97 yards. With Martavis Bryant not currently factoring into the offensive mix in Pittsburgh, Smith-Schuster is the unquestioned second wideout to consider rostering in fantasy. He has four touchdowns this season, and his rapport with Ben Roethlisberger should further flourish.
Marlon Mack, RB, Indianapolis Colts (29.0 percent): The talent of Mack is apparent and was on display during his 24-yard touchdown catch in Week 8 versus the Bengals. Frank Gore remains the undisputed starter in the Colts backfield, but Mack’s explosive ability and pass-catching acumen pop on tape each week. The Colts have found themselves playing from behind with regularity this season, something that bodes well for Mack and should increase his overall playing time. Although Gore is as steady and reliable as they come at running back, the 2-6 Colts might decide to focus on developing the talent of their young players down the stretch, which would lead to more time for Mack. He’s an add in 12-team or larger leagues.
Robby Anderson, WR, New York Jets (25.5 percent): Anderson has an abundance of speed and has been on a roll of late, posting three straight double-digit games in points per reception scoring. He has a touchdown in back-to-back games and is averaging nearly eight targets per game over his past three outings. With six more teams on a bye this week, Anderson will be on the flex radar as a player who has touchdown/big play upside.
Jack Doyle, TE, Indianapolis Colts (38.5 percent): Hello, Jack Doyle! He has been an absolute monster the past three games: 25 catches for 211 yards and two touchdowns. He had 12 catches and a score in Week 8. The bottom line is he provides a weekly starting option at a position where that is hard to find. Doyle should be added by anyone in need of a Week 9 fill-in for a player such as Rob Gronkowski or anyone in need of a tight end upgrade.
DeAndre Washington, RB, Oakland Raiders (35.7 percent): Washington chewed up late yards to make his Week 8 performance very fantasy friendly (20.8 points), but I thought the overall performance was enough to at least prompt this thought: Will he cement a larger role going forward, even with Marshawn Lynch returning from suspension? To the eye, he has been more effective than Lynch this season.
Dion Lewis, RB, New England Patriots (48.3 percent): The Patriots got excellent contributions from Rex Burkhead in Week 8, adding to the mix yet another back fantasy players should be mindful of (more on him in a bit), but Lewis saw a season-high 17 touches against the Chargers, and his 2017 body of work is solid. Mike Gillislee still looks likely to get goal-line touches, and the role of James White plus Burkhead cannot be ignored, but based on volume and performance, Lewis is still an add that will likely rank inside our top 30 running backs each week once the Patriots return from a bye in Week 10.
Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans (24.0 percent): How about a second-half sleeper in Davis? He was the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft and opened the season with a six catch, 69-yard performance. A hamstring issue has limited him, but he appears ready to re-enter the lineup in Week 9. Anyone looking for an upside play should consider Davis, especially with quarterback Marcus Mariota expected to be much closer to 100 percent coming out of the bye.
Paul Richardson, WR, Seattle Seahawks (10.3 percent): What Richardson brings to the table is incredible speed … and more. He is modest in size (6-foot, 183 pounds) but terrific in competitive catch situations. Again, with so many teams on a bye in Week 9, Richardson is a flex option if you are chasing a touchdown or a long reception. He has five touchdowns this season and a 37-yard catch in three games.
Vernon Davis, TE, Washington Redskins (13.8 percent): Starting tight end Jordan Reed left the team’s Week 8 game due to injury, opening the door to the possibility of Davis stepping in again to fill his role. Davis remains a plus athlete for the position and a player who, when called upon, has been a reliable piece of the offense. He has four games with 50 or more receiving yards already this season and should crack our top 12 tight end ranks for Week 9 if Reed sits.
Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams (26.6 percent): The reality is that many people have accounted for their fill-in quarterback in advance of the usual starter’s bye week, but for those who need to replace Tom Brady or Philip Rivers this weekend, Goff is a reasonable option amongst the quarterbacks who fit the criteria for this column (available in more than 50 percent of leagues). Goff, coming off of bye, faces the Giants in Week 9, a team that entered its bye in Week 8 allowing the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. The Giants have allowed an average of 329.5 passing yards and 2.5 touchdowns per game to opposing quarterbacks over their past four outings.
Matt Breida, RB, San Francisco 49ers (14.6 percent): The 49ers have fallen to 0-8 and have already turned to C.J. Beathard as the starting quarterback. The team clearly is building toward the future, and with Carlos Hyde‘s contract set to expire at the end of this season, it might make sense to feature Breida and allow him to audition for the full-time starting gig going forward. Is that a guarantee? Far from it, but he’s certainly an intriguing add-and-stash in any size league for someone with a flexible bench spot.
Damien Williams, Miami Dolphins (0.3 percent): The Jay Ajayi trade means backfield touches are up for grabs in Miami. While there is no certainty how things will play out, if I had to choose a back to emerge, it would be Williams, particularly in PPR formats. Although Williams received only modest usage in the running game in his first three seasons with the Dolphins — his career high for carries in a season is 36 — he had at least 20 receptions in all three seasons, and actually scored six touchdowns last season on his 58 touches. He appears to be the more reliable, experienced option and most ready to be the starter.
Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins (0.4 percent): While I think Williams should get first crack at the majority of touches following the Ajayi deal, Drake is still worthy of a pickup in leagues of 14 teams or more. He made the most of his 33 carries as a rookie last season, averaging 5.4 yards per carry and scoring twice. Drake was a factor in the pass game in his final season at Alabama in 2015, so it’s certainly possible he could be more involved. For now, I’m siding with Williams when forced to choose between the two.
Tyler Kroft, TE, Cincinnati Bengals (36.8 percent): Week 9 is a critical fill-in week for tight ends, with the likes of Gronk and Kyle Rudolph on a bye plus Reed potentially sitting out due to injury. Kroft has been a prominent factor for the Bengals of late: He has 19 catches on 22 targets over the past four games. He’s a totally viable tight end streamer for the week.
Rex Burkhead, RB, New England Patriots (8.3 percent): Burkhead had his best game as a Patriot in Week 8, piling up more than 16 points in PPR scoring because of a seven-catch, 68-yard effort as a receiver. A rib injury kept him off the field for an extended stretch early this season, but he’s a player to consider in deeper leagues (14 or 16 teams) to fill-in as a flex in Week 10 or 11 (when eight teams are on a bye) or as a player whose role could increase in a very talented offense. There’s still going to be a healthy dose of James White and Dion Lewis, but Burkhead is intriguing in deeper leagues.