Chris Wesseling

Waiver Wired

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Earnest Goes to . . . I.R.?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


With apologies to Jim Varney's Ernest P. Worrell character, the waiver wired story of the week is Earnest Graham's season going up in smoke. You know what I mean, Vern?

Graham's ankle injury leaves Warrick Dunn as the clear starter in Tampa Bay and a probable fantasy RB2 the rest of the season. The news gets even better for Dunn: he goes into Detroit this week to face a tissue paper Lions defense that just gave up a franchise-record 264 rushing yards to the Panthers. That performance pushed the Lions past the Chiefs for the worst rushing defense in the NFL. In addition to his dream matchup this week, Dunn has a reasonable playoff schedule against the 17th ranked Panthers, 22nd ranked Falcons, and 14th ranked Chargers rush defenses in Weeks 14-16.

Here's how I see the rest of the Buccaneers backfield shaking out: Clifton Smith's three fumbles in three games won't endear him to coach Jon Gruden, so expect the undrafted rookie to play in a change of pace role at best. Cadillac Williams is probably at least one more week away from contributing anything to the offense. Even if he returns to game action by Week 13, he's not a great bet for a steady role down the stretch. The former Rookie of the Year won't be the same player he once was, so let someone else in your league get distracted by the hype. B.J. Askew is the favorite to take over short-yardage and goal-line duties, which makes him a decent flier in touchdown-heavy leagues. The upshot here is this: Warrick Dunn is the only back worth owning in typical 12-team leagues.

On to the waiver wire. Here is how I rank the likely targets at each position. Full writeups of each player are below.

RUNNINGBACKS
1. Warrick Dunn
2. Sammy Morris
3. Antonio Pittman
4. Pierre Thomas
5. Peyton Hillis
6. Selvin Young
7. Ahmad Bradshaw
8. J.J. Arrington
9. Cadillac Williams

QUARTERBACKS
1. Shaun Hill
2. Matt Hasselbeck
3. Joe Flacco
4. Kerry Collins
5. Daunte Culpepper
6. Ryan Fitzpatrick

WIDE RECEIVERS
1. Mark Bradley
2. Deion Branch
3. Justin Gage
4. Brandon Jones
5. Jerry Porter
6. Michael Jenkins

TIGHT ENDS
1. Dustin Keller
2. Donald Lee
3. Jerramy Stevens

DEFENSES
1. Broncos
2. Browns

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RUNNING BACKS

Warrick Dunn, Buccaneers - Earnest Graham's season-ending knee injury leaves Warrick Dunn as the feature back in Tampa Bay. The 33-year-old makes for a reasonable RB2 the rest of the way, including a juicy Week 12 matchup against the Lions. Despite missing Weeks 8 and 9, Dunn is on pace for 1,000 yards and appears set for an even bigger workload through the fantasy playoffs.

Recommendation: Should be owned in all leagues

Sammy Morris, Patriots - Morris' meager statline against the Jets doesn't engender great faith, but it's worth noting that he was on his way to a bigger workload. Once the Jets jumped out to a 24-6 lead, the Pats went into no-huddle comeback mode which kept Kevin Faulk on the field.

Bill Belichick indicated Monday that Morris' carry total would have been higher had the Pats not been in passing mode for the last three quarters of the game. The veteran adds a much-needed power element to the Pats rushing attack and should resume lead back duties this week at Miami.

Recommendation: Should be owned in 12-team leagues

Antonio Pittman, Rams - The Rams have already ruled Steven Jackson out for Week 12, which makes Pittman a decent one week fill-in. Keep in mind, however, that the Rams will be facing a hungry Bears defense looking to redeem itself after allowing Ryan Grant's season-best performance in Week 11. With Kenneth Darby's presence in the passing game also cutting into Pittman's value, Dunn and Morris are far more attractive pickups.

Recommendation: Should be owned in 12-team leagues

Pierre Thomas, Saints - The Rotoworld favorite would be higher on this list if it were not for two relevant factors: 1. Reggie Bush is set to return this week and 2. Thomas' impressive Week 11 performance came against the Chiefs then-32nd ranked run defense missing a handful of starters.

As long as Bush makes it back for the Monday night game against the Packers this week, Thomas will left without a steady role. He is worth stashing, though, in case Deuce McAllister's four-game suspension for water pills kicks in at fantasy playoff time.

Recommendation: Should be owned in 12-team leagues

Peyton Hillis, Broncos - So what is a poor man's LenDale White worth in the Broncos pass-happy offense? Mike Shanahan's backfield puzzle is always a tough read, but Hillis appears to be set as the short-yardage/goal-line back and could get a couple of receptions per game. With P.J. Pope showing impressive burst and Tatum Bell hanging around, Hills is a better option in TD-heavy leagues as opposed to yardage-heavy leagues.

Recommendation: Should be owned in 12-team leagues

Selvin Young, Broncos - The Broncos hope to have Young back by Week 13 against the Jets. You won't want him in your lineup for that matchup, but he would merit consideration in Week 14 against the Chiefs. Forward thinking could pay off come fantasy playoff time.

Recommendation: Worth a stash in 12-team leagues

Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants - The new Stashman, Bradshaw is worth a roster spot on the chance that the Giants give the banged-up Brandon Jacobs more of a rest down the stretch. Bradshaw would only need 12-15 carries to be worth a fantasy start in one of the playoff weeks, so stash him now if you have the roster space.

Recommendation: Worth a stash in 12-team leagues

J.J. Arrington, Cardinals - Tim Hightower is impressing no one the past two weeks with his hesitant style. If the Cardinals decide to stay with a pass-heavy offensive game plan, Arrington will continue to see significant playing time in the backfield. He's not going to match last week's touchdown production, but the yardage will come if he's on the field for a similar number of plays.

Recommendation: Worth a look in deeper leagues

Cadillac Williams, Buccaneers - Warrick Dunn will be the starter with B.J. Askew the short-yardage back and Clifton Smith in the change of pace role. Where does that leave Caddy? A couple of weeks away from seeing action and without a role when he does return. Keep an eye out for news of an increased role, but I remain skeptical in the meantime.

Recommendation: Monitor in deeper leagues


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Chris Wesseling is a senior football editor and Dynasty league analyst for Rotoworld.com. The 2011 NFL season marks his fifth year with Rotoworld and his third year contributing to NBCSports.com. He can be found on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.
Email :Chris Wesseling



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