Chris Wesseling

Waiver Wired

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Prospects Gone Wild

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


The folks at footballoutsiders.com had to be smiling from ear to ear by the time Sunday evening rolled around. Each year in their offseason edition of Football Outsiders Almanac), they analyze and put forth the NFL's Top 25 prospects. Unlike in baseball, their list does not involve rookies. Instead it's a list of underappreciated young players that have flashed ability in small doses, or talented backups just an injury away from a starting job.

The 2009 edition of the Top 25 list reads like an all-star team of waiver pickups. No. 1 prospect Miles Austin, easily the top wide receiver waiver addition this season, continued his Pro Bowl caliber season, exploding on the previously undefeated Saints Saturday night for a 7-139-1 line. Michael Bush (No. 20), Oakland's most effective runner in spotty playing time this year, came off the bench with 144 yards and a touchdown on 19 touches to lead the Raiders to an upset victory in Denver.

Jamaal Charles (No. 13), the top running back pickup this season and possible fantasy playoff MVP, squared off against Jerome Harrison (No. 6) in a scoring bonanza at Arrowhead Stadium. Charles, the No. 2 fantasy back since taking over as the starter in Week 10, totaled a career-high 170 yards and one touchdown on 27 touches while Harrison shattered the immortal Jim Brown's team record with 286 yards and three touchdowns on 34 carries.

It just so happens that the top waiver wire options for Week 16 are two prospects squaring off against each other in Cleveland this Sunday. Harrison, owned in just 49 percent of all CBSSports.com leagues, faces a Raiders defense surrendering the fifth most points to opposing backs while Bush takes on a Browns defense fairing even worse. As long as Tom Cable and Eric Mangini cooperate, this should be another fantasy feast.

Other members of the Football Outsiders Almanac 2009 Top 25 list that were featured on Waiver Wired this season:

No. 3: Jerious Norwood
No. 9: Tashard Choice
No. 14: Josh Morgan
No. 18: Pierre Garcon

Honorable Mention: Ahmad Bradshaw, Justin Forsett

On to the waiver lists. Here is how I rank the top players available at each position as we head into championship week. Full writeups of each player are below.

Editor's Note: Join subscriber only chats, get weekly rankings before anyone else, plus exclusive weekly projections, stat tools, dynasty ranks, columns, Rotoworld Oracle and much more including playoff rankings and schedules in our Season Pass. Our playoff edition is just $4.99!

Running Backs
1. Jerome Harrison
2. Michael Bush
3. Maurice Morris
4. Darren McFadden
5. Leonard Weaver
6. Ryan Moats

Quarterbacks
1. Chad Henne
2. Matt Moore
3. Josh Freeman
4. Drew Stanton

Wide Receivers
1. Josh Morgan
2. Mike Wallace
3. Deon Butler
4. Demetrius Williams
5. Greg Camarillo
6. Malcom Floyd

Tight Ends
1. Bo Scaife
2. David Thomas
3. Todd Heap

Defenses
1. 49ers
2. Cardinals
3. Falcons

RUNNING BACKS

Jerome Harrison, Browns – Harrison wasn't just the No. 6 prospect in the 2009 Football Outsiders Almanac. He was also the No. 6 prospect in the 2008 version and honorable mention in the 2007 version. The Pac-10's leading rusher during Reggie Bush's final season at USC, Harrison has been wasting away on the Browns' bench the past two seasons only to go crazy at Kansas City in Week 15. Let's get one thing straight, however: the Chiefs are an awful defense, and they're getting worse. For the season, they surrender the 2nd most points to opposing backs. Over the past three weeks, they've allowed an average of 245 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns per game. Harrison was set up for a fluke performance in Arrowhead last week, and to his credit he came through with the third-best afternoon in NFL history. Even Eric Mangini can't bench Harrison after that record-breaking performance. Right?

Recommendation: Should be owned in all leagues

Michael Bush, Raiders – Bush has been Oakland's most effective runner since late last season when he dropped 183 yards and two touchdowns on the Bucs defense. He's now responsible for the only two 100-yard performances in the Oakland backfield this season, and he's up to a gaudy 5.0 yards per carry. Someone needs to alert coach Tom Cable. Just days after Cable said there was "no room" in the backfield for him, Bush came off the bench for 144 yards on 19 touches to lead the Raiders to a shocking upset victory in Denver. Cable wouldn't commit to a starter for this week's game, though it's tough to imagine him going back to the more pedestrian Justin Fargas with two games left. I like Bush as a high-risk, high-reward play in a favorable matchup against the Browns this week.

Recommendation: Should be owned in 12-team leagues

Maurice Morris, Lions – Coordinator Scott Linehan followed through on his promise to use Morris in a feature back role similar to the way Kevin Smith was used. Morris responded with 161 yards and a touchdown on 22 touches against the Cardinals. While Morris owners won't be able to count on a 64-yard touchdown scamper this week against the 49ers' fifth-ranked run defense, his pass-catching ability makes him a viable RB2/flex option. Just don't expect a repeat of last week's numbers.

Recommendation: Should be owned in 12-team leagues

Darren McFadden, Raiders – Totaling 179 yards in Weeks 14 and 15, McFadden is coming off his two best games of the season. Unfortunately for him, his 6.2 yards per carry performance against the Broncos coincided with Michael Bush's breakout game. Bush and McFadden have earned the top two spots in the backfield for this week's game at Cleveland, but McFadden is going to have to make an impact as a receiver. He's only an option as a high-risk flex play.

Recommendation: Worth a look in deeper leagues

Leonard Weaver, Eagles – Steadily gaining more responsibilities in the Eagles' offensive game plan, Weaver carried the ball 17 times after Philly jumped out to an early lead last week. Coach Andy Reid expects Brian Westbrook (concussion) to be fully cleared for this week's game, so Weaver could be back to 8-10 touches against the Broncos. I wouldn't feel comfortable using him as anything more than a desperation flex play.

Recommendation: Worth a look in deeper leagues

Ryan Moats, Texans – Tread lightly in the Texans backfield. Arian Foster appeared poised for a big game during the game's first possession last week, seeing most of the touches before fumbling. Coach Gary Kubiak sent Foster to the doghouse thereafter, replacing him with the equally fumble-prone Moats. While Moats is the best bet for touches this week, he could be pulled at a moment's notice. The Dolphins' run defense is above average, so the Houston backs aren't worth the headache this week.

Recommendation: Worth a look in deeper leagues

Long-Term Fliers

Mike Hart - Hart is playing ahead of Chad Simpson and figures to see the majority of the backfield touches if Joseph Addai is rested in Week 17.

Donald Brown - Brown (chest) hasn't played since Week 11, so his best-case scenario is a Week 17 return as the Colts kick his tires to see if he can be a contributor during the playoffs.

Keeper League Specials

LenDale White - If a new CBA is reached, White is set to hit free agency. He'd work out nicely as the early-down back in a place like San Diego.

Larry Johnson - LJ signed just a one-year deal with Cincy last month. His 4.7 yards per carry with the Bengals suggests he may have something left in the tank afterall.

Cut Bait

Justin Fargas - Watched Bush and McFadden blow up for over 210 yards while he sat on the sidelines with a tweaked knee.

Chris Jennings - Harrison's record-breaking day should keep Jennings on the bench the rest of the way.

Sammy Morris - Laurence Maroney has a firm grip on the starting job.


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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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