Prior to the Wire: Week 1

The “Prior to the Wire” series is designed to project the following week’s waiver wire targets before the current week of games have been played. Injuries are impossible to predict so it focuses on developing situations and potential emerging talents. It is designed in hopes that readers can beat other owners to add/stash these players. Not all targets listed here will be immediate stashes, some will be targets/situations to simply keep an eye on over the week’s games. The emphasis is on players whose value will be on the rise.

The Week 1 column will have some overlap with the “Late-Round Targets” series but over the course of the season that overlap will fade.

 

Quarterback

Carson Palmer

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Traveling cross-country for 1pm EST starts has not been kind to Palmer in recent memory but it is early in the season and if he has success verse a plus matchup (the Lions) this week, the trend should continue. Palmer faces the Colts in Week 2 and the Cowboys in Week 3, both ranked outside the top 25 in passing yards allowed in 2016, giving up 260+ passing yards per game. Finally with a fully healthy receiving corp, Palmer could return to his 2015 form that saw him put up 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns.

Blake Bortles

Okay, hang with me here. Yes, Chad Henne was threatening his job. Yes, he looked awful in preseason. And yes, he has become the butt of every quarterback joke in the past two years. But from a fantasy standpoint, none of that matters. He is a far better fantasy player than real life one. Sure, he scores the majority of his points when it doesn’t matter for the Jaguars but those garbage time points count just the same in terms of fantasy. In his last two seasons he has finished as QB12 and QB4, and the talent around him continues to improve. The Jaguars have added a legit running back talent for the first time since Maurice Jones-Drew, and a quality left tackle in Cam Robinson. Bortles has had fantasy success before and could find it again with a less than imposing upcoming schedule of TEN, BAL, @NYJ, @PIT, LAR and @IND.

Other Name to Watch:

Sam Bradford

Favorable matchup verse the Saints and if they are able to establish the run with Dalvin Cook, unlike last season, the Vikings offense could open up nicely given all the pass-catching talent.

 

Running Back

Charcandrick West

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Insert any Andy Reid running back here. Reid’s system has allowed for running backs to produce for years and although the fantasy community has Kareem Hunt’s bust for Canton in the works, he is a rookie (albeit good one) and the Chiefs only have two running backs on the roster as of Week 1. There is a situation where if Hunt struggles moving the chains, in pass-protection or hanging on to the football, that Reid would turn to the veteran back. West has also shown flashes in the past. In 2015, he started three games (the only three games of his career with 20+ carries) and managed 412 total yards and four touchdowns. He is an immediate stash candidate in deeper leagues.

Matt Breida

Carlos Hyde referred to him as the thunder or maybe it was the lightning in the 49ers’ “thunder and lightning” backfield. Regardless, the reports all summer were that the UDFA out performed Joe Williams and despite Williams being placed on the I.R. Breida earned his No. 2 spot on the depth chart. The ceiling for him is a Tevin Coleman-type role in Kyle Shanahan’s system. And to be clear, he is the lightning. Breida ran a 4.37 at his pro day. He is a stash for Hyde owners but a name to remember for most.

Shane Vereen

Paul Perkins didn’t exactly seize the lead rushing job this preseason, he more stumbled his way to the top of the Giants’ depth chart. The Giants are a team built to throw. No team ran more three receiver sets in 2016 than the Giants. Vereen is a dynamic pass-catcher, solid in pass-protection and has the ability to run the draw when needed. Given the way the offense is shaped and Vereen’s particular skillset he could wide-up seeing a majority of snaps, especially when trailing. If stuck in PPR formats, he is worth a dart throw in Week 1 especially if Odell Beckham Jr. is out. He is a name to watch, especially in PPR leagues.

Other Names to Watch:

Bengals and Seahawks Backfields

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Outside of Chris Carson, all the running backs are too highly-owned to mention here but the usage of both these backfields are noteworthy this weekend. Thomas Rawls and Jeremy Hill appear set to be the starters but that means more in Rawls’ case than in Hills. If Rawls gets off to a good start, the Seahawks will role with him, only occasionally mixing in C.J. Prosise in passing sets and Eddie Lacy as change-of-pace. Joe Mixon and Gio Bernard will in the mix for the Bengals no matter what but expect Hill to get the majority of the goal line touches.

Wendell Smallwood

LeGarrette Blount looked awful in limited work this preseason, compiling just 36 yards on 13 carries over three games. It is obviously a small sample but coupled with the fact that Doug Pederson’s reluctant to name a lead back, Smallwood could end up carving out a nice workload. However, his touchdown scoring value will be capped as long as Blount remains on the roster.

Wide Receiver

Marqise Lee

2016 saw Lee emerge as Bortles’ second favorite receiving option. Lee put together a decent 63-851-3 line but left more to be desired with his 105 targets. If Allen Hurns moves to the slot on a more permanent basis, which seems to be the case, Lee could eclipses both the 1000-yard and 5 touchdown thresholds. He is currently in WR5 territory but given the Jaguars schedule in Week 2 through Week 7, that could change in a hurry.

Marquise Goodwin

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Goodwin looked exactly as expected in the preseason; fast. As a sprinter in college, he has legit 4.2 speed. The 49ers released both Bruce Ellington and Jeremy Kerley during the preseason, so they clearly see something in Goodwin. Trust Shanahan to find create ways to use him. A Taylor Gabriel-type 2016 is a real possibility. He is a nice compliment to the possession-type receiver Pierre Garcon is. He is worth stashing, there is a chance he is the highest scoring 49ers receiver this season.

Paul Richardson and Tyler Lockett

Early this week Richardson made the jump on the depth chart to the No. 2 receiver in Seattle. To an extent it doesn’t technically mean a whole lot but given the top-end speed and talent of both Richardson and Lockett this is a situation worth monitoring. The Seahawks could have one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFC this season and the No. 2 receiver will hold at minimum WR3 upside in terms of fantasy. Originally this looked like a slam dunk situation to add Richardson but with Lockett now practicing in full, they may wide-up sharing snaps. Richardson has the bigger frame but he is more of a burner than a turn red zone threat. They are names to watch and a situation to monitor.

Others Names to Watch:

Kenny Golladay

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Sliding Golden Tate to the slot and allowing Golladay to work outside could be mutually beneficial for the Lions. He had a great preseason and has the size to be a red zone target.

Nelson Agholor

A full time role in the slot could lead to the reemergence of the former first-round draft pick but have to see it before investing.

Brandon LaFell

Admittedly he isn’t a sexy add but he was working in two receiver sets with A.J. Green and the first-team offense in the offseason and coming off a 64-862-6 season. John Ross isn’t 100% healthy yet and Tyler Boyd is still a work in progress.

 

Tight End  

Coby Fleener

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Many expert’s 2016 breakout tight end candidate will see increased volume with Willie Snead suspended for the first three weeks of the season. Fleener finished as TE13 last season and his situation/opportunity has arguably improved coming into this season. There is reason to believe his breakout potential is higher coming into the 2017 season than it was a season ago. The Saints No. 2 receiver Ted Ginn isn’t much of a red zone threat so expect Fleener to get looks in scoring territory. He is a decent stream option for Week 1.

Ben Watson

Dennis Pitta led the Ravens in targets and receptions last season with 119 and 86. In 2015, Watson’s last full season, he put together a 74-825-6 line on 109 targets. Translation: Flacco targets the tight end heavily and Watson is a quality tight end. With all the question marks surrounding the Ravens’ offense, Watson could end up seeing TE1 type volume. If the volume is there, the production will follow.

Others Names to Watch:

Charles Clay

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Clay consistently flirts with 50-500-5 territory but his skillset suggests he has a higher ceiling. The exits of Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and Mike Gillislee leave the Bills light on red zone options. Clay could fill that void.

Evan Engram

The Giants lean on the pass and with Will Tye and Larry Donnell no longer on the roster there are 92 targets up for grabs. There is a reason the Giants took him in the first-round and if Odell Beckham misses Week 1, Engram could have an immediate impact.