Each week, I'm tasked with picking the top waiver wire targets for fantasy football fans. That article is a more cursory glance at the waiver wire, helping the countless fantasy players in more casual leagues on NFL.com figure out who is worth adding to their roster.
Typically, this column is the one for the diehards in more intense leagues, where I try to highlight breakout candidates to add before they become a household fantasy name. Unfortunately, we've reached the point of the year where that task becomes incredibly difficult, as after 12 weeks there are very few players not on the fantasy radar. That's why you'll see a lot of repeat names in here over the next few weeks, without a ton of new analysis. Most of these players are in need of something to change to get their opportunity to truly produce, such as an injury to someone ahead of them on the depth chart. And while we never wish injury on a player, it's a fact of fantasy and real football that injuries happen, and teams need to be prepared to fill the void. That's why the running back list is basically a list of the top handcuffs who should be owned just in case.
On to the "Deep Dive" waiver wire targets for Week 12.
Ajayi has been used primarily to spell Lamar Miller the last few weeks, averaging 6.8 yards per carry on his 15 attempts since Week 9. The rookie shows great burst and balance, two of the traits that made him a favorite among draftniks. The Dolphins will feed Miller down the stretch, but it is worth noting that Ajayi only saw three fewer touches against Dallas (six to nine) on 20 fewer snaps (12 to 32). He's one of the top handcuff options in the NFL right now and needs to be owned in more leagues.
The Detroit backfield continues to be a confounding one in fantasy, but the one thing we can trust is Riddick catching passes out of the backfield. With five more catches on Sunday against the Raiders, Riddick now leads all running backs with 50 receptions on the season, and trails only Danny Woodhead in receiving yardage. He hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 5, but for owners in PPR leagues, Riddick is an excellent bench stash with weekly flex appeal.
Heading into Week 11, Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said he planned to give Grimes more work. While we hoped that meant he'd cut into the unimpressive Alfred Blue's workload, he actually just stole the few touches that had gone to Chris Polk. Despite Blue posting a solid fantasy day, Grimes still looks like the better back (and most of Blue's production came on a trick play). Grimes is definitely worth a stash, as he's averaging more than twice as many yards per carry as Blue since Arian Foster's season-ending injury, and is a more dynamic option catching passes out of the backfield, as well. He might not see enough touches to put into your lineup next week, but his upside is huge if he and Blue ever flip-flop roles (which they should).
For awhile, it seemed like the Jets would turn to Stevan Ridley in the event that Chris Ivory went down again with an injury, but if Week 11 taught us anything, it's that Bilal Powell refuses to die (in fantasy terms). The veteran played the most snaps of any Jets back last week (41), and turned nine touches into 89 yards. Most of that came through the air, as he had five catches (on seven targets) for 67 yards, with 60 yards after the catch. As we've been writing for weeks, at this time of the year it becomes imperative to handcuff your stud running backs. While the Jets could turn to more of an RBBC if Ivory is forced to miss time, Powell looks like the safer play giving his consistent role in the passing game -- he leads all Jets backs with 20 receptions.
The Saints were on their bye last week, so Hightower is likely still sitting on the waiver wire. Mark Ingram suffered an undisclosed injury in Week 10 that forced him out for much of the game, letting Hightower see his first significant action of the year. Ingram should be fine after a week of rest, but his owners will want to stash Hightower on their bench if they can. He saw more work than C.J. Spiller when Ingram was sidelined, and is the ideal handcuff for one of fantasy's top backs in an offense starting to fire on all cylinders.
Other names to consider:Jerick McKinnon (MIN), Robert Turbin (DAL), Tre Mason (STL), Denard Robinson (JAC), Fozzy Whittaker (CAR)
While Jamison Crowder played the most offensive snaps of any Washington pass catcher against the Panthers, his stat line of one catch for five yards on one target left a lot to be desired. Still, we expected that offense to regress on the road against a tough Carolina defense. Crowder is still worth a stash in deeper leagues, especially PPR formats, even if the return of DeSean Jackson limits his weekly ceiling. He'll have a chance to rebound against the Giants this week.
With Michael Floyd sidelined with an injury and John Brown still not 100 percent, the Cardinals needed someone else to step up in the passing game, and Nelson answered the call. The speedy rookie caught four of his six targets on Sunday for 142 yards and a touchdown. Had he not been rather inexplicably caught from behind by Michael Johnson (a defensive end) he could have had a second touchdown as well. Nelson's fantasy value will remain spotty though, and dependent on injuries to the players ahead of him. So far this season, he's only had three games where he's played more than three offensive snaps (Week 1, Week 8, Week 11), and those were all games where either Floyd or Brown was inactive. He's worth a stash in deeper leagues for sure, as both Brown and Floyd are battling lingering hamstring injuries, but don't chase the points and try to start him next week.
Harris is coming off of his bye and likely still on the waiver wire in most leagues. With Victor Cruz officially shut down for the season, Harris will remain the team's primary slot receiver. He's looked good this season, most recently against the Patriots. He'll have fringe WR3 value the rest of the season, and I like his consistency and upside more than Rueben Randle's.
The San Diego offense had an absolutely terrible outing on Sunday against the Chiefs, even worse than many expected after they'd lost many key playmakers to injury (Keenan Allen, Michael Floyd, etc.). Still, injuries create opportunities for ancillary players, and Inman will continue to see his number get called. He had only three catches on Sunday, but showed his big-play ability by taking them for 51 yards. The Chargers could be in a tailspin after this recent showing (with their head coach on the hot seat), but Inman is still worth a stash in deeper leagues.
Other names to consider:Ted Ginn (CAR), Rueben Randle (NYG), Nate Washington (HOU), Jeff Janis (GB), Javontee Herndon (SD), Cody Latimer (DEN)
Miller wasn't able to make it three straight weeks with a spectacular touchdown catch, but he did have more catches and yards than Martellus Bennett for the second straight week. He'll face a Packers defense that struggles against big, athletic tight ends recently (Greg Olsen, Kyle Rudolph), and could be a decent desperation streamer on the short week (the Bears head to Lambeau Field on Thanksgiving).
The oft-injured Jordan Reed suffered a left MCL sprain last week, but did play through it. Fantasy owners should monitor his healthy throughout the week, and if signs point to him sitting, Derek Carrier will be an excellent streaming option against the Giants. New York has one of the worst defenses in the league when it comes to covering tight ends (most catches and receiving yards allowed to the position). Carrier caught a touchdown filling in for Reed earlier in the season, too.
-- Alex Gelhar is a fantasy football writer and editor for NFL.com, and the producer of the NFL Fantasy LIVE podcast. He did end up buying "Star Wars: Battlefront" as an early birthday present to himself, and has been enjoying it so far. Talk to him about Battlefront or ask him for fantasy advice on Twitter @AlexGelhar.