Each week I'll profile the top waiver wire options in fantasy, which you can read at nfl.com/waivers each Sunday following the conclusion of Sunday Night Football. But for those of you diehards or gluttons for punishment playing in deeper, more competitive leagues, those guys will all be taken. That's why this column is for you. I scrape the bottom of the fantasy free agent barrel in the hopes of finding a few waiver gems to roster before their breakout comes on the gridiron. The field of possible candidates is expansive right now as we await meaningful football to unfold on our television screens. Nevertheless, here are nine deep waiver candidates I like heading into Week 1.
If the thought of rostering Robert Griffin III makes you nauseous, I understand. He's theoretically next in line to be added to the saddest jersey in sports (if they bring it back) who has posted the ghastly stat line of 19 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, and seven fumbles lost (of a possible 17) over his last 20 NFL starts. However, there's reason to be optimistic in 2016. He's under the guidance of noted quarterback whisperer Hue Jackson now, and come Week 5 could be targeting the most athletic wide receiving corps in the league -- Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman and Terrelle Pryor. If he performs well against the Eagles in Week 1, his next two matchups are against the Ravens and Dolphins, two teams with weak secondaries. Grab him now in deeper leagues, or at the very least keep him on your radar.
After an uneven debut as a starter for the Broncos in 2015, Brock Osweiler signed a big contract with the Texans to be their quarterback of the future. He should be able to get started on the right foot at home against the Bears in Week 1. Due to injuries, the Bears could be without their top three corners on Sunday. Bill O'Brien was able to get usable fantasy weeks out of Brian Hoyer and co. last year, so it stands to reason that when the matchup is favorable Osweiler can be fantasy relevant. This could be one of those weeks, making him a nice two-QB format or streaming option in deeper leagues.
Yeah, sure, I guess we'll do this again. Before you flame me in the comments, let's not forget he signed a four-year, $16 million contract last season and figured to have a prominent role in the offense before injuries derailed his entire season. Now healthy again, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Spiller eat into some of Mark Ingram's pass-catching work, as Ingram's 60 targets and 50 catches in 2015 were far and away career-highs. Spiller worked extensively with the first-team offense in the preseason as the change-of-pace back, possibly hinting at his 2016 role. The Saints averaged 160 backfield targets per year since 2014, so the opportunities could be there for Spiller. At this point, he's worth a shot in PPR and deeper formats.
While I highlighted Rob Kelley as a potential waiver-wire gem earlier in the week, that's because I didn't realize Chris Thompson was owned in so few NFL.com leagues. Thompson owned 10.5 percent of the passing game targets in the 13 games he played last year, and that number could increase if he remains healthy and the Redskins find themselves in more pass-heavy game scripts. Given how unsettled the starting running back position is (Matt Jones is injured, Rob Kelley is unproven), the team could turn to Thompson for a Danny Woodhead-esque role, as Thompson is a mismatch in space. Owners in PPR leagues should make Thompson a priority add before Week 1. The Monday night game against the Steelers could be high-scoring, setting up for a strong
With Dion Lewis on the shelf until at least midseason, people have been jumping on James White as the heir apparent to the Patriots pass-catching back role. However, D.J. Foster could find himself in the mix quite often as well. Foster was a pass-catching running back in college but converted to receiver prior to his senior season. He went undrafted, but Bill Belichick and company liked his skill set enough to give him a chance. Foster looked good in the preseason, catching nine of 10 passes in the finale while playing with Tom Brady. White figures to open the season in the Dion Lewis-role, but Foster has a more impressive athletic profile than White, and we know Belichick has never been afraid of mixing up his backs at will. Keep an eye on Foster, as #Belitricks could return and pave the way for Foster to get a chance.
Michael Thomas made plenty of splash plays in the preseason, though he's gone largely undrafted in standard fantasy leagues. This makes sense, as the Saints pass-catching corps is crowded, with Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead and Coby Fleener all fighting for targets as well. However, Thomas' size and physicality could set him up for a bigger workload as a rookie than we previous thought. Many had him ticketed for the Marques Colston role in the slot, but on 108 preseason snaps Thomas only lined up in the slot 21 times (19 percent). If he's used frequently in two-wide receiver sets on the outside, his path to targets becomes a bit clearer. Thomas' talent and attachment to a high-octane offense makes him worthy of a bench stash in case he earns a regular piece of this passing game.
While Tyler Boyd was the star of the preseason, it still seems as if Brandon LaFell will be the starting No. 2 wide receiver in an efficient Cincinnati offense. LaFell gets a bad wrap for drops and recent performances, but let's not forget that in 2014 he posted a solid 74-953-7 stat line. With Tyler Eifert on the shelf for the first few weeks of the season and Boyd working more as a slot option, LaFell could fall into a healthy per game target share. That at least puts him on the waiver wire radar.
Tight ends on bad teams tend to see an uptick in volume. This is what helped make Gary Barndige a fantasy darling in 2015. Given the dearth of pass-catching options in San Francisco (Quinton Patton is the No. 2 wide receiver), McDonald figures to get plenty of attention from Blaine Gabbert, as was the case late in 2015. As Matt Franciscovich notes in his excellent look at late-round tight end values, "From Week 9 through the end of the season, (McDonald) averaged five targets per game, hauling in 23 of his 35 targets for 281 yards and three touchdowns ... and led the 49ers in receiving scores. He was the go-to receiver in red zone situations too, ranking first in targets (six), receptions (four) and touchdowns (three) as the team approached the end zone." If you're streaming tight ends in Week 1 or want to get ahead of the curve in trying to find 2016's Gary Barnidge, McDonald is worth an add.
Ladarius Green landing on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list to start the season opens the door for Jesse James to enter the starting lineup. Ben Roethlisberger used Heath Miller as a security blanket for years, with the veteran tight end averaging nearly 88 targets per year since 2012 under offensive coordinator Todd Haley. In James' one start last year with Miller out of the lineup (Week 13) he saw five targets, catching three for 30 yards. With another year of experience under his belt and the lion's share of the tight end targets coming his way (until Green returns), James could be in the TE1 mix in short order. Have his name on speed dial if he assumes more of the targets vacated by Martavis Bryant's suspension than we originally thought.