By this point, your fantasy draft is over (or will be soon), and your focus is on an enticing slate of Week 1 matchups. But that doesn't mean it's time to rest on your laurels, set your lineup and forget about it. Building a championship fantasy squad takes constant attention and tinkering. Moves must be made at all points of the season, whether via trade or through the waiver wire, to bolster your team to championship status.
With that in mind, below are nine players still available in plenty of fantasy leagues who could provide an early-season boost to your fantasy squad. No, these are not very deep guys and I understand plenty of them will be owned in your fantasy league. For a look at deeper options to pick up and start in Week 1 or stash for future success, read Matt Franciscovich's streaming column or Matt Harmon's Deep Dive. Both can help more experienced players in larger leagues stay a step ahead. But, for those of you in smaller or more casual leagues, these are the players to look for on waivers heading into Week 1.
Ezekiel Elliott's pending six-game suspension and appeal remains a mystery, but we should receive some clarity soon. In the meantime, McFadden is available on waivers in 61 percent of NFL.com leagues. Odds are he's already been picked up, but for those playing in more casual leagues or who completed their drafts weeks ago, it's worth a look to see if McFadden is still hanging around. Back in 2015, McFadden amassed over 1,400 total yards in Dallas behind much of the same offensive line and without Dak Prescott at quarterback. Even if he fills in for Zeke for just a few games, he'll have immense fantasy value. If not, you can quickly cast him back into the waiver pool. </content:power-ranking>
While we're on the topic of running backs who will be insanely valuable for a few games, don't forget about Jacquizz Rodgers, who is owned in just 12 percent of leagues. Doug Martin is serving a three-game suspension to start the year, and it appears the team will turn the featured back duties over to Rodgers in Martin's absence. Rookie Jeremy McNichols is coming along slowly and Charles Sims appears to be a shell of his former self. The team turned to Rodgers as the featured back for three games last year, and Rodgers finished as the RB14, RB10, and RB13 in those contests. This Bucs offense will be better this year and Rodgers will be fresh starting in Week 1. He could be a great early-season flex play until Martin returns.
When the Eagles signed LeGarrette Blount in the offseason, the prevailing assessment was that he'd become the leading back, with Darren Sproles and Smallwood mixing in as change-of-pace players. With Blount struggling in the preseason and looking ill-suited for the Eagles offense thus far, there have been rumblings that Smallwood could feature more heavily into this rotation -- and even push to become the starter. This time of the season is all about finding and stashing value. Hoarding a player like Smallwood on your bench could pay HUGE dividends later in the season.
Burkhead is much more of a hipster pick, but he could have plenty of value in New England's offense. The team loves versatile skill position players, and Burkhead fits the bill as a capable between-the-tackles runner (4.6 yards per carry last year) and an adept pass-catcher. The Patriots backfield is crowded and the outlook is clouded for now, but those with space on the bench could do worse than stashing Burkhead, who flashed his weekly ceiling in Week 2 of the preseason when he had 70 total yards and a touchdown.
As Matt Harmon pointed out on the latest episode of the NFL Fantasy LIVE podcast, Brandon Marshall's arrival in New York rather strangely led to plenty of analysts piling dirt on Shepard's fantasy grave. Which was odd, considering Shepard caught eight touchdowns as a rookie last year (second-most among rookies). Odell Beckham Jr. is still working his way back from an ankle injury suffered in the preseason and is no guarantee to start in Week 1. Shepard is younger and more explosive than Marshall at this point in his career and could see a ton of targets from Eli Manning, who is playing behind a suspect offensive line. Shepard could be a great add before Week 1 and provide great early-season production.
For whatever reason, I'm not sure any player in NFL or fantasy history has received less love following a 1,000-yard, seven-touchdown season. Yes, plenty of fantasy analysts have been pumping up Williams but it appears the general public has failed to notice, potentially thanks to the blinding move the Chargers made when they selected Mike Williams with the seventh overall pick in the NFL Draft. Well, that Williams is expected to be out until roughly October, leaving several weeks for Tyrell the Gazelle to rack up fantasy points. Offering a nice combination of size, speed, and after-the-catch ability, Williams should figure prominently as the No. 2 option in the Chargers passing attack behind Keenan Allen.
The loss of Julian Edelman is profound for the Patriots offense, and no one player will immediately step in and assume the nearly 10 targets per game he leaves behind (based on his average since 2013). However, Chris Hogan could benefit the most in the wide receiver corps. Hogan is a versatile playmaker, capable of working in the slot and stretching the field for this offense (he played 66 percent of his snaps out wide last year vs. 31 percent in the slot). Hogan likely won't offer the safe weekly floor Edelman once did, but if there's a Patriots pass-catcher to scoop up off waivers in the wake of Edelman's injury, it's Hogan.
Willie Snead, a trendy offseason sleeper got hit with a three-game suspension right before Week 1, throwing a wet blanket on his early-season outlook. Fortunately for the Saints and fantasy owners, they signed Ted Ginn this offseason. Yes, Ginn is prone to the occasional boneheaded drop, but he's also an accomplished deep threat two years removed from a 10-touchdown season. While Brandon Coleman has drawn some praise this offseason, Ginn will be the Saints wide receiver to pick up and start in the early portions of the season while Snead is serving his suspension. </content:power-ranking>
I profiled Carson Palmer in my deep sleepers column back in August, but it's worth mentioning him again -- especially since he has a solid Week 1 matchup against the Lions. The veteran finished 2016 strong after a slow start, averaging 17 fantasy points per game over his final seven contests while posting a 5.6 touchdown rate (he finished 2017 with a 4.4 touchdown rate, and 5.6 would rank as the third-highest mark of his career). John Brown appears to be back healthy, giving Palmer a trio of talented pass-catchers to terrorize the Lions defense with ( Larry Fitzgerald, David Johnson). If your quarterback is facing a bad Week 1 matchup (like Dak Prescott, Andy Dalton, or Philip Rivers), Palmer could be an ideal replacement.
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