With two weeks of the NFL season in the books, my ongoing quest to find "this year's Earnest Graham" has led me to some running backs that are not even starters on their own teams. If this strikes you as strange, just remember -- Graham was not a starter at this time last year, either. In fact, the best waiver selections are often players who were not starters at the time they were claimed. Sure, sometimes players like Kerry Collins and Brian Griese are worth claiming merely because they now have a starting job. But more often than not, a player's potential upside is the key factor. That's why I ask myself, when evaluating potential waiver selections, whether I can envision a scenario (e.g. an injury) where that player becomes a useful fantasy player in the near future. With that in mind, here are my recommendations heading into Week 3.
Trent Edwards, QB, Bills: The Bills are not nearly as conservative on offense as you might think. Against the Jaguars, they ran a ton of shotgun formations with four and five receivers - including the opening drive of the game (a seven-minute drive that culminated with a touchdown). They still like to run in the red zone, but James Hardy gives Edwards a much-needed red-zone target. Edwards is not spectacular, but he is steady and consistent, and on the Bills' improving offense he might just finish as a top-15 quarterback.
J.T. O'Sullivan, QB, 49ers: Although he only has one touchdown pass in two games, his yards per attempt (YPA) is approaching 10.0, and that is a great stat to evaluate when gauging a quarterback's performance. I wish he had some better weapons at receiver, but playing in the NFC West, he's going to have some nice games and this week's home contest against Detroit looks appealing as well.
Brian Griese, QB, Bucs, and Kerry Collins, QB, Titans: I lump these two together because they have a lot in common. Both suddenly have starting jobs for the foreseeable future, but both are in run-oriented systems and lack much upside. Although they are less appealing than Edwards and O'Sullivan (along with many other, more obvious names), you can do worse in two-quarterback or deep leagues (e.g. Tarvaris Jackson, Kyle Orton, Chad Pennington).
Fred Jackson, RB, Bills: Two -- the number of running backs in the NFL that are better receivers out of the backfield than Jackson (Reggie Bush and Brian Westbrook). One -- the number of injuries it would take for Jackson to be a top-10 fantasy running back (Marshawn Lynch). Zero -- the number of players likely to be available on your waiver wire who have more upside than Jackson. Other than Felix Jones, there's not a more valuable handcuff in fantasy football. Handcuffs aside, if you didn't watch Bills-Jags, you'd be shocked how much playing time Jackson received (at all stages of the game). He's become a flex option, especially against inferior opponents (where the Bills will get ahead and run a lot).
Darren Sproles, RB, Chargers: Speaking of valuable handcuffs, Sproles is a must-own if you have LaDainian Tomlinson. Heck, even if you don't own LT, Sproles is worth claiming. I doubt Sproles duplicates last week's performance anytime soon, but Tomlinson is starting to get nicked up with various injuries, and I have thought for a while now that this is the year he falls off of the cliff. Remember when Marshall Faulk was universally seen as the top fantasy running back, but then his knees started acting up and he was never the same?
Brandon Jackson, RB, Packers: The Packers' offense looks terrific, and Jackson is clearly benefiting from Ryan Grant's injuries and slow start. I suspect that Jackson was claimed last week (with Grant nursing an injury), but if he wasn't, remember that the Packers picked up Grant off of the scrap heap last year and that Grant has never performed over a full, 16-game season.
Michael Bush, RB, Raiders: Bush is still third on the depth chart in Oakland. But keep an eye on Justin Fargas' groin injury -- if it is severe, Bush will probably split carries, and get the goal-line touches, in a run-dominated offense. If Fargas were out for a while, Bush would be worth starting in the right situations (i.e. when the Raiders play teams that will not blow them out, enabling them to stay with the running game).
Deion Branch and Bobby Engram, WR, Seahawks: Don't forget about these guys simply because they have not played (and are probably at the bottom of your free agent lists since they have no stats for 2008). They will be starting for Seattle, and lots of fantasy teams, in just a few weeks. Since Seattle has an early bye in Week 4, you won't lose them to the bye week later in the year either.
Atlanta Defense/Special Teams: Don't get me wrong -- I do not like the Falcons as a long-term option. But this week, they get the pathetic Kansas City offense at the Georgia Dome. You can definitely do worse if you need a one-week plug-in (or a cheap, one-week defense in a salary cap league).