By: Madeleine Hudak
Well, hasn’t this season just been a treat for football in general and fantasy fans? In all seriousness, the official bye weeks of the 2020 NFL season have begun, and the unofficial COVID bye weeks have no predictive abilities at this rate, so the waiver wire is now quite important, and likely will be more important this season than ever before. The Week 2 NFL Disaster also certainly did not help; it may seem this way every year, but this season just has been nothing short of injury-ridden. Players didn’t get a full offseason, no preseason, and were preparing to start the season in a very odd and uncertain world. The effects were palpable, early on to say the least. Unfortunately, early-season glitches often result in more injuries due to sloppy play.
If you’re like me and don’t check your fantasy score until it’s all over on Tuesday to see if you somehow didn’t lose, but also, who you lost, you’re probably in need of some replacements from the waiver wires. Instead of providing the obvious options who likely were taken first thing Tuesday morning, here are some player options that rely more on matchups than anything else. At least in my experience, the matchup is just as, if not more than, important than the player of choice. If you’re simply window shopping, Green Bay has some very shiny offensive toys available should you have the luxury of sitting them through this week’s bye.
QB – Gardner Minshew, JAX
As aforementioned, when considering waiver wire pickups, the opposing team is just as much, if not emphatically more important than the player. A week against the New Orleans Saints is not a time to bank on a RB having a field day; conversely, a week against the New Orleans Saints is indeed often a time to bank on a WR. The Houston Texans are in complete meltdown mode, and in light of the already morose Texans season, I’m highly confident the 0-4 players aren’t heading into this matchup with their heads held high. In instances like this, players will either step up in spades for their new team leader, or, more often than not, are too frazzled in transition-mode and just don’t have any sort of game plan.
Meanwhile, Minshew has scored over 20 points, thrown for 300 yards, and thrown at least 2 TDs in three out of the four games this season. He’s the epitome of high-risk, high-reward; Minshew is an aggressive quarterback that often makes bad decisions, but either way, he’s managed to rack up at least 20 fantasy points in 75% of his matchups thus far. While Houston’s run defense is decidedly the glaring defensive hole, their secondary hasn’t been anything magical either, and frankly, the Texans have nothing to play for. They have no GM, no rookie talent, no 1st round draft pick in 2021 to look forward to – not that they have anyone employed in the role in charge of that choice in the first place. And sadly, they’re currently tied for the No. 1 pick. Minshew still has something to prove with his team, while the Texans, collectively, overwhelmingly, do not. Minshew is a mystery, but oftentimes mysteries are your best Week 5 waiver wire bet.
RB (immediate need) – Mike Davis, CAR
The Carolina Panthers have a decimated running back room; the loss of Christian McCaffrey is one of the most devastating injuries to a respective team this season in terms of value. Mike Davis had 21 touches for the second consecutive week against Arizona, and that only serves to increase against, well, Atlanta. With Reggie Bonnafon’s IR designation late Tuesday afternoon, Davis will essentially be a one-man show against a flailing Atlanta defense.
He also has caught 21 passes this season. Atlanta’s secondary is worse than their run defense, so he could be used a bit creatively against a team that doesn’t know the rules of an onside kick. This isn’t a call that requires much overthinking either way; he is one of two Carolina players slated to be running backs on this weekend’s 53-man roster. Against Atlanta’s defense. If you need a quick pickup, this is a low-risk, easy decision.
RB (sleeper pickup) – Jamaal Williams, GB – BYE
If you’re not reading this out of dire need – which is rare at the RB position the way this season has unfolded – Jamaal Williams is an interesting flex option. He may seem like an odd choice being the clear RB2 behind Aaron Jones, but Aaron Rodgers is firing on all cylinders this season. Williams is not going to beat out Jones for the bulk of the carries whatsoever. He will, however, be used just as he was against Atlanta – as a receiving back. The Packers haven’t had star WR Davante Adams – who will likely come back, but hamstring injuries tend to linger, lost surprising replacement top WR Allen Lazard, and just lost rookie TE Josiah Deguara for the rest of the season.
Aaron Rodgers is on fire – he will, however, need someone to throw to. Williams proved he’s more than capable of doing so with eight targets caught for 95 yards. Jamaal Williams could easily become one of Aaron Rodgers’ solid targets for the rest of the season. The RB room, league-wide, is sparse and beat-up. A receiving threat who has high red zone potential, given the loss of Green Bay targets, may be your league’s best substitute. Pick him up if you can handle the bye week that many will pass over – I just did out of pure curiosity sake.
WR –Justin Jefferson, MIN
If he’s available in your league, PFF highest-graded receiver and first round draft pick Justin Jefferson is an incredible critical move. Sure, last week’s 100-yd performance was against the drowning 0-4 Houston Texans; his preceding 175-yd performance, including a touchdown, against the much more competent Titans, shows that this is more of an upward trajectory than a fluke. Like most rookies this season, Jefferson did not have the luxury of the preseason nor a full offseason training camp. In the cases of rookie WRs, this debatably hurts the most; Jefferson had no opportunity to develop the necessary chemistry with Kirk Cousins to make an immediate splash.
Sunday’s performance made it clear, however, that Cousins and Jefferson found their click. Once a QB trusts his receiver – Exhibit A being Tre’Quan Smith’s breakout performance last week with Drew Brees – said WR has to really play badly to lose it again entirely. Importantly, Jefferson is also the most feasible replacement for Stefon Diggs as a tandem downfield target with Adam Thielen. The Vikings did what many say not to do, and drafted a WR in the first round of the draft. Accordingly, don’t expect them to waste it – Jefferson only serves to grow from here on out.
WR – Tee Higgins, CIN
Joe Burrow is well on his quest to an early-season stranglehold on the 2020 Offensive ROTY award; seeing as he just became the first rookie quarterback to throw for 300 or more yards in three straight games, there’s zero reason to think he won’t continue trying to extend that. At no point in this season are the Bengals going to commit to the running game – Burrow will just keep chucking it. The other obvious truth in Cincinnati is that A.J. Green is getting older, slower, and Burrow has no sense in over-focusing on cultivating chemistry with a receiver likely to retire in the next year or two. He’ll instead keep looking to his athletic, optimally-sized red zone target Tee Higgins.
Only Tyler Boyd received more targets and recorded more receiving yards than Higgins last week; Higgins is a player with immense upside and is absolutely worth a stash if he’s available. He may not be an immediate payoff, should you need that, but in terms of long-term value, his trajectory with Burrow thus far has a fairly optimistic upside.
TE (immediate need) – Eric Ebron, PIT
As someone who had the pleasure of being forced to watch the entirety of Sunday’s matchup of the Eagles and the 49ers (with…unhappy fans on both sides of the ball), just pick up Ebron and don’t overthink it. The Philadelphia Eagles are legitimately a bad football team this year, made only worse by a decimation of their entire defense. Meanwhile, Eric Ebron – rested off an unscheduled bye week at that – is heading into this matchup off his best performance as a Steeler. If you’re in immediate need for a TE, he’s a sturdy choice with high potential for an easy stat-ridden game. Watching George Kittle singularly serve as the 49er’s offense (immediately off injury), and casually stomp down the field, every single time, with the Eagles not even noticeably attempting to adjust their game plan, was enough evidence for me.
TE (sleeper pickup) – Robert Tonyan, GB
Previously mostly unheard-of Robert Tonyan may be one of the hottest waiver wire options of Week 5 – if you can afford to sit him through this week’s bye. Out of nowhere, really, Aaron Rodgers decided he liked Tonyan as a receiving threat and has thrown him four touchdowns in the last three games. Yes, Davante Adams will come back, but oftentimes, an offense performing on the level Green Bay has only serves to be strengthened with options that open the passing game; moreover, Adams will promptly be double-covered the second he steps on the field. While Adams has been out, Tonyan has served as a reliable receiver for Rodgers. Quarterbacks can often get in a groove – which, sometimes, can turn into maladaptive tunnel vision – where once they start clicking with one guy, they’ll just keep throwing that way until it stops working.
There’s no reason to think that Adams’ return will lead to Rodgers forgetting Tonyan is on the field. Rodgers is chasing an MVP season at this rate; spreading the wealth to non-league leading receivers only serves to bolster his argument. Moreover, Rodgers just lost a newly burgeoning connection for the rest of the season in Allen Lazard. Tonyan should be your top TE target if you can afford to sit him through this week.
The way fantasy football has been going as of late, you might lose this week anyways, so it may be smarter to pick him up, take the hit this week, and have a better shot at winning the season with Aaron Rodgers’ new favorite shiny toy.