In today’s 24/7 news cycle, where information is disseminated and dissected ad naseum in print, on video or on social media, it is difficult to target sleepers, players no one knows about, in the draft. Instead, one has to be vigilant on the waiver wire to find diamonds in the rough that can help lead your team to a championship. After all, few teams will look exactly as they did once the draft has been completed.
For example, many owners selected Pittsburgh Steeler’s running back Le’Veon Bell early in the first round, only to find he wouldn’t suit up for Week 1 and possibly longer due to his contract situation. That opened the door for backup James Connor to total 192 yards from scrimmage with two touchdowns, showing just how much backups and surprise contributors can add to your lineup. Unfortunately, Connor is already owned in over 85 percent of leagues, leaving you out in the cold if you wanted to get him on your roster.
But there are still a number of attractive options on the waiver wire, players who made the most of opportunities in Week 1 or who appear will occupy larger roles than we anticipated on draft day. To help you prioritize your waiver targets, we’re updating our top free agents after every round of games every Sunday this season. What follows are the top early targets from the 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. games, as well as the Thursday night game.
Most of these players should be available in at least 30 percent of leagues utilizing a 12-team, point-per-reception, or PPR, scoring format. So if you see one of these guys on your wire, you are going to want to put in a claim for this week.
T.J. Yeldon, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars (available in 92 percent of ESPN leagues)
Jacksonville’s starting running back Leonard Fornette was ruled out of Sunday’s game against the New York Giants after suffering a hamstring injury, pushing backup T.J. Yeldon into the stop spot for the Jaguars. Yeldon wasted no time getting into to the end zone, catching a one-yard pass from Blake Bortles late in the second quarter. He ended the game with 14 carries for 51 yards plus three catches on seven targets for another 18 yards and a score.
Yeldon will get the lion’s share of the carries for the Jaguars should Fournette miss any significant time, and his ability to catch passes out of the backfield — he hauled in 30 of 41 targets for Jacksonville last year — gives him even more value in PPR leagues.
Phillip Lindsay, RB, Denver Broncos (available in 98 percent of leagues)
The undrafted free agent out of Colorado Buffalo scored his first touchdown as a pro in the first quarter of his first NFL game, a 29-yard reception from quarterback Case Keenum that established a 7-0 lead over the Seattle Seahawks. He ended the game with 15 carries and 71 yards on the ground and two catches on three targets for 31 yards and a touchdown.
Lindsay’s production shouldn’t be a huge surprise. He ran a flashy 4.39 40-yard dash at Colorado’s pro day and was outstanding in pass protection in college, earning a highest pass-blocking grade among Football Bowl Subdivision running backs by Pro Football Focus. Pass protection doesn’t gain you any fantasy points, but it will keep Lindsay on the field, perhaps enough to earn himself a larger share of the offense this season.
George Kittle, TE, San Fransisco 49ers (available in 62 percent of leagues)
Kittle scared fantasy football owners after he suffered an injury in Week 1 of the preseason but the team’s co-starter at tight end led all teammates in targets (nine), catches (five) and receiving yards (90) during the opening matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings defense proved to be too much for the 49ers offensive attack, but for a position like tight end, where opportunity is key, it looks like Kittle is already a favorite of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Jordan Wilkins, RB, Indianapolis Colts (available in 62 percent of leagues)
The Colts gave Wilkins the ball 14 times with three targets in Game 1 and he rewarded their trust with 61 yards from scrimmage. Having a healthy Andrew Luck helps keep opponents guessing as to what the offense will run, but there isn’t much standing in the way of Wilkins having a productive season: per Sharp Sports, Indianapolis has the easiest set of games in relation to each defense’s ability to limit the efficiency of the rush.
The question with Wilkins will be what role he assumes when the injured Marlon Mack returns. But in the short term, he’s a worthy addition.
Phillip Dorsett, WR, New England Patriots (available in 96 percent of leagues)
Reigning MVP Tom Brady of the New England Patriots isn’t afraid to spread the ball around, and if you are productive with the football, he is likely to keep calling your number.
That’s good news for Dorsett, who was targeted seven times in New England’s victory over the Houston Texans while Chris Hogan — the far more hyped option entering the season — saw five. The fourth-year pro caught all seven passes for 66 yards and a touchdown, his first for the team since joining the Patriots in 2017. Only running back James White (nine) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (eight) had more throws in their direction by Brady on Sunday.
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