Fantasy football roundtable: Best waiver picks, lineup changes, more
To date, rookie running back Alfred Morris has been the best waiver wire add
Peyton Manning's comfort with veterans may keep Knowshon Moreno starting
Justin Blackmon could produce big numbers as the Jags play out a lost season
The NFL fantasy season is filled with tough decisions. Join SI's roundtable of fantasy experts each week to help sort through the lineup choices, injuries and waiver wire options that can make or break a season. Submit questions to the @SInow Twitter feed for possible inclusion in the next roundtable.
1. What waiver wire pickup has made the greatest impact this season?
Mike Beacom: Alfred Morris had a strong preseason but went undrafted in a majority of leagues this summer because no one wanted to believe in the Redskins' backfield (and it probably didn't help that Morris was an unknown sixth-round pick). Following his Week 1 breakout performance, Morris found a home in every league and has been one of the NFL's most productive backs this season.
Will Carroll: Morris was probably a waiver pickup in most leagues and he was huge in the first half. Randall Cobb has put up WR1 numbers and looks like a long-term keeper. Leonard Hankerson has shown similar flashes. The best pickup, though, is probably a guy who had an ADP of 216: Ryan Tannehill. I didn't believe in him, either, but he's been good since Game 1. He's been forgotten in the Andrew Luck-Robert Griffin discussions and has even fallen behind the occasional heroics of Russell Wilson, but Tannehill probably saved some owners who grabbed him to fill in for Mark Sanchez.
Eric Mack: It might be hard to remember now, but there was uncertainty in the preseason about who the Redskins' feature back would be -- and whether Mike Shanahan could ever really feature one back. Well, Morris took the torch in Week 1 and hasn't relinquished it. He was available in some leagues after draft day, so he rates as the No. 1 waiver pickup at running back over Mikel Leshoure (who started the season suspended and coming off injury) and the Giants' Andre Brown. Josh Freeman is likely the leading quarterback waiver pickup, but he is more of a fringe starter in standard leagues. Cobb emerged as a surprise coming out of Week 1, along with Cecil Shorts, ranking them as the best wide receiver pickups to date. And among the fringe positions, tight ends Heath Miller and Brandon Myers, kicker Lawrence Tynes, the Patriots' D/ST and the Broncos' D/ST have also been nice in-season finds. But fantasy is still about finding running backs, so the pick here is Morris.
David Sabino: The earlier owners held their drafts, the more likely Morris was a free agent in those leagues. Thought of as the long shot in a typical Shanahan three-headed monster backfield that also included Evan Royster and Roy Helu (with Tim Hightower sprinkled in early this season), Morris has been a clear lead back and one of the biggest steals of the fantasy season for those who took a chance on him. There have been a host of other good ones, but by the time all is said and done, Danario Alexander may end up being the best. The Chargers' wideout has made a sudden impact on his team and fantasy leagues, racking up more than 50 points in standard leagues in the four weeks he's played. One other out-of-nowhere talent has been Shorts, the Jaguars' deep threat who has challenged Pierre Garcon for the title of best receiver to ever hail from Division III Mount Union.
2. Knowshon Moreno stole the thunder that was supposed to be Ronnie Hillman's breakout with the Broncos in Week 12. Will Moreno be Denver's workhorse back the rest of the season?
Beacom: Moreno could lose the job in an instant. The Broncos want someone to serve as Peyton Manning's protector on passing downs, but they also need to achieve balance on offense. Hillman's blocking may be suspect, but he is more versatile and more explosive as a runner. Fantasy owners can expect Hillman to get the call when Moreno struggles, as he has so many times before.
Carroll: Look in front of him. Manning has always been more comfortable with veterans and with known quantities. Hillman just hasn't gained Manning's confidence and that is more key than talent. Moreno has deficiencies, but Manning knows what they are. I think we'll end up seeing a split, along the lines of what New England has done for years, where role is as important as talent, but Hillman had better spend the next few weeks working on blitz pickup.
Mack: Well, because Moreno got the job in a clandestine surprise, it figures the Broncos will have a few more tricks up their sleeve. They should just leave Moreno in the feature-back role and let him go, but they shouldn't have had him rotting as a healthy inactive since Week 2 either. Moreno is talented enough to hold down the role. He is their best back, even when McGahee is healthy. Moreno can star for fantasy owners, but his injury history and past treatment by his organization makes it likely someone else is going to get a chance before the season expires.
Sabino: Yes, with a caveat. Moreno has had trouble avoiding injury during his NFL career, which appears to be the only thing standing between Moreno and a full-time gig the remainder of the season (and with McGahee's advanced age, possibly beyond). Hillman has proven to be a good change-of-pace back but has not shown the ability to handle three-down duties, especially as a pass blocker. That's the facet of the game where Moreno has excelled, which, when you're sharing a backfield with a relatively immobile Hall of Fame passer recovering from multiple neck surgeries, is of utmost importance.
3. What can fantasy owners expect from the Niners' offensive weapons with Colin Kaepernick now at quarterback?
Beacom: The 49ers have actually passed the ball more these last two weeks with Kaepernick under center than when Alex Smith was in the lineup -- from passing 35.7 percent of the time to 44.4 percent. Long term, though, the change may not mean much. No wide receiver has emerged as Kaepernick's "favorite" yet, and Frank Gore's fantasy production will likely be more affected by Kendall Hunter's health than by the change at quarterback.
Carroll: They certainly feel more free and it seems like it's opened the field, but I'm trying to rein people in. The Saints' defense has been loose all year and it felt like Chicago just had no book on him. Both have been impressive performances, but I want to see what happens over the next few weeks before I really buy in on him as a good quarterback. Seeing St. Louis again will be a challenge and if he can adjust to the Patriots' defense -- which confused the heck out of Andrew Luck -- then I'll be willing to adjust as well. My biggest question now is where he ranks for next year. Is his ADP much above where we would have ranked Smith?
Mack: It is still too early to say. Against a great defense (the Bears), Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree looked like viable fantasy starters, if not stars, with Kaepernick at the helm. But, against an awful defense (the Saints), Davis and Crabtree were huge disappointments. Kaepernick has the big arm and will learn on the fly, but the only information we have from him on how he will assist his primary targets' fantasy owners is inconsistent. Start Crabtree and Davis next week, but consider it an audition week for the crucial fantasy postseason games ahead.
Sabino: I try to shy away from hyperbole whenever possible, but I believe Kaepernick will be for the 49ers what everyone has hoped Tim Tebow would become: a great runner who is also a technically sound mobile pocket passer with a strong arm. His ability to run the ball both to escape trouble and as part of the game plan gives the Niners a dimension they didn't have with Smith under center and insulates Kaepernick from having a truly dreadful fantasy week. He has yet to fully mesh with the 49ers' weapons like Davis, Crabtree and Mario Manningham, most of whom saw their fantasy numbers muted by playing in a conservative offense with a game manager at quarterback. With Kaepernick in the huddle it's safe to look for things to continue to open up for San Francisco's playmakers.
4. What players on NFL also-rans do you trust to produce down the stretch for fantasy teams?
Beacom: The Detroit and New Orleans passing games should finish the year strong, of course, and I see no reason to believe the Titans will shut Chris Johnson down early. One lesser-talked-about player who could give fantasy owners a boost come playoff time is San Diego wide receiver Danario Alexander. Over the past month he has transformed from bit player to No. 1 receiver (73.0 yards a game). It will be exciting to see what the next month has in store.
Carroll: I think Trent Richardson will continue to produce and will have to be considered in the top tier of fantasy running backs next season. Justin Blackmon continues to emerge for the Jags (and he seems better with Chad Henne). I'm very curious to see Cam Newton over the next few weeks. I seem like one of the few people who still believes in his talent. I'll be happy to draft him as my QB2 next season.
Mack: You have to like what Blackmon and Cecil Shorts have going with Chad Henne as the quarterback in Jacksonville now, while Newton showed Monday night he is still a beast when he's not playing a top contender. Newton should be at his best down the stretch, while Blackmon and Shorts are nice sleepers to use as needed. Your Chiefs, Browns (ones not named Richardson), Raiders, Eagles and Cardinals are all suspect. Those are the ones to be worried about. All the other teams in the NFL still have some kind of pulse right now.
Sabino: It's funny that this early in the season there are so many also-rans. A few who jump out at me are the Lions' Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson with Ryan Broyles following behind. I also love the productivity that Shorts, Blackmon and Henne have been giving the Jaguars lately. Chris Johnson also has been lights-out since his 1½-year slump ended, and I'm also high on C.J. Spiller, who has hit double-digit standard league fantasy points in nine of his 11 games, including six in a row.
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