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Waiver Wire: Week 17 & Awards

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Waiver Wire: Week 17 & Awards
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Adam Levitan has plug-n-play options for Week 17, hands out the 2013 Waiver Awards and looks to 2014

Most years, playing into Week 17 is unbelievably silly. This year, it’s just slightly frustrating.

That’s because the only teams that are realistic candidates to rest healthy players in Week 17 are the Chiefs and Colts (Bang it here for the full playoff scenarios). So for owners still grinding, you’re going to be able to use many of your normal players. Don’t get it twisted though and think your league is smart because you complete the full marathon. Most years, the below list of Week 17 plug-n-plays will make up your starting lineups.

* It’s award season. Check out Page 2 of this column for a look back at the Waiver Wired year that was.

WEEK 17 PLUG-N-PLAYS
QUARTERBACK
Ryan Tannehill (vs. NYJ) – Let’s not overreact to Tannehill’s Week 16 stinker at the Ralph. The entire team never got off the bus as they were in an obvious letdown spot off three straight wins. Tannehill will right the ship in a home game against the Jets’ No. 24 pass defense.

Terrelle Pryor (vs. DEN) – The coaches appeared to have soured on Pryor, but out of nowhere they named him the Week 17 starter. It’s the right choice, of course (see more in the awards section). In his first seven games of this season, Pryor averaged 7.5 catches for 69.2 yards with one touchdown. He’ll be a borderline QB1 for me this week and any week he starts in the future because of his legs.

Kyle Orton (vs. PHL) – Orton is far better than some of the stiff backups around the NFL. He’s started 69 career games, has two 3,000-yard seasons and two 20-touchdown seasons. Orton will be facing one of the league’s weakest secondaries in what projects as a high-scoring game.

Matt Flynn (at CHI) – We likely won’t know until Friday if Aaron Rodgers (collarbone) will be back for this “win or go home” game.  We do know that Flynn has gone over 200 yards in three straight and has tossed six touchdowns during that span.

Ryan Fitzpatrick (vs. HOU) – The Texans have packed it in weeks ago. Over the last four weeks, they’re giving up 30.7 points per game. Fitzpatrick is an excellent bet for multiple touchdowns.

RUNNING BACK
James Starks (at CHI) – Eddie Lacy aggravated his right ankle sprain again in Week 16. This time, it was severe enough to keep him out of the game. Capable backup Starks came on for 70 yards on 11 touches. The Bears’ run defense continues to perform at historically poor levels.

Edwin Baker (at PIT) – With the season in the tank, the Browns have finally given up on Willis McGahee. In Week 16, Baker played on 50-of-69 snaps while McGahee/Fozzy Whittaker combined for just two snaps. The Browns clearly want to see what they have in Norv Turner’s former prospect from the Chargers as they head into the offseason. He’ll carry the load again in Week 17.

Knile Davis (at SD) – Andy Reid has a long history of resting players ahead of the playoffs. I’d expect him to apply that right now, as the Chiefs are locked into the AFC’s five seed. Davis has been solid in limited opportunities as Jamaal Charles’ backup, showing good burst and pass-catching ability while shaking his fumble-prone reputation from college.

Jonathan Grimes (at TEN) -- Arian Foster, Ben Tate, Dennis Johnson and Deji Karim are all likely out. The best thing we can say for Grimes is that he's healthy and looking at volume. I do not expect the Texans to show up for this finale though, making him a true desperation option.

Michael Cox (vs. WAS) – Both Andre Brown and Peyton Hillis are in the concussion protocol, leaving Cox as the only healthy back on the roster. The Giants have loathed to trust him before, but they might not have a choice now in this plus matchup.

Joe Banyard (vs. DET) – Adrian Peterson (foot, groin), Toby Gerhart (hamstring) and Matt Asiata (ankle) are all in serious doubt for the meaningless finale. If all three sit, Banyard would step in as a feature back against a lame duck Lions team.

WIDE RECEIVER
Jerrel Jernigan (vs. WAS) – Across the last two weeks, Jernigan has 13 catches for 147 yards and one touchdown on 20 targets. Victor Cruz’s backup has stepped right into his slot role and ran with it, gaining plenty of trust from Eli Manning right away. Jernigan is a safer play than Rueben Randle.

Marvin Jones (vs. BAL) – Jones’ snap count continues to run high. Even though the Bengals were blowing out the Vikings on Sunday, he played on 55-of-83 snaps. That comes on the heels of a 51-of-71 outing in Week 15. With that kind of usage, big box scores are going to follow because Jones is a serious playmaker.  

Ted Ginn (at ATL) – Steve Smith’s PCL sprain turns the vastly improved Ginn into a starter. He’ll be playing in a dome against a sub-par secondary and figures to get at least a few hitches/screens thrown his way. Ginn is a reasonable bet to break off a couple big plays.

Mike Brown (at IND) – Brown will be playing every snap in a dome against a Colts team only fighting for seeding. He’s averaging 6.6 targets per game over the last three and put a 5/71/1 line on the Titans in Week 16.

Kris Durham (at MIN) – I’d be surprised if Calvin Johnson (knee, ankle) suited up for this one after he was so limited in Week 16. Durham is already playing a ton of snaps, but his targets will bump in a big way as a “No. 1” wideout. The Vikings secondary is both inept and banged up.

TIGHT END
Ryan Griffin (at TEN) – At this point, the Texans should see that Griffin is a better player than Garrett Graham. Griffin has seen 11 targets in the past two weeks and caught 11 balls for 128 yards. He’s the No. 2 option behind Andre Johnson for Matt Schaub.
 
Marcedes Lewis (at IND) – It’s time to take Lewis seriously. He has a touchdown in four straight games as the depleted Jags are desperate for anyone to catch the ball. Again, the Colts are just playing for seeding.

Jermaine Gresham (vs. BAL) – Tyler Eifert and Gresham have been canceling each other out all year. On Sunday, Eifert sustained a neck stinger and is questionable for Week 17. If he sits, Gresham can bank on 4-6 targets.

Joseph Fauria (at MIN) – With Brandon Pettigrew down, Fauria expanded his role away from strict red-zone threat. Against the Giants, he caught three passes for a season-high 43 yards on a season-high seven targets.

DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS
Chargers (vs. KC) – As mentioned above, Andy Reid is likely to rest his starters with the Chiefs locked into the No. 5 seed. That means Chase Daniel and the rest of the backups will get swallowed up against a hungry San Diego team.

Titans (vs. HOU) – Owners that streamed Tennessee in for fantasy’s Super Bowl week fared reasonably as they held the Jags to 16 points, blocked a kick and sacked Chad Henne twice. The spot this week is even better as they’ll be at home against a Texans team that is mailing it in.

Steelers (vs. CLE) – Somehow, the Steelers have an outside shot a playoff berth. And since they play at 1pm ET, they’ll be going all-out to win. Jason Campbell has gone back in the tank of late, averaging just 225.5 yards over the last two weeks with one touchdown and four picks.

KICKER
Nick Novak (vs. KC) – Owners that have been riding Novak lately have been rewarded. It’s the simple good kicker, good weather, good offense mix that has led to 17 field goals in the last seven weeks.

Shayne Graham (vs. TB) – Graham stepped right into Garrett Hartley’s shoes in Week 15, going 2-of-2 on field goals. Now he gets to kick in the calming confines of the Superdome in a game that will yield tons of opportunities. I’ve been chasing after Rotoworld Emeritus Chris Wesseling’s footsteps all year long in Waiver Wired. We might as well close it out with one more homage.

Chris always did a Waiver Awards column to end the season. So we’ve dusted off the prom tuxedo, strapped on our clip-on bowties and rolled out the red carpet. It’s time to look back at the best and worst of Waiver Wired 2013.

The Waiver Wired MVP Award
Goes to … Zac Stacy. The Rams’ fifth-round rookie gets the narrow nod over Keenan Allen because of position scarcity. In a league with fewer and fewer feature backs, Stacy averaged a robust 23.2 touches per game after winning the job ahead of Week 5. He didn’t miss a game (another rarity at the RB spot) and was at his best when the chips were in the middle. In Weeks 14 through 16, he averaged 25.0 carries for 87.3 yards with three touchdowns and two 100-yard games.
2014 season outlook: There’s little doubt Stacy will be the Rams’ workhorse in 2014. And with Sam Bradford getting back and two first-round picks (one of which could very well be used on an OL), there will be more lanes. Stacy will be a RB1.

Runner up goes to … Keenan Allen. Much like Stacy, Allen was buried on the depth chart to start the year. But after injuries to Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd, the underrated Cal product started dominating and doing things rookie wideouts don’t normally do. Once Allen clearly established himself as Philip Rivers’ No. 1 wideout, it was on. He has five 100-yard games and eight touchdowns – five of which came between Weeks 14 and 16.
2014 outlook: Alexander’s chronic knee issues mean he’s likely done in San Diego and Floyd could be on the chopping block as well at age 32. Allen will return as a borderline WR1.

Third place goes to … Julius Thomas. Orange Julius should have been added ahead of Week 1 once we learned the athletic freak had won the starting job in a Peyton Manning offense. He broke out with 110 yards and two scores in Week 1, never looking back on his way to 752 yards and 12 touchdowns. Former basketball player plus every-down role plus Peyton equals gold.
2014 outlook: There’s no reason to think Thomas’ role will change at all. He’ll be the clear-cut No. 2 tight end behind Jimmy Graham as Rob Gronkowski rehabs his torn ACL.

Fourth place goes to … Nick Foles. Some people actually believe that you can’t lose your job in the NFL due to injury. Ask Alex Smith about that. When Michael Vick went down, Foles seized the job and never looked back as he went on a historic run that’s seen him account for 28 touchdowns and throw two interceptions this season.
2014 outlook: If Vick returns to Philly, it will be as a backup. Chip Kelly has found his franchise quarterback and fantasy owners have found a top-5 weekly option at the position.  

The “One Week Plug-n-Play” Award
Goes to … Jordan Todman. Todman, the former Big East Player of the Year, piqued our interest in the preseason when he rushed 29 times for 223 yards with two touchdowns. But he didn’t get a real chance until Week 15, when Maurice Jones-Drew was sidelined by a hamstring injury. Rely on a guy with 40 career carries in fantasy’s semifinal week? Yes sir! Todman responded by rushing 25 times for 109 yards and catching four passes for 44 yards while in a ton of lineups. And most importantly, we knew MJD was active for Week 16 so we were able to bench Todman in the Super Bowl.
2014 season outlook: Jones-Drew is likely to walk, leaving Todman as a candidate to be part of a 2014 committee.

The “I somehow lost my job to a kid who walked on at Penn State” Award
Goes to … Terrelle Pryor. If you asked me a month into the season who would be the Waiver Wired MVP, I would have said Pryor. He had the things we look for in a low-cost fantasy quarterback – a big arm, freakish running ability, freaking running ability and freakish running ability. In Week 4 Waiver Wired, I noted that former NFL scout John Middlekauff said Pryor was more polished in the pocket than Cam Newton was four games into his career. But injuries and declining play saw the gem lose his job to Matt McGloin – an undrafted rookie who had to walk on at Penn State. It only made things more frustrating when the Raiders announced they were going back to Pryor for a meaningless Week 17 finale.
2014 season outlook: This Raiders coaching staff clearly doesn’t see Pryor as a starting quarterback option. Just ask his agent.

The “Double Dipper” Award
Goes to … Julian Edelman. With the Patriots receiving corps absolutely decimated by injury, Edelman popped up as the lead to Week 2’s Waiver Wired. He was an instant success, catching at least seven passes in the first four games of the year. Edelman then went through a six-game cold spell as both Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola got healthy, averaging just 3.0 catches for 30.1 yards with no touchdowns. That put him back on the waiver wire in many leagues. But then Edelman caught fire again, posting 9.2 catches for 103.5 yards with four touchdowns between Weeks 13-16. It’s the rare Double Dip on the waiver wire. Edelman has perhaps the quietest 96 catches in recent memory.
2014 season outlook: Edelman is a free agent. If he’s back in New England, he’ll get a boost if Gronk isn’t ready for Week 1 (again).

The “Coach Doesn’t Think I’m Durable Enough” Award
Goes to … Andre Ellington. Ellington has been underestimated every step of the way during his NFL career. He slipped to the sixth round of the real draft, which was a misdemeanor. Then Bruce Arians refused to make him a feature back, which was a legit felony. Ellington was still a major fantasy asset as a rookie, finishing 24th among running backs despite getting more than 11 touches in a game just three times.
2014 season outlook: Rashard Mendenhall is a free agent. If the Cards know what is good for them, they’ll give Ellington 15-18 touches weekly no matter who they bring in.

The “What Might Have Been” Award
Goes to … Jordan Reed. Reed started the year battling a quad injury and ended it with a concussion. In between there, he looked like a legit future All-Pro. Showing Aaron Hernandez/Jimmy Graham skills, Reed embarrassed linebackers in the open field and dominated defensive backs with his size/leaping ability.
2014 season outlook: A TE1 with major upside as long as his latest concussion doesn’t linger.

The “It’s All About Matchups” Award
Goes to … Carson Palmer. Yes, Palmer’s arm strength is a shell of its former self. But with Bruce Arians scheming up passing offense, two elite receivers and the right matchups, he was a weekly streamer in the right matchups. During a five-week span starting Oct. 27, Palmer faced ATL, HOU, JAX, IND and PHL. He threw for 11 touchdowns and averaged 289.6 yards in those games.
2014 season outlook: Nothing will change. Palmer is a fine streamer in the right matchup and a liability in the wrong one.  

The “You Blew It, You Really Blew It” Award
Goes to … Darrius Heyward-Bey. If DHB was ever going to put it together, this was his chance. Reggie Wayne blew out his knee, leaving the former first-round pick as the No. 1 receiver on a team quarterbacked by a legit superstar. The Colts were desperate for Heyward-Bey to step up and he couldn’t do it. In fact, he was so bad that he eventually got phased out in favor of Da’Rick Rogers and LaVon Brazill. Pathetic.
2014 season outlook: Heyward-Bey’s best chance has come and gone. If he had any supporters left before, they’re gone now.

The “Biggest Tease” Award
Goes to … Ladarius Green. As legend of Green’s athletic ability grew, he became a must-own waiver add. Oops. Although Green played on 91 percent of the snaps in Week 13, that proved to be because Eddie Royal was sidelined. With Royal back in Week 14 (and Green in a ton of fantasy lineups), Ladarius had zero catches and ran five pass routes. Yes, the Chargers somehow saw him as more important as a blocker than a pass-catcher.
2014 season outlook: Antonio Gates is under contract through 2015, but he’s approaching the wall at age 33 (in June). With another offseason of seasoning, Green will be a Jordan Cameron kind of prospect at 2014 fantasy drafts.

The “Wasted Handcuff” Award
Goes to … Christine Michael. First we heard about Marshawn Lynch’s DUI, then we thought about Lynch’s violent running style leading to injury and then we watched Michael’s jaw-dropping ability. It looked like a recipe for an ideal handcuff. But Michael never even came close to sniffing the field as Lynch sustained remarkable health. I don’t even remember him being questionable for a game.
2014 season outlook: Michael will likely be groomed in 2014 before he’s unleashed in 2015. That’s when Lynch will be owed $7.5M in total salary and turn 29 years old.

The “I overestimated his skills” Award
Goes to … Marlon Brown. In retrospect, I went too far in my hyping of this undrafted rookie. I thought he would play well enough to hold the job even after Jacoby Jones got back from his Week 1 injury, but it didn’t come close to happening. Brown didn’t clear 71 yards in 11 of the 13 games he played in this year.
2014 season outlook: Jones is a free agent, so Marlon Brown will likely have a chance to win the No. 2 receiver job.

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