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It's good, in my sometimes-humble opinion, to know which players have volume on their side. Fantasy managers should have some understanding of which players are dependent on game script. If a guy's production largely hinges on whether his team leads or trails, we need to know and adjust accordingly.
I wrote in this space last week about players whose fantasy prospects would likely tank if and when their teams play from ahead. Nineteen teams are under their expected pass rate on the season. That doesn't mean all 19 teams try to establish the run with equal fervor, but it hints that all 19 teams want to operate a run-first scheme when they can. In those offenses, big leads will deliver shriveled stat lines for most (or all) of that team's pass catchers. So it goes.
Another way to probe the numbers and find which NFL offenses do not want to establish the pass is to examine how teams function when nursing a lead. The Bucs, Chiefs, Steelers, Lions, and Chargers lead the NFL in pass rate while leading by at least seven points this season, with the Packers, Bills, and Bengals just behind them. Fantasy managers can feel at least OK about starting second and third pass-catching options in these offenses even when these teams enter a matchup as heavy favorites. They'll probably keep chucking it.
On the run-heavy flip side, the Giants, Saints, Broncos, Niners, and Eagles have the lowest pass rates while ahead by at least a touchdown. With two of these teams -- Denver and New Orleans -- we don't have to worry about how they'll function with hefty leads. They stink, and we like it that way. The Eagles, 49ers, Giants -- and to a lesser extent, the Browns and Jaguars -- are offenses that can sink their pass catchers' upside after clobbering opponents in the early going. Those who drafted Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown, and DeVonta Smith know of which I speak.
That's all to say: Be aware of which offenses you're investing in with waiver wire pickups this week. Let the above data factor into your valuation of pass catchers and running backs on your local wire. And as always, join me Tuesday on the NFL on NBC YouTube channel at 1 p.m. eastern time for my weekly waiver wire Q&A.
Below are Week 10 waiver priorities, along with crowdsourced free agent budget data from fantasy football researcher Freeman Smith. Hopefully Smith's data (from his FAAB Lab) helps you wrap your head around how your league mates will value waiver wire players this week.
P.J. Walker (CAR)
Rostership: 6 percent
If you could stop booing me for recommending a quarterback who was benched in Week 8, you could hear why I'm back in on P.J. Walker in Week 10 against the Falcons. Please stop booing. You're hurting my feelings.
Walker, to put it kindly, was a complete wreck in Week 9 against the Bengals, throwing two interceptions while completing just three of his ten attempts for nine yards before getting yanked for the single worst QB in pro football, Baker Mayfield. There's a world of difference, however, between the Bengals secondary -- injuries and all -- and the utterly incompetent Atlanta secondary.
Almost 74 percent of yards gained against the Falcons this season have come through the air, the second-highest rate in the NFL. Only five defenses rank as a more extreme pass funnel and no defense allows a higher rate of positive pass plays through Week 9. The Falcons rank fourth in boom rate (downfield completions) given up to opposing passing attacks. They are, by every measure, atrocious against the pass. And Walker strikes me as the sort of QB who can exploit such a matchup while failing to look like an NFL caliber signal caller against high-end coverage units.
Walker should be started in Superflex leagues and even some 14-team one-QB leagues where managers are sweating profusely while searching the wire for a startable Week 10 option.
Jacoby Brissett (CLE)
Rostership: 7 percent
Brissett has telling win-loss splits this season at the head of a Browns offense that wants very much to establish the dang run but doesn't mind cutting it loose (relatively speaking) when needed. Brissett has averaged 33.7 pass attempts in five Cleveland losses and 28.5 throws per game in wins. The Browns are one of the few NFL teams that have been under their expected pass rate in every 2022 game, though they're far less so when forced into negative game script.
The Browns' Week 10 matchup with the Dolphins should be one that pushes Brissett into a more fantasy-friendly script. Miami opponents have a combined 4 percent pass rate over expected on the season, the fourth-highest mark in the NFL. The Dolphins are pretty awful against the pass too: Only the Lions allow a higher completion rate than Miami, and only the Lions and Raiders have given up a higher EPA per dropback. If you're playing Brissett in Week 10, you're banking on the Dolphins jumping out to a lead. Otherwise, Brissett's floor vanishes.
Other quarterbacks to roster
Case Keenum (0 percent): Josh Allen's elbow injury -- the leading cause of panic attacks in upstate New York over the past 48 hours -- could sideline him for a week (or more). Keenum would take over and become viable in Superflex formats. I would imagine Keenum would not have the kind of drop back volume Allen has enjoyed over the past few seasons.
Davis Mills (7 percent): The only reason I can legally tout Mills in a Week 9 matchup with the Giants is because the G-people are the league's third most extreme pass funnel defense. New York opponents are dropping back to throw at an incredible clip, and Houston has shown some willingness to go pass heavy when they're left with no other choice. The Texans posted pass rates above expected in each of their first five games of the 2022 season. Mills could conceivably get there on volume.
Jeff Wilson (MIA)
Rostership: 57 percent
Raheem Mostert drafters are reeling after Wilson -- in his Miami debut -- out-snapped the incumbent starter, saw more targets, and ran more pass routes while rushing for 51 yards on nine carries. The Dolphins' acquisition of Wilson should have been a waking nightmare for Mostert drafters who have confidently played him as their RB2 over the past couple of months. Wilson is deeply familiar with Mike McDaniel's offense, a variation of the Shanahan system in which Wilson played in San Francisco.
“It's like riding a bike,” Wilson said of playing in McDaniel's offense. “I've been doing this since Day One. Same running styles, same passes, same one-on-one matchups to get you in the open field. Everything's the same. It's something I've been doing, it's something I'm comfortable with. It's very, very familiar to me, and I'm excited to be here in this offense.”
McDaniel spoke glowingly of Wilson's tough running style and his ability to create yards after contact. The numbers bear this out: Wilson ranks tenth among all running backs in yards after contact per attempt. For good measure, he's tenth in yards before contact per carry. Only seven running backs are higher in NextGenStat's rush yards over expected per attempt. This is a drawn-out way of saying Wilson has been good and will likely continue to be good in a system he likes and an offense that keeps defenses off the line of scrimmage for fear of being shredded through the air.
Wilson has entered an extremely fantasy friendly situation. PFF grades Miami's offensive line as the NFL's 11th-best run-blocking unit and McDaniel is ruining opposing defenses week in and week out with a wide-open scheme (only the Bills, Eagles, and Chiefs have a higher EPA per play than the Dolphins). Wilson's efficiency and fit in the team's scheme could make him one of fantasy's pleasant second-half surprises. His rostership should climb to 90 percent in 12-teamers this week.
Gus Edwards (BAL)
Rostership: 51 percent
That Edwards missed Week 9 with a hamstring issue shouldn't discount him from future fantasy relevance. Baltimore's offense has seen a major shift from pass-first to run-first-at-all-costs over the past few weeks, a trend that should inflate rushing attempts for whoever is serving as the team's RB1. It's clear the job belongs to Edwards if and when he's ever healthy. He profiles as a smart long-term stash in 12 and 14-team formats.
One development that could block Edwards from picking up where he left off is Kenyan Drake's solid play. He's fifth in rush yards over expected per attempt in an offense ranked eighth in positive rush play rate. There's certainly a scenario where Drake, rostered in 65 percent of leagues, takes full advantage of an extended Edwards layoff. He looked the part of Baltimore's top guy on Monday night, totaling 109 yards and scoring twice in a win over New Orleans. The Ravens have turned into an unfailingly friendly environment for rushers. They rank first in blocking expected points added (EPA) on rush plays this season.
Kyren Williams (LAR)
Rostership: 42 percent
I'm pretty sure Williams, who has missed the entire season with a sprained ankle, is a zoomer-created myth. In case he's not -- my interns are looking into it very strongly -- you might want to add him if you think he'll immediately seize the entire Rams backfield workload.
In any other scenario, Williams will be at best an RB3 option with vanishingly little upside. He'll be in a split backfield for a team with the league's seventh-highest pass rate over expected and the second-worst run-blocking offensive line, per Pro Football Focus. The Rams are 29th in positive rush rate through Week 9. Darrell Henderson is likely the team's best back and not even he matters for fantasy. I'm turning my attention -- and my free agent budget -- elsewhere in Week 10.
Jaylen Warren (PIT)
Rostership: 7 percent
I've never watched a game (please see Twitter bio) but in Week 8 against the Eagles, I hear Warren looked galaxies better than Najee Harris with 50 yards on just six carries while the slow-footed and possibly injured Harris continued to struggle. Harris now sports the NFL's second-lowest rush yards over expected per attempt. Warren was targeted on three of his 13 pass routes against the Eagles, catching two passes for 25 yards.
Warren played 29 percent of the team's offensive snaps in Week 8, before the team's bye. That kind of usage makes Harris nothing more than a touchdown-dependent RB3. ESPN's Jeremy Fowler grabbed our collective attention last week when he wrote that Warren “has earned more snaps at running back, and even though Najee Harris will remain a focal point, don't be surprised if Warren is featured a little bit more.” Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada, desperate to save his job against all odds, appears willing to shake things up out of the bye week. That could include a heavier dose of Warren.
Other running backs to roster
Elijah Mitchell (56 percent): Mitchell is slated to practice this week following his two-month knee injury. Jeff Wilson's departure from San Francisco means Mitchell becomes one of the game's top contingency backs behind Christian McCaffrey. He'll have no fantasy appeal for as long as CMC is upright.
Jerick McKinnon (14 percent): Kansas City's best back by far, McKinnon provides something of a PPR floor in an offense with the league's highest pass rate over expected. He leads the KC backfield in pass routes and targets over their past three games and should have more fantasy appeal than backfield mates Isiah Pacheco and CEH.
Alexander Mattison (45 percent): Now is a good time to pick up Mattison in case Dalvin Cook misses any time over the season's final two months. We know the drill: Mattison steps in, takes on a full workload, and is usually as good or better than Cook.
Justice Hill (5 percent): If Kenyan Drake and Gus Edwards are both abducted by aliens in the next eight weeks, Hill would be Baltimore's No. 1 back. That's analytics. On a tiny sample size (28 rushes) headed into Week 9, Hill was tops in the NFL in evasion rate. He's been fantastic in yards per carry before and after contact too. Hill was on the verge of becoming the Ravens' top dog before a Week 4 hamstring injury. Fantasy managers in deeper leagues could do worse than stashing Hill just in case.
Travis Homer (2 percent): Homer has operated as Seattle's primary passing down back since returning to the lineup two weeks ago. This has made Ken Walker more touchdown and big play dependent -- a challenge I believe he can meet as the NFL's most explosive runner. Homer could fall into a larger role if Walker gets dinged up. DeeJay Dallas would certainly mix in too.
Raheem Blackshear (1 percent): Blackshear saw some Week 9 run in the Panthers' Week 9 blowout against the Bengals, gaining 13 yards and scoring a touchdown on five carries while drawing a target on for of his ten pass routes. He caught all four for 40 yards. If Chuba Hubbard (ankle) and D'Onta Foreman miss time in the season's second half, Blackshear -- a highly productive college back -- could see a full workload.
Kylin Hill (0 percent): If Aaron Jones misses significant time with the ankle injury he picked up in Week 9 against the Lions, Hill would be Green Bay's RB2 behind AJ Dillon, who's been bad in 2022. Hill, an exciting pass-catching prospect coming out of college last year, is a reasonable if speculative bench add if an apocalyptic scenario unfolds in the Packers backfield.
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George Pickens (PIT)
Rostership: 55 percent
Not In My League Twitter filed an emergency injunction with the Eleventh Circuit Court to stop me from writing up Pickens in this week's column. Thankfully the court saw fit for me to include Pickens, who's still somehow available in 45 percent of leagues.
Pickens, along with the entire Pittsburgh offense, has been down extremely bad in recent weeks. Coming out of the bye, and after the Steelers traded away Chase Claypool, Pickens could finally become what he should have been all along: The Steelers' alpha No. 1 wideout. ESPN's Jeremy Fowler said the team dealt Claypool to Chicago “in part because they were comfortable with Pickens' eventual transition into a No. 1 receiver role.”
Diontae Johnson has been horrendous as the team's top dog through eight games; no receiver is further under his expected fantasy points. It's high time for the Steelers to tap Pickens as their top target. Pickens' 1.4 yards per route run over the Steelers' past three games is far from outstanding, but it's far better than Johnson's soul-crushing 0.83 YPRR. Pittsburgh receivers have the 12th easiest remaining schedule. With an increased role, Pickens could be one of fantasy's most important players if the Steelers rightfully feature him. His college profile and downfield prowess make him the kind of rookie receiver who can explode down the stretch.
Kadarius Toney (KC)
Rostership: 55 percent
Toney in his Kansas City debut and hardly saw the field against Tennessee. He logged nine snaps, ran six routes, and saw two targets from Patrick Mahomes. His magically healed hamstrings might give him a chance to force Andy Reid to give him more playing time in the coming weeks. Perhaps he can replace Marquez Valdez-Scantling, who is more or less running wind sprints in the Chiefs offense (one target on 47 routes against the Titans). Toney can be stashed for now.
Terrace Marshall (CAR)
Rostership: 6 percent
Sure, Marshall saved his fantasy day in Week 9 with a garbage time touchdown from Baker Mayfield, but his underlying usage was fine -- dare I say good. He posted a 100 percent route rate and tied D.J. Moore for the team lead with six targets. He now has 16 targets over his past two outings in the Panthers' post-CMC, post-Robbie Anderson offense. Marshall has a nice little matchup in Week 10 against the aforementioned Falcons secondary that has healed whatever ails opposing passing offenses.
Sammy Watkins (GB)
Rostership: 5 percent
All it took was for every other Green Bay wideout to suffer an injury and for Watkins to finally get healthy for the veteran to become the Packers' No. 2 receiver. Against the Lions in Week 9, with Romeo Doubs (foot) and Christian Watson (brain) leaving the game, Watkins was second among Packers receivers in routes and targets. He managed one catch for nine yards.
I'm more interested in Samori Toure as a potential No. 2 guy behind Allen Lazard in the Packers' pass-catching pecking order (more on that below). But it seems reasonable for the Packers to give Watkins the first crack at WR2 duties.
Samori Toure (GB)
Rostership: 0 percent
Toure in Week 9 against Detroit was third among Green Bay wideouts in pass routes (47 percent route rate) and saw four targets from Aaron Rodgers, good for a solid 18.4 percent target per route run rate. In a miniature sample size, Toure's TPRR is almost the same as Romeo Doubs' and Randall Cobb's.
Cobb sidelined means Toure, who ran 88 percent of his Week 9 routes from the slot, should operate as the team's primary slot receiver in Week 10 against the Cowboys. It could be a good spot for Toure: Dallas has allowed the fifth most slot receiver receptions and the eighth most slot yardage this year. Amari Rodgers could throw a wrench into Toure's slot role if the team sees fit. Rodgers, who ran nine routes against the Lions in Week 9, is not a fantasy option though.
Other receivers to roster
Michael Gallup (39 percent): With a route participation above 90 percent over the past two games, Gallup has just eight targets to seven targets for Noah Brown and 13 for CeeDee Lamb. Gallup has no real chance to be more than a touchdown-dependent WR3 unless Lamb misses time. Being the WR2 in an offense with the NFL's fifth lowest pass rate over expected is decidedly bad for fantasy. No one but Lamb really matters in the neutered Dallas passing offense.
Wan'Dale Robinson (26 percent): Robinson, along with everyone else who catches passes for the Giants, has almost no viable path to fantasy upside in a New York offense bound and determined to remain as run heavy as possible. Robinson could (should) be the team's No. 1 receiver and it won't matter a whole lot for fantasy purposes. His team-leading 19 percent target share over the Giants' past three games has come out to a meager 15 targets. Not great. In fact, it's terrible.
DeAndre Carter (31 percent): Carter should continue as LA's primary slot guy for as long as Kennan Allen is sidelined with his never-ending hamstring injury. Carter had an 85 percent route rate in Week 9 against the Falcons. He caught five of six targets for 53 yards and nearly snuck into the end zone. I should note Carter's 12 percent target per route run rate is on the depressing side of things.
Treylon Burks (17 percent): Burks may or may not be back soon from a toe injury he suffered in Week 4. His best-case scenario is returning as an alpha WR1 and demanding a target share that can offset Tennessee's run-heavy ways. Otherwise, Burks will be a frustrating, low-volume WR3/4 in one of the league's least fantasy friendly offenses.
Editor's note: Add David Njoku (66 percent rostered) if he was dropped in your league over the past few weeks. He has a chance to return from his ankle injury in Week 10 against the Dolphins and was well on his way to a top-10 fantasy campaign (conservatively) before his injury.
Greg Dulcich (DEN)
Rostership: 35 percent
This one isn't all that tough to decipher. Dulcich is running a route on almost every Russell Wilson dropback and seeing a target on 20 percent of his pass routes over the team's past three outings, trailing only Jerry Jeudy.
Dulcich is an explosive, seam-busting wideout in a tight end's body who should be picked up in all 12-team formats. The only development that could hurt Dulcich's fantasy outlook would be a continued shift toward the run for a dysfunctional Broncos offense desperately trying to hide their quarterback.
Noah Fant (SEA)
Rostership: 10 percent
Fant is officially enjoying the fruits of Seattle's pass-first offense. He went ballistic (for a tight end) in Week 9 against the Cardinals, catching five of six targets for 96 yards and displaying his uber athleticism on a long catch and run in the fourth quarter.
Fant's route participation remains something of an issue; he ran a route on a meager 65 percent of Seattle's Week 9 dropbacks. Will Dissly, meanwhile, had a 38 percent route participation. We'd like to see Fant's route rate get into the 80s before we declare him an every-week fantasy option. Still, in a Seahawks offense with the NFL's ninth-highest pass rate over expected, Fant can be serviceable as Geno Smith's third option.
Cade Otton (TB)
Rostership: 11 percent
I hope those who deployed Otton in Week 8 -- when he dropped a touchdown and had another one called back on a penalty -- remained patient and were rewarded with five catches for 68 yards and a score in Week 9 against the Rams.
Otton will continue as one of the league leaders in tight end pass routes for as long as Cam Brate (neck) is sidelined. Perhaps he's already passed Brate on the depth chart. Otton, with at least five targets in each of his past three games, should be started every week in 12-team leagues.
Other tight ends to roster
Juwan Johnson (13 percent): All this massive tight end does is score touchdowns. He had three scores on nine receptions over the Saints' past three games. He is the quintessential touchdown-dependent tight end option, but one who runs plenty of routes to stay relevant as a streaming play in a New Orleans offense that will be forced into lots of pass-heavy scripts.
Tyler Conklin (28 percent): Conklin, as I mentioned last week, is and will be completely reliant on game script. If the Jets play from ahead, his routes and targets will vanish and he'll be entirely touchdown dependent. If they're forced into negative script, Conklin becomes a reliable PPR option who runs close to every route in the New York offense. Streamers beware.
Cole Kmet (23 percent): I will report you to the authorities if you get even remotely excited about Kmet's Week 9 performance, in which he turned an 11 percent target share into five catches for 41 yards and two touchdowns. That might be the high-water mark of Kmet's NFL career. He's shown no ability to command targets and Chicago's offense has shown it will be run heavy for as long as it can be. Kmet did, however, run a route on 77 percent of the team's Week 9 dropbacks. He can be picked up in 14-team leagues with multiple flex spots.
Tommy Tremble (0 percent): The guy whose name makes him sound like an 80s power ballad singer or a low-level mobster who takes the fall for the Big Boss has become something of a deep-league fantasy option in recent weeks. He had a 57 percent route rate in Week 9 and caught two passes for 12 yards and a touchdown. I suppose you could do worse.
Cairo Santos (CHI)
Rostership: 3 percent
The emergence of Justin Fields as the greatest Bears quarterback of all time has lifted quite a few fantasy boats in the Chicago offense. That goes for Santos, who has seven field goal attempts over the team's past three games thanks to Fields moving the ball up and down the field and creating the kind of game script that generates consistent field goal tries.
The Bears are 2.5-point home favorites this week against Detroit. Barring some wild Chicago fall weather, Santos should be locked into lineups for those who don't have one of the game's elite kickers. No team gives up a higher EPA per play than the Lions, and only the Falcons allow a higher rate of positive plays. Santos could turn into an every-week fantasy starter if Fields keeps it up.
Robbie Gould (SF)
Rostership: 19 percent
Gould will be a useful streaming option for as long as Kyle Shanahan loves punishing his team with field goal attempts inside the five yard line. Such a strategy sends a message: If you can't punch it in for six, I will undermine our efforts to win this game. You have to respect it.
The 49ers are seven-point home favorites against the epically down-bad Chargers. LA allows the highest EPA per rush this season; they have no chance of stopping Christian McCaffrey and the Niners' run-first attack. That should set up Gould nicely for multiple field goal tries. The Chargers have given up the eighth most field goal attempts this year.
Jason Sanders (MIA)
Rostership: 21 percent
Miami is at home taking on an eminently beatable Browns defense allowing the fifth-highest EPA per play and being cooked by nearly every passing attack they face. Tua and the Dolphins should make quick work of these Browns.
Sanders should see all the positive game script he can handle here. Miami's red zone aggressiveness (and resulting success) have dinged Sanders' opportunity this season -- the Dolphins have the 11th fewest field goal tries -- but we abide by the process and the process says we like home kickers whose teams are favored.