I’d like to propose a toast to your 2019 fantasy football season. 

“May you manage your team with the wisdom of experience, feed your instinct with all the data it can handle, and have the fortitude to outlast the coming struggle; your triumph at season’s end will be all the sweeter for it!”

The double-edged sword of getting to enjoy a fairly stress-free preseason (at least on the injury front) has contributed plenty to the lackluster gathering of usual suspects on our preliminary waiver wire run. 

Thankfully, a suspension here and a holdout there has kept the speculators busy.

Preparing for this new challenge, I pondered on how best to serve the Sharp Football Analysis community. I had to mull it over quite a bit, and decided to trust my instincts and focus on those players who realistically could actually be on the waiver wires of highly competitive fantasy football leagues.

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I have read article after article touting players as waiver wire pickups who in reality have ownership percentages pushing the 99% mark in mid-stakes (roughly $300 entry) fantasy leagues. I admit it is much easier to build an enthusiastic narrative around running backs like Devin Singletary (99% owned), Justice Hill (99%), Darwin Thompson (94%) or Alexander Mattison (93%), but I’d feel like a fraud doing so. 

The same goes for wide receivers like Jamison Crowder (99%), Tyrell Williams (99%), Dede Westbrook (99%), James Washington (99%), or John Brown (97%), who I see popping up in said articles. Even worse are the YouTube videos claiming ownership percentages completely out of touch, with no reference to where those numbers originated.

Although I am quite the tinkerer, and will naturally evolve away from what doesn’t work, I decided to start by only including those players with less than 90% ownership in the combined mid-stakes arena with the secondary filter of less than 50% ownership in Yahoo’s largely public leagues. Unfortunately, this filtering also eliminated fantasy favorite running back Tony Pollard (71% Yahoo, 89% Mid-stakes AND RISING!).

I realize the many influences these percentages are based on, especially the impact of best ball and dynasty leagues vs. Yahoo’s generally shorter bench, but this is the happy medium I hope to strike while diving a little bit deeper into the NFL’s player pool. 

With more than twenty mid-stakes leagues, seven mid-to-high stakes dynasty leagues, a high stakes main event and a few home leagues, you can rest assured I have plenty of skin in this game and will be scouring the wires of them all, looking for clues to share with you each and every week.

The offseason has been so very long. Only two days remain until NFL football returns.

I absolutely love the sound of that.

QUARTERBACK

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (27% Yahoo/77% Mid-stakes) 

Stafford dinged his reputation pretty badly last year, all but crumbling after the loss of Marvin Jones. Promoting running back Kerryon Johnson, drafting the talented tight end T.J. Hockenson, and a general return to health is all Detroit needs to get back to being competitive again. Matching up Week 1 against the Arizona defense minus All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson has “thriving” in the crosshairs. Stafford torched the Cardinals with four passing touchdowns on opening weekend 2017. Vegas has the Lions’ implied total just outside the top ten for Week 1, and if the Air Raid offense is half as good as the hype, they could be in for a barn burner.

Nick Foles, Jacksonville Jaguars (18% Yahoo/57% Mid-stakes)

It’s not so much a story of surrounding talent here as it is a home game against the vaunted Kansas City Chiefs. Sure, they’ll try to slow the game down by grinding clock with their run game. Keeping QB Patrick Mahomes and company watching from the sidelines is the goal for most teams unwilling to boat race. Those plans are usually bust by the second half kickoff. There are rumors of an improved Kansas City defense, but only time will tell. For those quarterback streamers who enjoy living dangerously, setting your lineup mimicking DFS strategies makes sense, and you know how they love to stack shootouts.

RUNNING BACK

Dontrell Hilliard, Cleveland Browns (1% Yahoo/48% Mid-Stakes) 

I’ve got my eyes on both Hilliard and fellow stablemate RB D’Ernest Johnson (00% Yahoo/0.8% Mid-Stakes). Stashing more parts of this Cleveland offense is something that interests me. Nick Chubb has his role on lockdown until Kareem Hunt arrives, but that role leaves some tasty scraps in the passing game. Hilliard’s involvement right out the gate with Baker Mayfield this preseason looked enticing. His injury during a joint practice slowed the hype that was building, but he appears healthy again. I’ll be continuing to target Hilliard on the waiver wire, and may add Johnson as well where there is bench space I can play with.

Ty Montgomery, New York Jets (17% Yahoo/68% Mid-Stakes)

I wasn’t a big fan of “TyMont” coming out of college, and he hasn’t changed my mind yet in the pros. It’s hard to predict how the Jets’ offense plays out without seeing them all play together, but the last two seasons we watched Le’Veon Bell play for the Steelers, he embraced the ball hog role to a tee while outscoring every wideout in fantasy in back-to-back years. No scraps left behind. I do not enjoy rostering players who rely on injury to get playing time. The only things working in Montgomery’s favor is how head coach Adam Gase managed his running backs in Miami, as well as his open disdain for overpaying the position. I see quite a few sharps pouncing, so hoping for a share of some split role may be just enough to gamble on. 

Dare Ogunbowale, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6% Yahoo/46% Mid-stakes)

This is the classic speculation add, hoping Ogunbowale can carve out a role for himself in Tampa Bay. He’s shown he can catch and has earned his promotion up their depth chart with his play this preseason. Those juicy running back targets are like magnets to fantasy owners, and Ogunbowale seems to have the best hands of the group. With how below average the Buccaneers running game has been of late, investing in Ogunbowale is worth a shot. It wouldn’t take much to equal or exceed the upside of the starters in front of him.

Frank Gore, Buffalo Bills (15% Yahoo/49% Mid-stakes)

Hard to bet against a thirteen-year streak of leading his team in rushing attempts. If you didn’t know his age, it would be hard to guess. Old school hard worker brings his lunch pail grind to every team he signs with. Gore averaged 4.7 yards per carry last season as a 35-year-old, an outstanding feat. He previously has seasons with 50-60 receptions, in case Buffalo wishes to put his soft hands to use. A solid mentor for Devin Singletary, Gore will once again play the role of gatekeeper, forcing those who wish to snatch the lead role to out-work him day in and day out. Good luck with that.

Worth keeping an eye on: Damarea Crockett, Oakland Raiders, Devine Ozigbo, Jacksonville Jaguars.

WIDE RECEIVER

Demaryius Thomas, New England Patriots (13% Yahoo/37% Mid-stakes)

Thomas has the size and skill to work his way into a serious role for the Patriots and he looked like vintage DT in his limited preseason tryout. His yards per reception has held up over his past four seasons. Roughly a half-year older than Antonio Brown, there could be enough gas left in the tank for 2019.

Trey Quinn, Washington Redskins (2% Yahoo/72% Mid-stakes)

I realize the Redskins offense seems undesirable, but barring another injury, I’d say Quinn has a very reasonable shot at leading Washington in targets this season. Not bad for a cheap waiver bid. 

Albert Wilson, Miami Dolphins (8% Yahoo/87% Mid-stakes)

Thanks to alphabetical order, Wilson had the difficult job of following Sammy Watkins in every drill during 2014’s NFL Combine filled with elite wide receivers. I recall being impressed with how well he looked. He hasn’t disappointed. I’m not a fan of the Dolphins offense, but just like Quinn, I could easily see Wilson leading his team in targets, should he stay healthy. When push comes to shove and your team gets bit by the injury bug, having a reliable wideout like Wilson could save the day.

Rashard Higgins, Cleveland Browns (4% Yahoo/41% Mid-stakes) 

The former Biletnikoff Award finalist had shown a well-rounded game whenever given the opportunity. His chemistry with Baker Mayfield this offseason looks legit. He may be lower on the pecking order in Cleveland than desirable, but it would not surprise me if he produces enough when called upon to challenge for third in team targets. His game is quarterback friendly, working as both a chain mover and scorer, while maintaining a solid yards per catch average.

Randall Cobb, Dallas Cowboys (11% Yahoo/71% Mid-stakes)

What’s not to like about the slot role in Dallas? The current roster poses no real threat to Cobb at that position. His fall from fame was like a lightning strike and a  small career resurgence would not surprise me at all.

Andy Isabella, Arizona Cardinals (3% Yahoo/73% Mid-stakes)

If not for an injury throwing a wrench into his progress, Isabella would be locked into rosters across the board. Be thankful. He was a common drop during the first run of waivers, and his price may never be lower. I will be making room to add him in every single league I can. 

TIGHT END

Darren Waller, Oakland Raiders (22% Yahoo/84% Mid-stakes)

The hype train slowed for a moment, but seems back to being all systems go. Choo Choo! Not many truly believed Jon Gruden last year when he was hyping tight end Jared Cook, but those who did reaped major rewards. At his discount price, I’m surprised to see Waller’s ownership so low. I’m not expecting 2018, as that had a bit of the “Last Man Standing” effect, but comparing apples to apples, Waller could challenge quite a few name brand tight ends in scoring this year.

Geoff Swaim, Jacksonville Jaguars (0% Yahoo/58% Mid-stakes)

Count me as a big fan of Jags tight end Josh Oliver, but durability is king in the NFL, and Oliver is injured. QB Nick Foles has a strong history of tight end usage, and Jacksonville is far from brimming over with talent. The potential shootout in store for week one should have tight end streamers taking a chance on Swaim.

Irv Smith, Minnesota Vikings (1% Yahoo/61% Mid-stakes)

This one is flat out talent based. I know Kyle Rudolph re-signed. I know rookies seldom produce, and rookie tight ends even less so, but watching Irv with the ball in his hands is a rare treat for the tight end position. He is basically free and is far too exciting of a player to remain on the waiver wire for long. If you can find the room, I’d recommend stashing him now.

KICKER

Matt Gay, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2% Yahoo, 19% Mid-stakes)

The Buccaneers’ offense should be high scoring, he has a kicker friendly schedule, and he’s already connected on multiple 50-yarders this preseason. Gay won the Lou Groza Award for top college placekicker in 2017 and set a new Pac-12 record for field goals made in a season. 

Michael Badgley, Los Angeles Chargers (44% Yahoo, 88% Mid-stakes)

A soft schedule for the first month with nice implied totals, Badgley’s lack of name recognition has him going undrafted now and then. He set six school placekicking records for the University of Miami and was a Lou Groza Award finalist. The Chargers rarely fail to move the chains and kickers have been a little dicey this offseason. Badgley quietly went 15-of-16 last year, including a 59-yarder, and made five field goals in their playoff game against Baltimore. 

DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS

Kansas City Chiefs (34% Yahoo, 66% Mid-stakes)

The early season schedule sets up nicely: @JAC, @OAK, BAL, @DET, IND. Kansas City also added quite a bit of talent to their defense this offseason. Jumping out to a big lead, then pinning their ears back to go into full pass rush mode can make for some sweet sack and turnover numbers later in games. 

New York Jets (14% Yahoo, 50% Mid-stakes)

At home vs. a Buffalo offense with a bottom four implied total makes for a fine streamer pick Week 1. Looking forward to seeing  2019 third overall pick Quinnen Williams in action.