ONE NIGHT STANDS
Demaris Johnson, WR, Texans
It’ll be a thin week in the free agent pool, with six teams on the bye, so get out your snorkel and prepare to go deep. Here’s a starting target if you need a receiver, as Johnson is owned in less than 2% of MFL leagues and should be there even if you’re late to the waiver wire. Johnson has just 11 catches on the year, never more than three in a game, but a date with Philly’s secondary provides opportunity. Of the 10 WR TDs the Eagles have allowed, four have gone to third or fourth receivers; check out what John Brown did to them last week as proof. They’re also prone to giving up the long ball (see Allen Hurns in Week 1), and that’s exactly where the Texans use the lesser of their Johnsons. It’s a long shot, to be sure, but there’s a method to the madness.
Mychal Rivera, TE, Raiders
It’s not just Rivera’s seven-catch, 83-yard performance last week that has him on the radar in the 93% of MFL leagues in which he’s still available. If there’s a weak spot in the Seattle defense it’s in defending the tight end, the position Rivera happens to play. Sure, much of that damage has been done by notables like Antonio Gates, Julius Thomas and Jason Witten. But also finding the end zone against the Seahawks are tight ends like Jacob Tamme, Gavin Escobar, and Lance Kendricks. Richard Sherman isn’t going to be bothering with Rivera, and Derek Carr might not have time to look any further down the field than the tight end. There’s no shame in scraping the bottom of the barrel, especially if you happen to get lucky doing so.
Alex Smith, QB, Chiefs
It’s been a month since Smith through multiple touchdown passes, almost two since he topped 250 yards; that’s why he’s available in 30% of MFL leagues. And with Ryan, Cutler, Stafford and Rodgers all on their bye you may need to throw some darts this week. Smith is a well-aimed dart against a Jets defense that’s given up multiple touchdown passes to EVERY QUARTERBACK THEY’VE FACED. Not just the studs, either; Derek Carr threw two in his NFL debut and Kyle Orton tossed a couple last week. It’s all there for Smith to have a big fantasy outing—or at least something that will help you work your way out of a bind.
Charles Sims, RB, Buccaneers
If you leaguemates do their waiver wire shopping via sorting available players by points scored you’ll have no problems snagging Sims; he hasn’t played an NFL snap. The third-round pick is just now returning from a training camp ankle injury, right when the Bucs’ backfield could use a shot in the arm. Doug Martin is hurt, plus the team has apparently been shopping his underachieving carcass as the trade deadline approaches. The Bucs have tried handing the job to Bobby Rainey, but he keeps fumbling it. That leaves Sims, who prior to injury was projected to be Martin’s backup and the team’s third-down back, as the Bucs’ best option. Or at least the one who hasn’t let the team down… yet.
Juwon Thompson, RB, Broncos
Thompson is swiping half a dozen carries on a regular basis, and last week a couple of those carries happened to come near the goal line. Ronnie Hillman is still the go-to guy in Denver, and who knows if/when/how effectively Montee Ball returns. In either case, as the end of the regular season approaches it would behoove the Broncos to keep Ball as close to healthy as possible and Hillman as fresh as possible. So maybe that half dozen carries becomes ten or twelve, and maybe a few more fall close to the stripe. There’s plenty of upside to Thompson’s offense and a modicum of same to his role—especially as the Broncos start turning their attention to the postseason..
Johnny Manziel, QB, Browns
Brian Hoyer’s flirtation with losing back-to-back games to 0-6 teams is over, but that doesn’t mean he’s locked down the quarterback gig for the rest of the season. After all, he’s had exactly one game of fantasy renown—not that that’s what the Browns are looking for, but if their running game is going to average 1.2 yards per carry as it’s done the past two weeks they’ll need a little more from the quarterback position. At 4-3 Cleveland is still in the postseason hunt, but that likely turns south right about the time Josh Gordon returns—and about the time Cleveland decides it’s time to see what Johnny Football can do. At minimum he’s worth a stash on deep rosters, as there’s upside in them thar hill..
GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE
Bernard Pierce, RB, Ravens
We’ve seen it before, the veteran back ineffectively clinging to his job while a more talented youngster waits in the wings. If you owned early shares in Jamaal Charles or Giovani Bernard you grew to hate Thomas Jones and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, as well as their coaches for myopically giving the incumbents carries they weren’t deserving of—and squelching your player’s fantasy hopes in the process. So kudos to John Harbaugh for making Pierce a healthy scratch last week on the heels of back-to-back games of barely two yards per carry—a stat line propped up by a couple of short-yardage touchdowns. Not that Lorenzo Taliaferro was tons better last week, but he was an upgrade—and he scored twice to boot. Going forward it certainly appears the Ravens will roll with Justin Forsett as their lead back and Taliaferro as their change of pace, with Pierce an afterthought. Maybe the Taliaferro owner bailed on him prematurely and you can swoop in and snag him.