Week 7 is going to be a hard one for a lot of fantasy owners to navigate with the Bears, Bengals, Broncos, and Packers on their bye. The problem is that by this time in the season the waiver wire is a barren wasteland of unwanted players, making your knowledge of players and their realistic values even more important.
Let's take a look at some of this week's hot waiver wire pick-ups, as well as some deeper league options for those of you in savvy leagues, since guys like Adam Rank love to throw out players like Ryan Tannehill (72 percent owned), Willie Snead (70 percent owned), and Delanie Walker (83 percent owned) as his "sleeper" or "must-add" picks this week. If being owned in virtually every active league in fantasy football qualifies you as a sleeper, then we have a very different definition of the term.
Stefon Diggs: Diggs has taken over the go-to role for the Vikings with 13 catches for 216 yards in his last two games. Mike Wallace looks finished, and Charles Johnson can't stay on the field for more than a quarter without getting injured, leaving Diggs as Teddy Bridgewater's new best friend. The Vikings are a running team, but Diggs is worth owning in all formats.
Christine Michael: The Cowboys had their bye in Week 6, and they are making some big changes coming out of it in the hopes they change the trajectory of their season. Michael will take over RB duties (reportedly) and Matt Cassel will take over QB duties, and you can be sure the team is pushing Dez Bryant to come back as soon as he can to help their woefully awful WR corps. The Cowboys have a great O-Line; now they just need a RB who can hold on to the ball and hit the holes they open. Michael may be that guy.
James Starks: Even though the Packers are on their bye this week, now is the time to snag Starks. Starks has shined when given the chance this season (10/112/1line last week), whereas Eddie Lacy has been nothing short of a bust (43.3 YPG rushing and 1 TD this season). Packers Coach Mike McCarthy says Starks has had some good practices, and he wanted to get him more involved. With Lacy struggling to produce, Starks is a top-tier RB handcuff for those in need of depth.
Brandon LaFell: LaFell is likely to be gone in the more active leagues, but you will want to check yours just to make sure. LaFell had his best season of his career in 2014, hauling in 74 catches for 953 yards and 7 TDs. He is highly unlikely to reach those numbers in 2015 with Rob Gronkowski fully healthy and Dion Lewis catches passes out of the backfield. Nevertheless, any WR starting for the Patriots is worth owning in almost all formats.
Benjamin Watson: Watson has become a security blanket for Drew Brees this season, and that role propelled him into the spotlight in Week 6 when he reeled in 10 of 12 targets for 127 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons on Thursday night. I can't argue with the stats, but Watson is a 34-year-old blocking TE who was playing the league's 7th-worst defense against TEs last week. If you are in desperate need of a TE with guys like Tyler Eifert and Martellus Bennett out this week, you could roll the dice with Watson if no better options are available. But, I will say to be aware, and beware!
Peyton Manning: Manning has the 2nd-lowest QB rating (for qualified players) in the NFL, in front of just Ryan Mallett who is now a backup. And while the Broncos aren't going to bench him (because they have no better options), you should. Peyton Manning will go down as one of the greatest QBs in NFL history, but he waited a year too long for retirement. Week 7 is the perfect time to dump him and use the bye as an excuse.
Nate Washington: Did you know that Washington averaged 9.3 targets per game before tweaking his hamstring? Washington isn't even on the same level as DeAndre Hopkins at WR. But with Cecil Shorts out and Keith Mumphery looking below-average, Washington will again be inserted into the Texans' No. 2 WR spot. His targets make him worth picking up if you are desperate for WR depth in a bye week.
Blake Bortles– Jaguars: I saw a Facebook post by the official NFL page asking who the best QB was in the 25-and-under age category between Bortles, Derek Carr, Bridgewater, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota. Everyone said Carr, except me; I said Bortles. Look at what the man has done this season: back-to-back 300 yard games, most TDs by ANY QB over the past 3 weeks, 1,630 total passing yards, 13 TDs, 7 INTs, and is ranked 6th in the NFL for passing yards, 5th for TDs, and is tied for the 4th-most sacks taken.
If I have to read one more article from NFL.com, ESPN.com, Yahoo.com, or CBSSportsline.com saying how Bortles is a sleeper, I am going to jump off my roof head-first! Bortles is legit, and facing an injury-riddled Bills team in London this week. I have him as a top-10 QB option with real potential to finish in the top 5.
Philip Rivers – Chargers: For those in Southern California, the Chargers/Raiders game is a must-win contest each and every year for both sides. The Raiders have a talented offensive depth chart, but their defense is less than intimidating. That defense is what makes Rivers a top-tier option in all formats for Week 7. The running game has been an issue for the Chargers, allowing Rivers to throw for 2,116 yards, 12 TDs and 5 INTs so far this season. I would pick Rivers over any other QB in the NFL if I had my choice this week, and you should too.
Danny Woodhead – Chargers: Melvin Gordon is looking a LOT like this year's Bishop Sankey, meaning he is a disappointment in fantasy and reality. Woodhead does have more PPR value than standard value, but I like him in both formats this week because I see them using him more than Gordon against the Raiders. I'd consider him a flex play in standard leagues, and a solid RB2 with upside in PPR formats.
Christine Michael – Cowboys: The Cowboys are searching for answers, and Michael just may have one for them at RB. He looked impressive in Seattle at times, but never really got a chance to shine on a fulltime basis because of Marshawn Lynch. Now that Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden have fizzled out, Michael gets a chance to run away with the job (pun intended). The Giants give up 20.2 PPG to RBs this season, the 9th-most in the NFL. With the Cowboys' QB and WR problems, I'm looking for Michael to run like someone is chasing him against their divisional rivals in Week 7.
Martavis Bryant – Steelers: What worries me about Bryant is Landry Jones being the starting QB this week; what makes me want to play him is the Chiefs secondary and his quick rapport with Jones last week. Obviously the Steelers are going to make sure Antonio Brown is heavily involved, but Bryant has the talent to exploit the Chiefs' weak secondary if they focus on limiting Brown.
Willie Snead – Saints: Snead may not be a household name in the NFL community, but he is apparently well known in the Saints huddle and sideline. Snead is now #2 in targets on the Saints with 38, just 7 behind No. 1 WR Brandin Cooks. What's more, Snead is catching 68 percent of the passes thrown his way, and leads the Saints with 436 receiving yards. The Colts secondary isn't one that will be able to handle both Cooks and Snead, plus keep Mark Ingram in check at RB. I'm looking for a sneaky fantasy game out of Snead this week, and so should you.
Julius Thomas– Jaguars: Thomas is going to be a huge part of the Jaguars offense against a Bills defense that has given up 32 receptions, 292 yards and 3 TDs to TEs this season. Thomas was signed to be Bortles' TE beast (13 targets, 7 receptions, 78 yards, and 1 TD in Week 6), and I would not be shy about sticking him in your lineup as an every week plug-and-play fantasy TE.
St. Louis Rams defense: When it comes to offenses allowing the most fantasy points to opposing defenses, the Browns give away the 4th-most fantasy points at 12.0 PPG. The Rams defense is ranked #11 for fantasy purposes, putting them at the back-end of the starting fantasy defense list. But, this week they play a generous Browns offense that should allow them to be a top 5-7 fantasy defense when all is said and done.
Joe Flacco – Ravens: The Ravens got Steve Smith back, but that doesn't mean their WR woes are now over. Behind Smith they have the textbook definition of inconsistent with Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown at WR, and Crockett Gillmore at TE. Add in the Cardinals top 3 NFL defense, and those 7 INTs to just 8 TDs he's thrown start to look scarier than they normally would.
Sam Bradford – Eagles: The Eagles started off slow this season, but Bradford picked up his game in Weeks 4 & 5, totaling 603 yards, 5 TDs and 2 INTs in those two games. He regressed last week when he threw 3 INTs, 280 yards and just a single TD. I see another bad game this week as he faces a Panthers defense that is giving up just 18.2 fantasy PPG to QBs, 5th-lowest in the NFL.
Alfred Morris – Redskins: Morris was projected to be a top-50 fantasy player by Yahoo this season, and he currently sits somewhere in the 170-175 range depending on your format. Morris shined under a zone-blocking scheme last year (4.05 YPC), and now that they are using a power-blocking scheme Morris is averaging just 3.49 YPC this season. Why he is owned in 76 percent of leagues, and started in 40 percent of those, is beyond me. Give up on him just as the Redskins have!
Antonio Andrews – Titans: I couldn't believe when I saw Andrews' name in that same sleeper article I mentioned earlier. Andrews has a season-high of 12 carries and 49 yards, both in the same game back in Week 3 against the Colts. His ownership has shot up to around 15 percent on Yahoo in the recent weeks. And while that may not seem like a lot, consider the number of people who play on Yahoo, and how many people it takes to get up to 15 percent. Andrews is a waiver wire RB that shouldn't be owned outside of perhaps 16-team or deeper leagues. He is a TD-or-bust option that provides minimal upside due to lack of yards.
Buffalo Bills WRs: With Sammy Watkins out for the game in London, and Percy Harvin not even making the trip, the Bills are forced to start Chris Hogan and Robert Woods at WR. Worse than that is the probability of E.J. Manuel playing since Tyrod Taylor can't go with his sprained MCL. The reality is the Bills running backs are going to be busy all day long, with the passing game mixed in only when necessary. Don't get cute in those DFS leagues and try to save cap space by using Hogan or Woods this week.
Roddy White – Falcons: White is one of the more overrated WRs in fantasy football (46 percent owned), largely due to people remembering his name rather than his role. White's best game came in Week 1 when he hauled in 4 catches for 84 yards. Since then he has managed to total just 54 receiving yards in 4 games. White is a TD-dependent fantasy WR, and one that will only get you minimal points even if he does score since he is a distant 3rd on the WR depth chart for the Falcons.
Larry Donnell – Giants: Owned in 50 percent of leagues out there, Donnell has been about average when it comes to fantasy TEs this season. His 24/183/2 line this year is decent, but not exceptional. Regardless of how average his stats are, TE is an all-or-nothing fantasy position and Donnell is well worth owning. The problem I have with him this week is his matchup with a Cowboys defense that gives up the 6th-fewest fantasy points to TEs at 5.1 PPG. While I do like Eli Manning this week, I'm not excited about Donnell.
Pittsburgh Steelers defense: The Steelers defense is trending as the hottest fantasy defense since the waiver wires opened Wednesday, but I am not so sure people should bet so heavily against the Chiefs. The Chiefs are certain to try and get Knile Davis and/or Charcandrick West going this week, and Alex Smith has developed a connection with Jeremy Maclin. Let's not forget about Albert Wilson either, he is a sleeper pick of mine this week at WR. I'd be careful with putting too much stock in the Steelers defense this week.