Your fantasy football draft is done, so now it’s time to kick back and enjoy the Week 1 games, right? Hell no! It’s time to get a jumpstart on working the waiver wire. Whether you already regret some draft picks or you have players you’ve moved to IR, don’t let “open” roster spots go to waste. Try to anticipate who might be hot pickups heading into Week 2 after a breakout game — Mac Jones, Tony Jones Jr., Rondale Moore — and add them now while they’re still free agents so you don’t have to burn a valuable waiver claim.
Week 1 isn’t only about rookies and young players, but any first- or second-year guy who does something notable in Week 1 will automatically be on other owners’ radars. If you drafted an ol’ reliable (read: boring) vet late, you might be better served dropping him for a rookie. Odds are the veteran won’t be picked before the games, and he might not even be picked up after if he has a touchdown. Fantasy owners love the seemingly unlimited ceilings of rookies and will flock to them if given even the slightest reason.
You might also already be looking for a streamer at a position like QB, TE, or D/ST. There’s likely less of that in the early going, especially with all the unknowns about the strength of matchups, but it’s always best to plan ahead so you’re not competing with other owners gunning for players a the same positions. Get your first choice now and adjust again later if new information presents itself.
Some leagues don’t have enough roster spots to necessarily take advantage of “planning ahead,” but for those in leagues that do, our week-ahead watchlist will be helpful all season long. In some cases, it’s just worth watching a players’ snap count or target share to file away for later.
Fantasy Football Waiver Wire Watchlist
Reminder: This list was put together in the lead-in to Week 1, looking forward to the players who could be popular waiver-wire targets ahead of Week 2. If you have a roster spot to play with, these are free agent options you could grab early to beat the waiver buzz.
All these players are below 50-percent ownership on Yahoo unless otherwise specified.
Week 1 Waiver Wire Watchlist: Quarterback
Rookies Justin Fields, Bears (54 percent owned), Trey Lance, 49ers (48), Mac Jones, Patriots (27), Zach Wilson, Jets (18)
Isn’t it funny how the two QBs that won’t start in Week 1 are the highest owned among rookies except for Trevor Lawrence? The fantasy community knows the potential Fields and Lance have with their dual-threat profiles, but as soon as either gets the starting nod, their ownerships will soar even higher.
Wilson and Jones aren’t as flashy, but they are starters from opening day. Both have impressed in the preseason, and if they do it again in Week 1, owners will be all over them. So, if you have a roster spot free for whatever reason (player on IR, already dropped a late-round sleepers) and your QB situation is a little shaky, why not just grab them now?
Jameis Winston, Saints (43)
We’ve seen Winston be a fantasy juggernaut before, and it wouldn’t be a complete shock to see it happen again. He might struggle in Week 1 (vs. Green Bay) with limited weapons on the New Orleans offense, but if he does show flashes of excellence, he’ll become a hot name ahead of Week 2 (@ Panthers).
Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins (31)
Tagovailoa is a breakout candidate in 2021, but he drew a bad matchup in Week 1 (@ New England). We shouldn’t expect an elite performance, but in Week 2 he plays the Bills, who were a middle-of-the-road defense against QBs last season. You might not even want to start him that week (though at least he’ll have Will Fuller back from suspension), but he’ll continue to be on watchlists moving forward. Imagine if he does go off against one of the game’s best defenses this week, though? He’d be a hot commodity.
Week 1 Waiver Wire Watchlist: RB
Tony Jones Jr., Saints (15)
His ownership percentage could and probably should skyrocket even just after the posting of this article. He’s the clear No. 2 in the Saints’ backfield with Latavius Murray gone, and we’ve seen Murray get plenty of work in the past. Jones Jr. won’t be a game-breaker if Kamara is healthy, but he has standalone value as an RB handcuff.
Ty’Son Williams, Ravens (36)
Even with the signing of Le’Veon Bell, Williams is a hot waiver wire option heading into Week 1. He’ll get his opportunity to show what he can do on Monday night in Vegas. For now, Bell is on the Ravens practice squad, but even when he does get activated, Williams will still get touches in a powerful Ravens’ rushing attack. He’s more attractive in standard leagues.
J.D. McKissic, Washington (37)
Last season, McKissic was No. 2 among all RBs in receptions (80). For this reason, he’s especially valuable in PPR leagues. While Antonio Gibson is likely to take over more of the touch share, McKissic remains a solid depth option at the position. In fact, McKissic dominated the third-down snap share in the preseason. A player out of the backfield with elite receiving skills will always find a way onto the field.
Phillip Lindsay (43); Mark Ingram (19), Texans
Recent offseason reports suggest Ingram and Lindsay are projected to lead the rushing attack in Houston. This may come as a surprise, but David Johnson is supposed to play third fiddle. Either Lindsay or Ingram could lead the Texans in touches this week against a bad Jacksonville defense. Whoever leads in carries will be a top waiver pickup next week.
James White (32); Rhamondre Stevenson (25); JJ Taylor (1), Patriots
Damien Harris is set to be the lead back in New England, but who comes next? In an offense that has historically fed numerous backs over the course of a season, all three could have a fantasy impact at some point. Will J.J. Taylor start to overtake an aging James White as the satellite back for Mac Jones? Will Rhamondre Stevenson, despite a dislocated thumb, get work at the goal line or not even play? We have no idea, so it’s best to keep a watchful eye.
Tevin Coleman (26); Ty Johnson (11), Jets
Michael Carter remains a highly owned player in Yahoo leagues despite the early indication Coleman and Johnson are No. 1 and 2, respectively, on the Jets’ RB depth chart. We have to remember that Carter was just a fourth-round pick, and Coleman and Johnson have dominated the first-team reps for New York. Week 1 will give us a hint at who will be the most valuable player in the backfield, but both are worth watching Week 1 and beyond. This could turn out to be a full committee with no back emerging, but they are cheap options sitting on the waiver wire in most leagues. Beware, however, as the Jets play the Patriots in Week 2.
Malcolm Brown (12); Salvon Ahmed (2), Dolphins
Similar to the Jets’ backfield, the Dolphins’ pecking order is tough to figure out. It seems Myles Gaskin has more of a grip on the No. 1 job than anyone does in New York or Houston, but we’ll see multiple RBs get run either way. For Week 1, pay attention to the number of snaps, touches, and targets between Brown and Ahmed. Going against the Patriots’ defense, they might have little success, but usage has its value in predicting future breakouts.
Justin Jackson (4); Joshua Kelley (1); Larry Rountree III (1), Chargers
While Austin Ekeler is poised for a big year, it’s always good to identify who might be next in line for touches, whether Ekeler gets injured or not. It wouldn’t be all that surprising if the Chargers treated Ekeler like Alvin Kamara — giving him plenty of work but producing a fantasy-relevant handcuff RB. However, unlike the Saints, who also have short-yardage dynamite stick Taysom Hill to go with Kamara, the Chargers are more likely to give Ekeler’s handcuff goal-line work. Who really knows who that will be, though? Again, monitor the snap counts.
Week 1 Waiver Wire Watch List: WR
Rookies: Elijah Moore, Jets (42); Rondale Moore, Cardinals (25); Terrace Marshall Jr., Panthers (20); Amon-Ra St. Brown, Lions (7); Kadarius Toney, Giants (3); Josh Palmer, Chargers (2); Dee Eskridge (1)
Guys named Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, and DeVonta Smith are obviously highly owned players, but as we dig deeper into the pool of rookie wideouts, there are a lot of potential breakouts largely available in fantasy leagues. Rookie wideouts can be hit or miss early on in their careers, but if they’re getting a flurry of targets or make a big play right out of the gate, fantasy owners fawn over them. Of course, each of the players listed all have their own unique circumstances, but it wouldn’t be all that surprising for any of them to get a fair share of targets (or overall touches in Rondale’s and Toney’s case) in Week 1.
Potential Year Two Breakouts: Darnell Mooney, Bears (52); Henry Ruggs III, Raiders (43), Jalen Reagor, Eagles; Bryan Edwards, Raiders (13)
These guys have all been featured on our sleepers or deep sleepers lists, and they are there for the taking in a lot of leagues. Mooney, who’s the Bears No. 2, is criminally underrated, and he’s available in almost half of all Yahoo leagues. Ruggs and Edwards will fight for the No. 1 WR job in Las Vegas, and they’ll be on the national stage on Monday Night Football. If either impress, expect everyone to know about it. Reagor was a first-round pick a year ago, but he seems to have been reduced to playing second fiddle to DeVonta Smith. Still, he could have a nice day with the worst defense against fantasy WRs a year ago (Atlanta).
Possible IR Steals: T.Y. Hilton, Colts (18); Rashod Bateman, Ravens (13)
Hilton (neck) and Bateman (core) have low ownership for good reason, but their respective ownership percentages could see an even bigger drop after Week 1. They’ll be among the first players dropped all around the fantasy world when players decide to add a shiny new toy to their lineup who had a nice outing in their first showing of the season. This is where there’s an opportunity to jump on them. Because they’ll be available in most leagues, it won’t be too hard to grab them. Most people will shy away from their injury designation, and you can take the opportunity to stash them on your bench until they’re ready to go, possibly in Week 4.
Cole Beasley (46); Emmanuel Sanders (23); Gabriel Davis (9), Bills
It seems a lot of people are shying away from these three, and it’s tough to figure out why. Beasley has the most secure spot in the offense, as he’s easily the starting slot receiver and will continue to get a flurry of targets. Sanders and Davis will likely fight for targets on the outside opposite of Stefon Diggs, but both could be fantasy relevant. If Teddy Bridgewater was able to support three top-25 PPR WRs last year, why can’t Josh Allen do it in Buffalo? Monitor the target share in a tough matchup vs. the Steelers, and act accordingly.
Tyrell Williams, Lions (33)
Williams is presumably the No. 1 WR in Detroit, and stacking together as many No. 1 WRs as you can is a nice strategy in fantasy football. Yes, the offense should be bad, but someone has to catch passes outside of T.J. Hockenson and D’Andre Swift. He faces a tough matchup vs. the 49ers, but he could be in line for a lot of targets. Don’t think he’s going to be a fantasy stud, but usage has value, especially in PPR leagues.
WR Russell Gage, Falcons (30)
Gage at 30 percent ownership feels way too low. He finished as the WR37 in PPR leagues last season, and with Julio Jones fully gone, he could be in line for a lot more targets. Kyle Pitts is there, but it often takes time for rookie TEs to develop. Even if Pitts does go off early, there is plenty of targets to go around in what should be a pass-happy offensive attack in Atlanta.
Week 1 Waiver Wire Watch List: TE
Cole Kmet, Bears (36)
Kmet is a breakout candidate this season, but he does face a tough matchup (@LAR) in Week 1. At a position like tight end, it’s important to think in the future for matchups of possible streamer candidates. Kmet plays the Bengals in Week 2 and will be among the top options on the waiver wire. If he does look good in Week 1, it will be all that much more difficult to attain him.
Zach Ertz, Eagles (34)
Contrary to popular belief, Ertz is not dead in fantasy football. Yes, he has Dallas Goedert to compete with, but he’s been impressive in camp and has demanded snaps. We all think Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith can be valuable alongside each other, so why can’t Ertz and Goedert do it, too? After all, Ertz is the most accomplished among all of them. He has a juicy matchup in Week 1 with Atlanta, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he has a nice game. Stay tuned.
Blake Jarwin (17); Dalton Schultz (1), Cowboys
The ownership figures show most people believe Jarwin win be the lead tight end in Dallas. Is that a lock, though? Snap counts and targets (especially inside the 10) will be especially important to watch between these two, as we don’t know for sure who will be the top guy. Because they have a date with Lavonte David and Devin White in Week 1, don’t expect a stellar performance from either. But hey, it can only get better from there. Remember, while filling in for Jarwin (ACL) last year, Schultz saw the ninth-most targets among all TEs. There’s major upside here.
Adam Trautman (12), Juwan Johnson (10), Saints
This is similar to the Cowboys’ TE situation, but this race feels very tight after Trautman dominated a lot of offseason headlines. Johnson, a converted WR, was on the field alongside Trautman a lot this offseason, and he was running routes. The lead tight end in New Orleans has an opportunity to make noise among a weak group of pass-catchers, so keep an eye on their splits, as well.
Week 2 defense streamers and sleepers
Carolina Panthers (38)
The Panthers have a favorable Week 1 matchup with the Jets, and then get a potentially favorable matchup against (former?) turnover-machine Jameis Winston in Week 2. If you’re really looking ahead, a Week 3 date with the Texans looks nice, too. Grab them now.
New Orleans Saints (34)
The Saints defense has a tough Week 1 draw with Aaron Rodgers and company heading to Jacksonville to take them on, but we like their prospects in Week 2 @ Carolina.
Green Bay Packers (19)
Green Bay hasn’t been very good on defense over the past few seasons, but it does have a favorable matchup in Week 2 against the Lions. When Week 2 arrives and everyone sees that juicy matchup with Detroit, they will surely be after them.
For what it’s worth, they are also a sleeper in Week 1 against the Saints and Jameis Winston, who has been prone to turnovers throughout his career.
New York Giants (5)
The Giants are underrated as a fantasy defense, finishing 13th last year. In Week 2, they have a favorable matchup against gunslinger Ryan Fitzpatrick in Washington, so consider them if you need a sub for a team like the Ravens (vs. Chiefs).