We’re only three weeks into the 2021 NFL season and the injuries are mounting up. Although that is an unfortunate part of the game, successful fantasy football managers know that being proactive on the free agent waiver wire is an integral part of winning a championship.
Here are the top free agents owned in fewer than half of fantasy leagues, with how much of your remaining FAAB budget you should be willing to spend.
FAAB denotes free agent acquisition budget
Chuba Hubbard (RB) Carolina Panthers (20% FAAB) – Now that we know that superstar RB Christian McCaffrey is going to miss some significant time with a hamstring injury, fourth-round Oklahoma State rookie Chuba Hubbard becomes the premiere free agent add of the season, so far. After McCaffrey exited in Houston, Hubbard accumulated 89 yards of offense on 14 touches during the Panthers’ win. All fantasy managers should be willing to make an aggressive bid on Hubbard, who should have weekly RB2/3 value as long as CMC remains sidelines.
However, proceed with caution. I suggested 20% because that’s a healthy bid but it also displays caution. While we saw Mike Davis become an every-week starter last year, this isn’t the same situation and Hubbard isn’t the same player. As of now, McCaffrey is tentatively looking at a 2-4 week absence. Hubbard will lead Carolina’s backfield in touches in those games, but we also saw Royce Freeman play 11 snaps and earn a higher utilized rate when on the field. Matt Rhule could easily move into more of a committee approach, especially if opposing defenses are able to neutralize Hubbard. Make a strong bid, but don’t blow your whole budget on a player who might be irrelevant in just a few short weeks.
Alexander Mattison (RB) Minnesota Vikings (15% FAAB) – Playing in place of Dalvin Cook (ankle), Mattison was terrific last week, racking up 112 rushing yards on 26 totes and snagging 6-of-8 targets for another 59 yards. If Cook were to be out an extended period, Mattison would be the unquestioned top waiver add, but at this point, Cook isn’t expected to be out long. Mattison is actually fairly widely-owned, but if he’s still available on your wire, make an aggressive bid for a potential weekly RB1.
Tim Patrick (WR) Denver Broncos (9% FAAB) – K.J. Hamler is the latest Broncos’ wideout to be felled by a major injury. Patrick was already starting on the perimeter opposite of Courtland Sutton, but the loss of Hamler could only result in even more targets for Denver’s two outside options. Patrick is coming off of a 98-yard performance against the Jets, where he snagged all five of his targets and played 76% of Denver’s snaps. He’s a locked in WR3/4 moving forward.
Peyton Barber (RB) Las Vegas Raiders (8% FAAB) – Barber’s 23-111-1 performance from Week 3 was one of the more surprising breakouts from the week, especially considering Barber’s sluggish showing in Week 2. That kind of volume is certainly eye-opening but as soon as Josh Jacobs returns, Barber won’t have much weekly value at all. Thus, a solid, but cautious bid is in order.
A.J. Green (WR) Arizona Cardinals (6% FAAB) – While we’re definitely #TeamRondale around here, A.J. Green put up an excellent outing last week and is still playing 80.7% of Arizona’s snaps. Green’s efficiency leaves a little to be desired but as long as he’s playing that many snaps on a potent offense, Green needs to be rostered.
Sam Darnold (QB) Carolina Panthers (5% FAAB) – There’s something to be said about getting away from Adam Gase’s incompetence. Seems like every offensive player that escapes Gase suddenly gets better. Darnold is currently a top-10 fantasy signal-caller and is still widely available on the waiver wire. He should definitely be considered a strong streaming candidate and is a quality insurance add for fantasy leaguers still waiting out better consistency from mid-level quarterbacks like Ryan Tannehill or Joe Burrow.
Dawon Knox (TE) Buffalo Bills (5% FAAB) – Knox has found the end zone in back-to-back weeks and enters Week 4 as the No. 7 tight in in PPR scoring. Knox has scored at least 8.1 PPR point in each of Buffalo’s three games and has outscored Mark Andrews, Noah Fant, Tyler Higbee, and Kyle Pitts so far this season.
Tyler Conklin (TE) Minnesota Vikings (5% FAAB) – Surprisingly, Conklin is also entering Week 4 as a top-10 fantasy option this season, yet is rostered in very few fantasy leagues. As long as Minnesota’s offense is humming, Conklin is a solid weekly streamer.
James Washington (WR) Pittsburgh Steelers (4% FAAB) – With Diontae Johnson out with a knee injury, Washington played 80% of Pittsburgh’s snaps in Week 3. Of course, the Steelers’ passing attack has looked quite stagnant so far, but a player with Washington’s speed and playing that many snaps has some residual value.
Chester Rodgers (WR) Tennessee Titans (3% FAAB) – A.J. Brown (hamstring) exited the Titans’ Week 3 win early and in his place, Rodgers secured a red-zone touchdown. Lack of volume will prevent Rodgers from being a weekly flex option, but he could see a moderate amount of targets while Brown is sidelined. Tennessee’s next two opponents are the Jets and Jaguars, so Rodgers approaches WR4 status in those matchups, even with just a handful of targets.
J.J. Taylor and Rhamondre Stevenson (RB) New Enlagd Patriots (3% FAAB) – James White is going to miss some time with a flex injury, so the Patriots will have to look to other backs to fill in that valuable change of pace role. Stevenson hasn’t been active in two weeks, while Taylor saw a pair of targets in Week 3. Brandon Bolden also saw a significant amount of playing time but has mostly been a special teamer. Bill Belichick is not to be trusted, but one of these backs could step in and have a decent fantasy role for a month or so. Taylor is the best bet but Stevenson has the most upside, as witnessed in the preseason.
T.Y. Hilton (WR) Indianapolis Colts (1% FAAB) – A recurring theme here is being proactive. Hilton isn’t expected back this week, but is eligible to return any day now. When he does, Hilton should immediately become the No. 2 option in Indy, and that gives him decent week-to-week value in a Colts’ offense that has the eighth-easiest strenght of schedule for wide receivers. Throw out a minimal bid on Hilton if you need wideout depth and can stash him for a week or two.
Rashod Bateman (WR) Baltimore Ravens (1% FAAB) – Another sneaky add to consider is first-round rookie wideout Rashod Bateman, who as been on the IR list all season with a core muscle injury. Bateman isn’t necessarily expected to be activated this week, but one he is up to speed, Bateman has instant WR4/5 value in a Ravens’ offense that is missing play-makers at the wide receiver position.
Josh Gordon (WR) Kansas City Chiefs (1% FAAB) – Look, I get it. But it’s been a long, long time since Josh Gordon was really fantasy-relevant. He was a terrific player eight long seasons ago. Since then, Gordon has been given chance after chance and barely flashed any of the potential he once had. Gordon could take weeks to get into NFL shape and if he couldn’t be a difference-maker with Tom Brady at quarterback, it’s doubtful Patrick Mahomes can right that ship. If nobody else bids on him, sure pick him up for a buck. Otherwise, don’t waste a bid.