Strategery: How To Pick The Best Waiver-Wire WRs

Mohamed Sanu is going to be a sneaky fantasy wideout from here on out.

Growing up, the kids in my neighborhood would always come over to my house after school to hang out. At the time, Street Fighter II was one of the popular games out there, and I had the Sega Genesis to play it on. So that’s what we did – we’d go to school, come home, throw our backpacks on the ground and play Street Fighter for three hours, sipping on pop while eating Dunkaroos.

When we first started playing, I struggled a bit. My one buddy quickly figured out Ryu’s Hadouken, beating me nearly every time we battled.

But then I realized that E. Honda’s Hyakuretsu Harite was so effective. I only know what this move is called because I Googled it, but if you’re a Street Fighter fan, it’s the one where the obese E. Honda would straighten out his arm and move it up and down really fast, slapping his opponent.

The Hyakuretsu Harite – the 100 hand slap, as pros call it – was winning me games. I became unstoppable, understanding how to manage the move and when to shy away from it depending on competition.

My friends started calling me a button masher. I called myself a winner.

I was exploiting the system, and winning as a result. Years later, I’m doing the same thing in fantasy football. But instead of the Hyakuretsu Harite, it’s the “any receiver that’s playing against the Chargers, Vikings or Falcons”.

The Chargers, Vikings and Falcons have been awful when the ball is thrown against them this season, ranking in the bottom three versus the pass according to the metrics here at numberFire. And it's not as though they're getting destroyed by opposing top wideouts - waiver wire guys are feasting on these secondaries as well. As a result, there are players out there each week who are performing well, but not rostered.

To take advantage of this, I've looked at each of these defenses, shown what they've done, and analyzed their upcoming schedules. As a result, there could be a few sneaky adds for your team as you move towards the playoffs.

Why Does this Analysis Matter?

Running back production can often be determined by volume. That is, a player like Eddie Lacy doesn’t necessarily have to be incredibly efficient in order to be fantasy relevant.

Moreover, the majority of useful NFL running backs aren’t sitting on the fantasy football waiver wire. Because of that, pinpointing runners from here on out based on matchup may not do us much good, as the majority of these guys are already owned in your league.

This is an underlying reason why running backs are so valuable in fantasy football. They’re the scarce resource, and are hard to obtain as the season moves along.

Worthwhile wide receivers, though more unpredictable week to week, can be found off the wire a little more easily in most 10- to-12-team leagues. For simple proof, go take a look at the weekly scoring leaders at the wide receiver position throughout the season, and note the percentage owned for these receivers across all leagues. Typically, wide receivers will be owned less often. And while you’ll still get the Bobby Raineys of the world at running back, because of the demand of the position, lesser-talented running backs are owned in a higher percentage of leagues compared to lesser-talented receivers. It’s basic supply and demand.

That’s why this analysis matters, and why I’ll be looking at pass defenses instead of rush defenses. More than one receiver on the same team is capable of breaking free against poor competition, whereas multiple running backs on the same squad will have a tougher time doing so.

Exploiting the Matchups

With that being said, let’s take a look at these three pass defenses, see how they've performed and look at their upcoming schedules.

San Diego Chargers

Entering Week 11, the Chargers pass defense had allowed nearly 57 more points - real points, not fantasy ones - through than air than a team in their situation would have over the entire season. That’s bad. Really bad.

As a result, fantasy wide receivers have done well against them, as San Diego has allowed the fourth-most pretend pigskin points to opposing receivers this season. In PPR leagues, the Chargers are an even more attractive matchup, having allowed more receptions than any team in the NFL outside of the fast-paced Philadelphia Eagles.

Below is a chart looking at some of the deeper-play wide receivers the Chargers have faced this year. Keep in mind that their bye occurred in Week 8, and because every league owns the Denver receiving options, Week 10 against Denver has also been omitted.

1DeAndre Hopkins5660
2Riley Cooper2251
3Nate Washington81310
4Terrance Williams7710
5Rod Streater3561
6T.Y. Hilton5430
7Cecil Shorts8800
9Leonard Hankerson5550
11Brian Hartline5650

As you can see, the team has given up plenty of fantasy relevant games to lower-tiered receivers, and has actually allowed at least five receptions to a team’s non-number one target in every game since Week 6.

Looking ahead, San Diego’s got a few matchups that could produce some waiver wire gems. I’d ignore the middling Chiefs passing game in Week 12, but wouldn’t be against targeting a Bengal in Week 13. Marvin Jones (owned in 38 percent of leagues) and Mohamed Sanu (0.8 percent) could be interesting deep plays, but keep in mind the Bengals offense is often hard to predict.

Week 14 should be circled for fantasy owners, as the Giants travel to San Diego for a late afternoon game. If you’re in a shallower league and Rueben Randle is available, the matchup could produce nice WR2 numbers.

In Week 16, the Chargers face off against the Matt McGloins. Make sure you’re keeping tabs on Oakland’s offensive situation, because if they’re competent then, Rod Streater would be a decent deep play. In Week 5, Streater caught three passes for 56 yards and a score against the Chargers. It was his best game of the year outside of the six-catch, 84-yard, one-touchdown performance he had yesterday against the Texans.

Minnesota Vikings

While the Vikings rank second-to-last in Adj. DPNEP, they rank 24th against fantasy wide receivers. A slight difference, but remember – the metrics we’re using adjusts for strength of schedule. The Vikings have had the luxury of facing mediocre passing games at times this year.

Minnesota has had some trouble defending slot receivers. Take a look at the chart below showing some of the notable slot men who posted sound PPR numbers against the Vikings this season:

3Davone Bess7670
4Jerricho Cotchery51031
8Myles White5350
9Cole Beasley6680

Davone Bess’ Week 3 game against Minnesota was arguably the best one he’s had all season long, as the only fantasy performance that was better was a three-reception, two-touchdown game against the Ravens. And though Jerricho Cotchery has been a touchdown scorer this year for the Steelers, the game against Minnesota was the second-highest reception one he’s had all year, and the only time he had more than 100 yards receiving.

Myles White played in the slot against the Vikings in Week 8, and his total – five receptions for 35 yards – is better than what he’s had all season combined.

Last but not least, Cole Beasley made a mark against Minnesota in Week 9, seeing nine targets and catching six of them for 68 yards.

It’s not as though these players are superstars, guys. This is why we exploit soft defenses.

Looking forward, the Vikings will face the Packers, Bears, Ravens, Eagles and Bengals through Week 16. A couple of guys who can play the slot to throw out there: Tandon Doss (Week 14), Jason Avant (Week 15) and Mohamed Sanu (perhaps Andre Hawkins) (Week 16). Not that you’d start any of these guys ahead of studs, but they’ll have opportunity to potentially post decent PPR values if you’re in a bind. Deep leagues should be aware.

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons have allowed at least two passing touchdowns in every game this season outside of Week 9 against Carolina, where Cam Newton threw for one and rushed for another.

The Falcons defense is atrocious. If I played them in Street Fighter with E. Honda, I'd get a "You Win Perfect".

Ranked as the worst in the league according to our metrics, Atlanta hasn’t been able to stop even the worst quarterbacks in the league through the air this season. Mike Glennon’s thrown for two touchdown passes against them twice this year, Geno Smith hit them up for three scores of his own, and even Carson Palmer threw a couple of scoring tosses on them in Week 8.

Wide receivers have reaped the benefits, as the Falcons rank in the bottom five in fantasy points allowed to the position. Vincent Jackson has been the biggest beneficiary, having caught 20 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns against the Falcons in their two games this season. He has 36 receptions for 524 yards and two scores in all other games combined.

The Falcons have surrendered 100-yard games to Kenbrell Thompkins, Julian Edelman, Golden Tate and Chris Givens this year, have allowed eight receptions for 78 yards and a touchdown to Austin Pettis, and they gave up six receptions for 74 yards to Brandon LaFell. Jeremy Kerley, Doug Baldwin and pre-explosion Tavon Austin each caught five passes against this secondary, too.

When a team plays the Falcons, that team not only generally wins in 2013, but their receiving options go bonkers.

Atlanta’s upcoming schedule could produce some additional deep receiver plays, too. Kenny Stills is a guy I’d target in Week 12, and Marquise Goodwin could be an interesting player to look at in Week 13. Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods were both sidelined in Week 11, allowing Goodwin to catch six passes for 81 yards and a score. If, after their bye, these wide receivers continue to hurt, Goodwin could be in store for another solid performance against Atlanta.

If you’re looking at a championship, the power move here is to pick up Michael Crabtree. This should happen regardless of this matchup, but he’s owned in less than 10 percent of leagues, and could be back in playing shape when the 49ers face the Falcons in Week 16.