Now that bye weeks have arrived, fantasy owners need to be a little more pragmatic when making their waiver claims. During the first few rounds of waiver adds, everyone is typically looking for the player who can turn into this year’s Justin Forsett. That player, more often than not, has already emerged by the time we’re transitioning to Week 5 from Week 4. Fantasy owners should be looking for depth on the waiver wire at this point of the season. Four teams are on bye this week (the Dolphins, Jets, Panthers and Vikings), and that will be the minimum number of teams on bye every week through Week 11. The only way you survive that is by having enough depth, and the easiest way to add depth is to make the right moves on the waiver wire.
Jay Cutler, QB, Bears
Cutler returned after missing one full game, and most of another, and played quite well in the Bears’ win over the Raiders. He did throw one bad interception, but threw for 281 yards and a pair of touchdowns, hooking up with Martellus Bennett and Eddie Royal for his scores. He did this against a soft Oakland defense, but he was without Alshon Jeffery, so we can call that a wash. Cutler looks like a low-end QB1 in Week 5 with the Bears visiting the Chiefs. They’ve allowed the most points per game to quarterbacks, surrendering a league-high 11 passing touchdowns and 8.24 yards per attempt. If you’re a Cam Newton owner who needs a one-week replacement, Cutler can be your guy.
Duke Johnson, RB, Browns
Johnson got more playing time in Week 4 than he had in any of his previous three games and, not coincidentally, he had the best game of his young career. The rookie out of Miami made a significant impact as a receiver, catching nine of his 10 targets for 85 yards and a touchdown. No matter what he does this year, he’s not going to push Isaiah Crowell to the sideline. In fact, Crowell ran the ball well against San Diego, and totaled 125 yards from scrimmage. Johnson, however, is Cleveland’s primary receiver out of the backfield, and he’s going to take advantage in games where the team is trailing. As a case in point, he played 43 snaps compared with Crowell’s 26 in the loss to the Chargers in Week 4. That’s enough of a role to make him an intriguing depth back with bye weeks back in our lives.
Ronnie Hillman, RB, Broncos
According to Gary Kubiak, both of his running backs are starters. For fantasy purposes, that means neither of them is a starter. C.J. Anderson was one of the must underwhelming players of the first month of the season, and it’s no surprise that Hillman has been getting more looks in the offense. Both of them were mostly pedestrian against the Vikings, but it was Hillman who broke the game open for the Broncos with a 72-yard touchdown run. Anderson, meanwhile, turned in his fourth straight game with fewer than four yards per carry. This is as equal a timeshare as there is in the league, and while that’s terrible news for Anderson, it also helps make Hillman an RB4/5-type who should be owned in most standard formats.
Nelson Agholor, WR, Eagles
In a way, Agholor’s performance against Washington was encouraging. He had a career-high 64 yards and played 96% of the Eagles’ snaps. In another way, it was disappointing. He still had just three catches and four targets. Still, the Eagles scored on a couple of big, down-the-field plays by Riley Cooper and Miles Austin, and Agholor is regularly playing far more snaps than both of those receivers. The fact that they each scored and he didn’t owes to single-game variance. It doesn’t point to Agholor falling behind either player on the depth chart. If he keeps playing as much as he has all season, and if the Philadelphia offense can find a semblance of consistency, the touchdowns and yardage will come. Now is a great time to buy low on a player who is available for free in more than 50% of leagues.
Tavon Austin, WR, Rams
This is Austin’s third year in the league. Last Sunday, he was four yards away from his second career 100-yard game. His 96-yard, two-touchdown effort against the Cardinals was just the second time in his career that he’s had even 50 yards in a game, let alone 100, so let’s just let him savor this one for a couple days. Let’s also go ahead and add him to our list of waiver targets for the week. It might not be a coincidence that the second-best game of Austin’s career as a receiver came in the first game with a significant role for Todd Gurley. The running back gives defenses something to think about that takes their attention off Austin and the passing game. Austin was on the field for 89% of the Rams’ snaps on Sunday, a rate we typically don’t see for him, and he caught six of his seven targets while also running for 20 yards on two carries. This, again, is a suggested add with an eye on depth now that byes have arrived, but Austin has a ceiling to be a legitimate WR3 for the rest of the season.
Nate Washington, WR, Texans
This is a short-term add for an owner who’s needy at the wide receiver position. That could describe someone who typically starts Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker or Jarvis Landry, and needs to turn to the waiver wire to find some help at the position. As we discussed in the Sunday Superlatives, the Colts defense has been quite friendly to opposing receivers who avoid Vontae Davis. Percy Harvin, Decker, Kendall Wright and Allen Hurns have combined for 31 catches on 43 targets for 387 yards and four touchdowns against Indianapolis, which translates to 15.68 fantasy points per game in standard-scoring leagues. If Washington can recover from a hamstring injury in time to suit up against the Colts on Thursday, he will fill that role. You probably won’t use him after this week, but he’ll be worth the add if he comes through for you this week.
Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers
This is similar to the Washington recommendation. Everyone knows that the Raiders have been terrible against tight ends this year. Do you know that the Giants have been nearly as bad? Jason Witten, Jacob Tamme, Jordan Reed and Charles Clay have combined for 27 catches, 344 yards and three touchdowns against the Giants, which comes out to 13.1 points per game. Gavin Escobar also got in the end zone against the Giants Week 1, further adding to their woes against tight ends. Davis missed last week’s game with a knee injury, but the ailment isn’t expected to keep him out for too much time. Greg Olsen and Jordan Cameron, both of whom should be starters in most fantasy formats, are on bye this week. Hopefully, you’re not wasting a roster spot on a back-up tight end, especially if you own Olsen. Davis can be a cheap one-week spot starter who turns in a strong performance. No starting tight end has scored fewer than 7.7 points against the Giants, and that low score belongs to Tamme, who isn’t even on the fantasy radar. Davis can take advantage.
Photos: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images (Cutler), Elsa/Getty Images (Agholor), Patric Schneider/AP (Washington)