While most of the meaningful waiver-wire players emerge relatively early in the season, there always seems to be a player who two who don’t show up until about halfway through the year, and then become fantasy mainstays over the final eight weeks. Last season, it was C.J. Anderson and Martavis Bryant who delighted their owners with a mid-season breakout. They’ve gone in different directions in 2015, but they’ll always be the one-time carriers of that torch. Who might follow in their footsteps this season? We present a few options below, leading off with the best candidate.
James Starks, RB, Packers
He’s back. Starks first popped up on the fantasy radar for the 2015 season a few weeks ago when Eddie Lacy was dealing with ankle injury, but the starter’s quick return sent Starks back to the wire. In a great matchup with the Chargers in Week 6, it was Starks, and not Lacy, who took advantage, running for 112 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, and adding another touchdown on a five-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers. Lacy, meanwhile, had three yards and four carries, and also fumbled once. The ankle seemed to be an issue yet again, which could help to explain the fact that he touched the ball just six times. No matter the root cause of Lacy’s struggles, however, his owners have to be worried. The Packers know they can win with Starks, and if Lacy’s ankle is at less than 100%, the team could decide to sit him down to make sure he’s healthy for the stretch run and the playoffs. That would work just fine for the Packers in real life, but it would be terrible for Lacy’s fantasy owners. Every fantasy owner in the world should have a claim for Starks this week. Green Bay is on a bye in Week 7, so we might not have any update on this backfield for a week, but Starks is worth owning, even if we are looking at a timeshare.
Christine Michael, RB, Cowboys
The Cowboys need more out of their running game. They know it. Fantasy owners know it. And now they may be turning to Michael in search of answers. Outside of a 14-carry, 87-yard performance against the Falcons shoddy run defense, Joseph Randle hasn’t rushed for more than 4.1 yards per carry in a game this season. In the last two weeks, he and Darren McFadden have combined for 133 yards on 41 carries. The team hinted that Michael could take on a larger role in the offense after its bye, and it still appears it is leaning in that direction for a Week 7 matchup with the Giants. Dallas still has a great offensive line and Michael, who has always had a ton of potential, could thrive if he is given a legitimate chance to carry the load. He’s the one truly under-the-radar player who could turn into a second-half star.
Theo Riddick, RB, Lions
Riddick made himself known to the fantasy community last season when he took on a significant role as a pass catcher for the Lions. He grew that role this season, catching 33 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns through six games. He ranks first in receptions by running backs, third in receiving yards and second in receiving touchdowns. Now, the team may be asking him to do more than just catch the ball out of the backfield. Ameer Abdullah fumbled again last week, and while he was fortunate to have it go out of bounds, he earned himself plenty more time on the sidelines next to Jim Caldwell. Joique Bell is still dealing with an ankle issue, and Zach Zenner will be placed on injured reserve after suffering a collapsed lung and multiple cracked ribs in a win over the Bears. Riddick took over as the primary back, and ended up running the ball seven times for 28 yards. He could still be in command of the backfield when the Lions take on the Vikings in Week 7 and, more importantly, may carve out a more permanent role going forward.
Stefon Diggs, WR, Vikings
Way back in draft season, you could find both Mike Wallace and Charles Johnson partisans. The thought was if Teddy Bridgewater was going to take the next step in his development, as so many people believed he would, he’d likely have a go-to receiver by his side. It turns out that receiver may have been buried all this time. Diggs, the rookie out of Maryland, has emerged in the last two weeks and should be locked into a starting gig with the Vikings. In his NFL debut against the tough Broncos in Week 5, he caught six of his 10 targets for 87 yards. Last week, he hauled in seven passes for 129 yards in the Vikings’ win over the Chiefs, simultaneously guaranteeing that Johnson will not have a starting spot waiting for him when he returns from injury. Diggs was a five-star recruit coming out of high school, but injuries stunted his growth at Maryland. There’s no way to doubt his talent, as he has displayed it in the last two weeks. All he needs to do now is stay healthy, and he can turn in a strong second half in his rookie year.
Michael Floyd, WR, Cardinals
This is not just a dog-whistle reaction to Floyd scoring a touchdown, and nearly scoring two more. Floyd has played at least 70% of Arizona’s snaps in each of the last three weeks after failing to reach that threshold during the first three games of the season. He topped out at 75% in Week 6 while running at least 40 routes for just the second time all year. Floyd also got a season-high eight targets, catching five of them for 50 yards and the score. Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown each had big games from a yardage standpoint, but Floyd remains the only receiver on the team with the speed to stretch the field, as well as the size to be an imposing force in the red zone. The ball skills aren’t totally there, and that’s why he has yet to break out in the NFL, but he’s once again getting enough opportunities in Arizona to make some noise in fantasy leagues. He’s still just a depth receiver, but that is very important this time of year. Over the next two weeks, A.J. Green, Alshon Jeffery, Randall Cobb, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Jordan Matthews, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns will all have a bye.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Buccaneers
Seferian-Jenkins is now four weeks removed from his shoulder injury, which places him at the front end of his timetable for return. After being listed as doubtful in Week 4 and Week 5, he graduated to questionable before being ruled inactive last week. There’s a real chance he returns this coming Sunday, and it would be a shock if he weren’t back on the field by Week 8, when the Buccaneers visit the Falcons. He suffered the injury in the third quarter of Tampa Bay’s second game of the season, putting the brakes on what still could be a breakout season. Remember, he had five catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns in the Buccaneers’ Week 1 loss to the Titans. Injury optimism is a dangerous elixir, but it’s a heady one, too, and one that can pay off, especially when you’re drinking it for a player who won’t cost you anything more than the last player on your roster.
Photos: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images (Starks), Christian Petersen/Getty Images (Riddick), Jared Wickerham/Getty Images (Floyd)