By Jack Thomason-
(CBS) There are three weeks to go until the playoffs begin. We have four teams on a bye this week (Dallas, Jacksonville, Baltimore and the New York Jets) and the final two byes (Carolina, Pittsburgh) will be in Week 12.
It's all or nothing now for those teams on the cusp of the big dance. I have some players of interest listed below, but before I get to that, I must make two statements.
1) Ryan Mathews and Adrian Peterson are top priority if either are available.
2) We have seen how valuable backup running backs can be when a stud goes down, as evidenced by Kansas City's Knile Davis (36%) and Cincinnati's Jeremy Hill (8%).
In parentheses is the availability in CBS leagues of each backup who should be owned as a handcuff: San Francisco's Carlos Hyde (40%), Chicago's Ka'Deem Carey (94%), Washington's Roy Helu (78%), Philadelphia's Chris Polk (97%), Dallas' Joseph Randle (86%), Houston's Alfred Blue (66%), Pittsburgh's LeGarrette Blount (67%), Seattle's Robert Turbin (90%), Seattle's Christine Michael (81%), Green bay's James Starks (74%) and Arizona's Marion Grice (99%).
Now, on to the top waiver wire pickups for Week 11. These guys could save your season if the unthinkable were to happen to your top running back. As always, it's with an eye on 10- or 12- team leagues.
1. C.J. Anderson (RB, Denver Broncos, available in 97% of CBS leagues) -- This backfield continues to create headaches for fantasy owners. Montee Ball disappointed couch GMs early and often this year and then went down with a multi-week groin injury. Ronnie Hillman took over and didn't look back … until now. Hillman is expected to miss two to three weeks with a mid-foot sprain. Enter Anderson, who led Denver with 17 touches, 163 yards and a trip to paydirt Sunday. And he looked great doing it. Word out of Denver is that Ball will return this week, but the Broncos are still going to "ride the hot hand." My guess is as good as any, but I'll venture to say Anderson will lead Denver in touches in Week 11. Bottom line -- you want a piece of whoever has the hot hand. I'll take my chances on the guy who is healthy, coming off a big game and the only one actually available for waiver claims.
2. Tre Mason (RB, St. Louis Rams, 35%) -- Mason continues to see the lion's share of the work and is now getting involved in the passing game. His lack of involvement in the passing attack was the largest deterrent from being able to count on him. Against Arizona's third-ranked run defense, Mason carried the ball 14 times for 48 yards. He also snagged four receptions on six targets while racking up 33 additional yards. Benny Cunningham totaled six touches for 28 yards, while Zac Stacy went without a touch. This is promising news for Mason going forward. He is squarely on the RB3 radar.
3. Jordan Matthews (WR, Philadelphia Eagles, 52%) -- What a performance on Monday Night Football. Matthews was flying all over the field and was in sync with new Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez. Matthews pulled in seven receptions on nine targets for 138 yards and two touchdowns. It marks his second straight game reaching the end zone with Sanchez at the helm. The big-time rookie continues to get better every week and has seen an average of 7.8 targets per game since Week 3. Matthews has five touchdowns on the season, with three coming in the last two weeks. The arrow is pointing straight up.
4. Jonas Gray (RB, New England Patriots, 67%) -- Gray is clearly the "thunder" to Shane Vereen's "lightning" in a New England offense that has averaged 40.2 points over the last five weeks. He had 12 carries against Denver and 17 against the Bears before this past Sunday's bye. His touches will be game-flow dependent, but goal-line opportunities and clock-killing carries make him an RB3.
5. Cecil Shorts (WR, Jacksonville Jaguars, 62%) -- Given the breaking news that Allen Robinson has been lost for the season, Shorts should be considered on your waiver list. He has been targeted at least seven times in the each of the last five contests, piling up a whopping 47 looks during that span. He led all Jacksonville receivers this past Sunday with five receptions for 119 yards and should be considered Blake Bortles' top pass option moving forward. There will be highs and lows, but he's worth the roster spot as a WR3.
6. Bryce Brown (RB, Buffalo Bills, 59%) -- We saw his explosive talent against the Chiefs, but we also saw the downside with his fumble at the goal line. Brown was far and away the most productive back in the passing game, catching six of seven targets for 65 yards, while adding 35 yards on the ground on seven carries. The upside is there with Brown, but will the Bills coaching staff commit to him? They utilized all three backs and said it was based upon who practiced well all week. That gives us little clarity going forward, but if Brown were to emerge over Anthony Dixon or even maintain his 13 touches from a week ago, he could be a dangerous back and an asset to fantasy owners.
7. Mychal Rivera (TE, Oakland Raiders, 36%) – Tight end is the most difficult position to deal with if you don't own Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham or Julius Thomas. Yes, there are some other names who provide solid value, but none like those three. After the top seven guys, forget it, you might as well pick from a hat weekly. This leads me to Rivera; suddenly his rookie quarterback (Derek Carr) has found him to be a reliable target. Over the last three weeks, Rivera has piled up 28 targets, 21 receptions, 185 yards and three touchdowns. If you are struggling at tight end, Rivera's targets and red-zone looks could be a huge benefit down the stretch. Don't be afraid to grab him and play him. Sure, he may let you down, but ride the hot streak. Oakland isn't going to stop playing from behind any time soon, and garbage-time fantasy stats count just the same as stats in a close game.
8. Kyle Rudolph (TE, Minnesota Vikings, 70%) -- I just spoke about the debacle that is the tight end position. Nothing changes here. Rudolph was pegged by many as a player who could emerge as a legit TE1. Unfortunately, he was injured in Week 3 and missed the last six games. He's practicing again and expected back this week. Chase Ford has been filling in for Rudolph and over his last two games, Ford has been targeted 13 times while grabbing 11 receptions, 127 yards and a score. This could mean good things are to come for the Teddy Bridgewater-to-Kyle Rudolph connection.
9. Charles Sims (RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 52%) -- The long-awaited debut for Charles Sims finally took place this past weekend. It was a performance you should've expected given that he has been on the shelf for months with an ankle injury and it was his first NFL regular-season action. The positive here is that he tied Bobby Rainey for the team lead in touches. He registered eight totes for 23 yards and caught both targets for 17 more. Tampa will continue to work him in as the season rolls on, but it's clear that no Tampa running back is going to have exceedingly high value unless they're receiving the bulk of the load.
10. Isaiah Crowell (RB, Cleveland Browns, 70%) -- There isn't a lot to say about the backfield in Cleveland. All three backs scored against the Bengals and the carry distribution was 26 for Terrance West, 12 for Crowell and 10 for Ben Tate. Browns coach Mike Pettine says they will stick with the committee approach at running back, and that means no one knows week-to-week which player will benefit. But the Browns want to run the football, as is evidenced by their 52 carries last week. An injury, fumble or blown pass protection by any one of these three could mean a significant increase in carries for the other two. All three of these committee backs should be owned.
Just missed: Mark Sanchez, Robert Griffin III, Theo Riddick, Damien Williams, Bernard Pierce/Lorenzo Taliaferro, John Brown and Jarvis Landry.
Jack Thomason is the winner of the 2014 Bud Light Fantasy Expert Contest, co-host of Fantasy Streamers and co-host of the Nerd Herd. You can listen to Fantasy Streamers every Sunday from 8-9 a.m. CT at 670thescore.com/listen. The Nerd Herd is on every Friday, starting at 11 p.m. and lasting until 1 a.m. on 670 The Score and online here. Follow him on Twitter @jthomason77 and feel free to ask fantasy questions.
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