By Nick Shook
Beacon Journal copy editor
Read full column on Ohio.com
Everyone has a bad week here and there — just ask Andrew Luck.
But the beauty of early season football is that we get plenty of surprises, which fill this week’s waiver wire column.
Travis Benjamin, wide receiver, Cleveland Browns (owned in 6.3 percent of ESPN leagues)
I seriously sat on a buddy’s couch before kickoff of Preseason Week 3 and exclaimed to him, “Finally, this is the year in which the Browns get to cut Travis Benjamin!”
Boy, was I wrong.
Benjamin showed flashes of big-play talent in 2012 and 2013 before suffering a torn ACL. He wasn’t the same in 2014. But he’s back to his old self this season, and he’s found a good running mate in quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Grantland’s Robert Mays was spot on with his Monday assessment of Manziel, a passer “who won’t think twice about uncorking it down the sideline a few times a game to see if Benjamin can track it down.” It’s now happened three times this season, and if Manziel gets the start on Sunday and beyond, Benjamin will continue to be that dude going deep.
Long completions mean big points for you fantasy players. Benjamin can be had for cheap in same-day drafts, too. I’m looking at you, DraftKings and FanDuel fanatics.
Benjamin should be at the top of your waiver wire wish list this week, whether you need receiver help, or just want to keep him from the rest of your league.
Matt Jones, running back, Washington Redskins (owned in 15.8 percent of ESPN leagues)
The Redskins might be for real! Well, maybe the Redskins’ running game.
Not to be confused with troubled former Jaguars receiver Matt Jones, or two-hit wonder rapper Mike Jones, this Matt Jones totes the football for Washington’s ground game that is usually led by Alfred Morris. But seeing as Morris commands more attention from opposing defenses, thanks to his barreling running style, the front seven might be more inclined to look for the pass when Jones is on the field.
After a Week 1 fantasy output of a whopping 2 points, Jones rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries (6.47 yards per carry), good for 24 fantasy points. Entering Week 2, less than 16 percent of ESPN.com fantasy players owned the rookie running back. That number will likely skyrocket, and while it’s not probable Jones will rush for big numbers like that each week (thanks to splitting carries with Morris), it’s clear that Washington is committed to the ground, logging 37 rushing attempts in each of the first two weeks.
Washington leads the NFL in rushing yards with 171.5 per game. Jones had his carries jump from six in Week 1 to 19 in Week 2. It produced drastically different results, which leaves future teams to worry about two running backs in one rushing attack.
(Some next-level pondering here: If Washington continues to pound away at opposing defenses via the run game, quarterback Kirk Cousins will have more opportunities to find receivers with soft zones or single coverage, thanks to opponents stacking the box with defenders. Jordan Reed leads Washington in targets with 17, but the real deep threat is Pierre Garcon. If they’re on your roster, watch for this trend to emerge.)
Tyrod Taylor, quarterback, Buffalo Bills (owned in 17.8 percent of ESPN leagues)
I’m the conductor of the Tyrod Train, and so far, for good reason. Yes, Taylor threw three interceptions. But he tossed three touchdown passes and threw for 243 yards, finishing with 25 fantasy points.
Oh, and Taylor can run. He rushed for 43 yards. Those count for points, too.
The Bills face a Miami Dolphins defense that just allowed Blake Bortles to complete 18-of-33 attempts for 273 yards and two touchdowns. So much for that vaunted front four.
With plenty of options on offense (Sammy Watkins, Percy Harvin, LeSean McCoy, Charles Clay and Robert Woods), Taylor is a good addition for Week 3 and beyond.
Marcus Mariota, quarterback Tennessee Titans (owned in 68 percent of ESPN leagues)
The Browns lived up to the hype and bottled up Mariota, sacking him seven times and forcing him to fumble three times in a 28-14 loss. But in Mariota’s second game as a professional, he completed 21-of-37 attempts for two touchdowns. He had an interception nullified thanks to an illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty, thankfully for the Titans, extending a drive that culminated in a 13-yard touchdown pass to Dorial Green-Beckham.
This is where Mariota’s stock continues to rise.
Though Week 2 wasn’t kind to the rookie, Mariota continued to show he can make plays when available. He doesn’t flounder like many first-year quarterbacks, instead enduring pressure to complete passes when the Titans need them. And the Titans have talent on the offensive side, believe it or not. The completion to Green-Beckham, a freakishly athletic receiver who slid in the 2015 draft due to character issues, was proof.
As long as Kendall Wright and Green-Beckham can stay healthy, and Mariota can minimize his turnovers, he remains a good option as a QB2 for your bench, with the ability to explode for more points throughout the season.
Jay Cutler, quarterback, Chicago Bears
Cutler is a gunslinger by trade, which makes him a volatile quarterback in fantasy terms. He has the potential to score you truckloads of points, but can also go down in an inferno if you start him on the wrong Sunday. Week 2 was the latter of those two.
Cutler completed 8-of-9 attempts — solid numbers to start a game — for a touchdown, and an interception that doomed him for the near future. In a vain attempt to prevent a pick-six, Cutler injured his hamstring, which will likely sideline him for a couple weeks, making him a clear candidate for your Injured Reserve slot (if your league has one), or your bench.
But take this one step further and cut bait while the better options lie on the wire. Youngsters Bortles (40-of-73 passing, 456 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions) and Jameis Winston (30-of-54 passing, 417 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions) might be good choices. That guy I listed above by the name of Taylor works, too. Oh, and there’s that young man up in Cleveland (owned in 4.5 percent of ESPN leagues) who’s starting to set the city on fire with his long touchdown passes.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
The former top selection of the Raiders known colloquially as DHB has been somewhat of a deep threat for a Steelers offense that scored plenty in a Week 2 win over the 49ers. But we’ve entered the twilight of Heyward-Bey in the end zone in Pittsburgh, because Martavis Bryant will soon be back from suspension.
That will move DHB further down the depth chart, lessening his chances of going long for a score. You don’t necessarily need to drop him this week, but if you’re facing a choice between Benjamin and Heyward-Bey, drop the latter.
Lamar Miller, running back, Miami Dolphins
Miller appeared to be set for a productive fantasy season. That hasn’t been the case after two weeks.
The Dolphins only handed the ball to Miller 10 times in Week 2 (14 yards), and 13 times in Week 1 (53 yards). He caught five passes out of the backfield for a mildly more encouraging 28 yards. Miller hasn’t been a focal point of the Dolphins’ offense, and if it continues to drop Ryan Tannehill back to pass 44 times, this trend will continue.
If your team has running back issues, Miller is probably at least part of the problem. Alleviate the struggles on the ground by dropping Miller for a better option, like Matt Jones, or Dion Lewis, about whom I was wrong last week.
Sunday will bring another round of advice on who to start and sit. Lack of fortune-telling abilities aside, I’m aiming for a better success rate this week. If you want advice on those tormenting lineup decisions, or just want to blame me for dropping the ball on Brandin Cooks against Tampa Bay, tweet me @TheNickShook, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.