Fantasy waiver wire targets for Week 4 of 2021 NFL season

The one negative thing about the waiver wire is the big running back to add likely means an injury to a key player. But this week, that injury occurred to arguably the best fantasy asset in the history of fantasy football. Christian McCaffrey suffered a hamstring strain and is expected to be out for at least a couple of weeks. Filling in his absence is rookie running back Chuba Hubbard. On Thursday night, Hubbard ended up playing 39 snaps, while fellow CMC backup Royce Freeman played 10. Hubbard carried the ball 11 times for 52 yards and saw five targets, catching three for 27 yards. He has been the second running back there and will get the first crack at filling in for McCaffrey. That opportunity is enough to make him the top target on the waiver wire heading into Week 4. Leagues who use free agent bidding should expect to bid at least 30 percent of their budget but go as high as 50 percent if you are desperate for a running back. Just last year we saw what a McCaffrey backup could do in this offense when Mike Davis finished as the RB12, largely because he saw 70 targets. That is why this spot is particularly valuable. The Panthers have a ton of pass plays designed around the RB spot to cater to McCaffrey’s skillset. They are simply not going to stop incorporating the running back in the passing game. Hubbard had five targets on Thursday alone. That volume puts him in the RB2 range right away, but there is upside for more.

Here is what I wrote about him back in February, when I wrote a stats article about rookies in the NFL Draft: “He exploded in 2019 as a sophomore, rushing for 2,094 yards and 21 touchdowns on 328 carries, adding in 23 catches for 198 yards. In 2020, he played only seven games and finished with 625 yards and five touchdowns. As a junior, he put up 22 missed tackles forced and averaged 0.17 missed tackle forced per attempt, both in the bottom three of the 22 draft eligible RBs with at least 100 carries. His 2.5 yards after contact per attempt were tied for the lowest of this bunch. I wanted to compare those numbers to his great 2019 season, when he went for 1,380 yards after contact, the most in the nation. That season he had 82 missed tackles, good for 0.24 per attempt, and averaged 3.7 yards after contact per attempt.”

Check if available: Sony Michel, Tyler Higbee, Kirk Cousins, Jaylen Waddle, Mike Gesicki

You can drop: Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay, Ronald Jones, Younghoe Koo, Kenyan Drake

Do not drop: Allen Robinson, A.J. Brown, Robert Woods, Jonathan Taylor, Kyle Pitts, Robby Anderson, Ty’Son Williams

Quarterbacks

Panthers QB Sam Darnold had his best fantasy game of the year on Thursday night, and he didn’t even throw a touchdown. Darnold threw for 304 yards, his second straight game with over 300 yards, and added 11 rushing yards on eight carries with two touchdowns. He now has three rushing touchdowns on the season and his four rushing attempts within six yards of the end zone is one less than McCaffrey (five). He has scored at least 18.9 fantasy points in every game this season. Next week, he faces a Cowboys defense that can be thrown on. He is a streamable option once again.

Giants QB Daniel Jones failed to take advantage of a good matchup in Week 3, scoring just 16.54 fantasy points against the Falcons. But if 16.54 is the floor, which it has been for Jones on the year, and the ceiling is around 30 fantasy points, that is a good fantasy asset. Jones had scored over 21 and 29 fantasy points in the first two games. He rushed eight more times in Week 3, for 39 yards. The rushing is why his fantasy stock is on the rise. He is worth taking a shot on the rushing upside as a second QB.

Washington QB Taylor Heinicke finished as a QB1 despite Washington getting blown out. He only threw for 212 yards but did have two passing touchdowns and two interceptions. But the reason he scored 21 fantasy points is because he ran for 21 yards and a touchdown. He won’t give you that with his legs weekly, but it’s in his repertoire. He has now topped 20 fantasy points in two straight games and gets the Falcons next week.

Running backs

Vikings RB Alexander Mattison had a great game in Week 4. The only reason he isn’t the top add for Week 4 is because there is a chance Dalvin Cook could return for that one. If Mattison was not added before Sunday consider yourself lucky. Mattison played 67 percent of the snaps, carried the ball 26 times for 112 yards and saw eight targets, catching six for 59 yards. That is elite volume and if Cook was to miss Week 4 against the Browns, Mattison would be ranked as an RB1. Mattison should be stashed even if Cook returns, because we know the upside if Cook misses more time.

Colts RB Nyheim Hines outperformed Jonathan Taylor in Week 3. He played 54 percent of the snaps (Taylor, 49 percent) and had six carries for 25 yards and a touchdown, along with five catches on six targets for 54 yards. This is the second game this season Hines has seen at least six targets, after he had a team-high eight targets in Week 1. Hines had a down Week 2 but gave fantasy managers close to 15 points in Week 1 and over 18 in Week 3. He is available in nearly 70 percent of NFL.com leagues and it should be way less than that. He finished as an RB2 last year and will clearly remain a big part of the Colts offense.

Falcons RB Cordarrelle Patterson played 42 percent of the snaps, seeing seven carries and seven targets, going for 102 total yards. He led Atlanta with 82 receiving yards. Patterson was used out wide on 25 percent of his snaps in Week 2, but in Week 3 he saw 88 percent of his snaps from the backfield. Patterson has seen 14 opportunities (carry + target) in back-to-back games. He is at worst a flex option, but quickly working his way into the RB2 range. This is likely your last chance to add him.

Bills RB Zack Moss had himself a day in Week 3. After being a healthy scratch in Week 1 and used as a backup in Week 2, he saw 13 carries rushing for 60 yards. He also saw three targets, catching them all, for 31 yards and a touchdown. Moss also played 54 percent of the snaps to Devin Singletary’s 44 percent. The Bills backfield is a difficult one to trust, especially since Josh Allen will steal goal line looks (he had a rushing TD in Week 4 and nearly on in Week 3). But, with the usage Moss saw in Week 3, he should be picked up. There is a chance he stole the starting job away in Week 3.

Panthers RB Royce Freeman is now the RB2 in Carolina with McCaffrey out for at least the next couple of weeks. While Hubbard is the top add of the week, Freeman should also be picked up. In Week 3, he played just 10 snaps but saw five carries and one target. He finished with 25 yards. Hubbard will get the first crack at replacing McCaffrey, but if he struggles Freeman could see a larger workload. There is value in being the lead back in this offense. That alone makes Freeman worth taking a flier on.

Buccaneers RB Giovani Bernard led the Bucs running backs by playing 45 percent of the snaps against the Rams in Week 4. Bernard did not see a carry in Week 3 in a game where Tom Brady leads the team with 14 rushing yards. But he was targeted a team-high 10 times, catching nine of them for 51 yards and a touchdown. His usage was a factor of the Bucs trailing for much of the game to the Rams. While the Bucs won’t be down multiple scores each week, they have been searching for production from the RB position. Ronald Jones still has single-digit fantasy points through three games, while Leonard Fournette has looked like Jacksonville Leonard and not Lombardi Lenny. Bernard’s performance should be enough to earn more playing time and we know Brady loves to throw to his backs. Bernard is worth a flier off the waiver wire this week.

Raiders RB Peyton Barber played great in Josh Jacobs’ absence in Week 3. He carried the ball 23 times, going for 111 yards and a touchdown, while being targeted five times, catching three for 31 yards. He finished as a top-five fantasy RB on the week, pending the Monday Night game. His usage makes him worth picking up incase Jacobs is out again in Week 4. However, do not go crazy making him your top priority or spending a ton of your free-agent budget. Once Jacobs returns, Barber becomes waiver wire fodder again. Kenyan Drake playing the second fiddle with Jacobs out means he can be dropped in fantasy.

Deeper Options: Jaguars RB Carlos Hyde carried the ball eight times for 44 yards while playing a third of the snaps. His usage does not warrant picking him up in 12-team leagues or shallower, but for those in deeper leagues, he is involved weekly and is next in line for a big workload should anything happen to James Robinson. Larry Rountree III is another name for you deep league players. He carried the ball four times for 3 yards and did not catch his only target, so I get why you will not be impressed at all. But he did play multiple snaps from the 1-yard line and got a carry, even though he was stuffed. If he is getting those looks, he has a chance to find pay dirt. In deep leagues, that can be enough some weeks.

Wide receivers

Raiders WR Henry Ruggs III had a career day in Week 2 and built on it in Week 3, going for four catches for 78 yards on seven targets. Ruggs has now seen seven targets in two straight games, after never seeing more than five in any game as a rookie. While his numbers may not jump off the screen at you, it could have been a much bigger day. Ruggs got open downfield for what would have been around a 40-yard touchdown, but Derek Carr overthrew him on the play. Ruggs is clearly the Raiders best downfield weapon. Do not wait for him to catch that long TD before you add him, because by that time it’ll likely be too late. He has breakout upside, especially with how Carr has been playing, which is why he is the top receiver add of the week.

Bills WR Cole Beasley saw a team-high 13 targets in Week 4, catching 11 of them for 98 yards. That is enough to top 20 fantasy points. He has now topped 14 fantasy points in two of the first three games and has seen 13 targets in two games as well. That is big time volume and enough to warrant rostering him in PPR leagues. He does not have the highest ceiling in fantasy, but he does have one of the safer floors. The Bills have passed on 60 percent of their plays this season and Beasley is the second target behind Stefon Diggs, so his volume should be dependent most weeks. He will always be in play as a flex option, especially with the Bills having a favorable schedule the next few weeks.

Cardinals WR A.J. Green caught five balls for a team-high 112 yards in Week 3. He saw six targets and played the second-most snaps at the wide receiver position for a third straight game. Green is not the sexy name he once was in fantasy football, but while he is seeing consistent usage in a high-powered offense, he is a name worth taking a shot on off the waiver wire if you need receiver depth.

Bills WR Emmanuel Sanders saw the third most targets from Josh Allen in Week 3 and did plenty with them. He caught five of his six targets for 94 yards and two touchdowns. He also led the Bills receivers in snaps, playing 79 percent of them. While this was Sanders first big game with the Bills, he has been a consistent part of their three wide receiver sets and he has at least six targets in every game. The Bills’ schedule really opens after facing some tough defenses to open the year. Sanders is an option you can grab now and flex in the right matchups, considering how much the Bills pass the ball.

Panthers WR Terrace Marshall Jr. is someone I just cannot quit. He saw 60 percent of the snaps and five targets in Week 3. Through three games he has out targeted Robby Anderson 14 to 11 and leads the Panthers with three red zone targets. There was chatter about getting Anderson more involved after Week 3, but Marshall has already carved out a role for himself in this passing attack and it could continue to grow if he plays well. He is not an option to start just yet, but he is a bench stash with a lot of upside.

Giants WR Kadarius Toney may suddenly see a lot more usage as Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton are both dealing with a hamstring injury. That was after the Giants came into the game with concerns about Kenny Golladay, who has been nursing a hip injury. Toney ended up playing 66 percent of the snaps, the second-most among Giants receivers. He only had three targets, catching two for 16 yards, but this is more about the volume that could come for Toney, who is a raw receiver, but very explosive with the ball in his hands after the catch. Collin Johnson is another receiver worth taking a flier on in this passing attack. He saw seven targets in Week 3, tied for Saquon Barkley for the team lead, catching five of them for 51 yards. He ended up playing 47 percent of the snaps. If the injuries are series, these two could be two thirds of the Giants three-receiver sets.

Colts WR Zach Pascal did not score a touchdown for the first time this season. But he did see a season-high seven targets. His targets have increased in every game this season, with at least five in each. He also leads the NFL with six end zone targets, which is enough to keep him on the fantasy radar. Pascal has been more utilized than anticipated and its time for receiver needy teams to take a shot off the waiver wire.

Steelers WR James Washington is an option because all three of the Steelers receivers are currently banged up. Their status’ each need to be monitored heading into Week 4, but if multiple were to miss time, Washington would then be inserted into the Steelers starting lineup. He played 81 percent of the snaps, the second-most among Pittsburgh receivers in Week 3, finishing with three catches for 20 yards on five targets. He is a downfield weapon, which may not be the best fit for Ben Roethlisberger at this stage of his career, but if the top three options are injured, someone must step up. Washington is in play in deeper leagues.

Patriots WR Jakobi Meyers saw 14 targets, catching nine for 94 yards. It was his best game of the season, but he has now seen nine-plus targets in two of the first three games of the season. His teammate, Kendrick Bourne, was targeted eight times catching six for 96 yards and a touchdown. He is much more boom or bust. Given the offense that they play in it will be hard to pick up and start either, but the volume cannot just be ignored. Meyers is the preferred add, but Bourne is in play in deeper leagues.

Tight ends

Browns TE Austin Hooper has not seen the volume we had hoped for this year, but he did find the end zone in Week 3 and has sat around 10 fantasy points in two straight games. Even with the Browns receivers banged up to start the season, Hooper has yet to top five targets in a game and has 11 targets through three games. But he has been more consistent as of late and given the state of tight end, anyone who can give around double-digit fantasy points is valuable, especially in deeper leagues.

Bills TE Dawson Knox is the upside play to Hooper’s floor play. Knox has seen his fantasy points increase in every game this season, with at least eight in all three games. He has not seen more than five targets in a game, but could earn more work if he keeps playing well. He has now had four catches and over 40 yards in two games, with a touchdown in each of his last two as well. It’s hard to trust him as anything more than a TE2, but as he has shown there is some upside for more there.

Steelers TE Pat Freiermuth scored a touchdown in Week 3 with all three of the Steelers starting receivers banged up and missing game time. He saw five targets in Week 3, catching three for 22 yards and the score. He out targeted fellow Steelers tight end Eric Ebron, who saw three and didn’t catch any. Freiermuth is a big-bodied tight end who the Steelers clearly view as a weapon in the red zone. It’s typically tough to trust any rookie tight end that isn’t a unicorn, but if the Steelers receivers are out next week it should naturally lead to more volume for Freiermuth.

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