Working the Waiver Wire by Paul Clein Add a Comment to this Article | Read Comments
No Fantasy Football owner takes home the championship trophy by relying only on the players selected on draft day. Bust performances, inevitable injuries, and unexpected surprises create an ever-changing landscape in the NFL, all requiring weekly analysis and flexible responses. Over the course of a season, it’s not unusual for a fantasy roster to undergo a 50% turnover by the end of the year. Any owner unprepared to handle this dynamic aspect of player management has virtually no chance of finishing on top.
Mastering the skill of picking up free agents pickups off the waiver wire is a critically important aspect of successful roster management. How important? Consider the following exercise: At the end of any Fantasy Football season, compile a list of players in your league who were either initially left undrafted or who, during the course of the year, were cut from someone’s fantasy roster. Then assemble an “All-Star” team from these free-agent players, and what you’ll have is a solidly competitive Fantasy Football squad which most owners would be proud to field.
Every season, in every league, there are examples of free-agent pickups that end up scoring more fantasy points than some of the first-round draft picks. For example, running back Reuben Droughns wasn't on anybody's radar last year until injuries sidelined the starters ahead of him. Thrust into the starting role in Game Five, Droughns answered the call with eight touchdowns and almost 1500 combined yards. Not surprisingly, many 2004 fantasy league champions had Droughns on their rosters. These types of make-or-break players can be yours, if you know how to effectively work the waiver wire.
The rules for acquiring free agents off the waiver wire differ dramatically between leagues. Some systems follow a simple first-come, first-serve model, while others award free agents to teams in a certain order based on specific criteria. Many leagues use an auction-style system, where all the owners begin the season with the same amount of waiver-wire “money,” and then spend it down over the course of the year bidding on free agents. Complicating matters even further are other layers of rules that can affect owner strategy. For instance, some leagues impose strict roster limits at the different player positions, while others charge hefty fees for waiver-wire acquisitions.
It is beyond the scope of this article to examine the various strategy options available for each individual set of league rules. Instead, the focus will be on general waiver-wire principles applicable to almost all free-agent systems.
The Secret of Success
It’s a level playing field when it comes to picking up free agents off the waiver wire.
Or is it?
All of the owners in any fantasy league have to play by the same rules, of course, but two key factors stand out when it comes to burying your competition in the race for free agents.
1) Anticipating the future.
No, this doesn’t require a crystal ball, only a little more planning. Many fantasy owners aren’t willing to spend even a few extra minutes looking past the current week. The majority concentrate only on their immediate needs in terms of player matchups, bye week situations, and red-hot free-agent pickups. This is a fortunate circumstance for the serious fantasy owner, since it creates an opportunity to gain an immediate advantage.
The main goal is to be ahead of the curve by acquiring free agents early and getting them on the cheap. By peaking ahead into the future, you can enter free-agent heaven where there’s minimal competition and pickups cost next to nothing. Two examples illustrate this point.
First, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that when a stud player is lost to injury, then his primary backup becomes an extremely hot—and expensive—commodity. But anticipating that possibility in advance by already owning that backup player prior to the stud’s injury is like having money in the bank.
Secondly, it’s important to be aware of the upcoming NFL schedule, which is right there for every owner to see. It requires only a brief look to identify which players might be poised for big games based on future matchups. For instance, there are many fantasy owners who will closely track the worst defenses in the NFL, aiming to pick up the offensive players going up against them well in advance of that week’s game. If the other owners in that same league are always waiting until the last minute to look for similar opportunities, then they’re always out of luck because those players will have already been taken.
In both these cases, it requires only a little extra effort to anticipate these situations and pickup these key players before the feeding frenzy begins.
2) Recognizing the role of emotion.
This is an incredibly powerful force in Fantasy Football, yet it seldom receives the attention it deserves. When roster decisions defy logic, the root cause can usually be traced back to owners leading with their hearts instead of their heads. Left unrecognized, this can handicap even the best fantasy owners.
This phenomenon takes many forms. Most commonly, owners will over-react to short-term player performances, oftentimes panicking at the earliest signs of trouble. Some owners become so angry at a player’s disappointing production that they take it personally, exacting their revenge by cutting that player from their roster after only a few games. This newly available player then becomes a free gift to the more level-headed owners in the league.
Another good example is classic homerism. A homer is an owner who allows blind loyalty to an NFL team to unduly influence his or her decisions about Fantasy Football. For instance, there are some owners who load up their roster with players from their favorite NFL teams, while at the same time refusing to acquire players from the teams they dislike. While this type of faithful devotion may feel most comfortable in the middle of a fan-club cheering section, it can also be a recipe for disaster in a Fantasy Football league. If permitted to run wild, emotions can be your worst enemy when it comes to making good judgments. On the other hand, it can also be your best friend if your competition allows emotion to guide their own roster decisions. Each week during the season, good NFL players are unwisely dropped from fantasy rosters due to anger, panic, or homerism. The force is strong, Luke. Don’t be seduced by the dark side.
Now, this is not to say that Fantasy Football is all business. Indeed, emotion is a big part of what makes Fantasy Football so much fun to play in the first place. Nobody is suggesting losing emotion for the game, but rather to recognize the role of emotion in decision-making and then use it to your advantage.
How to Work the Wire
Working the waiver wire begins immediately after the draft and should become a weekly routine. Following the same steps each week ensures consistency and helps guarantee that no stone is left unturned.
Step #1: Know your own roster
Begin by scanning your own roster each week looking for weaknesses and potential needs.
Some of these needs are immediate and demand prompt attention. For example, identifying a critical lack of depth which threatens the integrity of your starting lineup requires swift action.
A more subtle immediate need is your team’s vulnerability to the Death Blow. Imagine any of your key starters suddenly being lost for the year. Then ask yourself how that event would affect your fantasy team. If the answer is that your season would be over, then immediate steps must be taken to dodge this potential disaster. Prime examples of the Death Blow from 2004 came when many fantasy owners found themselves without a backup plan after injuries sidelined Randy Moss and Priest Holmes. Owners who are unprepared for this type of misfortune are also the ones who end up whining about how their season was ruined by an unexpected injury, when the truth of the matter is that they have no one else to blame but themselves.
After identifying immediate needs, then it’s time to turn your attention to the future with an eye on the NFL schedule, injury reports, positional matchups, and looming bye weeks.
Looking ahead in time by at least one week, and preferably two or three weeks, is what really separates the successful fantasy footballer from the rest of the pack. While that may sound like a lot of work, many owners are surprised to learn how little extra effort it actually requires. For instance, it takes only a few minutes to identify the upcoming bye weeks awaiting your key starters. By searching for their needed replacements ahead of time, you’ll not only avoid the desperate last-minute pickups, but you’ll also find the free-agent market to be more wide-open and less expensive.
Step #2: Know who is available
Next, scan the waiver wire making yourself familiar with the free agents obtainable in your league. Keeping in mind the roster needs you’ve already identified in Step #1, begin analyzing which of these available players can potentially fill those needs.
In addition (and here comes the fun part), there are almost always a few free-agent surprises lurking around the waiver wire, just waiting to be plucked off by an astute owner. These unclaimed players may have been recently dropped from other fantasy rosters, or instead they may now be newly desirable due to other factors.
For instance, always be on the lookout for players who are currently injured but who are expected to come back and play again sometime during the year. Picking up these injured players at least two or three weeks in advance of their anticipated return is another way to remain one step ahead of your competition. Running back Julius Jones was a perfect example of this type of opportunity in 2004. After essentially missing the first nine games of the season due to injury, he came back the second half of the year with seven strong games, just in time for the stretch drive through the fantasy playoffs.
Also, do not automatically dismiss claiming a valuable free agent off waivers just because your roster is already strong at that player position. He could later prove to be vital to another team, paying huge dividends as trade-bait down the road.
Step #3: Know why you want a player
Players are typically added to fantasy rosters for one of two reasons: Either to add depth at a player position, or in preparation for a contingency that may or may not ever happen.
If going after depth, player skill is obviously a very important factor. But if a player is skilled at his position, why is he even available on your league’s waiver wire? Usually it’s because there’s an extenuating circumstance which must be identified and understood. For instance, consider a player whose performances during the early part of the season have been below expectations. A quick glance at the NFL schedule might reveal that his team has been going up against some particularly tough defenses, and that the upcoming schedule appears much easier. This player now becomes a potentially valuable free-agent pickup. Perhaps another good example is the offensive unit whose quarterback has been hampered by a nagging injury, and as a result the wide receivers on this team have not performed well. If this quarterback injury is now resolving, then the smart fantasy owner will anticipate a boost in fantasy-point production from these wide receivers in the coming weeks.
If instead you’re covering for contingencies, first look at all the studs in your league and check to see if their primary backups are still available. This should include both the studs on your own roster as well as the studs that currently belong to other owners. Picking up a backup player who later steps in to replace an injured stud can be like getting an extra first-round draft pick.
While any NFL player can be hurt on any given play, there are some studs who are especially vulnerable to missed-games due to injury. The primary backups of these particular studs should always be on somebody’s roster. Good examples of preparing for this type of contingency in 2005 would be to handcuff RB Larry Johnson to Priest Holmes, or QB Billy Volek to Steve McNair.
Step #4: Know what’s going on around the NFL
The attitude of any NFL team, along with the field-time of its individual players, is influenced by many issues. Being aware of these issues is prudent before pulling the trigger on any waiver-wire pickup.
First, it’s vitally important to keep close tabs on the latest NFL news. This is easily done by checking in regularly with one of the many Fantasy Football websites, most of which do a good job of keeping owners up to speed on the latest developments around the league. New information is always becoming available about injury-status updates, players losing their starting jobs, and coaching changes which can all affect player performances.
Every fantasy owner should also be fully prepared to alter their waiver-wire strategy in response to the developing implications of the NFL playoffs. Experienced owners are acutely aware of how previously solid ground can turn into shifting sands as the NFL playoff picture begins to crystallize. Every year, NFL teams falling out of playoff contention tend to write-off the current season, and begin testing the potential waters for next year by giving rookies and other bench players significant playing time. On the other hand, NFL teams battling for crucial wins in order to make the playoffs are more likely to play their starters to the bitter end, racking up maximum fantasy points. Then there are the NFL teams that after clinching an early playoff birth, choose to rest their starters in order to avoid injury. This can be a decisive factor the last few weeks of the regular season, just when most fantasy leagues are conducting their own playoffs.
This is exactly what happened in 2004 after the Philadelphia Eagles clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs by Week Fifteen. Multiple starting players, including QB Donovan McNabb and RB Brian Westbrook, were essentially held out of the final two games of the regular season, both ending in lopsided losses for the Eagles. This absolutely crippled some fantasy owners at the worst possible time.
Step #5: Know where your emotions lead you
This bears repeating once more, if only to remind you again not to forget it. Don’t like a player’s personality? Don’t like his NFL team? Don’t like his latest performance? Don’t like his most recent commercial? All fine. But don’t allow strong emotional reactions to overly distort your analysis when it comes to Fantasy Football decisions. Before finalizing any roster change, be sure to first check your emotions at the door or you might end up kicking yourself later for not taking a more rational view.
Choosing Between Free Agents
You can’t always get the players you want. In fact, you’ll be lucky to end up with half of the free agents you target as waiver-wire pickups. Other owners will be competing with you for some of these same players, and most leagues impose certain roster limits that force you to prioritize and choose between the free agents you’re trying to add.
While all rules have their exceptions, the following principles have generally withstood the test of time. They can be used as general guidelines when deciding between available free agents.
1) Avoid the one-week wonders
Picking up a player based on a single-game performance is usually a mistake. There’s typically a mad rush within a league to pick up these types of players, which in turn drives up the bidding price to acquire them. Instead of trying to catch a shooting star that often fizzles out, you should step aside and let the other owners in your league burn up their waiver-wire resources by chasing after these one-week wonders. A better strategy is to lean towards veteran players who have a past history of good performance, and whose more recent play shows signs of improvement.
2) Avoid committees
There are few situations in Fantasy Football more frustrating than seeing two or more good players on the same NFL team who end up sharing the load at a particular position. While there are always exceptions, it’s usually not worth picking up a player who’s been relegated to a part-time gig on his own team. It’s important that owners recognize a committee-type situation from the very beginning, since coaches tend to stick with it the entire year. In contrast, the players who get the majority of touches because they’ve locked up their starting jobs full-time are much better bets to reward you with consistent fantasy points each week.
3) Pay attention to the supporting cast
Just because a player is starting for his NFL team doesn’t mean he’s going to score any meaningful fantasy points. While the skill-level of an individual player is very important, his surrounding group of players and his team’s offensive game plan can be just as critical. A good running back rarely performs well when having to rush behind an offensive line that can’t open up any holes in the opposing defense. A solid wide receiver can be worthless when paired with a weak-armed quarterback who can’t throw the ball down the field. A sharp quarterback can be a big zero in the absence of decent pass protection, or when forced to play with wide receivers who can’t get open. Always make sure you understand the team situation before selecting any individual player.
4) Matchups can be key
When selecting a player strictly to plug a short-term hole rather than fill a long-term need, then analyzing the matchup for that week is often the most critical issue. An average player going up against a weak defense can produce very fine results. If that player then has a stellar game but still doesn’t fit into your long-term plans, then an added bonus is that he becomes instant trade-bait for other owners who buy into the one-week-wonder trap.
5) Rookies are a risk
That being said, some rookies carry less risk than others. For example, rookie running backs who are early-round selections in the NFL draft have the potential to perform quite well, although these types of players aren’t typically available off the waiver wire. In contrast to running backs, rookie quarterbacks and rookie wide receivers historically have a tougher time posting solid stats during their first year in the NFL. However, these rookie players can become explosive during the second half of the season as they become more familiar with the game plan and are also given more opportunities to play.
Who’s the Real Enemy?
Who is your biggest enemy when it comes to winning at Fantasy Football? Identifying this adversary now is the only way to guard against it.
Is it the other owners in your league? Nope. Let them manage their rosters as you manage yours.
How about injuries? Or just plain old bad luck? No, that’s not it, either. Those things happen to everybody who plays Fantasy Football, although people who complain most loudly about it would have you believe that injuries and bad luck happen only to them. Every fantasy footballer should expect it, prepare for it, and then get over it.
The real enemy in Fantasy Football is complacency. Every week you should be checking your roster and identifying potential weak spots, while keeping in mind the issues of depth, backup contingencies, and future needs. A little extra effort is all it takes to leave the rest of the owners in your league scratching their heads, wondering how you always seem to be picking up the right players at the right time.
Important topic, although it certainly CAN be that a league can be won without many or any F/A pickups. Just like it is true that injury bugs can destroy some teams while leave others virtually untouched. For most leagues, it IS a part of the game that will increase or decrease your chances though. It never fails that some players will come out of virtually nowhere (due to another player ijury or just simple opportunity siezed) to be worth starting. OR, one persons trash can become anothers treasure.
But it also is not such a sweet science either. Many leagues have waiver rules, or money that keeps some from making a move they might normally make. Roster space, and pure guess-work of anticipating the next useful player are issues as well... For example, you already may fill your roster space with one or two backups insurance players for your main players so cannot easilly drop yours for another. Then there are some guys who constantly drop & add, and spend too much time on the computer (ana dvantage when others have lives to lead that keep them from constant monitoring)...
The main thing to remember, in my opinion, is that Waiver Wires will offer up some very helpful players every year. And keeping up on plyer/NFL news, schedules, and who is available can help you anticipate a little or be one of the first to make the move (thus uping your odds of getting the player). The reality is many of the moves are failures and good players can also be lost to other teams, but it is also true that many times doing nothing is either helping someone else or hurting yourself. Using your LEAGUE RULES to the max by understanding them fully is always a slight advantage. This falls under that category.
portisfan24 wrote:Good read. In my cafe leagues it was a big challenge working the waiver. I remember when Deuce got hurt I came on like an hour later to pick up Stecker and Iron Chef had already nabbed him.
I would say that good waiver work can make up for an average draft, but if you have a terrible draft its almost impossible to make up for. Unless you are a freaking master at working the wire.
Yeah, it was pretty cutthroat in the cafe league I was in last year too. Other leagues I've noticed aren't quite so bad but there does seem to be one vulture.
To me, it's uber-important to stay in the know with what's going on in the league during the season to catch the WW gems. Read, read, read in season is the best advice here.
I like simple pleasures, like butter in my ass, lollipops in my mouth. That's just me.
here is another article i found from fantasy football toolbox about the wavier wire
What's the common thread for the following players? Jake Delhomme, Byron Leftwich, Anquan Boldin, Justin McCareins, Brian Westbrook, Rudi Johnson, Domanick Davis. No, Mr. Obvious, it's more than they are just NFL football players. All the guys listed above were probably picked up in most, if not all, leagues (all were picked up in mine). Look at that list. That isn't a bad team to field by itself. This is how valuable your league's waiver wire is. Always keep up with who is available in your league because a nobody today could be a starting wide receiver for you team tomorrow. Now, there will always be players who get out of the gate quickly and everybody in your league will go clamoring for their services, hoping to find the first big steal of the new season. And then there will be the few who actually go through a year with constant production. Meanwhile, those fast starters seem to forget how to play football by week 5. So, how can you try to distinguish good market pickup over a flavor of the week? Well, how convenient I am here to answer that very question for you. So, in no particular order, here are the aspects to consider making sure you make the right choice when you go shopping on at your league's market.
1. Player's past history Well, that is if the player has any in the NFL. So, let's say your star quarterback goes out with an injury. For a real life example, let's say that Donovan McNabb is the ailing signal caller. So, Koy Detmer is his back up. Now, unless you are in a really deep league, with all of your QBs injured or on bye and you have become so desperate that you'll get in a dress and sing a Celine Dion song in front of your league mates in hopes that one of them will feel sorry for you and give you one of his backup quarterbacks just so you can field a complete lineup for that week, Koy may be your guy. But, if you aren't in such dire straits, use common sense. IT IS KOY DETMER! Here's guy who has barely completed half of his passes, has one more TD than pick and a QB rating in the 60s for his entire career. He's never produced before, so just because he has the opportunity to do so now, what makes you think he is going to change his colors? Let someone else with false hope take him. This kind of leads in nicely to my next standard. 2. Opportunity "Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it or just let it slip?" Ok, I never saw 8 Mile, but that line fits so perfectly here. It is what every bench warmer hopes for. Look at Lee Suggs late last year. He only had 10 attempts going into week 16 of the '03 season. After a solid showing against Baltimore that week, he was given the Browns' starting job for the season's last week. He responded with a 186-yard, 2 TD performance. He got his shot and made the absolute most of it. Now, the Browns' coaching staff and fantasy owners think so much of him, Suggs has gone from oblivion to a solid draft pick, anywhere from rounds 5-8. So, if you are looking for a guy on your waiver wire, he may carry a big name but make sure he's going to get a chance to play for a real team before you put him on yours.
3. Surrounding parts A good philosophical quote is evading me right here. Nonetheless, this rule is what cost me with Anquan Boldin. I thought he was just another of those week 1 teasers that I spoke of earlier. I mean, c'mon! It's the Arizona Cardinals!!! You do more than laugh at them. You laugh, point and mock them until it hurts. They have bad management, declining fans and an atmosphere in which no one wants to be drafted. They've never had anyone who was fantasy worthy. Bah! This guy is just a fluke. I am smarter than to fall into this trap. And I laughed when a team in my league picked him up later that opening day. Well after 1377 yards and 8 scores, I was crying. But, here is a guy with Jeff Blake as the guy getting him the ball, on a team with a WAY over-the-hill starting running back in Emmitt and no other wide receivers to speak of. What Boldin did on that team, in his situation where he was basically the only bright spot, is absolutely amazing and extremely rare. If we have any baseball fans, it's comparable to what Dontrelle Willis did for the Marlins in 2002. It won't happen every year. So, IN USUAL CIRCUMSTANCES, make sure that if you are going to get that hot wide receiver, make sure he has a good QB throwing to him. If you are going to pick up this new RB who just exploded on to the scene, make sure that team has a good offensive line. And if you are going to take a chance on a QB pickup, make sure he has a combination of good weapons with a strong line in front of him. If a player doesn't have one of these attributes on his team, it shouldn't completely stop you from giving that guy a shot, but temper your expectations. 4. Be aware/wary of rookies You don't need me to tell you that the NFL is a not college football. Even though a guy tore it up in school doesn't mean he'll have an automatic adjustment to the next level. Even for these players that we think "suck", have to be pretty good to even be in the league in the first place. Hey, at least they are IN the league. That's something you can't say for the vast majority of college players who tried and never made it. Some of the NFL's worse are better than some of college's best. That's how big a step it is. Sure, I didn't take Boldin, but I really like rookie pickups. There is a measure of mysteriousness and unpredictability that makes my mind imagine of what could be. It is like an infant. They could grow up to be a successful mogul. Or they could be working for minimum wage at a box factory. Yet, if that newbie player has an opportunity, it may not be bad to take a flyer on him and see what happens. Note that I said "may not". Know that more will struggle than succeed. To summarize, just stay on your toes with rookies. That goes double for rookie QBs. Manning a whole NFL offense as a rook is extremely hard and even the ones who become great eventually will struggle mightily at the start.
5. Don't dig too deep The QBs on my team last year at week 11 were Bulger and Kerry Collins starting, with David Carr on my bench. Well, Carr suffered a separated shoulder in week 11 that would leave him week-to-week. The Giants nauseating season got worse when Collins was lost for year when he severely sprained his ankle in week 14. I went through Tony Banks, who got injured. I went through a week of even Dave Ragone! And, he was not surprisingly horrible. What am I going to do now?? I am in a deep 12-team league, I need 2 starters, no good QBs are left and I'm getting close to that Celine Dion situation. My week 17 quarterbacks? I finally had to settle with Marc Bulger and Rex Grossman�who of course, tore a tendon in a finger, had to leave in the 2nd quarter, got me negative points and was one of the players who cost me the championship. But, you see how I am digging for players? Well, in my case, I had to if I wanted to have a full lineup. Just don't dig if you don't have to. I was in a deep 12-teamer. The depth in a league of that type and a league of 8 or even 10 teams is drastically different. Just because someone came out of nowhere and had a good week doesn't mean he has to be a part of your team. Before you pick him up, make sure you examine your other options on the wire. If there is someone else available who got dropped because he is slumping and has a history of producing, he would probably be a better pickup, a buy-low situation, than that lowly-known newcomer. Because your league isn't that deep, that guy, if he is still producing 2-3 weeks later, will probably still be sitting in your market and then you could take a flyer on him. 6. Look for team needs My last rule should be self-explanatory. I'll use another real-life situation because I like to talk about myself. After a bit of trading last year, my 2 starting running backs were Deuce McAllister and Jamal Lewis. My WR/RB slot was occupied by Travis Henry. Plus, I had backups of DeShaun Foster and a little later, Lee Suggs. So, I am Ok at running back. Meanwhile, you know the troubles I had at QB. So, there is no reason why I should be looking for another running back to take up a roster spot for that extra QB I so desperately needed. Now, unless there is someone who absolutely shouldn't be on the market and the owner just dropped that player because he gave up, then that is an exception (I remember that 2 years ago, I picked up Eddie George in week 17. Other owners, because of higher waiver priorities, got players like Daunte Culpepper and Charlie Garner. That owner just gave up). But, if the players up for the taking are of pretty equal value, look for what you could personally use the most.
So, those are the pointers that I deal out in hopes of helping you take advantage of your league's market. With the players I stated at the start of this column, it should be pretty obvious that the waiver wire is EXTREMELY valuable and if you don't use it properly, you are going to have a very hard time winning a league solely with players you drafted. The next Brian Westbrook could be just a couple clicks away.
My m$oney league last year we had 2 guys working the WW. I used it a couple times, one when Deuce went down and a few other to fill in at TE. I won my league without studying the WW. Now what did help them is that they got a couple keepers from the WW.....Tatum Bell mainly.
"If you're playing a poker game and you look around the table and can't tell who the sucker is.......... it's you."
well i managed to pick up Driver and Pittman off the WW last year in my dynasty league.... they were the 2 of the most consistent and potent guys on my team and took my team from perenial average team (before i came around) into a league finalist.
Joined: 23 May 2004
Yards this season: 0
Home Cafe: Football
Location: Hunting down Terry Donahue and Dennis Erickson
working the WW can make up for a mediocre draft, but it cant usually provide you wiht the studs that every champinchip team needs. I think that the WW can make up for a week middle of the draft, but you still gotta nail your first 3 or 4 picks