- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
It's a bit tough to recommend the likes of Ricky Stanzi, Curtis Brinkley and Braylon Edwards as meaningful fantasy options in the championship round, so one might think we're past the stage of sneaky pickups for this season. No, the Friday weekly blog entry lives on because who said anything about the pickups being only for 2012? For those of you in keeper leagues, whether your team is playing for the championship this week or potentially next, the waiver wire is always your friend. I'm in a keeper league in which we protect six players, and I just finished combing the waiver wire -- fantasy leagues first, work second but just this time! -- to see what was available.
For this week's batch of sneaky pickups, let's look ahead -- way ahead -- to next season, because a year ago during Christmas week it would have seemed folly but actually made sense to stash away for potential protection the likes of Josh Freeman, C.J. Spiller and Reggie Wayne. Here is a potential lineup of keepers for deeper formats with all of the options available in more than half of ESPN's standard leagues. And yes, prepare yourself, because a certain underused New York Jets quarterback is going to be mentioned soon. Call it habit.
Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks: Wilson is tied for 16th overall in standard scoring for the season, and considerably better for the past two months, but remains owned in merely 31.3 percent of leagues. Hey, those in the fantasy playoffs apparently have their quarterbacks. Add him anyway. Keep him away from your opponent or just keep him away from anyone else that might potentially keep him for 2013. It's possible Wilson has a Freeman-like regression to 2011 stats but this really appears a safe player.
Other QBs: Sam Bradford has weapons, and a bright future. Watch him go off in Tampa Bay this week, too. ... I'd take Ryan Tannehill over Brandon Weeden long term, and remember, the latter is nearing 30 years old. ... Kirk Cousins is a backup today, but perhaps the Washington Redskins trade him somewhere he can start. ... With Russell's backup Matt Flynn, expect he'll be elsewhere. ... And then there are the Jets: The case can be made for all three of their quarterbacks, in theory. A year ago Tebow was top-10 statistically when he played, a weekly double-digit fantasy performer. Let's assume he ends up on a team that will use him properly. Mark Sanchez had an awful season, but he actually finished as the No. 10 quarterback in 2011. Perhaps a new start is all he needs. And then there's Greg McElroy. OK, so it's tough to make much of a case for him when the Jets will sign Michael Vick. Or will they?
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Call this a lost season for a fellow that averaged nearly 1,300 yards from scrimmage and scored 30 touchdowns from 2009 to 2011. He tore his ACL a week after Adrian Peterson did, and Mendenhall's slow recovery is the more likely path from the injury. Still, even if the Steelers have soured on Mendenhall, which I'm skeptical will result in a new home, someone will want him in 2013. He's 25 and proven. Stash him away now and perhaps the guy who would replace him, Jonathan Dwyer. In most fantasy leagues, the waiver wire shuts down when the last regular game ends, so make sure your bench has interesting names -- running backs who could see opportunity, mostly -- just in case.
Daryl Richardson, RB, St. Louis Rams: It's no secret that Steven Jackson expects to play elsewhere in 2013, giving opportunity to Richardson and fellow rookie Isaiah Pead. The Rams aren't likely to sign a high-priced veteran. While Pead was expected to be next in line back in August, Richardson has outscored him in fantasy points, 49 to 1. It's no guarantee of future trust, but this is a team and situation on the rise.
Other RBs: Atlanta Falcons old man Michael Turner performs as if he's near the end, but it's hard to tell if Jacquizz Rodgers will get 200 touches in 2013. Add him just in case, but if the Falcons move on from Turner, I'd expect them to add a productive veteran like a Steven Jackson. ... Willis McGahee is already on the other side of 30 years old, and Knowshon Moreno has fallen out of favor before. Ronnie Hillman would be next. ... I like the way LaMichael James plays, and if you own Frank Gore in a deep league, the case can be made to keep both. ... The Titans say Chris Johnson is staying put. Well, they say that today. It doesn't look like the next Titans star RB is in place, but add Javon Ringer or Jamie Harper if you like. ... I like Beanie Wells so much (sarcasm) that I'd add Ryan Williams just in case, just like this time last season. ... Jahvid Best? Man, he'd work well in combo with Mikel Leshoure. Dare to dream.
Vincent Brown, WR, San Diego Chargers: Many of us waited months for this guy this season, but there's a reason. He's talented. One would assume he'll be healthy by summer, working alongside Danario Alexander. Wow.
Jon Baldwin, WR, Kansas City Chiefs: Yeah, I just won't give up touting this guy until I see the team commit to him and get him a quarterback. You know what they say about those third-year wide receivers, and it's not that most stunk their first two years, even if it's true.
Other WRs: More Rams, as I've been adding Brandon Gibson and Chris Givens this year, but watch out in 2013. ... Same goes for Kendall Wright in Tennessee. Emerging talent there. ... When the Jets' Vick throws downfield next year, Stephen Hill will be open! ... In New Orleans, Joe Morgan could be the next Torrey Smith. Nine catches, 371 yards, three scores this year! Devery Henderson can't do that. ... In Cleveland, keep an eye on Travis Benjamin. He's raw but crazy fast.
Good luck to all in Week 16 and Happy Holidays!
Eric Karabell outlines his sneaky pickups not just for Week 16, but also 2013, including Rams Sam Bradford, Daryl Richardson and Chris Givens.