When injuries strike a club, a good personnel department is ready with a strong list of potential reinforcements. And injuries aside, a good team is always looking to strengthen its roster.
Fantasy owners need to have their own ready list of in-season pickups. This will be an easy process for those who make their own draftboards. Some might defer to the pre-draft rankings generated by the various fantasy-sports game managers, but owners who have done their homework likely will prefer their own lists.
Fantasy owners who are thorough in their predraft preparation and attentive once the season begins will more easily identify the in-season pickups that can prove to be the difference between winning and losing. Winning roster management isn’t just a matter of winning a 10-team waiver battle for Cam Newton. It’s the process of adding a sleeper a couple weeks before he takes the starting job, of claiming a veteran wideout who is capable of getting the 10-12 points so desperately needed when stars are on bye.
Here are 20 players who could be useful in-season pickups. All had an average draft position (ADP) of no better than 190 in standard leagues monitored by MockDraftCentral.com as of Tuesday. In short, most could very well go undrafted in 12-team, 16-player leagues (players are listed in alphabetical order):
Rams WR Danny Amendola (ADP: 204.73) — He missed all but one game in 2011 with a broken arm, but two seasons ago, he caught 85 passes for 689 yards and three TDs (on 123 targets). He could be an afterthought in standard leagues, but if he returns to pre-injury form, he could be a decent pickup.
Eagles WR Jason Avant (ADP: undrafted) — He’s a known commodity, and he doesn’t score many touchdowns, but he has caught more than 50 passes in each of the last two seasons.
Rams QB Sam Bradford (ADP: 208.10) — His bandwagon has plenty of good seats available. He's a prime claim-and-stash candidate if he shows any promise early in the season.
Lions WR Nate Burleson (ADP: 207.80) — I prefer Titus Young to Burleson, but Young’s going to go earlier in a lot of drafts. Even if Young’s star rises, Burleson will play quite a bit, and he will be targeted enough to have value in most formats.
Ravens TE Ed Dickson (ADP: 208.99) — Owners in smaller leagues might not bother splitting hairs on the Ravens tight ends, leaving both Dickson and Dennis Pitta undrafted. However, I believe both have upside. Dickson runs well, started all 16 games a season ago and hauled 54 passes for 528 yards and five TDs.
Falcons WR Harry Douglas (ADP: undrafted) — The Falcons’ No. 3 wideout, Douglas set career-highs in catches (39) and yards (498) in 2011, and the Falcons re-signed him in free agency, a positive sign, in my view. Another positive: Douglas averaged 5.95 yards after the catch a season ago, 29th-best among qualifying receivers. Douglas is in his prime, and he’s improving.
Browns WR Josh Gordon (ADP: undrafted) — He could be worth a pickup if he earns a starting job and the Browns’ passing game shows more punch than a season ago. Both scenarios are possible, so monitor his progress.
Packers RB Alex Green (ADP: 190.79) — It’s tough to recommend any of the Packers' backs other than James Starks with a great deal of confidence, but Green could merit an in-season look if he shows he’s close to full strength after missing the 2011 season because of an ACL tear. If Green is drafted — which is quite possible in bigger leagues — then keep an eye on Brandon Saine, especially if he earns a few touches per game.
Browns RB Montario Hardesty (ADP: undrafted) — Trent Richardson could be a first-round pick in many leagues, but the odds of a second Browns back being taken, especially in smaller leagues, are pretty slim. If Hardesty plays well in the summer and emerges as the primary relief option for Richardson, he could be worth a pickup for RB-needy owners — particularly those with Richardson in the fold.
Saints WR Devery Henderson (ADP: 209.37) — Henderson is capable of the occasional big game, but he can be a waiver-wire fixture in smaller leagues as owners tire of waiting for him to produce fireworks. Nevertheless, he’s a starting wideout in an exceptional passing offense. He might deserve a longer look when the Saints are playing non-divisional foes; he hasn’t scored against an NFC South opponent since 2008 (Week One).
49ers RB Kendall Hunter (ADP: 207.26) — I’m surprised Hunter is going this low in drafts. Yes, there is strong competition for carries behind Frank Gore — competition which includes second-round rookie LaMichael James and free-agent signee Brandon Jacobs — but Hunter played fairly well a season ago. If the status quo from 2011 holds, Hunter deserves a roster spot.
Packers WR James Jones (ADP: 207.44) — He’s going to get lost in the shuffle in some leagues, especially as Randall Cobb’s stock continues to rise, but Jones, as a one-week fill-in, has some value, and he would become all the more valuable if injuries strike the Packers’ WR corps. He has caught at least five TDs in each of the last three seasons.
Jaguars TE Marcedes Lewis (ADP: 209.50) — The early reports of his conditioning being an issue won’t help his draft stock, but he did have 10 TD catches two seasons ago, and perhaps he will fare better in a new offense.
Steelers TE Heath Miller (ADP: undrafted) — He surely will be on my short list of in-season pickups should I need a tight end. He’s not flashy, but he’s a very good football player. Targeted 75 times a season ago, Miller caught 51 passes for 631 passes and two TDs.
Ravens TE Dennis Pitta (ADP: undrafted) — The broken bone in his right hand that he suffered early in camp will require surgery and likely will keep him out for the remainder of the preseason. That hurts his draft stock. It also will make him out-of-sight, out-of-mind for many fantasy owners. However, if Pitta returns to full strength, he’s someone to add to your watch lists. He really started to play well as last season progressed.
Steelers WR Emmanuel Sanders (ADP: undrafted) — I would be surprised if Mike Wallace didn’t report at some point, which would push Sanders into a complementary role in the Pittsburgh offense. However, Sanders could be a nice addition if healthy. He has shown promise in his first two seasons, and if you look back to 2010, you will find that QB Ben Roethlisberger looked Sanders' way quite a bit in the second half of the season.
Bengals RB Bernard Scott (ADP: 196.32) — I believe Scott is very much undervalued. He’s no worse than second in line for carries in Cincinnati, and the backs behind him in the pecking order (Brian Leonard, Cedric Peerman, Dan Herron) aren’t real threats to get a lot of touches.
49ers QB Alex Smith (ADP: 206.82) — He has solid talent around him, and he comes off his best season.
Seahawks RB Robert Turbin (ADP: 200.70) — He’s the top backup to the somewhat inconsistent Marshawn Lynch, and executive editor Dan Arkush, who knows the Seahawks' personnel well, is high on him. That’s enough for me.
Patriots RB Danny Woodhead (ADP: undrafted) — He had only 95 touches in 2011, compared to 131 the previous season. What’s more, his yards-per-touch average declined, as he gained just 5.3 yards compared to 7.1 the previous season. These numbers, coupled with the presence of second-year backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, make Woodhead someone who’s tough to draft in all but the latest of rounds. But as an in-season pickup, Woodhead holds some appeal. He has a role in the offense, and he will get a handful of touches per game.