We're nearing the halfway point of the year. The tight end position (perhaps predictably) has been extremely thin, while there have been a handful of players who have become consistent fantasy contributors despite flying completely under the radar during the preseason.
I've whiffed on a few of these pickups, and others have paid off in a big way. Let's see what we can do this week. (All stats via standard ESPN PPR leagues)
1. Benjamin Watson, TE, New England Patriots (Available in 98% of ESPN Leagues)
The Patriots have brought back Watson after choosing to release him following the conclusion of his four-game PED suspension that kept him out to start the year. Will Dissly, one of this year's pleasant surprises at TE, is out for the year, eliminating one more legitimate option. Watson's situation indicates he'll be in line for immediate playing time and production.
New England clearly isn't happy with their tight ends right now. Tom Brady doesn't have any non-running backs to throw to when Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon are hurting/struggling to get open. It seems likely Watson steps in, plays a good amount of snaps, and gets a handful of targets to give your fantasy team a small boost.
2. Jamaal Williams, RB, Green Bay Packers (Available in 75% of ESPN Leagues)
The referees stole the show last night, but don't overlook Williams' stock rising while Aaron Jones falls the other way. Williams showed he's tough enough to run between the tackles and has the hands to be relied upon in the passing game. He ended last night with 14 carries for 104 yards and four catches for 32 yards with a touchdown, good for 23.6 fantasy points.
Williams will continue to split snaps with Jones, and how many points he racks up will be matchup-dependent. But Williams looks like he's earned the trust of the coaching staff and (more importantly) Aaron Rodgers, which is all that really matters up in Green Bay.
3. Matt Prater, K, Detroit Lions (Available in 74% of ESPN Leagues)
For the first time, a kicker has appeared in this weekly series! Prater had a ridiculous day in Green Bay that, similar to Williams, was a performance overshadowed by what happened at the end of the game. He racked up 21 fantasy points on a perfect field goal percentage, with a pair of 50-yarders to boot.
Prater has clearly hit his stride, but most importantly, the Lions struggled mightily in the red zone, a problem that won't fix itself overnight, and will likely continue this week against a stingy Vikings defense. Prater should see another heavy dose of 30-to-50-yard attempts, and this time it's in a dome rather than the wild lands of Lambeau. He might give you that incremental boost you need to get over the top.
4. Jaron Brown, WR, Seattle Seahawks (Available in 99% of ESPN Leagues)
Brown played a big part in helping Seattle surmount a two-touchdown deficit in Cleveland, and caught three passes for two touchdowns and a total of 16.4 fantasy points. Not a lot of PPR value there, but when he's scoring, that doesn't matter too much.
The main reason to believe in Brown's fantasy upside is Russell Wilson's lack of red zone targets now that Will Dissly is out for the year. At 6'3", 205 pounds, he's bigger than Tyler Lockett and has a bit more experience than D.K. Metcalf, and seems likely to receive a larger chunk of targets down at the goal line. A bit of a long-shot, for sure, but his best days could yet be on the way.
5. Allen Lazar, WR, Green Bay Packers (Available in 99% of ESPN Leagues)
If you walked into work this morning and claimed you knew who Allen Lazar was before last night, you're either a liar or a diehard Packers fan. For the rest of us, Lazar represents an intriguing fantasy option for the next few weeks. Despite a few mistakes, Rodgers kept going back to the young wideout, and he delivered with four catches for 65 yards and a touchdown, a total of 14.5 fantasy points.
Similar to Brown above, the main reason to believe in his upside is the lack of other options for Rodgers. Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison are both banged up, while Marques Valdez-Scantling left the game for a brief period with an injury before ultimately returning. Jimmy Graham isn't the target he once was, and Green Bay can't always get the run game going. Rodgers has to throw to someone, and that someone just might be Lazar until everyone else is healthy-- and who knows when that will be?