Fantasy football waiver wire for NFL Week 16


Each week of the NFL season, we will identify fantasy football waiver-wire pickups specifically for those of you looking for streaming options in deeper formats (including IDP leagues). These are players available in a majority of ESPN Fantasy leagues (or close) who have enticing matchups in the week ahead that make them worthy of consideration for your lineup.

While you might notice some overlap with Field Yates’ pickup column that publishes on Mondays, an important distinction is that the options mentioned in this column are focused solely on this week’s matchup and not the players’ values for the remainder of the season.

Do you need replacement options for injured players? Or are you looking to block your championship game opponent from picking up a player who might help beat you? A roundtable of fantasy analysts join me to identify some choice names to consider.

Here are some of our favorites for Week 16:


Marcus Mariota, Las Vegas Raiders (0.3% rostered; vs. Dolphins)

As ESPN’s Mina Kimes quipped on Twitter last Thursday during Mariota’s dazzling playmaking in place of an injured Derek Carr, all of Hawaii’s televisions will be tuned into this matchup of native sons Mariota and Tua Tagovailoa in Week 16. With Carr dealing with a groin injury, Mariota will get the nod behind center as he looks to build on that brilliant showing against the Chargers. Coming on in relief of Carr just a few minutes into the second quarter, Mariota was able to rally the Raiders and tally 226 yards and a score via the air and, most valuable for fantasy purposes, he compiled 88 rushing yards and a touchdown. The rushing performance marked the most yards on the ground by a Raiders quarterback since Terrelle Pryor in 2013 and signals just how high Mariota’s ceiling proves against a Miami defense allowing 120 rushing yards per game. -Jim McCormick

Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns (35.1% rostered; at Jets)

You tell me who I’m describing: former No. 1 overall pick, great in commercials and has Aries as his Zodiac sign. Not sure? It’s Peyton Manning. It’s also Baker Mayfield. “OK, that was cute. Now give me the numbers that I am here for,” you say? Can do. Of those two, you tell me which stat line belongs to each one of them:

Stumped, aren’t you? Player A is Mayfield’s past four games and Player B is Manning’s record-setting 2013 campaign. Mayfield is rolling right now, and given that the Jets have been publicly shamed for winning last week, it seems more likely than not that we get the pushover defense that we saw the first 14 weeks of 2020. As uncomfortable as it may feel, Baker is in the top-10 conversation this weekend.-Kyle Soppe, ESPN Fantasy researcher

Running back

Salvon Ahmed, Miami Dolphins (33.1% rostered; at Raiders)

It’s time to look to Miami’s backfield for some help, as Ahmed has thrived in his opportunities as the team’s featured backfield force this season. Now, this endorsement is contingent on Myles Gaskin‘s status, as Gaskin becomes the most valuable option on the team if he can return to action. Ahmed has averaged a solid 16.7 fantasy points in the three contests he has earned at least 10 touches this season for the Fins. He enters Week 16 with a great bandwidth of floor and ceiling given the Raiders have allowed 4.6 yards per carry and a league-high 23 rushing scores to opponents. -J.M.

Lynn Bowden, Miami Dolphins (23.5% rostered; at Raiders)

Sticking with the Dolphins, this collegiate tailback and NFL playmaker has worked out of the slot for Miami in recent weeks and has posted at least 9.2 fantasy points in ESPN PPR scoring in three straight games. The Raiders have allowed nearly 40 fantasy points per game to opposing receiving corps, and Bowden has secured a steady snap and route rate in Miami’s offense. -J.M.

Ito Smith, Atlanta Falcons (3.2% rostered; at Chiefs)

The Falcons announced Monday what fantasy managers have been crying from the rooftops for weeks now: Todd Gurley ain’t it. Let me be clear … my expectations for Smith are awfully limited. But good luck finding any sort of volume on the wire at this point in the season, and given that Smith (11.3 touches per game over his past four) now has officially been given the title of lead back, he offers enough of a touch floor to justify rostering, even if it’s just to sap the running back depth for your opponents. -K.S.

Wide receiver

Russell Gage, Atlanta Falcons (31.1% rostered; at Chiefs)

The Falcons enter the week as a 10-point underdog with a hobbled No. 1 receiver and no real running game to speak of, so yeah, if you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, a player seeing 8.4 targets since the Week 10 bye is worth a look. Gage has produced more than 13 PPR points in three straight games and makes for a nice plug-and-play option if you lack stability in deeper formats. -K.S.

Rashard Higgins, Cleveland Browns (26.4% rostered; at Jets)

Higgins has consumed 22.4% of the Browns’ total targets since Week 13 — a rate just shy of teammate Jarvis Landry‘s — and has benefited greatly from both an uptick in usage and the rise of Mayfield. Averaging a healthy 13.3 air yards per target during this stretch has fueled 14.9 yards per reception. With Mayfield peaking, Higgins is positioned to provide another solid fantasy result in a matchup with a Jets defense allowing the seventh-most fantasy points to receivers. -J.M.

Tight end

Jordan Akins, Houston Texans (5.0% rostered; vs. Bengals)

Given the lack of production after the top two tiers at the position, any tight end getting work is worth a look and Akins checks that box, as he is one of just six tight ends with at least six targets in each of the past two weeks. The Bengals are not only on a short week with no motivation, but they are a bottom-five defense in terms of opponent end zone completion percentage. Since the TE position is effectively chasing a touchdown anyway, why not target a bad defense and a player at least getting chances to produce? The floor is low here, but I’d argue it’s not that much lower than anyone ranked outside the top six at the position this week. -K.S.

Defense/special teams (D/ST)

Arizona Cardinals (39.7% rostered; vs. 49ers)

With 14 sacks and a series of splash plays on defense and special teams the past two weeks, Arizona’s D/ST enters this matchup against the rival 49ers with considerable momentum. The 49ers have surrendered a sack on 6% of dropbacks and pressure on 29% of dropbacks, both rates proving higher than league average. Positioned as home favorites, Arizona makes for a worthy streaming option. -J.M.

Individual defensive players (IDP)

Defensive line

Olivier Vernon, Cleveland Browns (6.0% rostered; at Jets)

The Jets have allowed pressure in the pocket on a league-high 37.2% of dropbacks this season. Vernon, meanwhile, plays a high snap rate and has multiple sacks in three of his past seven games. -J.M.


David Long, Tennessee Titans (1.6% rostered; at Packers)

A recent surge in opportunity rates has seen Long thrive in consecutive starts, with the second-year linebacker delivering a career-high 12 tackles against Detroit last week. -J.M.

Defensive back

Trevon Diggs, Dallas Cowboys (6.7% rostered; vs. Eagles)

Back from injured reserve this past week, Diggs reclaimed a busy role on the outside of the Cowboys’ secondary. Averaging a rich 15.25 fantasy points in his past three games (using ESPN’s IDP scoring key), Diggs is in a strong position facing a revived Eagles offense. -J.M.


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