Searching for the next big fantasy stud

It’s getting to that point, that point in the season every year where one or two unknowns become available on the waiver wire, a team picks them up, and the player just explodes. So much so that his production carries you to a fantasy title. Without fail, it happens all the time. A team is 4-3 or 3-4, and they pick up one of these guys and suddenly they’re unbeatable. They win their last six games and roll through the playoffs. Call it the Patrick Jeffers/Drew Bennett/Billy Volek/Ryan Grant/Miles Austin Effect. And owners are hoisting up shots in their honor New Year’s week. Don’t be lazy. You have to continue to tinker with your roster all the way through the season. Take chances. Get rid of the bottom of your bench. No one’s roster is that loaded.

So who are they? Who are the best candidates right now to be THAT GUY for you? You have to have one thing to be on this list: opportunity. You have to be able to get on the field and be in a situation in which your talent can keep you on it. Believe it or not, there are a few candidates you can go get right now, and they fall into three categories.

HE’S PROBABLY GONE, BUT YOU NEVER KNOW

Believe it or not, DeMarco Murray was available in almost 70 percent of all NFL.com leagues before Sunday. If you picked him up, pat yourself on the back. If he’s still there? Reach through the computer screen to grab a hold of his name. OK, figuratively. But get him directly. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. He plays for a high-powered offense and can keep producing without too much difficulty. If you have talent as a RB, you can make it in the league pretty easily. Murray has shown us that. Felix Jones won’t be healthy for a while, and even when he is, he’ll be backing up Murray. Jones falls under the heading of “how bad is Felix when Murray goes for 250 and Felix has a better pedigree and he had trouble running for 50?” We know a lot about Jones now. Murray is so big he has this category all to himself.

THE MUST-GETS

Jackie Battle. He’s still available in almost 60 percent of leagues on NFL.com. He’s the number one RB there. There’s no one else available who can be that bell cow runner. Battle followed up his 100-yard performance two weeks ago with 76 yards on 16 carries against the Raiders on Sunday. Thomas Jones had just nine rushes for 19 yards. He’ll be phased out of the offense. Dexter McCluster is a novelty, who will get some reverses and gadget plays. Battle is a classic RB, who can, in the words of John Facenda, “combine the buck of a billy goat with the sudden surge of a sprinter.” He can be a weekly threat for 100 yards and a TD. (Remember, waterbugs and whippet backs rarely survive the wail and howl of the banshee. Facenda again.)

Demaryius Thomas. Remember, the Broncos drafted him in the first round to be their next star WR. Then he got hurt and is just now getting back on track to be the player they thought he’d become. Every QB who takes over a team mid-season has their favorite WR. Sometimes it’s the de facto No. 1, sometimes it’s someone else. Sorry, Eric Decker. Hey, it’s painful for me too because I have Decker on two of my teams. So far, it looks like Thomas is Tim Tebow’s No. 1. Ten targets in Tebow’s first start against Miami included a TD. Be ahead of the curve on him. He has that game-breaking potential.

THE LAYAWAYS

Christian Ponder. He really showed me something in his debut against Green Bay. No, he didn’t complete many passes, but he was still a fantasy stud with 20 points. He threw the ball well deep, with eight completions of over 12 yards. He can get out of the pocket and make plays with his legs. The Vikings will play a lot of street ball which plays into the strengths of Visanthe Shiancoe and Percy Harvin. Clearly, Minnesota will let him throw a bunch, as it’s a lost season and they want him to develop. He could go for 20-plus points a week because of that. Pick up Ponder, and in a couple of weeks if he’s for real he’ll let you flip your star QB in a trade that can help you shore up a different position on your team.

Roy Helu. With Tim Hightower’s injury, it’s now a two-man backfield with Ryan Torain. Torain has underwhelmed since his 135-yard game three weeks ago. Helu will stay on the field on third downs, and Mike Shanahan has no patience for no production out of the backfield. Sure, Shanahan’s a fantasy nightmare, but you can tell he likes the kid out of Nebraska. He’s not the immediate impact player Battle and Thomas are, but grab him now, stash him on your bench, and wait. I’m crossing my fingers hoping I can get him this week, and he passes through the first few waiver spots unclaimed.

See Jason Smith on NFL Fantasy Live, airing Sundays at 11:30 a.m. ET on the Red Zone Channel, and Tuesday-Friday on NFL Network at 2 p.m. ET and 12 a.m. ET/9 p.m. PT. He writes fantasy and other NFL pith on NFL.com daily.  Talk to him on Twitter @howaboutafresca. He only asks you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.

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