Fantasy football: Check waivers for hidden gems — You never know who’s out there

When I went to set my lineup a few days ago in an ESPN league, I noticed “99.3” beside Joe Flacco’s name. How is it possible that there are leagues out there in which Joe Flacco was not drafted?

Even if they’re eight-team leagues, that means there are probably at least 16 quarterbacks scattered across the league rosters, and Flacco didn’t make the cut.

Even if you’re not as high on Flacco as I am, I dare you to name 16 better fantasy quarterbacks. Heck, I dare you to name 10 (foreshadowing).

The fact that a potential every-week starting QB is available in some league somewhere is a reminder that you should always keep your eyes on the waiver wire. You never know who’s out there.

In the aformentioned league, a 12-teamer, I went searching for running back depth after Week 2. Inexplicably, Dolphins running back Daniel Thomas was available, despite being on a roster in 92.7 percent of all ESPN leagues. No other available running back was even at 1 percent. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one to notice and I lost out on the waiver claim. That’s what I get for winning.

Now there’s the inexplicable, and then there’s the forgotten. When it was clear last year that Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson’s holdout was going to drag on well into the season and he would miss at least the first 10 games, most owners who drafted him cut ties. That was the case in a league in which Philip Rivers was my quarterback. I had the space on my roster to stash a player, so before Jackson’s return, I claimed him with no competition.

He was dead weight for a month, but in Week 16 — the league semifinals — he caught three touchdowns on a Thursday night. The Rivers-to-Jackson connection gave me a six-TD cushion heading in to Sunday, and I needed all of it after Michael Vick went wild in the second half against the Giants. Without picking up Jackson, my season would have ended a week early.

I lost in the championship game, but that wasn’t the case the previous time I stole someone off waivers.

In 2008, a couple of days after a four-TD game by Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams, I happened to be scrolling through available free agents in the same league and I came upon his name. Even though Williams was to that point an underachieving first-round draft pick, I was stunned to see him available. It was an eight-team league, which meant rosters were fairly stacked and waiver activity is limited. But four-TD games usually don’t go unnoticed. I put in a claim. You never know, right? When Friday rolled around, I checked my updated roster and there he was.

I paired him with Adrian Peterson most weeks the rest of the way (I also had rookies Matt Forte and Chris Johnson), then came championship week. The Panthers were facing the Giants and I waffled on whether to start him. Ultimately, I did, hoping I wouldn’t regret it. To say I didn’t would be an understatement. He scored four TDs for the second time, and despite starting in a 50-point hole (I was on the wrong side of the Thursday night game this time), I won the game and the league title by seven points.

So as the season progresses, don’t forget about the players no one wants. Sometimes they turn out to be the ones you really need.

Go with Joe

• I told you Flacco was a Top 10 guy. After stumbling against the Titans, the Ravens quarterback more than redeemed himself last week with three touchdowns (all to former Terp Torrey Smith) in the first half of a rout against the Rams. That’s two three-TD games in three weeks. He only reached that number five times in his first three seasons.

• On a related note, if Smith isn’t picked up right away in your league, keep an eye on him. It’s unlikely he’ll have another three-TD game, but with Lee Evans unable to stay healthy, the rookie should get plenty of chances to play his way into a full-time starting gig.

Reality check

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