Whether a player becomes a difference-maker on the Fantasy waiver wire comes down to a combination of talent and opportunity, and neither is always easy to figure out. The ideal pickup would be a young, early-round draft pick getting an opportunity to start in an offense ideally suited to their style of play, but that kind of player usually only becomes available on waivers maybe once a year if we're looking.
More typically, we're looking at options with a deficiency in at least one area — like Brian Hill a few years ago, who had a clear opportunity with Devonta Freeman injured, but who it has become clear was a backup for a reason. Heading into Week 13, we've got three running backs who should be top targets on waivers, and all three come with questions about either their talent level, their opportunity or both. However, all three have also shown the ability to be potential Fantasy difference-makers down the stretch and will be worth your time this week.
The first is Jonathan Williams, who rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown and added three catches for 17 yards, and he is clearly the team's Marlon Mack replacement — Jordan Wilkins played just one snap. The opportunity, in other words, is clear, as Mack is recovering from a procedure to repair a broken hand. The injury is not expected to be season-ending, but there's no telling when Mack may return at this point. Williams has bounced around a bit but has rushed for 100 yards in consecutive games, and deserves to be the top waiver-wire target in all leagues heading into Week 13.
If Williams isn't out there, you'll probably want to look for Benny Snell this week. Making his return from knee surgery, the rookie rushed for 98 yards on 21 carries Sunday against the Bengals, while adding one catch for 5 yards. Snell was the team's primary option on the ground, as no one else had more than six carries — Jaylen Samuels notably had just two. Samuels will still figure into the passing game, and Kerrith Whyte and Trey Edmunds still combined for eight carries, so it's not like Snell dominated the work Sunday. However, if James Conner's shoulder injury keeps him out yet again in Week 13 — he didn't practice at all this week — Snell has the look of a viable starting option against the Browns.
Opportunity is there for the first two options, for sure. It's less clear whether it is for Rashaad Penny. What shouldn't be in doubt is Penny's talent. The 2018 first-rounder has produced whenever he has had the opportunity -- he carried a carry 4.8 YPC for his career into Sunday's game. Penny got the opportunity Sunday with Chris Carson fumbling on consecutive plays, and unsurprisingly, he was productive, rushing for 129 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown. The question is whether Carson's fumble issues — he has eight in 11 games now — will be enough to cost him playing time. They haven't so far this season, but maybe Sunday was the straw that broke the camel's back. Either way, we know Penny is talented, and we know the Seahawks want to run the ball as much as anyone in the league, so if he ever does get the opportunity, he could be a league-winner. This might not be the start of that yet, but Penny is clearly in a position where he needs to be added in all leagues, just in case.
Here's who else you'll be targeting on waivers going into Week 13:
Early Waiver Targets
ATL Atlanta • #30
Age: 24 • Experience: 3 yrs.
It's not like Ollison was any good Sunday, but there are two things to keep in mind: He was better than Brian Hill, and he got a goal-line touchdown for the second week in a row. The first of those is a low bar to clear, admittedly; Hill ran the ball nine times for 14 yards and added 13 yards on three carries, and he is now averaging 2.4 yards per carry over the past three games without Devonta Freeman. Ollison's line was hardly better, but his goal-line usage at least makes him a bit more intriguing than Hill. Neither is a must-start option, by any means even with Freeman sidelined, but if Freeman remains out in Week 13 and you have to start one of them, Ollison's goal-line role seems to make him the go-to guy.
NYG N.Y. Giants • #86
Age: 24 • Experience: 3 yrs.
After he saw 14 targets in Week 10, it's no surprise Slayton's role shrunk in Week 12 with Sterling Shepard back from his concussion issues. However, he didn't disappear, as Daniel Jones looked his way seven times, and Slayton showed he might still be the team's most dynamic playmaker even with Shepard healthy. He caught four of the seven passes thrown his way for a team-high 67 yards, and he was the only player on the team with multiple targets to average even 5.0 yards per target. Slayton probably won't get No. 1 usage down the stretch, but he's a dynamic playmaker who might prove to be a useful long-term piece.
Sam Darnold QB
CAR Carolina • #14
Age: 23 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Darnold was staring at one of the best Fantasy schedules imaginable, but just a few weeks ago, we were doubting whether he was capable of taking advantage of it. Coming off seven interceptions in two games, he had just 14.5 Fantasy points against the Dolphins in Week 9, and it really looked like it would be tough to trust him five-game stretch of some of the league's worst defenses. However, after a dominant showing against the Raiders on Sunday, he is now averaging 29.8 Fantasy points over his past three, and still gets the Bengals and Dolphins over his next two weeks. You probably won't want to trust Darnold in Weeks 15 (at Baltimore) or 16 (vs. Pittsburgh), but Darnold looks like he can get you there, at least.
PIT Pittsburgh • #13
Age: 25 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Washington made his name as a prospect by racking up big plays with Mason Rudolph's help at Oklahoma State, but Rudolph has been hesitant to pull the trigger on deep balls and inaccurate when he has gone deep so far this season. We'll see if Devlin Hodges can do much better, but he made an impression in relief of Rudolph in Week 12, hitting Washington for a 79-yard touchdown on his third play of the game. That was one of just three catches Washington had in the game. He finished with 98 yards, giving him 16 catches for 306 yards and two touchdowns over the last four games. Washington figures to cede some targets to JuJu Smith-Schuster when he eventually comes back, but if Washington gets more opportunities to make plays down the field, he can still be a viable Fantasy option if Hodges is willing to take those deep shots more often.
Russell Gage WR
ATL Atlanta • #83
Age: 25 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Between the earlier trade of Mohamed Sanu and injuries to Freeman and Austin Hooper, there is obviously room in the high-volume Falcons passing offense for another option to step up, and Gage has seen his role increase in recent weeks. It finally paid off in Week 13, as he caught eight of 10 passes thrown his way for 76 yards, the best game of his young career. Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones obviously soak up a ton of targets, but Gage is worth a look in deeper leagues for the stretch run.