We are fully into the back half of the fantasy regular season. And, boy, are we dealing with it.
Week 8 was “The Monkey’s Paw” special. With no teams on a bye, managers theoretically had their entire rosters available to them. Yet in a cruel twist of fate, the fantasy deities took several quarterbacks from us. The dastardliest was Kirk Cousins going down with a season-ending Achilles tear.
- NFL Fantasy 2023 Start 'Em, Sit 'Em: Quarterbacks for Week 9
- NFL Fantasy 2023 Start 'Em, Sit 'Em: Running backs for Week 9
- NFL Fantasy 2023 Start 'Em, Sit 'Em: Wide receivers for Week 9
- NFL Fantasy 2023 Start 'Em, Sit 'Em: Tight ends for Week 9
- NFL Fantasy 2023 Start 'Em, Sit 'Em: Kickers for Week 9
- NFL Fantasy 2023 Start 'Em, Sit 'Em: Defenses for Week 9
Now we collectively limp into Week 9, trying to find help at a quarterback position that is decidedly shallower than we imagined at the start of year. And that’s to say nothing of the other positions across the fantasy game. Only managers with the deftest touch — and some good fortune — have come through this unscathed.
For the rest of us, there’s the sleepers column. We’re back in the lab trying to figure out who could persevere beyond the matchups and help you get a win. But enough chitchat. Here are some names.
Consistency has not been the name of the game when it comes to Mac Jones. Not this year. Not any year. He put together a solid game against the Bills in Week 7. He flopped against the Dolphins in Week 8. But if there was a silver lining, it’s that Jones threw two touchdowns. It was the first time all season that he accounted for multiple scores in consecutive games. That’s progress!
Now he has a good matchup with which to take another step forward. The Commanders have been one of the most QB-friendly defenses all season long. Six different times, a quarterback has put up at least 275 yards and multiple touchdowns against Washington’s defense. Jones’ ceiling isn’t as high as that of Jalen Hurts, who threw for 319 yards and four TDs in Week 8, but he should be good enough to warrant a start as a high-end QB2.
Derek Carr has been trending toward a good fantasy game for a few weeks now. His 310 yards in Week 8 marked the third straight game in which the veteran was over 300 passing yards. He threw two touchdowns for just the second time this season, and he topped 18 fantasy points for the first time in 2023. While we’re still waiting for Carr to connect with Chris Olave in a serious way, he’s at least finding other pass catchers in the offense.
This week, Carr and the Saints host a Bears defense that seems to believe three is a magic number. Four signal-callers have tossed three touchdowns in a game against Chicago. Justin Herbert was the most recent, with 298 yards and a trio of scoring strikes in Week 8. If there’s a chance for Carr to top last week’s season-high in fantasy points, it could be this week. He should be thought of as a low-end QB1.
Don’t look now, but Dak Prescott is heating up. He had nearly 25 fantasy points in his Week 6 game against the Chargers. Then he came out of the bye and posted 28 points against the Rams. Dallas’ passing game is finally clicking and Prescott’s play is at the center of the progression.
But can he do it against a team that isn’t from Los Angeles? We’ll find out for sure this week. The Eagles have been a surprisingly soft target all season for opposing quarterbacks. Philly has allowed multiple TD passes on four occasions. Kirk Cousins (four TDs in Week 2) is one thing. Sam Howell (4) and Mac Jones (3) are something else. If Dak’s hot streak is the real deal, he has strong QB1 vibes this week.
To absolutely no one’s surprise, Jonathan Taylor’s workload in the Colts offense is growing. What might surprise you is that Zack Moss is still the RB4 overall. Then again, that’s what happens when you average better than 21 points in your first four games. Over his last four games, Moss is still a top five running back, averaging 96.5 scrimmage yards per game with 10 receptions and four total touchdowns. His role is locked in.
So maybe he’s not a traditional sleeper. Consider this a gentle reminder not to forget about him — especially this week against the Panthers. Carolina has allowed over 100 rushing yards in every game. It has allowed multiple rushing scores in every game except one. The Colts’ offense has been run heavy for the past month. Look for Taylor and Moss to rumble over the Cats. Moss is a strong flex option in most formats.
One thing we know about Sean McVay is that he prefers to use just one running back … at least we thought we knew that about McVay. It was the case earlier this year when Kyren Williams was taking fantasy by storm. We thought it would be the case with Darrell Henderson after he had a week to ramp up. Instead, he played fewer snaps than Royce Freeman in Week 8. In fairness, the Rams were getting blown out by the Cowboys and Freeman played more than half of his snaps in the fourth quarter with Los Angeles in catch-up mode. So, Henderson still looks like the lead back in LA.
That’s good news for Week 9’s contest against the Packers. The run defense is among the many things going wrong in Green Bay this year. The Pack have the NFL’s 22nd-ranked run defense and allow more than 130 rushing yards per game. With McVay’s offense potentially turning to a backup quarterback this week, there could be a heavier reliance on the run game. Henderson is a low-end RB2 in many formats.
The Browns backfield has become the thing we hate most in fantasy football: the three-man committee. We could handle a Kareem Hunt-Jerome Ford pairing or even a Hunt-Pierre Strong duet. But last week, all three backs saw an equal share of carries. That’s no bueno for fantasy.
But there is a shining light. Hunt is getting nearly all of the work inside the five-yard line. If all three backs are going to get a similar number of carries, give me the guy who is getting the high-value touches near the goal line. I’ll especially take that against a Cardinals defense that has allowed eight rushing touchdowns, including three last week against the Ravens. Hunt is a solid RB2 candidate this week.
It looks like the Cowboys’ offense might be coming to life — just in time for fantasy managers looking to make a move in the standings. No surprise that CeeDee Lamb is doing big things. But that production is also trickling down to the secondary target options, including Brandin Cooks.
It feels like Cooks is on a target quota. He’s had exactly four targets in five of six games this season. But in the past two weeks, he’s done more with them. His 85 combined receiving yards in those games won’t wow you. However, Cooks finding the end zone in both of those contests is much more interesting. It’s especially interesting when he’s set to take on an Eagles secondary that has allowed the second-most touchdowns to wideouts this year. The floor is low on the veteran, but he has flex appeal in many leagues this week.
DEEP SLEEPER …
There was optimism that Elijah Moore was in line for a breakout season. After an unsuccessful stint with the Jets, it appeared he would find a new life in Cleveland. That assumption was based on the belief that he’d have better quarterback play with Deshaun Watson. That assumption was wrong. Watson hasn’t been on the field much this year. When he has played, he’s been mostly bad.
Nonetheless, Moore is working himself into a decent role in the Cleveland passing game. He’s consistently on the field and has the second-most targets on the roster. This week, Moore and the Browns host a Cardinals defense that has struggled against wide receivers lately. In the last four weeks, the Redbirds have allowed the third-most fantasy points to the position. Notably, Arizona has been torched by receivers in the slot — which is where Moore has done a lot of work this season. The ceiling isn’t particularly high, but with four teams on a bye, Moore could find his way into a few flex spots in fantasy lineups.
Gerald Everett was a bit of a surprise inactive last week. The Chargers tight end missed the Week 8 contest against the Bears with a hip injury despite being a full participant in practice the previous Friday. That left the door open for Donald Parham to play a role in the Bolts’ win. Early in the season, Parham was a thorn in the side of Everett managers with his penchant for scoring touchdowns. Last Sunday, he took on a bigger role with season-highs in targets, receptions, and yards. And, yes, he also scored a touchdown.
While we wait to see Everett’s status for this week, Parham’s usage near the goal line makes him an intriguing fantasy option. He isn’t always on the field, but when he is, there’s a decent chance a target is coming his way. Those odds increase when the Bolts are near the end zone. Combine that with a Jets defense that’s allowed the most receiving touchdowns to tight ends this year and there’s reason to throw a dart in Parham’s direction. He’s a TE2 with the chance to be a low-end TE1 if he can find the painted area in Week 9.
Count Cade Otton among the myriad tight ends who need to score a touchdown to be fantasy relevant. That’s the bad news. The good news is that he has a lot of the underlying factors to make touchdown-scoring a possibility. He runs a route on 85 percent of Tampa’s passing plays. While his 12 percent rate of targets per route run is less than desired, it could be worse. His low average depth of target (5.6 air yards) could work in his favor in an offense that has started using the short pass as an extension of a struggling run game.
All those things could come into play this week against the Houston Texans. The Texans are middle-of-the-road overall against passing offenses, yet they’ve been bad against tight ends. DeMeco Ryans’ defense has allowed the third-most receptions and fantasy points per game to the position. Some of the better tight ends in the NFL have had some of their best games versus Houston while other lesser-known players have found the end zone. Otton’s touchdown upside is higher this week and gives him TE2 vibes.
The biggest upset in the NFL in Week 8 wasn’t the Broncos taking down the Chiefs. It was Sam Howell being sacked just once by the vaunted Eagles defensive line. It was the first time in Howell’s career that he was sacked fewer than three times in a ball game. Color me skeptical, however, that the Commanders have fixed their protection issues. Or that Howell has somehow stopped holding the ball while waiting for the big play.
For that reason, I’m willing to take a chance on the Patriots’ defense this week. New England hasn’t gotten to the quarterback very often lately — it has just 15 sacks all season. But it’s also faced Tua Tagovailoa and Josh Allen in back-to-back games. Tua gets the ball out quickly while Allen is mobile and strong enough to escape trouble. Howell isn’t enough of either of those things. The Pats are a good streaming option in Week 9.
Two weeks ago, Tyson Bagent was one of the top stories in the NFL. The undrafted rookie came from seemingly nowhere to lead the Bears to a big win over the Raiders. The second week of the story was a little more predictable. With a full game’s worth of tape on Bagent, the Chargers shut him and the Bears’ offense down en route to a win.
In his third start, Bagent will face his toughest test yet. The Saints have allowed the eighth-fewest passing yards in the NFL while being tied for the fourth-most interceptions. With even more film to study, expect defensive coordinator Joe Woods to bring even more heat in the face of the rookie. Unexpected fairy tales rarely have happy endings in the NFL. That reality makes the Saints’ defense a solid Week 9 start.
_Marcas Grant is a fantasy analyst for NFL.com and a man who is already trying to unload Halloween candy. Send him your dietary landmine issues or fantasy football questions on Twitter @MarcasG or TikTok at marcasgrant. _
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