We are at the halfway point of the NFL regular season, and fantasy owners are sizing up their division standings. Can they make one final push to make the postseason? Are there any players out there capable of helping?
Here’s the good news: For owners in need of a free agent that might assist their club, Sunday saw a number of players get banged up. Here’s the bad news: Owners of those injured are potentially down a player and perhaps need to find a replacement.
Let’s make the rounds to check in on the status of those hurt Sunday.
Devontae Booker, RB, Broncos: Booker’s injury turned out to be a false alarm. With Denver losing C.J. Anderson (meniscus) for the season, Booker’s value skyrocketed, going from being owned in 32 percent of ESPN leagues to nearly 89 percent following Anderson’s injury in Week 7. Booker started but departed quickly with an apparent shoulder injury. While the Broncos listed him as questionable, Booker returned to the game after a brief absence. By default, Booker will get a chance to thrive in Gary Kubiak’s system, the same one that vaulted Justin Forsett’s fantasy status in 2014.
Will Fuller, WR, Texans: Fuller was a bright surprise during the first couple weeks of the season, but even playing opposite DeAndre Hopkins, who also is underachieving, Fuller has slowed considerably and has been hampered by injuries, the latest a leg injury that forced him to leave Sunday’s contest against the Lions.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts: Hilton entered Sunday banged up, and he left in the first quarter with a hamstring injury. While he did return, he was limited and held to 20 yards receiving on the day. Hilton owners probably can’t afford to sit him if he’s active in Week 9, but if the Indianapolis wideout is on light duty all week, benching him is only an option if you truly have a capable fill-in. Also know that Donte Moncrief returned from injury and finished with 41 yards and a touchdown on nine targets.
DeSean Jackson, WR, Redskins: Jackson left the game to be evaluated for a concussion and didn’t return. Washington has a bye week in Week 9, so while there’s probably no fear of Jackson missing time, owners may want to consider his production — 27 catches and one touchdown for the season — moving forward. (See more about Jackson’s declining value below).
Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Buccaneers: This is a brutal one for Rodgers owners. For the third straight week Rodgers was delivering crucial numbers to his owners. However, late in the overtime loss to the Raiders, Rodgers limped off the field with an apparent foot injury that kept him from returning to the game. Rodgers began the season as Tampa Bay’s No. 3 tailback; to find a fourth RB that will give the team the same production will be difficult.
Alex Smith, QB, Chiefs: The Kansas City quarterback suffered a number of hard hits and collisions, forcing him to be evaluated for a concussion twice. On his second such examination, he was ruled out with a concussion. Nick Foles replaced him and would handle things in the event Smith’s injury forces him to miss time.
Spencer Ware, RB, Chiefs: Ware suffered a concussion and left the game Sunday; he did not return. Charcandrick West, owned in 4.6 percent of ESPN leagues, inherits at least a part-time role in the event Jamaal Charles and Ware are not able to suit up for the Chiefs.
Tom Brady’s “worst” week since returning from the Deflategate suspension produced 222 yards and two touchdowns. After Sunday’s 315-yard, four-TD effort, he now has 12 touchdowns to zero interceptions on the season. Brady normally would have been the leader in the group, but he was beaten out by Derek Carr, who had an epic day with 513 yards and four touchdowns, and Aaron Rodgers, who seems to be bouncing back from a sluggish stretch.
That threesome was followed by Blake Bortles, Matt Ryan, Carson Palmer, Kirk Cousins, Josh McCown, Marcus Mariota, Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston and Drew Brees to complete the Week 8 leader board.
Who needs an arm? Maybe it’s a bye week. Maybe you can’t make heads or tails about playing Bortles in your lineup, but if you’re in need of a quarterback or perhaps your current QB has a bad matchup in the weeks ahead, then it’s always worth considering adding another arm to the mix. Let’s start with McCown, who took over for the injured Robert Griffin III in Week 2 for the Browns. McCown would throw for 260 yards and two TDs in his season debut, but suffered a shoulder injury. He missed several weeks while Cleveland continued to play musical chairs at the quarterback position. McCown returned Sunday and delivered a 341-yard, two-TD performance. With Coach Hue Jackson, the Browns will have a balanced attack no matter who is at quarterback. McCown won’t wow anyone, but he can be a very serviceable fantasy option. He’s owned in just 2 percent of ESPN leagues. He’s the only known commodity among free agent QBs that stands to keep playing. The others are Landry Jones and Nick Foles. Jones isthe starter in Pittsburgh until Ben Roethlisberger returns, if he returns. Foles’s role is dependent on Smith’s concussion status. All things considered, so long as Smith is fine, he should start in Week 9. Jones is owned in less than 2 percent of ESPN leagues, while Foles is un-owned. Jones doesn’t have good matchups the next couple of weeks, but in Weeks 11 and 12, the Chiefs play the Browns and Colts. Jones could be an intriguing play. He put up an average, if not solid, result in Week 7 against the Patriots, finishing with 281 yards and one touchdown.
Last thoughts: Back in our Week 5 recap, we mentioned that the Titans’ Mariota had a very promising schedule ahead of him. Mariota has accommodated and delivered three solid fantasy outings, throwing for seven touchdowns and for no fewer than 232 yards in the three games since we highlighted the QB. The remaining schedule has a few challenges, but also has dates with the Chargers, Colts, Bears and Jaguars. There’s a lot to like. … Bortles’ ownership fell to 72 percent following Week 7. He was only started in 28 percent of ESPN leagues in Week 8, so it had to be infuriating that, after it appeared Bortles would turn in another lousy performance, he rallied in garbage time to deliver his best fantasy game of the season. Jacksonville subsequently fired its offensive coordinator, and while it’s hard to recommend Bortles, the Jaguars, with their very talented receiving corps, will continue to throw the ball a lot.
Week 8 didn’t produce any staggering results. In fact, just two tailbacks managed to crack the century mark: DeMarco Murray with 123 yards and Tim Hightower with 102 yards. Proving once again that touchdowns mean everything in fantasy, only one tailback on the top 10 leader board failed to make it into the end zone: Theo Riddick.
Matt Forte and Jonathan Stewart led the pack followed by Murray and Riddick. Derrick Henry, Melvin Gordon, Mike Gillislee, Rob Kelley, Jeremy Hill, Bilal Powell, Devontae Booker, Jacquizz Rodgers and Giovani Bernard rounded out the top 10.
Who needs some legs? We mentioned Gillislee last week and his ownership has climbed to nearly 57 percent. That trend will continue after a solid Week 8 effort. Until LeSean McCoy returns, Gillislee will be the guy in Buffalo. … The Titans’ Henry had his best game as a pro, but his touches will continue to be minimal behind Murray. If you have limited options, then you gotta do what you gotta do. If that means plugging someone in that has a chance to do something, then Henry fits that bill. he’s owned in 44 percent of ESPN leagues. … Kelley was barely owned a week ago, but that climbed to 21 percent during the week as we learned the Redskins would not have the services of Matt Jones. Thing is, this might have happened anyways after Jones’s two fumbles in Week 7. Washington breaks for a bye week and then has a tough matchup vs. the Vikings, but Kelley is certainly worth grabbing, even if it means keeping him away from rival owners. … Powell turned in his best fantasy game of the season, but playing behind Forte means Powell’s upside is limited. He’s owned in 46.5 percent of leagues. … And a reminder about the aforementioned Chiefs’ West: He’s owned in less than 5 percent of leagues.
Last thoughts: Can we all just agree that trying to figure out when the Lions’ Riddick will be a fantasy contributor is impossible? Week 1 he produced 22 points in most leagues, following it up with three duds. Then Riddick turned in a 19-point effort in Week 5. After being sidelined by an ankle injury in Weeks 6 and 7, Riddick returned in Week 8 and promptly turned in an 18-point performance. My guesses for spot starts throughout the rest of the season for Riddick? He’s worth considering in Week 11 lineups when the Lions host the Jaguars. He also seems like a good play in Week 13 at New Orleans. And he’s a maybe in Weeks 14 and 15 against the Bears and Giants. As always, proceed with caution. … We cited Hightower’s 102-yard effort above; it’s probably fair to say that the job is his moving forward after Mark Ingram coughed up a fumble and finished with three carries. Aside from a home matchup against the Broncos, the Saints’ schedule is decent and Hightower could deliver for prospective owners. He has done it before. He’s owned in 2 percent of ESPN leagues.
Much like the group of running backs, the top 10 receivers mostly feature marginal performances, the lone exception being Amari Cooper, who led the field with 12 receptions for 173 yards and one touchdown. He was followed by J.J. Nelson, Jamison Crowder, Quincy Enunwa, Chris Hogan, Kendall Wright, Tyreek Hill, Allen Hurns, Jordy Nelson and Andrew Hawkins to complete the top 10. Seriously, that was the top 10.
Who needs some hands? Let’s start with the Cardinals’ Nelson, who was filling in for the injured Michael Floyd. Nelson impressed and received 12 targets, resulting in 79 yards and a pair of TDs. Arizona enters a bye week, so Floyd could be back. Even if he isn’t, it would be hard to expect Nelson to duplicate his Week 8 outing. Let someone else grab him since he’s owned in just 1 percent of leagues. … In Washington, Jackson’s injury is just part of his declining value as Crowder becomes a bigger part of the Redskins’ offense. Crowder now has back-to-back 100-yard-plus games. He’ll be a play based on matchups, but he’s a better get than Nelson. Crowder is owned in 45 percent of leagues. … Hogan had his second significant game since Brady’s return. Now comes a bye week followed by a matchup against the Seahawks. Hogan could be a sneaky play vs. the likes of the 49ers and Jets in the coming weeks, but it will truly be a roll of the dice given the competition he has for targets in New England. He’s owned in nearly 32 percent of leagues. … Wright had a terrific game in Week 6, then followed it up with a dud in Week 7. Now another solid game in Week 8. Tennessee has some promising matchups, but owners will have to really be confident if Wright is going to be counted upon. He’s owned in less than 4 percent of leagues. … Hill and Hawkins aren’t worth picking up, but keep an eye on the latter. Hawkins was the beneficiary of McCown’s play in Week 8 and that trend could continue.
Last thoughts: Just like in Week 8, there will be six teams on byes in Week 9. Wideouts will not be available on the Bears, Patriots, Bengals, Cardinals, Redskins and Texans. Sizing up those teams, that’s a decent amount of WRs off the table. One highly available option for owners seeking a spot-start or wanting to add depth: Baltimore’s Kamar Aiken. He had decent yardage weeks prior to the Ravens’ bye in Week 8. The team hosts the Steelers and the Browns the next two weeks so there’s some appeal, particularly with that Cleveland matchup. Aiken is owned in 5 percent of ESPN leagues.