Trick or treat?
Week 8 was seemingly chock-full of “tricks”: flukes, anomalies and poor start/sit decisions (the latter was true for me, at least). David Njoku going catchless on one target in a prime matchup with favorable game script made no sense. T.Y. Hilton with one catch in an even easier matchup made even less sense. On the bright side, it’s fluky weeks like these that present prime trading opportunities.
One thing that wasn’t fluky was Marlon Mack’s big game against the Raiders. I notably had Mack in last week’s “sell” section, but mentioned his upcoming easy matchup in Week 8. The strategy in selling Mack was looking past Week 8 where he goes on bye and then has three tough matchups in the four weeks after. Maybe Mack is next great thing, but my advice would be to try not to overreact to beating up on the Bills and Raiders. Even backfield mate Nyheim Hines, who averaged 3.1 yards per carry on the ground prior to Weeks 7 and 8, exploded for 7.8 yards per carry on his 16 combined carries against the slump-busting Bills and Raiders.
So far, the feedback from readers on this column has been awesome - both those that agree and, even more so, those that disagree. The best part is the debate that ensues when taking a stand on a player. There are so many different factors to analyze: targets, schedule, role, efficiency, etc., that you can probably make a decent argument for most players as either a “buy” or a “sell.” And this is the best part about fantasy football - it’s so much harder (and more interesting) to use a nuanced and detailed approach to try to predict the future, as opposed to just analyzing the past.
As a side note, I only have two “sells” written up this week, as I didn’t feel comfortable forcing a third. I thought about Jordan Howard, who’s obviously very touchdown dependent and has scored the past two weeks. However, four out of his next five weeks are against the Bills, the Lions twice, and the Giants, so he should have a high probability of touchdowns in those games as well. Instead, I added a few extra “buys.”
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Steelers: Smith-Schuster started the season hot, eclipsing 110 receiving yards in each of his first three weeks. He’s only accomplished that feat once in the last four weeks, while failing to top 60 yards receiving in the other three. Moving forward, Smith-Schuster will probably live somewhere between those two thresholds. His floor isn’t that bad, having caught at least four passes in every game, and based on his weekly catch and yardage totals, I think it’s fair to expect his touchdown rate to increase a bit. With the Ravens on deck in Week 9, Smith-Schuster owners might be more willing to let him go, but the matchup doesn’t worry me as the Steelers will probably have to throw to move the ball.
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Jordan Reed, TE, Redskins: Reed has had an exceptionally quiet season, which is surprising on a team without any dominant wide receivers. It’s also surprising since Reed has actually managed to stay healthy and, in the past, when he’s been in the lineup, he has produced at a high level. In past years he’s also been an elite red zone threat, yet he only has one touchdown on the year, dating back to Week 1. In Week 8, Reed had seven receptions for only 38 yards but saw a whopping 12 targets. Owners have to be getting impatient with Reed and shouldn’t hold on too tightly, since he likely wasn’t a high investment at his 8th round ADP. The next two games are against the Falcons and Buccaneers, so the passing game will likely be necessary and in full force.
Nick Chubb, RB, Browns: I’ll admit, Chubb isn’t the type of running back I would typically want to buy - he’s an early-down back on a team that we’d expect to be playing from behind more often than not. However, the Browns played from behind for much of Week 8 against the Steelers and Chubb still out-touched Duke Johnson by a commanding 20-4 margin. Chubb even matched Johnson’s catch-target totals, as both caught two of three targets - that won’t be true most weeks, but it’s still nice to see. It’s tough to evaluate the Browns’ upcoming schedule for Chubb, as they host the Chiefs, Falcons and then travel to Cincinnati after their Week 11 bye. The Browns will be underdogs in all three games, but all three opponents are actually top 5 in allowing running back fantasy points, entering Week 8. Chubb was probably a hyped midweek free agent pickup before scoring a touchdown in Week 7. After the quieter Week 8, he could be a savvy post-hype buy.
Josh Gordon, WR, Patriots: I generally don’t include players that play Monday night in this article (since the game gives us new information soon after it’s published), but I think there’s a lot that needs to be said about Gordon. If he can manage to stay relatively quiet for one more week (and there’s a decent chance he might with a matchup against top Bills corner Tre’Davious White), he’ll be a very appealing trade target. The Patriots traded for Gordon earlier this season to fill an obvious need in the offense - they were seriously lacking a talented outside presence and deep threat to stretch the field. I think many of us were tentative, if not skeptical, of Gordon’s ability to adapt to, and succeed in, the New England offense. However, his production and playing time have steadily increased - 81% of the snaps in Week 6 and 95% in Week 7, the latter resulting in a season-high 100 yards receiving. Even Tom Brady has praised his swift grasp of the playbook and seems to trust him more and more. Carving out nearly an every-down role in this high-powered offense, Gordon is on the verge of a breakout.
Panthers passing game: After being low-key consistent the first seven weeks of the season, Devin Funchess took a step back and is coming off a disappointing week versus a talented Ravens secondary, where he caught 3-of-3 targets for 27 yards. On the flip side, we finally saw D.J. Moore’s potential in his best game to date, totaling 127 yards on seven touches as he took on a larger role with Torrey Smith sidelined. Carolina’s schedule through the end of the fantasy season consists of the Buccaneers, Steelers, Lions, Seahawks, Buccaneers again, Browns, Saints and Falcons. The receivers, along with Cam Newton and Greg Olsen (if his troublesome foot cooperates), should be productive down the stretch.
John Brown, WR, Ravens: Your weekly reminder that John Brown is #GoodAtFootball, despite a mediocre Week 7 outing. “Smokey” should be involved in plenty of shootouts with his rest-of-fantasy-season schedule: Steelers (who Brown lit up in week 4, going 3-116-1), Bengals, Raiders, Falcons, Chiefs, Buccaneers and Chargers.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Chiefs: Watkins is a pretty simple case as this week’s, “Sell player X now at peak value after his big game, which he won’t repeat every week.” Watkins is coming off his best statistical game of the season, exploding for eight catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns. As a talented starting receiver in this Chiefs offense, games like this will happen. However, even with all the production that’s available to go around, Watkins is still fourth in line behind KC’s “big three” of Hunt, Hill and Kelce. Watkins should maintain upside WR3 value moving forward as a volatile producer, but if someone is willing to buy him at a WR2 price, I’d make that trade. One more thing, this actually isn’t that simple of a case since Tyreek Hill injured his groin late in the Week 8 game against the Broncos. As of Sunday night, we’re still waiting on more information. If you’re a playoff contender looking to ship Watkins, use Hill’s injury to drive up Watkins’ cost. If you need wins now, maybe just ride the likely short-term bump in production.
Kerryon Johnson, RB, Lions: I mentioned Johnson as a “buy” a few weeks ago as he was looking like the most talented and versatile (therefore the least game-script dependent) of the Lions running backs. He still is, and I still like him as a player, but the Lions running game has a tough upcoming schedule through the remainder of the fantasy regular season. From here on out, they face the Vikings, Bears, Panthers, Bears again and then Rams. All of those defenses are top-10 in preventing fantasy points to opposing running backs, entering Week 8. Theo Riddick looks likely to be out another week, but he should be returning at some point, which will further reduce Johnson’s floor. He’s coming off an OK week, but rookie running backs can sometimes be hot names to buy, and someone might think they’re “buying low.”