Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em - Week 8
By Joel Dehls
Week 7 was my best week yet, as I hit on 9/12 of my #JoelsStarts. You can check out my Twitter if you are interested in following along. As we enter week 8, I want to quickly remind you to check the weather before setting your season-long and especially DFS lineups. We saw on TNF the impact rain and wind can have on a game (wind more so than rain) and you don't want to be that person who sits down to watch Red Zone just to see your favorite stack playing in 20mph winds in Denver. With that being said, lets get into my favorite starts, sleepers, and busts for week 8!
Start - Joe Burrow vs. Tennessee Titans
While a lot of the attention this year has been on Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow is rewriting the record book. He was the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to throw for 400+ yards, 3 passing TD’s and 1 rushing TD. He also joined elite company as he is one of 4 quarterbacks to throw for 300+ yards 5 times in the same season (and that's only through 7 games!). Burrow is currently QB13 on the season, 3rd in passing yards, and in the top half of the league in rushing yards for quarterbacks.
The Tennessee Titans matchup should not scare you. As I mentioned in last week's article, the Titans have let up big games to lousy quarterbacks like Gardner Minshew and Kirk Cousins. The Titans let up the 7th most passing yards/game and are 1 of 8 teams to let up more than 400 total yards. While they had a decent day against Big Ben last week, that was mostly due to a couple bad 2nd half interceptions. They are still a bottom 10 team against fantasy QB’s, giving up over 20 points/game. Vegas expects this game to be a shootout, as the over/under is set at 53.5, the 2nd highest of the week. I expect Burrow to put together another top 12 performance.
Sleeper - Baker Mayfield vs. Las Vegas Raiders
For whatever reason, Baker Mayfield is a different quarterback when OBJ is not on the field. His passer rating goes from 79.7 to 115.6, his completion percentage increases more than 10%, and yards per attempt increases by .5 yards. Additionally, over the last two seasons, Baker and OBJ have the worst completion success rate, 55.6%. Not only is it time to trade Odell, but now is Baker’s time to prove to the Browns organization, and the rest of the NFL, he was worthy of the #1 overall pick. After Odell was injured, Baker responded with 21 straight completions and 5 touchdown passes. While it was against a below average Bengals defense, I believe Baker will succeed with Odell watching from the sidelines.
Baker gets another great matchup in week 8 against the Las Vegas Raiders. The Raiders have given up the 3rd most points/game to the quarterback position and are fresh off Tom Brady TORCHING them for 369 yards and 4 TD’s. They give up an average of 290 yards and 2 touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks, only the Falcons and Seahawks are worse. Teams playing the Raiders have scored 25 or more fantasy points in 3 straight contests, as the Raiders have failed to hold a team under 30 points since week 2. With the 9th highest implied point total of 26.5 points, I expect Baker to finish as a top 15 quarterback.
Bust - Drew Brees @ Chicago Bears
Gone are the days of Drew Brees being a must-start fantasy asset. Although he does hold value in plus matchups, especially with the inevitable return of Michael Thomas, he is better off on your bench for week 8. He is still crazy efficient, completing 72.6% of his throws, best in the NFL, but only averages 7.6 yards/attempt, which tells you he isn't taking many chances downfield. In fact, he has only attempted 8 “deep balls”, according to playerprofiler, which ranks #34 among all qualified quarterbacks. He is also 27th in air yards and 37th in air yards/attempt. Overall, Brees has turned into a highly efficient game manager.
His week 8 matchup against the Bears is the worst matchup for opposing quarterbacks. They have yet to allow a quarterback to score more than 16.9 fantasy points in any game and give up an average of 13.2 points/game. They only let up one multi-touchdown game, which came last week against the Rams. Vegas expects this game to be low scoring, as the current over/under is set at 43.5, the 3rd lowest of the week. In a tough matchup against one of the best defenses in the league, I would look towards the waiver wire instead of starting Brees.
Start: Jonathan Taylor @ Detroit Lions
When Marlon Mack went down in week 1, many analysts expected Jonathan Taylor to hit the ground running (no pun intended) and be a locked and loaded top 10 back. While this hasn't been true through the first half of the season, I think better days are ahead for JT. Since he took over the backfield in week 2, Taylor has seen 60% of the team's rushing attempts. For reference, that's around the same percentage of guys like Dalvin Cook, James Connor, and Miles Sanders. He has also seen an increase in targets. He saw 3 targets week 5 and 4 targets in week 6, the most since week 1. The Colts running back coach came out earlier this week and said, “He’s done everything he needs to do...It's just about getting experience. The more he gets, the better he is going to be”. Coming off a bye week, many teams reevaluate their roster and see what has and hasn't worked. I expect Jonathan Taylor to see his role increase the rest of the season.
The matchup against the Detroit Lions is about as good as it gets for fantasy RB’s. Although they limited Gurley to just 63 yards, he found the endzone twice (even though one was an accident, sorry, Falcons fans). They are the 5th easiest matchup, giving up 27.4 points/game. They let up over 130 yards/game to the position and have let up at least 1 rushing touchdown in each game since week 2. I like Taylor as a buy low candidate, as I mentioned on my podcast last Wednesday. But after this week, that window will be closed. I like Taylor as a top 12 running back, with top 5 upside if he can rip off a big run.
Sleeper - Le’Veon Bell vs. New York Jets
Although Le’Veon disappointed many fantasy managers who started him last week, it was an encouraging sign to see him on the field for 17 snaps. He also carried the ball 6 times and saw 2 targets. He did have an impressive run for 16 yards, but did not show many other flashes, albeit against a tough Broncos rush defense in the snow. Moving forward, especially in plus matchups where the Chiefs will be winning (so almost all of them), Le’Veon is a solid flex play moving forward.
Other than the easy “revenge game” narrative, there is good reason to believe Bell will have a productive day against his former team. I’m sure this isn't a surprise to anyone, but the Jets aren't good against the run. The Jets are the 7th easiest rushing defense for fantasy running backs, giving up an average of 28 points/game to the position. The Jets should be grateful they have played the Bills twice and the Dolphins, both teams who are bottom 11 in rushing yards/game. Against opponents who actually have at least a decent rushing attack (SF, DEN, ARI) they give up an average of 34.5 points/game. The Chiefs will dominate this game from kickoff, which will give Bell plenty of opportunity to show the Jets what they let go.
Bust- JK Dobbins/Gus Edwards vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
With Mark Ingram likely missing week 8, I’m sure there are owners chomping at the bit to start JK Dobbins and even Gus Edwards. While I believe in the talent of JK Dobbins, he has not seen the workload that indicates a breakout is coming. From weeks 4-6, Gus Edwards out carried him 30-15, and saw 10 more snaps over that span. Where Dobbins does see significantly more work is in the passing game, where he has by far the most targets, 14, with Ingram and Dobbins combining for 8. On the other hand, while Edwards sees more of the carries, he's barely used in the passing game, only seeing 3 targets, all coming in one game. I think both running backs will be efficient, but neither will put together a complete game to please fantasy managers.
The matchup against the Steelers is BRUTAL. The Steelers are the #1 defense against RB’s, giving up an average of 16.3 points/game to the position. They have only let up a touchdown in 3/6 games and no teams backfield has rushed for over 100 yards. While they had a relatively easy opening schedule, the last 3 games have been against above average rushing attacks. They have played against Miles Sanders, Kareem Hunt, and Derrick Henry, all 3 being in the upper echelon of fantasy RB’s. Miles Sanders saved his day with 1 long TD run, Hunt only had 6.7 points, and Henry had his 2nd worst game of the season. If this was a positive matchup for the Ravens, I would be all in on both backs. In a divisional matchup, with 2 great defenses and 2 offenses I’m not 100% sold on, I think you could do better than Dobbins and Gus Edwards.
Start - Travis Fulgham vs. Dallas Cowboys
Since Travis Fulgham was called up from the practice squad, he is the #2 WR in fantasy points. We all knew that there would be value in this Eagles offense outside of Miles Sanders, and if you got Fulgham, congratulations. Since week 4, Fulgham is tied for 4th in targets (37) and 10th in receptions (23). Even though he has only appeared in 4 games, he is WR32 on the season, ahead of players like JuJu and DJ Chark, and is WR7 in points/game. Carson Wentz has also appeared to find his groove, as he is QB6 since week 3. Fulgham is a high end WR2, with tremendous upside in a depleted WR group.
While I love the talent of Fulgham, it doesn't hurt that he's playing the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys give up nearly 36 points/game to WR corps, 6th highest among any team. They have also given up the 3rd most passing TD’s (16) through 7 weeks. While a negative game script does scare me as I believe the Cowboys will struggle to keep up, last week Terry McLaurin (my start of the week), went for 7/90/1 while the game was a blowout. It is worth noting that Jalen Reagor is expected to make his season debut, but there is no way Fulgham is not in my starting lineup this week.
Sleeper - Hollywood Brown vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
While Hollywood hasn't taken that 2nd year leap yet, he hasn't been as bad as you might think. He has seen at least 6 targets in each game and only went under the 50 yard mark twice, the last time coming in week 3. There has been multiple times throughout the season where he has separation from the opposing CB, but Lamar is unable to connect with him. He is 5th highest in unrealized air yards, which shows that Lamar is taking those deep shots. He is also 11th in target separation, which tracks the average yards of separation distance from the closest defender. With the Steelers likely stacking the box on the majority of snaps, the Ravens will have to beat them through the air.
I already mentioned how great the Steelers are against the run, but against WR’s, they are bottom 8 in the league. Last week, AJ Brown put together 6/153/1 on 8 targets. Previously, Travis Fulgham went for 10/152/1 and Randall Cobb even put up nearly 100 yards and a touchdown. While the floor for Brown is low, he is a high upside play this week. Especially in DFS leagues, Brown is one of my favorite plays.
Bust - Devante Parker vs. LA Rams
Last year, Devante Parker was freed from the Adam Gase shackles and showed his big play ability. This year, he has dealt with nagging injuries and inconsistent play, leading him to be the WR37, 1 spot behind Brandon Aiyuk. Parker is coming off his worst game of the season against the Jets, and he now has a new hamstring injury going into week 8 against the Rams. We also have a new variable with Tua making his first start of the season. We knew Fitzpatrick had that gunslinger mentality, which allowed Parker to have success in the past. With Tua unlikely to take as many down field shots, Parker's upside gets capped. He has also struggled to create separation this year, as he has an average of 1.1 yards of separation of his targets, which ranks #100 in the NFL. Although Parker was a top 10 receiver last year, it's now time to realize you can only start him in plus matchups.
Not much has to be said about Jalen Ramsey and the Rams defense. The Rams are the 2nd best defense against opposing WR’s, giving up an average of 28 points/game to the entire WR core. We saw Allen Robinson struggle the majority of the night against the Rams until the final few minutes where he managed to put together a decent statline - 4/70. Between a tough secondary and a front seven that is 3rd in the NFL in sacks, Tua will be uncomfortable in his first start. I see Parker as a WR4 this week.
Start - Jimmy Graham
Through 7 weeks, the only TE’s to have more targets than Jimmy Graham are Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Darren Waller. Graham is also 4th in receptions and tied for 2nd in touchdowns among all TE’s. Although Jimmy Graham has been disappointing the last 2 weeks, I think he turns it around against the Saints.
What makes me love Graham this week is his matchup. The Saints are terrible against TE’s, giving up the 2nd most points to the position, 16 points/game. They have also let up a TD in 5/6 games this year, the only TE who did not find the endzone was Ian Thomas (CAR) who barely gets targets in the offense.
Sleeper - Harrison Bryant vs. Las Vegas Raiders
You probably didn't hear of Harrison Bryant before last week. He was a 4th round pick from Florida Atlantic who isn't going to wow you athletically. He was super productive in his final college season putting up a statline of 65/1004/7 in 13 games. When Austin Hooper went down due to injury, Bryant was ready to step up. He went 4/56/2 in his first game, showing the Browns maybe they didn't need to give Hooper such a big contract. In a foggy TE landscape, Bryant has top 10 upside.
The Raiders are middle of the pack against TE’s, giving up an average of 12 points/game. But, they have struggled mightily the last 2 weeks. In week 7, Gronk put up 5/62/1 and in week 6, Kelce put up 5/65/2. You are probably banking on a touchdown from Bryant to have a solid game, but outside of the top 5 TE’s, what TE isn't touchdown dependent?
Bust - TJ Hockensen
TJ Hockensen has been one of the bright spots in the TE group, currently sitting as TE6 in 1/2 PPR leagues. Although the talent and productivity of Hockenson is undeniable, his matchup this week against the Colts is brutal.
I had to triple check this because I couldn't believe it, the Colts have given up an average of 5.1 points/game to the TE position. While Hockensen will be the best TE they have played this season, I expect the Lions offense to struggle against one of the best defenses in the NFL. The Colts give up less than 200 passing yards per game, 2nd in the NFL, and allow only 19.2 points/game, which is 4th best. You probably are forced to start Hockensen this week, but I would temper expectations against a stingy Colts defense.