If nothing else, Week 8 was a reminder of just how violent the sport of football truly is because injuries were aplenty. Jacquizz Rodgers, Spencer Ware, Devontae Booker, Julio Jones, T.Y. Hilton, Larry Fitzgerald and Ty Montgomery all either left their respective team’s game with injury or were affected by an ailment for a portion of the afternoon. Incredibly, nearly all of them were the chalk. If there is one thing to learn from this week, it is the need to differentiate from the pack when building NFL rosters because no player truly possesses a “high floor.” Legitimately every player in the league’s floor every single game is taking a big hit on their first snap and being forced to leave the game. When it seems like a player absolutely cannot fail in a certain matchup, it is still worth fading them in a lineup (if multi-lineuping) due to injury potential alone. Hedging feels wrong sometimes but it really can make a huge difference. Take me for example this week: literally every single one of my tournament lineups included either Spencer Ware or T.Y. Hilton. If I had decided to roster Amari Cooper instead of Hilton in my best lineup, my team would be competing for a GPP victory instead of just finishing inside the money. This lesson pops up multiple times a year but this week was just an absolutely brutal reminder.
Here are some of my other DFS-relevant observations from Week 8 of the 2016 NFL season:
Josh McCown, Browns – Is there any question Josh McCown is the best QB on the Browns roster (healthy or not)? In his first game back from a collarbone injury, McCown completed 25-49 passes for a whopping 341 yards, two touchdowns (TDs) and two interceptions (INTs). This marked only the second time all season a Browns QB threw from 300-plus yards and the first time since Cody Kessler accomplished the feat in Week 6. It is becoming increasingly clear McCown is able to maximize Duke Johnson’s potential (two of his three top receiving yardage totals have come with McCown under center), target the best player on offense (Terrelle Pryor 10-plus targets in each start) and just overall runs the offense the smoothest. Both times McCown has started this season, he has finished with at least 260 yards passing and two TDs, which is pretty impressive considering the lack of talent the Browns offense is working with. Next week, McCown’s price barely rose and the team will take on a Cowboys defense that had allowed 260 yards passing (12th most in the league) heading into Week 8. In other words: he makes for an interesting DFS start in all formats once again.
Theo Riddick, Lions – If there were any doubts as to who is the best back on the Lions roster, Theo Riddick eliminated them on Sunday…especially for fantasy purposes. Although he lacks the ability to pound the ball in between the tackles, he still managed 5.1 yards per carry (YPC) against the Texans and added eight receptions (on 11 targets) for 77 yards and caught a red zone TD. Last year, Riddick finished as RB18 in the scoring format so he possesses some serious upside despite his glaring weakness. Even after big weeks, third down and passing down specialist backs always seem to get overlooked and come under-owned. Hell, he was priced at a sub-$10,000 cost this week and only garnered a one-percent ownership in the Run and Gun. With Zach Zenner, Dwayne Washington (when healthy) and Justin Forsett as the only alternatives on the roster, Riddick should touch the plenty on most weeks even if the team is unable to establish the run. This makes him a dangerous fantasy weapon who the masses had forgotten about until he refreshed everyone’s memory in Week 8. Do not forget about him again because he will continue to “surprisingly” pop up amongst the top scorers at the RB position sporadically.
Tim Hightower, Saints – After fumbling early in the game, Coach Sean Payton just flat-out benched Mark Ingram for the rest of the afternoon. By itself, this would not be so incredibly concerning if Ingram had not already been dealing with constant vulturing at the goal line the fact he has only carried the ball more than 16 times once this season. Amazingly, Ingram has only received 51.7-percent of the team’s red zone rushes or the 22nd highest percentage amongst all NFL RBs. Basically, the team did not seem all that committed to him in the first place so the fact they turned to Tim Hightower this week really should not be all that surprising. Remember the team turned to Hightower as their lead back for four weeks last season when Ingram was battling injury and he managed at least 16 carries in three of those four games and scored at least once in each game he reached the 16 carry plateau. During that four week stretch, he never sank below 16 total carries and, probably most importantly, he never fumbled. According to Coach Payton, Ingram should “bounce back” but Hightower’s 100-plus rushing yard performance in Week 8 just further muddies the situation. If we learned anything this week, it is that no Saints back is cash viable moving forward until this situation works itself out. Either the team decides to roll with Hightower moving forward, they forget this week ever happened and go back to featuring Ingram or this turns into a full-blown committee. Regardless, there are multiple ways for this situation to go horribly wrong if rostering one of the members in the backfield in 50-50s, double ups or even head-to-head contests. Save your exposure to this team for tournaments especially if the beat writers provide any additional insight into the situation throughout the course of the week.
J.J. Nelson, Cardinals – John Brown was playing through a hamstring injury, Larry Fitzgerald injured his foot early in this week’s game against the Panthers and Michael Floyd has produced the fourth worst catch rate amongst all receivers who have played at least 25-percent of their team’s snaps. Due to all the uncertainty amongst the other receivers (especially Brown and Floyd whose issues were evident heading into this week), J.J. Nelson’s stock was clearly on the rise heading into Week 8 after leading the team in receiving Week 7. Oh and I haven’t even mentioned Jaron Brown tore his ACL in this tidbit either. Essentially, Nelson has worked his way up the receiving totem pole by default in recent weeks and, at worst, he should be considered the team’s number three passing option moving forward. Yes, he has clearly passed at least Floyd considering he played the second most offensive snaps amongst the receiving core last week and the most snaps of the bunch against the Panthers this week (65). In fact, Nelson led the receiving core in snaps by a wide margin as Fitzgerald’ 56 snaps ranked second, followed by Brown’s 38, Floyd’s 29 and Brittan Golden’s 23. It is now deep enough into the season where Floyd’s struggles can no longer be deemed a fluke and the team is simply moving on from him for the most part. Therefore, Nelson should be a name tucked under the rug as the Cardinals draw a bye week in Week 9. Assuming his price tag remains somewhat similar in Week 10, he will be difficult to overlook in DFS.
Martellus Bennett, Patriots – In Tom Brady’s triumphant debut in the 2016 season, he targeted Martellus Bennett a healthy eight times and those were converted into six receptions (RECs) for 67 yards and three TDs. Since that point, Bennett has caught 10 passes (on 10 targets according to Pro Football Focus) in three weeks for a grand total of 88 yards and zero TDs. When Bennett scored those three TDs, he averaged 11.2 yards per reception (YPR) and 9.6 yards per target (YPT). Since that time, Bennett has caught all 10 targets so both his YPR and YPT are the exact same: 8.8. Meanwhile, Rob Gronkowski has erupted for 22.8 YPR, 19.2 YPT and a position-leading 0.82 fantasy points per opportunity over the last three games. Incredibly, Anthony Fasano ranks second during and C.J. Fiedorowicz ranks third during that period…but by a wide margin (Fasano sits at 0.71 and Fiedorowicz 0.71). All of this is a long-winded way of saying Brady is not incorporating his second TE as he has in year’s past; well, at least on a consistent basis. Gronkowski is a true TE1 and is so dominant that there is no reason for Brady to go further through his progressions because Gronkowski is always open. Inevitably, there will be a big game or two for Bennett, because Coach Bill Belichick works in mysterious ways, but he is not the staple in the offense we all believed he would be. Right now, Bennett is nothing more than a boom-or-bust TE2 for large field GPPs only.