Google defines contrarian as “opposing or rejecting popular opinion; going against current practice.” Popular plays are going to emerge throughout the course of the week, as they do every week, based on talented players squaring off against forgiving defenses. Of course in a nutshell the concept makes sense because using players against a weak opponent increases their chances of success. Nevertheless, this is the NFL and all sorts of outcomes are possible regardless of how juicy the matchup is. Heading into Week 9, here are some players that the masses may be off but have a high enough probability to succeed that they are worthy of your consideration:
Cam Newton, Panthers, $13,300 – On paper, the Rams seem like a neutral matchup against opposing QBs but numbers can be deceiving. First of all, the Rams have allowed the ninth most rushing yards to opposing QBs (110) this season despite not having surrendered a rushing TD to the position. Obviously, one of Cam Newton’s best assets is his ability to get out of the pocket and run (especially around the goal line). Additionally, here are the teams the Rams have played to this point: 49ers, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Cardinals (Carson Palmer got hurt), Bills, Lions and Giants…and yet they only rank 14th in Football Outsiders’ defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) statistic when adjusted for opponent. In nothing more than an average matchup, Newton should prove once again why he is the best fantasy QB on the planet. His receivers and TE (more info to come) all have beatable matchups so expect a throwback Newton performance at a much lower ownership than he should be.
Jay Ajayi, Dolphins, $11,300 – After rushing for 200-plus yards in back-to-back games, there has not been a lot of buzz surrounding Jay Ajayi early this week and it is probably because his team had a bye last week. The NFL is such a “what have you done for me lately” league that people have incredibly short attention spans and forget things that happened just a few weeks ago. Over the course of his last 53 carries, he has averaged a whopping 7.89 yards per carry and run for a ridiculous 418 yards. According to DVOA, the Jets possess the third best rushing defense so this will no doubt tone down Ajayi’s ownership. However, Jordan Howard showed on Monday Night Football that explosive playmakers in the backfield can potentially beat any defense. You may never roster a player who has eclipsed 200 yards on back-to-back games for a lower ownership than this week.
Darren Sproles, Eagles, $7,700 – Coach Doug Pederson says he will “evaluate in the next couple of days” whether he wants to replace Ryan Mathews with Darren Sproles as the starting back. This is excellent news for prospective Sproles roster-ers for a multitude of reasons. For one, Sproles is incredibly cheap for a player with his pass-catching skill set let alone the prospects of filling in as the workhorse back. Furthermore, Sproles ran away with the job last week anyways as he touched the ball 20 times, including five receptions (RECs), and totaled more than 100 yards from scrimmage. When Sproles plays extended snaps, he is likely to see 5-7 targets minimum which means he should hit value by accident at this price tag. The team’s Week 9 opponent, the Giants, have only allowed 29.4 yards receiving per game to opposing backs but they literally have not faced one team that routinely includes their backs in the passing game (other than maybe the Vikings): Cowboys, Saints, Redskins, Vikings, Packers, Ravens and Rams. At this price tag, I would start Sproles against the Monstars if receiving a lion’s share of the workload so he is certainly intriguing against the Giants.
Dez Bryant, Cowboys, $14,000 – Apparently Dak Prescott under center is not such a downgrade to Dez Bryant after all. Hell, Prescott is getting better by the week and he had six weeks of experience under his belt in time for Bryant’s triumphant return to the lineup. The youngster went ahead and proved he was able to keep his star WR involved as he targeted Bryant a hefty 14 times and Bryant hauled in four of them for 113 yards and the game-tying TD. Although Joe Haden is a big name, the Browns have rated 30th in terms of DVOA against opposing number one WRs including 80.0 yards per game to the position. Just a few weeks ago, A.J. Green roasted him for 170-plus yards and a TD so Bryant can certainly do the same. To me, Bryant proved once again last week that he is still in the elite tier of WRs. Even though the catch rate left much to be desired, the fact Prescott was looking for him so often was incredibly encouraging. Moving forward, it is time to value Bryant similarly to the way he was valued alongside Tony Romo…so basically, deploying him against the lowly Browns is absolutely necessary in GPPs.
Sterling Shepard, Giants, $9,100 – Number one WRs have struggled against the Eagles this season to the tune of just 66.4 yards receiving per game. In fact, the Eagles rank second in terms of DVOA against top wideouts so Odell Beckham Jr.’s prospects this week should be tempered. If he is going to be slowed down at all, the production will need to be made up for elsewhere…and that is where Sterling Shepard comes into play. Although he has been awfully quiet since Week 3, the Eagles rank 24th in DVOA against number two options and it is about time this monster talent snapped out of his funk. Shepard’s RECs have been trending upward over the course of the last three games so this is not as crazy as it seems. If there ever were a time to roster this kid at a criminal ownership percentage, this would be the week.
Greg Olsen, Panthers, $11,600 – If rostering Newton, you may as well pair him with Greg Olsen in order to create the most upside possible. With Rob Gronkowski on bye, the decision to roster him is not even very difficult this week. As noted in the Newton tidbit, the quality of opponents for the Rams have not painted a clear picture as to how formidable of a defense they actually are. Literally the only solid TE they have faced to this point is Jimmy Graham so it remains to be seen if this defense is actually as stout as their numbers suggest. One thing is for sure: Newton will be looking for Olsen as he has targeted him 9.0 times per game so far this season. Assuming London Fletcher was correct in the Rundown this week, and his assessment of the Rams defense is that they are overrated, then the Panthers offense is in an excellent spot this weekend.