As the second half of the fantasy season begins, it’s time to start taking stock of what we know, what we thought we knew and what we still don’t know.
We know the Colts, Broncos and Saints are still elite offenses, and we know the defenses of the Seahawks and 49ers are good, but not as great as we thought. We know the defenses in Detroit and Indianapolis should be feared, while the defenses in Denver and Dallas should be respected. We thought we knew Montee Ball and Cordarrelle Patterson would have breakout sophomore campaigns. We don’t know how injuries to Calvin Johnson’s ankle and A.J. Green’s toe will affect their fantasy value going forward, or whether DeMarco Murray can sustain his NFL-record pace of 427 carries this season (though we’re pretty sure he can’t).
Week 8 offers another two-team bye week, but ahead of two six-team bye weeks in Weeks 9 and 10, now is a great time to pick up some fantasy futures without much competition.
Another interesting note: Two games this weekend feature a pair of offenses known for giving up a ton of points to fantasy defense/special teams units. All four DSTs from the Vikings-Buccaneers matchup and the Bills-Jets game could be good enough to start in your league this week, and the Bills defense is likely the only unit of those four that’s already owned. The matchup game could lead to some additional activity on the Week 8 wire.
Each week, we’ll share 8-12 players we think are worth a look in standard fantasy football leagues based on performance and upcoming matchups. Each of these players listed are owned in fewer than 30 percent of leagues on CBS Sports, ESPN and Yahoo! leagues.
Since they are barely owned in more than 30 percent of CBS leagues, you won’t see these rising players on this list: Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Jerick McKinnon, Bernard Pierce, Andrew Hawkins, Doug Baldwin, Allen Robinson, Charles Clay, Owen Daniels, Blair Walsh, Chandler Catanzaro and Cowboys DST.
Kyle Orton, Buffalo Bills (Owned in 12 percent of CBSSports leagues, 0.4 percent of ESPN leagues and five percent of Yahoo! leagues) -- Orton is averaging just under 300 passing yards in his first three games as the Bills' starter, with five total touchdown passes and three interceptions since replacing EJ Manuel. The Bills’ Week 8 matchup is at the Jets, whose defense provides a very favorable matchup for quarterbacks. New York is giving up 25.7 fantasy points per game, the most in the NFL. Orton is the perfect one-week rental for owners of Colin Kaepernick or Eli Manning, since the Bills will take their bye in Week 9.
Keeping an eye on: Tennessee’s Jake Locker.
Denard Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars (seven percent, 0.5 percent and 11 percent) -- Amid the rise of Storm Johnson, the second-year Robinson got lost in the fantasy shuffle. He tore through the Browns' defense for 127 rushing yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, and Toby Gerhart (foot) hasn’t been anything special when healthy (2.6 yards per carry). The converted quarterback could keep the starting job until he puts up a stinker. While their offensive line is horrible, the Jaguars don’t face a top-10 defense against the run until they travel to Baltimore in Week 15.
Bryce Brown, Buffalo Bills (four percent, 1.3 percent and eight percent) -- While your leaguemates rush to pick up Anthony Dixon, who got all of the action when Fred Jackson (groin) and C.J. Spiller (clavicle) went down, we think the smart move is picking up Brown. While Brown has been inactive all season, the Bills brought him over from Philadelphia knowing both Jackson and Spiller were entering contract years (Jackson has since re-signed). Dixon’s past indicates he’s a better road-grading short-yardage back, while Brown offers versatility similar to both Jackson and Spiller. The Jets defense isn’t bad against the run, so if Dixon gets more touches in Week 8 before the Bills go on a bye, Brown's first breakout opportunity might not be until Week 10 against the Chiefs. Brown had two huge games in his rookie season, when he rushed for two touchdowns and over 150 yards in back-to-back games in 2012 in place of an injured LeSean McCoy. If you miss out on Brown, grabbing Dixon isn’t a horrible move either.
Tre Mason, St. Louis Rams (18 percent, 2.3 percent and 18 percent) -- The running back situation in St. Louis got a little more muddled Sunday, as Mason led the team in rushing, playing in more than half of the team’s offensive snaps against the Seahawks. Considering the Rams trusted the rookie in a divisional game against the Super Bowl champs, it stands to reason they’ll be handing him the ball more going forward. Unfortunately, they face a pretty tough schedule over the next five weeks, going up against five defenses that rank 13th or higher against fantasy running backs.
Stepfan Taylor, Arizona Cardinals (seven percent, 0.9 percent and one percent) -- With a short touchdown run and a short touchdown catch on Sunday in Oakland, Taylor vultured away big fantasy points from starter Andre Ellington. Ellington is still the featured back, but handcuffing him with Taylor isn’t a bad idea, considering Ellington’s size.
Keeping an eye on: Seattle’s Christine Michael and New England’s Jonas Gray.
Jermaine Kearse, Seattle Seahawks (10 percent, 4.6 percent and six percent) -- This is one of the few weeks where there aren’t any great free-agent options available at wide receiver. With Percy Harvin traded to the Jets last week and Golden Tate signing with Detroit this offseason, Kearse has found himself becoming a much more important piece within Seattle's offense. Doug Baldwin is the team’s new No. 1, but Kearse has seen enough targets recently (13 in the past two games) to become a worthy fantasy reserve in many leagues.
Miles Austin, Cleveland Browns (18 percent, 3.4 percent and nine percent) -- There might not be great waiver options for Week 8, but wise owners will use this week to look ahead and make pickups that may serve as bye-week replacements when Week 9 byes arrive. Austin had eight targets in Week 7 against Jacksonville but could only haul in three catches for 54 yards. You won’t need him in Week 8 against the Raiders, but the Browns' Week 9 date with the Buccaneers, who are allowing the most fantasy points to wide receivers this season, could be a big opportunity for Austin.
Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins (five percent, 0.9 percent and six percent) -- Landry has overtaken Brian Hartline in the Dolphins’ passing pecking order. The Jaguars' secondary is allowing the second-most yards-per-catch to wide receivers (15.30) this season. This is a deep waiver gamble, but one that could pay dividends -- especially in daily fantasy tournament play.
Keeping an eye on: Pittsburgh’s Martavis Bryant, Buffalo’s Chris Hogan and San Francisco’s Stevie Johnson.
Clay Harbor, Jacksonville Jaguars (10 percent, 0.2 percent and eight percent) -- This recommendation comes with some instructions. Harbor caught all six passes thrown to him Sunday against the Browns, and he went for 91 yards and a score the previous week against the Titans. But he faces a Dolphins defense that’s OK against tight ends, so this week isn’t the ideal time to pick him up, necessarily. In Weeks 9 and 10, however, Harbor faces the Bengals (32nd against tight ends) and Cowboys (31st). Owners of Martellus Bennett should grab Harbor for Chicago’s Week 9 bye.
Keeping an eye on: Dallas’ Gavin Escobar.
Nick Folk, N.Y. Jets (17 percent, 59.6 percent and 26 percent) -- Folk had been perfect this season until last Thursday’s game against the Patriots, when he had the game-winning kick blocked (it was a 58-yarder that might not have made it anyway). But the eight-year veteran did make four other field goals that night, and he faces Buffalo in Week 8 after the Bills allowed Blair Walsh to kick three field goals in Week 7. After Buffalo, Folk faces the Chiefs and Steelers, who both rank among the five defenses that allow the most fantasy points to kickers.
Keeping an eye on: Denver’s Brandon McManus.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (21 percent, 39.5 percent and 10 percent) -- As mentioned above, the Tampa Bay defense has a great fantasy matchup against the Vikings offense, which is currently allowing 13.0 fantasy points per game to DSTs -- the second-most in the NFL. The Buccaneers are coming off a game in which they were dismantled by the Ravens offense, similar to how the Falcons carved them up in Week 3. After the blowout in Atlanta, the Bucs responded in Week 4 by sacking Ben Roethlisberger five times, and the Vikings offensive line has allowed 19 sacks in the past three games. If you have the 49ers defense and need a one-week replacement, the Bucs are a big gamble, but this unit has had an extra week to prepare for Minnesota's struggling pass protection.
Keeping an eye on: Vikings defense.