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“My favorite part of Fantasy 40 columns is the intro section.”
—Email I sent to firstname.lastname@example.org as a self-motivational tactic
I always assume no one cares about the intro section of this column because, of all the feedback I receive, no one has ever addressed the fact that I consistently half-ass the intro, or sometimes just don’t write one at all. I’m mailing it in again this week, but for once I have a better excuse than laziness: I’m trying to work on a longform piece as well as my usual work with Emily Kaplan on The College Column for Wednesday. And also, laziness.
So, anyway, that’s my intro section for this week. Here’s the stuff you came to skim…
Kapri Bibbs: The hypothesis is that Devontae Booker will suit up in Oakland on Sunday night, but regardless it’s a good time to get to know Bibbs, the next human up in the Broncos’ backfield. His middle name is Lashaw. He put up video-game numbers at Colorado State in 2014, but always profiled as a JAG in the NFL. The Broncos’ line is doing nice work though, so a Booker injury would put Bibbs on the RB2/FLEX radar.
Jacquizz Rodgers, Antone Smith and Peyton Barber: Rodgers, at best, will miss the Thursday nighter against the Falcons, though he could very well miss more time than that. Barber, the rookie, is the best talent in Tampa’s backfield. But Dirk Koetter seems much more comfortable with Smith, who played for him in Atlanta. It’s understandable; think of Smith of like that old sweater you’re used to wearing, provided your sweater also can’t pick up yardage between the tackles and shows shaky hands and suspect ball security. Look for this to be Barber’s job on early downs, with Smith stepping in on passing downs. But with the Bucs having to keep pace with the Falcons, I’d lean Smith getting more than 50% of the workload and being the better play (especially in PPR leagues) in Week 9.
Jordy Nelson: It was good to see you, old friend, even if just for a play. Atlanta was in a zone look when Nelson got behind the defense for a 58-yard catch on Sunday; the fact remains that he is struggling badly when good corners match up with him in man coverage. The good news is that the Colts are up next, and top corner Vontae Davis is in concussion protocol. The bad news is that it’s going to be increasingly difficult to trust Nelson going forward.
Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West: The Chiefs have promoted Bishop Sankey from the practice squad. And if you’re into conspiracy theories, that means the team could be worried about Ware’s chances of returning from a concussion in time for K.C.’s matchup with the Jaguars. Though I’m not really sure what the conspiracy would be. If Ware is out (and with Jamaal Charles already on IR), old friend Charcandrick is a must start. This offense has become truly plug-and-play when it comes to running backs.
Mark Ingram and Tim Hightower: Ingram was unofficially benched after losing a fumble early against Seattle, and Hightower played well enough to keep him there (despite some goal line issues). Going forward, my guess is that this is a time share with Hightower taking maybe 60% of the work in San Francisco. Ingram is still the superior talent, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that ratio flipped in a month. But Ingram is a shaky play in Week 9.
Blake Bortles: He’s coming off a 337-yard, three-TD game, and I’d like to be able to say that’s a repeatable performance thanks to game flow (after all, if the Jaguars fall behind immediately and throw on six out of every seven plays every week, that’s a formula for good box score numbers). But Bortles is playing so poorly, his mechanics so bad, his decisions so often wrong, his timing constantly off, his hat head increasingly out of control, that I’m not sure he’s a lock for numbers even on weeks in which he throws 50 times.
Josh Gordon: The Browns have already said they’re done with him, and they’re not going to change their minds for the playoff push. Gordon won’t see the field in 2016. Dynasty leaguers can feel free to hang onto him as a high-risk, high-reward option.
Dion Lewis: He’s been practicing, and Lewis should see some action following the Patriots’ Week 9 bye. He’s worth stashing right now; when healthy he’s capable of handling “running down” duties (though with less effectiveness than LeGarrette Blount) and is just as good as James White as the passing back. But he’s also coming off two knee surgeries, and both Blount and White are playing well. I wouldn’t rule it out, but those who seem sure that Lewis is about to step back into a significant role confuse and upset me.
Marcus Mariota: He continues to improve, though his ceiling is only so high with this group of receivers in Tennessee. And after encouraging back-to-back 60-yard rushing weeks, Mariota has only run it five times combined the last two weeks. He’s at his best playing hurry up out of the spread, so the answer with Mariota might simply be: Only start him if you expect the Titans to give up a lot of points in a given week.
Vernon Davis: Like Ted Danson after The Cheers, I did not think there was a role for Vernon Davis after Jordan Reed returned. But just like Ted Danson would become T. Becker, there was Davis on Sunday, international success story, five catches for 93 yards. Things to remember though: Davis played only 39 of 91 snaps. And the Bengals, because they spend so much time in their base defense, are susceptible to pass-catching backs and extra tight ends in the passing game. I don’t envision ever recommending Davis as long as Reed is healthy. But we’ll always have London.
Dak Prescott and Tony Romo: It’s still clearly Prescott’s job. But for the first time in a few weeks, there’s at least a path to Romo overtaking him in 2016. Prescott was not good on Sunday night; he made a couple plays late, and that’s better than nothing. But he was also quite bad for the first three quarters or so, missing open reads, showing scattershot accuracy, making two or three throws that absolutely should have been intercepted, and just generally playing poorly enough to let an inferior opponent hang around. If he strings together two or three more games like that, the discussion will open back up.
Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart: While Stewart was the one to finish off two drives, it was encouraging to see Newton being used on designed runs near the end zone. Newton had gotten the bulk of goal line chances in the past, and those days are surely over considering the injury problems he’s had this year. But it’s good to know they haven’t completely backed off using him on the goal line, and that should allow Newton to hold onto QB1 value going forward.
Christine Michael, Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise: Nothing to see here at the moment, at least as far as the top of the depth chart is concerned. Michael is still in full control of the starting job. Rawls is still out and looking at scraps when he returns. For now Prosise is the second Seattle back to own, and he flashed the kind of all-around skill set that would make him a monster if Michael gets hurt.
Donte Moncrief: I officially deem him healthy and startable. Moncrief had a team-high nine targets on Sunday (with T.Y. Hilton missing some time). He only had 4-41-1, but had another long touchdown called back because of a holding penalty.
Derek Carr: We’re about to learn a lot about him on Sunday night. Carr’s gaudy numbers have overshadowed some erratic play, and the soft first-half schedule helped. Let’s see if he’s a little sharper against an elite defense in Denver’s.
Don Jackson and Aaron Ripkowski: Knile Davis got fired (he was picked up by the Jets, which is a happy endi… well, it’s an ending), leaving the Packers with Aaron Rodgers as their top rushing threat, along with their moonlighting receivers (Montgomery and Cobb), Jackson and Ripkowski. Jackson probably tops the depth chart by default until James Starks is ready, though the three touches per week he’s been averaging sounds about right. The branding strategy for Ripkowski seems to be along the lines of “John Kuhn with a Fresh New Twist”; they’ve used him near the goal line. Though with Montgomery and Cobb set to return, there’s really nothing to see here.
Dez Bryant: Well all right, 14 targets in his return. And along with the 22-yard TD, Bryant was targeted three times in the red zone. Consider him a WR1 again.
Terron Ward: He looked really good on Sunday, like a little, tiny, baby-sized Tevin Coleman. Ward would likely need injuries to Coleman and Devonta Freeman to have value, but he’s a name to carve backwards into your torso in order to remember.
Randall Cobb and Davante Adams: It’s too early to get a good read on the near future of Cobb’s hammy, but I imagine if healthy in Atlanta all those designed touches for Adams would have gone to Cobb. I’m still down on Adams. The Packers went out of their way to get him the ball in Atlanta, and while 12 catches are fine he delivered 74 yards on 14 targets. The good news is that with the Colts coming up, Adams should be able to deliver a little more efficiency with his touches. After that, it’s all downhill.
Ezekiel Elliott and Alfred Morris: I’m not going to venture a guess as to Elliott’s innocence or guilt in the domestic violence accusation the league is currently investigating, but I’ll simply reiterate my point from a few weeks ago: The NFL’s domestic-violence investigations are an exercise in PR rather than criminal justice, and as we’ve seen in the past the league is not very good in investigating things. For those thinking “no charges were brought against Elliott,” that’s largely meaningless here. My guess is that no suspension is coming, but there is no course of action the league could take that would surprise me. Elliott owners need to have Morris stashed on the bench.
Tyreek Hill: He’s a playmaker, but he’s one who’s been targeted only 23 times this season. In a run-first offense that still has to feed Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce, Hill is a scratch-off ticket investment.
J.J. Nelson and Michael Floyd: The fastest human being who also plays football professionally, Nelson has been promoted to a starting role in place of Floyd (whether this has anything to do with Floyd constantly being hurt and dropping passes is yet to be confirmed). Nelson had a fine day in Charlotte on Sunday, but you can lump him in with John Brown and the aforementioned Floyd. The Arizona passing game gets the ball to Larry Fitzgerald, David Johnson and deep threat TBA. Sometimes that TBA will be Brown, sometimes it will be Floyd. So have fun there.
Darren Sproles, Ryan Mathews and Wendell Smallwood: Doug Pederson said something about ascending Sproles to the top of the depth chart (trust me, he did, I’m just too much of a hack to track down a link), which is odd considering Sproles has been the No. 1 back on this team by just about any measure. Mathews will continue to be the change-of-pace and goal line back. Meanwhile, Smallwood humiliated me for the last time by losing a crippling fourth-quarter fumble one week after I ripped Mathews for doing the same thing. Smallwood is a non-factor.
Brandon LaFell: With Tyler Eifert back and at full strength, LaFell can be dropped.(You could say he’s LaFallen off the fantasy football radar, but then you’d surely be punched in the stomach, and rightfully so.)
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