Looking for evidence in the fantasy football world of the chilling effect Brett Hundley has on the Green Bay offense? Look no further than this week’s wide receiver rankings. Jordy Nelson, rightly viewed a rock-solid WR1 during draft season, and playing like one before Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone, has a consensus ranking of WR16 on FantasyPros. Davante Adams, who was locked in as a WR2 and was certain to get his fair share of WR1 weeks, sits at WR29 in the expert consensus this week. It’s uncharted territory, in a bad way, for the Packers receivers.
There’s no way to positively spin Hundley’s first career start, a 26–17 loss to the Saints in Week 7. He went 12-of-25 for 87 yards, 3.48 yards per attempt and one interception. In a season rife with poor quarterback play, that was a singularly terrible performance. There have been nine instances this season of a quarterback throwing for fewer than 4.0 YPA on at least 25 attempts. Only two—DeShone Kizer in Week 4, and Eli Manning in Week 7—posted a mark worse than Hundley’s 3.48 YPA. It was an ugly performance that should have anyone invested in the Packers offense, through any means other than Aaron Jones, concerned.
And yet, Adams belongs in your lineups this week (you don’t need to ask about Nelson, do you?). First, let’s check some necessary boxes. Adams’s role in the offense is unchanged. He played nearly 90% of the team’s snaps in Hundley’s first start. Four of Hundley’s 25 pass attempts were balls he had to throw away. Adams received five of the remaining 21 targets, good for a 23.8% target share. He had a 26.5% target share with Rodgers under center. Adams is still going to get plenty of opportunity.
Clearly, that opportunity isn’t going to be of the same value. The Packers didn’t attempt one pass play in the red zone in Hundley’s first start, other than one snap where there were offsetting penalties. That play came on their only red-zone possession of the game, as well. The Saints defense is better than it has been in a long time, but it’s still just a league-average unit. Adams, and Nelson for that matter, have made a living in the red zone over the last few seasons. No quarterback in the league is deadlier in close scoring range than Rodgers, and no team empowers its quarterback to throw as often inside the 20- 10- and 5-yard lines as do the Packers when it’s their MVP at the helm. Again, that’s not going to be the case with Hundley.
Still, Adams is too good and has too large a role for fantasy owners to ignore. The Packers have had two weeks to prepare for the Lions, their opponent this week. The Lions, meanwhile, played on Sunday night last week, and now hit the road in a week that is slightly shorter than average. No team is perfectly rested at this point of the season, but the Packers are definitely the more rested team heading into this NFC North showdown. Darius Slay will likely travel with Nelson, leaving Adams with the easier matchup against Nevin Lawson. The Packers are slight underdogs at home, but that can play to a receiver’s advantage since they can subsist on volume. Adams should have enough of it to show up as, at worst, a low-end WR2 this week.
Matt Ryan, Falcons (at Panthers)
Ryan took a step in the right direction last week, throwing for 254 yards and two touchdowns in a win over the Jets. Most importantly, he racked up 8.76 YPA, the first time he had been north of 8.0 YPA since the last week of September. The Falcons have lacked the sort of explosive downfield plays that made their offense so dangerous last season, and that has been characterized by Ryan’s poor YPA numbers. He still had to work too hard for his numbers at times last week, but it was encouraging to see the offense find a measure of efficiency it has lacked for much of the season. He’ll have his work cut out for him in Carolina, but it’s hard to see him falling short of low-end QB1 numbers.
Marcus Mariota, Titans (vs. Ravens)
The line for Ravens-Titans isn’t yet on the board because of Baltimore’s quarterback situation, but we know that the Titans will be favored no matter who’s under center for the Ravens. Playing at home as a favorite is some of the best contextual support for a fantasy quarterback, and Mariota will have that this week. The Ravens have been a brutal matchup for quarterbacks, ranking fourth against the position in 4for4’s schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed metric (aFPA), but if the Titans are able to protect their home field in this game, Mariota will likely have a major hand in it. He doesn’t have a top-five ceiling, but a top-15 floor is a guarantee.
Derek Carr, Raiders (at Dolphins)
Carr has thrown 101 passes the last two weeks. Some of that was driven by context. Two weeks ago, the Raiders knocked off the Chiefs in a 31–30 shootout. Last week, they played without Marshawn Lynch and trailed all afternoon in an eventual 34–14 loss to the Bills. Still, it’s easy to see that the Raiders aren’t getting the production they expected from their run game, and that’s putting more of the offensive workload on Carr’s right arm. The Dolphins rank 22nd in quarterback aFPA, and were busy helping Joe Flacco to the best game of his season last week before he had to exit with a concussion. This is a team Carr should handle, and there’s no concern about the time zone change with the game in primetime.
Jared Goff, Rams (at Giants)
There are only 26 teams in action this week, which means that, in even the shallowest superflex league, all but six quarterbacks will be fantasy starters. It’s a low bar to get into superflex lineups as a quarterback in Week 9. Goff, however, clears it with ease. He’s a high-end QB2 who could be started in traditional one-quarterback leagues, as well. The Giants will play without the suspended Janoris Jenkins, who happens to be one of the best corners in the league. Even with Jenkins, the Giants are just 19th in quarterback aFPA. Without him, their pass defense could be a wreck. Goff and the Rams are favored by 3.5 points and have an implied team total of 22.75 points.
With just 26 teams playing this week, it’s hard to find non-obvious quarterbacks to sit. You don’t need me to tell you that you don’t want to start Drew Stanton or C.J. Beathard or Blake Bortles. So, consider the following recommendations more of the buyer-beware variety, rather than outright sit calls.
Jameis Winston, Buccaneers (at Saints)
The Saints are no longer the turnstile defense they once were, ranking 16th in quarterback aFPA this season. Winston is still dealing with the effects of a sprained shoulder, and while he has yet to miss any time, it’s clear he isn’t fully himself. He also aggravated the injury in the loss to the Panthers, and may not practice all week. If you’re considering starting Winston or one of the players above, or even someone like Andy Dalton (more on him shortly) or Jacoby Brissett, then Winston is still your man. If you have the luxury of also having someone like Goff, Carr or Cam Newton on your roster, this is a week to send Winston to the bench. He’s my QB15, just barely ahead of Josh McCown.
Kirk Cousins, Redskins (at Seahawks)
Cousins is finally getting the widespread respect he deserves as he puts a Redskins offense that doesn’t have a true No. 1 wide receiver on his back. Cousins’s most effective pass-catchers this season have been a running back (Chris Thompson) and a tight end who is injured too frequently (Jordan Reed). And yet, he still has 1,900 yards, 8.02 YPA, and 13 touchdowns against four interceptions. No quarterback with those credentials can be deemed an outright sit in any circumstances. And yet, this is a bad spot for him, and the entire Redskins offense. The Seahawks are one week removed from the worst performances of the Legion of Boom era. The Redskins, meanwhile, aren’t getting anything out of Terrelle Pryor or Josh Doctson, and will be without Reed, who’s nursing a hamstring injury. It’s not Cousins’s fault, but if you have another palatable option at quarterback, you should go with it this week.
Andy Dalton, Bengals (at Jaguars)
The Jaguars rank first in quarterback aFPA and are the No. 1 passing defense in the NFL. Dalton doesn’t deserve a lot of the criticism thrown his way, but he does deserve some of it. This is not the sort of defense against which you want to trust him, especially on the road. Dalton is a low-end QB2 for Week 9.
Jay Ajayi, Eagles (vs. Broncos)
I was surprised to see Ajayi outside the top-20 running backs by consensus ranking on FantasyPros this week. Yes, he has a tough matchup with the Broncos in his first game with the Eagles, and he may watch from the sidelines as LeGarrette Blount starts, but there’s no doubt that Ajayi should be in your lineup. I laid out earlier this week why the trade is great for his fantasy value, even if he doesn’t own the backfield in Philadelphia the same way he did in Miami. The upgrade in offensive environment cannot be overstated. If the Eagles are able to handle the Broncos, as they should, there will be plenty of scoring opportunity for Ajayi, even in an admittedly challenging matchup.
Marlon Mack, Colts (at Texans)
The Colts kept it closer than expected with the Bengals last week, leading to less volume than expected for Mack. Still, he got 14 touches, turning those into 63 total yards and a touchdown. The Colts are huge underdogs again this week, with oddsmakers installing the Texans as a 13-point favorite. Should the game play out as expected, the script will be strongly in Mack’s favor. Even if it isn’t, he has proved that he can show up for his fantasy owners with just 11 to 13 touches.
Orleans Darkwa, Giants (vs. Rams)
It’s easy to forget about Darkwa because of the low value of the Giants offense, but he should be a relatively easy starter last week. Forget about his numbers the last time we saw him on the field, which was back in Week 7. The Giants lost to the Seahawks 24–7 that week, with Darkwa running for 35 yards on nine carries. The stout Seattle defense shut him down early, and Russell Wilson and the offense took him out of the game late. He gets an easier matchup on both fronts with the Rams in town this week. On top of that, Darkwa is one of the top-three playmkaers in the Giants offense, along with Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard. No matter your position, being one of the three most dangerous weapons in an offense guarantees a player a certain workload. Darkwa’s volume-based floor places him on the RB2 radar this week.
All Seahawks Backs (vs. Redskins)
It’s hard to get zero yards on six carries and not have the worst day in your own backfield, but the 2017 Seahawks aren’t just any old backfield. Eddie Lacy put up those numbers in the team’s 41–38 win over the Texans last week, but somehow outdid Thomas Rawls, who turned his six carries into a loss of one yard. With C.J. Prosise still nursing an ankle injury and J.D. McKissic no more than the fifth option in the offense, don’t talk yourself into anyone in this backfield based on the greatness of Russell Wilson, the explosiveness of the offense, or any other reason that you might try to find. It has no value in fantasy leagues.
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers (vs. Falcons)
Stewart scored his first touchdown of the season last week in the Panthers 17–3 win over the Buccaneers, but it was lipstick on a pig. He had 34 yards on 11 carries, his fourth straight game with fewer than 3.5 yards per carry, and sixth game this year with fewer than 60 yards. What’s more, Christian McCaffrey played 10 more snaps than him. The rookie doesn’t take away much rushing volume, but Stewart rarely touches the ball when he’s on the field. Stewart has turned into a touchdown-dependent player, and the Panthers offense has not been consistent in giving him the short-yardage situations he needs to find the end zone. Even though the Falcons are ranked 29th in running back aFPA, it’s hard to trust Stewart in Week 9.
Ty Montgomery, Packers (vs. Lions)
Aaron Jones was the only Packer who had a good game in Brett Hundley’s first start. He ran for 131 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, and took control of the Packers backfield in the process. Montgomery dropped what would have been a touchdown in that game, but that would’ve obscured what was a terrible day. He played just seven snaps in the game, getting four carries and two targets. Jones’s skill set is a much better match for the offense the Packers will run with Hundley under center. Until further notice, Montgomery shouldn’t be near a fantasy starting lineup.
Ted Ginn, Saints (vs. Buccaneers)
Ginn was relatively quiet last week, catching two of his four targets for 68 yards. The Bears defense, however, is finally getting the recognition it deserves, and it now ranks fifth in wide receiver aFPA. Ginn will have a much easier matchup this week. The Buccaneers are 32nd in the league in receiver aFPA. In Ginn’s two previous games, Saints wins over the Packers and Lions, he had 11 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown. Week 9’s entry should be more along those lines than last week’s. The Saints are favored by a touchdown in a game with an over/under of 50, which gives them an implied total of 28.5 points.
Sterling Shepard, Giants (vs. Rams)
Shepard is over the ankle injury he suffered four weeks ago and will be back on the field when the Giants host the Rams on Sunday. He’ll return as the No. 1 receiver and no worse than the second option in the offense, likely sharing co-equal status with Evan Engram as Eli Manning’s favorite target. The Giants may ask Shepard to line up outside the numbers more often than he did when Odell Beckham was healthy. That may not be in his wheelhouse just yet, but he has the talent to succeed anywhere on the field. From a fantasy perspective, the most important factor is the increased volume. Shepard should average at least eight targets per game the rest of the season. He’ll be a strong bet every week to post at least WR2/3 numbers with that sort of opportunity. For what it’s worth, the Rams rank seventh in receiver aFPA.
Cooper Kupp, Rams (at Giants)
On the other side of that game, Kupp is the Rams receiver worthiest of a starting spot, but Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods are on the start radar, too. With Janoris Jenkins suspended by the team, the Giants secondary will be in a serious bind. They’re ninth in receiver aFPA this season, but that’s with one of the league’s best corners on the field. There’s no telling the domino effect his absence will have on the defense, but it could get ugly. The Rams, as discussed earlier with respect to Jared Goff, are favored by 3.5 points and have an implied team total of 22.75 points. Even with Todd Gurley eating up a ton of that volume, the passing attack should take advantage.
Kenny Stills, Dolphins (vs. Raiders)
Stills has turned in three strong games in a row, totaling 15 catches on 23 targets for 199 yards and three touchdowns in that span. A few of those numbers should jump out at you. First, the 23 targets. That’s the most he has had in any three-game stretch this season, and owes, at least in part, to the fact that DeVante Parker missed all three of those games with an ankle injury. He will be back on Sunday, and that will necessarily eat into Stills’s target share. Second, the three touchdowns on 15 catches. Stills did some great work in the red zone the last three weeks, but he’s not the sort of receiver we’d expect to post a touchdown one out of every five receptions, even in a small sample. He has been playing over his head with volume he likely won’t have this Sunday. That makes it a bad spot to get him in your lineup.
Nelson Agholor, Eagles (vs. Broncos)
Agholor’s touchdown streak ended at three games after he was held out of the end zone last week. He finished the Eagles 33-10 win over the 49ers with three catches for 26 yards. He had just three targets in the game, the sixth time this year he had five targets or fewer. Agholor has risen to prominence this season on the strength of his five touchdowns. He has topped 80 yards just twice, while falling short of 50 yards four times. The Broncos have allowed six touchdowns to receivers in seven games, and have held them to the fewest yards and yards per game. Agholor is no more than a WR4 this week.
Marqise Lee, Jaguars (vs. Bengals)
Lee is still dealing with knee soreness, but it’s not going to keep him off the field Sunday. It’s the same problem he had two weeks ago when he missed practice early in the week, and then matched his typical snap rate while catching four passes for 72 yards in the Jaguars win over the Colts. The concern here, though, is the way the Jaguars offense matches up with the Bengals defense. In short, it isn’t pretty for the passing game. The Bengals are sixth in receiver aFPA, and 14th in quarterback aFPA. Leonard Fournette is fully healthy after missing one game because of an ankle injury and using the bye week to get right. The over/under on the game is just 39.5 points, and the teams could fail to reach that paltry total. Other than A.J. Green, you do not want to invest in Bengals-Jaguars through the air.
Redskins Receivers (at Seahawks)
Jamison Crowder leads all Redskins receivers with 272 yards. That places him 73rd in the league in receiving yards. The Redskins three leading receivers who actually play wide receiver are Crowder, Terrelle Pryor and Ryan Grant. They’ve combined for 710 yards. Antonio Brown has 835 yards by himself. This group is going to get things cooking against Richard Sherman and company in Seattle? I don’t think so.
Vernon Davis, Redskins (at Seahawks)
That doesn’t mean everyone tied to the Washington passing game is worthless. Davis will start in place of the injured Jordan Reed, and should settle comfortably into the role that the latter has made so prominent in Washington’s offense. Even with Reed mostly healthy this season, Davis has taken advantage of the void created by Washington’s receivers to rack up 312 yards and a touchdown this season on just 22 targets. Reed, meanwhile, is averaging nearly six targets per game, and that includes two games he left early due to injury. The Seahawks still have an elite defense, but if there’s one place to attack them, it’s inside the numbers. They’re just 18th in tight end aFPA. Evan Engram, the only top-10 tight end they’ve faced this season, caught six passes for 60 yards and a touchdown against them in Week 7.
Delanie Walker OR Jonnu Smith, Titans (vs. Ravens)
Walker avoided serious injury on what looked like a gruesome ankle injury when the Titans were last on the field in Week 7. He suffered a bone bruise that, while not as bad as initially feared, could still have him out this week. If Walker cannot start, Smith will go in his place. The rookie out of Florida International has played well in limited receiving duty, catching 11 of 16 targets for 107 yards and two touchdowns. No matter who starts, he will be well worth running out there against a Ravens defense that ranks 29th in tight end aFPA.
Ben Watson, Ravens (at Titans)
Like all cross-your-fingers-and-hope tight ends, Watson is entirely touchdown dependent. The Titans have surrendered just two touchdowns to tight ends this season, with those scores going to Luke Willson and Jack Doyle. Watson isn’t as good as Doyle, and last I checked he doesn’t have Russell Wilson throwing him the ball. There are other fringe starters with more hope for a touchdown this week than Watson.
Austin Hooper, Falcons (at Panthers)
Let’s move it right along to the next touchdown-dependent tight end. The Panthers have allowed four touchdowns to tight ends this year. Two of those were to Zach Ertz. Hooper is not Ertz, and, for what it’s worth, those were Ertz’s only two catches against the Panthers. The other two were to Darren Fells, which does give some hope to a player like Hooper, especially if the Falcons can pile up red-zone possessions. He’ll likely draw Panthers safety Mike Adams in coverage, which projects as a neutral matchup according to Pro Football Focus. Still, believing in Hooper requires a fantasy owner to bet on him winning that matchup and garnering Matt Ryan’s attention in the red zone. The Falcons struggles this year beg for them to focus on Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman and Mohamed Sanu once they get close to the goal line. I’m not putting my money on Hooper being the cure to what ails the Falcons offense.