- What do Jay Ajayi and Cam Newton have in store for their owners after big trades earlier this week? We answer that, and a lot more, in the Week 9 Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet.
This was an unusually active week of transactions in the NFL. It’s typically the MLB and NBA that have busy trade deadlines, but the NFL took a page from their respective books this season, with five noteworthy trades in the final 72 hours before the deadline. Meanwhile, the Ezekiel Elliott to-suspend-or-not-suspend saga continued apace, with a checkmark on both sides of the ledger this week. Ultimately, Elliott will be out there when the Cowboys take on the Chiefs on Sunday.
For the purposes of the Week 9 Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet, we want to focus on the trades. With that in mind, we asked our experts the following question.
An uncharacteristically active trade deadline saw Jay Ajayi and Kelvin Benjamin land with new teams. Benjamin’s new team already played this week, but let's talk Ajayi and Benjamin's former quarterback, Cam Newton. What are your expectations for those two players this week and rest-of-season.
Michael Beller: I covered this in some detail a little earlier in the week, but it’s worth going over again here. Even with LeGarrette Blount in the backfield and a second bye on the horizon, I think this is great news for Ajayi. He was stuck in a bad offense in Miami, playing for a coach with whom he did not see eye-to-eye. The Dolphins rank last in the league in yards and points per game. The Eagles are scoring 16 more points per game than the Dolphins this season. In other words, Ajayi’s new offense scores two touchdowns more per game than his old one. You think that’s good news for someone who projects as a lead back? I do.
The upgrade in environment goes beyond that. The Dolphins have run 14 plays inside the 10-yard line all season. Blount, on his own, has 12 carries inside the 10. Ajayi isn’t going to get all of those with Blount as successful as he is in short-yardage situations, but it’s safe to say that the Boise State product’s touchdown drought will come to an end soon.
As for Newton, there’s no positive spin for him. Losing Benjamin isn’t a death sentence, but the best that Newton owners can hope for is that he remains on the same, slightly disappointing, trajectory he has set for himself this season. Devin Funchess has a similar skill set to Benjamin, so he can step into the No. 1 role relatively seamlessly. The problem for Newton is the rest of the receiver depth chart. All he has behind Funchess is Curtis Samuel and Russell Shepard. Samuel does have some upside, and Christian McCaffrey will get even more work, but Newton’s already deficient cache of weapons is even weaker without Benjamin. He’ll still be without Greg Olsen until Thanksgiving, and even when the tight end returns he’ll be playing with, at best, league average pass-catchers.
Jennifer Eakins: I’ve seen some panic over Cam Newton’s fantasy potential without Benjamin, but I have no doubt he’ll be just fine. In 2015, Benjamin was sidelined for all 16 games with a torn ACL and Newton managed to post 4,473 combined yards and 45 total touchdowns. He also led the Panthers to the Super Bowl and won a little thing called the league MVP trophy. Newton is dangerous as a passer and ball carrier, and will grind out wins without Benjamin.
The Eagles swinging a trade for Ajayi tells me that they’re serious about winning now. If his knee holds up, they added a ground weapon to lead what has previously been a rigidly divided backfield. Ajayi gets an instant upgrade in his line, giving him a better chance to produce the fantasy numbers his drafters expected this season. The Eagles brain trust has stated that Blount remains the starter, but I suspect that is only for this week while Ajayi learns the playbook My bet is we see him take the reins in Week 10 and beyond.
T.J. Hernandez: Jay Ajayi is going from arguably the worst offense in the league to one of the best. On the surface, this should be a boost to Ajayi's value, but the Eagles have done most of their scoring through the air, with 83% of their offensive touchdowns coming via the pass this season. I do expect Ajayi to steal away most of the early-down work from LeGarrette Blount, but Blount will still be a factor near the goal line, which will cap Ajayi's upside. Ajayi is likely a solid RB2 down the stretch, but my favorite course of action is to try to sell him to an owner who thinks this is a much bigger upgrade than it actually is. As for Week 9, Ajayi is only usable in the deepest leagues against one of the best run defenses in the league in the Broncos.
When the Panthers traded Kelvin Benjamin, they did so to "get more speed on the field" and I think that helps Cam Newton more than the loss of Benjamin hurts. The fact of the matter is that Newton simply isn't a great passer and if you can let him throw it as far as possible to a receiver like Curtis Samuel, we may see flashes of the 2015 iteration of the quarterback when he was throwing to Ted Ginn. I view Newton as a streaming candidate at this point, but he will be in the mix as a top-five fantasy quarterback in Week 9 in a decent matchup against the Falcons, though that’s largely because six teams are on a bye and there just aren't that many quarterbacks in favorable spots this week.