By James Reagan
Week 9 of the NFL season saw a return to non-competitive football. With the completion of Sunday Night Football, seven of the 12 games played were decided by more than a touchdown. Amazingly, both the Philadelphia Eagles and the Los Angeles Rams topped 50 points, bringing joy and excitement to fantasy owners of players on those teams.
Yet even with the lopsided scores, many players put up nice fantasy days. After three consecutive weeks of two or fewer fantasy points, T.Y. Hilton exploded for 29 fantasy points, good for first place on the leaderboard entering Monday Night Football. Jared Goff benefitted big time from the Rams’ blowout over the Giants, as he led all quarterbacks with 28 fantasy points. Running backs Alvin Kamara and Corey Clement technically aren’t the starters in their respective backfields, yet both players tied for first among running backs with 24 points.
Note: Points in this article are based on ESPN standard scoring.
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Surprise of the Week: T.Y. Hilton, IND WR.
With so many surprises this week, I’m going with the player that scored the most points, though I also would want to give an honorable mention to Clement’s unlikely performance with the Eagles. It’s worth noting that some experts had predicted sleeper potential this week for Hilton, thanks to the immense struggles of the Houston Texans’ pass defense. But even so, Hilton owners had to be nervous starting him after three weeks of 27 or fewer receiving yards. Even yours truly had noted that the recent trends with the Indianapolis Colts’ offense suggested that Jack Doyle has become the Colts’ top pass-catching target.
Well, Hilton’s big-play potential was on full display in Week 9. He had five receptions on nine targets for 175 yards and two touchdowns. His first touchdown came on a 45-yard play in the first quarter, while his second touchdown came on a bizarre an 80-yard play where several Texans defenders failed to mark Hilton down. That 80-yard touchdown was obviously huge, accounting for half of Hilton’s fantasy points.
It’s not like Doyle disappeared though, as he put up eight receptions on nine targets for 63 yards. These two are clearly the guys that Jacoby Brissett trusts the most, which means a lot now that Andrew Luck is officially done for the year. The next most targeted player on the Colts’ offense was Frank Gore and he only had four targets. Beyond Hilton and Doyle, no other Colt had more than 3 receptions or 26 receiving yards.
Hilton owners that actually started him have to be thrilled with the results. Those that don’t may feel like hitting their heads against the wall. Hilton is a perfect example of a feast or famine player, as he has three games of 150+ receiving yards and 17+ fantasy points. In his other six, he’s had four or fewer fantasy points.
I can’t in good conscience say that Hilton is going to keep this up on a week-to-week basis. If you start him, you are hoping for explosive plays and a friendly matchup that won’t cause Brissett too much trouble. There will be some of those, but there will also be weeks where the Colts look like the worst team in the NFL. Hilton is the only Colts wide receiver that is worth starting in fantasy right now and despite this week’s huge numbers, the inconsistency of his offense makes it unlikely for him to top this performance.
Alshon Jeffery, PHI WR.
One of the only things that hasn’t been great about the Eagles shocking 8-1 start has been the performance of free agent acquisition Alshon Jeffery. Prior to Week 9, Jeffery had just three games with 60 or more receiving yards and just three touchdowns on the year. He was able to correct course in Week 9 with six receptions for 84 yards and two touchdowns, good for 20 fantasy points.
Jeffery’s 11 targets were by far the most among Eagles receivers, with no other player having more than four. They didn’t even need Carson Wentz to throw all that much with the ground game gashing the Denver Broncos for 197 yards. So even though Wentz had just 199 yards, he was able to capitalize with four passing touchdowns.
Jeffery now has touchdowns in consecutive weeks, with the last two weeks being two of his three best performances this year. As good as this week was, it’s important to remember that Zach Ertz was out for the game. When healthy, Ertz is the Eagles’ most dangerous pass catcher. But with the way Wentz is playing, there is room for both Ertz and Jeffery to excel, so Jeffery owners can be optimistic that he has turned the corner finally.
Matt Forte, NYJ RB.
There were a lot of great running backs on Sunday. However, Thursday Night Football had one of the more shocking running back performances, with 31-year-old Matt Forte giving the few owners who started him a welcome #ThrowbackThursday by rushing 14 times for 77 yards and two touchdowns. It was easily his best game of the year and all the more shocking, as he somehow edged out two younger Jets running backs to lead the team in carries.
The Jets have been using a committee approach throughout the season in their backfield. Before Week 9, Forte was viewed as the top pass-catching back, while Bilal Powell looked to be the Jets running back to own in fantasy. Powell still had an impressive night of his own, with nine carries for 74 rushing yards, but he had no touchdowns. The third member of the committee, rookie Elijah McGuire, was more of a non-factor with only 30 yards on 13 attempts.
Even at 31 years old and in his 10th season in the NFL, Forte still has some burst. But the Jets are wise to spell him an exhaustive workload and to keep with the committee approach. I will still not be all that surprised if Powell is able to seize control of the backfield later in the year. For now, if you’re starting Forte, it’s hoping for him to do some work as the pass catching back and also for him to reclaim some of the magic from earlier in his career.
Terrance Williams, DAL WR.
This was a great week to start Dallas Cowboys wide receivers, unless you were a Dez Bryant owner. Both Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley stepped up for double-digit fantasy points on a day where Bryant had to leave the game early with an ankle injury. Williams was all yardage with nine catches for 141 yards and 14 fantasy points, while Beasley only had 24 yards, but was bailed out by two receiving touchdowns, which helped him to also finish with 14 fantasy points.
The Williams development was definitely a bit of a shocker, as he isn’t even on rosters in many fantasy leagues. Williams more than doubled his previous best performance of the season, 68 yards back in Week 1. With the Bryant injury, Williams finished second on the team with nine, falling two behind Bryant’s 11. Yet even with his great performance, Williams may have hurt his waiver wire credentials with an injury causing him to limp off the field late.
The Cowboys may have gotten a nice win against the Kansas City Chiefs, but the injuries to Bryant and Williams, as well as Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension status, have to have them extremely concerned. If Bryant misses any time, Williams will obviously get a huge bump in fantasy value and so would Beasley. I would have to think that if Bryant can come back next week, Williams remains as a third-string receiver and a very risky fantasy proposition. It’s too soon to tell with their injuries, but for now I’m putting Williams’s performance as fluky, though I believe that he definitely should be a player to watch in the coming weeks.
LeSean McCoy, BUF RB.
In what was their only scheduled nationally televised game for 2017, the Buffalo Bills did an awful job making a good impression to the nation. They instead got beat up badly by the Jets, with two late passing touchdowns by Tyrod Taylor making the game look closer than it actually was. The Bills did almost nothing on offense in the first three quarters and their previously impressive defense did not force any turnovers and only had one sack.
LeSean McCoy was a bitter disappointment as well, with just 12 carries for 25 yards. Thursday marked his fourth game of the season with single-digit fantasy points and more maddeningly, this game came right on the heels of his best game in 2017. McCoy still has just three touchdowns on the season too, one in Week 7 and one in Week 8.
While he’s been healthy and played in every Bills game so far, it’s possible that McCoy owners are feeling a little frustrated. McCoy was a consensus first rounder and though he’s been solid, he still only has the eighth most points among running backs this season. As frustrating as this is, a game with just 25 rushing yards is not something you should expect to see from McCoy again this year. He has friendly matchups ahead against the New Orleans Saints and the Los Angeles Chargers, so he should be able to bounce back very soon.
Cameron Brate, TB TE/Tampa Bay’s offense.
Cameron Brate gets the spotlight here after a dreadful day where he only had one reception for nine yards on four targets. That’s zero points in ESPN standard leagues. But it’s not like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had much of any success on offense during their 30-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints. At 2-6, it seems their season has officially walked the plank and now both the Bucs’ offense and defense have been looking terrible in recent weeks, causing extreme discouragement to Tampa Bay fans and the fantasy owners who start their offensive players.
The game was all Saints from early on, but it really didn’t help things that Jameis Winston got injured in the second quarter. Ryan Fitzpatrick came in and led the team to one garbage time touchdown. The recipient of that touchdown? Third-string tight end Luke Stocker.
It was that kind of day for a lost Buccaneers offense. Brate was not the only player on his team to finish with very low fantasy totals. DeSean Jackson led the team in receiving yards with a pitiful 25 yards. Outside of Stocker and backup running back Peyton Barber, no Buccaneers wide receiver, tight end or running back had more than two fantasy points.
The Winston injury could change things up for the Buccaneers if he has to miss a lot of weeks. Fitzpatrick has proven capable in short stints as a starter. Brate could manage to put in serviceable numbers with Fitzpatrick as his quarterback, but with the way Tampa’s offense has been playing, it’s really difficult to continue to place him as a top 10 tight end option. Brate needs a touchdown to justify his low yardage numbers and that hasn’t happened now for three weeks.