Welcome back loyal 5th Down Fantasy readers! With Week 8 officially in the books, we’re now halfway through the 2018 NFL season, already! I know, it’s a terrible thing to think about, and I genuinely hope we can find a way to keep this season going year-round, but until then we have some standouts to discuss in our fantasy football weekly review. This week brought with it a great assortment of a fresh faces and dominant regulars, let’s meet the gang.
Joe Mixon (Cincinnati Bengals)
This was the week that Joe Mixon’s fantasy owners have been waiting for since the start of the year. They labored through his injury scare, started Giovani Bernard and prayed that their RB2 would return to complete his ascension to true RB1 status.
This week those prayers were answered as the 2nd year RB shredded the Tampa Bay defense to the tune of 25 touches/138 yards/2 TDs, and had the jungle in Cincinnati roaring at full throat. Mixon’s pure ability shines in real time and on tape. You can’t deny his elusiveness in space and his versatility in the passing game makes him one of the best dual-threat backs in the league (already). Add those traits into an offense that’s averaging 28 points per game and you’ve got a fool-proof recipe for top tier fantasy production. Mixon has scored double-digit fantasy points in 4 of 6 games that he’s started this season (20/17/14/25) and has one of the best playoff schedules in fantasy. He faces the Chargers, Raiders and Browns in Weeks 14/15/16, three defenses that rank in the bottom half of the league in run defense.
With Cincinnati on bye this week and trade deadlines fast approaching this may be the last chance you’ll get to swing a deal for Mixon. If you have a surplus at a position that other players covet (WR/TE), I recommend reaching out and seeing if you can get it done. No. 28 will be on a lot of fantasy championship teams at season’s end.
Tarik Cohen (Chicago Bears)
I’m sorry, Jordan Howard owners, but there’s a new sheriff in the Chicago backfield and his name’s not Jordan Howard. Tarik Cohen’s name value is still at waiver wire pick-up level, and yet he’s one of the most explosive backs in the NFL. He’s not a household name, but he took a big step toward that recognition when he took a dump-off pass 70 yards to the house on Sunday against the Jets.
Cohen’s quietly been one of the most consistent running backs in fantasy over the past month-plus, putting up fantasy totals of 23, 16, 14 and 17 since Week 4. He’s scored 4 touchdowns (3 receiving/1 rushing) in that span and made a nice argument for being Chicago’s top pass-catcher with an average target share of 8 per game. All you need to do is look at the highlights from Bears games this season to see how vital Cohen’s been to their attack. He’s a skilled route runner, hard-nosed rusher and a player that proving his worth as a Chris Thompson/Austin Ekeler level starter for fantasy teams. PPR players already know how great Cohen is, and it’s time that standard league players took notice too.
Tyler Lockett (Seattle Seahawks)
Speaking of under the radar fantasy studs, our next standout takes us to the Pacific Northwest. Bring up the Seattle Seahawks to most football fans nation-wide and their first thought will likely be related to how great their defense was for the past half decade. They’ll applaud Russell Wilson’s athleticism and wonder why they didn’t run the ball with Marshawn Lynch in the Super Bowl, but that’s where the offensive conversation usually ends.
Tyler Lockett may just have something to say about that. In his 3rd year in the league, the 2015 3rd round wide out has been turning heads on a weekly basis in both standard and PPR formats. Lockett’s been a true diamond in the rough off the waiver wire for owners and a model of consistency with 5 of his 7 starts yielding double digit point totals. His totals since Week 1 are 11/12/14/5/16/8/10 and his target share has held steady at 6 per game even after the return of top dog Doug Baldwin.
Lockett is the perfect fantasy player for you to target now and hold onto for the long haul. His name value isn’t high, but his point totals are, making him a steal in both daily and year-long fantasy formats. With a weekly floor of 4 rec/70 yards and a high chance of a TD to go along with it, Lockett has solidified himself as a trustworthy FLEX start league-wide.
Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Okay, Okay, these names weren’t ALL going to be under the radar. The fact is, I haven’t written about Antonio Brown in this column yet, and given his 6/74/2 statline on Sunday it felt like the perfect opportunity to right that wrong.
Truth be told, the reason it took so long for Brown to make it into this write up was because the Steelers offense had struggled badly coming out of the gate this year. The Le’Veon Bell situation, Big Ben’s lack of chemistry with his weapons and frustrating early losses pushed this team to the brink of emotional collapse. Then they did what they always seem to do: they found a way to get right. Brown caught his first long TD of the year back in Week 5 against Atlanta and the spark was ignited; the Wi-Fi connection between Ben and Brown was back at full bars. Since then it’s been a vintage season from Brown, as his 8 TDs place him at the top of the league just ahead of the unlikely pairing of Tyreek Hill and Eric Ebron, and he’s scored double-digit fantasy points in all eight weeks.
The consensus top wide-out in the game is showing off again and this team’s starting to feel itself with the lethal combination of James Conner in the backfield and Brown/JuJu on the outside. It’s never a bad day to be an Antonio Brown owner, and when business is booming like it is right now, it’s enough to make you want to break out your own end zone dance. Just don’t try to do a standing front flip, that’s best saved for Tony Toe-tap on game day.
Marvin Jones Jr. (Detroit Lions)
The Lions scored two touchdowns on Sunday in Seattle, and Marvin Jones scored both of them. This was great to see because Jones had widely been regarded as a mid-round bust candidate by many fantasy owners who drafted him up until this point. Before this match-up Jones had scored double digit points just once and was notably buried under the hype of Kenny Golladay and steady consistency of Golden Tate.
Somewhere along the line he clearly got fed up with being the odd man out, and he showed that fire on Sunday with a monstrous 7/117/2 performance against Seattle. The performance saw Jones receive his highest target total of the year so far (10) and he made them count as he made Seattle pay nearly every time Matthew Stafford looked his way.
He’s still a way’s off from his standout 2017 season totals (1,100/9), but this game showed that he’s still a talented receiver with the potential to score on any play. I’d look at Jones as a quality sell-high candidate as we head towards the trade deadline. He’s at his peak value on the year right now and desperate bye week owners might chase the high point total. I’d try to shop him with the knowledge that you’ll still have a worthy FLEX option rest of season if you can’t get a deal done.
Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona Cardinals)
Yes, I know the Cardinals only scored 18 points this week and only won their game because the 49ers center thought C.J. Beathard was 10-feet tall. But, when a legend returns to fantasy relevance it’s a cause for celebration, and that’s exactly what I intend to do.
Larry Fitzgerald is one of the league’s most widely-beloved superstars for a reason, he works his tail off every game and he’s genuine. His commercials resonate with people because he radiates authenticity, and you can’t fake that kind of thing. You also can’t fake being an all-time great talent on the field, and that’s what Larry looked like on Sunday when he turned back the clock to help the Redbirds get their 2nd win of the year. Larry had his QB’s eye all day long and made it count, hauling in 8 passes on 12 targets for 102 yards and a touchdown. This performance marked Fitzgerald’s first 100-yard receiving game of the year and his 2nd straight game with a touchdown, both of which are great indicators of a growing bond with Josh Rosen.
The future Hall of Famer has averaged 8 targets per game since Week 1 and has a great chance to finish the season as a strong WR2 with interim coach Byron Leftwich now running the offense. It may not be the juggernaut Bruce Arians offense of 2015, but Leftwich has promised to get No. 11 more involved, and that’s enough to make any football fan smile.
Adam Thielen (Minnesota Vikings)
I told you all that Adam Thielen would be part of this article until his 100-yard receiving streak ended, and I’m a man of my word. Thielen brought himself even with Calvin Johnson in Week 8 with another stellar performance (7/105/1), and he’ll look to cement his place in NFL history next week against Johnson’s former team, the Detroit Lions.
What Thielen has done so far this year was thought to be borderline impossible for most wideouts, let alone someone who is now famously known as a long-shot, practice-squad walk on. His story has been hammered home every week for the past month, and it should be. It should be hammered home and printed on every newspaper and football website you can find, because Thielen is the NFL’s living, breathing embodiment of every kid that dreams of playing this game.
He’s not the most physically impressive talent, he’s not the most-flashy, and up until this past month he was far from recognizable by name. Yet, he stands toe-to-toe with one of the greatest big-man receivers the league’s ever seen with a chance to make history in Week 9. This is the stuff of film and TV being played out live on a 100-yard surface every week, and it’s the kind of thing that makes football the great game it is. I wish Thielen the best of luck in breaking Megatron’s streak and can’t think of a football fan I know that doesn’t want to see him do it.
Adrian Peterson (Washington Redskins)
My last standout of Week 8 is a man that I’ve refrained from writing about in any meaningful way all year because I was anticipating a steep drop off. Well, that drop never came and I owe Adrian Peterson both an apology and a well-written bit of praise for what he’s done this year.
Coming off of a tumultuous 2017 that saw him play odd man out in New Orleans and “Not David Johnson” in Arizona, it was safe to say that people didn’t believe in AP when he showed up in Washington this off-season. At 33 years old and on his 3rd team in less than a full year, Peterson was slated to be a depth option behind rookie RB Derrius Guice. When Guice tore his ACL in the preseason, Peterson saw an opportunity to prove his doubters wrong, and he ran with it with the force of a downhill locomotive with no brakes.
The man they call “All Day” has been the definition of a workhorse running back for Washington, averaging 24 carries per game and even adding a presence in the passing game. Peterson’s fantasy totals are a mixed bag of boom/bust outings with a slight leaning towards the boom column (20/5/24/4/9/10/25), and his performance on Sunday against the Giants was his finest showing to date. He shouldered the burden of winning the game for Washington almost single handedly and did it in dominant fashion with a line of 27 touches/156 yards/2 TDs.
The game was a victory in both a wider and more personal sense for Peterson. His Washington Redskins knocked off a struggling divisional foe to extend their lead in the NFC East, and Peterson surpassed Tony Dorsett for No. 9 on the NFL’s all-time rushing yards list. AP’s 12,863 yards place him just 400 yards shy of Eric Dickerson (13,259 yards) and 800 away from Jerome Bettis (13,662 yards) and LaDainian Tomlinson (13,684) in the record books. At the pace he’s been running this season, it’s fair to say those gentlemen should be worried. My hats off to Peterson for his performance so far this season, and throughout his illustrious career. He’s truly one of the best to ever do it.
MY TAKEAWAY FROM WEEK 8:
The Pittsburgh Steelers can comfortably move on from Le’Veon Bell whenever they want, and that’s pretty insane.
When the Steelers stumbled out of the starting blocks on offense to start the season the only thing on any fan/pundit/player’s mind was how much better they would look if Le’Veon Bell was on the field. Sure, James Conner was playing well, but he was still just Bell’s backup for the first few weeks; a high-quality placeholder in the same way that DeAngelo Williams had been in years prior.
Then something happened around the one-month mark: Conner stopped being just a fun story and started being one of the most dependable running backs in the league for both fantasy and real life purposes. In fact, Conner’s been so dominant that people are starting to legitimately compare him to Bell, which is a thought that would’ve gotten you laughed out of every fantasy football friend circle in the country just 2 months ago. The thing is, though, he’s been BETTER than Bell.
This is how Pittsburgh has looked with each back through the same sample of games:
2017 with Bell:
Steelers Record: (6-2)
Bell’s stat line: 194/760/5
2018 with Conner:
Steelers Record: (4-2-1)
Conner’s stat line: 127/600/9
Bell’s only advantage over Conner through 8 weeks is the overall rushing total, but that point loses significance when you factor in that it took Bell nearly 70 more touches than Conner to reach that mark. Give Conner another 70 attempts and he’d exceed that total with ease at the rate he’s been performing this season. That’s not even including how well Conner’s mimicked Bell’s trademark consistency and versatility in the Pittsburgh passing game. He’s molded himself in Bell’s image and has become Big Ben’s favorite check-down target for big gains.
Conner’s progress is incredible, and his success is a testament to an underrated Pittsburgh offensive line. That same line told Bell they’d rather see him stay at home while they champion their new backfield leader, and it’s played out exactly that way. As insane as it sounds, I think the Steelers are in a situation where they can legitimately stare across the table at arguably the best RB in the NFL and say “No thanks, we’re good” when it comes to any kind of negotiations. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Bell’s wearing a new set of colors during the 2nd half of this season.