Welcome back, loyal 5th Down Fantasy readers! With Week 9 officially in the books we’re almost out of the weeds with bye weeks and we’re getting ready to shift into the playoff push! It’s an exciting time on both the digital and real-life gridirons and we’ve got some superstars to highlight. This week brought with it a great assortment of a fresh faces and dominant regulars, so without further ado, let’s meet the gang.
This is week I’m going to do something special for a position that quite frankly deserves something nice. The tight end position has taken a beating in 2018, but these guys have been uplifting stories in a sea of sorrow:
O.J. HOWARD (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
What can’t O.J. Howard do? Really, it’s remarkable to watch the 2nd year tight end work his way through coverages week after week. Howard has produced at a level worthy of TE1 status in all fantasy formats regardless of who’s under center for Tampa Bay, and it’s starting to gain him some much-deserved praise in fantasy circles. Since the start of the year he’s posted double digit totals four times and his weekly floor of (7 points) is one of the most reliable in the league at one of fantasy’s thinnest positions.
Since his return from injury Howard has made Cameron Brate irrelevant in Tampa and produced at a high level regardless of match-up. His totals over the past month (12/6/12/17) indicate a growing reliance on him in the Bucs offense, and his steady catch rate (4 per game) ensures that the prosperity and good fortune will continue for his fantasy owners. His performance this past week was his finest yet, as he victimized the Panthers for a total of (4 Rec/53 Yds/2 TDs). I don’t often talk about dynasty leagues in my articles, but if you were to name the top 5 TE worth keeping for the foreseeable future I’d have Howard behind only Zach Ertz and Travis Kelce at this point. He’s just been that good.
[Also See: 8 Moments You Shouldn’t Have Missed in Week 9]
GEORGE KITTLE (San Francisco 49ers)
While we’re on the topic of dynasty league tight ends we should discuss the emergence of George Kittle in the Bay Area. Kittle was far from a name value player coming into the 2018 draft season, but got some play in later rounds largely because of the presence of Jimmy G. Once Garroppolo went down it was widely accepted that Kittle’s production would go into the tank, but in reality, the exact opposite has happened.
Kittle’s fantasy totals since losing Garroppolo have actually gone UP. Since Week 3 Kittle’s produced weekly totals of: (18/8/3/15/5/16). That spike in production can be attributed to a massive target share, as Kittle’s seen an average of 8 targets per game this season and he’s hauled in roughly 75% of them. This has made him arguably the number one receiving option for the 49ers and his average of 70 yards per game put him right on par with Howard in terms of a stable floor for fantasy owners. This past week’s performance saw Kittle show off his best OBJ impression, as he one-handed a pass from Nick Mullens in stride and torched Oakland for (4 Rec/108 Yds/TD).
Going into Week 10, Kittle is on pace to surpass both his total targets and receptions from his 2017 season and he’s already eclipsed his TD and yardage totals from last year. He’s another name to monitor closely on a weekly basis and strongly consider holding onto in long term keeper formats.
GREG OLSEN (Carolina Panthers)
Rumors of Greg Olsen’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, and fantasy owners couldn’t be happier. When the perennial top 5 tight end went down early in the season with a repeat injury to his foot most fantasy fans worried that we might be seeing the beginning of the end of a legendary career. Those people clearly didn’t know who they were dealing with, because Olsen’s not only back on the field, he’s back and producing top 3 fantasy performances again. His production since returning in Week 6 has been nothing short of remarkable, posting fantasy totals of (4/6/11/13) and scoring a touchdown in all but one of those contests.
Olsen has long been known to be Cam Newton’s favorite target in Carolina, and that connection is still going stronger than ever. Olsen’s average week to week target share is steady at 6-7 targets per contest and he’s posted a 100% catch rate over the past two games. His latest performance in Week 9 against the Bucs was his best showing yet, shredding Tampa’s bottom ranked defense for (6 Rec/76 Yds/TD). There’s undoubtedly still some residual worry that Olsen could re-injure himself at any time, but from what we’ve seen this past month I think it’s safe to say he’s a must start in almost all match-ups if he’s going to suit up.
JULIO JONES (Atlanta Falcons)
IT FINALLY HAPPENED YOU GUYS! HE DID IT, HE REALLY DID IT! **Pauses to catch breath**
I joke, but that level of excitement is exactly how Julio Jones owners had to have felt watching their prized WR1 FINALLY get into the end zone this past week in Washington. The Redskins were giving all day to the Atlanta offense, but it still took until the very last TD drive for Jones to get in; dragging the newly acquired Ha Ha Clinton-Dix into the end zone with him. On the day Jones finished with a line of (7 Rec/121 Yds/TD) and saw his usual share of targets (10).
The touchdown ended Jones’ unbelievable 12 game scoring drought and may have opened the flood gates for a massive 2nd half of the season for fantasy owners. In the next three weeks Jones will face the Browns (with injuries to Denzel Ward/Damarious Randall), Dallas (who just got torched by the Titans), and New Orleans worst ranked passing defense. Fire up No. 11 with even more confidence than usual, fantasy fans, your iron clad patience has paid off. The man has come back around and he’s hungry for much more than just a single touchdown.
MICHAEL THOMAS (New Orleans Saints)
Antonio Brown joked about a month back about the Wi-Fi connection being off between he and Ben Roethlisberger, but the cell reception seems to be working just fine for Michael Thomas in the Superdome. I highlighted Thomas back in one of my initial weekly recap columns and dubbed him “the most reliable receiver in fantasy football”, and he’s done everything in his power to prove me right since.
On the year Thomas has scored 5 TD’s and gone over 100 yards in a game three times (Weeks 1/3/9). He’s done all of this while garnering a staggering average target share of (12 targets per contest) and he’s caught over 90% of them. The man is a walking magnet for the football and is virtually un-guardable by most DB’s (per his twitter handle @CantGuardMike). Thomas welcomed the NFL’s last undefeated team to the Superdome with style, roasting Marcus Peters for (12 Rec/211 Yds/TD) and playing a major role in handing the Rams their first loss of the 2018 campaign.
Those who have Thomas on their teams (especially in PPR format) understand just how special this guy is, and he even showed off some personality by paying homage to Hall of Famer Joe Horn with his cell phone TD celebration. Thomas is a lot like DeAndre Hopkins, in that he’s an elite talent that flies under the radar because of the flashier names in the league (Julio/AB/OBJ), but for his fantasy owners he’s as good (if not better) than each of those gentlemen.
TEVIN COLEMAN (Atlanta Falcons)
Boy, oh boy, was I wrong about Tevin Coleman this past week. The man listed as my Primary Suspect on last week’s edition of the FANTASY FILES must have read what I had to say, because it seemed at times like he was breaking big plays just to spite me.
In reality, Coleman surpassed the expectations of virtually any/all fantasy prognosticators on Sunday as he and the Falcons torched the usually stout Washington run defense at FedEx Field. Everything seemed to go Atlanta’s way in this one from the very start. Matt Ryan was on fire (350 Yds/4 TDs), Julio and Calvin Ridley caught TDs and the combination of Coleman/Ito Smith both got into the end zone. It was a veritable feeding frenzy in Maryland and Coleman was going back for seconds almost every time he touched the ball. He ended the day with a scintillating display of his versatility, rushing the ball 13 times for 88 yards and scoring both of his TD’s through the air with a total of (5 Rec/68 Yds/2 TDs).
Coleman put to bed the notion that he was a middle of the road start in fantasy with his strongest performance of the year against one of the toughest perceived matchups. Major credit to No. 26 and the Dirty Birds for taking care of business and surprising a lot of people (myself included).
MARQUEZ VALDES-SCANTLING (Green Bay Packers)
The soon to be dubbed “Notorious MVS” is likely the number one priority pick-up in most fantasy leagues you’re in right now, and with good reason. When Randall Cobb and (more importantly) Geronimo Allison went down due to injury MVS stood out immediately as someone worth watching in this Green Bay Offense. Fantasy owners took a more cautious approach towards adding him, for the most part, but Aaron Rodgers gave the previously unknown wideout his stamp of approval by hitting him for either 100 yards or a TD in each of the past four weeks.
Regardless of opponent MVS has been a steady contributor, and his target share (6 targets per game) matches that of former Rodgers WR2’s in the past. As Rodgers’ 2nd option behind Davante Adams, Valdes-Scantling now seems locked in as an WR2 with WR1 upside in particularly juicy matchups. The Packers will look to rebound from their loss to New England with a soft matchup against a mediocre Miami Dolphins team in Week 10.
KAREEM HUNT (Kansas City Chiefs)
Kareem, Master of the Hunt. First of his name and heir to the throne of Priest Holmes in Kansas City running back lore. What can you say about Kareem Hunt that hasn’t already been said on a near weekly basis since his entry into the league? He started with a statement smashing of the Pats in the opening week of the 2017 season and has since showed fantasy owners and football fans alike that dominance is a trait he possesses on a weekly basis. All hype aside, it’s genuinely frightening to think about facing Kareem Hunt in a weekly matchup. The man is a week-winner the same way Todd Gurley has been this year and he’s doing it at almost the same rate of consistency.
Hunt’s scored double-digit fantasy totals in every week since Week 1 this year and his past month looked like this (24/32/14/32). That’s just in standard leagues. In PPR formats Hunt is even more dominant thanks in large part to his even more pronounced role in KC’s passing game this season. Hunt has been targeted 21 times in the passing game and caught 19 of them, with 6 of those receptions leading to touchdowns. He’s doing all of this while still rushing the ball an average of 18 times per game and scoring nearly every other game. It’s this kind of dominance that makes a performance like the one from Week 9 look run of the mill. Hunt ripped the Browns apart to the tune of (19 touches/141 Yds/3 TDs), and he made it look effortless. I know I’m frightened to face Hunt in virtual football, I can’t even imagine how it must feel to try to stop him in real life.
DUKE JOHNSON JR. (Cleveland Browns)
It’s a wonder what can happen when you finally fire the worst coach in the league! Duke Johnson has long been praised in PPR circles as a favorite late round choice amongst fantasy owners, but under Hue Jackson he was left to rot on the bench in favor of Nick Chubb. That is, until this past week where Johnson was finally allowed to show off his skills and put on a show for the Cleveland faithful. Johnson showed off his prowess in the passing game by producing a perfect catch rate (9/9 on targets) and stunning the Chiefs defense for 78 yards and 2 TD’s.
Here’s hoping that the new coaching staff saw this performance and took it to heart, because in terms of fantasy production there are few PPR backs better than Johnson. When he’s getting his steady target share, fantasy owners can trust him as a mid-level RB2 or a high-level FLEX play in PPR. Do the right thing Cleveland, let Duke have his fun in the secondary. You might just win a game if you do.
ALVIN KAMARA (New Orleans Saints)
It’s a testament to how great Alvin Kamara is that he’s the running back I’m talking about in a game that also featured Todd Gurley. While Gurley tangled with the Saints low-key top-ranked run defense all game, Kamara gleefully shredded the Rams for chunk yardage on what seemed like every attempt.
I spoke highly of Hunt just a moment ago for many of the same qualities that Kamara possesses. His hands are magnets for the football (13 catches/15 targets over the past month), and his fluid running style merges raw, smash mouth power with an elusiveness that matches his diminutive appearance on screen. Both of these attributes were on full display on Sunday as Kamara posted another impressive line (23 touches/116 Yds/3 TDs) and lifted the Saints to victory over the Rams.
Kamara has proven himself to be exactly what we thought he was last year: an every down back that can score fantasy points in both aspects of the game. Kamara/Hunt/Gordon/Gurley/Barkley are the blue-print for the future of the running back position in the National Football League, and that’s spectacular news for fantasy fans that were lamenting the perceived death of the position only a few short years ago.
MY TAKEAWAY FROM WEEK 9:
Two veteran QB’s are on track to win their first ever MVP award.
As it stands currently there are two popular names being thrown around for the league MVP award in almost all football publications: Patrick Mahomes and Todd Gurley. Mahomes has been a revelation, an absolute must-see attraction on a weekly basis and a rookie that’s already breaking NFL records; his greatness needs no further verification.
On the other hand, I myself wrote a lengthy defense of Gurley as the first running back since Adrian Peterson in 2012 to be worthy of the prize. His ability to score on almost every play regardless of field position or opponent makes him one of the most lethal offensive weapons the leagues ever seen.
What’s been lost in translation so far this year is just how great two veteran quarterbacks have been. I’m talking about Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints and Philip Rivers of the Los Angeles Chargers. Despite being two of the most recognizable signal callers of the past 20 years of NFL football, neither man has ever been named the league’s Most Valuable Player. It’s easy to chalk that up to bad luck, both men played in the same era as Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, after all, but that was then and this is now. In 2018 Rivers and Brees’ stats look like this:
Philip Rivers (Through 8 games):
Comp %: 67%
Passing Yards: 2,236
Drew Brees (Through 8 games):
Comp %: 76%
Passing Yards: 2,336
Both men are evenly matched at most offensive categories (with Brees having an impressive edge in terms of completion percentage), and each has their own unique claim to why they could be MVP.
Rivers has long suffered from being the quarterback of a Chargers franchise that’s seemingly found ways to lose games they should win every year. Their roster is routinely loaded with talent, but they’ve somehow always found a way to underachieve despite it. Rivers is looks like he’s on a mission to turn back the tide of the franchise’s history in 2018, and he’s done that by being borderline perfect on a weekly basis.
The Chargers defense has struggled more than most anticipated they would, and without Joey Bosa healthy this could easily be the narrative that defined their season. Instead, Rivers has pushed the LA offense into overdrive by getting Melvin Gordon/Austin Ekeler more involved in the passing game and making up for the issues on the other side of the ball. At 6-2 this looks like one of the best Chargers teams in recent memory and with Bosa set to return in the 2nd half of the year they look like a team that can really shake things up down the stretch. Rivers is one of the primary reasons why all of this exists as it does presently.
Brees, on the other hand, has the look of a man of destiny this season. Not only is he breaking major league records seemingly every week, he’s doing it with a level of precision and poise that rivals any of his prior seasons. His TD/INT ratio of 18/1 is otherworldly for any quarterback, let alone a 39-year-old one. Yet, time after time, week after week, Brees has proven to fans and pundits alike that he’s one of the greatest players to ever put on a helmet.
This past week’s slaying of the undefeated LA Rams was the cherry on top of what has been an unbelievable run for this Saints team in the first half of the year. Brees was perfect, throwing for 346 Yards and 4 TD’s (His highest single game TD total of the season). Drew Brees embodies the word “clutch”, and with the weapons at his disposal and talent left in his arm and mind there’s no reason why this can’t be his year to win the league’s highest individual honor.
The race for league MVP is wide open, and with only half the season in the books things can obviously shift drastically. I just want you to think about Brees and Rivers when you’re discussing the men worthy of that honor so far this season, because they both undoubtedly deserve to be in the conversation.