[sc name=”Author Chris Moore”]
After an absolute whirlwind of a news cycle heading into Week 9, it was good to get some football tape to evaluate. We didn’t get a look at Kelvin Benjamin in his new home in Buffalo just yet, but we did get a glimpse of what the Panthers would look like without him. We also got looks at Carolina without Benjamin, at Miami without Ajayi, at the Eagles with Ajayi, and a particularly ugly sample of football from a post-Deshaun Watson Houston Texans team.
As we’re only a handful of weeks away from the fantasy playoffs, it’s more important now than ever to be able to process this new information and find whatever edges we can in evaluating player usage going forward. Week 9 was easily the biggest shake-up of the season, and there are definitely things to learn from the football we saw this past weekend.
To that end, let’s take a look at some of the biggest and/or most surprising target totals from Week 9’s action.
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Rising Target Grabbers
DeAndre Hopkins (WR, HOU) – 16 Targets
Tom Savage, for all his faults, at least knows that to enjoy any level of success, he’s going to need to feed the beast. Although Hopkins’s efficiency was greatly reduced, only catching 6 of 16 targets for 86 yards and a score, with this level of raw volume he can still be a high end WR2. The downgrade from Deshaun Watson to Savage is arguably as steep as the one from Aaron Rodgers to Brett Hundley, and there was no getting around the fact that DeAndre Hopkins‘s value was going to take a significant hit, but it was encouraging to see a productive day from Nuk in the first game in the new Watson-less Houston offense.
Marqise Lee (WR, JAX) – 12 Targets
With eight catches for 75 yards and a TD in Week 9, Lee now has three straight games with at least 72 yards, apparently emerging as a clear #1 WR for Blake Bortles, as he has led the Jacksonville Jaguars in targets in four out of the last five games. Still just 37% owned in Yahoo leagues, Marqise Lee is a somewhat available, reasonable WR3 option with some upside, playing for a QB in Blake Bortles that helped produce an overall WR4 season for Allen Robinson in 2015.
Marvin Jones Jr. (WR, DET) – 11 Targets
With 7 catches for 107 yards and a pair of scores on Monday night, Jones was Week 9’s overall WR2, and now has three straight games with at least 11 targets, and at least 96 yards, to go with three touchdowns over that span. Golden Tate‘s shoulder injury, that knocked him out of the second half against New Orleans in Week 7, might have been the shakeup needed to clear the way for Marvin Jones‘s breakout. Jones’s production fell off so precipitously after his sensational first four games in 2016, that there was some worry that his hot start was a fluke. While this latest spike may be shrugged off as evidence that Marvin Jones is one of the streakiest WRs in fantasy football, it’s clear that he can produce like a WR1 while he’s hot, even as Tate has compiled 295 yards of his own over that same three game span.
Alshon Jeffery (WR, PHI) – 11 Targets
One of a few shockers heading into Week 9’s action was the announcement that the Eagles would be without 2017’s overall fantasy TE2, Zach Ertz. Playing without his most reliable pass-catcher to date, Carson Wentz found Jeffery six times for 84 yards and two touchdowns. With three TDs in his last two games, Jeffery seems finally to be breaking out in one of the NFL’s best offenses, but this was only his second game this season with more than four receptions. It helps to be attached to the current NFL passing TD leader, as Jeffery might finally be delivering on the WR1 potential we’d expect this Eagles offense to produce.
Davante Adams (WR, GB) – 10 Targets
As devastating as the loss of Aaron Rodgers has been to this Green Bay Packers offense, one silver lining is that Davante Adams has now been targeted ten times by Brett Hundley in the last three games. Although the results under Hundley have been spotty, including just seven catches for 53 yards in Week 9, there does seem to be a trajectory of humble improvement as the third year quarterback makes the adjustment to the starting role. Brett Hundley threw for just 87 yards in his first start, but upped that number to a respectable 245 in start number 2. Hundley and Adams also just barely missed a possible connection for a long TD in the first half of Week 9’s loss to the Lions that certainly could have changed the fantasy perception of both players fairly dramatically. Adams seems to be a more salvageable fantasy commodity than teammate Jordy Nelson who just hasn’t yet established anything like a working rapport with Aaron Rodgers‘s replacement. You could certainly make the argument that Davante Adams is the Packers receiver to own going forward.
Terrance Williams (WR, DAL) – 9 Targets
Although it was only the first time in the last seven games that Williams surpassed 47 yards receiving, it was still impressive to see him catch all nine of his targets for 141 yards in Week 9’s win over the Chiefs. With Dez Bryant nursing both ankle and knee injuries, there’s a chance that Williams is in for an expanded role at Atlanta in Week 10. It’s also worth noting that as of this writing, we’re still not certain that Ezekiel Elliott will be eligible to play, as we await final word on his looming six-game suspension. Although he’s day to day with an ankle issue of his own, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Terrance Williams might lead the Dallas Cowboys in targets next week. You could do worse than Williams as a bye week WR3 if one or more of Zeke and Dez are sidelined.
Carlos Hyde (RB, SF) – 11 Targets
Ever since inexplicably giving way to Matt Breida in a loss at Indianapolis that 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan chalked up to ‘playing the hot hand,’ Hyde’s usage has rebounded nicely, and his targets have increased in each of his last four games (6, 8, 9, 11). Trailing only Christian McCaffrey in the category of receptions at the running back position, Carlos Hyde is one of the least susceptible running backs in the NFL to negative game script. In Week 9, Hyde did most of his damage in the passing game, catching nine balls that accounted for 84 of his 125 yards from scrimmage on the day.
Evan Engram (TE, NYG) – 10 Targets
With four catches for 70 yards and a score, Engram had his third game in his last five with double digit targets, his third straight game with at least 17 fantasy points in PPR formats, and his third straight game with a TD. With an extremely secure role that could even grow from here, he’s a locked in top 4 TE with Kelce, Gronkowski, and Ertz. He’s an absolute stud and potential league-winning tight end.
Jared Cook (TE, OAK) – 9 Targets
Cook pulled in eight catches for 126 yards in Week 9, for his second 100 yard game in his last three. The overall TE7 in PPR formats for the season thus far, Jared Cook is arguably the best value at the position aside from Engram. He lacks the immense ceiling of the elite TEs, but his floor has been steady with at least three catches in all but one game this season and at least 43 yards in six of nine.
Vernon Davis (TE, WAS) – 9 Targets
For any game Jordan Reed needs to miss, Vernon Davis is a reliable back-end TE1. Davis is averaging over 10.5 PPR fantasy points over his last seven games and has surpassed 58 yards receiving in all but one games over that same span. His nine targets with Reed out of the lineup against the Seahawks in Week 9 were a season high and look very repeatable in a home contest against the Vikings, if Reed needs to miss once again in Week 10.
Julius Thomas (TE, MIA) – 8 Targets
Perhaps the most actionable name on this list for Week 9, Julius Thomas is only owned in 15% of Yahoo leagues as of this writing. It took a while for Julius Thomas to get going with his new QB in Jay Cutler, but Thomas was targeted a season high eight times in a win over the Raiders in Week 9, pulling in six catches for 84 yards and a touchdown, his second game over his last three with at least 58 yards. Thomas has at least played himself into the high-end TE2 streamer conversation as we look ahead and see if he can build on this modest level of success. Thomas had 12 TDs in both the 2013 and 2014 season so he can be a legitimate red zone weapon if Cutler can keep him in play.
Potential Week 10 Breakouts
Dede Westbrook (WR, JAX)
Over the last couple of weeks, as Westbrook works his way back from a core muscle injury that landed him on injured reserve to start the 2017 campaign, we’ve heard the hype machine surrounding him touting Dede as looking at a “top three role” on the Jaguars offense over the second half of the season. While it was something of a buzzkill that Jacksonville decided to be conservative with the young WR by holding him out in Week 9, by all accounts the delay had absolutely nothing to do with his health and was instead borne of a desire to get him more than one week of practice reps before tossing him into the fray. Clocking in at a 4.34 for his 40-yard dash, Westbrook has elite speed and a role that could give him the opportunity to make a late season impact comparable to what we saw from Tyreek Hill a year ago. Available in 74% of Yahoo leagues you’ll be hard pressed to find a player on your waiver wire with a higher ceiling. As we haven’t seen him yet, it’s hard to really establish a baseline expectation for him in Week 10, but the Chargers present a fairly neutral matchup for Westbrook’s season debut. He’s at least a stash candidate, but could have some desperation flex appeal in deeper leagues.
Curtis Samuel (WR, CAR)
In one of the bigger splash moves at the trade deadline, Carolina dealt Kelvin Benjamin to the Buffalo Bills, giving Curtis Samuel an opportunity to immediately ascend to a substantial role in the Panthers offense. In his first game after Benjamin’s departure, Samuel was targeted five times, catching three passes for 23 yards, adding a run for 14 more. Like Westbrook, it likely takes a desperate situation for him to sniff your lineup just yet, especially with a tough matchup Monday night against the Dolphins secondary, but Samuel has legit stretch-run upside as he takes on a bigger target share with the occasional running play mixed in.
Rex Burkhead (RB, NE)
Burkhead made this target column last week heading into New England’s bye as he caught all seven targets in Week 8 for 68 yards against the Chargers. The biggest thing standing in the way of a Rex Burkhead breakout is Bill Belichick’s insistence on using a four running back rotation. The Broncos are on tap for Burkhead and company for Week 10 in Sunday night football and, while they look imposing on paper, they did just allow a combined four TDs to Eagles running backs in an embarrassing Week 9 loss, including three to receiving back Corey Clement. Burkhead is definitely an under the radar flex option for Week 10 that is only 9% owned in Yahoo leagues and figures to be an under-owned player in DFS with a cheap price tag, despite some legitimate blowup potential, albeit one that comes with a dangerously low floor. Now supposedly fully healthy, Rex Burkhead‘s role could expand in the coming weeks, perhaps peaking just in time for the fantasy playoffs.