[sc name=”Author Chris Moore”]
There were a handful of surprising performances during Week 8’s action that saw some of the storylines we’ve followed since the summer finally start to materialize in a meaningful way for fantasy purposes.
It’s easy to forget how high we were on certain players during the offseason when they don’t come roaring out of the gate, but this week’s Target Risers column notably includes some names that might be starting to finally see the breakout we expected as early as Week 1.
Whether these performances are a sign of a stretch-run awakening or a couple of isolated flukes remains to be seen but there are definitely some actionable items that presented themselves right before the fantasy season’s halfway point.
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Rising Target Grabbers
Jamison Crowder (WR, WAS) – 13 Targets
Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys marked the first time in his last 12 games, dating back to the 2016 season, that Jamison Crowder managed to clear 52 yards receiving, catching nine balls for 123 yards. He has also gone the last 11 games without scoring a touchdown. Still, he finished last season as the overall WR25, thanks in large part to scoring seven TDs and having a sizable target share in the middle part of the 2016 campaign. Is this the jolt that Crowder needed to get going in 2017? It’s worth noting that he dealt with injuries to his thigh and hamstring in preseason and in the first handful of games this year. One wonders if there might have been something physically wrong with him that led to his pedestrian fantasy output to this point. Another factor that suggests that this kind of workload and production *might* be sustainable is the fact that Jordan Reed is considered a poor bet to suit up in Week 9, hypothetically giving Crowder a bigger share of the targets between the hash marks. This seems like the kind of performance that could portend a legitimate change in value and he’s certainly worth an add in those leagues where he’s found his way to the waiver wire.
Marvin Jones (WR, DET) – 11 Targets
When Golden Tate suffered a shoulder injury in Week 6 ahead of the team’s Week 7 bye, the initial prognosis was pessimistic enough that most fantasy owners assumed he would miss at least one game even despite the two week layoff. When we got closer to Sunday and it was reported that Tate was actually expected to be ready to play, it took some of the shine off of the idea of playing Jones against a tough Pittsburgh secondary. After all, Jones really hadn’t broken out in the 2017 season until the track meet 52-38 loss to the Saints a couple of weeks ago. Nevertheless, even with the full complement of Lions wide receivers healthy enough to play, Marvin Jones still managed to catch 6 of 11 targets for a season high 128 yards in a home loss to the Steelers. A popular add on waivers over both of the last two weeks, Jones looks like a strong hold and an upside WR3 going forward.
JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR, PIT) – 10 Targets
Perhaps the most exciting underowned player from Week 8, JuJu Smith Schuster caught seven balls, including a 97-yard touchdown for a total of 193 and a score. At just 20 years old, Smith-Schuster is absolutely flush with fantasy potential, but it remains to be seen if Sunday’s performance was suggestive of JuJu being on his way to the kind of mammoth breakout rookie season we saw from Odell Beckham Jr. or just an isolated monster game. As impressive as Sunday night’s outing was, it’s hard to say for sure that the kid has it completely figured out, but I’d still at least consider using the #1 overall waiver priority on him, even over Alex Collins or a Cowboys running back, and even with a bye coming up in Week 9. He’s a must add in all formats if available. It’s an additional nail in the Martavis Bryant coffin.
Travis Benjamin (WR, SD) – 9 Targets
If not for a somewhat questionable offensive pass interference penalty, Travis Benjamin would be coming off of consecutive games with two long touchdowns apiece. Whereas Benjamin took a punt return to the house and caught his only target for a 42-yard score in Week 7, the way he got his fantasy production in Week 8 was a step toward something that might be sustainable. Benjamin caught five balls for 64 yards and a TD, and even though this week he took a punt return to the *wrong* house, resulting in a safety, he still clearly outplayed Tyrell Williams who committed at least three monumental mental errors, drops, and penalties that conspired to sink his fantasy day. It’s legitimately possible that Travis Benjamin is the #2 WR for the Chargers beginning immediately after the bye, and with the underwhelming results from Keenan Allen thus far, even that might be an understatement. Benjamin is big play dependent, but he’s a threat to take any touch into the end zone. As with JuJu, the biggest buzzkill on Benjamin is that you can’t use him in Week 9, but then again, if it drives down his waiver price, that could be for the better.
Jerick McKinnon (RB, MIN) – 10 Targets
McKinnon was already seeing moderately heavy usage in the passing game since Dalvin Cook‘s injury, but in Week 8’s victory over the Cleveland Browns in London, he logged a career high 10 targets, catching six balls for 72 yards. McKinnon has four total TDs in the four games since taking on a bigger role in the offense and has three 24+ point PPR efforts over that same span. He’s already owned in all leagues, but it’s worth mentioning that he’s looking like a borderline RB1, rest of season, for fantasy purposes.
DeAndre Washington (RB, OAK) – 10 Targets
This was the big opportunity we were waiting for from DeAndre Washington in 2017. While it wasn’t particularly surprising that he led the Raiders backfield in touches during Marshawn Lynch‘s one game suspension in a loss to the Bills, it was interesting to see him actually out-target Jalen Richard ten to seven. Unfortunately, Washington’s big day might be an isolated incident as the Raiders are set to return to their seemingly preferred three running back strategy as Lynch rejoins the fold. At the very least, however, we have a very solid data point that suggests that Washington, not Richard, is the stash-worthy Raiders running back, in the event that Lynch gets hurt or continues to go into the tank as we move forward in 2017. With 86 yards and a TD reception in his first substantive chance of the season, he has RB2 upside if this committee could shed Lynch from the equation.
Rex Burkhead (RB, NE) – 7 Targets
Burkhead got banged up in both of the season’s first two weeks, leaving briefly in a Week 1 loss to the Chiefs and then leaving early in the Pats Week 2 win at New Orleans also missing the next four weeks. Purportedly hand-picked by Bill Belichick, Burkhead drew some serious interest throughout the summer as a potential sleeper, particularly in PPR formats. Although we’re far removed from that August hype, Rex has started to become reintegrated into the gameplan and finally showed some upside by catching all seven of his targets in Week 8 for 68 yards, chipping in four carries for 15 more. It’s tough to get too excited about any Patriots running back as long as they keep dressing the full quartet of Mike Gillislee, Dion Lewis, James White, and Rex Burkhead, but Rex should be considered a dark horse candidate to be the most valuable of the four over the season’s second half.
Jack Doyle (TE, IND) – 14 Targets
Doyle was another popular preseason pick that saw his stock severely diminished by circumstances that were largely outside of his own control. When we bet on Doyle in August, we expected that he’d be catching passes from last year’s QB5 overall in Andrew Luck. Now with the lion’s share of TE targets in Indianapolis, Doyle was set for a legitimate breakout at a thin position. The Colts under Jacoby Brissett have taken on a different look, however, and Doyle’s production has ebbed and flowed with inconsistent quarterback play. Still, the monster game he posted in Week 8 is enough to significantly change his outlook going forward, particularly at a weak fantasy position. Doyle led all Week 8 players in targets (14) and receptions (12), going for 121 yards and a touchdown. There’s a measure of consistency missing from his game with Brissett under center, but his upside makes him a pretty easy TE1 going forward.
Potential Week 9 Breakouts
Tyler Lockett (WR, SEA)
This is more of a bet on the player than it is on the matchup, as to this point, the Redskins have actually given up the sixth fewest fantasy points to wide receivers. Paul Richardson is likely to be the waiver wire headliner in the Seahawks WR corps in Week 9 even though Lockett had a breakout of sorts in Week 8 in his own right. Fresh off of a trade for left tackle Duane Brown, the Seahawks pass protection should be palpably better over the remainder of the season and Russell Wilson is a high volume passer for the first time in his career in 2017. Having proven that he’s healthy enough to make a big contribution, Lockett has the talent even to play his way into the low end WR2 conversation down the stretch run, and makes for a good Week 9 dart throw at the very least.
Orleans Darkwa (RB, NYG)
Orleans Darkwa really didn’t do much over his last three games to cause his fantasy owners to lose faith, but probably earned the axe from a lot of teams based mainly on the Giants Week 8 bye. Although they are improving, the Rams are currently allowing the second most fantasy points to opposing running backs, surrendering huge fantasy days to the Redskins, 49ers, Cowboys, and Jacksonville backfields. As an East Coast team playing host to a West Coast team for a 1:00 PM start time, the Giants should play a competitive game despite being a 3.5 point road underdog. Darkwa is still the ball-carrier for Big Blue that I’m most comfortable betting on for a productive fantasy day in a favorable Week 9 matchup.
Vernon Davis (TE, WAS)
Until Washington’s Week 7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Vernon Davis had actually outscored Jordan Reed in 2017 and had logged at least 58 yards receiving in four straight games prior to Week 8. As I mentioned before when discussing Crowder, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden does not expect to have Jordan Reed available for Week 9’s game at Seattle. Davis has played well enough to stream even during games in which both tight ends played, so he vaults to low end TE1 territory in Jordan Reed‘s absence, especially considering how little the Redskins have gotten out of the wide receiver position to date. At a position very scant on talent, Vernon Davis could be an asset even beyond this week, if Reed can’t get back on the field.