by Byron Hamilton
It’s time to take our weekly look around the NFL to see which players have the potential to set your roster on fire and which ones seem to be cooling down. I’ll try to avoid the obvious candidates for the players that are heating up, in addition to focusing in on higher profile players that could leave your team on ice this week. I will also be taking a look at their performance from the previous week, as well as what the matchup holds for them heading into Sunday.
Marcus Mariota – Tennessee Titans
Matchup – Green Bay Packers
Mariota was the 9th highest scoring fantasy quarterback heading into this week, and would have posted his highest scoring game of the season against the Chargers had he not lost a fumble and thrown three picks. Despite the turnovers, Mariota still had a fantastic day (from a fantasy perspective) as he threw 313 yards and scored 4 touchdowns total in a loss to San Diego with a total of 78 points scored between the two teams. This marks the fifth consecutive game Mariota has thrown multiple touchdowns, and he has done so in seven out of nine games this season. This week also marked the first time all season that the second year quarterback threw for more than 300 yards, albeit in an effort to comeback in a game that wasn’t as close as the score might suggest. Either way, Mariota has emerged as one of the more safe and reliable quarterbacks in fantasy football. He faces a Green Bay Packers defense that held Andrew Luck in check last week, but I like his chances to put up another solid stat line at home.
Dak Prescott – Dallas Cowboys
Matchup – Pittsburgh Steelers
I may be stating the obvious here, but this kid is going to be good folks. At this point in the season, I simply do not see how the Cowboys could possibly even think about making a quarterback change with this team clicking the way it is. I made an attempt to go back to last season to compare the rookie’s numbers through the first nine games of the season to Tony Romo and immediately remembered Romo was injured almost all of last season. Big surprise there. Prescott picked apart Cleveland on Sunday for 247 yards and three touchdowns. This marks the sixth consecutive game Dak has accounted for at least two touchdowns, either rushing or passing, and he has scored 14 times in that span. Pretty impressive for a rookie. His next challenge will be on the road against Pittsburgh. He has had 17 or more points over the last three games, and I don’t think he’ll struggle much against the 26th ranked defense in the league. If you aren’t playing him it’s about time to change that.
Blake Bortles – Jacksonville Jaguars
Matchup – Houston Texans
I feel somewhat obligated to cut Bortles some slack this week and throw him a bone. After all, he does pay close attention to the content we at No Huddle come up with. After a long and disappointing first half of the season, Bortles has put up pretty solid fantasy performances in back to back weeks. The 50 fantasy points he’s put up over the last two games is encouraging since his previous total was 41. He finished the game against the Chiefs with two touchdowns on 252 passing yards and even added another 54 yards rushing. He connected often with Allen Robinson, and the hope is the dynamic duo start clicking more down the stretch. He’s got a pretty decent matchup this week against a Houston defense that just broke a streak of allowing opposing offenses to score 20 or more points in weeks 3-7. I’m not advocating Bortles as a weekly starter, but I do think we may be on the verge of a big turnaround for him with an advantageous schedule ahead of him.
Ezekiel Elliott – Dallas Cowboys
Matchup – Pittsburgh Steelers
This kid is good at football. I don’t know that I can say it any simpler. I’ll admit I was one of the ones shaking my head as I saw Zeke being selected as a top five pick in fantasy drafts this season and can also admit he was worth the investment on basically every level. While he’s a gifted runner, a lot of his success can be attributed to the fact he landed with the perfect team for him. He’s got an offensive line blocking for him that I’m fairly certain my six year old daughter could gain a few yards behind, and Dak Prescott has surprised everyone with his solid quarterback play. Zeke is leading the league in rushing with 891 yards through eight games and has shown no signs of slowing down. The only area I would like to see a little improvement in would be in the passing game. While that is more of an offensive adjustment than anything the rookie can change himself, Elliott was an excellent pass catching back in college and could take a huge leap forward if the Cowboys decide to get him more involved in the passing game. His next test will be a matchup against a Steelers defense that has been very friendly to running backs this season, and he should have no problem building upon his breakout rookie campaign.
Latavius Murray – Oakland Raiders
After a start to the season that was slightly above average due to scoring a touchdown in each game, Latavius Murray has looked like a man wanting to reassert himself as his team’s primary running back. If Sunday night’s performance against the Broncos doesn’t do it, I’m not sure what will. Murray rumbled his way to 114 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries and had great vision and explosiveness. Oakland ran the ball a whopping 39 times against Denver, and Murray dominated the carries with rookie DeAndre Washington coming in second in the pecking order with 10 carries for 35 yards. After being the main back in what was slowly turning a committee, I think Murray certainly separated himself from the pack with his impressive performance. Oakland’s high powered passing attack should continue to give the running game opportunities to thrive moving forward as well. The Raiders will face a Texans defense after their bye that has allowed 20 or more points in all but three games this season. Murray should be a solid option at the running back position, particularly down the last stretch of the season.
Frank Gore – Indianapolis Colts
Father Time has been kind to Frank Gore. The 33 year old running back has been consistent from a fantasy perspective and has posted double digit performances in all but two games this season. He finished Sunday with his best game of the season as he rushed for 60 yards and scored two touchdowns. Gore remains heavily involved in the offense and has double digit carries in all but one game this season. There is virtually no competition for carries with Ryan Turbin being the only other back to see any action against the Packers, and he only saw two carries and rushed for 10 yards. It’s safe to say this backfield belongs to Frank Gore, which is something not every running back in the league can say. The Colts have two friendly matchups after their bye in the Titans and Steelers, so I expect Gore to continue to dish out solid stat lines.
Rishard Matthews – Tennessee Titans
Matchup – Green Bay Packers
First it was Tajae Sharpe. Then it was Kendall Wright. Now we have Rishard Matthews. We discussed the Titans receiving core on our podcast a few weeks back, and I was of the opinion the Matthews is the receiver to own in this offense for the duration of the season. While we’ve seen Kendall Wright turn into a boom or bust type of player, Matthews has been the most consistent Titans receiver over the last several weeks. Outside of a 4 catch 37 yard game, the former Dolphin wide-out has 60 yards receiving or a touchdown in the last 5 weeks. Mariota targeted him often against the Chargers and allowed Matthews to snag six passes on ten targets for 63 yards and two touchdowns, which marks his 5th touchdown in the last 5 games. With Mariota playing at a consistent level each week, Matthews is worth a pickup as he is only 11% owned. The Titans will face a Packers defense that has been soft against the pass at times this season, so Matthews has a chance to have another big game this week.
Stefon Diggs – Minnesota Vikings
Matchup – Washington Redskins
What in the world happened to the Vikings? After starting the season 5-0, Minnesota has now lost three straight games and looks like a team that is struggling to find an identity on offense. While he’s all they have, Sam Bradford is not the type of quarterback that is going to put a team on his shoulders and win them a game singlehandedly. The lone bright spot in this offense over the past couple of weeks has been Stefon Diggs. He seems to be in much better shape than he did in his first game back after a ground injury a few weeks back and has now 21 catches on 27 targets for 156 yards and a touchdown over the last two weeks. He’s the unquestioned number one receiver for the Vikings and should continue to see a lot of attention from Sam Bradford as long as he can stay healthy. Diggs will have his work cut out for him this week against Josh Norman and the Redskins but, he should see plenty of opportunities to make an impact for fantasy owners.
Mike Evans – Tampa Bay. Buccaneers
Matchup – Chicago Bears
Similar to Ezekiel Elliott, this one is pretty obvious. However, I feel compelled to recognize Mike Evans’ impressive performance last Thursday night. Evans looked like a man among boys as he was targeted by Jameis Winston 17 times and hauled in 11 catches for 150 yards and two touchdowns. The question I have is what his stat line would have looked like had he not been knocked out of the game with a concussion. I guarantee he would’ve surpassed 20 targets. His performance should be enough for him to leap AJ Green and be the second ranked fantasy receiver with only one point less than Julio Jones in standard scoring leagues. With Jameis Winston targeting Evans an almost irresponsible amount I don’t think it’s crazy to think Tampa Bay’s star receiver could potentially finish the season as the top scoring fantasy wide receiver. Assuming he doesn’t miss any time, Evans should be able to find success again this week against a Chicago defense that’s giving up over 22 points a game.
Antonio Gates – San Diego Chargers
Matchup – Miami Dolphins
Well, it seems like Antonio Gates decided he wasn’t going to allow a rookie to outshine him. Gates’ absence earlier in the season due to injury allowed us to be introduced to Hunter Henry, and the rookie looks primed to become a suitable replacement for the veteran once he moves on from football. However, Gates has stepped his game back up with Henry now dealing with his own injury issues. The veteran tight end had his best game of the season last week against the Titans as he caught 5 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown. Gates always has decent odds of scoring a touchdown but is worth a start in most leagues in Henry continues to be limited by his knee injury. He’ll have another shot to hook up with Phillip Rivers against Miami, who have allowed at least 22 points in all but two games this season.
Cameron Brate – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Matchup – Chicago Bears
Brate has been off and on most of this season, but he’s proven to be an important part of Tampa Bay’s offense each week. With Austin Serferian-Jenkins gone Brate is the guy at the tight end position and sees enough attention from Jameis Winston to be a relevant fantasy option. It’s difficult to function in an offense where Mike Evans receives a remarkable amount of targets, but Brate had scored a touchdown in consecutive games and is one of the most targeted pass catchers for the Bucs. If Mike Evans does end up missing time due to his concussion, then Winston would be forced to spread the ball around more. Tampa Bay plays a relatively weak Chicago defense this week, which makes Brate a solid option if you need help at the tight end position.
Andrew Luck – Indianapolis Colts
The Colts have got to get Andrew Luck some help on the offensive line. Heading into Sunday’s game against Green Bay, the Indianapolis franchise quarterback had been sacked a league most 32 times. Considering the paycheck the Colts gave in Luck during the offseason you would think the next logical move would be to make sure you can protect your investment. It’s not easy to throw touchdown passes when you’re flat on your back. Offensive line play aside, Luck was extremely underwhelming against the Packers. He put up less than 20 fantasy points for the third time this season and threw for 281 yards and a touchdown paired with two interceptions. The lone touchdown was especially disappointing when you take into consideration the Colts scored 31 points. I think Luck will be fine for the most part moving forward, but I would anticipate there being more than a couple of underwhelming games before the season his done.
Ryan Tannehill – Miami Dolphins
Matchup – San Diego Chargers
I had Tannehill as a sleeper play this week. He faced a bottom of the barrel defense at home after a week off. The situation was right, and I called it right depending on what your definition of a sleeper is. Because Tannehill may as well have been asleep on the field, which has been the case basically all season. When looking at fantasy scoring for quarterbacks, I use 20 points as a benchmark for what I would consider a “good” game. If we apply that view to Ryan Tannehill he’s only had one good game all year back in week two against New England, which is surprising on so many levels. Tannehill has three games without a touchdown, only two games with more than one score, and has failed to throw for more than 250 yards in half his games. The emergence of Jay Ajayi in the running game will only further limit his quarterback’s production, and Jarvis Landry owners should be very concerned about his upside. There’s absolutely no reason to have Tannehill on your roster unless it’s in an extremely deep league. I have zero confidence in him this week against the Chargers.
Carson Wentz – Philadelphia Eagles
Matchup – Atlanta Falcons
Through the first three weeks of the season you couldn’t walk into a room without overhearing people gushing over Carson Wentz. That was through the first four games where we were watching efficient 300 yard passing performances. Unfortunately, Wentz has hit a wall. If you look at the teams he’s faced, the issue is fairly obvious. The first four weeks the rookie faced the Browns, Bears, Steelers, and Lions. Through the four week slump he’s played the Redskins, Vikings, Cowboys, and Giants. The quality of competition has steadily increased and Wentz is looking like a rookie quarterback in the NFL. That’s not a dig at the kid but rather my honest observation. He’s combined for 38 fantasy points over the last four games, whereas he put up 82 points over the opening stretch. He’ll have a shot to get back on track against the Falcons this week, but I’ll want to see one positive game before I trust him enough to put him in my lineup.
Terrance West – Baltimore Ravens
Matchup – Cleveland Browns
I wrote off West’s poor performance against the Jets before Baltimore’s bye week as just a bad game. Everyone has them. He was primed to bounce back against a Steelers defense that ranks last in the league against the run. West ran the ball 15 times for 21 yards on Sunday. This is not what you’re wanting to see from a starting running back trying to fend off a rookie from taking his job. The good news is Kenneth Dixon didn’t play much better than West and only had 13 yards on 9 carries himself. Coach Harbaugh stated on a few different occasions over the past couple of weeks that he would like to get Dixon more involved in the game plan, which he did. My fear here is that we’re heading towards a full-fledged time share in the Ravens backfield, which does nobody any good. I’m inclined to give West one more shot this week against the worst team in the NFL, the Cleveland Browns. If he continues to struggle you’ll want to start looking around for other options at running back.
Jerick McKinnon – Minnesota Vikings
Matchup – Washington Redskins
Minnesota fans let out a sigh of relief a few weeks ago against the Giants when McKinnon racked up 85 yards and a touchdown. Adrian Peterson was out for the season, but McKinnon looked like a capable backup that could help fill the void left by Peterson. That relief was short lived. In the four games since that performance McKinnon has only rushed for 87 yards combined and has yet to find the end zone again. To be fair, he’s been hurt and hasn’t looked like a man running with much purpose. The offense is reeling, and Sam Bradford is struggling. You simply don’t hold a good vibe when you’re watching Minnesota play. We’ve gone from talking about Mike Zimmer being the coach of the year to pondering if this team will make the playoffs in three short weeks. Considering how poorly Minnesota’s offense is playing in general I don’t see how you can feel comfortable putting McKinnon in your lineup against the Redskins this week. I’ll need to see some sort of consistency out of him first.
Devontae Booker – Denver Broncos
Matchup – New Orleans Saints
Well, that didn’t last long. Sunday night was a wakeup call for those championing Booker as the second coming of Barry Sanders. Just one week after becoming the starting running back by default, Booker has come crashing right back down. The heralded rookie was only able to rush for 22 yards on 10 carries against the Raiders in a game where he very well could have shined. The Raiders jumped out ahead early thanks to the impressive play of Latavius Murray, and Denver was playing catchup the rest of the way. I still think that Booker is going to be a solid running back for owners the rest of this season. The issue is defenses don’t respect Trevor Siemian, and I don’t blame them. The game plan for every defense playing the Broncos this year will be to stop the run and dare Siemian to beat them. So far it’s been a decent plan for the most part. Considering Booker’s backup is Kapri Bibbs he’s not in danger if sharing too many carries in the immediate future. However, Denver will play the Saints on the road this week. If Denver starts to fall behind we may see Booker’s touches be limited once again.
Travis Benjamin – San Diego Chargers
Matchup – Miami Dolphins
Similar to Jerick McKinnon, fantasy players and Chargers fans rejoiced back in week two when Travis Benjamin torched the Jaguars for 115 yards and two touchdowns. Keenan Allen had just been lost for the season, and the hope was Benjamin would slide right into his spot without the team losing much production. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. Since his big game Benjamin has only found the end zone once in seven games and has just one other 100 yard receiving performance in that span. The receiver to own in this offense is Tyrell Williams, who is actually owned in less leagues than Benjamin but has scored 15 more points this season in standard leagues. With the former Browns receiver limited by injury, it’s possible that the Chargers try and rest him up before the team’s week 11 bye. If he does suit up his inconsistent play has me hesitant to start him in my lineup, even against a shaky Dolphins team.
Jarvis Landry – Miami Dolphins
Matchup – San Diego Chargers
By all accounts Jarvis Landry should be an elite wide receiver in the NFL. He’s an athletic player with great hands and speed. Unfortunately, he has Ryan Tannehill as his quarterback. The general consensus was that Landry would be able to take another step forward and build upon his impressive season last year of 111 catches for 1,159 yards. At this point that doesn’t seem likely to happen. Through eight games last season Landry had 83 fantasy points to his credit. This season that total has dropped to 64. I’ll attribute this decrease in production to Tannehill taking a considerable step back in Adam Gase’s first season and Jay Ajayi emerging as a legit every down back over the last few games. Until the quarterback play improves I don’t see Landry getting back to where he was last season from a fantasy perspective. The Dolphins have a favorable matchup against the Chargers this week, and, while you’ll likely play Landry considering where you drafted him, I don’t feel overly confident he’ll produce at a high level.
Kelvin Benjamin – Carolina Panthers
Matchup – Kansas City Chiefs
It seems like forever ago when I was singing Kelvin Benjamin’s praises on the other end of this column. Through the first two games of the season Benjamin had 13 receptions for 199 yards and three touchdowns, and he seemed primed to reprise his role as the touchdown monster he was in his rookie season. However, over the last five games he has caught only one touchdown and has failed to hit the 90 yard mark since week two. Much of the issue here can be placed on Cam Newton’s shoulders. The star quarterback simply hasn’t played that well in most games this season. He’s only thrown four touchdowns in the last five games and has surpassed the 300 yard passing mark twice this season. Until Cam can get back on track Kelvin Benjamin’s production is going to continue to suffer, which many thought would’ve happened last week against Los Angeles. If he struggled with the Rams, then I don’t feel great about the odds of him turning things around against the Chiefs on the road either.
Julius Thomas – Jacksonville Jaguars
Matchup – Houston Texans
You have to give Julius Thomas some credit. He turned a solid year in Denver with Peyton Manning into a big contract with the Jaguars. Unfortunately, Blake Bortles is obviously an entirely different breed of quarterback than Manning. Thomas has been plagued by injuries since his arrival in Jacksonville and has had to endure subpar quarterback play for most of this season. It’s gotten to the point where his fantasy relevance is almost entirely dependent on seeing a pass come his way within ten yards of the end zone. Since week two Thomas has not caught more than three passes and has failed to top 30 yards receiving. The only two games I would consider decent are where he has scored a touchdown. I think Thomas is a player to avoid if at all possible. If he is somehow your only tight end I would highly recommend searching your waiver wire for a replacement.
Dennis Pitta – Baltimore Ravens
Matchup – Cleveland Browns
I’m including Pitta this week at my own risk. He’s been extremely mediocre since his big 9 catch 102 yard game back in week 2 against the Browns. Care to take a guess as to who he’s playing this week? The Cleveland Browns. With my luck, he’s going to explode for 200 yards just a few days after I point out his subpar play. Either way, Pitta has been about as average as tight ends come from a fantasy football standpoint. He’s not caught a touchdown in a single game this season and has only surpassed 60 yards receiving once. While the matchup against Cleveland this week is intriguing considering what he did against them earlier in the season, I think you roll with another option at tight end if you have one. The upside doesn’t justify the results we’ve seen so far this year.
As always, please feel free to give us a shout on Twitter @No_HuddleFFB if you have any questions or concerns regarding your lineup or just want to chat about fantasy football. Best of luck this week!