Going into Week 8, fantasy leaguers have scrambled to fill starting holes with six teams on bye. Don’t sleep on it either because next week is the same way with Arizona, Chicago, Cincinnati, Houston, New England and Washington on their byes. That’s a lot of fantasy stars that will be gone.
We’re still seeing changes like C.J. Anderson being out and rumored for perhaps the season. Remember – last year this was about the time that the Seahawks passing offense and David Johnson suddenly roared to life. Could Dontae Booker be the… nah. Too early for that level of optimism. Unless you already own him.
Pull up a chair. Here’s the next six guys I’ve been thinking about.
1. RB Teron Ward (ATL) – Tevin Coleman is out this week with a hamstring injury. While it could be a one week injury – HC Dan Quinn is not noted for being chatty about injuries – there is speculation that it could linger. The Falcons signed Stevan Ridley as a warm body that does not know the offense and promoted up Teron Ward as a warm body from the practice team who does know the offense. The only certainty is that Ward will get playing time this week and there could be a chance for Week 9 at Tampa Bay.
Certainly Devonta Freeman has the ability to take a full load as he did last year (for about seven weeks before he wore down). Practice squad players have turned into surprise stars if only for a brief time but that is rare enough as to be ignored. Ward was undrafted from Oregon State last year and is only 5-7/200 so a bit smaller than Freeman and no replacement for Coleman. His only playing time as a rookie was when Coleman was out in Week 4 and Ward ran 19 times for 72 yards and a score versus the Texans. He’s capable enough in the right situation but not worth the add unless you have a dead spot on your roster for a lottery ticket.
2. RB Kapri Bibbs (DEN) – This is interesting since C.J. Anderson has a significant MCL tear and at best may return for the playoffs. That boosts Bibbs into the #2 role after only four carries on the season. Devontae Booker becomes the #1 back and an immediate RB1 starter in this offense. The only question is whether he takes so much of the rushing load that there is not enough for the #2 back to merit any fantasy consideration or if HC Gary Kubiak continues with a redefined committee.
The ex-Colorado State back only had two carries as an undrafted free agent rookie in 2015 and just four rushes for this year. But this is his time and he will be getting at least enough workload to get him on the roster of the Booker owner. Over the first seven weeks, Anderson and Booker combined for weekly carries of 23, 29, 18, 26, 17, 15, and 33. No back was given more than 20 runs in any game. There will be at least some work for Bibbs and in this offense, he could be a gem if Booker was to also go down injured.
3. WR Russell Shepard (TB) – We talked about the Buccaneers sudden need for a new starter with Vincent Jackson gone and while Adam Humphries remained in the slot, it was not given to Cecil Shorts as was reported prior to the game. Fourth-year wideout Shepard ended with five catches for 77 yards and one score in the win over the 49ers. Shepard was the most targeted player after Mike Evans. He gets three home games in a row starting with the Raiders and then the Falcons and Bears.
He’ll be very matchup-dependent but this week the Raiders are visiting.
4. RB Rob Kelley (WAS) – I was talking up Kelley back in Week 2 and since then he rushed 12 times for 92 yards (7.6 YPC). Matt Jones is not practicing because of his knee and is expected to miss this week at the least. HC Jay Gruden already said that Kelley gets the start if Jones in unable to play. He’ll face the Bengals that have only allowed one score to a visiting runner and no one has topped 63 yards that Isaiah Crowell gained there last week.
Any time a back gets his first appreciable rushing role it is worth watching. But this is a tough venue for a back and Chris Thompson will remain just as involved and likely lead in touches. It helps that Thompson laid down 73 yards on 12 runs in Detroit last week and caught a season-best seven passes. The Redskins have their bye in Week 9 and then host the Vikings so Kelley’s debut could have been better timed.
5. WR DeAndre Hopkins (HOU) – I felt obligated to include Hopkins here since I get a number of requests about him – should you trade him? Will he improve? What in the world is happening?
Hopkins broke 56 yards in only two games this year and scored just once in the last five weeks while averaging about 45 yards per game. The problem is said to be mostly Brock Osweiler. That is not correct. It is 100% Brock Osweiler. This is the second season for OC George Godsey to run the third year of HC Bill O’Brien’s offense. The rushing effort is not meeting expectations but there wasn’t any last year. Consider what Hopkins did in the two previous years – 2014 (76-1210-6) and 2015 (111-1521-11). He is currently on pace for (82-891-6) and far less disregarding the 113 yard game back in Week 2.
The difference observed and also noted elsewhere is that Osweiler is not throwing 50/50 balls to him despite Hopkins ability to come down with a significant share. This is the same offense as last year. Hopkins had big games playing with Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett and Brandon Weeden. The passing stats are down all over the offense so it is not merely Hopkins.
You cannot trade him because you will not get remotely fair value for him. You shouldn’t bench him unless you have really good alternatives and he is in a bad matchup. The problem has to be resolved with Osweiler because he is the change from last year that matters. These wideouts should be at least as good if not better. Not all worse. He has a bye in Week 9 but then plays the Jaguars, Raiders and Chargers. That should help.
6. TE A.J. Derby (DEN) – The Broncos gave the Patriots a fifth rounder from 2017 to acquire Derby. He was a 6.26 draft pick by New England in 2015 but never played in the regular season for them. Something about a guy named Gronkowski maybe. And now Martellus Bennett too. But Derby made a name for himself in the preseason when he caught 15 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown. He’s certainly been in good company for the past season and a half.
He’s not worth an add but it was notable that the Broncos have gotten nothing from Virgil Green and Jeff Heuerman because of injuries. And Kubiak said “we think this kid’s got a bright future… I’d be very comfortable” playing him as soon as Sunday against the Chargers. Worth watching.
And an extra point…
Don’t complain about your tight end scoring last week.There are usually about ten touchdowns by the position in most weeks but there were just five in Week 7. Worse yet, there were only five that gained more than 55 yards. And yes, Rob Gronkowski (4-94, TD) and Delanie Walker (7-84, TD) both played. Not much of anyone else did.
About the only decent draft picks in the position last summer were Rob Gronkowski, Greg Olsen, Delanie Walker, and Jimmy Graham. Jordan Reed, Travis Kelce and Tyler Eifert so far are major disappointments. And the creeping reality is that only Gronk and Olsen can be considered difference makers. The position always starts to decline in overall production at mid-season and only a few remain highly productive. That may only be two this year.