Fantasy Football Week 8 Sleepers at Every Position

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystOctober 27, 2018

Fantasy Football Week 8 Sleepers at Every Position

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    The fantasy football season is tightening up.

    For fantasy owners with teams sitting at 3-4 or 2-5, the margin for error has narrowed to just about zero. Lose many (or in some cases any) more games, and hopes of making your playoffs goes up in smoke.

    Circumstances aren't making things any easier. Injuries continue to mount, especially at the running back position. More than a few big names haven't come close to living up to their draft-day asking price. And with four teams on a bye in Week 8, a number of fantasy superstars (Keenan Allen, Ezekiel Elliott, Melvin Gordon, Julio Jones) are taking this week off.

    In other words, there are more fantasy owners plugging holes in lineups and searching for solid spot starters than at any point this season.

    Luckily, that's what this article's here to help with—by pointing out some under-the-radar fantasy players who should (in theory) be in position to have themselves a day in Week 8.

    Man, this is a lot of pressure.

    My palms are sweating.

Accountability Time

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Before we get to the Week 8 picks, here's a quick glance back at how the Week 7 calls fared.

    Grading the test, if you will.

    For the record, sleepers count as a "win" if they finish inside weekly starter territory in a 12-team point-per-reception fantasy league that starts one quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, one tight end, one defense and the always-popular "flex" play—a fairly standard setup.

    Duke Johnson Jr., RB, Cleveland Browns (1 carry, -4 yards, 4 catches, 23 yards): With Carlos Hyde gone, it made sense that the Browns would want to involve Johnson more offensively. The problem with that plan was that the Browns very rarely do things that make sense. LOSS

    Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants (399 passing yards, 7 rushing yards, 1 TD): Eli Manning was good! Eli Manning was good! Please head in an orderly fashion to the emergency evacuation tunnels! Eli Manning was good! WIN

    Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns (215 passing yards, 43 rushing yards, 2 TD): It's still too early to make any definitive calls about Mayfield's future in Cleveland. But early returns indicate he may just be the real deal. WIN

    Frank Gore, RB, Miami Dolphins (10 carries, 29 yards, 1 catch, 4 yards): If there's a moral to this story, it's that you can add Miami to the pile of run games that can't be trusted unless you're the type who enjoys being disappointed. LOSS

    Marlon Mack, RB, Indianapolis Colts (19 carries, 126 yards, 2 catches, 33 yards, 2 TD, 1 2PTC): If Mack can keep scoring at a pace that's anywhere close to last week's explosion, he could be the kind of midseason pickup that wins leagues. WIN

    Antonio Callaway, WR, Cleveland Browns (1 catch, 14 yards): Another story with a moral—unless his name rhymes with Parvis Pandry, there isn't a wide receiver on the Browns roster who should be near your starting lineup. LOSS

    Taylor Gabriel, WR, Chicago Bears (3 catches, 26 yards): Had you told me before I made this pick that the Bears would score 31 points in Week 7, I'd have liked this call that much more. Sometimes things just don't go the way you planned. LOSS

    Willie Snead IV, WR, Baltimore Ravens (3 catches, 23 yards): The combined stat line of all three wide receivers I recommended in Week 7 was seven receptions for 63 yards. I think I'm going to go play in traffic for a while. LOSS

    David Njoku, TE, Cleveland Browns (4 catches, 52 yards, 1 TD): Njoku's an every-week start at tight end at this point. He's topped four catches and 50 yards three weeks running and has a touchdown catch in each of his last two games. WIN

    Indianapolis Colts Defense/Special Teams (303 yards allowed, 5 points allowed, 2 sacks, 2 FR, 3 INT): The Colts may be a bad defensive football team, but the Buffalo Bills are an even worse offensive team. Bless their hearts. WIN

    WEEK 7: 5-5 (.500)

    SEASON: 29-41 (.414)

    A second straight .500 week has me above 40 percent correct for the first time this season.

    Now to keep that momentum rolling.

Sleeper of the Week

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    C.J. Uzomah, TE, Cincinnati Bengals (vs. TBB)

    Heading into last week's matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs, Jim McCormick of ESPN highlighted Cincinnati Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah as a nice late pickup for the legion of fantasy owners having a rough year at the position.

    "Uzomah is essentially the last man standing at a position felled by attrition so far for the Bengals, one that commands a meaningful portion of the target bandwidth from QB Andy Dalton," he wrote. "In fact, Dalton claims the league's seventh-highest rate in yards per dropback (9.2) and fifth-highest completion clip (81 percent) targeting tight ends with a touchdown on nearly 5 percent of such attempts (above the league-average touchdown rate to tight ends)."

    That game against the Chiefs didn't go as planned for the Bengals, who were waxed 45-10. And Uzomah managed just two receptions for 13 yards in the loss. But one of those grabs was Cincinnati's lone touchdown of the game, which salvaged a decent fantasy outing for the fourth-year veteran.

    Everything that McCormick said about Uzomah holds true again in Week 8. The Bengals are still all kinds of chewed up by injuries at tight end. Dalton still likes throwing to tight ends, especially in the red zone. And for the second week in a row, the Bengals face a team that's been kind to tight ends from a fantasy perspective in 2018.

    As a matter of fact, no team in the league has given up more PPR fantasy points to tight ends this year than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who just surrendered a big game to Cleveland's David Njoku.

Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. PHI)

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Yes, this is a fantasy recommendation for a player who was just benched a week ago.

    No, I haven't been using paint thinner without proper ventilation.

    It's been a rough few weeks for Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles. Over his last three games, Bortles has completed less than 55 percent of his passes. He has two touchdowns against five interceptions, lost three fumbles and was sacked eight times.

    The Jaguars were outscored 90-28 over those three games, losing them all.

    Bortles was pulled from last week's loss to the Houston Texans in favor of Cody Kessler, but head coach Doug Marrone indicated (via Austin Knoblauch of NFL.com) earlier this week that Bortles will start for the Jags against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday in London.

    "I spoke to both quarterbacks this afternoon and told them that Blake will be our team's starting quarterback," Marrone said. "I believe this gives us the best opportunity to win."

    Bortles, for his part, told NFL.com that he isn't worried about his critics.

    "I'm totally at peace with that," Bortles said. "I totally understand that I'm like the scapegoat for this team. When we play good, 'The defense played well, the running back did good, the receivers made great plays.' And when we play bad, 'Blake Bortles is the worst quarterback on the face of the planet.'

    "And I get it. Obviously, that's not what I would have chosen for myself. And I'm sure it'll never stop. But I couldn't care less. I just want to win football games with this team."

    Given Bortles' struggles of late, it's fair to wonder why any fantasy owner would consider starting the 26-year-old, even in a favorable fantasy matchup with an Eagles team that's 10th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks.

    However, there's at least one reason to believe Bortles might rebound this weekend across the Pond.

    Bloke Bortles.

    In his last three games in the UK, Bortles is 3-0 with eight touchdowns against just one interception. He threw four scoring strikes last time out at Wembley Stadium against the Baltimore Ravens.

    It would take a hearty and courageous soul to roll Bortles out given how awful he's looked over the past few games. But the potential for a payoff is there.

    No guts, no glory.

Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns (at PIT)

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    As I've mentioned before in this column, I try to make an effort not to keep riding the same horse over and over here. That's not especially helpful to you, faithful reader.

    Of course, that only gets mentioned when there's a player who repeats in successive weeks—so it's not a hard and fast rule.

    Besides, sometimes there are matchups that are just too good to pass up—and that's the case with Baker Mayfield of the Browns in Week 8.

    The No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft wasn't able to lead the Browns to victory last week in Tampa, but he did have the best game of his young career—215 passing yards, 43 rushing yards, two touchdowns, no turnovers and a passer rating of 104.4.

    It was a performance that snuck Mayfield into the back end of QB1 territory in 12-team fantasy football leagues. Mayfield didn't win anyone a matchup single-handedly, but he kept some teams with bye week issues in the fight.

    The stage is set for the youngster to do even better Sunday in Pittsburgh.

    This isn't to say Mayfield will have another triple-digit passer rating. Or that the Browns will win the game. The former is somewhat unlikely. The latter leans closer to highly so.

    But through seven games, the Steelers have surrendered the most fantasy points in the AFC to opposing quarterbacks. Mayfield will have plenty of opportunities to make plays and tally fantasy points.

    There's also a very real chance for some garbage-time scoring if the game gets out of hand.

Raheem Mostert, RB, San Francisco 49ers (at AZ)

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    Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

    It's been a rough year for the San Francisco backfield.

    First, the newly signed Jerick McKinnon tore his ACL before the regular season even started. Then backup Matt Breida, who was surprisingly effective in McKinnon's stead, suffered an ankle injury.

    Breida tried to fight through the injury, but the 49ers were eventually forced to shut him down in last week's loss to the Los Angeles Rams. As Jennifer Lee Chan reported for NBC Sports Bay Area, Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan indicated the team will have to re-examine Breida's health before determining his availability for this week's tilt with the Arizona Cardinals.

    That's where Raheem Mostert comes in.

    Not that long ago, Mostert was an afterthought—a fourth-year pro with seven career carries entering this season. But against the Green Bay Packers a few weeks ago, it was Mostert (not Alfred Morris) who served as the backup behind Breida. He made the most of that audition, peeling off 87 yards on 12 totes. Mostert followed that up with 78 total yards on 11 touches last week against the Rams.

    If Breida is unable to go Sunday in Glendale, Mostert could be in for the heaviest workload of his career. If he can sniff his per-touch average in 2018, that would translate to 100 total yards (or more).

    And when you add in the fact that no team in the NFL has allowed more fantasy points to running backs than the Cardinals in 2018, Mostert's first career touchdown is by no means out of the question.

Jalen Richard, RB, Oakland Raiders (vs. IND)

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The running back position has taken a beating in fantasy football in recent weeks. A number of players who were being counted on as weekly starters have been felled by significant injuries.

    One such back is Marshawn Lynch of the Oakland Raiders, who landed on injured reserve with a groin injury. Lynch had been a rare bright spot for a struggling Oakland offense, and his loss was a major blow for a team that has absorbed more than a few of them in 2018.

    With Lynch on the shelf, Doug Martin will take over early-down duties for the Raiders. But as Kyle Martin wrote for the Raiders website, scat-back Jalen Richard expects to see a bump in touches as well.

    "I'll probably see a little bit more carries I would think, just so we don't overload Doug, and we still have D. Wash (DeAndre Washington) coming up probably, so he'll give us a little help that way too," Richard said. "We still got a very strong room, so as far as us being worried about Shawn being out, it's a big loss because you can't bring another Marshawn Lynch into the game. We got a solid room of backs that'll get the job done."

    Frankly, between Martin and Richard, a pretty compelling argument can be made that it's Richard who is the preferable fantasy option. This is an Oakland team that's going to be doing a lot of playing from behind this year—and that means keeping the passing-down back on the field.

    Richard's a sneaky-good flex play in Week 8 against a Colts team that's been a decent fantasy matchup for running backs this season.

Christian Kirk, WR, Arizona Cardinals (at SF)

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    It's certainly not unreasonable to call Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk a "sleeper."

    After all, the Arizona offense has spent most of the 2018 season in a coma.

    For the season, the Cardinals are dead last in the NFL in offense, averaging just 220.7 yards per game. Only the Buffalo Bills have managed fewer passing yards per game than Arizona's 156.4. The Cardinals are also last in the NFC in scoring, at 13.1 points per game.

    It's not exactly a surprise that offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was fired after the Cardinals were blasted at home by the Denver Broncos in Week 7.

    As Luke Lapinski reported for Arizona Sports, quarterback Josh Rosen doesn't expect new OC Byron Leftwich to re-invent the wheel. But there are some changes in store.

    "I think it's going to be a slow, gradual process," Rosen explained. "I think he's got a really good plan over the next couple weeks. I think we're going to have a great gameplan going into this week. Definitely change some things to, like I said, do what we do well. Refine the gameplan so we think less and play faster. But at the same time, not change too much and slow everyone down like that."

    It's that plan for this week that's of interest to Kirk owners. Kirk has been Rosen's favorite target this year, leading the team with 32 targets since he took over in Week 3. In the lone game the Redbirds won this year in San Francisco, Kirk had easily his best game of the season—three catches for 85 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown.

    If Leftwich is able to get the offense going a little bit Sunday, Kirk figures to be one of the main beneficiaries.

Donte Moncrief, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. PHI)

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The Jacksonville Jaguars need a hug.

    It wasn't all that long ago that the Jaguars were considered one of the leading contenders to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. But after losing three straight games by double-digits, now the Jaguars aren't even in first place in the AFC South.

    There are any number of reasons why the Jags are struggling. But one of the primary ones is the play of quarterback Blake Bortles. Over that three-game losing streak, Bortles has thrown just two touchdown passes and five interceptions. Things are bad enough that Bortles was pulled last week in favor of Cody Kessler.

    As I mentioned earlier in this piece, Bortles will be back under center Sunday in London against the Philadelphia Eagles. And if Bortles is able to duplicate his past success in London, the biggest winner among the Jacksonville pass-catchers figures to be wide receiver Donte Moncrief.

    In the team's Week 6 blowout loss to Dallas, Moncrief was a non-factor. But in both Week 5 and Week 7, Moncrief caught at least six passes for 76 yards. More importantly, Moncrief was targeted 15 times in Week 5 and 10 a week ago.

    The Eagles have been susceptible to being beaten by wide receivers in 2018—the team ranks fifth in PPR fantasy points allowed to the position this season. If Moncrief gets double-digit targets this week, he's going to have a solid stat line.

    And if Bloke Bortles shows up in London, he just might have a really good one.

Tre'Quan Smith, WR, New Orleans Saints (at MIN)

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    Bill Feig/Associated Press

    At this point in the season, New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith remains unowned in over seven of 10 fantasy football leagues at Yahoo.

    That number is going to change after Sunday night's game in Minnesota between the Saints and Vikings.

    It's a bit surprising it isn't already higher. We've already seen the rookie and preseason darling explode for 111 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns back in Week 5 against the Washington Redskins.

    Smith's been relatively quiet since, but with veteran Ted Ginn Jr. on injured reserve with a foot injury, Smith is being asked to take on a much larger role in the offense.

    Smith told Rod Walker of the New Orleans Advocate that he believes he's up to the challenge.

    "C.J. (receivers coach Curtis Johnson) has always been prepping me for this moment," Smith said. "He always tells me to be ready because you're coming up soon. I didn't know it was going to be this soon. Ted being down is obviously a big loss I have to step up. But honestly I'm ready for the opportunity."

    Smith had just three catches for 44 yards in last week's win over the Baltimore Ravens. But he was targeted on one-fifth of Drew Brees' 30 pass attempts, while Cameron Meredith was targeted a grand total of never times.

    Smith looks to have already assumed the role of the No. 2 receiver for one of the NFL's best offenses, and this week, Smith should see plenty of single coverage as the Vikings focus their defensive attention on Michael Thomas.

Vance McDonald, TE, Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. CLE)

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    Gary Landers/Associated Press

    The tight end position is bad in fantasy football this year.

    So bad.

    There are essentially two groups of fantasy owners in 2018—the group that owns Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots, Travis Kelce of the Chiefs or Zach Ertz of the Eagles, and the group left sifting through the scratch-and-dent table every week looking for someone—anyone—who might net them a decent stat line.

    This is a season where people are happy to have Eric Ebron.

    It may be the apocalypse.

    Luckily for hard-up fantasy squads at the position, the way the bye weeks fall this year has opened a chance for at least half of them to salvage some scoring in Week 8.

    According to Yahoo, in advance of their Week 8 home tilt with the Cleveland Browns, tight end Vance McDonald of the Pittsburgh Steelers remains unowned in just over half of the leagues hosted at that site. That's despite McDonald ranking inside the top 10 in fantasy points per game at his position since Week 3. The 28-year-old amassed double-digit fantasy points in three of four matchups over that span.

    In two of McDonald's last three games, the sixth-year veteran has caught at least five passes and surpassed 60 receiving yards. It's not at all unreasonable to expect a similar performance Sunday against a Browns team that has given up an average of 12 PPR fantasy points to tight ends this year.

New England Patriots Defense/Special Teams (at BUF)

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    In recent seasons, the New England Patriots have not exactly been a defensive powerhouse. 2018 is no different. The Pats are 25th in total defense and 24th in scoring defense this season, allowing over 25 points per game. Even after posting a pair of special teams touchdowns in last week's win over the Chicago Bears, the Patriots rank outside the top 15 fantasy defenses in most scoring systems.

    None of that matters even a little in Week 8, because Sunday the Patriots face the team that just keeps on giving where opposing defenses are concerned.

    All hail the Buffalo Bills!

    The Bills are absolutely abysmal offensively. The team ranks last in the AFC in just about every offensive category and dead last in the entire NFL in the one that matters most to fantasy owners—scoring.

    But wait, there's more! The Bills have allowed 26 sacks this season—third-most in the NFL. Buffalo has also turned it over 16 times in 2018—again third in the league.

    Given the impact those statistics have on defensive fantasy scoring, it should surprise exactly zero people that the Bills lead the league in fantasy points surrendered to defenses.

    Last week in Indianapolis, the Bills managed just 303 total yards and five points with five turnovers and two sacks allowed against a Colts defense that is—not good.

    It's simple, really. Examine the schedule each week, find out who is playing the Bills, go immediately to the waiver wire and—if that team is available—pick them up.