Snap, crackle, pop. That would be the sound of Cameron Wake’s Achilles last Thursday Night. A major blow to fantasy owners who had him. What are we gonna do? Sit around and do nothing? No, we’re gonna go out and find his replacement. And not any replacement. One that is young and very undervalued. Most of these on this list are under-utilized in fantasy and need to be eyed closely as the race for the playoffs ramps up.
As a general rule, Week 8 is when you begin to see the typical “Bell Curve” of teams that define the cutoff point between playoffs and non-playoffs. Those teams are centralized around 4-4 or 5-3, with 60-80% of the other contenders within 1-2 games of that mark. After that 1-2 game difference, you start seeing your “about to clinch” teams, or “hopelessly lost odds” teams. That means, the decisions you make the next week or two will ultimately seal your fate for the fantasy picture, one way of the other. Those of you on the edge, play your cards smart, make smart acquisitions, and look for any added edge you can find, whether it is defensive players that play well versus the run who will accrue healthy doses of tackles for loss, or just force the ball out of the quarterback’s hands early.
Shaquil Barrett (LB-DEN)- This could be a tough matchup for Barrett, an undrafted rookie free agent for the Broncos, but he has been really efficient when he has been seeing time behind Demarcus Ware at outside linebacker. He is a bit undersized, but his athleticism and nose for the football should create problems for the Colts offense that is firing on all cylinders one drive, then sputtering the next. He is a relative unknown quantity in fantasy circles as of date, but he is an ever present pass rush threat when on the field. (Photo courtesy of zimbio.com)
Howard Jones (DE-TB)- Beware, to those quarterbacks who turn a blind eye on Jones. He is not as big of an emerging threat as Kwon Alexander, who obliterated the Falcons in Week 8, nor a household name like Lavonte David, but he is a playmaker. Granted, his value will be limited as long as he continues to see part-time work, but in such a role, he has been monstrous with three tackles, three sacks, and a forced and returned fumble. After the Bucs defense rattled the falcons last week, they should have no trouble frustrating the Giants offense and their 21st ranked rushing attack. Jones may not need but a few snaps or plays to be your difference-maker this week.
Mychal Kendricks (LB-PHI)- Kendricks has been hard to own this season, as he has been injured a lot and has not lived up to expectations. However, he is one of the Eagles best linebackers based off talent alone. When he has played this season, Kendricks has tallied 25 tackles and a sack, and will get a soft match versus Matt Cassel this week in Dallas and should be able to get the QB on the turf at least once. As long as he is recovered from his early season injury troubles, Kendricks should be a leader for the Eagles, as Ryans is aging and Kendricks is the most natural fit for the spot opposite Kiko Alonso.
Landon Collins (S-NYG)- Do not be fooled, this is a tougher matchup than it appears, as Jameis Winston is maturing before our eyes. He is learning the Bucs offense and establishing rapport with his receivers, not turning the ball over, and anticipating pressure. This could spell bad news for Collins, except that he plays alongside ballhawk Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Vincent Jackson is out for the Bucs, meaning that Collins will have more room to roam in the secondary. (Photo courtesy of twitter.com)
Linval Joseph (DT-MIN)- Joseph has been one of the most consistent producers at DT this season for fantasy purposes, but he has an absolute crap matchup versus someone named Todd Gurley this week. Joseph will always be a solid source of tackles and some tackles for loss, but that may be it as he is liable to struggle versus stronger runners.
Christian Jones (LB-CHI)- Despite the fact that the Bears are going up versus a strong passing offense at San Diego this week, do not completely dismiss Jones as he provides a decent floor, low ceiling option for Week 9. Melvin Gordon is not as dominant as the Chargers would have liked, to date, and Keenan Allen is lost for the season, meaning Rivers will hold onto the ball a bit longer than normal while he goes through his progressions. It is not a homerun play, but Jones is a player on the rise for the Bears defense and owners need to grab him now.
Byron Maxwell (CB-PHI)- Even with no Romo, Maxwell is going to be thrown at a ton versus the Cowboys as he is a liability in coverage, allowing him to rack up the passes defensed and tackles. This sucks if your league counts against having big plays completed against IDPs, but is great news for fantasy owners who need passes defensed. He surely isn’t covering Dez, which means he’ll be paired on either Beasley or Williams. Fantasy owners should be all over Maxwell this week in this NFC East showdown. (Photo courtesy of deadspin.com)
Olivier Vernon (DE-MIA)- With the season-ending Achilles injury to Cameron Wake, Vernon will be asked to step up in the pass rush game and be a factor. After having a largely up and down season thus far that includes 2 games of 12 or more points, four of zero or one, and a hefty fine for two hits on Mariota, it will be interesting to see how he produces going forth. If not for Wake’s injury, it may have been best to leave him on the wire. However, in the wake of Wake’s injury, he is worth picking up and starting this week versus a run heavy and crafty Bills defensive unit. The matchup may not be pretty, considering even Wake struggled versus the Bills and Tyrod Taylor in Week 3, but he could nab a sack.
Damarious Randall (CB-GB)- Stay away, stay away, stay away! Elite cornerbacks have not faired that well in fantasy terms versus the Panthers this season, and that will continue to hold true this week. Randall has been an über productive passes defensed source for the Packers and fantasy owners this season, but he is bench-worthy this week. Newton may lack an option that can stretch the field, but he has two great safety valves in Greg Olsen and Tedd Ginn Jr (excuse his horrible, late drop last week versus Indianapolis) and picks his deep pass times wisely. None of these factors equal a promising day for Randall or the Packers coming off a tough loss versus the Broncos in Week 8.
Jairus Byrd (S-NO)- When healthy and in game shape, Byrd is one of the most feared safeties in the game. He has yet to be completely for the Saints since joining them prior to 2014, with his last viable fantasy season in 2013, with the Bills. Lest we not forget, when he was in tip top game shape for the Bills, he was cranking out four to five interceptions with multiple forced and recovered fumbles per season with Buffalo. At this juncture, the Saints will continue to monitor him and gradually increase his snap count as he is returning from a torn lateral meniscus suffered during his first season with the Saints in 2014. fantasy owners should be patient with him as he could be a nice late round steal for those who invested in him, but is likely a couple weeks away from seeing a significant snap count. He could make a few plays this week versus the the rookie-led Titans, but he is still a high-risk player. (Photo courtesy of usatoday.com)
Buccaneers D/ST- I never thought I would say this, but the Bucs know how to play sound, whole defense this season and they are going to play ‘bracket’ buster in the NFC South this season. Their offense may not be up to par with the rest of the teams in the NFC, but damn can they harass teams with their linebackers and secondary. Unfortunately for the Giants, their run game is nearly non-existent and will run entirely through ODB this week, meaning the offensive line could have its hands full stopping Alexander, David, McCoy and Co. There will be at least one defensive score from the Bucs this week.
Steelers D/ST- Even with Latavius Murray leading the running charge and the emergence of Derek Carr, the Steelers should be able to get pressure on Carr and disrupt his timing somewhat on his passes to Amari Cooper- You like the unit more if they get Tuitt back again this week, as Shazier, Dupree and Heyward are out to deliver pain. Their secondary is not bad either. Cooper should expect a ton of physical play and double teams thrown his way as he is a true deep threat and becoming an elite option in the NFL. To date, only the Jets have been able to stop him from posting gaudy numbers. The Steelers should be able limit him, somewhat. Carr is in trouble, however.
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@brandonziman You are more than welcome Brandon. You were a fantastic writer and a joy to work with. As we move through a very big transition for us hopefully we can continue to work with one anither.