Maybe it’s been going on all season; maybe it was just this past week. But when it comes to NFL football at the moment, it feels like we are dealing with a severe case of “We just don’t know.”
On Sunday, Will Levis enjoyed a historic NFL debut, the Broncos handled the Chiefs in the upset of the year, and Joe Burrow’s Bengals made tiger kibble out of the 49ers’ defense. Even the Eagles — our best bastion of consistency in 2023 — faced a serious challenge from the Commanders (again).
Here’s one thing I do know: This is the best week of tight end waivers in recent memory. If you need a TE (e.g., if you have Sam LaPorta, George Kittle or Evan Engram on bye in Week 9), I’ve got a stable of names for you. Plus, replacement options for Kirk Cousins and another round of “Add this wide receiver — I’m begging you, for the love of all things football.”
OK, enough preamble — let’s get on with it.
As always, these are the most intriguing players who are rostered in less than 60 percent of NFL.com leagues. If you have questions, my DMs are open: @MattOkada on Twitter … or X … or whatever it is.
- The First Read: Five season-altering wins from Week 8; plus, MVP rankings and Week 9's must-see game
- 2023 NFL season, Week 8: What We Learned from Sunday's games
- NFL stats and records, Week 8: Titans QB Will Levis has historic NFL debut; Dolphins WR Tyreek Hill chasing receiving record
Murray made the “GUYS TO ‘STACHE” last week after his initial return to practice. Now, it seems like he’s just a couple games away from potentially starting once again for Arizona. Head coach Jonathan Gannon has already said Dobbs will be his starter next Sunday against the Browns, but if you’re in need of a QB, this might be the last opportunity you have to add Murray on the down low. Also, it’s worth noting that if Murray, who has averaged 20.4 fantasy PPG in his career, is to return, he will get the Bears and Eagles — two excellent matchups — in the fantasy playoffs.
After a week of troublesome QB injuries (and with at least a couple fantasy starters on bye in Week 9), I don’t hate Mayfield as both a short-term and long-term pickup. He’s recorded 21-plus fantasy points in each of his last two road games (and 16-plus in all three) and travels to Houston this week. The Texans are middle of the road against fantasy QBs and just allowed 235 yards and a 103.6 passer rating to rookie Bryce Young. Mayfield is throwing 35 passes a game to a strong receiving corps. I’m intrigued.
Last week’s column recommended Howell as an add-and-stream against the Eagles, noting that we might evaluate his future in our lineups after the game. Well, well, well: The youngster diced up Philly for 397 yards and four touchdown passes, finishing with a season-high 30.98 fantasy points. Washington has one of the deepest and most impressive pass-catching groups in the league. Moreover, Howell has scored 18-plus fantasy points in five of his last seven games. He’s a stream against the Patriots on Sunday (and a strong start against the Seahawks the following week) and is one of the better available replacements for Kirk Cousins.
Last week, my insane QB stream in this space was Tyson Bagent. That didn’t go too well (though, honestly, Bagent didn’t look terrible in the Bears’ 30-13 loss to the Chargers). So, I wouldn’t dare hop on the hype train of another rookie making his second career start, right? Wrong. The difference is Levis is coming off one of the best debuts in NFL history. And let’s be clear: No one expected him to post 26.6 fantasy points in his first start. But man, did he (and DeAndre Hopkins) look good doing it. Obviously, this hinges on Ryan Tannehill‘s availability and is really just a play for two-QB leagues or DFS … unless Levis is just that dude.
GUY TO ‘STACHE: This is less of a guy to ‘stache and more of a situation to monitor. Taylor Heinicke replaced Desmond Ridder to start the second half in Sunday’s loss to the Titans, throwing a TD pass and averaging 8.3 yards per attempt in relief work. Arthur Smith told reporters after the game he did not take Ridder out due to his performance (Ridder was evaluated for a concussion and was subsequently cleared). But if, for whatever reason, Heinicke gets the nod this week against the Vikings, I’d consider him an interesting add with Atlanta’s weapons.
The undrafted rookie managed just 8.9 fantasy points on Sunday, but he did rush for 78 yards on a hefty 20 carries against the Ravens’ defense. If nothing else, he seems to be clearly established as the lead back in Arizona (at least until James Conner returns from IR) — and you don’t find these kind of high-volume players laying around on waivers every week. Demercado gets a difficult matchup versus the Browns in Week 9, so I’m not stoked about starting him, but he must be rostered. Get on it.
Good gracious, Gus Bus! One week after scoring 21.4 fantasy points in the Ravens’ rout of the Lions, Edwards piled 29.4 fantasy points on the Cardinals. These back-to-back stud performances came after four straight weeks of single-digit outputs, so it’s tempting to write them off. I wouldn’t do that. The past two weeks have also coincided with an overall glow-up from the Baltimore offense, and it seems more like the new norm for Lamar Jackson and Co. The fact that Edwards scored three rushing touchdowns against Arizona in Week 8 — all from inside the 10-yard line — should be the main takeaway here. It seems like Todd Monken’s new system is finally clicking, and I want the goal-line back in that system. Edwards is a must-add and a strong start — especially when the Ravens are favored.
Somehow, Chuba Hubbard was dropped more than he was added this past week. And following an underwhelming 7.4 fantasy points in Sunday’s win over the Texans, I’m worried it’ll happen again. Don’t let it. Hubbard led the Panthers with 17 touches and led the RBs with 54 total yards. Raheem Blackshear and Miles Sanders combined for 5 rushing yards on five carries. Hubbard is not going to average 1.9 yards per carry in future games and is looking more and more like the top dog in Carolina. Like with Emari Demercado, we roster top dogs, even if they didn’t light up the fantasy box score in the week prior.
GUYS TO ‘STACHE: Cleveland went full committee on Sunday, with Kareem Hunt(15 touches), Pierre Strong (11) and Jerome Ford (10) splitting opportunities pretty evenly. Strong is the only one who’s readily available, and he looked very good on those 11 opportunities. Take a look at Cam Akers in deeper leagues, as well. Alexander Mattison has been nothing but disappointing in Minnesota, and Akers has given us a few flashes on limited chances since joining the team via trade a month ago. If you’re mining for late-season RB gold, Akers could be a nice little nugget. Neither Roschon Johnson nor D'Onta Foreman was great in the Bears’ loss to the Chargers, but Johnson was playing his first game back from injury and is clearly the more versatile player. I still think he could end up with this job sometime in the next month.
Thankfully, I don’t have to mention Rashee Rice again in this column, as he’s finally been rostered up above the threshold. That’s not the case for another explosive rookie wideout, though, so here we are again. While Downs’ rostership did double last week, he’s still available in nearly half of leagues. After seven catches for a team-high 72 yards against the Saints, Downs has now scored 13-plus fantasy points in four straight games and is a top-15 fantasy wideout over that span. The last two performances have come against the stout defenses of the Saints and Browns. The next two Ds on the slate (those of the Panthers and Patriots) have been similarly stingy matchups for WRs so far in 2023. It doesn’t matter. Downs is a must-roster and a borderline must-start in any regularly sized PPR league.
When we scampered to add Osborn off waivers following the injury to Justin Jefferson, this is what we expected! Sunday against the Packers, Osborn delivered eight catches on 10 targets for 99 yards (all of which led the team). Obviously, the big question mark here is what we should expect at quarterback moving forward, Kirk Cousins’ season-ending Achilles tear. Personally, I expect the Vikings to add a veteran QB one way or another. Regardless, Osborn is in the Minnesota 1a/1b conversation with Jordan Addison (a very different kind of receiver) until Jefferson returns (if he even does this season).
I know Dell didn’t have a superb return from injury (6.1 fantasy points on just seven opportunities), but I’m willing to chalk it up to a recovery week. Dell still had a 16.7 percent target share (of an abnormally low 24 pass attempts) and was also schemed into the horizontal run game with three carries for 15 yards. Remember, in his four games prior to injury, Dell was averaging 14.5 fantasy points per game. I expect the rookie to trend back upward in both opportunities and efficiency. He could be a huge piece down the stretch.
Finally, after nearly two months of waiting, the rookie first-rounder enjoyed a breakout game of sorts. Granted, it took an injury to Josh Palmer for Johnston to finally flash the Mike Williams 2.0 ability we’ve been waiting for … and it did come against the Bears defense … and it was still just 10 fantasy points. All that said, Johnston looked very solid, setting early career highs for targets (six), catches (five) and yards (50) on Sunday Night Football.
GUYS TO ‘STACHE: Once again, Jaxon Smith-Njigba bears mentioning here. The rookie scored another touchdown on Sunday, totaling three catches for 36 yards. While he’s still playing third fiddle to DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, JSN is becoming more and more intriguing as a ‘stache for the playoff run. This one’s deeper, but with Kendrick Bourne suffering a torn ACL in Week 8, Patriots rookie Demario Douglas is worth a look. No one else remaining in the New England WR room has shown much promise in 2023, so he’s my dark horse to snatch a valuable role in the wake of Bourne’s season-ending injury.
OK, this time I’m not apologizing. We’re adding Taysom Hill and we’re adding him with confidence. Since his receiving breakout in Week 6 (seven catches for 49 receiving yards), Hill is averaging 17.2 fantasy points per game. With his 22-point performance on Sunday (highlighted by a team-high 63 rushing yards and a pair of rushing touchdowns), he is now the second-highest scoring fantasy tight end over that span, behind only Travis Kelce. Like it or not, he is one of the most dynamic pieces in New Orleans’ offense and his involvement is only trending upward.
McBride was a late add to last week’s column as a ‘stache, with Zach Ertz headed to injured reserve. If you were among the 1.2 percent of managers to add him, congratulations. The 23-year-old was utterly dominant in Arizona’s near-comeback against the Ravens, catching 10 of 14 targets for 95 yards and a touchdown. How good is that stat line? Well, there have only been two other games of 10-plus catches and a TD by a tight end in 2023: Travis Kelce in Week 5 … and Travis Kelce in Week 7. Call him Treyvis McBride. No? Alright fine, pass on the nickname, but don’t pass on McBride. Add him and start him.
Thomas continued his stretch of consistency in Week 8 by posting 16.4 fantasy points on the back of six catches, 44 yards and a touchdown (eight targets). He’s the TE7 in points per game on the season, but is oddly rostered in less than a third of NFL.com leagues. How long are we going to leave this man on waivers? In Week 10, he gets a Seahawks team that just facilitated a David Njoku breakout. Unless you have a top-six guy, add Thomas and start him with confidence.
Ferguson featured as a guy to get in your lineup in Michael F. Florio’s “Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em” column last week, and the Cowboys tight end delivered early, scoring the game’s opening touchdown and finishing with 14.7 fantasy points against the Rams’ defense. Dak Prescott and Dallas’ passing game looked much improved, and Ferguson was one of many beneficiaries. Unlike the three guys above, he’s a little more touchdown-dependent and therefore a little less reliable — but if you can’t get one of those “Big Three,” Fergie is a solid consolation prize.
The Browns have fielded a stifling NFL defense in 2023, but the unit has only produced a couple fantasy performances worth speaking of. That said, the Cardinals are trending the wrong way offensively (at least until Kyler Murray returns), as Josh Dobbs has been rather turnover-prone in recent weeks. With Myles Garrett leading the charge against Arizona, I’d expect a few sacks and a couple takeaways, as well.
Outside of a dud against the Bears in Week 5, the Commanders have been very predictable for fantasy. Nine-plus fantasy points in games against the Cardinals, Broncos, Falcons and Giants (bad offenses). Two points or fewer in games against the Bills and Eagles (good offenses). You see what I see? Washington has been the most consistently “streamy” defense in fantasy. And this week, the Commanders get the Patriots, who, without mincing words, have a bad offense. March out the ‘Manders.
New York’s D/ST has now scored exactly 12 fantasy points in three of its last four games (against the Dolphins, Commanders and Jets). The Giants even had a pair of takeaways against the Bills (and held them to 14 real-life points) in the one other game. In Week 9, they take on a Raiders offense that has been one of the worst scoring units in the league this season. I expect this to be a 15-9 stinker of a Giants win — also known as prime fantasy defense fodder.
Tennessee’s D/ST has rarely been fantasy-relevant this season, but the Titans are coming off a game with six sacks and are heading into a short-week matchup with the Steelers. Whether it’s Kenny Pickett (who suffered a rib injury in Week 8) or Mitchell Trubisky (who threw two picks in relief), Pittsburgh’s offense has been quite bad for most of the season. I’ll be surprised if this game doesn’t have one of the lowest totals of the week, and I’m willing to stream a questionable defense against a more questionable offense.
DEFENSE TO ‘STACHE: For the first time ever, I’m mentioning a fantasy defense to ‘stache. The Jaguars are on bye in Week 9, so this really might just mean flagging them for an add next week — unless you have spots to spare on your bench. Regardless, the fact is this: The Jags are a top-five D/ST on the season and have averaged a whopping 11.4 points per game over the last five weeks. They’re playing elite fantasy defense. Now you know.
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