It's Week 8, which means we've approached the halfway point of the fantasy regular season. You have a clear idea of who's playing well and who's dragging down your roster. You know the weak spots and the places where you don't have to worry.
The good news is that this week, you should make full use of your roster. There are no teams on a bye. Why we couldn't spread out the bye weeks more evenly is another frustration for another time. Just know that you won't have any players taking the week off. The bad news is that there are still injuries, so there's still a need to find those players you might not otherwise consider starting in a given week. Ultimately, there's no rest for the sleepers column.
My staff and I (read: Next Gen Stats and my internet connection) have been hard at work trying to find some unsung heroes for Week 8. No small task when everyone is in action this week. But enough of that. Here are some names.
Desmond Ridder has been a roller coaster this season. He posted consecutive 300-yard games in Weeks 5 and 6, with top-10 quarterback finishes in both contests. While the Bucs weren’t the best matchup on paper last week, it seemed like Ridder and the Falcons had found something. Nope. He finished with 250 yards and no touchdowns. Yes, Atlanta won to ascend to first place in the NFC South. But you don’t get fantasy points for that.
This week, the Falcons fly to Nashville to face the Titans and their bottom-10-ranked pass defense. Tennessee has allowed a top 10 weekly QB finish in three of its six games, and the narrative on paper doesn’t even tell the full story. In the games where a QB did not earn a top 10 weekly finish: The Titans allowed 300 yards to Derek Carr in Week 1, faced a hobbled Joe Burrow in Week 4 and took on a Colts team in Week 5 that lost Anthony Richardson early in the game. Ridder’s ceiling isn’t the highest, but he should be a high-end QB2 this week.
It’s been a disappointing season for Pierce. He’s averaging just 2.9 yards per carry with only one touchdown and just one game with more than 70 rushing yards. To make matters worse, Devin Singletary is starting to encroach on his playing time. It’s not all Pierce’s fault. Houston’s offensive line just can’t get healthy. But he’s also not doing himself any favors with his inefficiency.
Week 8 offers a chance to get healthy -- figuratively, at least. The Panthers have consistently been run over by opposing offenses this year. They’ve allowed 12 touchdowns on the ground, and six players have had at least 75 rushing yards against Carolina. The Texans' offense hasn’t been geared toward run-heavy scripts so far this season. That will give Pierce a lower ceiling, but this matchup should give him a decent floor. He’s got RB3 vibes this week.
Over the past few weeks, the Colts have proven that there’s room for two running backs to succeed in their offense. Jonathan Taylor is rounding back into form and looking like the player we were drafting at 1.01 a year and a half ago. At the same time, Zack Moss is still eating plenty. In Week 7, Moss posted 57 rushing yards on 18 carries against the previously vaunted Browns defense.
This week, he and the Colts get the Saints. New Orleans' defense isn’t thought of quite as highly as Cleveland’s … but it’s no slouch, either. Nonetheless, that Saints' defense had a tough time with Travis Etienne and the Jaguars' run game last week. Moss won’t get the same type of volume as Etienne, but he’s established a role in Indy’s offense. Consider him a flex option in deeper leagues.
Once Khalil Herbert went down with a high ankle sprain, the fantasy nation turned its lonely eyes to Roschon Johnson. That was short-lived, however, because Johnson suffered a concussion that’s kept him out of the last two games. In his stead, D’Onta Foreman did yeoman’s work, but it looks like the rookie might return for the Week 8 game against the Chargers.
It’s good timing, since the Bolts continue to be a soft target for fantasy running backs. Los Angeles hasn’t allowed that many yards on the ground to opposing backs. However, it has had its hands full with pass catchers out of the backfield. Brandon Staley’s defense has allowed the fifth-most receptions and third-most receiving yards to running backs this season. As long as Bears rookie QB Tyson Bagent continues to make his living on short throws, the running backs will be in play. Johnson should have flex appeal in deeper leagues this week.
DEEP SLEEPER ...
Jamaal Williams returned to the Saints lineup last week after missing the previous four games with a hamstring injury. He didn’t see much action -- just five carries and no targets -- but Dennis Allen admitted after the loss that Williams was on a pitch count. Hopefully in Week 8, he’s a little healthier and ready for more opportunity.
It will come against a Colts defense that has been run over in recent weeks. Indy has given up 10 rushing touchdowns to running backs this season. Five of them have come in its past two games. Williams isn’t likely to get a lot of passing down work with Alvin Kamara in the lineup, but he could get the goal-line opportunities. That alone makes him worthy of flex consideration in deeper leagues.
Romeo Doubs was on a bit of a heater a few weeks ago and while that’s calmed down in the past two games, he’s still seeing work in the passing game. Even with the Packers struggling to move the ball against a bad Broncos defense, Doubs caught a touchdown. One-and-a-half touchdowns if you count him volleyballing a scoring pass over to Jayden Reed.
Despite the league seemingly catching up to Jordan Love (that didn’t take long!), it’s still worth giving Doubs some run this week against the Vikings. Minnesota is coming off a strong performance against the 49ers, but they’re still ranked in the bottom half of the league against the pass. With Christian Watson struggling to get going and Aaron Jones being unproductive, Doubs should continue to get opportunities in the offense. He has low-end WR3 potential this week.
If you want to know how things are going for Calvin Ridley, well … he’s in this column. Not what you would have expected at the start of the season when he was being drafted as a top 20 fantasy receiver with designs of finishing in the top 12. But aside from a couple of nice weeks, Ridley hasn’t offered much production for either the Jaguars and your fantasy team.
There is hope in Week 8. The Steelers were able to get a win last week but not without getting carved up by Rams wideout Puka Nacua. Getting eaten up by receivers is a theme for Pittsburgh, resulting in the third-most points per game allowed to wideouts. While the production hasn’t been there for Ridley, he’s still on the field plenty. And he’s consistently seeing a decent number of targets. The Steelers present one of Ridley’s better matchups over the last several weeks. He should get flex consideration.
Jahan Dotson hasn't been what we hoped he’d be this season. With Sam Howell spreading the ball around, there hasn't been enough consistent opportunity for the Commanders' pass catchers. It also doesn't help when Dotson is struggling to hold on to the targets he is getting. But people smarter than me have said drops don't matter if your quarterback continues to trust you. I believe it. Especially because Dotson's target numbers have remained steady. That's why I'm willing to give Dotson another shot.
Philly's secondary has been a weak point so far, with fantasy receivers putting up big numbers. This week's trade for safety Kevin Byard could change things a bit. But that might have more implications for some of Washington's downfield threats. With Byard coming over the top and the Eagles' pass rush putting Howell under duress, Dotson could see more looks in the short part of the field. His low depth of target means the ceiling will never be high, but he could make hay with volume this week. Start him in deep leagues only.
One week after Fantasy Twitter (Fantasy X?) touted Mayer as a must-add prospect, he offered up a three-point dud. But that was almost to be expected once Jimmy Garoppolo was ruled out. Neither Brian Hoyer nor Aidan O'Connell could be trusted to support more than Vegas’ two primary pass catchers. As of this writing, we're not certain if Jimmy G will be back in action this week. Regardless, Mayer’s fortunes in Week 8 hinge more on the matchup than the quarterback.
The Bears (Las Vegas' Week 7 opponent) have been middle-of-the-pack against fantasy tight ends this season. The Lions, well, they've been bad -- which is weird to say about a defense that has significantly improved from last year. Still, Detroit has allowed the second-most points per game to the position and was just torched by Mark Andrews for 22 points last week. That number feels like a tall order for Mayer, but he could produce enough to be a high-end TE2.
Just when we started to think Jake Ferguson could be a fantasy asset, his targets fell off a cliff. It was one thing in an all-around dud against the 49ers. It was something else to see it against the porous Chargers. But if there was a silver lining from that prime-time game against the Bolts, it was that Ferguson ran a season-high number of routes. It was also a game in which CeeDee Lamb was cooking, so maybe it's understandable if Fergie wasn't peppered with targets.
This week, the ‘Boys host the other squad from Los Angeles. The Rams are slightly worse against tight ends than the Chargers (ninth-most points allowed), but they are significantly better against wide receivers. Mike McCarthy promises the offense will improve, but unless he becomes a totally different person, will Dallas discover currently missing creativity in its route concepts? Assuming things don't change much, Dak Prescott could be forced to rely on his tight end much more this week. Ferguson should be looked at as a low-end TE1.
DEEP SLEEPER ...
So, here’s the thing about the Panthers’ offense. It's bad. And here’s the thing about the Texans' defense. It’s better than you think. Houston is the NFL’s sixth-ranked defense and DeMeco Ryans has his group playing hard. If there’s one soft spot, it’s against tight ends. The Texans have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points per game to the position.
Carolina’s tight end position has been in flux with Hayden Hurst and Tommy Tremble sharing opportunities. But Hurst is still the leader at the position in snaps and targets and has a higher average depth of target. Like a lot of tight ends outside of the top five, Hurst will be touchdown dependent. But if the Texans can lock down on the Panthers' receivers (non-Adam Thielen division), Hurst could see looks. He’s a TE2 in deeper leagues this week.
Tyson Bagent is a fun story as an undrafted quarterback from a small Division II school being pressed into service and winning his first NFL start. But it also came against a disheveled Raiders defense that couldn’t figure out how to stop D’Onta Foreman from stomping up and down the field. Forgive me if I’m not yet ready to crown Bagent as the next Brock Purdy.
I’ll also admit that the Chargers' defense isn’t exactly a lock-down stop unit. It ranks 22nd in total defense, one spot ahead of the Raiders. But it will have one advantage that Las Vegas didn’t -- a full game’s worth of tape on Bagent. The Bears did a good job of keeping things simple for their young quarterback. Expect the Chargers to bring extra pressure to try to force mistakes. It’s worth taking a chance on the Bolts' defense to get some takeaways.
We’ve spent a long time talking about the Dolphins' offense. For good reason. They’ve been a joy to watch all season. The defense? Not so much. It's currently ranked 28th in total defense and 25th in passing defense. Some of that comes with having recently run into A.J. Brown and the Eagles. Even then, Miami put together its best fantasy D/ST performance with 12 points.
This week, the Dolphins get their second look at the Patriots. Miami had one of its better fantasy weeks versus New England in Week 2. Yes, the Pats' offense has improved since then, but it’s still not great. Miami brings pressure at one of the highest rates in the league. That’s led to the Dolphins logging multiple sacks in six of seven games. It could also force Mac Jones into some difficult decisions. If you’re looking to stream a defense, it’s time to give the Dolphins a look.
Marcas Grant is a fantasy analyst for NFL.com and a man who is turning into a meal prep nerd. Send him your food routines or fantasy football questions on Twitter @MarcasG or TikTok at marcasgrant.