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Week 9 Fantasy: “Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down”

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Thumbs Up of the Week: Joe Burrow (v CLE)

Neither game was a win for Cincinnati, but Burrow lit up Cleveland for 722 passing yards, six touchdowns, and one interception in two matchups as a rookie, and he should be primed for another big performance on Sunday. This year, the Bengals are loaded with Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd at wide receiver, and Burrow is hot with three touchdowns in each of the past three games. He’s a borderline top-five option.


Thumbs Up: Taysom Hill (v ATL)

It’s up in the air whether or not Hill (concussion) will get cleared and start for New Orleans, but assuming he does, the dual-threat quarterback carries immediate QB1 upside. Hill actually started both games against the Falcons last season—going for fantasy point totals of 24.22 and 23.58—and Atlanta has been very susceptible to quarterback runs in 2021. Anyone in need of help at the position should look to Hill for Week 9 and beyond.


Thumbs Up: Tua Tagovailoa (v HOU)

It was a predictable struggle last week in Buffalo, but Tagovailoa has played well this season, and the offense has plenty of firepower with DeVante Parker healthy alongside Jaylen Waddle and Mike Gesicki. I’d expect Tua wants to prove himself as the answer for Miami (or someone else) down the stretch, and Houston is a great matchup with 8.6 yards per attempt allowed through the air (third-worst in the NFL). Stream Tagovailoa as a top-15 option this week.


Thumbs Up: Justin Herbert (@ PHI)

Many seem to be souring some on Herbert, but I think the past two games will end up being a blip in the radar, and now is a good time to buy low if he’s available. The Eagles allowing a league-high completion percentage (74.3%) could help Herbert get back to being locked in, and the chunk plays will soon follow. As long as the offensive line keeps him clean on the road, Herbert can live up to his QB4 ranking.


Thumbs Down of the Week: Kyler Murray (@ SF)

Murray has cooled off considerably since starting the season red hot, and the main reason for that is a decrease in rushing production with 32 attempts for 77 scoreless yards over the past five games. Now playing through a notable ankle issue (FOX’s Jay Glazer has called a “one-to-three week” injury), it’s unlikely we see Murray re-emerge as an elite fantasy play versus a San Francisco defense that contained the Arizona offense last month. Consider him more of a low-end QB1.


Thumbs Down: Kirk Cousins (@ BAL)

Baltimore was torched by Joe Burrow in their last outing and have shockingly allowed the most passing yards per game in the league (296.1), but at home and coming off the bye, the unit should have some things figured out. Cousins, on the other hand, had only one game with multiple scores last month, and Minnesota’s offense as a whole has been limited to fewer than 20 points in three of their past four games. I’d rather roll with a streamer like Daniel Jones or Tua Tagovailoa.


Thumbs Down: Sam Darnold (v NE)

The Panthers potentially getting Christian McCaffrey (hamstring) back isn’t enough to boost Darnold (concussion) from the bottom of the rankings for a matchup versus New England—as Bill Belichick has given the former No. 3 overall pick more problems than anyone with 519 passing yards and a 1:6 touchdown-interception ratio in three career meetings. P.J. Walker—because of his added mobility—would probably be a better fantasy option for this week if he ended up drawing the start.


Thumbs Down: Justin Fields (@ PIT)

Speaking of mobility, Fields was finally unleashed as a runner last week (ten carries for 103 yards and a score), which shines some light on his rest-of-season outlook. That said, Pittsburgh is going to pressure and disguise blitzes perhaps better than any team in the league, so Fields having another floor game is still the most likely outcome on Monday night. Don’t chase the points from last week.


Running Back


Thumbs Up of the Week: Khalil Herbert (@ PIT)

The “Thumbs Up” and “Thumbs Down” options at running back are fairly shallow for Week 9, but Herbert is someone that is expected to remain a strong RB2 despite concerns about the Chicago offense. And while the Steelers have allowed a league-low three rushing touchdowns this season, volume will again be there for the rookie runner, and the emergence of Fields on the ground will only open things up for him. In four games without David Montgomery (knee), Herbert has gone for increasing touch totals of 18, 21, 23, and 25.


Thumbs Up: Darrel Williams (v GB)

Clyde Edwards-Helaire (knee) may return this week, but if not, Williams will get another start and can stay in lineups as a borderline top-15 option. The way Green Bay plays defense will create underneath opportunities for Williams (which Patrick Mahomes took more advantage of on Monday night), and he’s been very reliable as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Also, Aaron Rodgers (COVID-19) being out for this week makes it more likely that game flow is in Kansas City’s favor, so Derrick Gore can also be a quality FLEX play based on how he ran last week.


Thumbs Up: Mark Ingram (v ATL)

Ingram looked energized in his return to New Orleans last week, and the change of scenery makes him a much more confident FLEX option the rest of the way. No matter who is under center for the Saints, they will lean on the running game, and Ingram—after eight touches in Week 8—can approach double-digit weekly touches on an offense will continue moving the ball without Jameis Winston (knee). If available, the veteran is one of the week’s top pickups.


Thumbs Up: Eagles RBs (v LAC)

In the first game without Miles Sanders (ankle), both Boston Scott (12 carries for 60 yards and two touchdowns) and Jordan Howard (12 carries for 57 yards and two touchdowns) thrived, so Philadelphia is expected to stick with them as a one-two punch against a Los Angeles defense that is much more vulnerable on the ground than through the air. There is somewhat of a concern about falling behind leading to Nick Sirianni throwing more, but hopefully being at home helps that scenario be avoided, and the Chargers are allowing NFL-highs in yards per carry (5.1) and rushing yards per game (159.4).


Thumbs Down of the Week: Adrian Peterson (@ LAR)

From a long-term perspective, I think Peterson should be rostered in all leagues as a potential low-end RB2/FLEX option the rest of the way. However, it’s probably expecting too much to view him as a strong play in Week 9—following just one week with the team and on the road against one of the NFL’s top defenses—and that’s coming from someone that has never doubted the future Hall of Famer. AD should be viewed as a stash.


Thumbs Down: James Robinson (v BUF)

I’m guessing that Robinson (ankle) will miss this week’s game, but if he plays, a downgrade would be in order at less than 100% for a matchup versus the top-five run defense of the Bills. Furthermore, Sean McDermott’s unit often tries to eliminate the biggest threat of the opponent, and Robinson would be that if he suits up. You might need to weather the storm for matchups against Buffalo, Indianapolis, and San Francisco to open November.


Thumbs Down: Mike Davis (@ NO)

Davis was widely dropped after four touches for ten total yards in Week 7, but he was more of a factor last Sunday (14 touches for 66 total yards), and it might lead those desperate at running back giving him another chance. Similar to the aforementioned Adrian Peterson, though, I’d feel better about him as a stash than start for this week—as New Orleans is allowing the fewest yards per carry (3.5) and the second-fewest rushing yards per game (79.4) in the league.


Thumbs Down: Jets RBs (@ IND)

Michael Carter is seeing enough volume—particularly as a pass-catcher with Mike White under center—that he almost needs to be started, but I have him as more of a low-end RB2 than high-end RB2, and Ty Johnson wouldn’t be a confident start for me. Perhaps the Colts will come out flat following a crushing loss in overtime, but I wouldn’t count on it with Darius Leonard taking it upon himself to stop the run.


Wide Receiver


Thumbs Up of the Week: Mike Williams (@ PHI)

The Eagles being only one of two teams in the league to not allow a reception of 50+ yards is a major surprise to me, but not enough to move off Williams as a WR1 option in Week 9. The Chargers were at their best when featuring the big-bodied wideout, and in games where the opportunities are there, he’s absolutely dominated (lines of 8/82/1, 7/91/1, 7/122/2, and 8/165/2 in games with more than five targets; lines of 1/11, 2/27, and 2/19 in games with five or fewer targets). LA needs to get back to using Williams more on shorter routes to open up the downfield shots.


Thumbs Up: Tyler Boyd (v CLE)

Boyd went off along with Joe Burrow last season against the Browns—totaling 18 receptions, 173 yards, and two touchdowns in two meetings. Cincinnati finding a way to get him more involved to close out October with an 5/69/1 line on eight targets (plus a 46-yard completion on a trick play) bodes well for the chances of Boyd remaining a factor, and I’m hopeful the game turns into a shootout like we saw in 2020. All three of Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Boyd can put up numbers this weekend.


Thumbs Up: DeVante Parker (v HOU)

Parker is someone we’ve recommended investing in because of his talent combined with a sizeable role before his hamstring injury popped up (8.0 targets per game), but it was still a surprise to see him immediately catching eight passes for 85 yards—in a tough matchup versus Buffalo—for his Week 8 return. Now, fantasy owners should have more confidence in Parker as a WR2 option, and Tua Tagovailoa has shown added comfortability in allowing his guys to make plays.


Thumbs Up: Julio Jones (@ LAR)

The Rams are a stingy defense because they tighten up in scoring territory (9:11 touchdown-interception ratio for opponents), but they yield quite a bit of production overall (12th-most passing yards per game allowed), and it sounds like Jones will be healthy on Sunday night by getting on the practice field to start the week. If so, there will be solid upside for Julio on an offense that will slant more towards the passing attack, and I have him as an optimistic low-end WR2 play in primetime.


Others: Jerry Jeudy (@ DAL), Bryan Edwards (@ NYG)


Thumbs Down of the Week: D.J. Moore (v NE)

Christian McCaffrey making his return this weekend would take some of the pressure off Moore, but I’d still anticipate bracket coverage on him from the Patriots, and the numbers have cooled along with Carolina’s entire offense (61.8 yards per game and zero touchdowns over the past four weeks). Even before hearing Bill Belichick talk up Moore—calling him “definitely a problem” and one of “the most explosive players in the league”—I thought he would be the type of player Belichick has a high opinion of… making it all the more likely New England gives him plenty of attention.


Thumbs Down: DeVonta Smith (v LAC)

It’s encouraging that Smith continues to flash in quiet games, but he’s settled in as a volatile low-end WR2/FLEX option, and the lack of upside in terms of touchdowns and big plays should push him towards the lower end entering a difficult matchup. For as much as the Chargers struggle to defend the run, they have been a top-five pass defense, and they’re one of five teams to not allow double-digit passing touchdowns on the season.


Thumbs Down: Marvin Jones (v BUF)

The leader of that group is the Bills with five touchdowns allowed through the air this year, so Jones—having 35 or fewer receiving yards in three of the past four games—is unlikely to put up substantial numbers against them. D.J. Chark (ankle) being done for the season has actually led to decreased production and targets for the veteran wideout, and he’s a low-floor WR3 in Week 9.


Thumbs Down: Randall Cobb (@ KC)

It’s important to not chase points from a previous week, so I’m skeptical about Cobb—without Aaron Rodgers and shifted back to being perhaps the No. 4 wideout for Green Bay—building on his two-touchdown performance last Thursday night. If anything, I think starting Jordan Love will lead to Matt LaFleur playing almost exclusively through Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon, and Davante Adams. I’d recommended looking elsewhere.


Others: Laviska Shenault Jr. (v BUF), Robby Anderson (v NE) 


Tight End


Thumbs Up of the Week: Mike Gesicki (v HOU)

Considering the matchup against the Bills, I think Gesicki did well to finish with 8.3 fantasy points last week, and now he gets a cupcake spot versus a Houston defense allowing 14.1 fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends. Plus, a career-high 97% of the offensive snaps played last week shows the return of DeVante Parker had limited impact on his role. Gesicki should have a strong game on Sunday and then follow it up with another great matchup next Thursday night (v BAL).


Thumbs Up: C.J. Uzomah (v CLE)

Uzomah was only able to play in the first game against the Browns last season, but he went for a 4/42/1 line on six targets, and Cincinnati has spread the ball enough to feel good about him as a streaming option. Overall, Uzomah has caught 21-of-23 targets for 289 yards and five touchdowns this year—and this week, he’ll notably face the team he tore his Achilles against last year.


Thumbs Up: Mo Alie-Cox (v NYJ)

Alie-Cox is always a decent bet to find the end zone for Indy, and the Jets selling out to stop Joe Mixon last week near the goal line (though he did punch one in) could lead to Carson Wentz hitting his athletic tight end on a play-action pass in scoring territory. He was held without a reception in Week 8, but Alie-Cox had scored four touchdowns in the three games prior to that.


Thumbs Down of the Week: Kyle Pitts (@ NO)

Those with Pitts should keep him in lineups, but New Orleans remains very stingy for opposing tight ends, and not having Calvin Ridley (personal) isn’t a good thing for the rookie’s outlook. The possible return of George Kittle and better matchups for other TE1 options has Pitts outside the top-six for me this week.


Thumbs Down: Jonnu Smith (@ CAR)

Targets simply aren’t there for Smith right now, and you’re hoping for a chunk play and/or touchdown for him to pay dividends in lineups. Patriots-Panthers might be a slow, low-scoring game in general, so Smith barely crack the top 20 at tight end.


Thumbs Down: Dan Arnold (v BUF)

The only plus for the Jags on Sunday is the game being at home, but I’d still be avoiding the entire offense if possible—including Arnold. While the 26-year-old is coming off his best game of the season with eight receptions for 68 yards, Buffalo has only allowed one tight end to reach 50 yards this season (and it was Travis Kelce with 57 yards).


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