We’re officially entering the second half of the fantasy football season this week. This sleepers thing hasn’t gotten any easier, but it also hasn’t gotten any less fun. Everybody loves trying to pick out some potential diamonds in the rough. I give you readers a dozen options every week. Many have flopped. Some have hit. That’s the way this fake football stuff works. Another six teams are on their bye weeks – Arizona, Denver, Detroit, Jacksonville, New York Giants, and San Francisco. Let’s get to it.
Raiders QB Terrelle Pryor vs. Eagles: How Pryor is available in more than 50 percent of Yahoo fantasy leagues is truly amazing. He’s consistently among Adam Levitan’s quarterbacks to add in his weekly Waiver Wire pieces. Pryor has had a rough go of it his past two outings against the Chiefs and Steelers, tossing one touchdown to five interceptions. The schedule softens in Week 9. The Eagles are allowing the fifth-most fantasy points per week to opposing quarterbacks. It’s also a home game for Pryor and the Raiders. Pryor needs to be owned in 100 percent of fantasy leagues and is a legit back-end QB1 this week.
Titans QB Jake Locker vs. Rams: Locker returned from hip and knee injuries in Week 7 after missing two games. He clearly wasn’t 100 percent against the 49ers. The Titans are now coming off their bye week and Locker should be close to full health. Prior to getting hurt in Week 4, Locker had a 7:0 touchdown-to-turnover ratio. He tossed his first interception against San Francisco but still had two touchdowns. Locker’s pocket presence has dramatically improved and he has some wheels. A matchup with a soft Rams pass defense is on deck. St. Louis shut down the Seahawks Monday night, but Seattle was playing two backup offensive tackles. The Rams pinned their ears back and got after Russell Wilson. The Titans field a better offensive line. I like Locker as a high-end QB2 in Week 9.
Texans QB Case Keenum vs. Colts: Even though Matt Schaub (ankle) is healthy enough to play, Keenum is getting another start. Keenum went into a hostile environment in Kansas City in Week 7 and wasn’t afraid to take shots down field. That’s something Schaub can’t give the Texans. Keenum has now had the bye week to prepare for the Colts and build a rapport with his receivers. He’s a back-end QB2 with some upside. Keenum is a better bye-week fill-in than guys like Geno Smith and Thad Lewis this week.
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Saints RB Darren Sproles vs. Jets: Sproles’ play has tailed off dramatically since his Monday-night outburst against the Dolphins in Week 4. In three games since, he’s totaled just 114 scoreless yards on 21 touches. The Jets are stout against the run, but that’s not where Sproles earns his money. Sproles likes to leak out of the backfield and get matched up on linebackers in the passing game. Gang Green’s inside linebacker duo of David Harris and Demario Davis is nails against the run, but both are below average in coverage. With Jimmy Graham (foot) expected to be limited yet again this week, it would be a good time for the Saints to get Sproles back involved. He’s a legit RB2 and recommended buy-low candidate.
Packers RB James Starks vs. Bears: Starks returned to the lineup as Eddie Lacy’s top backup last week after missing the previous three weeks with a knee injury. Starks racked up 57 yards and a touchdown on seven carries against the Vikings. Coach Mike McCarthy said he wanted to get Starks more involved. The Bears lost defensive leader Lance Briggs to a shoulder injury two Sundays ago. Chicago’s run defense was already struggling with Briggs in the lineup. As Patrick Daugherty notes in his Week 9 rankings, the Bears have allowed 660 yards and eight touchdowns to running backs over the past four games. Lacy’s had a monster workload, and the Packers may want to scale it back a bit with Starks healthy. Look for him to get 8-12 touches this week. You can do a lot worse than Starks at the flex spot.
Falcons RB Jacquizz Rodgers vs. Panthers: In his first action since Week 2, Steven Jackson looked like a 50-year-old man trying to run against the Cardinals last week. This week, the Falcons face another stout run defense in Carolina. If there’s one thing the Panthers struggle with on defense, it’s that they allow running backs to catch a lot of passes out of the backfield. Only two teams have surrendered more receptions to opposing running backs. Rodgers only touched the ball four times last week. The Falcons need to get him back involved after he averaged over 16 touches per game in Jackson’s absence. Rodgers is firmly on the RB3/flex radar this week.
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Titans WR Nate Washington vs. Rams: Washington has gone silent the past three weeks. Weak-armed Ryan Fitzpatrick started two of those games while a less-than-100-percent Jake Locker returned to start the third. Locker has a big arm and Washington likes to run deep routes. He’s also one of Locker’s favorite receivers. Washington has averaged over seven targets per game in Locker’s five starts. The Rams were burned by a similar receiver in Golden Tate on Monday night. St. Louis shut down the Seattle passing attack for the most part, but the defense is susceptible to the big play. Washington can provide that. He’s entrenched as a WR3 for Week 9.
Cowboys WR Cole Beasley vs. Vikings: Minnesota slot corner Josh Robinson has arguably been the worst nickel corner in the league. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s allowed 38-of-40 passes thrown at him in the slot to be completed. That’s hard to do. Beasley is locked in as the No. 3 receiver with Miles Austin (hamstring) still trying to get right. Beasley posted a dud last week, but Tony Romo only completed 14 passes. Prior to that, Beasley had registered at least four catches in three consecutive games. Look for the Cowboys to light the Vikings’ soft pass defense up this week. Beasley is a WR4 in PPR formats.
Chargers WR Eddie Royal vs. Redskins: Another diminutive slot receiver makes the Week 9 sleepers list. Just as I mentioned above with Josh Robinson, Redskins slot corner Josh Wilson is also struggling mightily in coverage. Royal has yet to practice this week due to a toe injury, but he went through this routine in Week 7 before lighting up the Jaguars for 69 yards and a touchdown on four grabs. This Chargers-Redskins game has the potential to be a shootout. All starting receivers and tight ends in this game are must-starts in fantasy. Plug Royal in as a WR4.
Colts TE Coby Fleener vs. Texans: Fleener came back to life in Week 7 against the Broncos, catching five passes for 38 yards and one touchdown. He was a total dud the previous two weeks. Now with Reggie Wayne (torn ACL) out for the season, look for Andrew Luck to lean on Fleener as his safety blanket over the middle of the field. Fleener’s arrow is pointing way up with Wayne out. He’s still available in a ton of Yahoo leagues but might not be after Sunday. Fleener is a high-end TE2 with upside.
Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph vs. Cowboys: Just like Fleener, Rudolph is one of the most inconsistent tight ends in the league. He’s about as touchdown-dependent as they come. If there’s any week to feel good about plugging Rudolph into fantasy lineups, this is the week. The Cowboys have allowed the third-most yards and fifth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. Christian Ponder is taking the first-team reps in practice this week. It appears he'll get one more shot before the team turns back to Josh Freeman. Ponder loves throwing to his tight end. Rudolph is a back-end TE1 this week.
Rams TE Jared Cook vs. Titans: Cook has found his way onto this list far too many times this season. However, I can’t seem to quit him. Cook leads the Rams in targets this season and he’s going up against his former teammates from Tennessee. Cook has appeared to lack motivation a bit in his first eight games as a Ram. He’ll want to get up and perform in this one. Kellen Clemens targeted Cook six times last week. Clemens, a check-down master, will likely continue to look his tight end’s way for the remainder of the season. I feel good about Cook surpassing the five-catch and 45-yard barriers this week, which he’s been unable to do since Week 1. He’s a middle-of-the-pack TE2.