A back who is only on the fantasy radar because of an injury, a receiver who was previously left for dead and a tight end who escaped the shackles of the league’s worst offense are all trending in the right direction. On the flip side, a running back who was one of August’s most exciting players, a quarterback who just lost his best receiver and a tight end who has been inexplicably quiet are all slipping heading into the final third of the fantasy regular season. Learn their identities in the Week 8 edition of Risers and Sliders.
Charcandrick West, RB, Chiefs
West’s debut start in place of the injured Jamaal Charles was an insipid nine-carry, 33-yard performance. In the two weeks since, only Todd Gurley and Lamar Miller have had more points in standard-scoring leagues, and Miller did almost all of his damage in one game. West has posted two straight 18-point games, racking up 207 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 42 carries, and 44 receiving yards on six receptions. His owners obviously love the production, but they have to be equally as encouraged by the workload split, or lack thereof, in the Kansas City backfield. Knile Davis has had five carries in the last two games, while Spencer Ware has had four. Alex Smith has thrown 11 passes in West’s direction. He hasn’t thrown any to Davis or Ware. This is entirely West’s show, and the Chiefs clearly aren’t afraid to ride him when they have a lead. The game flow isn’t going to be as beneficial every week as it has been the last two, but fantasy owners can bet on West being a true workhorse the rest of the season. That makes him a bankable RB2.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Bears
It seems like many in the fantasy community forgot about Jeffery after his month-long absence due to calf and hamstring injuries, followed by a bye week that came right after his return to the field. Never mind all that, however. Jeffery is back to being a reliable WR1 in all fantasy formats. In two games since getting back in the lineup, Jeffery has 18 catches for 263 yards and two touchdowns. Jay Cutler is locked in on him like he used to be on Brandon Marshall, and that’s great news for Jeffery’s fantasy owners. The fourth-year receiver has a whopping 26 targets in those games and is averaging 12.3 targets per game this year. Extrapolated over 16 games, that comes out to just shy of 197 targets on the season, and that number seems to fit, given Jeffery’s role in the Chicago offense. You can reliably bet on him getting somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 12 targets every game. With his size and skill set, there’s no doubt he can be a top-five receiver for the rest of the season.
Michael Floyd, WR, Cardinals
Floyd has scored in three straight games for the Cardinals, asserting himself as the downfield and red-zone threat that many thought he would become last year. He took advantage of John Brown’s absence a week ago, catching four passes for a season-high 106 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown. Brown may very well return after the team’s Week 9 bye, but Floyd has done enough to guarantee himself a role in the offense. After all, even with Brown healthy, Floyd was playing at least 70% of the team’s snaps leading up to last week. There are a lot of mouths to feed when all of the team’s receivers are healthy, but Floyd should be owned in all fantasy formats. That’s more than we could say a few weeks ago. The Cardinals have one of the better offenses in the league, and Carson Palmer continues to sling it with efficiency into his mid-30s.
Vernon Davis, TE, Broncos
Davis wins the Andy Dufresne Memorial Award for the 2015 season, escaping the prison that is the 49ers for the freedom represented by the Broncos. Now, before we go too far on Davis, he’s still not a surefire TE1. Rob Gronkowski, Tyler Eifert, Greg Olsen, Travis Kelce, Gary Barnidge, Martellus Bennett, Jordan Reed, Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham are the locked-in fantasy starters at tight end. What this trade does do for Davis, though, is move him into the next group, the guys who always ride the TE1/2 borderline. That tier includes Ben Watson, Delanie Walker, Eric Ebron, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Julius Thomas, Jacob Tamme, Jason Witten, Charles Clay and Ladarius Green. Davis would have remained a fantasy pariah all season had John Elway not saved him. Now that he’s in Denver, he’s at least on the fantasy radar.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers
Stewart’s owners were rightfully worried about him three weeks ago after his fourth consecutive uninspiring performance to open the year. Through four games this season, Stewart had 220 yards and zero scores on 59 carries. In the three games since, he has 285 yards and three touchdowns on 68 totes. Don’t let that last number be lost on you. The Panthers are 7–0 thanks to the defense, the run game, and timely, fourth-quarter magic from Cam Newton. That’s their formula to stay atop the NFC South, as well as to claim one of the top two seeds on the NFC side of the playoff bracket. That means the Panthers will ride Stewart during the second half of the season. The team’s remaining schedule isn’t all that imposing, and they save the best for last, from a fantasy perspective. The Panthers get the Falcons, Giants and Falcons again in Weeks 14 through 16, also known as the fantasy playoffs in a typical league.
Martellus Bennett, TE, Bears
Bennett remains a key piece in the Chicago offense, but his production has slowed considerably compared with his first two years in Chicago. Bennett has just 37 receptions for 324 yards and two touchdowns this season, which translates to an average of 6.3 fantasy points per game in standard-scoring leagues. That ranks 16th among tight ends who have played at least three games. He’s had just two double-digit scores and has fewer than six points in his five other games this year. It’s certainly possible the Bears will throw more over the next few weeks with Matt Forte on the shelf because of a knee injury, and that would play into Bennett’s favor. Still, given the depth at the tight end position, we have no choice but to slide him down the rest-of-season rankings. Bennett should still be started with confidence because of his track record and role in the offense, but you’re better off with Barndige and Reed, as well as the obvious players at the top of the position.
Ameer Abdullah, RB, Lions
Perhaps one day, Abdullah will live up to the hype that surrounded him during the preseason and fantasy draft season. Unfortunately for his current owners, that day almost certainly won’t come this season. Abdullah hasn’t done a thing since Week 1, when he totaled 94 yards from scrimmage and hit pay dirt. Since then, he has a total of 244 yards and one touchdown, one-third the number of times he has fumbled in Detroit’s last seven games. Still, there was hope yet for Abdullah when he led the Lions in carries in both Week 6 and 7, even though the results weren’t great. Unfortunately for those still holding out hope, it appears Joique Bell is back atop the depth chart. Game flow in the Lions’ loss to the Chiefs last week forced them to abandon the run, but Bell led the way with seven carries for 56 yards. It stands to reason that he’ll be the primary back when the team returns from its bye in Week 10. At that point, there will be just two weeks remaining with byes in the picture. Abdullah is off the fantasy starting grid until 2016.
Anquan Boldin, WR, 49ers
Colin Kaepernick may have been holding Boldin back, but you’re crazy if you think Blaine Gabbert will change things in San Francisco. This is, quite simply, a terrible offense. It’s dead last in the league with 13.6 points per game, but even that doesn’t adequately illustrate how anemic the 49ers have been. The Titans, the next lowest-scoring team in the NFL, are averaging 17.9 points per game, or 31.6% more than the 49ers. That’s a shocking gap between team No. 31 and team No. 32. Pick any three-game stretch for the Patriots this year, and the lowest combined score you get for them is 94 points. In eight games, the 49ers have scored 109. They’re last in the league in yards per game, 31st in pass yards and 18th in rush yards. Pro Football Focus ranks the 49ers last in overall offense, while Football Outsiders places them second to last, ahead of the only the Broncos. You don’t want any investment in this team. Unfortunately, the ineptitude of this group as a whole makes Boldin no more than a low-end WR3.
Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers
It’s awfully hard for a quarterback to lose his top receiver and sustain the same level of production he had before the injury. Just ask Aaron Rodgers, who might be willing to sacrifice the ACL of his first-born child if it meant Jordy Nelson could have it. Keenan Allen is out for the season after suffering a scary kidney laceration, meaning Rivers will be without his most dangerous receiver for the remainder of the year. Stevie Johnson and Malcom Floyd are capable second and third receivers, especially with Floyd being a deep threat, but now both will be asked to fill roles their talent simply doesn’t match. Meanwhile, Antonio Gates is still working his way back from a knee injury, and Ladarius Green left last week’s loss to the Ravens with an ankle sprain. Rivers is tied for the second spot among QBs in points per game with Andy Dalton, but he’s not going to stay at those heights without Allen. He’s still a QB1, but I’d rather have Dalton, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger, without a doubt.
Kendall Wright, WR, Titans
Wright is dealing with a knee injury that could have him out for the second straight game this week. Even if he were fully healthy, he’d be one of the few players with a negative outlook because of the coaching change in Tennessee. Ken Whisenhunt has always been a pass-first coach, going back to his days as the offensive coordinator with the Steelers and as the head man with the Cardinals. Mike Mularkey, who took over the team on an interim basis, loves to pound the ball on the ground. The Titans aren’t going to take the ball completely out of Marcus Mariota’s hands, but you can bet on seeing more run plays from this team, especially with rookie David Cobb off the IR boomerang. The 1–6 Titans aren’t going anywhere, and they should want to see what they have in their rookie running back out of Minnesota. Wright hasn’t been terribly productive, ranking 40th in fantasy points per game among receivers who have played at least three games. He’s had fewer than four fantasy points in three of his seven outings this year. You can’t think of him as more than a low-end WR3.
Photos: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images (West), Ron Schwane/AP (Floyd), Charles Rex Arbogast/AP (Bennett), Ezra Shaw/Getty Images (Boldin)