News & Analysis

Erickson: Week 9 fantasy football rankings overview

Sep 20, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey runs the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the third quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In this week’s preview of the Week 9 NFL slate, I'm highlighting key insights for each road team. All of my home team analysis in PFF’s huge NFL Week 9 Preview, but I'll be sure to include any updates considering all the injuries and COVID-19 cases that have occurred in the past few days.

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I'll identify sleepers, busts, DFS picks and waiver-wire options with consideration for injuries and other fantasy-relevant news and notes. It’s a behind the curtains look into my Week 9 fantasy rankings

I’ll also call out my favorite games to stack in DFS. Stacking has been a tried-and-true approach to winning tournaments — if the right stack hits, then it’s an instant print fest. 

NEW YORK GIANTS @ WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM

Daniel Jones owns a perfect record against Washington (3-0), but our friends in the desert are not buying it. Washington is the favorite in this spot. That being said, the fantasy options from this Giants roster are limited.

Sterling Shepard is my preferred option at WR because he has been the target leader since returning to the lineup. He owns a 27% target share (nine targets per game) and has fully supplanted Darius Slayton as the team’s go-to wide receiver.

He scored over 15 fantasy points in a tough matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football, which gives me confidence he can produce in another tough spot in Week 9 against the Washington Football Team.

Shepard’s 5.4 average depth of targets and team-leading seven targets when quarterback Daniel Jones is under pressure over the past two weeks mean targets should continue to flow his way — the last time Jones faced Washington, he was pressured on 47.8% of his dropbacks. 

Slayton, on the other hand, is someone to avoid. Washington has allowed the fewest completions to outside WRs this season. In this same matchup back in Week 6, he had just two catches on four targets. 

I doubt we see Devonta Freeman, so I’d be willing to go back to Wayne Gallman Jr. as an RB3 who has been the lead back with the incumbent sidelined. He sees dual-usage as a rusher/receiver, and Freeman was able to muster 60-plus rushing yards in their Week 6 contest.

Evan Engram should also be in starting lineups — I had him as a tight end to start per my Week 9 start em’ or sit em’ column. Engram is a top-10 option this week.

CHICAGO BEARS @ TENNESSEE TITANS

Please, please, please don’t tell Ian Hartitz, but I am lower on than the consensus on A.J. Brown this week. He has scored the most fantasy points over expectation over the last three weeks (+22.8) at the wide receiver position, and a matchup against the Chicago Bears seems like a spot where regression could catch up to Brown. The Bears have allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to the WR position this season, and their ugly style of play (run the ball, play defense) is not conducive for a high-scoring environment. 

Now, this isn’t a call to action to flat-out bench Brown across lineups — his 13.2 expected fantasy points per game are more than respectable — but I don’t mind pivoting to other WRs if given the option. Consider A.J. Brown WR1 szn temporarily canceled (for Week 9 at least). He’s mid-range WR2 this week. 

For similar reasons, I am also lower on Corey Davis despite back-to-back games with 10 targets. 

Now that I got that off my chest, let’s turn to the Bears’ offense (sigh). 

The Titans have been atrocious in the secondary this season, allowing the second-most fantasy points to WRs over the past four weeks. The team knows this too, as it went out and traded for Desmond King to improve the defense. 

Nov 1, 2020; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson (12) catches a touchdown pass during the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints at Soldier Field. Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately, King probably won’t be up to speed by Sunday, so it should be a productive outing for the Bears’ WRs. Allen Robinson II is a locked-and-loaded WR1 and has a pretty attractive price on DraftKings ($6,900). 

Going back to Darnell Mooney also makes a lot of sense at just 3.9K. He is still the clear No. 2 wideout, and Anthony Miller/Jimmy Graham are both dealing with injuries. If one or either can’t go, that would put Mooney firmly in WR3 territory in a plus-matchup. 

Rookie tight end Cole Kmet would also emerge as an option at just 2.5K if Graham is ruled out. Kmet has been eating more into Graham’s snaps over recent weeks and has a perfect QBR when targeted (158.3) since Week 5. 

The Titans have faced the second-most TE end-zone targets this season, and the Bears rank second in the league in pass attempts to TEs inside the 10-yard line. 

DETROIT LIONS @ MINNESOTA VIKINGS

The Detroit Lions are likely going to be without Matthew Stafford this week, so Chase Daniel is expected to get the start under center.  I am not ready to just bluntly say that all Lions become unusable at this point because we have seen Daniel support fantasy options around him before.

Daniel has been a career backup QB with four starts over the past two years for the Chicago Bears. In those games, he averaged 235 passing yards, 1.5 passing touchdowns, one interception and 6.8 yards per attempt. 

But what’s most important is that he kept the Bears’ top WR fantasy relevant in 2019. In those two games, Allen Robinson II saw a 26% target share and averaged 21.7 fantasy points per game.

This makes Marvin Jones Jr. still a viable WR2 option because the matchup is great and he should see the lion’s share of targets with Kenny Golladay not in the lineup.

What’s also noteworthy is that Daniel also heavily targeted the RB position over his last four starts (33.5%). That bodes well for De’Andre Swift, who has primarily operated as the team’s pass-catching back. Stafford has been throwing to running backs much less frequently (19.5%).

Swift ranks 12th in total targets (29) among running backs.

The Vikings' defense also ranks sixth-worst against the TE position this season, so T.J. Hockenson should still be started even with the downgrade at quarterback. 

Daniel is only $4,000 on DraftKings. In his four career starts, he has averaged 14.7 fantasy points per game. Usually, his lack of ceiling would make him a non-factor in DFS or 2QB leagues, but the Vikings’ defense is truly horrid and ranks 29th in pressure rate. 

Minnesota has also allowed the most fantasy points per game to QBs over the past four weeks.

It’s always difficult to put trust into a backup quarterback on the road, but the Vikings’ track record against backup QBs under Mike Zimmer says otherwise. 

Last year, Daniel beat the Vikings 16-6 in Week 4 filling in for an injured Mitchell Trubsiky. They surrendered 14.4 fantasy points and almost lost to a Denver Broncos team led by Brandon Allen despite being 10-point favorites. 

And that was a good Vikings defense. The 2020 version is nowhere near the level of the 2019 unit. 

In DFS, Dalvin Cook is going to be the chalk at RB, and rightfully so, against a terrible Lions run defense. But it’s hard to expect Cook to repeat his 40-point performance from a week ago, especially considering in his last four games against the Lions, he has just one game with over 15 fantasy points.

In tournaments, it makes sense for leverage to stack the Vikings passing game, as Kirk Cousins has thrown for at least three touchdowns in at least one Lions game per season since 2018.

Building a lineup with Cousins, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen with a bring-back of Swift — who should be peppered with targets — is the perfect way to pivot off a chalky Cook. 

The Vikings DST is at just $2,400, and it’s probably best to eat the chalk in cash games with them. As noted earlier, Daniel has averaged one interception per game in addition to taking an average of four sacks per game over his past four starts. 

CAROLINA PANTHERS @ KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

The Carolina Panthers are expected to get Christian McCaffrey back this week and he should be started with confidence across all formats as a top-five running back. He’s going to be lower-owned in DFS because people will be hesitant to jump on him coming back from injury, which makes him perfect in GPPs.

Injury concerns have made RBs like Joe Mixon and Dalvin Cook overlooked in smash spots in recent weeks, so be savvy and don’t miss out. 

The Chiefs have allowed the fourth-most rushing yards to running backs this season (4.6 yards per attempt) and rank 26th in yards per target to RBs (6.7). 

As for the Carolina WRs, the matchup is brutal. Kansas City has allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points per game to wide receivers this season, which is especially concerning for D.J. Moore.

Robby Anderson has seen extremely steady target volume, so he should suffice as WR2 based on workload, but Moore hardly has that luxury. He hasn’t seen more than five targets since Week 5 in any game that Curtis Samuel has been active. 

Anderson has not had a single game with fewer than five targets. 

HOUSTON TEXANS @ JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

There aren't safer quarterback plays this week than Deshaun Watson taking on the Jacksonville Jaguars. They have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to the quarterback position this season, and Watson passed for a season-high 359 passing yards the last time these teams met. Per PFF’s OL/DL matchup chart, Watson should have ample time to throw.

David Johnson rushed for 96 yards in that same spot, so despite his RB2 status on the year, he flirts with an RB1 ranking because the running back options this week aren’t great. 

Oct 11, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans wide receiver Brandin Cooks (13) and wide receiver Will Fuller (15) celebrate after Cooks scores a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at NRG Stadium. Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Both Will Fuller V and Brandin Cooks fall inside the top-20 among WRs. Since Week 5, both players rank inside the top-15 WRs in points per game. Cooks (21.6) ranks sixth and Fuller (17.5) 15th.

Jordan Akins presents the perfect TE streamer or punt play at the position in DFS at just $3,300. He is fully back from his injury and should reprise his role as the team’s No. 1 tight end. The Jacksonville Jaguars have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to the TE position this season.

The Houston DST is sure to be popular on DraftKings with rookie Jake Luton making his first career start, but his affinity to protect the football and check-down during his college days make this defense an easy fade for me at $3,100. 

The best stack in this game would have to be Watson, Cooks and Fuller with a bring back featuring Laviska Shenault Jr.

BALTIMORE RAVENS @ INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

I made Lamar Jackson my start of the week because the buzz around him has been a bit negative after a poor performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers. But it was more of a case that he just got unlucky because a top fantasy day was there for the taking against the league’s best defense.

Jackson had 29.6 expected fantasy points — that’s the most for a QB against the Steelers in the past two years.

Because I am high on Lamar, it also means that Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews need to be firmly in lineups. 

The Colts have allowed the fewest fantasy points to tight ends this season but have hardly faced any TEs of note. Low and behold, they faced T.J. Hockenson last week and he finished as the TE7 on the week.

Their defense also ranks 25th in yards per target to WRs since Week 5. That’s because they were tasked with facing legitimate WR threats against the Bengals and Lions. 

From Weeks 1-7, Brown and Andrews owned a combined 48% target share in the Ravens offense. Last week, it was at 30%. Because these percentages are likely going to regress to the mean, we should see their target share get back up to that 50% mark, which is going to lead to fantasy production.

There’s also a bit of the squeaky wheel narrative going around social media when it comes to Hollywood Brown, so expect his quarterback and coaches to keep him happy by getting him involved early and often. 

Brown is projected to match up with Rock Ya-Sin — an advantage for the receiver per PFF’s WR/CB matchup chart. Ya-Sin is the Colts’ lowest-graded (51.8) starting cornerback and runs a 4.5. Brown is about to rock his world with his blazing speed. 

This game is perfect to stack with Jackson and his two top pass-catchers. They are all priced down, so they can fit into lineups with other great plays. As a bring back-option, Colts slot wide receiver Zach Pascal ($4,300) stands out because the Ravens will be without starting slot cornerback Marlon Humphrey

Even with Humphrey playing, teams have heavily targeted the slot when facing the Ravens: fourth in passing yards, eighth in targets and fifth in yards per target allowed to the slot.

The Ravens are having a lot of issues on the defensive side of the ball because of COVID-19, and bettors have noticed. The total is up to 47 after opening at 45. These are all indications that this could be a sneaky shootout. 

After all, the Colts did just score 41 points last week. 

J.K. Dobbins falls in the RB2 range this week after posting 100 rushing yards last week against the league’s best run defense. I don’t anticipate Mark Ingram II returning, so start Dobbins. He leads the NFL in the percentage of missed tackles forced per touch (33%). 

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS @ BUFFALO BILLS

Two weeks ago, it was Tyler Lockett with the big game and then last week  D.K. Metcalf was the one who melted faces. I hit on each player correctly these past two weeks, so I feel confident in this matchup choosing Lockett as the Seahawks’ wide receiver to dominate in this game. 

My rationale has to do with the Bills’ weakness in the slot. They have allowed the fourth-most catches and fifth-most yards to the slot this season. 

Sep 20, 2020; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett (16) catches a touchdown pass against the New England Patriots during the first quarter at CenturyLink Field. Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Bills slot cornerback Taron Johnson is a liability in coverage. He owns PFF’s eighth-worst coverage grade (47.4) this season. Meanwhile, Metcalf gets a much tougher matchup against Bills top cornerback Tre’Davious White, who presents a much bigger challenge for the Seahawks' freakish wideout. 

It’s probably going to be another week of the DeeJay Dallas show in Week 9; once we get confirmation Chris Carson can’t go, fire up DJ as an RB2. Over the past four weeks, the Bills have allowed the second-most rushing yards to the running back position. 

I mentioned Greg Olsen as a candidate for positive touchdown regression in my high-value touches overview piece, but he has now popped up on the injury report. If he can’t go, Will Dissly has to be a lock at just $2,700. 

The Bills have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to TEs this season. I would expect the end-zone targets that have been going to Olsen to make their way to Dissly as the only show in town. 

This game has the highest projected total on the slate, so of course that means we are stacking. I’d lean Russell Wilson, Lockett and Olsen/Dissly with a Stefon Diggs bring back to stack the Seattle offense. 

On the Buffalo offense, it would be a combination of Josh Allen, Diggs, John Brown and a bring back of Lockett. Brown is too cheap at $4,600 in this spot. 

DENVER BRONCOS @ ATLANTA FALCONS

Drew Lock currently leads the NFL in average depth of throw (10.7), and the Atlanta Falcons lead the NFL in explosive pass play percentage allowed (19.8%). This is a great spot for Lock to build off an impressive performance in Week 8 when he passed for three touchdowns and scored 20-plus fantasy points for the first time all season. He's a top-15 QB play this week.

This bodes well for Noah Fant (tight end start of the week), Tim Patrick and Jerry Jeudy. Patrick is dealing with an injury so Jeudy is my highest-ranked Bronco and can be started as a WR3 this week. He saw career highs in targets (10) and yards (73) and should continue to be peppered with looks if Patrick is sidelined again — a great play in DFS at $4,700.

Melvin Gordon III hardly did anything as a rusher in Week 8 and was outshined by Phillip Lindsay. But in fantasy football, rushing production doesn’t translate in our PPR world, so Gordon still needs to be played, though he's nothing more than an RB2.

The Falcons have been famous for allowing pass-catching RBs to destroy them, but that was during the Dan Quinn era. 

From weeks 1-5, they allowed 8.6 catches per game to RBs (league-high). Since Dan Quinn was fired, they've allowed just three catches per game to RBs. 

LAS VEGAS RAIDERS @ LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Derek Carr was my start of the week at the quarterback position and ranked inside the top 12. Carr should be able to throw all over the Los Angeles Chargers, especially without their top slot cornerback.

Tevaughn Campbell will likely start in the slot — he has allowed a perfect passer rating when targeted (158.3) this season. 

The Raiders’ quarterback also owns the league’s fifth-highest fantasy points per attempt and the fourth-highest average depth of target (aDOT) when targeting the slot this season, so look for him and some of his speedy slot wideouts — Henry Ruggs III, Nelson Agholor — to deliver a few splash plays.

Ruggs III ($4,900) ranks second in the NFL in average depth of target (19.4) from the slot and has played 41% of his snaps from that alignment. Agholor has played 33% of his snaps and leads the team in touchdown receptions from the slot. 

Darren Waller is an auto-start in traditional leagues, but let it be known that he has struggled historically against the Chargers. He totaled just seven catches for 77 yards in two games against them last season. 

Still, the fact that he has scored double-digit fantasy points in all but two games this year makes him a play at DFS because that point total can be hard to come by for TEs. 

Josh Jacobs is averaging close to 24 touches per game (third-highest) and the Chargers have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to running backs over the past two weeks. This is a prime spot for Jacobs to smash after rushing for over 120 yards last week. 

This game has all the ingredients for an offensive shootout, so it’s an easy game to target for stacking in DFS. For the Raiders, it’s Carr, Ruggs and Waller/Agholor with a bring-back of Keenan Allen

As for the Chargers’ offense, the staple has to be Justin Herbert and Allen. After that, it’s probably Hunter Henry. The Raiders have allowed the third-most fantasy points to tight ends over the past four weeks. 

Justin Jackson is a solid play because of his workload in a high-scoring offense, but this might not be the spot where he blows expectations out of the water. After a tough stretch to start the year, the Raiders have been much better versus RBs. They have allowed the seventh-fewest points to the position over the past four weeks. 

PITTSBURGH STEELERS @ DALLAS COWBOYS

It’s a classic “start all the dudes” situation for the Pittsburgh Steelers because they can do whatever they want against Big D. At running back, James Conner ($6,900) is a no-brainer play.

Dallas has allowed the most rushing yards to RBs over the past four weeks. 

As for the Steelers’ wideouts — it’s always a tough task trying to rank them — my order is Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and then JuJu Smith-Schuster

Oct 25, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson (18) flips the ball as he scores against the Tennessee Titans during the first half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

DJ’s target share when healthy puts him in the No. 1 spot and Claypool is seeing the most downfield looks and touches near the goal-line, so his upside can’t be understated. 

JuJu ranks third because the Dallas Cowboys have allowed the fewest passing yards to slot receivers this season. 

The order of my rankings is a complete reversal of their prices on DraftKings, so there’s value to be had with Johnson ($5,000) and Claypool ($5,700). 

Eric Ebron has been getting more involved in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense over the past two weeks. He has commanded 13 targets, which he has converted into 10 catches for 98 yards and a score, so he finds himself ranked as a TE1 for Week 9.

According to PFF’s expected fantasy points tool, Ebron has underdelivered versus expectation, so we should see better days ahead. The Steelers tight end could be the cure for any fantasy teams looking for a streaming option this week.

MIAMI DOLPHINS @ ARIZONA CARDINALS

Matt Breida’s injury is putting a damper on my listing him as a “start” ahead of Week 9, but let’s not forget who we are talking about here. 

During his time with the 49ers, Breida would famously play well through reported injuries, and the script always flipped when he was deemed healthy. If he wasn’t on the injury report, then he would usually play poorly or get hurt.  

So, if Brieda is active, follow the trend and start him.

As for the Dolphins’ pass-catchers, DeVante Parker is a sit for me. I am intrigued by Preston Williams, on the other hand,  because he won’t get coverage from Patrick Peterson.

I project Williams to see Dre Kirkpatrick, who has been whipped by wide receivers this season. His PFF coverage grade (42.6) ranks second-to-last. Williams also led all WRs in targets (five) in the first game with Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback. 

Arizona has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to WRs this season. 

Mike Gesicki burned me last week, but I am going to give him another shot (probably regrettably). There are two reasons for this. 

No. 1 is that the Dolphins traded away slot receiver Isaiah Ford, so Gesicki should be the primary read from the slot from here on out. No. 2 is that the Arizona Cardinals have been attacked in the slot this season.

They rank fifth in total targets and ninth in targets allowed to tight ends lined up in the slot. 

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS @ TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

The Saints need Michael Thomas back in the starting lineups just as bad as fantasy managers need him in their lineups. The matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers isn’t great, but considering the lack of playmakers on the Saints’ offense Thomas is going to be leaned on heavily by quarterback Drew Brees.

If Thomas can’t go, fire up Emmanuel Sanders as a WR3. Before he was placed on the COVID-19 list, he was posting borderline WR1 production with 18.4 fantasy points per game dating back to the start of Week 3. 

Jared Cook is a boom-or-bust, touchdown-dependent tight end. If Thomas is out, he’s a solid TE1 play. But he falls outside the circle of trust because his four touchdowns (three in the past three weeks) based on his yardage (249 yards, 16th) is going to be unsustainable. 

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS @ NEW YORK JETS

It hasn’t been fun rostering any New England Patriots as of late, but there are three who are potentially in play for a Monday Night showdown against the New York Jets

Cam Newton is a start because the Jets have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks over the past four weeks and, well, they currently stand at 0-8. 

Newton is averaging 10 rushing attempts per game and the Jets allowed both Kyler Murray and Josh Allen to rush for a touchdown or at least 57 rushing yards. 

The Patriots should also see success rushing the football with Damien Harris, who has emerged as the team’s early-down grinder. New England owns the biggest OL/DL advantage on the Week 9 slate.  

Just be wary that Sony Michel is rumored to be making his return to the lineup, which would make this backfield hands-off if four players are competing for touches. Harris is the RB28 in my Week 9 rankings.

Jakobi Meyers is the only other Patriot who could find himself in starting lineups — he’s been solid over the past two weeks filling in for the injured Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry

He has seen 14 targets over his past two games (34% target share), and the Jets were destroyed by the Chiefs’ wide receivers in Week 8 to the tune of 18 receptions, 24 targets, 279 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

The second-year wide receiver should be able to at least hit double-digits in PPR against PFF’s 31st-ranked coverage unit. 

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