Another week of NFL action, another slew of injuries. 2020 has been rough in many ways and a seemingly extraordinarily rough batch of injuries is one of them. If you caught our last installment and went with Boston Scott, Christian Kirk, or even went bold and played Sterling Shepard you certainly came away happy. Teddy Bridgewater and Kyle Allen also delivered usable performances.
This week’s first look has some long-term solutions at wide receiver and at least one running back that could turn his upcoming audition into a permanent gig. We’ll also take another swing at a tight end position that has been as volatile as ever. Remember, we lose a lot of firepower this week. The Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Washington Football Team are all on bye.
Week 8 Waiver Wire
What does the first-overall pick have to do to get another win? It’s been three weeks (and losses) since Joe Burrow last led his team to victory. They got blown out by Baltimore but blew a 21-0 lead against the Colts and allowed the Browns to go on a game-winning, 75-yard scoring drive in five plays. Through it all, Burrow has been slinging the rock and leads the league in passing attempts.
The rookie is currently QB10 so his wide availability is a bit surprising. He’s only had one bad performance; the game against Baltimore. He’ll take on the Tennessee Titans 21st-ranked pass defense in Week 8 who have allowed 15 touchdown passes, tied for fifth-most in the NFL. He’ll then face the Steelers in Week 9. That game could be a struggle but he should continue chucking it more than 40 times a game.
You might have forgotten with all that went on over the weekend. But Tua Tagovailoa, the fifth-overall pick in last April’s draft, is set to make his NFL debut in Week 8. He’ll try to notch his first win against the Los Angeles Rams who are coming off a short week. Starting a rookie is always sketchy but his running ability is a bonus. What more could you ask for in a streaming option? Tua’s first opponent could be much better.
The Rams have Aaron Donald leading one of the top pass-rushes in the NFL and Jalen Ramsey anchoring a stingy backend. Tagovailoa could be running for his life but if he’s able to break contain and find the edge that could end up being a good thing. This is obviously more a move for the future. Ryan Fitzpatrick led the 12th-ranked scoring offense, was QB16 on the season and threw multiple touchdowns in four of six games. If Tua can approach that plus add value with his legs he could be a top-12 quarterback from here on out.
Chris Carson is the RB8. He’s seeing a career-low 11 carries per game but averaging career-highs in targets and receptions. Carson left Monday’s loss to the Arizona Cardinal and is set to miss some time with a foot injury. In steps Carlos Hyde who feels like he has been around forever but is only 30. Hyde took the rock 15 times for 68 yards and a score. He also caught three of four targets for just eight yards.
Seattle hosts the San Francisco 49ers in Week 8, a daunting task for any back. The 9ers rank ninth in yards per carry allowed and have given up just four rushing scores. The Seahawks are among the dregs in the NFL in terms of rushing attempts and yards. But Carson was still productive. Keep an eye on the injury reports, but if Carson misses time, Seattle could lean on the run game to take some pressure off of their porous defense.
New York Giants
The New York Giants lost another running back this weekend when Devonta Freeman went down with an ankle injury Thursday against the Eagles. Freeman had been a relative revelation as a bright spot on an awful team. He was RB25 from Weeks 4-6. Wayne Gallman entered Thursday’s contest and proceeded to carry the ball 10 times for 34 yards and a touchdown while catching all five of his targets for 20 yards. The former fourth-round pick could be busy if Freeman misses Week 8.
Unfortunately for Gallman and the Giants, they face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 8. They’re second in total rushing yards allowed and lead the NFL in allowing just 3.0 yards per tote. Fret not, though, as Gallman has another path to fantasy production. Tampa has seen the fourth-most targets to running backs, is allowing the third-most catches, and has given up the fifth-most receiving yards to opposing backs.
Las Vegas Raiders
No, it isn’t 2017. But we are entertaining getting excited about the prospects of Nelson Agholor in fantasy. At what point do you generally consider a player’s production to be legit? Agholor scored for the third-straight week on Sunday but went beyond the most volatile aspect of fantasy football. He finally saw adequate volume, garnering nine looks. He caught five of them for 107 yards and the aforementioned score, his fourth on the year.
He’ll see the Browns in Week 8 and they just gave up at least five catches and 70 yards to the Bengals top three wideouts. Cleveland is allowing the third-most yards to wide receivers and the second-most receiving touchdowns. Bryan Edwards cold return and hamper things. They also lean heavily on the run and tight end Darren Waller. But the former 20th-overall pick has earned some extra attention from his quarterback going forward.
Odell Beckham was already having a career-worst year with lows across the board. It got substantially worse on Sunday. He tore his ACL making a tackle following quarterback Baker Mayfield’s interception. Rashard Higgins stepped into the Browns 37-34 comeback win over the Bengals and chipped in six catches and 110 yards. The outing surpassed his catch and yardage totals from all of 2019.
Cleveland is ideally a run-heavy team; even without stud runner Nick Chubb. But their defense is suspect and will have them in more shootouts than they’d prefer. You’re still behind Jarvis Landry and Austin Hooper in the pecking order, but he and Mayfield have shown a strong connection in the past. Higgins had nine-plus fantasy points in six of 13 games back in 2018. Facing the Raiders in Week 8, he’ll see a defense that’s pretty middle-of-the-road against receivers but has allowed seven touchdown receptions to the position already.
San Francisco 49ers
Another rookie on the list, Brandon Aiyuk has dabbled with fantasy relevance several times already this season. First, he caught five balls for 70 yards and ran three times for 31 yards and a touchdown against the Giants in Week 2. Then he turned three touches into 56 yards and another score. And he just caught six passes for 115 yards in Sunday’s undressing of the New England Patriots.
Aiyuk, who caught his first touchdown two weeks ago, could be in for a big week against the Seahawks non-existent secondary. Deebo Samuel left the 49ers Week 7 contest with a hamstring injury and could miss some time. San Francisco is a running team first, second, and fourth. The third is the pass but even that is headed by all-world tight end George Kittle. Still, just as with Samuel, the 49ers get Aiyuk the ball in a variety of ways. San Fran plays the Packers and Saints after facing Seattle.
How did you get here? Nobody supposed to be here. Stop if you’ve heard this already, tight end is a wasteland this season. Injuries have knocked top performers like Zach Ertz out of commission. Even the 49ers Kittle missed time with injury. The Philadelphia Eagles, even down Ertz and Dallas Goedert, maintained their healthy involvement of the tight end position in the offense. Richard Rodgers repaid their trust by catching six of eight targets for 85 yards in last Thursday’s comeback win over the Giants.
Ertz and Goedert are still on IR and the Dallas Cowboys are limping into town. They just got pelted by the Washington Football Team 25-3. Dallas couldn’t stop a JV squad at this point and even got called out by tv analysts for quitting after no one came to Andy Dalton’s aide following a vicious hit from Jon Bostic. One thing we know about the Eagles is they won’t quit. Pick up Rodgers for this week but monitor Goedert. He was reportedly close to coming off IR last week.
Washington Football Team
If “trust the process” was a football player, it would be Logan Thomas. There might not have been worse production in comparison to the opportunity in the history of fantasy football. Thomas has at least four targets in every game and has three-plus catches in five of seven. He’s finally started finding the endzone, scoring his first touchdowns since the opener in consecutive weeks.
The Football Team will see the Giants in Week 8. They allowed Eagles backup Richard Rodgers to be TE6 last week. Thomas was Week 7’s TE5 so it’s not a stretch to think he could extend his streak of production, though New York has only allowed one touchdown to tight ends. The beauty (using the term loosely) of Thomas is Washington in thin on playmakers beyond Terry McLaurin. So Thomas’ role is pretty secure as long as he keeps producing.
We are two divisions into our breakdowns of the best, worst, and next moves for teams in free agency. The AFC North was first with the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns being most active. After that was the NFC North where the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers both got back to old ways but to differing ends.
In this installment, we’ll look at the AFC East. It’s a division that has seen much upheaval in the past 18 months and the offseason has so far been more of the same. With one team looking like it’s on its way down, another appears poised to take the mantle of division bully. The division’s other two residents are just trying to find their way through the early rebuilding stages.
Free Agency Best and Worst: AFC East
Best Move: Acquiring a WR1
This one might get a few sideways looks. Some might take issue with designating Stefon Diggs as a true number one wide receiver. But for the price the Buffalo Bills paid to the Minnesota Vikings (1st, 5th, and 6th round in 2020, 4th round in 2021), they better hope he delivers like one. After back-to-back 1000-yard seasons (compared to Buffalo’s first since 2015) he should.
Trepidation over anointing Diggs as a number one receiver is understandable. After all, he was second on his team in receiving yards in 2018 and 2017 to Adam Thielen. An injury to the latter allowed Diggs to operate as the top option for a team that was much more run-oriented than the prior season. At 17.9 yards per reception (t-4th in the NFL), he at least brings the big play.
Worst Move: Losing 43% of Sack Total
That is a staggering number for a team that ranked 12th in sacks. The total (19 sacks) didn’t all come from one player. Instead, it was a group effort that included four players: defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (9.5), EDGE Shaq Lawson (6.5), linebacker Lorenzo Alexander (2), and defensive tackle Corey Liuget (1).
They brought in a trio of players (EDGE Mario Addison, DT Vernon Butler, and DE Quinton Jefferson) to make up the difference. Addison (9.5) has 29.5 sacks the last three seasons but was a part-timer before then and is already 32. Bulter’s six sacks are also nice but their draw is familiarity with head coach Sean McDermott. Luckily they only have to replace one starter.
Next Move: Upgrade the Offensive Line
Let’s say the Bills are set at left tackle with Dion Dawkins, who graded the highest out the offensive linemen. Every other spot should be up for grabs. Center Mitch Morse and Quinton Spain (who just re-signed this offseason) seem next closest to locks. But after that, guard Jon Feliciano and tackle Cody Ford could lose their starting spots.
In fact, Buffalo has already made an attempt on that front with the addition of Daryl Williams, another former Carolina Panthers player. His arrival might seem like a blow to Ford, but it might be a bigger signal that Feliciano (28 years old and in a contract year) is on the block. Spain and Williams have never been anything special but Buffalo is banking on the sum being greater than its parts.
Best Move: Locking Down the Corners
Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores is a Bill Belichick disciple. He’s just one season removed from coaching linebackers for the New England Patriots. It is the emphasis on the cornerback position that earns the nod for best move thought. With former Dallas Cowboys corner Byron Jones in tow, the Dolphins boast one of, if not the top duo in the NFL.
Pairing Jones (52.8 percent completion allowed over the last two years) with Xavien Howard is borderline overdoing it considering their division. Howard is coming off of a down campaign and potentially facing discipline stemming from a domestic battery arrest this offseason. So Jones is both a partner and an insurance policy. A very expensive insurance policy.
Worst Move: Paying Kyle Van Noy
‘Questionable’ might be a more appropriate description for this one. Kyle Van Noy is cashing in on a successful three-and-a-half-year stint with the Patriots and heading to South Beach to be reunited with Flores. Part of a complete overhaul of the defense, the signing can go one of two distinct ways and that’s why it’s not a full-blown bad move.
Jamie Collins was traded to the Cleveland Browns midway through the 2016 season. His first full season he missed 10 games with a torn MCL. Year two in Cleveland wasn’t bad, he recorded 104 total tackles with 73 solo stops. But he returned to New England in 2019 and traded some tackles (58 solo) for sacks (seven). Injury aside, Van Noy’s signing could be a boon or an overpayment for mediocrity.
Next Move: Offensive Investments
Seven of their 10 free agency moves (signings and re-signings) were on the defensive side. For an offense that was 25th in scoring and 27th in yards, that has to change and fast. Multiple mock drafts have them trading up for Tua Tagovailoa or even Joe Burrow. It’s unlikely, but with Ryan Fitzpatrick returning they have to address the future beyond Josh Rosen. Right?
The offense needs several infusions of talent, not just at quarterback. The signed former Bears and Philadelphia Eagles running back Jordan Howard. He instantly slots in as their best back, but they’re thin behind him. The same goes for wide receiver where they need of playmakers behind DeVante Parker and Preston Williams, who is coming off a torn ACL.
New England Patriots
Best Move: Embracing the Rebuild
One of the lasting traits of the Belichick era in New England has been the propensity to move on from players a year too soon rather than a year too late. Well, after two decades in the Northeast, quarterback Tom Brady has headed for warmer weather. That puts the Pats into a certain level of rebuilding. It remains to be seen what that level is, however. The quarterback room is less-talented with Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer, and Cody Kessler.
That very uncertainty is exactly why the Patriots and Belichick should be commended. It would have been easy for The Hoodie to fight to keep Brady around or even walk away as his quarterback left town. Instead, he is undoubtedly going to embrace this opportunity to prove that it was he, not Brady, that was mostly responsible for their unprecedented run the last 20 years.
Worst Move: Not Having Next QB1
It isn’t often the Patriots get caught with their pants down in terms of being ill-prepared. But that seems to be exactly the case now with Brady in the NFC and their best replacements being a second-year pro or a journeyman. Now, Belichick won 10 games with Matt Cassell filling in back in 2008. So maybe his faith in Stidham will pay off again.
That hasn’t stopped speculation from mounting about some of the available veteran options. Andy Dalton and Cam Newton have both been mentioned frequently and present reclamation projects that would further Belichick’s legend. Or he could take a passer that falls or trade up to take one. We just don’t know at this point. It’s pretty much business as usual for the Patriots.
Next Move: More Offensive Firepower
Some have speculated that New England will effectively tank this season in hopes of being in the position to draft Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence next year. The biggest issue with that is it dismisses the ego of Belichick. It’s almost unfathomable to think he’d waste a year at all let alone a chance to prove it was him all along, not the quarterback.
Regardless of who is under center this season or next, the Patriots need to give him a better arsenal than Brady had in 2019. They long got by with what many considered a bunch of misfits that Brady made look good. Well, we saw last season those misfits were better than they were given credit for. New England better load up or they won’t have to try to tank.
New York Jets
Best Move: Attempting to Fix O-Line
There should be a caveat on this one. Or at least most of the emphasis should be on the ‘attempting’ part. The New York Jets had the 30th ranked pass-blocking unit and the 31st run-blocking group. The names they added don’t necessarily instill confidence that they have actually solved it though.
Outside of Connor McGovern, none of the other signees (Josh Andrews, George Fant, Greg Van Roten) or the re-signee (Alex Lewis) received good marks from Pro Football Focus. Obviously, they aren’t the be-all-end-all, but some teams do use it so it holds some weight. The Jets threw bodies at the position. We’ll see if they’re finished doing so.
Worst Move: Disarming Darnold
When the Jets let Robby Anderson leave via free agency to the Carolina Panthers, they lost their second-most receiving yards and third-most receptions from 2019. He was far from a complete player, but Carolina didn’t really pay him like one. A failure to address his loss will put the focus on some of the other questionable moves by this regime already.
New York will have Jamison Crowder and Chris Herndon back but neither has the field-stretching ability that Anderson Brings. But that could very well change with them holding the 11th overall pick. Still, it’s fair to wonder if keeping Anderson around was worth it for the development of quarterback Sam Darnold who will now have to build a rapport with someone new.
Next Move: Build Talent
It’s going to be tempting for the Jets to start believing that they have a shot at making the playoffs. The Patriots are the most vulnerable they’ve been since 1999, Miami is rebuilding, and while Buffalo made the postseason last year, they aren’t so far ahead of the rest of the division. New York might want to consider trading down to acquire more picks.
This is the alternative to simply taking the best player available; which would also be valid for the Jets. They just need so much that the better use of, at least, the first of their eight current picks is to get their hands on as much draft capital as possible. In addition to the receiver and offensive line, they need help in the secondary and with the pass-rush.
All of you “defense wins championships” folks will hate to read this but, the 2020 NFL off-season is just another dominated by quarterbacks. They’ve dominated the headlines and are the object around which NFL general managers formulate their off-season plans. Even the ones who are trying to build their defenses do so with the intent of negating opposing quarterbacks.
Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs just gave us our most recent example of this playing out. A stout San Francisco 49ers defense (2nd in yards per game allowed) couldn’t hold the third-year, former MVP down for an entire four quarters. In a league that has shifted so far towards favoring offenses, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Quarterback Talk Will Dominate Headlines Again
Since the league went to 32 teams, the NFL has seen its average pass completions per game jump from 20.1 in 2002 to 22.1 in 2019. It should also be noted that the 2002 number was a relative outlier. The average was around 19.3 and lower the six years prior and four years after the ‘02 season. But all this proves is that teams are passing that much more, right?
Wrong! In this same period, pass attempts have gone from 33.8 18 years ago to 34.9 this past season. That’s an increase of nearly three completions per game but only 1.1 more attempts. Put simply, quarterbacks got more accurate as displayed in the average completion percentage rising nearly four points from 59.6 percent to 63.5 percent.
Any number of metrics can back this up, but we only need to look at the headlines to see the trend. Mahomes winning Super Bowl MVP aside, the next biggest talking point has been about where Tom Brady will play in 2020. He’s 42 years old and didn’t have his best season (statistically or via the eye test) but that hasn’t stopped the rumor mill from churning.
Among the many hypothesized destinations have been the newly-dubbed Las Vegas Raiders, the Los Angeles Chargers, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In addition to the potential drawbacks to making a large commitment to a quarterback who is less than a decade away from AARP eligibility, all of these teams have quarterbacks either in place or in limbo.
Those incumbents have also been the subjects of trade rumors in their own rights. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers recently moved (a la Brady) to Florida turning up the volume on speculation he could be elsewhere in 2020. Cam Newton has been tabbed by speculators to replace him in L.A. after his Carolina Panthers hired a new head coach and general manager.
It isn’t just the big-name guys getting all the headlines either. Cincinnati Bengals free-agent quarterback Andy Dalton, an average starting quarterback by most metrics, has been spoken of as a possible savior for teams viewed by many as being a “quarterback away” from being true contenders. Even perceived busts like Marcus Mariota of the Tennessee Titans have been given new life by the rumor mill.
The NFL Draft is in April and guess what position the presumed first pick, Joe Burrow, plays. Yep, quarterback. A draft that is thought to be strong at wide receiver and other skill positions could have five passers go in the first round. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa is one of those prospects and he is recovering from a serious hip injury just to illustrate.
Ohio State defensive end Chase Young at the top of a lot of big boards and the Bengals have a significant need for a pass rusher. But that is dwarfed by their need to upgrade the quarterback position. This illustrates the shift in ideology. Rather than build from the trenches, Cincinnati is set to pick Burrow based on one (historic) season.
Even supposed projects or guys missing something are getting first-round love. Justin Herbert was buzzing last year but needed the Senior Bowl to solidify his spot near the top of the draft. The Jacob Easons and Jordan Loves of the world, though, are first-rounders based more on potential than production.
This isn’t some earth-shattering revelation. The transition to a quarterback-driven league has been advertised and vocalized to the point that it’s almost fait accompli you’ll hear “it’s a quarterback-driven league” after a play. The announcers and pundits know it. The fans know it.
Even the league knows it. After revamping the protections on quarterbacks and receivers some years back, the NFL did so again recently. The most heavily debated being challenging pass interference. It’s a change that can and has aided defenses but was clearly developed with offenses in mind.
This might not even just apply to current and future quarterbacks either. It’s fair to wonder if the controversial Colin Kaepernick would be such a lightning rod if he played any other position. His very vocal supporter and former teammate Eric Reid did sign a multi-year deal last February.
Headlines Were Made for Quarterbacks
Again, this isn’t exactly new or revolutionary, we’ve always idolized the quarterback position. But it has become more intentional along with the devaluation of the running back has been the elevation of the quarterback. Super Bowl Sunday was just a reminder that while defense wins (conference) championships, it is quarterbacks that win Super Bowls.