7 Deep Fantasy Football Sleepers for Week 9
Bye weeks are generally good news for sleeper picks. It's a little less weird to rely on a lower-owned player when your studs or rotation guys are straight up sitting out the week.
You're not looking for deep sleepers in the early going -- unless you're in a big league -- but we often need bye weeks to justify rolling the dice on a guy who might only see five carries or four targets.
But when six teams are out on bye, like they are this week, things get a little dicey. Sure, that's two more teams out of contention than usual -- so more room for sleeper plays in your fantasy lineups -- but it's also two fewer teams to examine for deep sleeper potential.
There are still some good options, but it's a wonky week for low-owned players as a result.
Week 9 All-Deep-Sleeper Team
Quarterback: Kirk Cousins (Started in 3.6% of ESPN Leagues | Owned in 8.4% of ESPN Leagues)
It's kind of weird to think that Kirk Cousins is in a good position to play relatively well against a team as good as the New England Patriots, but that's pretty much what we're dealing with here. In terms of Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points (NEP), which compares a team's performance to expectation-level and is adjusted for schedule strength, the Patriots are a pretty solid secondary; they rank 11th in the league on a per-play basis. However, they're 18th against fantasy passers. Both of those include stifling outings against a strugglesome Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill during Thursday Night Football, notoriously bad news for passing games. Aside from those two games, New England has allowed 16.4 or more fantasy points in five games and at least 20.7 points in three games.
Cousins himself ranks 12th in Passing NEP among all passers. Among the 33 with at least 100 drop backs, he's 14th in per-play Passing NEP. He should be getting DeSean Jackson back, and all things considered, he's in a good position to produce fantasy points in Week 9.
Running Back: Chris Thompson (Started in 3.1% of ESPN Leagues | Owned in 6.9% of ESPN Leagues)
If it sounds dumb to recommend a running back and a quarterback from the same team, it's because it generally is. However, Thompson's fantasy value is generally intrinsically tied to his receiving production. He's 16th in the NFL in Reception NEP, but he's not exactly an efficient receiver; his per-target score ranks him just 18th among 33 backs with at least 20 targets this year (he has 33). It's the volume that we should be hoping for in Week 9.
From Weeks 3 to 6 (Thompson missed Week 7 with injury, and his team was on bye in Week 8), he saw 11, 3, 7, and 10 targets for 8, 2, 6, and 6 receptions. That's a nice PPR output for a player who is widely available. Thompson is a passing-down back, and his team is a 14-point (yes, 14-point) underdog on the road. There should be passing, and he should be seeing a solid bit of the work.
Running Back: Dexter McCluster (Started in 17.7% of ESPN Leagues | Owned in 28.6% of ESPN Leagues)
McCluster is in a similar spot, and he's a common fixture in this article. He offers you something each week even if it's not monstrous in terms of upside. Antonio Andrews' apparent role as a workhorse back will eat into McCluster's upside if the Titans actually stick to that game plan, but again, the logic is similar for McCluster as it was for Thompson.
Tennessee is a 7.5-point underdog (tied for the second-biggest underdog on the slate) to New Orleans. McCluster has seen six targets per game in his last three, but he has seen eight and six targets in his past two. Neither of those were with Marcus Mariota, however. Mariota should be back, and McCluster had not seen more than four targets with him in five games -- despite pretty similar snap counts to what he had been getting recently. Still, it's tough to imagine Tennessee being able to avoid throwing heavy in this one. That's a good recipe for McCluster to provide some points.
Wide Receiver: Ted Ginn Jr. (Started in 16.2% of ESPN Leagues | Owned in 38.0% of ESPN Leagues)
Ginn's ownership might take him a bit out of the deep sleeper conversation, but with his erratic production and his let down last week, he's worth a write up. Last week, Ginn caught just 2 passes, but they went for 60 yards. The better part of this (not so much for last week but rather for this week) is that he saw 10 targets. That gives him 18 in the past two games and at least 6 in five of seven games. With his big-play ability, that's a good start.
On a per-target basis, Ginn hasn't been an efficient receiver, which isn't a great sign from a home-run guy. His per-target Reception NEP ranks him 35th among 49 receivers with at least 40 targets (he has 47). That has to do with his abysmal catch rate (42.55 percent, lowest among the subset). When he does catch it, though, good things happen, as 95.00 percent of his receptions have led to NEP gains, seventh-best in the group. Against a middle-of-the-pack Green Bay defense (they're 16th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play), and in a game where Carolina will likely need some offense, he's not a bad bet, given his volume and production if he actually catches the ball.
Wide Receiver: Robert Woods (Started in 4.7% of ESPN Leagues | Owned in 10.4% of ESPN Leagues)
Tyrod Taylor is back, and Sammy Watkins might not be. Miami was the worst pass defense in the league before their two dominant performances over weak competition. Tom Brady has his way with them in Week 8, and while Taylor is no Brady, he's been good this year. Among 33 passers with at least 100 drop backs, Taylor's Passing NEP per play ranks 13th this year. Woods' Reception NEP per target (0.65) places him at pretty much league average, but this -- like Ginn -- is a volume-over-efficiency concept.
Watkins was limited in practice on Thursday, which is always a red flag. This is a weak secondary until recently, and Taylor's return should be good news for the offense as a whole. Woods can produce if given the chance, as proven by his 9-catch, 84-yard, 1-touchdown game last week against Jacksonville, another weak pass defense, per our metrics.
Tight End: Jacob Tamme (Started in 17.2% of ESPN Leagues | Owned in 21.9% of ESPN Leagues)
Recommending Tamme seems cheap for a few reasons. He's coming off a monster performance (10 catches, 103 yards, and a touchdown), and his ownership jumped from basically zero to where it is now. He's also been featured three weeks in a row here.
Tamme keeps seeing snaps and has topped 53 in every game during which he was healthy, and he has had 5 or more targets in five games this year. That includes the last four. He's coming off a 12-target game, and while it's silly to expect him to repeat last week's performance, I think it's safe to bank on what we knew last week.
The good thing about Tamme is that you know what you're going to get. The bad thing about Tamme is that you know what you're going to get. Tamme is going to play 50-plus snaps, see roughly 5 targets, and catch about 3 passes, benchmarks he's met in four of his five healthy games.
Flex: Dontrelle Inman (Started in 1.5% of ESPN Leagues | Owned in 3.7% of ESPN Leagues)
This one is definitely a long shot, but what else are we expecting here? With Keenan Allen out for the season, a spot opens up on the team with the second-most drop backs per game this year. Yes, that will likely begin with Stevie Johnson, and Malcom Floyd will also likely see a boost, but we're talking about nearly 47 drop backs per contest.
The thing to monitor, though, is the status of Antonio Gates, who was limited in practice on Thursday. If Gates is limited, then things look good for Johnson, Floyd, and Ladarius Green. But the rub here is that Green missed practice on Thursday because of his ankle.
Inman is dealing with a small sample (9 catches, 18 targets, and 263 snaps), but his Reception NEP per target ranks second among all receivers with double-digit targets this year. He could be playing the role of the fourth man -- behind Johnson, Floyd, and Gates -- against the Bears' 30th-ranked pass defense. The volume on this offense could be enough for Inman to flash some of his intriguing athleticism.