Oftentimes, we consider the severity of bye weeks based upon how many star players aren’t going to be taking the field on a given weekend. For instance, most would look at Week 9’s crop and immediately point out the lost offensive potential of the Saints and the Rams. However, when you’re on the hunt for value, you tend to see things a little differently. While I certainly will miss Alvin Kamara and Cooper Kupp, I’m a little more flustered by the loss of Atlanta and Cincinnati’s defenses, two units that essentially were homing beacons for places to mine DKFP. Heck, with the Dolphins and the Jets playing each other and the Giants stored away for Monday Night Football, we’re missing a lot of our established easy marks.
So, where can you find some under-the-radar sleepers for this Sunday’s slate? Friend, you’re already here.
PHILIP RIVERS, QB, LAC VS. GB, $5,100
For as much as I could claim “Narrative Street” with the Chargers recently having fired their offensive coordinator, Ken Whisenhunt, Rivers actually had produced some pretty decent numbers within his system so far this season. Really, aside from a Week 2 dud against the Lions, the veteran pivot has lived up to expectations in almost every soft matchup he’s received. Rivers has exceeded 20.0 DKFP five times in 2019, with his two most recent missteps coming against top-10 pass defenses by DVOA in Chicago and Denver. Technically, Green Bay is eighth by that same metric, usually meaning this would be a spot to avoid, but I have my doubts about its validity.
Since the Packers opened the campaign with meetings against the likes of Mitchell Trubisky, Joe Flacco and a then run-oriented Kirk Cousins, they’ve struggled to limit opposing quarterbacks. In fact, across the past three weeks specifically, the team has surrendered a whopping 8.3 passing yards per attempt — the second-highest figure among all NFC secondaries. That’s also a span that doesn’t include a contest where Green Bay conceded 463 passing yards to Dak Prescott and Dallas. If you do want to account for that stunning performance, suddenly the Packers have allowed an eye-popping 10.8 yards per target to opponent wideouts since the beginning of Week 5; which, as you might imagine, is the second-worst mark in all of football.
ROYCE FREEMAN, RB, DEN VS. CLE, $4,900
There’s honestly a chance the Broncos run the ball 40 times this Sunday. At least, that’s what I would do if the other option was letting Brandon Allen ($4,100) make his first career NFL pass attempt. Still, while you might be hesitant to trust any part of an offense led by Allen, let’s be clear about something: It’s not like Flacco was setting the world on fire prior to his injury. Denver was averaging an underwhelming 15.6 points in the former Raven’s eight starts — a figure that bested only Cincinnati, Washington, the New York Jets and Miami. You know, the clear-cut worst teams in the league. The Broncos’ implied total is one of the lowest on the slate, but, well, 18 points would actually be a welcomed sight for this squad.
Let’s also not take away from what a fantastic matchup this could be for Freeman, who has been the more productive Denver running back the past four weeks. Cleveland is allowing 4.63 adjusted line yards per carry, it’s one of six teams inducing more than 30 opponent rushing attempts per game, and, over its past three contests, it’s surrendered an average of 174.7 rushing yards — the second-highest output in the entire NFL. Sure, Freeman and Phillip Lindsay ($5,300) clearly are going to continue splitting the team’s workload, yet Freeman’s out-snapped Lindsay in each of the Broncos’ past four contests, and his eight red zone carries within that same span are double the amount Lindsay’s garnered. With dibs on goal line opportunities and a seemingly set-in-stone path to 15 touches, Freeman’s worth a look on this slate.
DIONTAE JOHNSON, WR, PIT VS. IND, $4,500
In no way am I suggesting JuJu Smith-Schuster ($6,300) isn’t still the No. 1 receiving option on the Steelers; however, in Mason Rudolph’s ($5,000) four starts this season, Smith-Schuster and Johnson actually possess the same amount of targets (27). This hasn’t been empty volume for the third-round pick, either. Johnson’s hauled in 19 of these opportunities, converted three into touchdowns and has averaged a more-than-respectable 15.2 DKFP in those specific contests. It was supposed to be college teammate James Washington ($3,700) that benefitted from the switch from Ben Roethlisberger to Rudolph, yet it truly appears Pittsburgh’s rookies have created quite the chemistry.
Still, it’d be difficult to suggest using Johnson in anything but an ideal matchup, which is exactly what he gets in the form of the Colts this coming Sunday. Going back to the beginning of Week 5, Indianapolis’ secondary has conceded a massive 10.2 yards per pass attempt to opposing wideouts — a number that places them ahead of only the Raiders among all AFC teams. Really, this shouldn’t be all that surprising a development. For the season as a whole, the Colts have allowed four 300-yard passers and have given up their conference’s second-highest opponent completion rate at 68.5%. Plus, these existing problems are only amplified if corner Pierre Desir is unable to suit up again with a hamstring issue. Don’t be afraid to get a little exposure to Johnson in Week 9.
JONNU SMITH, TE, TEN AT CAR, $3,800
There’s likely to be a few more people interested in investing in Smith following six catches, 78 yards and a touchdown in last week’s win over Tampa Bay, but I still can’t recommend the third-year tight end enough. Not only did Smith play 73.0% of the Titans’ offensive snaps, he was also their most targeted skill-position player; something that makes even more sense when you consider Tennessee’s directed a notable 28% of its passes towards the TE position since Ryan Tannehill ($5,300) took over under center for Marcus Mariota. On top of that, it’s not as if we haven’t seen Smith’s talent stand out prior to last Sunday’s performance. For the entirety of 2019, Smith possesses elite marks in both catch rate (83%) and yards gained per route run (1.80), with the latter trailing only the likes of Mark Andrews, George Kittle, Darren Waller, Hunter Henry and Travis Kelce on this particular slate.
The matchup with Carolina is enticing, too. Though the team has surrendered a minuscule 3.7 receptions per game to opposing tight ends this season, the Panthers haven’t maintained such a stout approach to the position in recent contests. In fact, going back to the start of Week 5, Carolina’s conceded a jaw-dropping 11.5 yards per target to TEs — the second-highest figure in the league. So, if Delanie Walker ($3,900) is sidelined once again with an ankle injury, fire up some more shares of Smith without hesitation.
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