When you draft a team, all you see is the potential in your starters and the depth on your bench. The thing a lot of people don't pay attention to is, when are their byes? This week the Cardinals, Bears, Bengals, Patriots, Texans, and Redskins are all on a bye This forces fantasy owners to either hit the waiver wire and try to find replacements, or, even worse, try to work out a trade in time for the players to be on their team for Sunday. Trading for a Falcon or Buccaneer is pointless, since they play Thursday night and there is no way the trade will go through in time (unless your league puts trades through instantly).
With waiver wires being picked clean by Week 9, the only thing you can hope for is an injury or depth chart replacement to come along and gift you a fill-in. The guys you'll want to target off the waiver wire are:
QB: Cody Kessler, Ryan Fitzpatrick
RB: Darren Sproles, Tim Hightower, Charcandrick West
WR: Corey Coleman, J.J. Nelson (bye, but grab him anyway)
If all those guys are taken, you can dig deeper into your bag of tricks and look at some players like Sammie Coates, Kenny Britt, or C.J. Prosise. You are getting into true Hail Mary type players in Coates and Britt. Prosise, on the other hand, has a little longer shelf life than the other two. Last week he was able to put up 103 total yards against the Saints, causing Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll to go as far as to say Prosise "will be a lot more involved" over the final 8 games. He'll still fight with Christine Michael for touches, and Thomas Rawls creates a logjam when he gets back from his injury, but he is worth a bench stash just in case.
Dak Prescott – Cowboys: Prescott has been playing so well that even Jerry Jones has been forced to admit that he will remain the starter, even when Tony Romo is ready to play. Rookies usually struggle, but Prescott has a unique situation in which he has an elite offensive line protecting him, and an elite running back in Ezekiel Elliot. Defenses can't pin their ears back and go after him like most starting rookie QBs, who are almost always on bad teams.
This week Prescott gets a Browns defense that is just atrocious this season, giving up a generous 24.2 PPG to fantasy QBs this season, 4th-worst in the NFL. What's more, their 19 passing TDs allowed ranks them 1st, and Dez Bryant looks ready to finish the season strong.
Ben Roethlisberger – Steelers: Word out of Pittsburgh is Roethlisberger is on track to play this week, missing just one game since tearing the meniscus in his knee in Week 6. The Steelers need him under center after Landry Jones showed us why he has a clipboard as the background picture on his phone!
The Ravens are 11th in PPG allowed to QBs at 19.0 PPG this year, but the Steelers, Bengals, and Ravens are all in a dogfight in the AFC North. None of them can afford to lose a game from here on out, and Big Ben has shown he will do whatever it takes to pull out a win for his team. I'd consider him a lower-end QB1, but someone certainly worth starting given the number of QBs on a bye this week.
Tim Hightower – Saints: Hightower seems like the ageless wonder, starting his career with 23 TDs in his first three seasons. Then in 2011 Hightower became the forgotten man when he left Arizona and went to Washington, managing just 84 carries for 321 yards and 1 TD over 5 games. This year he signed with the Saints as depth behind Mark Ingram, causing fantasy owners to ignore him completely. Until this week, that is.
Ingram was benched in the 1st quarter last week, propelling Hightower into a lead role. He took that chance and ran with it (pun intended), racking up 102 yards on 26 carries. It sounds as if Hightower will remain the starter in New Orleans for the time being, and his matchup with the 49ers is like a gift from Heaven. The 49ers have given up 1,127 rushing yards this season, worst in the NFL. Their 10 rushing TDs allowed are 2nd-worst, with only the Chargers beating them out. Hightower is a MUST-OWN player off the waiver wire for Week 9.
Charcandrick West – Chiefs: Spencer Ware went down with a concussion last week, and Jamaal Charles was placed on the I.R., leaving West as the Chiefs' only healthy RB on the roster. Fantasy websites are still projecting Ware to be the starter, but with him not practicing Wednesday, his chances of being cleared in time to play this weekend are getting slimmer by the hour. My money is on West starting this weekend.
The Chiefs are also without Alex Smith (concussion), forcing Nick Foles into a starting role. Foles was solid in place of Smith last week, throwing for 223 yards, 2 TDs, and no INTs, but my guess is the Chiefs keep the ball on the ground in Week 9. I'm playing West in the leagues where I own him, so I'm pushing all-in with him.
Donte Moncrief – Colts:Moncrief was back in the lineup last week, hauling in 4 of 9 targets for 41 yards and a touchdown. It comes at a great time for the Colts as T.Y. Hilton and Philip Dorsett are both banged up. Andrew Luck needs a big target to throw to in the redzone, and Moncrief certainly fits that bill at 6'2" and 222 lbs.
The Colts head to Green Bay to take on a Packers defense that has given up 26.2 PPG to fantasy WRs this season, the 9th-most in the NFL. In a week like this, with SO many fantasy starters on a bye, Moncrief could easily slide into your WR2 slot.
Corey Coleman – Browns: Coleman is expected to start this weekend, making him someone to consider in your WR3 slot. Coleman was a beast his first two games as a pro, reeling in 7 catches for 173 yards and 2 TDs. That is elite-level production from a rookie on a terrible team. Terrible team means they will be throwing from behind a LOT.
I do have some concern with Coleman, considering the Browns are saying they intend to leave Cody Kessler as the starting QB over Josh McCown, ensuring they get the #1 overall pick in the 2017 draft I suppose. Kessler is a clear hit to Coleman and Terrelle Pryor's upside, but I see Coleman retaining WR2/3 value regardless.
Kyle Rudolph – Vikings: The Vikings offense is an up and down adventure with problems at RB and WR plaguing them. Sam Bradford looks good at QB, but his WRs are below average after you get past Stefon Diggs (who isn't a true No. 1 WR himself). If they just had Adrian Peterson in the backfield, they could be dangerous once again.
I like Rudolph this week because the Lions give up the most fantasy points to TEs this season at 12.5 PPG, giving up 10-plus points to seven different TEs (both Jack Doyle and Dwayne Allen had a huge game in Week 1) already. Their 8 TDs allowed to TEs is 2 more than anyone else in the NFL.
Atlanta Falcons defense: Not a single one of those big-box websites that people look at are going to tell you about the Falcons defense this week because they've allowed 225 points (2nd-most) this season. But I'm not them, and I see things they don't. The Falcons have played a tough schedule thus far, facing 5 teams (Chargers, Raiders, Saints, Broncos, and Panthers) in the top 10 for points scored in the NFL.
This week the Falcons take on a Bucs offense that is down to their No. 3/4 guys at running back, and feature WRs Adam Humphries and Russell Shepard after Mike Evans. Jameis Winston isn't a dual-threat QB that will make fantasy points on his own, putting their offense in a precarious situation this weekend. I like the Falcons as a sleeper D in Week 9.
Tyrod Taylor – Bills: Taylor has a terrible matchup against the Seahawks this week, and not even the return of Percy Harvin will change that. Look, Harvin will provide fantasy owners with more value in the sheer amount of funny team names we can think of based on his name, than he will with his play on the field.
Taylor is down to Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, Walter Powell, and Justin Hunter at WR, not an inspiring lineup to be sure. And LeSean McCoy is no lock to return to the field this week. Factor in the depleted lineup, and being on the road, and the cards are not in the offense's favor.
Derek Carr – Raiders: Too bad we can't carry over fantasy stats from week to week, because Carr is going to need some of last week's numbers this week. The Raiders take on the Broncos elite defense in Week 9, putting Carr on the Do-Not-Call list when it comes to QBs on my starter list.
The Broncos have allowed the fewest fantasy points to QBs this season at 15.3 PPG, and have 2 more INTs (8) than passing TDs allowed (6) to their credit. Only Philip Rivers has thrown for multiple TDs (2) against the Broncos this season. However, they intercepted him 3 times in that game, putting them ahead in the end. With the amount of starting QBs on a bye this week, you may be forced to play Carr. So be aware and beware of expectations.
Antone Smith and/or Peyton Barber – Buccaneers: Antone Smith is probably going to be the starter this week at RB, but that isn't going to stop the Bucs from rotating in Peyton Barber and maybe even newly-resigned Mike James if he is active. It's a messy situation that fantasy owners would be wise to avoid, regardless of what those big-box websites may say.
The Bucs have one WR that scares you, a TE that looks solid but is inconsistent, and 2 RBs that would be on a lot of teams' practice squad had injuries not forced them into action. I like the Falcons defense this week for all the same reasons why I wouldn't start Smith or Barber.
Mark Ingram – Saints: Ingram's fumble troubles have landed him in the Saints doghouse, causing them to bench him in the 1st quarter of last week's game. Tim Hightower came in and showed he is more than capable of handing the fulltime job. Saints Coach Sean Peyton said Ingram would have a "key role" on Monday, which is VERY different than saying he would remain the starter.
If you can read between the lines, you will see that Coach Peyton is looking at Hightower with a little more gleam in his eye than Ingram right now. That being the case, I would sit Ingram (if possible) because you just don't know what a "key role" really means.
Marvin Jones - Lions: Jones earned his paycheck the first four games of the season, snatching 23 receptions for 482 yards and 2 touchdowns. But since then he has managed just 13 catches, 174 yards, and 2 TDs. The TDs are nice, but the yards aren't enough for much more than WR3 production.
This week he draws a Vikings secondary that is giving up just 14.4 PPG to WRs, and is just 26 yards behind the Broncos (785 vs. 759) for least receiving yards to WRs this season. He has big game potential, but I wouldn't trust him against a Vikings defense that is as elite as they come this year.
Tyreek Hill – Chiefs:Hill has had one good game this season, and it just happened to come last week (5/98/1) when he faced the Colts secondary. Before that, his best game of the year was a 1/38/1 line the week before. Why bet on guy who has surpassed 30-plus receiving yards just once in the season?
The only reason I even mention Hill is because those big-box websites are saying he deserves a look on the waiver wire. Hill is a KR/PR who is a TD-or-bust play for any fantasy league, regardless of size or depth of rosters. Let someone else make this mistake!
Hunter Henry – Chargers: Henry was a hot waiver wire addition back in Week 3 when Antonio Gates was showing his age. He racked up 18 catches, 318 yards, and 3 touchdowns from Week 3 to Week 6. It was a great 4-game run for the rookie TE you got off the waiver wire, but all good things eventually come to an end.
Gates ramped up his production in Week 5 and 6 (9/71/1 combined), relegating Henry to backup duties once again. The kid has shown the Chargers won't miss a beat when Gates hangs up his cleats for the final time. With that said, Henry is little more than a TE handcuff in case Gates gets hurt again.
Dallas Cowboys defense: The internet is going to go wild this week, with fantasy wannabes touting how the Cowboys defense is a must-own commodity for Week 9 because they play the lowly Browns. Well, that would be true if CB Morris Claiborne (groin) wasn't expected to miss 4-6 weeks, and SS Barry Church (broken arm) wasn't going to miss 3-5 weeks.
Those two injuries, coupled with CB Orlando Scandrick nursing ailing hamstrings, leaves the Cowboys thin in the secondary. That's not a good thing with Corey Coleman back this week, and Terrelle Pryor playing opposite him with his 4.38 40-yard dash speed. Be aware, and beware!