We are five games into the season and it's not too early to make some moves in your league. Plan for the future, prepare for the postseason. There are a few waiver gems still out there, but for the most part the "start now" players are already scarfed up. Who should you be targeting for the stretch run? I'll give you some options that you can look to acquire at each position that may not break the bank.
Cam Newton - People are down on Newton and the Panthers, but as bad as they have played, they are still 3rd in the league in total offensive yards and 9th in points scored. Why should you target Newton?
- Carolina has played a fairly difficult schedule through five games (one of which without Newton) and their schedule to end the season is favorable. Weeks 14, 15 and 16 they play home vs. San Diego, at Washington and home vs. Atlanta - and if you play Week 17, Carolina plays at Tampa Bay. For the fantasy playoffs Newton will have two home games against defenses they can score on and one big primetime matchup against former teammate Josh Norman.
- Cam's own mistake (failure to run hard into the end zone, which led to a concussion) cost him the opportunity to play on Monday Night Football vs the Buccaneers. You can bet he'll be pumped to showcase his talents in front of a national audience once again. He has unfinished business and this is a spotlight game - with the backdrop of facing off against Josh Norman.
- With a 1-4 record through five games, you won't have to worry about Carolina benching Newton at the end of the year. This team may not make the playoffs and Ron Rivera teams historically play well at the end of the season.
- Trade for Newton - Target a team that has both Newton and another starter-caliber quarterback who has risen to the occasion this year - Possibly Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers, Jameis Winston, etc. That way, if they trade Newton, they'll have another quality quarterback to fall back on. If that's not the case, consider Aaron Rodgers and a wide receiver like Sterling Shepard for Newton. That proposal could easily get the deal done, especially if the owner is down on Newton. A straight up trade of Rodgers for Newton might even work. Rodgers has games against Seattle and Minnesota in Weeks 14 and 16. That's right, Minnesota in Week 16 for the Championship. Not the best matchup at all, even if in Lambeau Field. Use Rodgers to get Newton and watch yourself lift the trophy.
Other quarterbacks to target
Brian Hoyer - I am of the belief that as long as Hoyer continues to play well, he'll be the starting quarterback in Chiacgo, regardless of Jay Cutler's injury situation. Hoyer may have earned himself a longer leash even if a bad game arises. Hoyer has three consecutive games of 300+ yards passing and two touchdowns and has likely earned the starting job going forward. He also has zero interceptions this season, where Cutler has two in far less attempts. Don't think for a minute that John Fox won't keep Hoyer under center. Chicago plays at Detroit, home vs. Green Bay and home vs. Washington for their playoff stretch of Weeks 14, 15, 16. You may be able to get Hoyer as a throw-in for a package deal and reap the benefits for the playoffs.
Philip Rivers - As bad as the Chargers have played this year, especially in the last few minutes of their games, Rivers has been the opposite this season, racking up 11 touchdown passes and only 3 interceptions. He is 4th in yards passing, 3rd in touchdown passes and 4th in QB rating with a 108.4. San Diego has a favorable schedule starting Week 9 going straight through the fantasy playoffs (TEN, MIA, BYE, at HOU, TB, at CAR, OAK and at CLE). There's a lot of winnable games there and we've seen the Chargers game script favor the pass in nearly every game this year. The Chargers offense is good enough to keep pace with teams who find it easy to score on their average or below average defense. That combination is fantasy gold. Both San Diego, Indianapolis and Carolina have that formula this year.
Andrew Luck - Speaking of good offenses with bad defenses, the Colts fit that bill. The only reservation I have with Luck is the Colts Week 15 game at Minnesota. That could be "end game" if he's your fantasy starter for the playoffs. Everything else is gravy - starting next week (at HOU, at TEN, KC, at GB, BYE, TEN, PIT, at NYJ, HOU, at MIN, at OAK) - JAC for Week 17. If you play Luck for every game but Week 15, consider Sam Bradford (vs. IND), Tyrod Taylor (vs CLE), Carson Palmer vs NO, or Kirk Cousins (vs CAR). There's plenty of good options for a streamer in Week 15.
Jordan Howard - The Bears have leaned on Jordan Howard lately and he has produced as a Top 10 running back since Week 3. As long as he stays healthy, he could be a league winner for your team with several favorable matchups after their Week 9 bye. Chicago plays at TB, at NYG, TEN, SF, at DET, GB, WAS - the last three being Weeks 14, 15, 16. Howard has yet to score a rushing touchdown, but he has totaled 90+ yards in each of the last three games. He hasn't exploded from a fantasy sense, but you get the feeling that it's just a matter of time until he does. The window for acquiring Howard is quickly closing.
Latavius Murray (or the Oakland RB who emerges) - The Raiders have a favorable schedule after their Week 10 bye. They face HOU, CAR, BUF, at KC, at SD and home for IND for Week 16. If Latavius Murray can heal from his turf toe injury, he could be someone who pays divdends for the stretch run. If that turns out to be DeAndre Washington or Jalen Richard then one of those would benefit. At this time, it's too early to tell which back will assume the main role, but if Murray is healthy, the assumption is that it will be him. The potential for a strong second half is there for one of the Raiders backs.
Devonta Freeman - You already know how impressive Devonta Freeman has been in the early part of the season. I fully expect his strong play to continue. Atlanta has one of the better schedules in the league after their Week 11 bye and Freeman is a main staple in a high caliber offense. Their schedule starting with Week 12 is ARI, KC, at LA, SF, at CAR (vs NO Week 17). Freeman may still be available to acquire in trades with Tevin Coleman commanding a share of the team's carries. Freeman is the back to own in Atlanta, but there still may be some doubt from the owner, who could be struggling if he owns both Falcons backs.
Doug Martin - Doug Martin is expected to return from his hamstring injury after the Week 6 bye. He returns to a team with no true lead back. Jacquizz Rodgers isn't workhorse material and Charles Sims is on IR with a knee injury. This opens the door wide open for Martin to thrive in the scoring-friendly NFC South. Tampa Bay plays New Orleans Week 14 and Week 16. The Saints are currently giving up the most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs. Martin can be acquired rather cheaply, especially if the owner has moved on with starter options while Martin heals from his injury. Martin might be the perfect RB2 or flex play who can lead you to a title with two favorable matchups in clutch time.
Michael Thomas - We have not seen the full potential of Michael Thomas yet, but I believe it's coming and it might come before we know it. The window to acquire Thomas is still open, but one big game and it could close fast, making it much more difficult to trade for him. Thomas is second on the team in targets, first in receptions and tied for first in touchdown receptions. The Saints are scoring 28.5 points per game and they are coming off a bye with a favorable game against Carolina coming up this week. The Saints schedule from Week 11 on is at CAR, LA, DET, at TB, at ARI, TB (at ATL Week 17). Weeks 14 and 16 against Tampa Bay makes for an excellent playoff schedule. Other Saints receivers are also in play, such as Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead IV, but Thomas is the one that I have my eye on, who could pay the biggest divdends at the cheapest price.
Travis Benjamin - We already talked about how favorable the schedule is for San Diego and Philip Rivers. Currently, Travis Benjamin is the primary wide receiver for the Chargers and I don't foresee that changing as we inch closer to the playoffs. I see Tyrell Williams role decreasing more as Antonio Gates returns to the lineup. This would all but guarantee Benjamin as the team's leading receiver going forward. Benjamin is ranked 12th in PPR scoring, but I anticipate an increase in the coming weeks. He's an excellent WR3 or flex play to have on your roster for the playoffs.
DeAndre Hopkins and/or Will Fuller V - The Texans passing game has struggled lately, causing some people to wonder why Houston got rid of Brian Hoyer and optioned for Brock Osweiler instead. DeAndre Hopkins has been a disappointment compared to his previous expectations and Will Fuller V has done the opposite, played above expectations. I expect that we will continue to see a 1a and 1b level of production from the Texans duo with Hopkins eventually winning out in the end. Looking at the Houston schedule, it gets much easier after playing Denver in Week 7 (DET, bye, at JAC, at OAK, SD, at GB, at IND, JAC, CIN (TEN Week 17). I expect we'll see a spike in both Osweiler and the dynamic duo of Hopkins and Fuller in the second half of the season. Now is the time to acquire one or the other, especially with the needle pointing down on the disappointing Hopkins.
Here's a few emerging tight ends to target that you can likely get fairly cheap.
1. Hunter Henry - We talked about the Chargers for both Rivers and Travis Benjamin, but Hunter Henry is also someone who could continue to emerge as the season wears on. To give you an idea of Henry's role in the offense, he had 42 snaps compared to Antonio Gates' 18 in last week's game. It's possible that San Diego was easing Gates back into action after returning from a hamstring injury, but it also could be the team handing over the primary tight end role to Henry. My money is on Henry taking the torch from Gates and running with it. He's still relatively easy to acquire in a trade, especially because his owner likely has a TE1 on their roster already.
2. Zach Miller - Quietly, Zach Miller has risen to the 4th ranked tight end in PPR scoring through five games. The Bears wide receiver corps is hurting with injuries and uncertainties and Miller is reaping the benefits. Chicago has four of their last five games leading up to Week 16 at home. Those opponents include, starting with Week 12, TEN, SF, at DET, GB, WAS. Like Hunter Henry, Miller is likely a TE2 on someone's roster who isn't playing him. He'd be the perfect tight end to target for the stretch and the cost to acquire him would be minimal. You might even be able to get him as a throw-in for a package deal.
3. Charles Clay - It figures that Clay just had a decent outing where he collected 73 yards on five receptions, but hopefully people didn't realize it. The Bills are struggling to find help from their receiving corps with Sammy Watkins out for the year, but here comes Charles Clay, someone who can help your roster for the title that you can get cheap right now. The Bills play Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Miami all at home in Weeks 14, 15 and 16. I'm not suggesting to use Clay as your starting tight end, but in the event he does emerge, you'll have an excellent option for the playoffs that you might even be able to add on the waiver wire if your roster can afford the space.
4. Jesse James - The Steelers offense is clicking and Jesse James is getting a lot of reps (74, 58, 51 and 72 snaps in each of the last four games). He's quickly becoming a fixture in the red zone, like Heath Miller was in previous years. James has three touchdowns in the last four games, but he's doing so relatively quietly with low yardage. As a result, you can still acquire him for cheap. Pittsburgh's schedule consisting of at BUF, at CIN, BAL for Weeks 14, 15 and 16 isn't super, but if James continues to emerge, it may not matter. He's someone that you can get now, who has the ability to give you a higher return on your investment.
Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org