Fantasy Football: This week's risers and fallers

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Every NFL team has now played at least eight games, which means a little more than half the NFL season is over. What does this mean for fantasy owners? Well, NFL teams may now take a different strategic route. Certain teams that no longer have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs may start younger players to see if they have a future role with the club. Winning is no longer as important. We saw this with Cleveland in Week 9. Head coach Hue Jackson admitted to starting Cody Kessler over Josh McCown because he wants to see what future role Kessler can play with the team. There is little doubt that McCown would give the Browns a better chance to win. He’d also be more productive for fantasy owners. If you own Terrelle Pryor or Corey Coleman, you’re not happy about Jackson’s decision. Starting Kessler over McCown could be reason enough to bench one of the Browns’ wide receivers for another player on your bench. Sometimes fantasy and reality do indeed collide.

Risers

1. Rishard Matthews, Tennessee Titans: The emergence of Marcus Mariota has been a boon to the Titans’ wide receiver corps. Matthews is not going to make anyone forget Julio Jones or Antonio Brown, but five touchdowns in his last five games certainly raises his profile as a fantasy asset. Kendall Wright may get more passes thrown his way, but Matthews’ red zone targets may be more valuable.

2. Tim Hightower, New Orleans Saints: We all knew that Hightower was in for a bigger role this past Sunday because Mark Ingram was benched during Week 8 after fumbling in back to back games. While it’s true that Ingram responded to that benching with a huge game (171 total yards and two touchdowns) Hightower also played well with 102 total yards and a score. Plus, Hightower had more touches than Ingram (24-17). Although I expect Ingram to remain the starter, Hightower should continue to receive enough touches to be a flex consideration every week.

3. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints: Everyone seems to want to know whether Thomas is now a better fantasy wide receiver than Brandin Cooks. It doesn’t matter. They are both must-start receivers and that is what is most important. Thomas is averaging 86 yards and 6.5 receptions per game since the Saints’ Week 5 bye. Three of the next four games for the Saints are at home, and we all know what a powerhouse that offense is in the Superdome. They average 35.5 points per game at home and every Fantasy owner wants a share of those points.

4. Dontrelle Inman, San Diego Chargers: Inman’s value is contingent on the health of Travis Benjamin, who is dealing with a PCL sprain. He received a second opinion last week that determined surgery wasn’t necessary, but he’s clearly not the same player. If Benjamin needs to be shut down, or if he loses the confidence of Philip Rivers, then Inman would be the next man up.

5. Rob Kelley, Washington: Head coach Jay Gruden stated Monday that Matt Jones would have to prove he’s recovered from his knee injury, and prove that he deserves to start over Kelley. This indicates that Kelley will start this Sunday versus Minnesota and possibly put a stranglehold on the job with a good performance.

New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall

New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall

(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Fallers

1. Marvin Jones, Detroit Lions: Over the past five weeks, all the numbers for Jones are trending in the wrong direction. During the first four games of the season, he was averaging close to six receptions per game, 120.5 yards, and nine receptions. Over the past five games he’s averaging less than three receptions per game, 35.8 yards and seven targets. Throw in the fact that Golden Tate suddenly looks like a true number one wide receiver again, and you have a reason to be worried about Jones’ value.

2. Brandon Marshall, Jets: Marshall has only had two 100-plus yard games, and it’s fair to wonder whether those are the last two he will have this season. Ryan Fitzpatrick is clearly in decline, and it may only be a matter of time until Bryce Petty takes over behind center. Once that happens, the questions will start about whether he will be able to get the ball to Marshall on a consistent basis. The Jets also don’t have a legitimate threat opposite Marshall, so he will continue to be the focus of the opposing team’s secondary.

3. Jerrick McKinnon, Minnesota Vikings: He is always going to be a risky play in Fantasy because Matt Asiata is there to be the short-yardage and goal-line back. Add a poor offensive line to the mix and there is little or no upside for McKinnon. He’s a bye week filler just to get you through one week, but he’s not someone you want in your lineup long term.

4. Julius Thomas, Jacksonville Jaguars: Say what you want about Blake Bortles, he gets plenty of garbage time points to make fantasy owners happy. Thomas, however, is not part of that total. He only has 21 receptions this season. He always seems to be questionable with one injury or another. The Jaguars may throw more than any other team during the second half of games, but Thomas rarely seems to be a beneficiary of that volume.

5. Charcandrick West, Kansas City Chiefs: We all had West in our lineups last week. Spencer Ware was out with a concussion, and with a tasty matchup versus the Jaguars, it was assumed that West would be a high end RB2 at worst. Well, that didn’t materialize, which may lead to the Chiefs hoping to get Ware back in the lineup as soon as possible. It also may lead to fewer touches per game for West even as the backup to Ware.

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