Fantasy Football

NFL Fantasy Football 2021 Marcas Grant's Sleepers Week 8

We made it through Byemageddon. Now we're starting our sprint toward the finish line of the fantasy regular season. Yes, there are still seven weeks to go, but those will fly by. Meanwhile, a new conversation has sprung up. 

What to do about Deshaun Watson? 

Every season, there is an issue that springs up that makes for awkward football talk and even more uncomfortable fantasy conversation. And here we are. With trade rumors swirling around the estranged Texans quarterback, I (and plenty of other fantasy analysts, I'm sure) have been asked whether he's worth a stash. My colleague Gregg Rosenthal summed it best.

So much of the Watson talk recently has focused on where he might end up without mentioning a big part of the reason we've reached this point. Of all the things happening with Deshaun Watson, football should be way down the list. And when (or if) we get to that point, it will likely be a while before we see Watson on a football field again. Which is as it should be for a league that wants to court women as fans, coaches, executives and more. Or basically anyone wanting to believe in decency.

Alas, this is a fantasy football column, so here's my fantasy take. Adding Deshaun Watson without even the slightest clarity on what his future is in 2021 is foolhardy. Do it if you choose, but I can't and won't endorse it.

Alright … here are some sleepers.

Don't look now, but Matt Ryan is heating up. The Falcons quarterback had gone over 21 points in back-to-back weeks before the bye. He missed that mark last week against the Dolphins, thanks to a pair of turnovers. Nonetheless, 336 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns doesn't look too bad. This week's opponent is a Panthers team in freefall. During Carolina's four-game losing streak, its once-vaunted defense has allowed eight touchdown passes versus just one interception. Part of the problem starts up front with a league-low 17% QB pressure rate. Carolina's shortcoming could lead to your fantasy bounty if you have a need at quarterback.

Teddy Bridgewater's season can be described as spectacularly mediocre. He's had a handful of passable weeks, though nothing extraordinary. There are times, however, when that's enough to get you through. This week's contest against Washington is shaping up to be one of those moments. The Football Team is dead last in passing defense, having allowed the most yards, and passing touchdowns in the NFL. Chase Young is struggling to back up his rookie season with just 1.5 sacks through the first seven weeks. Jerry Jeudy's return to the Broncos offense could be just what the doctor ordered for Bridgewater's fantasy production.

Recommending Jameis Winston might be a fool's errand. But who’s the more foolish? Wait…don't answer that. The case against Jameis is simple: He's been wildly inconsistent with no 300-yard passing games and just two usable fantasy weeks. The case for Jameis lies in the deficiencies in the Buccaneers secondary. Injuries have forced Bruce Arians' team to mix and match in its defensive backfield. As a result, five signal-callers have thrown for 275 or more yards with multiple passing scores. Starting Winston this week is only for the brave or desperate. Sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do.

**Kenneth Gainwell** is going to a be a popular waiver add this week. That alone has him on the fringes of the sleeper category. Apart from being the obvious replacement for managers who've lost Miles Sanders, Gainwell's next challenge is a Detroit defense that has been a swinging gate for opposing fantasy running backs. The Lions have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points per game to rushers and are tied for the most TD receptions allowed to the position. (In fairness, Detroit allowed three receiving touchdowns to Aaron Jones in one game.) Philly likes what it has in Gainwelll, even if his usage has been erratic. This is a chance to see what he can do with a larger workload in a good matchup.

It's cool that Buffalo seems to have settled on Zack Moss as its lead running back. What's not cool has been Moss' underwhelming production. That's probably to be expected in an offense that's as efficient throwing the ball as the Bills have been. But we are greedy, and we want more. This could be a week when our fantasy football desires are satiated. Moss and the Bills face an underperforming Dolphins defense that ranks 22nd against the run and is allowing the sixth-most fantasy points per game to running backs.

We haven't thought much about Jamaal Williams since the first few weeks of the season. Since Week 3, the Lions back has averaged 5.7 fantasy points per game while slipping to RB27. You can thank (or blame, depending on your perspective) D'Andre Swift for Williams' lack of production. However, Week 8 is a chance for both Lions backs to shine. Swift should continue to be a must-start as the second-highest scoring back in fantasy football. But there should also be a chance for Williams to eat against a defense giving up the third-most fantasy points per game to running backs.

Ja'Marr Chase is everyone's favorite fantasy receiver right now and Tyler Boyd has turned into a ghost. Don't let that distract you from Tee Higgins leading the Bengals in target share in games where he's appeared. Things haven't been all bad for Higgins. His air yardage totals over the past three weeks haven't been too far off from Chase. His recent catch rate (10 receptions on 21 targets) does leave something to be desired. That's where the Jets come in. If there's a defense that offers fantasy hope, it's Gang Green -- especially after last week's putrid showing against the Patriots. We may be closing the book on Boyd, but there are more chapters to be written for Higgins.

Sometimes what we want isn't really what is. Jakobi Meyers projects as New England's WR1 and is the Patriots wideout we want. But Kendrick Bourne might be the sleeper your fantasy team needs. Meyers leads the team in targets, receptions, yards and fantasy points. Yet in the latter two categories, Bourne is closing the gap. Mostly because it seems like there are no NFL bylaws preventing Bourne from scoring touchdowns. How else do you explain New England hanging 54 points on the Jets without Meyers finding the end zone? Anyway, the matchup against the Chargers is bad on paper but after scoring double-digit points in four of his last five contests, it's worth exploring Bourne's fantasy identity. (Sorry, not sorry.)

At the risk of again having egg on my face, I offer up Evan Engram. Big Blue's magically vanishing tight end has topped 65 receiving yards in a game just once over his last 21 outings. Why do I think that could change in Week 8? First, he's playing the woebegone Chiefs, whom we're picking on every chance we get. Second, with the NFL's trade deadline looming and Engram not expected to return next year, there's a chance the Giants could showcase him to help facilitate a deal. Third, maybe I'm just a glutton for punishment. Pick whichever answer makes you feel best.

Speaking of punishment gluttony, I weep for anyone who's been watching this Jets offense every week. If you're going to subject yourself to that, at least try to find some joy. Stream the Bengals defense. Give yourself something else to root for. You deserve it.

Marcas Grant is a fantasy analyst for NFL.com and a man who is staying hydrated. Send him your liquid refreshment standards or fantasy football questions onTwitter@MarcasGor TikTok atmarcasgrant.

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