Week 8 fantasy trade targets and ideas
As always, we’ll kick off our buy/sell trade advice column with a look back at last week’s advice. We were big winners here on our main buy and sell calls. If you listened and bought Ajayi before his second-straight 200-yard game (and before the Arian Foster retirement), kudos to you. As I mentioned in last week’s column, Ajayi could be this year’s Devonta Freeman. On the flip side, Jordan Howard’s value is on the verge of completely bottoming out, so I hope you heeded the advice to trade him last week now that Jeremy Langford is back and Ka’Deem Carey has carved out a role.
We missed on Eli Manning and Bilal Powell, but I wouldn’t give up on buying low for either player. The same reasoning applies as it did last week. Kenny Britt and Demaryius Thomas rounded out our sell list. Thomas continues to look like the second option in the passing game behind Emmanuel Sanders — even if he did score a touchdown in Week 6.
After fielding a lot of questions on Twitter @DanSchneierNFL about trades ideas and proposals, I’ve decided to throw in this reminder that you can follow me and tweet me any questions you have about trades. Let’s jump right into this week’s slate of players.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears
Change can be a really good thing sometimes in fantasy football. That’s the case with Jeffery’s fantasy stock. His stock took a complete 180 with the news that Brian Hoyer is out and Jay Cutler is back in at quarterback. Over the two full weeks before Hoyer’s Week 7 injury, Cameron Meredith was the most targeted wide receiver in the NFL. That wasn’t a fluke either and it certainly wasn’t because he was their best option. In Hoyer’s start before Kevin White was injured, he made White his primary read. Hoyer likes to throw to his right and Jeffery has lined up primarily as the split end (left wide receiver) this season.
Cutler likes to throw to, well, Jeffery. Regardless of what the defense shows in coverage, Cutler will throw the ball Jeffery’s way. In 2015, Jeffery led the NFL in targets per route run with 92 targets on just 281 snaps in route. He was targeted on 32.7 percent of his routes and one of only three wide receivers to see higher than a 30 percent targets per route run rate.
Most importantly, Jeffery’s average depth of target goes way up when Cutler is in. Cutler has never been afraid to take the vertical shots to Jeffery and he rarely worries about the coverage. In Cutler’s one healthy game this season, Jeffery racked up 105 yards receiving on just four receptions.
Jeffery has looked noticeably healthier in the past two weeks after shaking off a few early-season injuries. If Cutler can avoid another injury, Jeffery is about to go on another run. After this upcoming Vikings game, Jeffery draws the Buccaneers’, 49ers’ and Lions’ pass defenses in three of his next five. Sandwiched in between are the Giants and Titans — two solid but burnable secondaries.
Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay Packers
The Packers’ passing offense finally showed some signs of life in Week 7. It took them long enough. Davante Adams has emerged as a viable option on the outside and this is actually a good thing for Cobb’s fantasy value. Cobb struggled in the early weeks of the 2016 season, much like he did throughout 2015, because Jordy Nelson was not creating any separation on the outside. It’s fair to wonder if Nelson will ever be the player he was — in 2016 he looks like he lost that second gear. But as long as Adams can sustain success on the outside, it won’t hurt Cobb’s stock if Nelson remains down.
The proof is in the numbers. Cobb lead the NFL in targets over the past three weeks with 36 in total — 12 per game. He has turned those 36 targets into 27 receptions for 256 yards and two touchdowns. He has also come awfully close to hauling in two more touchdowns that he barely missed on. Cobb has produced against two of three defenses who are getting a ton of production from their secondary in 2016 — the Giants and Cowboys. This hasn’t held him back.
Cobb is going to play a key role down the stretch for fantasy teams. He’s still being viewed as a WR2 but he’s going to perform closer to the WR1 level going forward.
Steve Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens
Sometimes you have to dig deep when you’re looking for trade options. I mentioned in one of these columns earlier this season that I like to trade for players on their bye week. As a general rule, managers are more willing to trade a player that can’t help them that week. They might see it as gaining a small edge, but for a player like Smith, it won’t make enough of a difference.
The reason why we’re targeting Smith is because he is the clear No. 1 target for Joe Flacco when healthy. And where else can you find a No. 1 option for this cheap? Before going down with an ankle injury early in Week 5, Smith dominated the targets for the Ravens. He had 35 targets in four games despite playing 50 fewer snaps than most starters after coming back slowly from his torn Achilles injury in Weeks 1 and 2. The Ravens took it slow, but that didn’t stop Flacco from relentlessly targeting him. He had the 12th-most targets in the entire NFL over this time span.
Smith’s high-volume consistency is nothing new. We talked about targets per route run earlier when breaking down Jeffery’s stock. In 2015, Smith was one of the two other wide receivers who was targeted on more than 30 percent of his routes. He saw 70 targets on just 231 snaps in route. He also finished with the fifth-most fantasy points per opportunity in 2015. And we saw earlier in 2016, Smith hadn’t lost his explosion. He finished with 111 yards and a touchdown on eight receptions in Week 4.
Smith’s injury and the stigma surrounding his age have tanked his trade stock. Early reports point to Smith returning after the Ravens’ Week 8 bye. One last trick — when you’re negotiating, throw in a few stats about how Mike Wallace has really emerged and you should be good to go.
Cameron Meredith, WR, Chicago Bears
The flip side of the Jeffery stock is Meredith’s. After racking up the most targets in the NFL in Weeks 5 and 6, Meredith came back down to earth in Week 7 after Hoyer got hurt. Meredith’s run was nice, but just like Howard’s, it’s coming to an abrupt end with Cutler back in the lineup. That doesn’t mean you can’t still capitalize on Meredith’s production up until this point.
Meredith’s two-week run has earned him name value. And you can talk up his talent or his total targets as metrics to support him continuing on as a valuable fantasy asset. In reality, this passing game is about to turn to Jeffery. Meredith has shown enough for us to say that he’s got at least some talent, but his fantasy production will be hard to predict from this point on. The Bears’ offense moves at a slow pace and doesn’t score that many points. There won’t always be enough balls to go around for Meredith. Instead of leaving him on your bench for random big weeks or starting him for duds, seek a trade partner as soon as possible and use Meredith as a way to sweeten another deal you’re working on.
Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints
One issue with projection is that it doesn’t always succeed in taking into account offensive personnel changes and how they might affect volume. Ingram broke out as one of the best running backs in fantasy football last season due to a massive spike in his involvement in the passing game. With talented pass catchers Michael Thomas and Coby Fleener added to the mix, Ingram’s role has disappeared.
Ingram has just 24 targets in 2016 after finishing with 57 through just 11 full games in 2015. But that’s not the only aspect of Ingram’s fantasy success that has not translated in 2016. Ingram is playing a much lower percentage of snaps and he’s not being used as a primary option in the red zone in 2016. Ingram played 62.7 percent of the Saints’ running back snaps in 2015 but he has only been on the field for 53.1 percent this season.
It’s time to move on from Ingram as an every-week RB1. He still carries plenty of name brand value, but you’ll have to act soon. His touchdown-inflated Week 6 box score should help you move the needle on a few trade proposals.
Christine Michael, RB, Seattle Seahawks
The Michael reclamation story is a nice one. Originally drafted by the Seahawks, Michael was released and bounced around several teams before re-signing with the Seahawks. But the NFL is a “What have you done for me lately?” league. Michael’s dominant preseason performance is in the past. In the regular season, he’s been pretty mediocre so far. He’s had a few huge fantasy weeks, but those were mostly due to him scoring touchdowns. And let’s face it — the Seahawks’ running back position has scored a lot of touchdowns and fantasy points over the past few seasons regardless of who is in the lineup. That’s one benefit of playing with Russell Wilson.
But as far as actual production goes, Michael has been inconsistent at best. The Seahawks are playing the long game with Thomas Rawls for a reason. He was the most efficient running back in the NFL last season — per our advanced metrics and even the most basic statistics. Once healthy, Rawls will have an opportunity to provide a spark for the run game like he did last season and reclaim his job. When Rawls took over in 2015, the rushing offense was stalled out. He got them into first gear and then kicked it up a few more gears. This is an excellent time to sell high on Michael as he will return a ton of value in trades.