As expected, the 2014 NFL season hasn’t been kind to rookie quarterbacks. Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles is getting plenty of reps but leads the league with 10 interceptions. Oakland’s Derek Carr hasn’t been nearly as turnover prone, and he’s completing better than 60 percent of his passes, but the Raiders are the only winless team left in the league. And after throwing for more than 300 yards in his first career start, Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater has regressed, throwing five interceptions in his last two starts.
Enter former LSU star turned Tennessee Titans starter Zach Mettenberger, who could give rookies a better name in Week 8 against the Houston Texans, and possibly be a viable fantasy starter going forward.
Mettenberger is certainly saying all the right things, which could get Titans fans and fantasy owners excited.
“You’ve got to take risks in this game,” Mettenberger said according to ProFootballTalk. “You’re probably going to misquote me. But to play in this league 10 years, you’ve got to throw it to your guys. Something coach [Cam Cameron at LSU] taught me last year is, I’m the guy with the ball, if I view a guy as open, he is open. So throw it to our guy, away from theirs.”
It’s that kind of natural confidence that could make Mettenberger a regular fantasy starter in the weeks to come, and in turn improve the value of receivers Kendell Wright and Justin Hunter, while helping tight end Delanie Walker keep up his stellar production. In college Mettenberger showed incredible arm strength and improved consistently year-over-year, and if given enough reps he could do the same on Sundays. The Texans have also given up 13 passing touchdowns this season and quarterbacks are averaging a 90.3 rating.
With Jake Locker continuing to struggle with various injuries and Charlie Whitehurst rather inconsistent, Hunter and Wright haven’t produced like owners hoped before the season began. Wright’s done fairly well with 32 catches and four touchdowns, but yardage wise he’s only gained 297. Hunter was expected to make a huge leap this season but has 16 catches for 320 yards and one score.
If Mettenberger can spring either Wright or Hunter, or both, that could open things up for rookie running back Bishop Sankey and veteran Shonn Greene, should he return from a hamstring injury.
For now Mettenberger isn’t worth a start, unless you are in a two-quarterback league and have no other options or hold a big enough lead in your league to take a risk like that, but Wright and Hunter are both worthy of starts. Continue to monitor Greene’s recovery, and if he’s healthy consider a start, but long term Sankey is the better option as an RB2 or RB3.
Now let’s take a look at several other running backs and wide receivers owners should think about starting, others to consider sitting, and a few sleepers for the rest of Week 8.
RBs To Start/Sit
Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
In his second year, Bell’s become one of the few running backs that owners have come to start no matter who the Steelers are facing. Bell’s racked up 599 rushing yards, and in PPR leagues he’s a goldmine with 36 receptions for 339 yards and one touchdown. This week could be a different matter against a Colts defense that’s ninth in the league against the run and last week completely shut down Cincinnati’s Gio Bernard, a back with very similar skills to Bell’s. Start Bell, but if you have another option like Indianapolis’s Ahmad Bradshaw, consider them over Bell.
Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins
Miller’s scored at least one TD in three straight games, but faced two of the worst rush defenses in the league in that span. In Week 8 Miller will stare down a vastly improved Jaguars defense that’s letting up 83.3 rushing yards on average in the last three weeks. Couple that rushing D with the second-best pass rush in the league, and Miller could have trouble getting past the line of scrimmage all game.
Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
Lacy’s only surpassed 60 or more yards in two of Green Bay’s seven games this season, and his fantasy value has dropped significantly. Add in James Starks taking away some critical carries and a matchup against New Orleans No. 11 ranked rush defense, and Lacy isn’t a surefire starter this week. Maybe put him in your flex if your options are limited, but he shouldn’t be higher than an RB2.
WRs To Start/Sit
Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears
The Bears offensive woes have been well documented, and owners are right to worry about Jeffery. He's certainly made the most of his opportunities, leading the Bears in receiving while only being fourth in targets. But most of that production has come from two excellent games against weaker secondarys like the Jets and Falcons. This week he’ll face New England’s top ranked pass defense, and doesn’t seem like a good start. For other WR2 options, look to Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin, or Dallas’s Terrance Williams.
Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills
One woudl think the loss of both top running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller would hurt Watkins' value, but either Anthony Dixon or Bryce Brown can help draw some attention away from Buffalo’s stud rookie. He’s fresh off his second 100-yard game of the season against a very good Vikings secondary, and Watkins and quarterback Kyle Orton look to have found a rhythm. Throw in the fact that the Jets have given up a NFL-worst 18 passing touchdowns, and Watkins sure be started in every league format.
Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens
After a slow start, Smith’s notched all four of his touchdowns in the last four weeks, having rediscovered his place in the offense alongside Steve Smith. He’s totaled only 18 receptions for 308 yards, but next faces a reeling Bengals pass D coming off a dreadful performance against Indianapolis. The Bengals are also riddled with injuries up and down the roster, especially along their pass rush. That should give Joe Flacco plenty of time to find both Smiths all Sunday long.
Week 8 Sleepers
Travaris Cadet, RB, New Orleans Saints
The Saints backfield is arguably worse off than Buffalo’s, with Khiry Robinson, Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas all injured. By default, Cadet moves up the depth chart and faces Green Bay’s No. 31 rush defense this week. In two of the last three weeks Cadet’s totaled six receptions, fitting in nicely with the Saints pass-first offense. He’s worth a flex, RB2 or RB3 start if you’re limited on options this week.
Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders
The Raiders are last in the NFL in rushing offense, but square off against at Browns D that’s last against the rush. Due to injury and inconsistent play, McFadden’s given fantasy owners plenty of migraines throughout his career, but he could bust out his first 100-yard since Week 2 of last year.
Scott Chandler, TE, Buffalo Bills
Like Watkins, Chandler could greatly benefit against the Jets porous secondary. Since Orton took over, Chandler’s also seen a nice uptick in targets, and he tore up New England’s far better defense two weeks ago. Start Chandler ahead of Philly’s Zach Ertz, St. Louis’s Jared Cook and even Cleveland’s Jordan Cameron.