NFL Fantasy Picks: Bye week boosts Herbert as trades alter league landscape

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The NFL trade deadline may have passed this week, but it is not too late to make moves to bolster your fantasy team.

Indeed, some of the activity at the deadline may have rejuvenated previously failing assets.

Stats Perform expects that to be the case after digging through the numbers ahead of Week 9, picking out four offensive players and a defense who look set to thrive.

Quarterback: Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers @ Atlanta Falcons

Herbert started the year in red-hot form, but the rib injury in his spirited Week 2 showing against the Kansas City Chiefs knocked him out of kilter, and the Chargers quarterback is yet to truly recover.

In his past two outings, Herbert has been aggressive in trying to drive the offense, attempting 57 passes against the Denver Broncos in Week 6 and 51 against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 7, yet he threw for only 238 and 293 yards respectively. His 4.18 yards per attempt versus the Broncos represented the second-worst mark of his NFL career.

But what better time to get back on the Herbert bandwagon than coming off a bye week to face the Falcons? Atlanta have allowed 306.9 passing yards per game this year – not just the worst average in the league but the worst by a margin of almost 30 yards (Steelers – 277.3).

Running Back: Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots

Like Herbert, Taylor was backed for a big year after 18 rushing touchdowns in 2021. Remarkably, through eight weeks, he has only a single 2022 score – this while giving up two fumbles. The Colts star also missed two weeks through an ankle injury, which he appeared to re-aggravate last week.

But if Taylor is cleared to play against the Patriots, it might be time to back him again. The Colts appear to be doing just that, having traded back-up Nyheim Hines to the Buffalo Bills.

Taylor certainly enjoyed himself against the Pats last year, racking up 170 rushing yards, including a 67-yard TD. That was his fourth and most recent 170-yard career rushing game – a tally still only topped by Derrick Henry since the start of 2020.

Wide Receiver: Chase Claypool, Chicago Bears vs. Miami Dolphins

It is unlikely many fantasy players have been queueing up to start a Bears receiver this year. After all, Chicago rank 32nd in receiving yards per game (150.5).

But the late move for Claypool from the Pittsburgh Steelers was a show of faith in young quarterback Justin Fields, who may finally have a reliable target as he looks to rediscover the passing range that made him a dual-threat star in college, throwing 63 TD passes in two years at Ohio State.

The Bears have run designed pass plays on only 48.1 per cent of their 2022 plays – the third-lowest rate in the league – but are likely to look to move the ball through the air with a little more regularity after moving for Claypool, who had nine receiving TDs in his rookie year yet has thrown as many as he has caught in 2022 (one apiece). Like Fields, Claypool has needed more talent around him.

Tight End: T.J. Hockenson, Minnesota Vikings @ Washington Commanders

A rare trade within the division took Lions tight end Hockenson to the Vikings this week, with Detroit – who garnered some excitement going into the year – accepting their place at the bottom of the NFC North.

Hockenson has led the Lions in receiving yards this season (395), ranking fifth among all tight ends. Only three players at the position have topped his three TD catches.

That is all the more impressive given Hockenson has been open on just 65.1 per cent of his targets, the second-lowest rate among all tight ends with 20 or more targets. Given the Vikings also have receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen to occupy defenses, Hockenson might now expect a little more space in which to work.

Defense/Special Teams: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Los Angeles Rams

The past two Super Bowl champions meet on Sunday as the Rams visit Tampa, but both teams now look shadows of their title-winning former selves.

The Rams have scored only 16.9 points per game, the fifth-worst average in the NFL but only marginally worse than the Buccaneers' 18.3.

Tampa Bay have at least been able to rely on their defense to stay semi-competitive, holding opponents to 18.9 points per game, but that unit has spent too much time on the field and succumbed to the grind of the run game in second halves. The Bucs have given up the ninth-most rushing yards per game (132.4) and the third-most after halftime (80.4).

However, the Rams are not set up to capitalise on that frailty, given they rank second-worst for rushing yards per game (68.4 – better only than the Bucs) and worst after halftime (29.1). Los Angeles are successful on only 24.3 per cent of designed run plays, another dismal NFL low.