With the crazy, six-team bye week in the rearview mirror, the NFL returns to semi-normalcy in Week 8 with Baltimore, Cincinnati, Houston and Buffalo the only teams on bye. This week might be one of the most important for the waiver wire after the Maurice Jones-Drew injury and the backfield picture in Arizona getting a little clearer. At this point in the season, now is the time to blow that top waiver pick or spend your FAAB budget, especially if your team is 3-4 or worse.
Jay Cutler, CHI - Cutler was dropped in many leagues after posting back-to-back games earlier this season with less than 200 yards passing. Heading into Monday night's tilt, Cutler had put together consecutive games of at least 275 passing yards and two touchdowns. Cutler has a nice matchup this week, welcoming the Carolina Panthers to the Windy City. The Panthers rank 22nd in the league with 7.5 YPA allowed, which means Brandon Marshall should be in for a big game as well.
Rashad Jennings, JAC - Remember when Jennings was a trendy preseason sleeper while Maurice Jones-Drew was holding out? The Jaguars were unlucky to lose both Jones-Drew and starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert in the first half to different injuries Sunday. Jennings will likely be the most sought after player in most fantasy leagues given that the news on Maurice Jones-Drew isn't good. It could mean Jennings will carry the load for the Jaguars the rest of the season and possibly be the rare three-down back. Jennings averaged 5.2 yards per carry his rookie season and 5.5 yards per carry last season. He is a solid receiver (seven catches, 58 yards against Oakland) that makes him even more valuable in PPR formats. It's probably worth blowing your FAAB on Jennings, who has top-12 potential for the position based upon the potential workload Jacksonville gives him.
LaRod Stephens-Howling, ARI - Stephens-Howling turned in a surprising performance Sunday given William Powell appeared to be the guy for the Cardinals and that it was a tough matchup against Minnesota. LSH finished with 104 rushing yards on 20 carries and four catches for 45 yards and should continue to get the lion's share of touches in the desert. Powell was coming off a Week 6 in which he had 13 carries for 70 yards (5.4 yards per carry), and after LSH's performance, this could be an indication that the Arizona offensive line is improving. Just temper expectations for this week as the Cardinals have a tough matchup against San Francisco.
Jonathan Dwyer, PIT - The Pittsburgh backfield has pretty much been a headache all season with the various injuries occurring. Dwyer was given his opportunity Sunday night and put in an impressive performance, finishing with 17 carries for 122 yards. Chris Rainey got the rushing touchdown (an 11-yard scamper), but it's likely Dwyer would be used inside the five because he's the bigger back. He appears over the turf toe injury; just remember that at some point both Mendenhall and Redman should return, which limits Dwyer's upside for the rest of the season.
Shane Vereen, NE - Knowing Bill Belichick, it shouldn't have been too surprising to see Vereen get the surprise start for the Patriots against the Jets on Sunday. Vereen ended the day with less of a workload than teammate Stevan Ridley but saw his most extensive action of the season with Brandon Bolden injured. Vereen totaled eight carries for 49 yards and added a catch for 10 yards. It's easy to forget the Patriots spent a second-round pick on Vereen, who spent his rookie season banged up and buried on the depth chart. Stevan Ridley has fumbled twice this season, so Vereen could be one snap away from seeing his role grow further. For now, Vereen is a good player to stash on your bench with a lot of upside if the chips fall his way.
Cecil Shorts, JAC - A late-game fumble marred his performance, but Shorts had an effective fantasy day with 79 receiving yards and a touchdown. It was Shorts' first start of the season and he saw a team-high 10 targets. Kind of surprising is that in standard formats, Shorts has scored at least 13 points in three of the six games he's played this season. With Justin Blackmon looking far from impressive, Shorts should continue to be the main target for Blaine Gabbert.
Ryan Broyles, DET - It was a tough blow to see Nate Burleson carted off with a knee injury Monday night. The injury probably gave rookie Ryan Broyles a few more snaps on the field, which he turned into three catches for 51 yards and a score. Teammate Titus Young has been somewhat disappointing, so Broyles (now almost a year removed from ACL surgery) could emerge as second fiddle to Calvin Johnson. The knee injury suffered by Broyles kept him from being a high draft pick and he owns the NCAA FBS record with 349 career catches.
Joseph Morgan, NO - For the second time in the last three weeks Morgan had a long touchdown catch, this one while eluding three defenders for a 48-yard score. Against Green Bay he had a 80-yard score, showing that the Walsh College product has the speed to effectively stretch the field. After Sunday's game Morgan was taken to the hospital for a chest injury, but it's not considered significant.
Tiquan Underwood, TB - Last week Josh Freeman was discussed in this column and he came through in a big way with 420 passing yards and three touchdowns. Well, 35 of those passing yards and one of those touchdowns went to Underwood, who is making some noise the last couple of weeks as the Buccaneers third wide receiver. Two weeks ago he had two catches for 68 yards, one of them a 62-yard hookup with Freeman.
Logan Paulsen, WAS - The season-ending Achilles' injury to Fred Davis will give Paulsen an opportunity to become fantasy relevant as at least a bye-week replacement. While the signing of Chris Cooley may attract the attention of some, keep in mind Paulsen's presence was one of the reasons Cooley was released in the preseason. Paulsen finished Sunday's contest with four catches for 76 yards (19.0 yards per catch) demonstrating his ability to get downfield.
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