But we saw some encouraging signs from the Chicago Bears‘ David Montgomery, the Buffalo Bills‘ Devin Singletary, the Philadelphia Eagles‘ Miles Sanders and the Los Angeles Rams‘ Darrell Henderson in Week 8. So I reached out to our ESPN NFL Nation crew to see if there could be more to come.
Montgomery: The Bears finally got to see Montgomery’s potential in Week 8, Jeff Dickerson wrote, when the former Iowa State back ran 27 times for 135 yards and a touchdown.
As Dickerson noted, the Bears have been a pass-first offense under coach Matt Nagy. But that offense clearly had not been working, and “desperate times call for radical changes.” The Bears opened last Sunday’s game against the Chargers in the I-formation, which wasn’t even in Nagy’s playbook before that week.
Montgomery’s 56 snaps and four catches were season highs.
“The only thing that held Montgomery back was Chicago’s playcalling,” Dickerson said of the third-round draft pick. “As long as Nagy commits to running the ball with Montgomery, he ought to be a highly productive fantasy player.”
When asked if he thinks Nagy will make that commitment, Dickerson said, “I don’t think he has any other choice.”
Singletary: The third-round pick from Florida Atlantic has been flashing breakout potential since the preseason. But so far he has continued to do it in small doses while playing alongside veteran Frank Gore — thanks in part to a hamstring injury that sidelined him in Weeks 3-5.
Singletary made another case for an expanded role in Week 8, however, when he played his most snaps since Week 1 (39) and scored on a 28-yard touchdown pass.
“The frustrating thing for Singletary’s fantasy owners and Bills fans is his low usage despite his high efficiency,” said Marcel Louis-Jacques, who did a deep dive on Singletary’s usage rate compared to the rest of the NFL. “No other running back with fewer than 30 touches on the season can rival the 230 scrimmage yards Singletary has produced. J.D. McKissic is the closest with 183.
“Even if Singletary were getting the same 39% usage rate as Royce Freeman — a back in a similar timeshare situation for the Broncos — Singletary’s 7.9 yards per touch would equate to 101 yards per game played.”
The biggest concern with Singletary, according to Louis-Jacques, is that he has only three red-zone touches so far this season, which suggests his future production might be based on his big-play ability. But Louis-Jacques thinks Singletary’s improved health and continued production will “eventually force the Bills’ hand” to increase his workload.
Sanders: Another big play waiting to happen, Sanders is in a similar boat to Singletary, splitting time with veteran Jordan Howard. Sanders, a second-round pick from Penn State, averages 6.7 yards per touch, which also ranks among the league leaders. But he is averaging just 11 touches per game.
Tim McManus said, however, that “it would be no surprise if Sanders begins to be featured more” after his season-long 65-yard touchdown run this past Sunday. Sanders left that game early with a shoulder injury but was back practicing fully Thursday.
“The coaching staff is seeing improvement from Sanders as a runner,” McManus said. “He’s sticking a foot in the ground and heading north more as opposed to earlier in the year, when he was less decisive and bouncing runs outside too often. He’s developed into a big-play threat both in the run and pass game, which will likely lead to several fantasy paydays in the second half of the season and an uptick in snaps.”
McManus did note, however, that Howard will continue to have a significant role. He also has been effective this season, and “the Eagles like his physical, forward-falling running style.”
Henderson: The reason for Henderson’s increased workload is obvious. After he played just two snaps in the first five games, Henderson has played 68 snaps in the past three because Malcolm Brown suffered an ankle injury.
But the third-round pick from Memphis has made the most of them, with 28 carries for 119 yards and four catches for 37 yards.
Brown could be back as soon as Week 10, so Lindsey Thiry said it remains uncertain how much playing time Henderson will get moving forward. “But it appears Rams coach Sean McVay will continue to find reps for the rookie,” Thiry said, “who he said was ‘going to be a really good player for us’ after his performance against the Falcons in Week 7.”
“You saw some physical runs,” McVay said. “You [already] knew that he had the speed and the athleticism to catch the ball out of the backfield.”
Now for the rest of our weekly tour around the league:
Arizona Cardinals: That didn’t take long. RB Kenyan Drake broke out in his debut with the Cardinals on Thursday night, just three days after being traded. And Josh Weinfuss wrote that he is buying what he saw.
Baltimore Ravens: Jamison Hensley wrote an entertaining breakdown of the NFL’s “ultimate cheat code” — a Lamar Jackson scramble. Jackson’s 262 scramble yards is 88 more than anyone else in the league.
Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos: Meet Ryan Finley and Brandon Allen. Ben Baby wrote about the Bengals’ new rookie starting quarterback, while Jeff Legwold tackled the Broncos’ sixth starting QB since 2017.
Green Bay Packers: Receiver Davante Adams‘ toe injury accelerated the process of Green Bay developing a more balanced offense, Rob Demovsky wrote. And they can really thrive now that he is on the verge of returning.
New Orleans Saints: Latavius Murray had at least 150 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns for the second consecutive week while exploiting his opportunity as Alvin Kamara’s replacement. Kamara is expected to return after the Week 9 bye. But as ESPN’s Saints reporter, I have to believe Murray has earned more touches as his sidekick going forward.
New York Jets: If you believe in the “squeaky wheel” theory, this might be a good week to invest in RB Le’Veon Bell. According to Rich Cimini, Bell vented his frustrations with coach Adam Gase this week over his lack of involvement. Afterward, Bell said he and Gase are “fine” and that he expects more touches Sunday.
The bigger problem with Bell, as Cimini noted, is that he has had no room to run.
New York Giants: Buy what rookie receiver Darius Slayton has been doing — including two more touchdowns last weekend, Jordan Raanan wrote. It should come as no surprise that he has chemistry with rookie QB Daniel Jones since they worked together so much this offseason.
Oakland Raiders: Receiver Tyrell Williams made some big plays in his return from plantar fasciitis last weekend. But his day would have been much better if he had not dropped two key passes in the fourth quarter, as Paul Gutierrez wrote.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Rookie receiver Diontae Johnson is “a young JuJu,” according to JuJu Smith-Schuster. And together they have the potential to form another dynamic duo in Pittsburgh, Brooke Pryor wrote.
Tennessee Titans: Third-year tight end Jonnu Smith has emerged as a go-to option for new quarterback Ryan Tannehill with nine catches for 142 yards and a touchdown in the past two weeks. And as Turron Davenport wrote, it’s not just because veteran TE Delanie Walker has been nursing an ankle injury.