Week 9 of the NFL season didn’t feature as many surprises as we’re used to seeing, with the majority of the teams that were favored winning by a considerable margin. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen again this particular week, and we believe there will be a number of unheralded players that will step up and help lead their team to victory.
Here are 10 X-Factors set for big performances during this week’s action.
Rams WR Robert Woods
The veteran receiver might not get the attention that teammates Sammy Watkins, Cooper Kupp, and Todd Gurley have enjoyed this year, but he’s quietly putting together a solid season for the Rams.
Drafted by the Bills in 2013, Woods signed a five-year, $34 million deal with the Rams back in March. He’s wasted no time in delivering, leading the team in passing yards, targets, catches and yards per catch. Woods has proven to be a steady, reliable target for second-year quarterback Jared Goff, and he makes up for what he lacks in straight-line speed by using his football IQ and route running skills to consistently get open.
There’s no reason to expect a drop-off in production this week when the Rams host the Texans on Sunday, either. Houston’s pass defense has surrendered 29 touchdowns so far this season, and they’re tied for 26th in the league in that category. Expect Los Angeles to continue their winning ways against the Texans, and for Woods to play a critical role for the Rams again this Sunday, even though he may not be turning heads like some of the other playmakers on his team.
Jets DB Rashard Robinson
Now in his second year in the league, Rashard Robinson looks to take advantage of a change of scenery, in hopes of resurrecting his NFL career. Drafted in the fourth round by the 49ers in 2016, Robinson has struggled with penalties and mental errors this season, which prompted San Francisco to trade him to New York on trade deadline day.
The 49ers did previously know there was some risk involved with the decision to draft Robinson, as he served consecutive suspensions at LSU, and hadn’t played football in two years leading up to the draft. Robinson, however, is talented enough to warrant another look from his new team. With the Jets thin at the cornerback position, he’ll get an opportunity to show that he can play at the professional level. Robinson was limited to special teams duty in his first game with the Jets last Sunday, but look for him to see his first action on defense this week against the Bucs.
Saints RB Alvin Kamara
Rookie running back Alvin Kamara seems destined for NFL greatness after turning in his best game as a pro on Sunday against the Buccaneers, with 152 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns.
At first glance, he seems like an ideal fit for the role of third-down specialist. But upon further review, there’s nothing to suggest that Kamara can’t handle the load of being an every-down back. He runs unbelievably strong for his size. He’s a decisive, efficient runner who does an amazing job of setting up his blocks before exploding through the hole. Kamara is also difficult to bring down, as he uses strength, leverage and quickness to consistently gain yards after contact. So far this season, he’s carried the ball 52 times for 311 yards (three touchdowns), and those numbers should continue to rise.
Though veteran Mark Ingram remains the primary focus on offense for the Saints, Kamara seemingly has outperformed him recently, which has sparked talk about a possible increase in snaps for him. For New Orleans, it’s a good problem to have. Kamara should see his touches go up again this week, and will turn in another strong performance on Sunday when New Orleans travels to Buffalo to take on the Bills.
Redskins LB Will Compton
Despite a solid 2016 campaign — finishing the season with 106 tackles, an interception and two fumble recoveries — linebacker Will Compton lost his starting job to Zach Brown just before the start of the regular season. The fifth-year veteran was reinserted into the Redskins’ starting lineup, however, when Mason Foster was placed on injured reserve roughly two weeks ago. Compton responded by recording nine total tackles and an interception in Washington’s upset win over the Seahawks last Sunday. It appeared that he felt as if he had something to prove, which isn’t a surprise, given his comments about focusing on areas he can improve in earlier in the year.
With the Eagles running away with the division title, the Redskins are on the outside looking in, but are still fighting for a playoff spot. They’ll face the Vikings’ ninth-ranked rushing attack on Sunday, and Compton will get plenty of opportunities to establish his value and potentially make plays for Washington in Week 10.
Panthers WR Devin Funchess
Devin Funchess performed well in his first game as Carolina’s No. 1 receiver last week. Funchess recently inherited the big responsibility after Kelvin Benjamin was traded to Buffalo, just before the trade deadline expired. Following the trade, Benjamin commented that he was not surprised by the move, suggesting that the writing had been on the wall, and that the Panthers felt Funchess was ready to take his game to the next level. He responded with one of the best performances of his career to date, gaining 86 yards on five catches, including 57 yards after the catch.
Funchess figures to play a prominent role in the Panthers’ offense through the rest of the season, and has clearly already earned the trust of quarterback Cam Newton. He has the talent to put up big numbers, and should see plenty of targets, priming him for another solid outing when the Panthers face off against the Dolphins on “Monday Night Football.”
Lions LB Tahir Whitehead
Despite Tahir Whitehead having a breakout campaign last season, the six-year veteran linebacker somehow continues to fly under the radar as far as national attention goes. He started this season finishing where he left off, setting the edge for the Lions’ defense and remaining a disruptive force in the middle for opposing rushing attacks. Last week’s performance was no exception. Whitehead recorded five tackles—two for a loss—as well as one sack and a quarterback hit in Detroit’s win over the Packers on Monday night.
With the Lions needing a win at home against the Browns on Sunday to remain squarely in the playoff picture, Cleveland can expect a heavy dose of Whitehead, who should quietly put up good numbers once again. Whitehead continues to be one of the unheralded leaders on the Lions’ defense, and it’s time for him to get some recognition for it.
Bears WR Dontrelle Inman
Acquired from the Los Angeles Chargers a few days before the trade deadline expired, veteran receiver Dontrelle Inman represents an immediate upgrade at the position for his new team. Now in his fourth year in the league, Inman played two years in the Canadian Football League before landing with the Chargers in 2014.
Don’t be misled by the quality of his resume, though. Inman is a proven commodity and will be a productive, reliable target for Bears’ rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Though he might not have great breakaway speed, he excels at using his size to box out defenders and can consistently find ways to get open against single coverage.
Inman finished last season with 810 yards on 58 receptions (four touchdowns) coming off the bench for the Chargers. Their exceptional depth at the position, however, made him expendable. Look for Inman to quickly become Trubisky’s primary target, and start putting up solid numbers for the Bears right out of the gate.
Titans WR Corey Davis
Selected with the fifth overall pick of this year’s draft, a product of Western Michigan, Corey Davis was impressive in his first career NFL game — catching six passes for 69 yards against the Raiders in Week 1. Davis suffered a hamstring injury the following week against the Jaguars, though, which kept him out of action until last Sunday. In his first start since Week 2, he played in 75 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, hauling in two catches for 28 yards. The team was clearly looking to ease him back into the offense, but the number of snaps he played projects well for his performance in this Sunday’s game.
Davis was the first receiver taken in the draft, and as such, the expectations are high for the rookie, and he should see his share of targets continue to increase. Look for Davis to continue where he left off at the start of the season with a big game against the Bengals on Sunday.
Chargers LB Denzel Perryman
The Chargers have eagerly awaited the return of linebacker Denzel Perryman since he was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury just before the start of the regular season. His strong, physical presence has been sorely missed in the middle of the Chargers’ defense, and the team has struggled against the run as a result, ranking near the bottom of the league all season. Opposing running backs have racked up an average of 135 yards per game, and have averaged 4.6 yards per carry.
With the Chargers set to take on Leonard Fournette and the Jaguars on Sunday, Perriman presents a major upgrade at the linebacker position, and his return should make an immediate, visible difference for the team’s beleaguered run defense.
Dolphins RB Kenyan Drake
Listed second on the depth chart behind veteran Damien Williams, Kenyan Drake appears poised to soon win the starting job in the wake of the Jay Ajayi trade. Now entering his second year as a pro, Drake has clearly outperformed Williams. Though they each have 19 carries on the season, Drake has double the yardage, and a far better average yards per carry at 4.9, compared to Williams’ 2.4.
Both running backs are talented, and each brings a unique running style to the table. While Williams is more often used in short-yardage situations and on obvious passing downs, the Dolphins plan to utilize Drakes’ speed more often. Opponents must account for his ability to run outside, which opens up what the Dolphins can do on offense, making him the obvious choice on first and second downs. No matter where he’s listed on the Dolphins’ depth chart, expect Drake to take over the lion’s share of the carries at running back when Miami plays Carolina, as his performance so far this season demands it.