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These are the players who stood out for fantasy-relevant reasons — the good reasons, the bad reasons, and the in-between.
This column will be posted every Monday afternoon.
Players about whom we’re feeling more optimistic based on recent play or news.
Aaron Rodgers (GB) — Rodgers is sizzling right now with multiple touchdown passes and 23+ FP in five straight games since his dud against the Buccaneers in Week 6. He completed 27/38 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns against the Colts in Week 11. Allen Lazard returned to the lineup last week to give him more reinforcements down the stretch, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling is heating up as a downfield threat over the last three games despite his costly lost fumble in overtime. Rodgers is locked in as a top-six fantasy QB option going forward with his 24.0 FPG average even with a tough matchup against the Bears looming this week. (Tom Brolley)
Deshaun Watson (HOU) — It’s a shame that the Texans are such a joke this season because Deshaun Watson is playing out of his mind. He’s literally carrying the team. Houston can’t run the ball and their defense can’t stop the pass or the run. It’s all on Watson to keep them in games and, at least for fantasy, we can’t complain about the results. Watson was basically perfect against the Patriots this past week, completing 28 of his 37 passes for 344 yards and two scores. Watson also added 8/36/1 on the ground, which marked his sixth-straight game with 25 or more rushing yards. After running the gauntlet with a brutal opening schedule against the Chiefs, Ravens, and Steelers in Week 1-3, Watson has been balling out. Over his last seven games, Watson has completed 70% of his throws, averaged 298.7 yards per game, and owns a 16:2 TD-to-INT ratio. Watson faces the pitiful Lions on Thanksgiving next. (Graham Barfield)
Justin Herbert (LAC) — We are witnessing the best season ever by a rookie quarterback. After ripping up the Jets for 366 yards and 3 TDs, Herbert is now averaging an all-time best 24.3 fantasy points per game for a rookie. Since the Chargers Week 6 bye, L.A. has let Herbert loose and the results have been incredible for fantasy. Herbert has attempted 42 or more passes in four of his past 5 games and he has finished as a top-10 scoring quarterback in every game in this span. His schedule in the lead up to Week 16 is absolutely mouth-watering, too (vs. Bills, Patriots, Falcons, Raiders, and Broncos). Herbert and Keenan Allen are both shaping up to be league-winners. (GB)
Ezekiel Elliott (Dal) — Hey, Zeke did something! There may have been an ultimatum to get Zeke the ball in Week 11, given the Cowboys’ bye week gave a lot of beat writers and pundits time to evaluate just how much he’s been struggling to this point in 2020. Well, those criticisms led to owner/GM Jerry Jones going on radio to declare Elliott his best player, and to Zeke’s credit, he backed it up by posting 21/103 rushing (his first 100-yard game of the year) and 2/11/1 receiving in a win over the Vikings. While the Cowboys still will get Tony Pollard involved — Zeke’s backup had a pivotal long TD run late — his performance was truly the first time this year that it felt like he was in control of the Cowboys’ offense, and the Cowboys’ offense was in control because of him. He doesn’t have the massive RB1 ceiling we’re used to, but he’s pretty much an every-week RB2 at this point. (Joe Dolan)
Chris Carson (Sea) — Carson is set to finally return in Week 12 after missing Seattle’s last four games because of the foot injury he initially suffered against the Cardinals in Week 7. Seattle’s offense has badly missed both Carson and Carlos Hyde in recent weeks, and the Seahawks got back on track with Hyde racking up 14/79/1 rushing against the Cardinals in Week 11. Carson should vault back ahead of Hyde against the Eagles this week, but his role may be a bit reduced as they get him back up to full speed after a month-plus off. Carson was averaging 14.7/78.3 scrimmage per game with six total TDs in his six games before his foot injury. (TB)
Antonio Gibson (Was) — It’s pretty clear how the Team uses its running backs — in a competitive game in which the run game can continue to be a factor, or when the Team is playing from ahead, Gibson will be the guy. That was the case in Week 11, when Washington controlled the game against the Bengals and Gibson posted 16/94/1 rushing and 1/10 receiving while playing 53% of the offensive snaps (only the third time in his career he’s topped a 50% snap share). When the Team is behind and pass protection becomes more important, they’ll use JD McKissic more. Washington now has three straight road games — at Dallas, at Pittsburgh, at San Francisco — in which it will be underdogs, so the hope for Gibson owners is they can keep the game competitive enough to get him his carries. What is obvious, however, is that he’s an excellent runner who has a fantastic future in the NFL. (JD)
Jonathan Taylor (Ind) — We’re tentatively putting Taylor as an upgrade this week after he showed a pulse for the first time in four games since their Week 7 bye. Taylor finally got the hot-hand in the Colts backfield as he posted 22/90 rushing and 4/24 receiving on 56% of the snaps against the Packers in Week 11. He also had a 20-yard touchdown run nullified by an offensive holding call. Nyheim Hines, Week 10’s hot-hand, finished with 33 scrimmage yards on 10 opportunities on 33% of the snaps while Jordan Wilkins managed 36 scrimmage yards on five opportunities on 11% of the snaps. Taylor could easily come crashing back to the pack this week, but the second-round pick gives this offense their best chance to reach their ceiling so HC Frank Reich is going to give him chances to be the man every week. Taylor gained some trust last week so he’s now back to being a boom-or-bust low-end RB2 this week against the Titans. (TB)
Clyde Edwards-Helaire (KC) — Wait a second. CEH isn’t actually allergic to scoring touchdowns!? After finding the endzone just twice across his previous eight games because of a string of bad luck — he had multiple scores reversed because of penalties — Edwards-Helaire got into the box twice on Sunday Night against the Raiders. Le’Veon Bell also scored and looked pretty smooth as a runner, but CEH out-touched Bell 15 to 7 and out-snapped him 40 to 20. Edwards-Helaire may no longer be an every-week RB1 or RB2 option, but it’s pretty clear HC Andy Reid views Bell as a change-of-pace piece only. (GB)
Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool (Pit) — The Steelers’ offense is running through Diontae as the team’s chain-moving receiver and Claypool as the team’s deep threat and red-zone weapon much like Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant did it back in the mid-2010s. Johnson has seen double-digit targets in each of his six full games after posting 12/111 receiving on a whopping 16 targets (34.8% share) against the Jaguars. Meanwhile, Claypool became the first player in the Super Bowl era to score his 10th touchdown in his first 10 career games as he finished with 4/59/1 receiving on eight targets (17.4% share) in Week 11. He now has 8+ targets in four consecutive games as this offense is being driven by Diontae and Claypool with Ben Roethlisberger averaging 43.0 pass attempts per game over their last five contests. Diontae and Claypool will be high-end WR2s heading into their matchup with the Ravens on Thanksgiving night. (TB)
Amari Cooper (Dal) — Cooper didn’t have a massive game against the Vikings in Week 11 — he posted 6/81 on 7 targets — but man, it looked like he was consistently open against a weak secondary, and QB Andy Dalton played well enough to get him the ball. We understand that the Cowboys’ offense isn’t going to have the kind of performances that it could have had if Dak Prescott and the offensive line were fully healthy, but Dalton’s best performance of the year and the Cowboys’ line stabilizing a bit — with Zack Martin kicked out from guard to right tackle — could help Dallas sustain some offense. Two of Cooper’s next three games — vs. Washington, at Baltimore, at Cincinnati — are juicy matchups as well, so he’s back on the WR2 radar. (JD)
Calvin Ridley (ATL) — After missing a game with a foot sprain, Ridley returned this past week and looked like his usual self in the Falcons loss to the Saints. Ridley posted 5/90 (on 9 targets) and was really the only lone bright spot for this offense on Sunday. The biggest highlight of Ridley’s day actually came on the second play of the game where Ridley got loose deep over the middle of the field and hauled in a 46-yarder from Matt Ryan. Ridley has been as consistent as they come this season and has now posted 14 or more fantasy points and 60+ yards in seven of the 8 games that he’s completed. (GB)
T.J. Hockenson (Det) — Matthew Stafford has Hockenson and little else in terms of playmakers right now with Kenny Golladay (hip) and D’Andre Swift (concussion) out of the lineup. Hockenson accounted for 36.8% of Detroit’s offensive yardage against the Panthers in Week 11 as he posted 4/68 receiving on seven targets with the Lions mustering only 185 total yards and no points last week. The second-year TE now has 50+ receiving yards and/or a touchdown in nine of his 10 games this season, and he should be active this week against the Texans this week since Swift and Golladay are facing uphill battles to play this week. (TB)
Dallas Goedert (Phi) — His touchdown might have come in garbage time against the Browns in Week 11, but Goedert had his best game since Week 1, posting 5/77/1 on 6 targets while playing every offensive snap for the Eagles, against a Browns team with serious safety issues. As it stands right now, he appears to be the only receiver Carson Wentz is on the same page with in a broken offense. Hopefully, when Zach Ertz (ankle) returns to the lineup (which can be as soon as this coming week) he doesn’t crimp Goedert’s style the way Alshon Jeffery might have done to Travis Fulgham. Given how things have gone for this Eagles offense this year, expect the worst. But for now, Goedert is a TE1, though it will be interesting to see if Seattle puts S Jamal Adams on him in Week 12’s Monday night tilt. (JD)
Hunter Henry (LAC) — Henry’s streak of bad luck has run out. After seeing consistent volume every single week and not really producing much on it, Henry has now posted two back-to-back strong outings with 4/30/1 (on 6 targets) against the Dolphins and 4/48/1 (on 7 targets) last week against the Jets. With Justin Herbert running so hot, Henry has top-5 weekly upside at the weakest position in fantasy. Henry gets his two easiest matchups of the season over the next three weeks, too. The Chargers play the Bills in Week 12 and the Falcons in Week 14. Both of those defenses are bottom-two in fantasy points allowed to tight ends. (GB)
Players about whom we’re feeling less optimistic based on recent play or news.
Joe Burrow (Cin) — Obviously, these are the worst downgrades. Burrow’s season is over — and the beginning of his 2021 campaign is in jeopardy — with the cataclysmic knee injury he suffered in Week 11. It’s not just the torn ACL that’s worrisome, but the associated damage (including an MCL) that is particularly problematic. Remember, in 2017 Carson Wentz suffered a torn ACL with some LCL damage. It took Wentz until Week 3 in 2018 to return, and he hasn’t been the same since. The hope and prayer is for Burrow to make a full recovery, though being ready for the start of 2021 may be optimistic. For fantasy in the here and now, the Bengal offense goes into the tank with Ryan Finley at QB. (JD)
Christian McCaffrey (Car) — CMC missed a second game with his AC joint sprain, and he never took the practice field last week, which could be an indication he’s going to need at least another week to return to the field. The Panthers are pretty much out of playoff contention with their 4-7 record and their bye is in Week 13. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for the team to rush their franchise back this week when they can give him two more full weeks of rest and rehab. McCaffrey will hopefully return for matchups against the Broncos, the Packers, and the Football Team in the fantasy playoffs starting in Week 14. Mike Davis will get one more week as the team’s bell-cow back after rebounding with 19/64/1 rushing and 2/15 receiving against the Lions in Week 11. (TB)
Joe Mixon (Cin) — Mixon injured his foot in Week 6, managed to finish that game, and hasn’t practiced since. Then, before Week 11’s tilt with Washington, the Bengals put him on IR, meaning he has to miss at least two more games. The question now is if the Bengals will bother bringing him back at all, given the lost season with QB Joe Burrow’s knee injury. Hell, even if he does come back, this entire offense is officially in the crapper with Burrow out and Ryan Finley starting. Expect to see more Gio Bernard and Samaje Perine, but it’s not like things will go well for them either. (JD)
Alvin Kamara (NO) — Unlike Michael Thomas, the quarterback change from Drew Brees to Taysom Hill was a net negative for Alvin Kamara. Unsurprisingly, the Saints went with a much more run-heavy game plan with Hill under center — they called just 23 passes and 36 runs — and Kamara’s passing down work fell off a cliff because of it. Hill looked to scramble instead of checking down after his first or second read wasn’t available, which is obviously completely unlike Brees. Kamara saw just one target against the Falcons and didn’t haul it in. Amazingly, this marked the first time in his 60 game career that Kamara didn’t catch a single pass. Because half of Kamara’s upside in fantasy is tied to his high-volume receiving role, we have to downgrade him for as long as Brees is out. You’re never taking him out of your lineup, but just understand that we can no longer lock in 5+ receptions from Kamara every single week. (GB)
Duke Johnson (HOU) — Regardless if it’s Duke or David Johnson in the backfield, the Texans simply can not run the ball. Duke Johnson was, once again, the Texans workhorse but only managed 15 yards on 10 carries against what has been a pretty porous Patriots run defense as of late. Duke’s longest gain on the ground was 3 yards. Lol. Duke has another great matchup against the Lions on Thanksgiving but at this point, he’s nothing more than a FLEX play at best. (GB)
Marquise Brown (Bal) — We’ve buried Hollywood enough here that, barring a breakout performance, this is probably the last time he’ll be in this column. In Week 11’s loss to the Titans, Brown was held without a catch and dropped one of his 3 targets. Meanwhile, Dez M.F. Bryant caught 4 of his 5 targets for 28 yards. Yes, part of the problem is that QB Lamar Jackson still isn’t completing anything outside the numbers and down the field. That hurts Brown, but you don’t get fantasy points for the QB not throwing you the ball when he should. Brown now has five consecutive games with fewer than 10.0 FP in a PPR league. And the big plays that were supposed to define his fantasy upside have been nonexistent — he has only 18 receptions of 10 or more yards all season, which ties him for 53rd in the NFL in that category. He is droppable, and certainly not startable. (JD)
D.J. Chark (Jax) — Jacksonville’s quarterback situation is a complete mess with Jake Luton showing why he was a sixth-round pick over the last two weeks. The Jaguars could turn back to Gardner Minshew if he’s healthy enough to play, but he didn’t dress last week because of his thumb injury. The Jaguars could even turn to Mike Glennon if Minshew isn’t ready to play and if they elect to protect Luton. Jacksonville’s current quarterback situation is less than ideal for Chark, who has failed to reach double-digit FP in each of his last two games with Luton averaging just 4.4 YPA in that span. Chark has reached double-digit FP just twice in his last six games since Week 4 so he’s not a must-play WR3 until one of these Jaguar QBs brings some stability to this passing attack. (TB)
Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins (Cin) — This can be a surrogate for the entire Bengal passing game, but it’s obvious that we have to downgrade these WRs significantly following the injury to Joe Burrow (knee). Ryan Finley entered against Washington in Week 11 and went 3/10 for 30 yards with a pick and 4 sacks taken. Yikes. Finley played three games in 2019, and Boyd was targeted 20 times in those three games (6.67 per game). He averaged 9.84 targets per game with Andy Dalton last year. He caught 12 passes for 163 yards and a TD with Finley, averages of 4 catches, 54.3 yards, and 0.3 TDs per game. He averaged 6 catches, 67.9 yards, and .3 TDs per game without him. So the expectation here is for a significant downgrade across the board. It’s just a total shame. (JD)
Travis Fulgham (Phi) — Fulgham has come out of the Eagles’ bye apparently broken like the rest of the offense in Philly. He caught just 1 of 7 targets for 8 yards in a driving rain against the Browns in Week 11, his second consecutive game with just 1 catch for 8 yards (on 12 targets total). Notably, Fulgham’s only catch came on Carson Wentz’s only designed rollout of the game (which is madness in and of itself). Fulgham had some drops, which can perhaps be owed to the weather, but he’s now caught just 2 of 12 targets since Alshon Jeffery returned to the lineup. While Jeffery isn’t playing a ton — just 23 snaps the last two weeks — you have to wonder if the addition of the veteran (who is a shell of himself) to the lineup has thrown Fulgham and Wentz out of rhythm. Moreover, Pederson said on Monday that he needs Jeffery — who has no catches since his return — involved more. There is so much wrong with the decision-making structure in Philly that we can’t possibly get into it all here, but we hope Fulgham can get back on track. (JD)
Jarvis Landry (Cle) — Landry gets credit for gutting it out, but he’s been playing through hip and rib issues and whatever else is ailing him, plus he’s played in three consecutive bad-weather games in Cleveland. His 2/23 performance on 2 targets against Philly in Week 11 was a bottoming-out for Jarvis, with a season-low in catches and targets. The only other time in his career he’s had 2 or fewer targets in a game was in his first career game in 2014, when he was held catchless (for the only time of his career) on a single target. The weather isn’t helping, but Jarvis has no TDs and has reached 10 or more FP in a PPR just twice in 10 games this year. He’s barely a WR5. (JD)
Jamison Crowder (NYJ) — After being held below 50 yards for his third-straight game, it’s becoming pretty clear that Crowder’s fantasy outlook is entirely dependent upon Sam Darnold’s health. Granted, Breshad Perriman and Denzel Mims weren’t healthy when Darnold was starting — but Joe Flacco is just far more aggressive than Darnold even at this late stage of his career. Over the last two weeks, Mims (16) and Perriman (11) are the team’s top two targets while Crowder has just five passing looks. After a hot start, Crowder has become a low-ceiling WR4 and he has two tougher matchups coming up against the Dolphins and Rams secondaries as well. (GB)
None of note.
Players whom we’re not ready to upgrade or downgrade, but their situations demand monitoring based on recent play, injuries, or news.
Kyler Murray (Ari) — Kyler picked up a throwing-shoulder injury in the first quarter of Week 11, which limited him a bit the rest of the game. He still threw for 269 yards and two TDs on 29/42 passing (6.4 YPA), but he matched his season-low for rushing attempts (5/15 rushing) and he was content to throw it short to Larry Fitzgerald a season-high 10 times despite a glorious matchup against a vulnerable Seahawks secondary. Murray has easily been the QB1 through 11 weeks, but his fantasy ceiling may not be nearly as high if his throwing-shoulder injury lingers past Week 11. Kyler obviously isn’t leaving fantasy lineups but his shoulder issue is at least something to monitor this week. (TB)
JK Dobbins (Bal) — The fact that Dobbins and Mark Ingram tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday is a massive bummer, because his Week 11 performance suggested something might be changing. The Ravens’ offense has been a disaster this year, but perhaps they could get a little bit more consistency if they would actually use their good players. In a loss to the Titans in Week 11, Dobbins had what might amount to a breakout game, as he posted 15/70/1 rushing and 2/15 receiving on a 63% snap share. The 17 touches were a career high. The 15 carries tied a career high, and the 70 yards were the second time Dobbins topped 50 in his brief NFL career (he had 113 three weeks ago against Pittsburgh). But something felt different about this game: Gus Edwards played just 20% of the offensive snaps, and Mark Ingram played just 9% (6 total). Ingram has just 7 carries for 7 yards over his last two games, and it’s perhaps finally time for the struggling Ravens to pull him out of the lineup in favor of the younger and more gifted Dobbins. Unfortunately, that’s going to have to wait until at least Week 13, because Dobbins and Ingram are both out for Thanksgiving’s tilt with the Steelers. (JD)
D’Andre Swift (Det) — Swift went into the concussion protocol in the middle of last week before their matchup with the Panthers, which means he may not be ready for their Thanksgiving game with the Texans. It’s a bummer since the Lions let him finally break out in Week 10 with 149/1 scrimmage against the Football Team. Detroit could muster only 185 yards and they didn’t even reach the red zone in their shutout loss to the Panthers last week without Swift and Kenny Golladay. (TB)
Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay (Den) — Gordon and Lindsay could muster only 48 rushing yards on 15 carries against the Raiders in Week 10 so of course they went wild for 166/2 rushing on 31 carries in a tough matchup against the Dolphins in Week 11. Gordon finished with 15/84/2 rushing with his fourth lost fumble of the season while Lindsay had 16/82 while they weren’t targeted in the passing games against the Dolphins. The Broncos should lean into their rushing attack going forward with Drew Lock struggling, but that could be easier said than done against a tough Saints run outfit this week. Use Gordon and Linsday at your own risk going forward as RB3s. (TB)
Damien Harris (NE) — After racking up 25 yards and a score on the Patriots opening drive, it seemed like Harris was well on his way to a monster day against the Texans porous run defense. Unfortunately, Harris only got six more carries throughout the rest of the game because the Patriots defense could not stop Deshaun Watson at all. The Patriots abandoned their run game and that meant Harris was taken off of the field in favor of Rex Burkhead and James White. At the end of the day, Harris had 11/43/1 rushing and caught one pass for 11 yards. Unfortunately, the Patriots fear that Burkhead tore his ACL during the game which would be yet another blow to a team that has zero weapons. After Burkhead left the game in the third quarter, the Patriots made White their primary passing down back again. If Burkhead is indeed out for the rest of the season, it’ll be interesting to see just how this backfield shakes out. Harris has clearly earned the lead role, but the team elevated Sony Michel off of injured reserve last week. Michel was a healthy scratch in Week 11 but may get back on the field next week because of Burkhead’s injury. (GB)
Adam Thielen (Min) — With 11 receiving TD (an NFL high) on 49 receptions, Thielen is basically posting Tecmo Super Bowl numbers for the Vikings right now. Unfortunately, Minnesota might not have him in Week 12, as he was placed on the COVID-19 list on Monday (there’s no indication whether he tested positive or is a close contact of someone who did). In week 11, he had his best game of the 2020 NFL campaign in perhaps its juiciest matchup, roasting Dallas for 8/123/2 on 11 targets in a losing effort. Thielen has now scored 2 TD in back-to-back games, and has four multi-TD games this year. He’s basically the new Rob Gronkowski, in that he has such a unique ability to get open in the end zone, his QB trusts him implicitly, and he also makes consistently spectacular catches when he isn’t wide-ass open. Thielen and Justin Jefferson are still a little bit shaky as truly elite fantasy WRs, because they’re in an offense that would throw the ball 15 times a week if Mike Zimmer had his druthers, and there’s always some goose-egg potential, more so than you’d get from like a Davante Adams. But Thielen’s upside is just so massive that it’s impossible to sit him, as more weeks than not, he’s a slam-dunk WR1. Hopefully, he’s off the COVID list soon. (JD)
Kenny Golladay (Det) — It’s been a lost season for Golladay who missed his third consecutive game because of a hip injury he initially suffered in Week 8. He could be hard-pressed to return in Week 12 since the Lions have a short week to get ready for their traditional Thanksgiving game against the Texans. Golladay tried to return to practice last Wednesday before missing the final two days of practice, which suggests he could have an uphill battle to play this week. Detroit could muster only 185 yards and they didn’t even reach the red zone in their shutout loss to the Panthers last week without Golladay and D’Andre Swift. (TB)
DeVante Parker (Mia) — Miami’s quarterback situation remains a bit unsettled after HC Brian Flores benched rookie Tua Tagovailoa for Ryan Fitzpatrick with 10 minutes remaining in Week 11. Fitz couldn’t lead the Dolphins back to the victory as he got picked off on a pass intended for Parker in the end zone. Parker survived last week with 6/61/1 receiving on nine targets, which included a beautiful toe-tap touchdown from three yards out from Tua, but he clearly has more downside potential with Tua the game-manager in the lineup. Flores diffused the situation by announcing after the game that Tua would remain the starter going forward, which certainly lowers Parker’s ceiling for the time being. We’ll see if Tua can elevate his play down the stretch or we could see more Fitzmagic before the season is over, which would definitely be a positive for Parker and this passing attack. (TB)
Julio Jones (ATL) — Julio’s up and down season continued in Week 11 after his hamstring tightened up after a 17-yard catch in the first quarter against the Saints. Jones missed most of the second and third quarter and tried to come back into the game when the Falcons were in desperation mode in the fourth, but he limped off again after catching a 22-yarder and did not return. If you remember, Julio dealt with hammy issues earlier this season that caused him to miss two games. We’ll know more about the severity of Julio’s latest hammy issue later this week. (GB)
Jonnu Smith (Ten) — Jonnu posted 4/20/1 on 6 targets against the Ravens in Week 11, but he had to gut through an ankle injury to play 74% of the offensive snaps — he had his right ankle pretty heavily wrapped during the game. It’s worth noting because, while he produced a solid fantasy day, he’s not 100%, and that injury is clearly one aggravated from earlier in the season. Moreover, QB Ryan Tannehill has shown a serious rapport with backup TE Anthony Firkser, which gives the Titans an out if Jonnu needs to take a week or two off. He’s a rough guy to trust to start at TE right now given the injury. (JD)