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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.
None of note.
Elijah Mitchell (SF) — Mitchell has firmly established himself as the team’s workhorse runner after his third 100-yard rushing performance in five tries. The sixth-round pick posted a season-best 19.7 FPG with 18/137/1 rushing against the Bears in Week 8, and JaMycal Hasty was distant second in this backfield with 3/4 rushing. Mitchell is now averaging a healthy 5.4 YPC and 86.6 rushing yards per game, and he’s seen 17+ carries in four of his five games. The only downside to his usage is that he’s been a complete zero as a receiver with just four combined targets this season. Mitchell doesn’t see enough passing game work to be considered as a locked-in RB1, but his heavy usage in one of the league’s best rushing attacks makes him a high-end RB2 for the foreseeable future. (Tom Brolley)
Michael Carter (NYJ) — After getting a big role increase last week coming out of the bye, Carter’s role continued to grow in the Jets' shock win over the Bengals. Carter set season-highs in carries (15) and targets (14) as Mike White checked the ball down relentlessly in his 405-yard performance. Carter had 77 yards and a score on the ground and added 9 catches for 95 yards through the air en route to finishing as the RB1 on the week (32.2 FP). Jets fans don’t want to hear this, but White gives them a better chance to win than Zach Wilson right now. Credit OC Matt LaFleur for coming up with a great game-plan against the Bengals, but the fact of the matter is that White provides a big boost to the Jets entire offense for fantasy. Obviously, the Jets will have to go back to the No. 2 overall pick when Wilson is back healthy – but for the time being, those that held Carter are going to be treated to a high-end RB2 with Carter at the controls. Through seven quarters, Carter has gotten 22 targets from White. Meanwhile, Carter got just 14 targets from Wilson in Weeks 1-5. (Graham Barfield)
AJ Brown (Ten) — Through Week 5, AJB had played in four games, picked up a hamstring injury, and had 10 catches. After Week 5, a game in which he played a limited 64% snap share, Brown indicated he might need to be smart about his injuries — which also include two offseason knee surgeries — the rest of the way. Well, if “being smart” means he takes several practices off and then performs this well on Sundays, we’ll take it. Brown posted 10/155/1 on 11 targets against the Colts in Week 8’s thrilling victory, meaning he now has 25/379/2 on 29 targets over the last three games, a span over which he ranks as the overall WR2, behind only Cooper Kupp. And with Derrick Henry (foot) out for an extended period, I hope Brown can handle the massive target shares coming his way. He was a buzzkill for five weeks, now he looks like a league-winner. (Joe Dolan)
Michael Pittman (Ind) — After last Sunday’s win over the 49ers in sloppy conditions, Colt QB Carson Wentz said he likes throwing it to Pittman because he doesn’t need to be perfect, and he trusts his receiver to go make a play. It is, admittedly, something he seriously lacked in Philly the last couple years. You also saw the downside of that in Week 8’s loss to the Titans, because Wentz forced the ball to a triple-covered Pittman in overtime, resulting in his second back-breaking interception of the game, this one costing them the win. It was a completely boneheaded play by Wentz, but for fantasy purposes, we’ll take a quarterback force-feeding one guy — Pittman had 10/86/2 receiving on 15 targets, and he’s now scored in three of the Colts’ last four games. With TY Hilton (concussion/quad) again hurt, Pittman’s going to be the apple of Wentz’s eye for the foreseeable future… and for better or worse. (JD)
Jerry Jeudy (Den) — Jeudy made his much anticipated return to the lineup in Week 8 after missing the last six games because of a high-ankle sprain. The Broncos eased their second-year WR back into the mix with the third-highest snap share (72%) at the position, and he hauled in all four of his targets (15% share) for 39 yards. Teddy Bridgewater targeted seven different players in Week 8 and each player saw either three or four targets, but it shouldn’t take Jeudy long to become Teddy’s preferred target out of the slot in this passing attack. Jeudy appeared to be moving fairly well and he didn’t suffer any setbacks so his playing time should tick up in the upcoming weeks. He could take off for fantasy as soon as this week in a potential higher-scoring affair with the Cowboys. (TB)
Brandin Cooks (Hou) — Cooks was staring at his fourth floor game in his last five contests in Week 8 before the garbage-time production rolled in late against the Rams. Cooks had just a 10-yard catch through the first 48 minutes of action before he poured it on late to finish with 6/83/1 receiving. It was his first performance with 18+ FP since he opened the year hitting the mark in three straight games, and he could have a much better chance to maintain his production if Tyrod Taylor (hamstring) is finally activated off of the injured reserve after he returned to practice and got some reps with the first-team offense last week. Cooks will remain a volatile WR2 no matter who is at quarterback, but he has a much better chance of coming through with the veteran quarterback. Cooks posted 10/182 receiving on 12 targets in just six quarters with Taylor earlier this season. (TB)
Tyler Lockett (Sea) — He lives! Or, we should say, Geno Smith remembered he lives! After an absolutely brutal three game stretch with Geno under center where he had 5/57, 2/35, and 2/12 receiving – Lockett absolutely shredded the Jaguars for 12/142 on 13 targets. It appears the Seahawks did some (much-needed) self scouting this past week after Lockett got a season-low 3 targets in Week 7’s loss to the Saints and made it a point to get him the rock against the lowly Jaguars. Unfortunately, Lockett’s big game likely came on your bench, but at the very least, it was good to see him back healthy after dealing with a hip injury for most of October. Seattle has their bye in Week 9 and are hoping that Russell Wilson will be back in time to start in Week 10 when they take on the Packers. (GB)
Dallas Goedert (Phi) — While the Eagles ran the ball profusely in Week 8, and QB Jalen Hurts threw just 14 passes in a 44-6 win, it was clear who Hurts’ top target was — Goedert. The Eagles star TE was targeted 7 times on those 14 throws, catching 6 of them for 72 yards. He’s now topped 70 yards receiving in each of the Eagles’ first two games without Zach Ertz, setting consecutive season-highs in receiving yards, and the fact that he did this when Philly’s offense barely had to throw the ball in a blowout win is a good sign for his future value. (JD)
Players about whom we’re feeling less optimistic based on recent play or news.
Justin Herbert (LAC) — Herbert appeared to have turned a corner with 11 TD passes in Weeks 3-5 after he threw for a combined two touchdowns in the first two weeks of the season. He’s come crashing back to earth in his last two games with Mike Williams disappearing and with defensive masterminds Bill Belichick and Wink Martindale sinking their teeth into him. He’s completed 40/74 passes (54.1%) for 418 yards (5.7 YPA), three TDs, and three INTs against the Patriots and Ravens in LA’s last two games. Herbert has now fallen below 17 FP in four of his seven games, but he has given us the best fantasy performance (42.8 FP in Week 5) and the 12th-best performance (30.8 in Week 3) at the position this season. Herbert’s fantasy performances have been all over the map this season, but he’s difficult to pull from starting lineups since his ceiling performances rank up there with any quarterback. He’s having a difficult time right now, but he’s talented enough and loaded with a great cast to snap out of it in a big way in the near future. (TB)
Derrick Henry (Ten) — We want to die. Henry suffered a broken foot at some point during the Titans’ Week 8 dramatic win over the Colts, and while there’s no timeframe just yet, there is a possibility he is out for the rest of the season following Tuesday surgery. Obviously, the Titans’ offense changes entirely with Henry out, and they will have no choice but to throw the ball more — they now have every incentive to get Julio Jones as healthy as possible, especially since they have what is functionally a four-game lead with nine games to play in the AFC South. The Titans will increase scatback Jeremy McNichols’ role in Henry’s absence, but it’s likely they will make another move to at least try to get a back who can do an even subpar Henry impression — they have already signed Adrian Peterson — because Darrynton Evans just got put on season-ending IR himself. In the meantime, they hope Henry can return in time for the playoffs. If you’re lucky, he might return for your playoffs. (JD)
From NFL Now: #Titans RB Derrick Henry will have foot surgery tomorrow morning and be out 6-10 weeks. Six would be quite fast, eight is more likely. Either way, Tennessee expects Henry back this season. pic.twitter.com/UzoJqNlcFF— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 1, 2021
Antonio Gibson (Was) — Gibson is playing through a stress fracture in his shin, which has limited his practice time and it’s now limiting his playing time the last three weeks. Gibson hasn’t played more than 42% of the snaps in his last three games, and he’s coming off season-lows in snap share (33%) and carries (8) against the Broncos in Week 8. UDFA rookie Jaret Patterson had just nine carries entering Week 8, but he left Denver 11/46 rushing on a season-best 23% snap share. Patterson should be stashed just in case the injury becomes too much for Gibson to play through or if the team decides to shut him down at some point with their season heading south. This season is quickly going down as a lost one for Gibson and for the entire Washington organization (what else is new). Washington is sitting at just two wins entering its Week 9 bye, and it wouldn’t be shocking if they pull the plug on Gibson before Washington takes the field again in Week 10. Even if he does keep playing, it’s time for most fantasy owners to pull the plug on Gibson in their fantasy lineups. (TB)
Calvin Ridley (Atl) — Ridley was a surprise inactive on Sunday morning with a personal matter, and during the action in Week 8, he released a statement on his Twitter account indicating he will be taking time off indefinitely to focus on mental health. Obviously, there is no set plan or idea for when Ridley can come back, we just hope he gets the help he needs. (JD)
Chase Claypool (Pit) — Claypool has been a major disappointment in his first two games since the Steelers lost JuJu Smith-Schuster to a season-ending shoulder injury. He mustered 4/45 receiving on just five targets (15% share) despite playing a season-best 97% of the snaps against the Broncos. Claypool has a combined 6/62 receiving on 12 targets since Smith-Schuster left the lineup, while Diontae Johnson continues to be showered with opportunities, posting 15/169 receiving on 26 looks. Claypool is still playing with one of the league’s worst downfield passers in Ben Roethlisberger, and he’s playing next to one of the league’s biggest ball hogs in Diontae. Claypool will have better days ahead, but he’s still a boom-or-bust WR3 even with JuJu out of the lineup. (TB)
Mike Williams (LAC) — Williams’ roaring start to the season feels like a distant memory after his third performance with five or fewer FP in his last four games. He flopped again with 2/19 receiving on five targets (14% share) against the Patriots in Week 8. It’s fair to wonder if he’s still bothered by a knee injury that kept him out of practice before Week 6, but he did play a season-best 90% snap share and he logged full practices before Week 8. Big Mike has been the definition of a boom-or-bust option with 22+ FP in four games and fewer than five FP in his other three contests. Even with his disappointing recent run, Williams has shown one of the best fantasy ceilings at the position this season and he has a massive role in this offense. His owners have to suck it up and take the really good with the really bad moving forward. (TB)
DeVonta Smith (Phi) — The Eagles did what their fans, their media, and potentially even the President of the United States (an Eagles fan) have been begging for — they ran the ball. They ran it with alacrity. They ran it frequently. And they ran it effectively. Eagles RBs had 37 carries, 144 yards, and 4 TD against the Lions on Sunday. WR Jalen Reagor had 2 more for 21. And QB Jalen Hurts added 7 for 71. And in a 44-6 win, Hurts threw just 14 passes. Three of those 14 were targeted to Smith, but he caught just 1, and when a QB is throwing just 14 passes, there isn’t enough to go around for a receiver to produce consistently. The Eagles will almost certainly need to throw more in coming weeks — they play the Chargers in Week 9 — but this was clearly a step toward playing better football for them. But it’s going to be hard to trust a rookie WR when a team is correctly taking things off its young QB’s plate. (JD)
Odell Beckham (Cle) — OBJ had fewer than 30 receiving yards in three of his last four games heading into Week 8, and it somehow got worse for him in Cleveland’s loss to the Steelers. He caught his only target for six yards despite seeing the second-highest snap share at the position (73%), and he’s now scored fewer than six FP in four of his last five games. Jarvis Landry is the clear alpha receiver in this offense after seeing another 10 targets against Pittsburgh, and the rest of this passing attack can be left on the waiver wire with Baker Mayfield playing poorly through a left shoulder injury. That includes OBJ, who is a shell of his old self as he currently plays through an AC joint injury. (TB)
Noah Fant (Den) — Jerry Jeudy most notably returned to Denver’s lineup in Week 8, but #2 TE Albert Okwuegbunam also returned to action after a three-week layoff for a hamstring injury. His presence in the lineup has been bad news for Fant’s fantasy output, including against Washington when he posted a season-worst 2/8 receiving on four targets on a season-low 77% of the snaps. Fant is now averaging 4.0/32.8 receiving on 6.2 targets per game with two overall touchdowns in five contests with Albert O, compared to Fant’s 5.7/52.0 receiving on 7.3 targets per game with one touchdown in three contests without Albert O. Teddy Bridgewater targeted seven different players in Week 8 and each player saw either three or four targets. That’s a less than ideal target distribution, and Fant has too much target competition to safely be considered as a no-doubt, low-end TE1 moving forward. (TB)
Mike Gesicki (Mia) — With DeVante Parker back and in a tough matchup, Mike Gesicki came back down to earth with just 3 catches for 48 yards on four targets against the Bills. Gesicki had been one of the hottest tight ends in fantasy – he was the TE3 in FPG (16.9) from Weeks 3-7 – and it appears that he’ll be negatively affected by Parker re-emerging. While Jaylen Waddle (31% target share) and Parker (28%) hogged all of the targets, Gesicki sank to a season-low 10% target share. Granted, Tua Tagovailoa struggled against the league’s best defense, but Gesicki’s ancillary usage is a cause for concern. We’re still in a holding pattern with Will Fuller (finger) – he won’t practice again this week – but if/when he’s able to return, it’ll just be another smaller ding to Gesicki’s overall target share. (GB)
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) — Murray is coming off his worst fantasy performance (11.1 FP) of the season against the Packers, and he picked up an ankle injury on the final drive of the game. FOX’s Jay Glazer said on Sunday that the injury could potentially keep him out for 1-3 weeks (@SF, Car, @Sea). Murray does have an extra three days to get ready for San Francisco since they played on TNF in Week 8, but backup plans should be made if he has to rest this week. If Murray is healthy enough to play, HC Kliff Kingsbury could cut down on the design run for his quarterback, who has just 26/38 rushing (1.5 YPC) in the last four weeks anyway. (TB)
Dak Prescott (Dal) — After Cooper Rush dissected the Vikings for 325 yards and 2 TDs on national TV, where are all of the #QBsDon’tMatter folks at? Isn’t this how it works? A backup – just like D’Ernest Johnson last week – has the game of their life and people miserably decry how their position doesn’t matter? Curious! Joking aside, Rush played exceptionally well against the Vikings (outside of one really bad mistake) and did a phenomenal job just distributing the ball to the Cowboys top receivers. Both Amari Cooper (8/122/1) and CeeDee Lamb (6/112) went off and it was clear that Dallas’ staff made it a point to build in clear progressions to their top guys. As for Dak Prescott, NBC’s Michelle Tafoya reported during the broadcast that Dallas’ is internally expecting Dak to miss 3-4 weeks with his calf injury and we are now two weeks into that timeline. So, it at least gives Dak a chance to play in Week 9 vs. the Broncos – but the Cowboys have every reason to be cautious here. Dallas can lock up the NFC East easily with just a few more wins and have no reason to push Dak to play against a 4-4 Broncos team that just traded Von Miller. Don’t be surprised if Rush makes another start. (GB)
Christian McCaffrey (Car) — McCaffrey has missed the last five games with a hamstring injury, with the Panthers finally getting a victory in Week 8 after an 0-4 run without him. Chuba Hubbard did a solid enough job filling in, but he simply isn’t the dynamic weapon that CMC is. Fortunately for the Panthers — and fantasy players — CMC appears on schedule to return from his three-game IR stint in Week 9 against the Patriots, or Week 10 at the latest. (JD)
Christian McCaffrey (hamstring) didn't travel with the Panthers to Atlanta, but he remains on target to come off injured reserve for next Sunday's game against New England. Much will be learned on Wednesday when Carolina begins game prep.— David Newton (@DNewtonespn) October 31, 2021
D’Andre Swift (Det) — Swift had a rough game against Philly in Week 8, tallying just 27 yards on 12 carries and 24 yards on 5 receptions… while also losing a fumble. It was a disastrous game across the board for the Lions, and Swift wasn’t able to take advantage of Jamaal Williams being out with a hip injury and an illness. It was just a dominant performance from an Eagle defense that desperately needed one, and the Lions didn’t get the QB or OL play to withstand it. The Lions go on bye, and Williams’ injury isn’t expected to be serious, so he should be back in Week 10. If not, we’ll reevaluate Swift’s upside. We’re not panicking after one bad game, but boy, that was ugly. (JD)
James Robinson (JAX) — Robinson’s day was cut short after just 4 carries and 8 total snaps after he exited with a heel injury and didn’t return. The good news is that the injury doesn't appear to be serious and Robinson might end up not missing much time at all. In the meantime, Carlos Hyde would get the start with Dare Ogunbowale mixing in on passing downs if J-Rob were to miss Week 9’s game against Buffalo. Hyde played on 66% of the Jags’ snaps and got 9 carries and 8 targets in relief of Robinson against Seattle. (GB)
Urban Meyer says James Robinson is day-to-day with his bruised heel.— John Shipley (@_John_Shipley) November 1, 2021
Notes they had issues in pass pro at RB when he left with the injury, but still thought Carlos Hyde ran tough yesterday and he has confidence in him.
Chris Carson (Sea) — We always have to take what the always-optimistic Pete Carroll has to say about injuries with a grain of salt, but it does appear that Chris Carson (neck) is nearing a return. Speaking Monday, Carroll said that Carson “plans on practicing” and “intends to play against the Packers” in Week 10 after their Week 9 bye. We’ll see. Our Edwin Porras has been suggesting for weeks that Carson’s neck problem is a chronic issue and his workload will come down to whether or not the injury flares up on him. Make no mistake: Seattle definitely needs Carson. Alex Collins is beat up and there is no way they can trust Rashaad Penny in anything more than a change-up role. (GB)
UPDATED— Edwin Porras, DPT (@FBInjuryDoc) October 14, 2021
Chris Carson pic.twitter.com/8ExAIsVj2d
DeAndre Hopkins (Ari) — Hopkins came into Week 8 nursing a hamstring injury, and the issue kept him out of practice before their Thursday night contest and it limited him to a 25% snap share against the Packers. He made the most out of his two targets, turning them into 66 yards, but his big play of the game proved costly. Nuk aggravated his hamstring injury on a 55-yard catch down the sidelines in the middle of the first quarter, and the play initially went down as a 61-yard touchdown before it came back for a facemask penalty on Hopkins near the end of his run. Nuk played sparingly in critical passing situations after that play, and his health will need to be monitored moving forward. He at least gets 10 days to rest his hamstring before the Cardinals are in action against the 49ers. (TB)
Michael Thomas (NO) — Unfortunately with Thomas getting closer to his intended return date the Saints are going to have to switch up their offense. Jameis Winston would have been the perfect QB for Michael Thomas because Winston locks in on his guys and isn’t afraid of contested throws, but the Saints confirmed that Winston tore his ACL vs. the Buccaneers. Meanwhile, Taysom Hill has missed their last two games with a concussion and will need to clear protocol to play in Week 9 vs. the Falcons. The last update we have on Thomas’ status is from October 18 where NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport mentioned that Thomas is still “weeks away.” Obviously, the Saints desperately need Thomas but they have no reason to rush him back at this point. They just need him in time for their playoff push. And, after picking up a huge win against Tampa, they’re now 5-2 and now have a 79% chance to make the playoffs according to FiveThirtyEight. (GB)
Antonio Brown (TB) — AB missed his second-straight game with an ankle/heel injury as the Bucs’ played it safe and gave him an extra week to get right with their bye coming in Week 9. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport did mention on Sunday morning that Tampa is expecting to have Brown back in Week 10. We’ll see. AB was spotted on crutches last week and Tampa obviously needs him healthy for their playoff run. (GB)
George Kittle (SF) — Kittle has been out of the lineup since Week 5 with a calf injury, but he could return to the lineup this week in a pivotal NFC West showdown for the 49ers. Speaking after San Francisco’s Week 8 victory, HC Kyle Shanahan said he expected to get Kittle back in action this week against the Cardinals but he stopped short of guaranteeing his return. Based on his third-round ADP, Kittle was off to a slow start as the TE10 (10.7 FPG) through the first four weeks of the season. He still could easily turn around his season and be one the most impactful fantasy TEs in the second half of the season if he can manage to stay healthy, which has been a big ask in recent years. (TB)
Kyle Pitts (Atl) — With Calvin Ridley taking an indefinite absence to focus on his mental health, Pitts is now the Falcons’ top dawg in the offense. It surely didn’t translate on Sunday against the Panthers, as Pitts posted just 2/13 receiving on 6 targets, but rest assured the production will come. Just keep in mind that Pitts himself said he was a focus of added attention from the Panthers’ defense, which clearly makes sense — Carolina debuted new CB Stephon Gilmore, and while he played limited snaps, Gilmore’s major focus was on Pitts in Week 8. Pitts’ matchups will get easier, and he’ll learn from this game. Pitts is going to be peppered with targets moving forward. (JD)
"I think I can do better. Starting with preparation. So I'll come back better tomorrow ready to practice and have a better next week."— Kris Rhim (@krisrhim1) October 31, 2021
Kyle Pitts admitted that Stephon Gilmore gave him his welcome to the NFL moment in Sunday's loss to the Panthers.https://t.co/yAOgcslGYk
Robert Tonyan (GB) — Tonyan’s season is over just when he started to show signs of life in his last two games, and he suffered his season-ending injury on his most exposive play of the season — a 32-yard catch-and-run — against the Cardinals in Week 8. Tonyan’s 2021 season will go down as a major disappointment after he finished with a hyper-efficient TE6 finish in 2020. It’s fair to wonder if he’ll go down as a one-year fantasy wonder since he has a limited track record of success, and he’ll be coming off a major knee injury at 28 years old next season. At best, he’ll be a late-round flyer in drafts next summer. Marcedes Lewis and Josiah Degura will see bumps in playing time moving forward, but they’re unlikely to emerge as fantasy-relevant options in most formats. (TB)
Rob Gronkowski (TB) — Even though Tampa has their bye in Week 9, Gronk somewhat surprisingly suited up vs. the Saints. Gronk had missed four-straight games with cracked ribs and a punctured lung and only played six snaps before leaving the game early with back spasms. In his Monday presser, HC Bruce Arians said that “Gronk probably shouldn’t have played” and that “he kept begging to get in there… then he re-injured himself.” Yikes. Hopefully Gronk’s decision to play doesn’t set him back and cause him to miss even more time. Tampa gets Washington in Week 10 after the bye. (GB)