Fantasy Football Intelligence: Everybody Hurts

Check out this team. Despite the weakness at QB and K, I think I would have taken this team for any league.

QB: Drew Lock, Jimmy Garoppolo, Tyrod Taylor

RB: Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, Raheem Mostert, Cam Akers

WR: Michael Thomas, Davante Adams, A.J. Brown, Chris Godwin, Kenny Golladay, Courtland Sutton

TE: George Kittle

DEF: 49ers

K: Eddy Piniero

A month ago we discussed the likelihood of increased soft tissue injuries this season, but this is excessive. Each of the players above either didn’t play or was injured in week two. Barkley and Sutton’s injuries are the most severe, both tore an ACL, ending their seasons. The 49ers defense is included here because defensive rookie of the year Nick Bosa also tore an ACL and former first rounder Solomon Thomas went out with a knee injury. Richard Sherman already sits on IR and Dee Ford is also out. The “good news” is that only Bosa’s injury seems season ending, but there will be some missed games in that group. The best course is to stay close to Twitter and monitor the status of these players, all of whom besides the QB/K are regular fantasy starters; many are superstars. If you own these guys, the next few weeks will be a test of your team’s depth and your ability to manage the waiver wire. Fortunately there are two more weeks before the bye weeks start and week five only has two teams (GB & DET) off.

Here are three considerations coming out of week two.

Week Three RB/WR Pickups Following The Decimation

So Thanos snapped his fingers and one or more of your starters has turned to dust. What’s out there? Here are a few players owned in less than 50% of Yahoo leagues that have fill-in value:

RB

Joshua Kelley, Chargers (39%) – He passes the eye test and has 40 touches in two weeks. He has a home game with Carolina this week. He’ll be at the top of a lot of lists.

Jerick MacKinnon, 49ers (23%) – Looked better than Coleman after Mostert went out, Mostert may be out a few weeks and the 49ers play the Giants in week 3.

Miles Gaskin, Dolphins (15%) – 26 touches and 144 yards in two weeks. He’s not a league winner, but he has a floor if you are desperate at RB. Miami visits Jacksonville next week.

Frank Gore, Jets (14%) – If you are looking at Gore, things aren’t going well, but he is at least good for some volume the next couple of weeks though the Jets matchups aren’t great (@ IND, vs. DEN)

MIke Davis, Panthers (5%) – If you are a McCaffrey owner, Davis is the handcuff. He caught 8/74 so he should be okay regardless of game flow. Next two games are @LAC and vs. Arizona, so he’d be playable if McCaffrey sits for a week or two. The bigger concern is, will McCaffrey continue to handle nearly 100% of the workload when he returns?

Darrell Henderson, Rams (33%) – He will be a hot pickup this week, but don’t get overly excited by this week’s 14 touches, 121 yards and a TD. Akers was injured early and Brown went out later, clearing the field in a game where the Rams led throughout. Even if Akers misses time, I would not be surprised to see Brown hold on to the goal line work at a minimum, limiting Henderson’s upside during Akers’ absence.

Dion Lewis, Giants (6%) – He got most of the play once Barkley went out, but is unlikely to be a workhorse. Expect a committee approach and possibly a free agent signing, either Robert Turbin (he knows the offense) or even Devonta Freeman, who visited the Eagles last week.

WR

Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Packers (36%) – The floor is lower than ideal, but he is in the mix in GB and will be even more targeted if Adams misses time. Similar rationale for Allen Lazard (47%), but MVS has seen more targets so far.

Russell Gage, Falcons (22%) – He’s averaged over seven targets a game since Sanu was traded last year and he is WR14 so far this season in standard scoring. He should be on a roster in most leagues after this week.

Corey Davis, Titans (42%) – Even when A. J. Brown played in week one, Davis was just as involved. Tennessee is run-first, but especially with Brown out, Davis will see the most air yards among their receivers. I’m not sleeping on TE Jonnu Smith, but he is riding high after two weeks with three TDs. Expect him to regress to the mean once Derrick Henry (59 touches, 215 yards and 0 TDs through week 2) starts crossing the stripe.

Keelan Cole, Jaguars (2%) – Averaging six targets a week and a TD so far this year, and available in all but the deepest leagues. Favorable matchups with Miami and Cincinnati the next two weeks.

The Colts, Vikings and Jaguars

The day after the Jags beat the Colts, Yahoo dutifully informed me of tens of thousands of teams that dropped the Colts defense. No thank you, I said. I wasn’t sure about the Vikings, but leading into their week seven bye, the Colts schedule is vs. NYJ, @CHI, @CLE, vs. CIN; I wanted a piece of that. The smothering of the Vikings was a pleasant surprise. I’ll cut the defense in week 7 before they hit the meat of their schedule, but they still look like a division winner. Marlon Mack’s season ending injury was a dramatic reversal of fortune for Jonathan Taylor. He becomes a top ten back behind that line as long as his fumbling problems don’t rear their head in the red zone.

The Jaguars are playing better than expected and credit belongs to Gardner Minshew. He’s currently QB9 right behind Patrick Mahomes and just ahead of Lamar Jackson. Let that sink in. MInshew is a viable bye week fill in or injury replacement; he may not win much, but he is a competitor and he’s thrown 6 TDs in two weeks against decent defenses. If you are carrying two QBs in a 10 or 12 team league, you can probably cut the backup with the confidence that you can find a good matchup on the waiver wire for his bye week.

The Vikings look bad. Mike Zimmer has been a good coach, but the offense has looked out of sync with Gary Kubiak and the defense is pedestrian. They have Tennessee in week three and go to Houston for week four in a game that could be a must win game for two teams that may both be 0-3 by then. Cook and Thielen are the only Vikings worth owning unless your roster is big enough to stash Mattison. The defense has had two sacks and one interception and currently ranks 29th; you can play your skill players against them and feel good about it until further notice.

Backfield Hell: Two is Unwanted Company and Three is an Unruly Crowd

In our draft strategy we stressed the importance of locking down two running backs in the first three rounds of your draft. A running back that sees 65% of the work is like gold in today’s NFL, especially on a good team. Case in point, Jonathan Taylor went from ~RB20 to a top 10 play when Marlon Mack was extracted. Mark Ingram was RB8 last year when he recorded 228 touches in 15 games (15 touches per game). Through two weeks, J.K. Dobbins is RB23 and Ingram is RB31, averaging a total 15 touches per game. If they were combined, the two would be RB5. Backfield committees around the league are creating floor problems in LA (Rams and Chargers), Tampa, Baltimore and Detroit. The Rams specifically said that they hope to keep their opponents guessing every week; they will do the same for fantasy owners. If you are holding the brand name in any of those backfields (Akers, Ekeler, Ingram, Swift(?)), consider trying to build a deal to acquire a back in a more secure situation. There may be some risk (FFI holds a lot of David Johnson shares for example), but you may want to pursue higher floor options that you know will see 15-20 touches every week and receive the bulk of the red zone work. Cleveland’s dominant rushing performance against Cincinnati last Thursday has given them some statistical cover in this discussion, but as it stands now, neither Chubb nor Hunt is as reliable as Josh Jacobs. While Chris Carson is averaging 16 touches for Seattle and is only losing 7 touches/week to Carlos Hyde, even four of those touches would add at least 1.5 points to Carson’s weekly output. Last year he averaged 22 touches per game (325 in 15 games), this year he is on pace for 256 touches. The three TDs in two games are masking the decline in opportunity share for now.

How to use this information? When setting your lineup, start the RBs you think are most likely to get the most volume. Dobbins’ two TDs in week 1 were intoxicating, but until at least one of the Baltimore RBs gets hurt, you are playing Russian Roulette. Same thing with the Rams. The Lions too, except there are five bullets in the gun instead of one. Chase high floors and consistency at RB if you want to be playing for a championship.

This week demands a theme song.

 

 

 

 

Lee Benjamin

Lee Benjamin has been a football fan since Jim Plunkett was under center for the Patriots and his first ever fantasy football pick was a young Jerry Rice. He’s won more championships during Tom Brady’s career than Tom Brady, though unfortunately, they pay a lot less. His blog, Fantasy Football Intelligence, is published regularly on the WTPL, WTSN and Frank-FM sites. Lee spent over 25 years in New England media. He now resides in South Florida and enjoys freelance writing about sports and politics.