Many a successful NFL season, and by the same token, many a successful fantasy football season, is determined by a team’s relative health.
For actual teams as well as fantasy managers, when a player such as Christian McCaffrey goes down, it’s a difficult pill to swallow. There simply isn’t much you can do. Some teams have better backups than others, and some fantasy managers actually will handcuff starters with the No. 2 on the same team (it makes perfect sense with Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, for instance).
Injuries also have tentacles, particularly when a quarterback is involved. The Seattle Seahawks without Russell Wilson are like spaghetti without sauce. It’s not really spaghetti then, is it? It’s just wet noodles, kind of like the Seattle offense has been.
The drop-off for DK Metcalf hasn’t been quite as precipitous as that of Tyler Lockett. Metcalf at least has managed to find the end zone twice with Geno Smith throwing to him. Lockett has barely found the ball since Wilson suffered a thumb injury.
Here’s a nugget to depress Lockett managers: 46 receivers have 10+ targets over the past two weeks. Lockett ranks 45th in points per target over that stretch.
As such, ESPN fantasy sports researcher Kyle Soppe, who generates the fantasy questions, is wondering whether there is anyone trustworthy in Seattle for fantasy managers. He also has questions about the receivers in New England, Denver and Tampa Bay. And our reporters have answers.
On byes this week and thus not included below are the Raiders and Ravens. Away we go.
Who stands to gain the most in the way of targets with Dawson Knox banged up?
Unfortunately from a fantasy perspective, a number of players are set up to get more targets with Knox’s absence due to a hand injury. Depth at tight end is limited for the Bills, and while Tommy Sweeney will get some opportunities in his place, all of the targets that would have been directed toward Knox are unlikely to go to just Sweeney based on his limited recent experience as a receiver. Receivers Gabriel Davis and Isaiah McKenzie could also have increased opportunities, making it a dicey situation for fantasy owners. — Alaina Getzenberg
Jaylen Waddle has undoubtedly been Miami’s most reliable wide receiver this season, but Mike Gesicki is a matchup nightmare. He has caught 15 of 17 targets in the two games since Tua Tagovailoa‘s return, for 201 yards and a touchdown — essentially matching his production from the Dolphins’ previous five games. Expect that to continue as Miami relies more and more on its passing game to stay competitive. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Is there a single pass-catcher we can count on for consistent volume?
Jakobi Meyers (team-high 41 catches) remains the best bet, but the lack of touchdowns is obviously concerning. It isn’t for a lack of effort, however. Meyers was targeted on third down near the goal line last week and drew a defensive pass interference penalty, setting up a TD pass on the next play to Hunter Henry. — Mike Reiss
Do you expect Michael Carter to be a featured back the rest of the way and get upward of 20 touches on a routine basis?
Yes, as long as Mike White is the quarterback. Unlike starting QB Zach Wilson, White doesn’t mind throwing checkdowns to the running backs. That’s why Carter had a team-high eight catches last week, along with 11 rushes. Generally speaking, the Jets don’t believe in having a featured back, but Carter’s touches figure to increase simply because of White’s tendencies. — Rich Cimini
What has happened to the role of Tyler Boyd?
Boyd is getting squeezed as the Bengals’ offense is transformed by rookie Ja’Marr Chase. Chase has quickly become the team’s go-to target in many situations, a role Boyd had the past couple of seasons. His target share, once very reliable, is now on shaky ground with Chase’s record-breaking rookie season. Boyd is no longer a lock to be a starter for fantasy managers. — Ben Baby
Assuming Nick Chubb returns, how do you see Cleveland dividing the RB touches this weekend?
The Browns usually try to refrain from overworking Chubb so he’s fresh enough to close out games in the fourth quarter. That will definitely be the case with Chubb returning from the calf injury. With Kareem Hunt still out, that means Thursday Night Football hero D’Ernest Johnson could see a half-dozen carries or so. Maybe more. While Demetric Felton should see up to around five touches, though probably mostly out of the passing game. — Jake Trotter
Matthew Berry says D’Ernest Johnson should still produce for the Browns vs. the Steelers.
That’s the hope, but Claypool’s output against Seattle — the first game without Smith-Schuster — was a little concerning. He was targeted seven times but had just two catches for 17 yards. Plus, he had more penalty yards than receiving yards, drawing flags for an illegal block and offensive pass interference. Creating more splash plays is an emphasis for Claypool and his coaches, and the biggest hurdle to that is finishing plays with more consistency — something wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard said he has addressed with his second-year receiver. Claypool showed he has the goods last year, but he has to deliver on them more often in Year 2. — Brooke Pryor
On Wednesday, coach David Culley said Cooks’ usage has less to do with the quarterback and more to do with the Texans staying above the chains and being in manageable situations on third down so they can take advantage of the receiver’s skill set. But, given the way the offense has struggled with Davis Mills under center — and will start again this week — there’s a good chance Cooks will not only have more opportunities because the Texans will have longer drives, but that the quality of target will also increase. — Sarah Barshop
Jonathan Taylor seems to be clicking on all cylinders: Will the team give him more work on the ground as a result?
It’s Taylor’s show on the ground. Coach Frank Reich recently said Taylor, who is arguably the best running back in the NFL not named Derrick Henry, has earned the right to get at least 20 carries a game. Taylor has yet to reach that number, with 18 in Week 7 at San Francisco being his high this season. — Mike Wells
Matthew Berry calls it a ‘coin flip’ when asked to choose between RBs Najee Harris and Jonathan Taylor.
Jamal Agnew has 11 catches over his past two games: Worthy of a roster stash now that the bye week is behind us?
Absolutely. Both Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said they want to get Agnew more work. The Jaguars are searching for a replacement for Travis Etienne and DJ Chark, and Agnew has risen out of a group that includes Tavon Austin and Tyron Johnson. — Michael DiRocco
Is it time to stop assuming that Julio Jones can produce in this offense and lock him on fantasy benches until proved otherwise?
Yes. Jones is continuing to nurse a hamstring injury that has at times caused him to be pulled late in a couple of games, and he won’t play in Sunday’s game against the Colts. At this point, it isn’t likely that he’ll be a consistent contributor even though he has a 100-yard receiving game under his belt this season. It’s clear that A.J. Brown is the first read on a lot of the plays; he has been targeted 18 times over the past two games compared to nine for Jones. — Turron Davenport
With Jerry Jeudy expected back, what is the target hierarchy in Denver moving forward (top three)?
Jeudy has looked in practice like he’ll be ready for playing time fairly close to normal. It is his first game since the season opener when he injured his ankle, but there isn’t likely to be chemistry problems and the Broncos will look to involve him early. At wide receiver the target order likely returns to what it was going to be before Jeudy was injured — Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick overall, with an occasional shift if Jeudy draws the safety help. — Jeff Legwold
Mike Clay breaks down what to expect from Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick against Washington.
Anything to Byron Pringle leading this team in receiving in Week 7?
I’d be surprised if it happened again soon. Patrick Mahomes and the passing game struggled like they haven’t all season last week against the Titans. If you buy the theory that the rest of the league has caught on to Mahomes and the Chiefs, then maybe Pringle becomes WR1. More likely, Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce has a big game on Monday night against the Giants. — Adam Teicher
Will Keenan Allen‘s production improve post-bye, or is his low-upside game from the past month what we should continue to expect?
Chargers coach Brandon Staley stated that one of the team’s goals during the bye week was to figure out how to be more efficient on first and second downs and avoid the third-and-long scenarios that have been frequent in the first six weeks. The best way to do that is to get Allen, one of the league’s best route-runners, involved in early downs. Allen has had more than 100 receptions three of the past four seasons (and 97 in the one he didn’t), so he is a trusted target who is bound to be more involved after the bye. — Staff
Amari Cooper saw eight targets in Week 6 after averaging 4.5 in the previous four weeks. Is his volume something we can count on moving forward?
Everything with the Cowboys’ offense is week to week. If they see a favorable matchup they will exploit it, but they don’t go into a game saying Cooper — or anybody, really — needs this many targets. With the impending return of Michael Gallup from a calf strain, that means there will be more places Dak Prescott can go with the ball. Prescott has shown since his rookie season he will throw to the open guy, not just a uniform number. But if this helps: Cooper was targeted seven times in last year’s meeting vs. Minnesota and had six catches for 81 yards from Andy Dalton. — Todd Archer
Field Yates and Matthew Berry explain why Amari Cooper isn’t the No. 1 fantasy option in Dallas.
Darius Slayton led this team in receiving yards (63) and targets (nine) in Week 7. Something or nothing given the number of receiver injuries?
It’s something if the Giants are again without their top four options. The ball has to go somewhere. Slayton and quarterback Daniel Jones have proved over the past three seasons to have solid chemistry. If most or all of the Giants’ top playmakers are unavailable, Slayton is a solid play. He’s probably a strong option the next two weeks regardless until New York hits its bye week. — Jordan Raanan
I’m expecting a spike. He played 93% of the snaps against the Raiders — his highest rate by a wide margin this season — while finishing with a season-high 70 yards on three catches. The numbers show that Jalen Hurts is most efficient when targeting Goedert, and I expect him to do so more regularly over the final 10 games. — Tim McManus
Field Yates believes more productive days are ahead for Eagles TE Dallas Goedert as he gets more involved in the offense.
It has been all or nothing for Terry McLaurin this season: Will the consistency improve with time, or is spotty production to be expected in this offense?
It’s a function of what’s around him and the quarterback play at times. In three games he has finished with 352 combined receiving yards and four touchdowns — surpassing 100 yards each time. But in the other four it’s a combined 198 yards and no scores. Without Logan Thomas or Curtis Samuel in the lineup, there’s not much to take away a defense’s desire to pay extra attention to him. Thomas (hamstring) should return soon, but there’s still no firm word on Samuel (groin) coming back. And it doesn’t help that quarterback Taylor Heinicke lacks a strong arm, leading to throws that might have been contested catches but instead are knocked down. The targets for McLaurin remain high — he’s averaging one more per game than in 2020 — but the success rate is 8% lower because of these factors. — John Keim
Doubtful. Montgomery will receive the bulk of the carries when he returns, but the Bears know they have a solid backup in Herbert. The rookie will play some, but Montgomery is Chicago’s featured back when healthy. — Jeff Dickerson
Field Yates expects Khalil Herbert to see the ball quite a bit in Week 8.
Kalif Raymond has at least six targets in four of his past five games: with bye weeks in full swing, can he be a decent weekly dart throw given the recent volume of looks?
Yes. I feel the same way about him and rookie WR Amon-Ra St. Brown largely because they’re available so Jared Goff will find them when they’re open. Also, Raymond is proving that he’s a reliable target. The Lions have been riddled with injuries, with wideouts Quintez Cephus (collarbone) and Tyrell Williams (concussion) both out, and Raymond has capitalized — notably the last game against the Los Angeles Rams where he recorded 100-plus receiving yards for the second time in his career. — Eric Woodyard
The only curious thing is that the Packers didn’t use Dillon in the goal-to-go situation at the end when the Cardinals stacked the line of scrimmage. That would’ve seemingly been the perfect spot for a power runner. Dillon now leads the NFL in average yards after contact since the start of the last season (2.47 YAC per rush). His role has expanded enough to consider him an almost equal partner to Jones. — Rob Demovsky
Three games over 75 receiving yards and three under 30 for K.J. Osborn: Which version is closer to what we should expect the rest of the season?
Osborn is a WR3, therefore it’s reasonable to expect the fluctuation between the production he put up at Arizona (5 catches, 91 yards, TD) and Carolina (6 catches, 78 yards, TD) and the times where he disappears in games to be routine. Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen are the Vikings’ top receivers and will see most of Kirk Cousins’ targets. However, the way Osborn played against the Panthers with a critical catch on third down, along with earning Cousins’ trust to haul in the game-winning TD, indicates the quarterback is more than comfortable leaning on his third receiving threat, which might sometimes be his best option. — Courtney Cronin
Nope. Davis is still heavily involved in the offense, having played 60% of snaps each week. There is still a role there and will be games where he’s the lead back and effective. Is he going to be the complete featured back some anticipated before the season? No, but that was also likely hopeful fallacy anyway considering Davis’ career prior to Atlanta. But he’s still worth having on your roster, especially as you get through bye weeks. Heck, I’d go one step further and say he could have a bigger game Sunday considering the Panthers allow 110.3 rushing yards per game and Davis is facing his former team. — Michael Rothstein
The offense seems to be trending down: Can DJ Moore continue to produce strong numbers?
It will help when the Panthers get Christian McCaffrey back, probably in a week. Teams won’t be able to double up on Moore as much. It also will help if Sam Darnold can slow his footwork and get back the rhythm he had the first three games. That has kept Moore more than anything from being as productive lately. — David Newton
Career-low in the yards-per-carry department for Alvin Kamara: Do you think we see a spike in efficiency at any point to complement the spike in volume on the ground?
Now that he has his old running mate back in Mark Ingram II, maybe we’ll see a return to fewer carries and more yards per carry (and even more involvement in the passing game). I think part of the reason why his YPC are down this year is because he has basically taken every carry for this team — even in short-yardage and unfavorable running situations. But he still looks as good as ever physically, and he’s more important to the team than ever. So I expect him to continue delivering fantasy production in one form or another. — Mike Triplett
Mike Clay breaks down the fantasy impact of Mark Ingram’s return to the Saints in a trade with the Texans.
No wrong answer: Rank the receivers the rest of the way.
It depends on which week and how teams are looking to attack the Bucs. But given that Antonio Brown is dealing with a foot/ankle injury, has missed practice time and won’t play Sunday against the Saints, it’s Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Brown, with Tyler Johnson as the fourth receiver. But if a team like the New Orleans Saints shadows Evans with Marshon Lattimore the way the Philadelphia Eagles did with Darius Slay, that’s when you can really look to Godwin or one of the tight ends. — Jenna Laine
What do you make of Kyler Murray‘s recent underwhelming rushing numbers? Blip on the radar or play design to keep him healthy?
It’s a combination of play design and his own decision-making with the goal of both keeping him healthy as well as not having the need for him to run. Arizona’s run game is as good as it has ever been and Murray has made it known he wants the Cardinals to look at his legs as a luxury not as a necessity, so he’ll cut back on running wherever possible and be more of a drop-back passer. But when he needs to, like late in the game Thursday night, he’ll use his legs to make plays. — Josh Weinfuss
No. Jefferson is coming off a great performance in a win over the Lions, which included four catches for 43 yards and a touchdown, but Robert Woods is a proven playmaker – especially in high-stakes situations. It has been a bit of a roller coaster for Woods this season when it comes how often (or not) he’s targeted, but don’t expect the second-year Jefferson to be looked to more often. — Lindsey Thiry
75% of the RB touches for Elijah Mitchell last week: Is he locked into a workload that allows us to realistically expect 100 total yards on a regular basis?
It would be naive to assume that anything is “locked in” when it comes to running backs and a team coached by a Shanahan. But with that important caveat out of the way, it’s safe to say that Mitchell has clearly been the team’s best running back when healthy. And now that his right shoulder injury seems to be behind him, Mitchell looks poised to continue to grow in the offense and continue as the back who at least gets the first opportunity to get rolling every game. — Nick Wagoner
Any reason for optimism that there is a single piece in this offense we can trust until Russell Wilson returns?
Nope. It’s hard to trust any of their pass-catchers with Geno Smith at quarterback and offensive game plans that lean more on their running game. And it’s hard to trust any of their running backs with how much they’ve been spreading the work around. Alex Collins figures to be the primary option again and should have an easier time finding yards against a Jaguars run defense than isn’t as good as that of the Saints. But Rashaad Penny and Travis Homer might cut into his workload too much to make Collins a surefire play. — Brady Henderson