We saw a spate of QB injuries this weekend, which means the fantasy outlooks of multiple teams may be drastically different going forward. Perhaps the trade deadline will change things, but it’s usually disappointing, so I’m not expecting much. We also inexplicably didn’t have a single bye this week, so this article will be extra long. Let’s get into it.
Houston Texans @ Carolina Panthers
- For the second straight week, the Texans’ backfield was a committee. Dameon Pierce played just two more snaps than Devin Singletary, and they each finished with 12 touches. This roughly 50/50 split on an inefficient run offense makes both fringe flex plays, with Pierce having the edge in Standard and Singletary in PPR.
- On the other side, the Panthers’ backfield is no longer a committee. Despite theoretically coming out of the bye fully healthy, Miles Sanders played just 20% of snaps and was out-touched 17 to two by Chuba Hubbard. Sanders is droppable in shallow leagues, while Hubbard is a flex candidate.
- C.J. Stroud salvaged a 12.9-point outing with a rushing TD, but this was still his third straight week below 17 fantasy points. He also averaged just 28.7 attempts over those three outings, compared to 37.8 over the first four weeks. Following the rookie’s hot start to his career, teams are daring the Texans to beat them on the ground … this week, they couldn’t, against a Carolina team that came into the week second-worst against the run. For Stroud, this means he is unlikely to reach the QB1 potential he showed early in the season unless their run game gets on track.
Los Angeles Rams @ Dallas Cowboys
- Last week, I predicted that Darrell Henderson’s role might further expand as he worked his way back to game shape. If anything, the opposite happened, as he fell from the 60/40 leader in Week 7 to essentially a perfect 50/50 split with Royce Freeman. This puts both in the fringe flex conversation, although Matthew Stafford’s injury may move them down even further.
- I’ve been unwaveringly high on Tony Pollard this season, as his usage has been truly elite outside of the weird game scripts the Cowboys somehow keep finding themselves in. However, it is worth acknowledging that Pollard has been nowhere near as efficient this year as he has been in years prior: Compared to 2022, his yards per attempt (3.9 from 5.2), PFF rush grade (65 from 90), RYOE per attempt (-0.16 from 1.17), and pretty much any other metric you can think of (below-average from elite) have all cratered. It’s unclear whether this is a result of his increased workload, different utilization by a new OC, or Pollard simply losing a step due to injury and age. Regardless, he may be more of a borderline RB1 than an elite option at this point, although positive TD regression is still bound to come.
- If it weren’t for the aforementioned Stafford injury, I would be suggesting you buy low on Cooper Kupp, who has just posted his worst two-game stretch in years. Even with Stafford potentially missing time, Kupp is a hold. He has at least seven targets in every game this season and has had less than a 30% target share just once (23%). That kind of usage essentially guarantees fantasy production.
Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers
- Alexander Mattison firmly re-staked his claim to the top spot in the Vikings’ backfield, playing 61% of snaps to Cam Akers’ 24% and out-touching the former Ram 17 to 10. This is still a situation to watch, but it looks as though last week was more of a blip in a relatively steady 60/40 split than the beginning of a new trend.
- Aaron Jones is still trending in the right direction in his return from a hamstring injury, playing 51% of the snaps in this one. But the Packers still gave him just one more carry than A.J. Dillon, despite Jones averaging more than twice as many yards per tote. Matt LaFleur said before the game that he didn’t think Jones was “100% by any stretch,” so I’m willing to give Jones and the Packers the benefit of the doubt that this usage will eventually change to favor the clearly better back, hopefully returning Jones to RB2 status … but it will have to happen soon before this is just the new normal.
- The injury to Kirk Cousins obviously puts a huge damper on this news, but indications from Minnesota are that Justin Jefferson should be ready to return as early as possible from the IR, meaning he would be back in Week 10. Cousins being out does hurt his ceiling, but elite WRs can eat regardless of QB play (although Davante Adams last night may have proven otherwise). And even with Cousins out, I don’t think there’s any real threat of Jefferson sitting; I still have yet to hear a single example of a player in a comparable situation just deciding not to play (or being told not to play) for nearly half a season. I liked Jefferson as a buy-low before, I like him as a buy-even-lower now.
New Orleans Saints @ Indianapolis Colts
- A week after Derek Carr screamed at him for giving up on a route, Chris Olave had a pass literally bounce off his head on what should have been an easy TD. Still, there’s a very, very easy case to be made for him as a buy-low target: He is second in the league in air yards, 11th in catchable targets, and has a PFF expected points per game of 14.2 vs. his actual 10.0 PPG. I like to think of myself as trusting stats over vibes, so I’m going to send some offers for the second-year stud … but the vibes around Olave are starting to feel like those of another air yards king whom I was touting as a buy-low for similar reasons around this time last year.
- On this play, Jonathan Taylor saw his 12th opportunity, at which point Zack Moss had just four. If you didn’t click the link, JT gets up gimpy … and touches the ball only twice the rest of the way. The Colts are claiming Taylor was not injured, but that seems unlikely. I have expressed some concern about the split between Moss and Taylor, but if this first half was anything to go by, JT is back to being the clear lead back. It’s possible his manager in your league didn’t watch the game and just sees the 12 carries to Moss’ 11, so this may be one last buy window for the 2021 RB1.
- The return of Juwan Johnson cratered Taysom Hill’s newfound receiving usage. Hill had run routes on 68% of Derek Carr’s dropbacks in Weeks 6 and 7, racking up 11 catches on 13 targets. With Johnson back, Hill ran just 12 routes on 28 Carr dropbacks (42%) and saw only one target. On the other hand, he carried the ball nine times for 63 yards and two TDs. Hill is a sell-high candidate given his reduced receiving role, but he’ll likely remain a fringe TE1, with more value in Standard leagues where his unconventional profile hurts less.
New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins
- Kendrick Bourne unfortunately tore his ACL, ending an under-the-radar productive season. DeVante Parker is the obvious candidate to step up as the Patriots’ WR1, but he is headed for concussion protocol, while big free-agent signing JuJu Smith-Schuster has fallen so far down the pecking order he played zero snaps in the first half. I came into this blurb expecting to have to talk down rookie Demario Douglas’ chances to grab the top job as a slot-only weapon, but I was pleasantly surprised to see he played 12 snaps out wide in this one, nearly equaling his previous season total. Given that he was trusted to play outside with Parker and Bourne out, the exciting rookie is a must-add.
- With each of Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson, and Salvon Ahmed seeing at least six touches on at least 25% of snaps, this Dolphins backfield is officially a three-headed committee. Wilson’s role should continue to expand as he returns from injury. Hopefully, that comes at the expense of Ahmed, leaving both Wilson and Mostert as fantasy viable options in a relatively 50/50 split as they were at the end of 2022 … at least until De’Von Achane returns.
- If you’re in a disgustingly deep league and therefore interested in the Patriots’ WR2 situation, Jalen Reagor (former Eagles first-round pick) is the player to add. He was second to Douglas with 20 routes on Sunday, although he was unable to haul in either of two targets.
New York Jets @ New York Giants
- Daniel Jones has reportedly been cleared for contact, saving us from another week of the Tommy DeVito experience. I said this last week, but Jones is worth adding in deep or two-QB leagues. He still has the rushing upside that can make even terrible real-life QBs fantasy-viable, and the Giants have slightly turned a corner offensively, especially on the offensive line, over the last few weeks.
- Breece Hall bailed his fantasy day out with a very impressive 50-yard TD reception but otherwise totaled just 43 yards on 17 touches, including a putrid 1.4 yards per carry. This can be largely attributed to Hall facing stacked boxes on a league-high 58.33% of his runs, although it is true that he was also uncharacteristically very inefficient in terms of yards vs. expected. It is tempting to say that defenses will continue to stack the box against the Jets, given Zach Wilson’s inability to punish them, but Hall’s season average in terms of stacked boxes is a much more manageable 24.36%. Given that he is consistently seeing 60-70% of the snaps and carries, plus receiving work, Hall is an RB1 even on this struggling offense.
- Lost in the rest of the fiasco that was this game for the Giants’ offense, Wan’Dale Robinson set new season highs with an 88% route participation rate and an 80% snap share. Robinson likely benefited from Darren Waller’s early exit, playing eight snaps in line as the Giants played by far the most 11 personnel they have this season: 83%, up from a previous average of 65%. This usage will make Robinson a potential flex option in PPR leagues as long as Waller is sidelined.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Pittsburgh Steelers
- I’m starting to think Diontae Johnson is cursed. He has played about two full games this season, and Kenny Pickett has missed him on an easy TD in both of them. He has now gone 665 days and 186 targets since last scoring a touchdown. On the bright side, he racked up 14 targets despite exiting briefly with an injury. The man is a stud and a must-start in all PPR formats, with untapped upside if he ever manages to break the curse.
- Speaking of curses, Evan Engram is now by far the league leader in catches without a touchdown with 51. I’m not expecting too much positive regression, given that he has just two red zone targets and zero in the end zone, but Engram did score four times last year in this same offense. Already the TE7 with at least seven targets in each of the last seven games, Engram is essentially the last of the must-start tight ends.
- Johnson’s return to his target-hog ways coincided with George Pickens’ worst game of the season. He scored a touchdown on his only reception thanks to some good work after the catch (and some egregious tackling by the Jaguars) and almost added to his already-long highlight reel with a toe-tapper on the sideline, but he also saw just two catchable targets all game on a season-low 13% target share. At this rate, the breakout second-year WR may slide back to WR3/flex territory.
Atlanta Falcons @ Tennessee Titans
- With Drake London exiting early with a groin injury, Van Jefferson, who landed in Atlanta just a few weeks ago in a trade from the Rams, led the Falcons in routes run. It will be gross, but he is absolutely worth adding in deep leagues, as any team’s WR1 should be on rosters.
- Will Levis was the story of Sunday, racking up nearly 27 fantasy points and showing off the elite arm talent that at one time had him near the top of most mock drafts. Just as importantly for fantasy, he saw six designed rush attempts — only Jalen Hurts, Lamar Jackson, Justin Fields, and Daniel Jones average more. When he inevitably hits some rough patches through the air, that level of rushing can keep his floor high. He’s a must-add in any league where QBs are scarce.
- I wish I could say that London potentially missing time will benefit Kyle Pitts, but the Falcons’ TE2 still posted just a 63% route participation rate on 60% of snaps. That makes it four weeks since he last posted an 80% route participation rate, after he averaged 89% over the first four weeks. Over those past four weeks (in which the Falcons did not have their bye, but 12 other teams did), Pitts ranks ninth among TEs in targets, tenth in receptions, seventh in yards, and 15th in PPG. He’s a very borderline TE1 at this point.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington Commanders
- Watching this game with a bet on Josh Sweat to get a sack, it felt like Sam Howell was getting rid of the ball quicker than usual, and the stats back that up: His 2.48-second average time to throw was by far his lowest of the season. This resulted in Howell taking just one sack, good for a 5.6% pressure-to-sack rate, a huge improvement from his previously atrocious 33.1% rate. If the man I have been calling Sammy Sacks can keep up this progress, it’s a huge boost to the fantasy value of both him and the entire Commanders’ offense.
- On the season, D’Andre Swift has 117 rush attempts to Kenneth Gainwell’s 51. But the Eagles more often turn to Gainwell in the red zone, where he has 17 carries to Swift’s 16. On the other hand, Swift has 12 carries to Gainwell’s seven inside the 10, and six to his one inside the five (Jalen Hurts, if you’re curious, has eight carries inside the five). Especially given that Gainwell had a red zone fumble this week while Swift scored a TD, expect Swift to see more of this valuable work going forward.
- Curtis Samuel racked up four targets on just 11 routes (!) before exiting early with a toe injury. In his absence, Jahan Dotson had by far his best game of the season, catching eight of 10 targets for 108 and a TD. I was excited about Dotson coming into this year and have been surprised by his lack of production … but if Samuel’s injury is minor, the sophomore is not a priority waiver pickup.
Cleveland Browns @ Seattle Seahawks
- This is a long shot, but check your waivers for Jacoby Brissett in deep Superflex Dynasty leagues. Sam Howell’s performance this week makes it much less likely than it was a few days ago that Brissett will steal his job … but you’ll notice that this blurb is coming under the Browns’ section. Brissett performed solidly for the Browns last year, and with Deshaun Watson already looking doubtful for next Sunday with his mystery injury and P.J. Walker playing terribly, the Browns may look to get Brissett back. The same also applies to Joshua Dobbs, who was in Cleveland as recently as Spring Training and is surprisingly being benched for rookie Clayton Tune…
- It pains me to say this as a Zach Charbonnet truther (he is my highest exposure player in Best Ball this year … yikes), but I’m not reading too much into his outsnapping Kenneth Walker 55% to 44% this week. A full 20 of the rookie’s 30 snaps came in either long downs and distances or the two-minute drill. While it is noteworthy that Walker didn’t see a single one of those snaps (he averaged roughly a quarter of each coming into this week), I wouldn’t be surprised if he was slightly limited following a calf injury that saw him miss two practices during the week. For now, add Charbonnet if he’s available, but I’m expecting this to be a blip more than the beginning of a new trend.
- Similarly, I’m not worried about Jerome Ford being out-touched by both Pierre Strong and Kareem Hunt. Ford was expected all week to miss this game entirely with an ankle injury; it’s miraculous he played at all. I expect him to return to the top of the Browns’ depth chart, with Hunt still heavily involved, in Week 9.
Baltimore Ravens @ Arizona Cardinals
- I said last week that Trey McBride would be a TE1 if he saw even two-thirds of the nine targets per game he and Zach Ertz were combining for. He did that and much more in his first game as the Cardinals’ undisputed TE1, as his 14 targets were the most by any tight end so far this season. It’s tough to call anyone outside of the familiar elite options a must-start at tight end … but he’s pretty close.
- Gus Edwards has 33 carries to Justice Hill’s eight over the last two weeks and has back-to-back weeks of 20+ fantasy points. However, those were both games that the Ravens won handily, and we’ve seen this story before in the Ravens’ backfield. Hill will be more involved in negative game scripts, as he has still played 72% of the Ravens’ long down and distance snaps, as well as 63% of their two-minute-drill snaps, since Week 5. Edwards is a viable flex play, but there is no reason to think he won’t have performances like he did in Weeks 4-6 (12+ carries in each but no games above six fantasy points) going forward, as well as a few more big weeks.
- He’s been given a pass due to some solid numbers and very low expectations, but Joshua Dobbs has not been good this year. His 55.3 PFF passing grade ranks 31st out of 36 qualified QBs, just between Zach Wilson and Tyson Bagent. When Kyler Murray returns, this offense should take a step forward, especially Marquise Brown. Brown currently ranks 14th in both target and air yards share but just 29th in PPG, largely thanks to a 69% catchable target share, easily the worst among the top-targeted WRs (along with Chris Olave’s 66%).
Kansas City Chiefs @ Denver Broncos
- Javonte Williams saw 82% of the Broncos’ rush attempts, which would rank first among all RBs for the season. He’s not running anywhere near as many routes as the elite bell cows (just 37% over the past two weeks), but he’s still approaching RB1 territory thanks to his usage on the ground.
- I saw someone on Twitter say that Rashee Rice was second to just Travis Kelce in routes run for the Chiefs this week, but PFF has him one behind Marquez Valdes-Scantling, 28 to 27. He also actually trended down in route participation this week, to 60% from 65%, as well as recording a very ill-timed drop. I still like Rice the most of this WR group and am holding him in a few leagues waiting for the breakout, but it’s looking less and less likely that he ever emerges from this six-headed monster of mediocrity.
- This is likely obvious, but if one of Jerry Jeudy or Courtland Sutton is traded, Marvin Mims is a must-add. The rookie’s yards per route run of 2.89 is behind just Tyreek Hill, A.J. Brown, and Brandon Aiyuk, admittedly on a much smaller sample size. If he starts seeing full-time snaps, the sky’s the limit.
Cincinnati Bengals @ San Francisco 49ers
- Tyler Boyd played 86% of the Bengals’ snaps, while Tee Higgins played just 67%. The difference in routes is smaller (four routes), but still favors the slot specialist. I still think Higgins eventually gets fully healthy and reclaims his WR2 spot … but not as confidently as I did last week.
- Brock Purdy has had arguably the three worst games of his career over the last three weeks, racking up six turnovers and throwing just three touchdowns. Still, he is the QB13 in PPG on the season, QB10 if you exclude players now out for the season (Anthony Richardson, Kirk Cousins) or who have only played one game (Will Levis). Mr. Irrelevant will likely be dropped in many leagues with the 49ers’ bye this week, and I’d consider adding him if you need QB help.
- 43% of George Kittle’s targets on the season have come in the last two weeks with Deebo Samuel sidelined. His weekly upside will make him a must-start tight end even with Deebo back, but I might consider moving him now — in the six weeks that Samuel played, Kittle had four outings below five fantasy points.