Perhaps at no time during the 2021 season has having bench depth been more important to fantasy football owners. At a time when the bye weeks start depleting rosters, injury news (especially at running back) is causing a great gnashing of teeth for fantasy owners.
Owners gripe that there isn’t fantasy depth at running back on draft day, much less when players start dropping like flies. We’ve already seen promising fantasy prospects like Cam Akers, J.K. Dobbins, Travis Etienne, Raheem Mostert and David Montgomery for the season. We’ve already seen Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Chris Carson and Clyde Edwards-Helaire missing time.
The bad news is we’re only five weeks into an 18-week season and, if history has taught us anything, the hits are going to keep on coming.
Fantasy football risers
RB James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
There is a lot to love about Robinson. It’s rare when you have an underdog “Rocky” type story, but Robinson has become that with two coaches who clearly didn’t believe in him. As a rookie last year, he got his shot only because the marriage with Leonard Fournette died an ugly death and he was cut a week before the start of the 2020 season. Robinson became the first undrafted rookie in NFL history to run for 1,000 yards. How did the Jags show their appreciation? The signed Carlos Hyde in free agency and used a first-round on Travis Etienne. Thanks a lot. After a brief time split, the Jags went back to Robinson in Week 3. In the three games since, he has rushed 51 times for 315 yards and has scored four touchdowns. He’s no longer a cute story. He’s a legitimate RB1 and nobody acknowledges it.
WR Emmanuel Sanders, Buffalo Bills
The Sanders signing had all the appearances of a Randall Cobb sort of deal. He’ll be the third guy in the wide receiver room and that will be that. Nobody got Manny down with that scenario. Through five games with an explosive pass offense, Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley have combined to score one touchdown. Sanders had four – in the last three games, where he has caught 13 passes for 222 yards and become the deep threat Diggs was last year. He’s still technically the No. 3 guy (No. 4 if you include Dawson Knox and his recent adventures), but Sanders is making it almost impossible for fantasy owners to keep him out of their weekly lineups.
RB Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns
Few people respect the skills of Nick Chubb more than I do. That’s what made the Browns signing of Hunt so strange. Anyone who has Chubb likely doesn’t have Hunt as his handcuff, because Hunt is simply too talented to be available for handcuffing without having invested two picks on Cleveland RBs inside of the first five rounds. Chubb is still the main guy in the offense – in the last three games, he has rushed 63 times for 345 yards and one touchdown. Under ordinary circumstances, that would be death for the No. 2 guy. Hunt is the Browns’ leading receiver and, in the last three games, he has rushed 36 times for 211 yards and four touchdowns. At a time when running backs need to add touchdowns to the mix to win weeks for fantasy owners, Hunt is the rare breed who gets that done as a runner and receiver while clearly not being the No. 1 RB option with his team.
QB Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
Let’s be clear on this: Nobody is discussing Burrow in the MVP conversation. But, if you don’t have a Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert or Tom Brady on your roster providing the back-breaking numbers that help win you a week, you’re looking for consistency. Out of the gate in 2021, few have been as consistent as Burrow. He has thrown two or more touchdowns in every game and has topped 260 passing yards in three of those. He likely is a No. 2 QB on most rosters, but his consistency is his payoff. He has never left anyone who put him in their lineup empty-handed. That’s a skill savvy owners without the sexy QB names thrive on.
RB James Conner, Arizona Cardinals
This is a tough one to heartily endorse if not for the numbers. Connor is averaging just 3.2 yards a carry, but he has become the skinny version of Jerome Bettis of late-Steelers vintage. Back then, Fast Willie Parker is running between the 5s and Bettis bellyflops into the end zone for a quick six. Chase Edmonds and Kyler Murray are the main attractions in the Cardinals run game, but, when it gets to the goal line, Conner is the one calling for choppers. Over his last three games, his rushing average is brutal, but the bottom line is that he has rushed 39 times for 122 yards and five touchdowns. Look at how many RB1s have five rushing touchdowns. It’s a short list.
Fantasy football fallers
WR A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans
In the season opener, Brown caught four passes for 49 yards and a touchdown. It’s hard to imagine that has been the high-water mark this season. His owners have played him three times since. In those three games, he has caught six passes for 81 yards and no touchdowns. Granted, anyone taking a Titans receiver understands Derrick Henry is going to have his days. But, even with the arrival of Julio Jones, in more cases than not, Brown was acquired to a fantasy roster as a WR1. He hasn’t lived up to that … even a little bit.
RB Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders
Jacobs was drafted as an RB2, unless you’re in a six-player league or avoided the position with your first two selections. He’s missed a game along the way and has scored three touchdowns, which is his only saving grace. In the three games he has played, he has rushed just 38 times for 122 yards and caught 10 passes for just 42 yards. If not for his three TDs, he would be a complete bust. Even with them, he isn’t worthy of being a guaranteed start every week.
WR Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns
OBJ missed the first two games of the season, but in the three he has been back – without Jarvis Landry in the last two – he has been a liability. Last weekend, the Browns put up a ton of production. It didn’t include Odell. In his last two games, he has four catches for 47 yards. That’s it. He hasn’t been a good fit since he came to Cleveland, and nothing has changed.
RB David Johnson, Houston Texans
Johnson has lived off of 2016 more than anyone. When he had his breakout season in Arizona, he became a “made man” in the fantasy community. He still has fantasy cred in some circles, but it’s time to call it. His only touchdown came in Week 1 (a reception) and, through five games, he has 31 touches for 255 yards. Mark Ingram has 70 touches. It’s time to admit defeat where defeat is obvious. The J-Train has seen its last run.
WR Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks
In the first two weeks of the season, Lockett had 12 catches for 278 yards and three touchdowns. In the three games since, he has 13 catches for 117 yards and no touchdowns. In that same period, DK Metcalf has 15 receptions for 270 yards and four touchdowns. Oh, and by the way, Russell Wilson isn’t coming back anytime soon. Think Geno Smith is going to produce the kind of numbers that make Lockett a must-play? Not the recipe for success that was manifested in Week 1 and 2. Penthouse to outhouse in a hurry.