There are a lot of changes in the 2021 NFL season, top among them being the decision to add a 17th game, which brings a new dynamic in that the regular season is going to stretch into the middle of January and teams are looking at games now with injured players differently than they have in the past.
Thanks to COVID, the rules for placing a player on Injured Reserve have changed. If an injury is expected to last more than a couple of weeks, players are put on IR with the ability to bring them back instead of making it season-ending.
This has been a death blow for a lot of fantasy leagues. To go along with the ability to put players on IR without the ability for fantasy owners to do the same, teams at the top are making business decisions based on potentially losing a game in October or November with an eye to February.
We’ve seen this play out with two of the top teams in the NFC in the last two weeks. In Week 8, Dak Prescott came out for warmups to play the Minnesota Vikings and looked ready to go – completing his warmup routine without any seeming discomfort. Less than 30 minutes later, he was made inactive. Last weekend, the Arizona Cardinals were outwardly optimistic that QB Kyler Murray would play. Ninety minutes before game time, he was ruled out. Both teams won, briefly ushering in the Cooper Rush Era and Colt McCoy Era, respectively.
The NFL is copycat league, so this may become more the norm than the exception as teams look to the long-term prospect of winning a Super Bowl than the short-term damage benching a star player to buy an extra week of healing time can have. Welcome the new world of the NFL and fantasy football.
Here is the Week 10 Fantasy Football Market Report:
Fantasy Football Risers
RB James Connor, Arizona Cardinals
He made this list a month ago, because he was scoring touchdowns and seemed like the Cardinals best choice at the goal line for a bellyflop touchdown. He was averaging 3.5 yards a carry, so his primary value was that of a touchdown prospect. However, after scoring five touchdowns in his first five games, not only has he scored six more in his last five, in that span he has rushed 52 times for 253 yards (almost five yards a carry). What he is doing is amazing considering the other weapons around him in the Arizona offense. He’s a must-start or trade candidate for a bounty in return, especially with Chase Edmonds out for a month with an ankle injury.
TE Hunter Henry, New England Patriots
Back in late September, both Henry and Jonnu Smith were on the Fantasy Football Fallers list as both were drains in weekly fantasy rosters. Smith remains a fantasy dud, but, while Henry is still a reception and yardage disappointment from his Los Angeles Chargers numbers, the reality is that he has scored a touchdown in five of his last six games. Keep in mind, he has 33 or fewer receiving yards in five of those six games, but, at a time when tight ends beyond the Big Three (of Four) are just looking to cash in on touchdowns, Henry is checking all the boxes. He’s making it look easy in the red zone, and five TDs in six games in outstanding for anyone.
RB Jordan Howard, Philadelphia Eagles
There’s something to be said about Howard’s career track. He was a bell cow in Chicago who had a nose for the end zone. The same was true early in his first run with the Eagles. Then he got supplanted and moved to Miami, where he was mired doing nothing. He has been back with the Eagles for two weeks. In that time, Howard has 29 carries for 128 yards (a 4.4-yard average) and three short touchdowns. Granted, he’s a one-trick pony – he brings nothing as a receiver – but it’s still a pretty good trick. He’s not a long-term answer, but he’s nice to have in your arsenal if you need him.
WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, Cleveland Browns
While there are some who are filled with heartburn that Odell Beckham Jr. was unceremoniously released Monday, one who isn’t is DPJ. After catching four passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns in Week 6 against Arizona, Peoples-Jones was active but didn’t play in Week 7 and Week 8, due to a groin strain. With OBJ gone, he had his chance to make plays and do what he does. He only caught two passes, but they went for 26 yards and a 60-yard touchdown, moving Peoples-Jones into the undisputed team lead for receiving touchdowns with three. It’s clear he and Baker Mayfield have a rapport and, with the complaining in-house competition gone, he has deep sleeper potential.
RB Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos
It hasn’t translated into touchdowns yet, but the competition in the Denver backfield is getting closer to a dead heat all the time and time isn’t on Melvin Gordon’s side. Gordon had a 70-yard touchdown run in Week 1, but hasn’t had a run of more than 14 yards since. In the last six games, Williams has had a run of at least 30 yards in four of them and is averaging a half-yard more per carry this season. Right now, this looks like a time share that favors Gordon – at least in terms of touchdowns and carries – but Williams keeps making his case for playing time, and pretty soon the Broncos’ coaching staff is going to listen.
Fantasy Football Fallers
RB Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
Nobody who has Elliott would ever consider benching him if he’s healthy, but this Cowboys offense is built more to throw and use the run game as a change of pace than the other way around. Over his last three games, Elliott hasn’t hit 70 yards rushing in any of them, is averaging 57 yards a game rushing and 33 receiving and hasn’t scored a touchdown. Few players have the pure athleticism and talent that Elliott possesses, but this has to be concerning for those who have seen his returns diminishing against three teams (New England, Minnesota and Denver) that had records of .500 or less when they met.
WR D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers
Moore got off to a great start to the season. In his first four games, he caught 30 passes for 398 yards and three touchdowns, making him a “must-start” in any format. However, as Sam Darnold has returned to Earth with a thud, so have Moore’s numbers. In his last five games, he has caught 23 passes for 279 yards and no touchdowns. You don’t always have to score touchdowns to make a fantasy splash, but five catches for 56 yards and no TDs, on average, for five games starts getting players benched.
RB Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
If you look at Jones’ season numbers, you may be asking, “Where’s the problem?” However, take out the first three weeks. In that span, Jones wasn’t setting the world on fire, but he scored five touchdowns to make up for it. Over his last six games, he has fewer than 60 rushing yards and 35 receiving yards in four of them and has scored just two touchdowns. Even more troubling is that A.J. Dillon has been seeing an increase in his share of the rushing workload that could continue to hurt Jones as the weather starts getting colder and the Packers look to win through the power-run game. Nobody will bench Jones, but it has to be a concern with diminished returns from what has come to be expected.
QB Daniel Jones, New York Giants
I’ve been on record from the beginning as not being a “Daniel Jones guy.” I thought the Giants were foolish to take him with the sixth pick in the draft when they could have traded down and still got him, and little has changed my opinion in the two-and-a-half years since. Through nine games, he has eight TD passes – one TD in four games, none in three and two TDs in two. He has thrown for less than 250 yards in six games, including each of the last five. He has two rushing touchdowns, but those came in the first two weeks of the season. Jones is still on a lot of fantasy rosters, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why, because the weekly production has been hot garbage for the most of the season.