In fantasy leagues, the one thing owners want is for their players to be from teams that are playing for something down the stretch. A team in playoff contention will play guys who have nagging injuries and know they will require offseason surgery. Those out of contention will bench that same player to protect their investment.
Eleven weeks into the 2021 season, parity is alive and well as every team in the league in three or more losses with the exception of Arizona and the division and wild card races mean that almost everybody with the exception of the New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans in the AFC and the Detroit Lions in the NFC have a legitimate shot at the postseason is they string together a few wins – something that is rare around Thanksgiving weekend.
The battle for the No. 1 seed in the AFC is up for grabs among current division leaders Tennessee (8-3), Baltimore (7-3), Kansas City (7-4) and New England (7-4). The wild-card chase includes a gaggle of teams: Buffalo (6-4), Cincinnati (6-4), Los Angeles (6-4), Pittsburgh (5-4-1), Cleveland (6-5), Indianapolis (6-5), Las Vegas (5-5) and Denver (5-5).
It’s just as crazy in the NFC. All of the current division leaders have a degree of separation from the rest of the division with Arizona (9-2), Green Bay (8-3), Dallas (7-3) and Tampa Bay (7-3). Beyond that, the chase for the three wild-card spots is fierce and includes Los Angeles (7-3), Minnesota (5-5), San Francisco (5-5), New Orleans (5-5), Philadelphia (5-6), Carolina (5-6) and Washington (4-6).
The last thing fantasy owners want heading into the playoffs is for their players to be on teams that have wrapped up their playoff position or are eliminated and looking to next year. From the looks of things at the moment in the parity-infested 2021, that doesn’t include a lot of teams and the list may not grow much before 2022 begins.
Here is this week’s Fantasy Football Market Report:
Fantasy Football Risers
WR Elijah Moore, New York Jets
Considering the revolving door the Jets have at quarterback (four different starters in the last five weeks), what Moore has accomplished is nothing short of amazing. After catching just nine passes for 78 yards and no touchdowns in his first five NFL games, over the last month, Moore has become the centerpiece of the Jets’ pass offense. In the last four games, he has caught 24 passes for 336 yards and, over the last three games, has scored four touchdowns. While most fantasy league owners have more established players in front of him, daily players are seeing his price to play going up.
WR Darnell Mooney, Chicago Bears
Mooney has quietly become the leading receiver for the Bears and, as Allen Robinson has struggled, over the last three games Mooney has been targeted 31 times, catching 14 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns. While the catch ratio compared to targets is far from stellar, if the opportunities to catch passes are going to keep coming his way, his value is going to spike.
RB D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions
Over the first eight games of the season, about the only thing that was keeping Swift in fantasy lineups was that he was at or near the top of the Lions’ receiving chart with 47 receptions for 415 yards and two touchdowns. As a runner, he wasn’t bringing much to the table in the first eight games, rushing 90 times for 289 yards and three TDs. However, over the last two games, the Lions offense has leaned on Swift, and he has responded by rushing 47 times for 266 yards and a TD. The Lions are still winless, but in the two games with Swift as the showcase of the offense, Detroit tied Pittsburgh and lost by three on the road in Cleveland. That won’t be lost on the Lions coaching staff.
WR Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers
The biggest problem in Pittsburgh is that there are historically a lot of receivers who all have a role in the offense and, since Antonio Brown left, nobody has been a consistent weekly threat to produce fantasy points. Johnson may be changing that in a hurry. He has played in nine of Pittsburgh’s 10 games. He has been targeted 10 or more times in seven of them (the rest of the team has a total of two), has caught five or more passes in eight of them, caught seven or more in five, and has more than 70 receiving yards in seven of them. If you look around the league, there are very few players who come close to matching that kind of production and consistency, yet Johnson still seems to be flying a little under the radar as an elite receiver.
WR Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers
Samuel is more established than a lot of the players who typically make this list, because he has more than 90 receiving yards in five of his 10 games. But, what puts Samuel on this list is his return to double duty. Through the first five games of the season, Samuel rushed six times for just 22 yards – a lack of production that saw him go the next three games without a rushing attempt. However, with the return of George Kittle to the lineup, Samuel has become a dual threat once again. In his last two games, he has rushed 13 times for 115 yards and a pair of touchdowns, making him a sneaky daily play that can pile up points as a receiver and a runner, especially if Elijah Mitchell (finger) remains out.
Fantasy Football Fallers
QB Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
With the exception of the blowout win over Las Vegas two weeks ago, Mahomes has been pedestrian as a fantasy quarterback for a month. In the other four games he has played since Oct. 24, he is averaging 240 passing yards and has thrown just two TDs in those four games. In the four November outings, he has 12 rushes for just 19 yards. When you think Mahomes, the expectations are about 300 passing yards, 30 rushing yards and three touchdowns in one form or another. What should be a concern for Mahomes owners is that his decline in production has coincided with a four-game winning streak by the Chiefs, which begs the question, “Are lower numbers for Mahomes actually better for team?” Those who have invested heavily in him hope not.
WR Cole Beasley, Buffalo Bills
Those who take Beasley on fantasy rosters or as a daily play know they’re doing so not expecting touchdowns, but what is expected is the potential for seven or eight catches for 100 yards. When he’s hitting those numbers, he is a positive in most scoring formats and a touchdown is chalked up to clean livin’. However, over his last three games – against teams that haven’t been defensive juggernauts (the Jaguars, Jets and Indianapolis Colts), Beasley has caught 14 passes for just 71 yards and no touchdowns. While Stefon Diggs and Dalton Knox are seeing their target shares going up, over the last two games, Beasley has been targeted just seven times, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for production and kills off the primary value he brings to the table.
QB Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Given his history and consistency to be among the top-scoring fantasy quarterbacks over the last five seasons, Wilson’s recent struggles have been epic. On top of missing three games with a finger injury that made him unavailable in fantasy leagues, over his last four games, his passing totals have been 149, 152, 161 and 207. He isn’t much of a rusher anymore and tends to stay in the pocket, so he needs huge games from DJ Metcalf and Tyler Lockett to add to his value. In the two games since returning from injury, he has completed just 34 of 66 passes for 368 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions – and by far the two lowest single-game passer ratings of the season. With so much talent around him, his numbers for much of the season have been shockingly low and forcing fantasy players to look elsewhere for more consistent production.
TE Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts
When you get beyond the “Big 3” tight ends (Travis Kelce, Darren Waller and George Kittle), there is always a Wild West-style run to find tight ends that can produce fantasy points at any level of consistency. Doyle has long been one of those guys – not a player you want to put in a lineup every week, but one who can consistently give you points and has red zone cred. Through 11 games this season, Doyle has caught just 20 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns – a pathetic average of less than two catches and 18 yards a game. He has just one game in which he has more than 31 receiving yards and four in which he has fewer than five yards. Given Carson Wentz’s history with tight ends (and the coaching staff), this is a shocking development that has him available on the waiver wire in most leagues – and for good reason.
QB Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
To a lot of fantasy owners, it didn’t matter what the Falcons record has been since their Super Bowl humbling. You always knew Ryan would get his points, often more when his team lost 38-28. But, he has hit one of the least productive stretches of his career over the last month. In his last four games, he has had passing yardage numbers of 146, 117 and 153. In that same span, has three touchdowns and six interceptions. Being without Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley would hurt any quarterback, but Ryan has been without them before and found a way to have an answer. This year he hasn’t, which is likely leading to a lot of speculation as to why the Falcons didn’t draft Mac Jones when they had the chance and be in preparation to turn the page with a long-term plan in place. Now it looks like it’s “Ryan or bust!” – and “bust” is the operative word at the moment.