There are fewer roster changes as we move forward through the season, but there will start to be some in the final weeks of the season when teams review their rosters for the following year. Especially the teams that are lowest in the standings. For this week, here are six items I thinking about heading into Sunday for Week 12.
1.) QB Zach Wilson / Elijah Moore (NYJ) – The Jets placed Joe Flacco and Mike White on the reserve/COVID list, and Zach Wilson starts for the first time since Week 7 when he injured his PCL. He needs to show something more than he did over his first five games. The Jets spun through three quarterbacks over the previous five games, and each had better games than Wilson. Joe Flacco (291 yards, 2 TD), Mike White (405 yards, 3 TD), and even Josh Johnson (317 yards, 3 TD).
In Wilson’s absence, Elijah Moore scored five touchdowns and is currently on a three-game scoring streak. The next two opponents and their ranking versus quarterbacks are the Texans (No. 24) and the Eagles (Mo.27). Wilson was the No.2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. He doesn’t have many excuses when literally every replacement quarterback turns in better performances. Having Michael Carter out should prompt even more passing.
2.) RB Rex Burkhead (HOU) – Picking through the bargain bin of the Texans’ backfield doesn’t seem like a profitable move, but the way running backs continue to drop, the bar is lower for what merits a scrape onto your roster. The Texans are trying new things as their season implodes and they just gave Burkhead 18 carries for 40 yards in the win over the Titans. The only Texan running back with more than 14 carries was Mark Ingram (twice). He’s gone, Scottie Phillips landed on injured reserve, Phillip Lindsay was cut, and the only remaining backs are Burkhead, David Johnson, and Royce Freeman was claimed off waivers two weeks ago but never used.
The Texans play the No. 32 defense versus running backs in the Jets this week and the No. 31 defense in Seattle in Week 14. Burkhead looks like a handful of fantasy points from a waiver wire that’s been stripped in each of the last 11 weeks.
3.) QB Cam Newton (CAR) – The Panthers’ offense hasn’t met expectations thanks to Sam Darnold and the injury to Christian McCaffrey. Adding Cam Newton in Week 10 helped the win in Arizona, but then his first start was a loss to Washington. But he was one of the better fantasy plays of the day with 46 yards and a score as a rusher, and 189 yards and two touchdowns as a passer. Granted – Washington is one of the lowest-ranked defenses versus quarterbacks, but Newton’s first start since last year was encouraging.
D.J. Moore (5-50, TD) had one of his best fantasy performances of the year, thanks to his first score since Week 4. Robby Moore was held to five catches for 30 yards, but his six targets were encouraging. The Dolphins are the No. 28 defense and should allow Newton to once again perform well. His usage of Moore and Anderson will be notable.
4.) RB Dontrell Hilliard (TEN) – Grabbed everyone’s attention when he turned in seven carries for 35 yards and eight catches for 47 yards in the loss to the Texans. Hilliard was on the Houston roster last year (9-48) and spent two years in Cleveland. He was a practice squad call-up last week when Jeremy McNichol was out with a concussion, and the Titans wanted fresher legs than Adrian Peterson and D’Onta Foreman.
The Titans released Peterson, and Hilliard was relied on much more than the other two backs last week. How McNichol figures in if he returns from his concussion will likely dig into Hilliard’s workload, but the Titans are considering adding kick returns to Hilliard’s plate. Newly signed Golden Tate may also see special teams work as well. Hilliard faces a very tough Patriots this week, but his role as a receiver should continue. Hilliard has a chance to earn an ongoing roster spot even when Derrick Henry returns, hopefully in the playoffs.
5.) TE Pat Freiermuth (PIT) – Eric Ebron injured his knee and was reported to likely miss extended time. The rookie Freiermuth stepped up in the last month with four touchdowns and at least four receptions in each game. The Steelers offense is likely to undergo a lot of change next season, but Freiermuth is shifting the scheme to include a tight end and seeing up to nine targets per game. The next two opponents are the Bengals and Ravens and both are below average versus the position. The Steelers have long featured a great set of wideouts, but that looks to be changing.
6.) QB Trey Lance (SF) – He’s a forgotten man this season despite being the 1.03 pick in the NFL draft. All four of the other first-round quarterbacks are starters. Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones led their respective teams but not Lance. His only start was Week 5 playing in Arizona for a tough debut where he injured his knee. Jimmy Garoppolo has held onto the job with the 49ers rising back up the standings. Jimmy G. throws for a couple of scores in all the recent games, so there’s been no need to move on though there were calls for it just a few weeks ago.
The 49ers are still in wild-card contention at 5-5, and they may not bother with starting Lance while they could still see the post-season and Lance is the rawest of those four other first-round picks. What could also come into play is that Garoppolo spent the last four years with the 49ers. In that time, he lasted more than six games only once. And he’s already had nine starts. Lance showed up last week with three runs for four yards in his first action since Week 5. It’s very rare for a third-overall pick to spend the first season on the sideline.