We made it through Week 9 that had six teams on bye, and don’t forget that there are six more byes in Week 14. Right when you need all hands on deck for your playoffs.
The injuries have been on the lighter side which is great, but it probably means it’s saving up for a big wave here soon. And typically sometime in the next month, there is a week where upsets dominate and a disturbing number of teams play flat and lose their favored games. It’s because the season is two months deep and there’s a temptation to underprepare for teams you think you can beat. And they try to mail in their effort only to get caught in a trap game. And sadly, the team loses and their fantasy players flop. It always happens every season but it hasn’t happened yet.
The waiver wire tends to get pretty thin from here on to the end of the season. It’s mostly swapping out kickers and defenses, and taking a chance on a very long shot player that you end up cutting in a week or two. But the NFL will continue to evolve. We’re more comfortable on the players that are considered good or bad, but don’t get too comfortable.
Six items to watch for this weekend:
1.) RB Travis Etienne (JAC) – Since James Robinson left after Week 6, Etienne’s production hit a new level. He’s rushed for over 100 yards in each of the last three games but each one of those were at home. So he hits the road to Kansas City and what I want to see is if his usage goes up as a receiver. He’s unlikely to get 20+ carries at the Chiefs but his usage as a receiver has been low.
At Clemson, the multi-talented Etienne averaged four catches per game at a rate that would have resulted in almost 70 catches for over 800 yards. He’s currently only catching about two passes per week. Etienne is the bell cow now so what happens when the Jags are on the road and falling behind? Etienne has been great at home running wild, but if he adds more receiving work – and the Jaguars need the help – Etienne’s stock next summer will skyrocket.
2.) WR Mack Hollins, TE Foster Moreau (LV) – The Raiders placed Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow on injured reserve and that completely reshuffles the deck for the Raiders’ fantasy receivers not named Davante Adams. The Broncos will play the Colts, Broncos, Seahawks, and Chargers without the two injured starters and will need more than just Adams to stay in the game. Waller and Renfrow were both disappointments, but Moreau and particularly Hollins will see an increase in targets. There have only been three completions to Keelan Cole outside of the above receivers, so Hollins and Moreau could end up better than the receivers they are replacing since the Raiders are running short on talent.
3.) WR Odell Beckham – He’s coming back and will be courted by several teams. He’s rumored to be coveted by the Cowboys, Bills, Packers, and Rams. Many expect he’ll end up in Dallas since they are short of a viable No. 2 receiver since Amari Cooper left. He’s likely stuck on a fantasy roster in most leagues already. But – are expectations too high? The 30-year-old tore his ACL in October of 2020 but started playing for the Rams in Week 3 just a month short of a year since his injury.
He never scored until Week 12 and ten of his 13 regular season games featured fewer than 40 yards. He gained over 50 yards in each of his four playoff appearances and even posted 113 yards on nine catches in the Conference Championship over 14 months since his 2020 injury.
Beckham tore his ACL in the Superbowl not quite ten months ago. He’s been a great wideout over his eight seasons, but he is tearing an ACL annually for the last two years.
4.) RB Jerick McKinnon (KC) – The Chiefs backfield is always interesting given the flood of fantasy points in most Chiefs’ games. But the backfield is disappointing this year with a lack of any primary back. In the close win over the visiting Titans last week, the rushing distribution was Isiah Pacheco (5-5), Clyde Edwards-Helaire (4-5), and Jerick McKinnon (3-4). Both Edwards-Helaire and Pacheco caught a single pass. But McKinnon turned eight targets into six catches for 40 yards.
There may never be anything reliable in the set of running backs and they use all three each week. But McKinnon just had six catches last week and he ended 2021 with six- and five-catch games. McKinnon has the highest snap count for the backfield for the last four games and his 62 snaps dominated in Week 9. The Chiefs use him the most on passing downs, and I want to see what his usage is this week versus the Jaguars to see if he continues to be on the field the most and catching the most passes.
5.) 49ers offense – Christian McCaffrey came on board in Week 7 with a handful of plays. He took a full load in Week 8 with 18 carries and eight catches. George Kittle only caught three passes. Brandon Aiyuk led the team with 81 yards and a score on six catches. But Week 10 will be entirely different. Jeff Wilson is gone. Elijah Mitchell could come off injured reserve at any time. Deebo Samuel who also runs the ball was out in Week 8. Over the bye, the 49ers worked on integrating McCaffrey into the offense.
The workload for players will be interesting at home against the Chargers since Samuel is back, Wilson is gone, and Mitchell may be active. There’s a lot of firepower on their offense and how they use it will be different this week. And maybe every week.
6.) How reliable are the current Top-10’s?
Here’s a brief look at what the Top-10’s for players last year looked like by Week 9 compared to how they performed in the second set of eight games. The column “1-8” is what their rankings were heading into Week 9, and “9-17” shows their ranking using only Week 9 to 17 and ignoring what they did in the first half of the season.
Quarterbacks really did not have that much difference aside from injury situations. Their first eight weeks compared to their final eight weeks (ignoring Week 18).
Derrick Henry went from the top to neatly doing nothing when he was hurt last year. Like the quarterbacks, injury situations were the culprit in almost all of the swings. But notice that five running backs were No. 20 or worse and then were Top-10 in the second half.
There was a lot of transition. The reality is that the Top-5 is all that really matters with tight ends. But this year there is Kelce and Andrews, and then a big drop off. Looks like that repeats.
There was transition, but it was mostly the Top-20 rearranging a bit. Only Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tee Higgs were significantly better in the second half of the year.