This week, our panel discusses the injury fallout of key fantasy contributors, Lamar Jackson's stretch-run value, and preparing for the fantasy playoffs.
- Who else on the player's team does this player's injury impact negatively?
- Who is a potential player of value because of the player replacing the injured player? (It could be the backup or a player at another position)
Pick one of these players as a point of discussion.
Chad Parsons: I wish I could select LeGarrette Blount or Theo Riddick as a cascade benefit from Kerryon Johnson missing time, but I have no faith in either player. Shifting to the passing game, I will mention Kenny Golladay with Marvin Jones Jr injured and Golden Tate gone to the Eagles.
Golladay was at his best in Week 11 with contested catches and downfield prowess. The Lions are running on fumes for pass-catchers and Johnson's absence will not help matters. Riddick has mixed in as a slot option, which insulates his floor big picture this season, but not overtly related to Jones' absence.
Sean Settle: Washington was dealt a devastating loss when Alex Smith went down with an injury. Colt McCoy is expected to step in as the replacement and the team went out and signed Mark Sanchez as well. McCoy has some NFL experience but will be playing behind the same banged-up offensive line as Smith.
This is going to make things even tougher on Adrian Peterson as he is going to be expected to shoulder even more of the load. He has always been a volume back that excels when he gets 20+ carries, but teams are going to be able to stack the box and scheme to beat him until McCoy can show he can have success throwing the ball down the field.
It has already been a very up-and-down season for Peterson and it just got a little harder. If Washington cannot show they have the ability to throw the ball down the field, it is going to be a rough couple weeks for Peterson.
Waldman: I will note that Peterson has had 3 sub-par fantasy outings in 10 weeks and is currently the No.11 fantasy back in standard formats. As a point of comparison, James Conner and David Johnson, the No.5 and No.8 fantasy backs, respectively, have each had two sub-par weeks.
Having a 70-percent fantasy relevancy rate is by no means up-and-down. However, your point about Peterson needing volume is accurate. HIs three sub-par weeks were games where he earned less than 15 touches.
Mark Schofield: The Kerryon Johnson and Marvin Jones Jr injuries place perhaps an undue burden on the shoulders of Matthew Stafford as the Detroit Lions head into their annual Thanksgiving Day game against a tough Chicago Bears' defense. Johnson is listed as week-to-week so there is a strong likelihood he returns to the lineup next week. But in the meantime, expect Zach Zenner to get the lion's share (pun intended) of the carries.
Less than two weeks ago Stafford completed 25 of 42 passes for 242 yards and 2 touchdowns — and 2 interceptions — with both Johnson and Jones in the lineup. Additionally, he was sacked six times. That's...not a good-looking recipe.
If there is a player who will benefit, it will be Kenny Golladay, perhaps due to the simple process of elimination. Golladay saw 13 targets against the Bears back in Week 10, which was his season-high until last week when he saw 14 against the Carolina Panthers. He'll get the bulk of targets in the passing game going forward.
Jason Wood: The Lions are potentially down their three best skill players now with Golden Tate traded away, while Jones and Kerryon Johnson are hurt. That makes things harder on Matthew Stafford, who was already struggling for every-week relevance. While this assures an already-ascendant breakout for Kenny Golladay (by sheer force of target share), the Lions offense will return to its one-dimensional ways and, with it, the entire pie will shrink. It's dark days for anyone relying on a Detroit player other than Golladay.
Maurile Tremblay: With O.J. Howard going to injured reserve, the obvious fantasy beneficiary will be Cameron Brate. But I think people are generally overestimating how much Brate will benefit while underestimating how much DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin will benefit.
The Buccaneers had been running a lot of two-tight-end sets with both Howard and Brate on the field at the same time. Now Brate's snaps will increase, but they will not double because he was already getting around 60% as many snaps as Howard was. Brate may now slide into Howard's role, but he won't be quite as effective as Howard had been. I've seen many people say that Brate becomes an instant fantasy TE1 with Howard out, but I'd still rate him as a borderline TE1-TE2.
I expect the Buccaneers to run fewer two-tight-end sets now, and more three- and four-wide sets, which will put both DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin on the field more often than has been customary (with Mike Evans and Adam Humphries staying in the same roles they've been holding down already).
The result will be a bump for Brate, but less of one than most people seem to expect. Meanwhile, both Jackson and Godwin will peel off a significant portion of the targets that had been going to Howard, which will substantially dilute the additional fantasy value that accrues to Brate.
Waldman: I'm going to posit that if Bruce Ellington's back injury is nothing more than a bruise, that he'll earn fantasy production in the Lions offense. Ellington is a talent who hasn't stayed healthy and the term, "you can't make the club in the tub," has been especially relevant for his career thus far.
Ellington is a competent slot receiver with field-stretching capabilities and his work with multiple quarterbacks should help him earn rapport with Stafford sooner than his peers. He already earned some vertical and red-zone targets on Sunday. He's one of those options that fantasy players wish they acted on but were afraid of inserting a lesser name without a great track record into their lineups.
If you're desperate for a PPR option, Ellington is capable of delivering 5-7 catches for 50-70 yards and a touchdown for the Lions.
Lamar Jackson's stretch-run Value
Waldman: Jackson ran the ball 27 times against the Bengals on Sunday. There's a polarizing reaction to this development. On one end, there's the thought that this game plan is unsustainable for an NFL quarterback. On the other, there's the thought that the game is more open to an option-based offense than any time during the modern area, so why not?
Lost in the clickbait is that Jackson went 13-for-19 for 150 yards and an interception and hung in the pocket while delivering the ball with astute placement. Feel free to comment on what you think about last week's game plan for Jackson's debut but what we want to know is whether Jackson is a viable starter or contributor for a fantasy roster this year and what you'd pay to acquire his services in terms of waiver wire budget or player capital in a trade?
Tremblay: This is a difficult situation to pin down. In Lamar Jackson's first game as a starter, he had more rushes than the team's stable of running backs combined. I wouldn't expect that to happen again, but I don't know what the actual ratio will be.
For as long as Jackson starts this season, he could end up with 15-20 rushes a game plus around 25 pass attempts per game. That would significantly limit the fantasy values of John Brown, Michael Crabtree, and Willie Snead IV. But it would make Lamar Jackson a clear fantasy QB1 in my view.
Rushing yards (and touchdowns) are worth more than passing yards (and touchdowns) in just about every fantasy league. An extra 80 yards rushing is like an extra 200 yards passing. It's a pretty big bonus to tack on to his actual passing production.
It gives him a higher floor and a higher ceiling than most starting NFL quarterbacks. I'd rank Lamar Jackson ahead of Jameis Winston in terms of expected fantasy points per NFL start. If I were certain that Jackson would start the rest of the way, I'd be willing to give up any QB in the Andrew Luck-Matt Ryan-Carson Wentz-Ben Roethlisberger-Tom Brady range for him.
Wood: Any running back with 27 carries is going to be a commodity, so when a quarterback gets that workload, he's a must-start fantasy piece. However, NFL history tells us that a) he's not going to get anything close to that workload in most weeks and b) it's not a sustainable formula for NFL success.
I'm a lifelong Louisville fan and watched every snap of Jackson's college career. He's got a lot of work to do if we're to buy into him as the starter in Baltimore in 2019 and beyond. This is one of those cases where fantasy worth does not parallel NFL worth. I would not be, at all, excited with Jackson as the answer if I were a Ravens season ticket holder, but I do think he can help win people fantasy leagues for the next few weeks.
However, his usage and the game script seem to indicate that the Ravens are going to bring him along as slowly as possible. Now, the game plan that called for him to carry the football nearly 30 times might have been influenced by a late-week illness that sidelined him for Friday's practice, preventing him from getting in a day of work on a typically important day of practice that includes finalizing the game plan. Or, the game script might be more indicative of where the Ravens' coaches see Jackson's development at this point. John Harbaugh insisted to the media this week that the Ravens "are going to throw more" if Jackson remains in the lineup, but until I see it, I won't believe it.
Settle: Jackson is an enigma that is hard for people to fathom. There has not been a mobile quarterback like him since Michael Vick and we all remember the stark downfall he faced in the NFL. Jackson appears to be a little different and more willing to stay in the pocket to throw the ball. His first task was a Cincinnati secondary that had been torched by the Saints in their previous game and he performed admirably.
The biggest thing that sticks out to me is the volume it took for him to get his 100 rushing yards. Jackson tied Saquon Barkley for the most carries of any player in week 11 and that is very alarming for your quarterback. It is also worth noting that Gus Edwards had 17 carries out of the same Baltimore backfield and over 100 yards rushing as well.
With the season rolling into week 12 there is less worry about wear and tear on Jackson, but more so the toll it will take over the course of his career. Even with the new rules geared around player safety, that is simply too many hits for a quarterback to be taking every week.
The NFL may be more open to running the option now than ever before, but it is still something a defense can plan to stop. Defenders are better at shedding blocks and faster than ever before. Jackson may be good for a big game here and there, but it is not a consistent bet with the option. Look at the stark decline of the Philadelphia offense since they found success with it in the playoffs last year.
Parsons: The Ravens rolled back time with the run-first and run-often offensive approach mirroring plenty of college teams instead of the NFL. It clearly felt 'controlled' in the approach for Jackson's starting debut, which is a statement in itself. This is fine in the short-term as Jackson gains more experience, and it is good for fantasy production, but Jackson will need to shift to more of a pass-first approach soon as Jackson's frame is not a Cam Newton type to hold up.
I was encouraged by Jackson's accuracy and general feel, but view him as more of dynasty asset than redraft. Teams at this stage are either in the playoffs or pushing for a spot with one or two more wins. Plus, they likely have a better quarterback option already as Marcus Mariota or Alex Smith-led fantasy teams were looking for upgrades long before this week. View Jackson as an upside QB2 and more insurance than cure. Also, I expect Joe Flacco to be back by the time the fantasy playoffs roll around.
Waldman: Jackson will be a value this year and I'll disagree with Sean about valuing Mayfield more in December if Jackson continues as the Ravens' starter. The Browns receiving corps would experience a significant upgrade if John Brown, Chris Moore, and Michael Crabtree took the place of Antonio Callaway, Rashad Higgins, and (Baltimore bust/castoff) Breshad Perriman. Mayfield also faces a better slate of defenses in December than Jackson.
While it's a safe assumption that a quarterback carrying the ball as much as Jackson did against Cincinnati is troublesome when you look at the generalized history of quarterback, a majority of Jackson's runs ended with him untouched. True, it only takes one bad hit to end things for a player, but injury rates have shown that quarterbacks are injured far more often from the pocket than they are as runners.
This makes a lot of sense when you consider that most quarterbacks in the pocket are hit at awkward angles and don't see the hitter. The quarterbacks who often get hurt as runners are the ones who aren't good runners!
I urge anyone reading this to reconsider the football myths about quarterbacks who can run. Cam Newton has been hurt far more often while playing in the pocket.
Michael Vick's downfall is that he didn't work at the game. The Falcons brought Steve Young to Atlanta as a consultant in an attempt to get Vick to work on the fundamentals of the game and failed. Vick didn't begin embracing a pocket game until he had no choice but listen to Andy Reid in Philadelphia or maybe not earn a chance elsewhere after serving time for cruelty to animals. When he did, he had a fantastic season.
Jackson, even by Vick's estimation last year, is way better than Vick was as a passer and pocket player entering the league. While quarterback is a difficult position to evaluate and there are a lot of parts beyond the film we don't see that are integral to a player's development, Jackson's pocket play was the best of the quarterbacks in this class.
The issue with Jackson long-term is whether the Ravens will have the same wisdom that Reid and Sean McVay possessed with Patrick Mahomes II II and Jared Goff and create a scheme that plays to the strengths of its quarterback without overcorrecting mechanical processes with Jackson that work for him but doesn't imitate Tom Brady's motion.
Another myth about quarterbacking is that one mechanical method fits all quarterbacks. More quarterbacks get screwed up when coaches at the high school, college, and pro levels try to overcorrect these processes so they look like Brady when the biomechanics of the player in question is much different.
The issues with Jackson the prospect aren't about seeing the field, staying in the pocket, or throwing accurate passes as much as it is him getting used to a wordier version of plays and the Ravens figuring out a workable balance with Jackson's running ability so it can create an effective passing game that plays to his strengths.
If you're a play-by-numbers fantasy manager, Jackson is not your type of player because he doesn't fit into the robo-quarterback spectrum that plays nice with Excel spreadsheets. If you're willing to examine the game a little deeper and go with the risk of investing in a quarterback whose coaches might also lump Jackson unfairly with a player like Vick and unintentionally slow or stifle his development, then Jackson is worth it.
Preparing for the fantasy playoffs
Waldman: The fantasy playoffs begin in two weeks.
- How should a top-seeded team prepare for the fantasy playoffs?
- How should a team competing for one of the final playoff spots prepare?
- What are common strategic mistakes that playoff-bound teams make?>
Schofield: Matchups, rested starters and weather are the things that teams making that run to the playoffs need to keep in mind most as we head into the playoff stretch run.
Sometimes the playoff run requires you to step outside the comfort zone a bit more. You might need to sit down one of your year-long big-time players due to a poor matchup, or a weather situation, so make sure you treat the roster like NASA treats every mission: Have a backup plan for your backup plans. Spend time just sitting in rooms just thinking...stuff...up.
(Ok, I inserted a few "Armageddon" quotes in here.)
The main point is that you need to be prepared for coaches sitting players, note bad weather situations, and account for poor matchups. Also, while we often think of teams that have locked down playoff spots sitting starters don't forget the flip side of that coin: Teams that are out of contention might start playing younger players to get an evaluation on them before the NFL Draft.
Do your research, if you've been relying on guys that might fit these categories, make sure you have your backup plan in place. We are through the bye weeks, so it's time to start preparing for your key contributors finding themselves on the sidelines when you might need them most.
Settle: There are a few things that top seeds should be looking at. There is a good chance you have a Todd Gurley, Alvin Kamara, or any of the Chiefs players as a focal point on your team. See if the coaching staff hints at resting players when they have divisions and even top seeds wrapped up. There is a chance the Rams rest Todd Gurley if the Rams sow up the top seed, especially after Gurley got hurt in Monday night's game.
Note your overall point totals. Sometimes the difference between the top seed and a bye and the third seed is one player you should have started. With a comfortable lead, you can employ more boom-bust plays in an effort to score as many points as possible. Do not risk losing your matchup but look for the best scoring opportunities to lock in your spot.
You will also want to look at the matchups for your top players. For example, Adam Thielen has another matchup against the Bears and that is not always the best bet come crunch time. Look out a few weeks at your potential matchups and try and align yourself with the best possible matchups you can.
Wood: Top-seeded teams, particularly those who have assured playoff spots already, should be laser-focused on the playoff weeks. That means preemptively grabbing defenses, kickers, and tight ends (if you're one of the many teams without Ertz or Kelce on your roster) that have enviable matchups. It also means giving strong consideration to dropping marginal contributors on your roster for high-upside handcuffs to your star players.
For those (like most of us) still in a fight for a playoff spot, you've got to keep grinding and give next to no thought beyond the week ahead. You have to hope you do enough to get into the playoffs and then luck goes your way. You also need to be realistic about your chances. If you're an underdog, be willing to grab off-the-wall waiver picks that have high upside variance.
Parsons: As a top-seeded team, prepping for the playoffs is about insulation. Likely past the trade deadline, a team needs to have a Plan B for each position, even if it involves their choice of waiver wire options. Also, it is not too early to align team defenses for optimal matchups for the team's first playoff matchup, or even Week 16.
Next tier playoff teams are not much different than the top seeds in terms of to-do list items, but more focus needs to be on winning the next week instead of the macro of the next month. For example, bidding more aggressively on the best DST option or ensuring a strong bid for a needed streamer if they will be in lineups the next week or two.
The biggest mistake I see is keeping too many flex-level or more flimsy wide receiver bets down the stretch. Wide receiver is not the high-leverage option of a running back or even one of the top tight ends who are one-injury-away. Handcuffing an integral running back on a roster or insulating for a quarterback injury or adding a strong team defense in the coming weeks are all better uses for final roster spots.
Tremblay: In theory, teams that have already locked up a playoff spot can sacrifice a few points now in order to strengthen their outlook during the playoffs, while teams that are still in the playoff hunt must focus on winning now. In practice, there usually isn't much difference except in very shallow leagues.
Most teams, even with a playoff spot locked up, are not going to cut a player who should be in their starting lineup. And most teams, even without a playoff spot locked up, should be juggling the bottom of their roster to add a second defense, for example, rather than keeping a replacement-level running back or wide receiver. Teams in both situations, in other words, should be looking ahead to the playoffs and stashing players with good future matchups (even kickers and defenses), but only to the extent that they can create the necessary room by cutting clear fantasy backups -- not fantasy starters.
Waldman: On behalf of our roundtable panel, we wish you all a healthy and happy Thanksgiving. Good luck in your fantasy leagues this week!