ITB Fantasy Football Corner: Jameis Winston, Fantasy Savior?
While many owners managed to evade the dreaded injury bug, others resorted to constant roster shuffling to remain in the hunt.
This week’s edition provides some relevant late-season notes, strong flex plays, and a couple of sneaky pickups, who may well serve as lottery tickets.
*Drew Brees will reportedly miss at least two weeks following a second opinion on his injuries, which means Jameis Winston will be at the controls. Winston, known for his gunslinging tendencies, is likely to turn the ball over. However, the 26-year-old is just as likely to tap into the vertical passing game and provide enough production with a strong supporting cast to warrant lineup consideration. Winston draws a favorable matchup in the Falcons, so if you search for a desperation heave or need a bye week fill-in, Jameis is your guy.
*A once-crowded Lions backfield muddied by the presence of veteran Adrian Peterson has finally come into focus after 10 weeks. Not only do I like rookie D’Andre Swift this week, but I’m particularly high on his upside for the rest of the season.
* Speaking of backfield conundrums, the maddening Patriots’ timeshare has seemingly been whittled down to second-year pro Damien Harris and veteran Rex Burkhead. Harris, who out-snapped Burkhead 32-to-20, recorded 22 carries for 121 yards against the Ravens. If he’s out there, get him onto your team. Harris is nursing multiple injuries and was listed as a limited participant on Wednesday, so monitor his status this week.
*The Dolphins released running back veteran Jordan Howard this week. With the impressive Myles Gaskin on injured reserve and the ineffective Howard a healthy scratch on Sunday, undrafted rookie Salvon Ahmed earned an expanded look. The 5-foot-11, 197-pound runner seized control of a lethargic Dolphins running game, producing 81 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. For perspective, Patrick Laird was next in the pecking order with just two carries. Ahmed is a speculative add for now, as we wait to see how the workload is divided, but could be the late-season lottery ticket that puts owners over the top.
*Can you recall a more abrupt fall from grace recently than the Colts’ Jonathan Taylor? On Thursday night, the rookie was out-snapped 39-to-17 by versatile Nyheim Hines and registered just seven carries to Hines’ 12. He also hauled in five receptions for 45 yards and a touchdown on six targets. Whether Hines’ usage was tactical due to a weakness on Tennessee’s defense or a sign of things to come is worth monitoring.
*Before the season, I identified Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore as one of my 2020 breakout candidates, and thus far the second-year pro has been underwhelming. However, he seemingly got back on track last week, catching four passes for 97 yards and a touchdown on seven targets against Tampa Bay. While it’s tough to trust Moore down the stretch, I’m rolling with him against the Lions.
*I’ve mentioned Jakobi Meyers in this space the past two weeks, and the second-year receiver continues to impress, so consider this the last call. The N.C. State product has ascended to the improbable distinction of No. 1 wide receiver for the Patriots, but more importantly, he has earned the trust of quarterback Cam Newton. He’s the real deal.
Flex Plays I Like
Lions RB D’Andre Swift vs. Panthers
After miring in a timeshare for much of the season, the Lions turned the backfield over to Swift. The dynamic rookie registered 43 snaps, while Kerryon Johnson and Adrian Peterson combined for 16 snaps. Swift yielded 21 touches, carrying the ball 16 times for 81 yards, and reeled in five catches for 68 yards and a touchdown. This week, Swift draws a streaky Panthers’ run defense.
Panthers RB Mike Davis vs. Lions
On the other side, fire up Davis without hesitation. Christian McCaffrey will miss another week, so expect the Panthers’ multi-faceted bulldozer to do most of the heavy lifting in a plus matchup.
Browns RB Kareem Hunt vs. Eagles
The return of Nick Chubb had little impact on Hunt last week. Hunt (38) out-snapped Chubb (28), but both runners significantly impacted Sunday’s outcome. Chubb and Hunt each surpassed 100 rushing yards on 19 carries, but Hunt’s impact as a dual-threat makes him a strong play against Philadelphia. Hunt reeled in three receptions for 28 yards on four pass targets against the Texans. Playing against an Eagles’ linebacking tandem that can be exploited in space should see increased opportunities.
Steelers WR Diontae Johnson vs. Jaguars
Johnson, who turned 11 targets into six receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown against the Bengals, needs to be in lineups. Yes, the Steelers are deep at wide receiver, but Smith-Schuster, Claypool, and Johnson garnered double-digit pass targets. Frankly, all three are must-plays against a shoddy Jaguars secondary, but I like Johnson as an explosive, downfield presence.
Vikings WR Justin Jefferson vs. Cowboys
Jefferson has been on a tear this season and has established unmistakable chemistry with quarterback Kirk Cousins. The rookie sensation has 18 pass targets over the past three weeks and now draws one of the NFL’s worst pass defenses. Jefferson’s versatility and polish has essentially made him matchup-proof. Start him with confidence.
Eagles WR Jalen Reagor vs. Browns
Reagor makes this list for the second consecutive week. The Eagles made a conscious effort to involve the talented rookie in last week’s game plan — he led the team with seven targets – but the offense spent much of the afternoon stuck in neutral. Still, Reagor finished with four receptions for 47 yards and earned a look with the game hanging in the balance. If the Eagles execute on offense against the Browns, this should be the week that Reagor emerges.
Cardinals WR Christian Kirk vs. Seahawks
Although Kirk failed to capitalize in an opportune spot against the Bills, finishing with just four catches for 27 yards, the third-year pass-catcher has averaged just over seven targets per game over the last three weeks. DeAndre Hopkins will most certainly get his targets, but there will be opportunities aplenty against a porous Seahawks’ secondary – receivers have averaged 21.7 catches per game. Kirk had a modest showing in the first matchup with the Seahawks but managed to find the end zone twice. I anticipate a shoot-out on Thursday night, so be sure to get Kirk into your lineups.
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.