• Andrew DiCecco

ITB Fantasy Football Corner: Woah, Nellie!

Though wildly eventful and pleasantly surprising, Week 7 yielded several key injuries and setbacks that likely have fantasy owners scrambling.


From unfortunate injuries to Odell Beckham Jr., Jeff Wilson, Andy Dalton, Chris Carson, Kenyan Drake, and Deebo Samuel, to mostly isolated COVID-19 flare-ups, last week highlighted the weekly unpredictability of the NFL.


In any event, I have a ton of information to unveil that will hopefully help you win your matchups, so let’s get to it!


Trends

*Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey will not suit up for Thursday Night Football. Though his backup, Mike Davis, has struggled to find his footing recently, get him into your lineups for what should be an offensively-driven matchup.


Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s resurgence hasn’t been discussed nearly enough. Through seven games, Bridgewater has completed 72.2 percent of his passes for 1,930 yards, eight touchdowns, and five interceptions. His 8.2 yards per pass attempt is the highest of his career. If you’re looking for a capable No. 2, a spot-starter, or bye week fill-in – look no further.

*The 49ers are down to running backs JaMycal Hasty and Jerick McKinnon. McKinnon will likely handle third-down duties, while Hasty, the superior runner, should ascend into a bell-cow role – if only for a week.


While on the subject, if you need wide receiver help, act quickly and snag wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk. Deebo Samuel is expected to miss multiple weeks with a hamstring injury, elevating Aiyuk into a more prominent role. Like Samuel, Aiyuk is a fantasy-friendly option who can create yards on jet sweeps and screens in addition to working all three levels of the field.

*The Saints will more than likely be without wide receivers Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders for another week. Many rushed to the waiver wire to add Tre’Quan Smith, only to see Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harris combine for 15 targets, 12 receptions, 121 yards, and a touchdown.


Despite standing 5-foot-6, Assumption College’s Harris is the most appealing option. The second-year player possesses tremendous short-area quickness, can generate yards on jet sweeps, and can turn a Drew Brees checkdown into a big play.


Only add in 14-team leagues for now, but Harris is a name to monitor given the team’s current outlook at the position.


*Another week, another season-ending injury. Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. sustained a torn ACL in the first quarter of last week’s game after attempting to tackle Bengals’ cornerback Darius Phillips following an interception. Rashard Higgins emerged in Beckham’s absence, reeling in six receptions for 110 yards on six targets.


This showing isn’t unfamiliar territory for Higgins, who has produced when presented with an opportunity throughout his career. Higgins doesn't boast the gaudy deep speed that typically ushers waves of owners to the waiver wire, but if you’re in need of a possession receiver who can handle volume, consider adding Higgins.

*Don’t look now, but Nelson Agholor is quickly becoming a household name – for the right reasons – once again.

(Nelson Agholor is reviving his career with the Raiders)

Though he hadn’t been utilized as a volume pass-catcher during the first five weeks, the veteran accounted for 107 receiving yards on five catches against the Buccaneers. More importantly, Agholor commanded nine pass targets and turned back the hands of time to 2017. There’s not enough information to know if his breakout is a sign of things to come. Still, the once-embattled Philadelphia Eagle should continue to establish his niche and be a valuable addition ahead of a postseason push.


*Two Day 3 deep threats who caught my attention during my pre-draft evaluations were John Hightower and Bears receiver Darnell Mooney.


While Hightower has endured bouts with ball tracking, he’s already mastered what many rookies fail to grasp until their second season: The subtleties of advanced route-running. In other words, the hard part.


Much like Hightower, Mooney found his way onto the field early. The Tulane product doesn't possess Hightower’s length but he’s even more explosive. However, despite Mooney's big-play potential, he has only been able to muster six receptions for 76 yards on 12 targets the past two weeks.


Sure, those numbers won’t jump off the page, but the Bears have demonstrated a willingness to take deep shots with their rookie receiver. Against the Rams, Nick Foles misfired on two heaves to Mooney that could've changed the game's complexity.


With Allen Robinson in concussion protocol, and with Anthony Miller M.I.A, scan your waiver wire for Mooney, who continuously flashes separation every week.

*Need a tight end to cover a bye week? How about Eagles tight end Richard Rodgers. Zach Ertz is on injured reserve, and Dallas Goedert will probably be limited if he returns this week, leaving Rodgers as the de facto TE1 for the second consecutive week.


Last week, the veteran turned in his finest performance since 2015, reeling in six receptions for 85 yards on eight targets. I have sneaky suspicion he finds the end zone this week.

*The Seahawks' running back situation is a mess, with the top three nursing each nursing injuries. The fourth option, rookie DeeJay Dallas, is a player I liked coming out of Miami. A wide receiver-turned-running back, Dallas has the vision and contact balance to sift through traffic and the power to hammer between the tackles successfully. However, his faulty pass protection needs serious refinement and likely cost the Seahawks a victory in overtime against the Cardinals.

The potential is evident, but it’s unclear how the rotation will look for Sunday. Keep an eye on the injury report this week.

Flex Plays I like

Panthers RB Mike Davis vs. Falcons

Davis, who made initial waves in McCaffrey's relief, has fallen back down to earth the past couple of weeks. However, in perhaps his final start of the season, Davis faces a juicy matchup in prime-time.

While the Falcons’ run defense has been relatively stout, the team has allowed a league-worst 110.0 PPR points to running backs. With both defenses susceptible to surrendering chunk plays, this game has the making of a potential shootout – even on a short week.

Eagles RB Boston Scott vs. Cowboys

Prior to coming up with a perfectly thrown game-winner from Carson Wentz to sink the Giants, Scott had been a virtual non-entity on offense through seven weeks. It was beginning to feel as though his late-season magic from 2019 was merely a mirage.

However, with Miles Sanders on the mend, the Eagles turned Scott loose against the hapless Giants. Sure, he shared the backfield with Corey Clement and Jason Huntley, but Scott did the heavy lifting, as he was on the field for 56 of a possible 81 offensive snaps. Sanders will likely miss another week, thrusting Scott back in the spotlight. The Cowboys have struggled against the run, allowing five yards per carry on the season, and Scott figures to handle the lion’s share of the touches.

Dolphins RB Myles Gaskin vs. Rams

Fantasy football is often about opportunity, and Gaskin has yielded 43 touches over the past two weeks. Expect that trend to continue, with rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa making his first NFL start.

Although a run-heavy game plan is all but assured to ease Tagovailoa’s transition, it might not necessarily translate into success against a formidable Rams’ defensive front. Look for the Dolphins to conjure ways to get their young quarterback into a rhythm as they attempt to chase points. This should include several dump-offs to Gaskin, who averages nearly five targets per week.

49ers RB JaMycal Hasty vs. Seahawks

The 49ers will probably be without Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson, and Tevin Coleman, which leaves Hasty and Jerick McKinnon as the last rushers standing in a once-crowded backfield.

While it’s difficult to forecast how Kyle Shanahan will choose to deploy the tandem, I assume McKinnon will handle third-down duties while Hasty shoulders most of the carries. Hasty should see anywhere from 10-12 touches, which should be enough to give your lineup a boost.

Panthers WR Robby Anderson vs. Falcons

With the Jets, Anderson was often viewed as an enigmatic nightmare for fantasy owners. His propensity for volatile performances frequently prompted owners to cut the cord prematurely in search of stability elsewhere. However, a change of scenery has worked wonders for Anderson, who has flipped the script.

Billed as a streaky deep threat in New York, Anderson has developed an unmistakable rapport with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in Carolina, eclipsing the 100-yard receiving barrier on three occasions through seven weeks. Adding to his intrigue, Anderson is averaging north of eight targets per game and will now face struggling rookie A.J. Terrell on Thursday night.

Reminder: When the two teams met in Week 5, Anderson parlayed 13 targets into eight receptions for 112 yards.

Bills WR Cole Beasley vs. Patriots

Beasley is a target monster who acts as a security blanket for quarterback Josh Allen.

The diminutive pass-catcher has hauled in 39 receptions on 49 targets for 470 yards and two touchdowns – all second-most among Bills’ receivers. He surpassed 100 yards receiving twice and will now see a Patriots defense that has struggled defending shifty inside receivers such as Tyler Lockett and Hunter Renfrow.

Beasley is criminally under-owned despite his weekly production, so if he’s sitting on your waiver wire – scoop him up and start him with confidence.

Titans WR Corey Davis vs. Bengals

It might be just a four-game sample size, but Davis is piecing together his most efficient season as a pro.

A pivotal piece of a high-octane Titans’ offense, Davis has garnered 29 targets across four games – including 10 against the Steelers, his most since 2018. On Sunday, Davis will lock up with Bengals No. 2 cornerback, Darius Phillips, in a matchup that should have no shortage of points scored. Phillips has allowed six touchdowns on 70 targets, so look for Davis’ good fortune to continue for another week.

While many skeptics will point to Davis’ sporadic production in patches, perhaps the fourth-year receiver is simply a late bloomer finally hitting his stride.

Eagles WR Greg Ward vs. Cowboys

Like Beasley, Ward’s floor from a PPR standpoint is as reliable as it gets. Ward is second on the Eagles in targets (40) behind an injured Zach Ertz (45), leads the team in receptions (29) and is tied for the most receiving touchdowns (3).

Ward is a volume receiver who has settled into a niche as a dependable chain-mover. He’s yet to eclipse his 72-yard receiving output from Week 3, but he’s clearly earned the trust of quarterback Carson Wentz. The Eagles figure to be short-handed on offense for at least another week, so expect Wentz to attack a vulnerable Cowboys pass defense with short-to-intermediate throws to Ward. – Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.

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