So — bye-week apocalypse has come and gone but as we enter Week 11, those six teams that were on a bye last week have some intriguing receiver question marks heading into their games.
Can the Eagles find something, anything from their wideouts to potentially open up the passing game for Carson Wentz?
What impact will Nick Foles have on the Jags pass-catchers?
Could DeAndre Hopkins be in line for a bit of a letdown down the stretch?
Was the Mohamed Sanu breakout something we should trust or just a bit more Beli-tricks?
What to make of Denver’s passing game with unheralded Brandon Allen and potentially Drew Lock at the helm?
And should we really be dropping Terry McLaurin now that Dwayne Haskins has been named the starter for the rest of the year?
So many wide receiver question marks and so many fantasy implications. Let’s dive in.
Birds Stay Grounded
Back in Week 8 I only half-jokingly wrote that DeSean Jackson wouldn’t be healthy till Neveruary 1. As it turns out he came back in Week 9 for the first time since the Reagan Administration, played all of three snaps and then promptly re-aggravated his core muscle injury before going on injured reserve.
Jackson was supposed to be the speedy key that unlocked this Eagles passing attack and for all of one game, that was true.
Receiver speed was a clear and obvious need but unfortunately, Philly didn’t make any moves at the trade deadline and perhaps more surprisingly, didn’t make a waiver claim on Josh Gordon. So now Carson Wentz is stuck with an aging Alshon Jeffery and a wholly unreliable Nelson Agholor.
We’re hoping Doug Pederson can scheme up something but this week he’s got New England coming to town. From a fantasy perspective, you can go ahead and sit Wentz down as the Patriots are allowing just 7.39 fantasy points per game (FPPG) to opposing quarterbacks. They should be able to box up Jeffery and Agholor with relative ease.
You’re benching Alshon as well except in the deepest of leagues but dropping him seems premature. Jeffery would re-enter flex consideration with dates against Seattle, Miami, the Giants, and Redskins.
The King is Dead, Long Live the King
After our mustachioed king melted down for four total turnovers the week before the Jags bye, Minshew Mania is officially dead in the dirt. Enter Nick Foles, right back into our lives.
And from a fantasy perspective, I’d be most concerned about D.J. Chark. Gardner Minshew LOVED throwing to Chark, with Chark leading the team in targets and air yards. As a result, Chark averaged nearly 5 receptions and 77 yards per game to go along with six touchdowns.
NFL Network researcher Michael F. Florio (no, not that Mike Florio — yes, it’s confusing) dug up a really interesting preseason nugget regarding Foles and his preference for throwing into the slot: “Nick Foles threw to the slot 36.4% of the time last year, the most in the league now that Luck retired. Dede legit has top-20 PPR upside this season.”
If this ends up playing out this way I would go ahead and kiss your Chark shares goodbye and fire up the Dede Westbrook hype train. Westbrook is currently 58 percent rostered in Yahoo leagues. Remember, he suffered a neck injury in Week 8, missed Week 9, had a bye in Week 10 and is set to return this week against the Colts. He’s an excellent sleeper for this week and a terrific buy-low candidate if your trade deadline hasn’t passed yet.
Nuk to Nosedive?
Will Fuller practiced this week and his return seems imminent. If he is close to 100%, I would be worried about the volume for DeAndre Hopkins for fantasy purposes.
The first six weeks of the season, with a healthy Will Fuller flying around, Hopkins averaged 9.3 targets and 101.5 air yards per game. Both are really good figures but a reduction from the 10.2 targets and 124.7 air yards per game he saw last year.
As a result, Hopkins averaged a very good, but not elite, 15.5 FPPG his first six weeks.
Once Fuller was injured, the volume came inching back up as Nuk averaged 12 targets and 106 air yards per game over his last three. His scoring was boosted from 15.5 to 22.3 FPPG.
Hopkins may maintain this pace even with a healthy Fuller out there, but there is enough evidence to suggest otherwise.
Obviously, if Fuller is out there, go pick him up (only 58% rostered in Yahoo leagues) and given how well Deshaun Watson is playing, I’d be comfortable firing up Fuller this week if the injury reports are positive.
Sanu: Beli-tricks or Late-season Treat?
After being a relative non-factor in his first game with the Patriots (5 tar, 2 rec, 23 yds), Sanu exploded in Week 9, posting 10 receptions, 81 yards, and a touchdown. But as always, what do we believe has staying power in a Bill Belichick offense?
Well, currently Tom Brady is averaging nearly 40 pass attempts per game. Don’t ask me how a defense-first team is still chucking it 40 times a game with a 42 year old quarterback but that’s what we got. Brady is on pace to throw 631 pass attempts, his most pass attempts since the 2012 season where he threw for 637 times, which was a career-high for him.
I highlight the pass attempts to say there are enough there to give Sanu solid target totals every week.
And the fact that the team released Josh Gordon opens up some snaps for Sanu to line up outside as well, which should help his air yard totals.
It’s a long way of saying I think the volume stats will continue to be there for Sanu and as such make him an upside flex play moving forward.
Courtland Sutton is QB-Proof
Considering Sutton was posting good, solid stat lines with Joe Flacco and continued to do so with unheralded Brandon Allen, you have to feel fairly confident about rolling him out every week as a WR2 or flex.
The athletic Broncos receiver has seen between 6 and 9 targets every single week and is averaging a little over 85 air yards per game.
You would think given the state of their offense, touchdowns would be hard to come by but he already has four in nine games this year. The guy is so physical and talented around the end zone that I could see him catching 8-10 touchdowns on the year.
This week he is on the road against Minnesota and one of the more under-reported storylines in football is how far the Vikings secondary play has fallen off. Xavier Rhodes is no longer anywhere close to shutdown and Minnesota is giving up the fourth-most FPPG to wide receivers this year. The 15 receiving touchdowns they’ve allowed to opposing receivers are tied for most in the NFL.
Fire up Sutton with confidence this week.
Can Terry McLaurin survive?
There is a lot of hand wringing right now when it comes to Terry McLaurin. After back-to-back 39-yard games and with Dwayne Haskins being named the full-time starter for the rest of the year, F1 is seeing his fantasy stock plummet right now.
If I can, let me be contrarian in saying that a mini-turnaround is entirely possible.
Washington’s schedule is extra light in the coming weeks as they will square off against the Jets, Lions, and Panthers in their next three games. All three are in the bottom half of the league in defending the pass.
Focusing specifically on this week, the Jets give up the second-most FPPG to wide receivers, making McLaurin a sneaky streaming option and a cost-effective play in DFS tournaments.
I don’t know if Haskins is going to be able to turn it around but I do know that McLaurin is the clear number 1 option on a team with a cake schedule forthcoming.
I think the volume will be there and so will the matchups. I’m cautiously optimistic.
James Koh is a fantasy football analyst and an award-winning journalist. He’s probably wrong, but you never know. Follow him on Twitter @JamesDKoh.