Wed Jan 12 10:26am ET
By JEFF PAUR
Sr Fantasy Writer
Gronkowski is setup for big game
More and more fantasy owners are playing in playoff leagues, and for good reason. They are a lot of fun contests and leagues out there these days. We run several on our site and you can click here to see all of them. Your fantasy leagues don’t have to come to an end because the regular season is over. I highly suggest getting involved in a league if you can. It is a great way to get your fantasy fix a little longer. Plus, there are a lot of interesting formats for leagues, giving you a different fantasy dynamic than during the regular season. So we’ll continue with this column throughout the playoffs, getting you ready for your games each week. With that said, here are my random thoughts for the week. . . . .
I think Rashaad Penny is going to be one of the toughest fantasy players to rank next year. He showed his huge potential in a starting role down the stretch and proved to be a difference maker for all the fantasy teams that had him on their roster. This was his fourth season in the league, though. The issue for Penny has always been health. He is yet to play a full season. That is going to make him a risky boom or bust pick for 2022. With a price tag that is likely to be pretty high, I’m a little worried about the big risk that comes with taking Penny. Plus, his lack of work in the passing game is a concern, having 23 catches in four seasons. That is going to limit his overall ceiling. Penny is sure to be a polarizing figure in the fantasy community next year.
I have two upsets for this weekend’s games. I like the 49ers and Cardinals to both win. They are my only road winners for the weekend. I just think the 49ers have a team that is hard to match up against for any NFL team and when they are on their game, they are as good as any in the league. Plus, I think the Cowboys are a little overrated, beating up on a bad division while playing very close games against the rest of the league. Arizona was the best team in football early in the year, so I think the potential is there for them to make a run this postseason. The Cardinals are good on both sides of the ball and I trust Kyler Murray to make more big plays than Matthew Stafford this point.
Tom Brady continues to amaze me. I can’t believe what he is doing at his age. He finished third overall in fantasy quarterback scoring. He threw for more than 5,000 yards and had 45 total touchdowns to just 12 interceptions. You keep thinking he has to start showing signs of age, but it just isn’t happening. It is truly amazing what he is doing and I’m not counting him out to make another long playoff run despite being down two of his top receivers (Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown).
For the first time in a long time, Travis Kelce was not the top rated fantasy tight end this year. That honor went to Mark Andrews. Kelce still was a great fantasy player but I’m not sure I bite quite as high on him in drafts next year. He was a first or second round pick this year. This guy has a lot of wear and tear on his body and even missed a game this year. He remains an elite fantasy tight end, but I’m not sure he continues to post his monster numbers from past years. A decline could finally be happening for Kelce.
I see lot of people sour on D.J. Moore and I’m not sure I get it. He had another horrible quarterback situation this year, but managed to finish 17th overall in fantasy receiver scoring. He was ahead of guys like CeeDee Lamb, Tee Higgins, Terry McLaurin and Amari Cooper. Moore is a really good receiver that will benefit by getting competent quarterback play. If the Panthers can get a good option this offseason, I will like Moore even more in 2022.
If I were the Dolphins, I would be looking at another quarterback this offseason. I just don’t see Tua Tagovailoa as a franchise quarterback, taking this team on a deep playoff run. He just hasn’t progressed as expected. I don’t think he has the arm strength to be a top NFL quarterback. He dinks and dunks too much. Miami has to be kicking themselves for passing on Justin Herbert to get Tagovailoa.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Chiefs. Edwards-Helaire is expected to return from his shoulder injury this week and could get a lot of work at running back with Darrel Williams hurting. He is more than capable of the big game. He has two 100-yard rushing games this year despite missing a lot of time and six touchdowns. Edwards-Helaire gets the Steelers, a team that is dead last against the run. Pittsburgh allows 146.1-rushing yards per game.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Bucs. With the Bucs battling injuries in the passing game, Gronkowski has emerged as the top target for the Bucs late in the year. He has two straight 100-yard games and double-digit targets three of four games. He should get plenty of looks during the playoffs. And Gronkowski plays an Eagles team that has really struggled against tight ends this season. Philadelphia allows the most fantasy points to tight ends on the season.
Jalen Hurts, QB, Eagles. Hurts finished the season as the ninth rated fantasy quarterback despite missing two games. He took a big step forward this year and had plenty of big fantasy performances. He had four games with 30-plus fantasy points. He is going to have to do a lot if the Eagles hope to upset the Bucs this week. His ceiling is really high in this matchup - even if the Eagles lose. Tampa allows the ninth most fantasy points to quarterbacks and rank 21st overall against the pass.
Jakobi Meyers, WR, Patriots. Meyers had a breakout season for the Patriots, posting the best numbers of his career. But even with that said, he didn’t have a 100-yard game and had a few games that he disappeared. He is not a sure thing for big production. And a game this week against the Bills is not a favorable one for him. Buffalo allows the fewest fantasy points to receivers and are first overall against the pass. Expect the Patriots to run and run often against the Bills in this matchup.
Kyler Murray, QB, Cardinals. Murray had another very good season for his fantasy owners. He was 11th overall in fantasy quarterback scoring despite missing three games. He produced some very big games and was a consistent factor. He did slow down a bit near the end of the season, though. He had just one or no touchdowns four of his last five games. Murray also gets a Rams team that held him to two touchdowns in two games. Los Angeles allows the fifth fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. It might be another ho-hum showing for Murray in this playoff opener.
Sony Michel, RB, Rams. Michel had a great season, serving as the No. 1 back for the Rams the second half of the season and producing big with his chances. He had one of his worse showings his last time out, though, rushing 21 times for just 43 yards. Plus, Cam Akers is back and expected to cut into Michel’s playing time. Michel is no sure thing for big games in the playoffs. He also played the Cardinals just a few weeks back and ran 20 times for 79 yards without a touchdown or a catch. Arizona allows the sixth fewest fantasy points to running backs.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers. Roethlisberger has really slowed down this season, but still had a few decent games. He has two three-touchdown games and attempted 40-plus passes five of eight games. It could be more of the same this week for Roethlisberger. The Steelers could be playing from behind, needing to throw to try to catch up. This means Roethlisberger should get plenty of chances against a Chiefs team that allows the second most fantasy points to quarterbacks.
Cedrick Wilson, WR, Cowboys. Wilson had his second 100-yard game of the season last week. He got a lot more playing time with Michael Gallup done for the season. He has 11 receptions the last two weeks, getting a lot of weekly looks for the Cowboys top passing game. Wilson gets a 49ers defense that allowed the 11th most fantasy points to receivers during the regular season. He could have another solid showing in this one.
C.J. Uzomah, TE, Bengals. Uzomah has been a pretty consistent tight end much of the year for the Bengals. He has enjoyed a few really big games along the way to go with his consistent production. Uzomah has at least three receptions six straight games if you take away last week. He was active last week but didn’t get in the game because he was battling some injury issues. He’ll be ready to go this week and might be an “x” factor for the Bengals. The Raiders have really struggled against tight ends, allowing the fifth most fantasy points to tight ends.
High/Low Scoring Games
Each week we will take a look at some of the high and low scoring games for the coming week. In high scoring affairs, get your marginal players on those teams in your lineup to take advantage of the possible points barrage. And in the low scoring games, keep those marginal players on the bench and make sure to have your defenses involved in those contests.
High Scoring Games: Raiders/Bengals, Eagles/Bucs, 49ers/Cowboys, Cardinals/Rams.
Low Scoring Games: Patriots/Bills.
Jeff Paur is a two-time finalist for FSWA Fantasy Football Writer of the Year and won the FSWA award for Best Fantasy Football Article on the Web in 2011. He also was the most accurate expert in 2012, winning the FSTA Fantasy Football Accuracy Award. If you have any questions for Jeff, email him at email@example.com. Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffpaur.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver T.J. Vasher, who was signed as an undrafted free agent last year, wasn't able to practice with the team due to a knee injury. However, he's put himself into the receiver conversation this offseason and got a lot of work in at organized team activities and minicamp. "He's made some really big-time flash plays, splash plays," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "He's had some really, particularly in the red zone, which you can see his ability down there. Big plays in scramble drills and things like that. I just think like any young player, particularly in his development, it's getting the details of the everyday situations." The 23-year-old has yet to play in an NFL game, and he'll need to continue to impress in training camp in order to win a spot on the 53-man roster.
New York Giants rookie fourth-round tight end Daniel Bellinger had plenty of opportunities with the first-team offense this spring and caught the ball well. Given the way he caught the ball and the way he was moving at organized team activities and minicamp, it's likely that he was underutilized at San Diego State. The Giants have an opening at the position, and Bellinger has a chance to make an impact in his first NFL season after making a strong impression this offseason. Ricky Seals-Jones and Jordan Akins are by no means proven at their position, so Bellinger could secure a pretty significant role eventually in 2022. It doesn't mean he's worth targeting late in drafts at the tight end position, but he's a player worth watching in training camp.
Philadelphia Eagles third-year wide receiver Quez Watkins made some splash plays this spring, including a 40-plus-yard touchdown catch during organized team activities from quarterback Jalen Hurts. The Eagles coaching staff has talked up Watkins every chance they get and believe he has the tools to be a highly productive receiver. However, finding consistent targets for him may be the only problem, with A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert all commanding looks in the offense. Watkins' fantasy appeal certainly took a hit when the team acquired Brown from the Titans, but he could be sneaky good with less attention from opposing defenses as the No. 3 wideout. The 24-year-old had 43 receptions on 62 targets for 647 yards and one touchdown in 17 games (12 starts) in his second NFL season in 2021.
Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell praised wide receiver Trinity Benson during minicamp as one of the players who is "having a hell of a spring." Benson has learned the team's playbook and elevated his confidence by adding speed to his skill set. The 25-year-old will still have to fight for a roster spot in training camp this summer alongside names like Kalif Raymond, Tom Kennedy and rookies Corey Sutton, Kalil Pimpleton and Josh Johnson. The Lions also signed DJ Chark Jr. in free agency and drafted Jameson Williams in the first round, so Benson will most likely be buried on the depth chart if he makes the team. Benson will probably need to stand out on special teams in order to make the 53-man roster.
Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Rashan Gary had as good a spring as anyone in an offseason in which the Packers did almost no full-speed 11-on-11 work. Gary looked lean and muscular and is coming off a career-best season in which he racked up 9.5 sacks and 28 quarterback hits. He was one of the few starters that stuck around through the end of organized team activities, saying, "I'm just here trying to get better." Green Bay exercised Gary's fifth-year option back in April after the 24-year-old stepped into a bigger role in 2021 due to Za'Darius Smith's back injury that kept him out nearly all season. Along with his 9.5 sacks, Gary had 47 tackles (27 solo) and two forced fumbles in 16 games played. He'll once again be asked to take on a big role with Smith now in Minnesota.
Minnesota Vikings rookie third-round linebacker Brian Asamoah's sideline-to-sideline speed was evident in non-contact practices this offseason, as was his confidence. He joked with an assistant coach that he wanted $5 every time he ran past someone. "I'm a rich man now," Asamoah said, "because I keep passing them." The 22-year-old was a two-year starter at Oklahoma, and he can play either linebacker or safety. It's not clear yet where he'll be used in Minnesota, but he probably won't be anything more than a rotational player on defense with versatility and speed to spare.
New Orleans Saints second-year defensive back Bryce Thompson earned his way onto ESPN.com's Mike Triplett's 53-man roster projection based on how often he flashed during organized team activities and minicamp practices, and how the Saints were working him into packages with both the first- and second-string defenses. Thompson had a strong summer as an undrafted rookie last year, but he started the year on Injured Reserve before appearing in two games on special teams. The 22-year-old's versatility as a safety/nickel/corner could earn him a role on the final roster out of training camp. At the very least, Thompson could provide some nice cornerback depth for New Orleans this season.
Arizona Cardinals running back Eno Benjamin has been taking advantage of his repetitions this offseason and has married his quickness, pass protection and receiving abilities into a player who could end up backing up James Conner in 2022. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury has raved about Benjamin this offseason. With Chase Edmonds leaving in free agency, Benjamin will be the front-runner to be Conner's backup when training camp starts at the end of July. The 23-year-old former seventh-rounder in 2020 will have to beat out Darrel Williams for the backup job, but if he does, he could be a valuable handcuff to Conner in fantasy. Benjamin didn't play at all in his rookie season, and he carried the ball just 34 times for 118 yards and a touchdown while adding six catches for 42 yards in nine games in 2021.
New Orleans Saints defensive end Payton Turner (shoulder), who had major shoulder surgery last November, announced on his Twitter page on Wednesday that he's been cleared. Turner was the 28th overall pick in the first round of last year's draft out of Houston, but he played in only five games in his rookie campaign, recording 12 tackles (nine solo), three tackles for loss, three QB hits and one sack. The 23-year-old suffered his shoulder injury in Week 9 last year and never returned. If Turner can stay healthy in his second NFL season, he should provide the Saints with a big boost along their defensive line.
Arizona Cardinals WR DeAndre Hopkins (knee) will be eased back into practice early in training camp because he is coming back from a knee injury. He will not practice every day and the team has a plan for him since he will miss the first six games of the season because of his suspension.
Fantasy Spin: Hopkins will not be allowed to play until October, which hurts his fantasy value. He probably will still be selected fairly early in drafts since he is one of the better receivers when on the field. Fantasy players will need a good backup plan ready while Hopkins is unavailable.
Free-agent CB Joe Haden (Steelers) has received contract offers this offseason but has not signed with a team at this point, according to a source.
Free-agent LB K.J. Wright (Raiders) said he wants to finish his career with the Seattle Seahawks. 'I love ball but I'm not willing to pick up and leave my family like I did last year [playing for the Raiders],' Wright said. 'I'm not doing that again. So I think it's pretty well known where I stand... how I want to end my career. If it's not in Seattle, then I'll be all good.' The Tacoma News Tribune's Gregg Bell writes that a reunion between Wright and the Seahawks is unlikely.
The NFL won't accept a suspension of six to eight games for Cleveland Browns QB Deshaun Watson if that's what disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson decides after hearings, according to a source. It was previously reported that the NFL would likely accept such a ban.
Seattle Seahawks QB Geno Smith got an endorsement for the starting job from former teammate and free-agent LB K.J. Wright. 'I'll tell you not Baker Mayfield,' Wright said. 'Not Drew Lock. We ain't gonna play those games. I'm team Geno all day.' Wright went on to explain why Smith is his choice. 'Geno was good.. He was scout team quarterback. The dude has a cannon for an arm. He's intellectual, you know, having those two-minute drills during practice throughout the week, the man can play. Just trust him, just trust Geno.'
Fantasy Spin: The only way we'd even consider rostering a Seattle quarterback in 2022 is if the team acquires Baker Mayfield, and even then he'd be a shaky QB2 option. Avoid this situation if possible.
The Cleveland Browns are confident in QB Jacoby Brissett's ability to run the offense if QB Deshaun Watson misses time due to suspension, according to sources.
Fantasy Spin: Brissett may provide a steadier hand under center than most backups, but he isn't in the same universe as Watson in terms of talent. If Brissett does get the ball, every Browns pass-catcher gets downgraded. Pencil him in as a QB3, also.
Cleveland Browns RB Kareem Hunt says he's fully healthy after battling calf issues last season. 'I'm good, I'm 100 percent, I have some time to heal this offseason and get back to it,' Hunt said. 'So body is feeling good, nothing's bothering me.' Hunt also reiterated that he's hoping to get a contract extension from Cleveland. 'I hope I get paid,' Hunt added. 'So you know, whatever they decide, they know I'm going to come out there and give it my all and I'll do whatever I can to help the team win.'
Fantasy Spin: Hunt looks set to play out the final year of his contract with the Browns. He'll continue to form one of the best running back duos in the NFL with Nick Chubb in 2022 and has standalone value as a flex play.
Cleveland Browns QB Deshaun Watson could be subject to a six-to-eight-game suspension, according to a source. The NFL wants to avoid the appeals process and could be satisfied with the reduced ban.
Fantasy Spin: Watson's worth keeping in dynasty formats, but he's a really dicey backup in fantasy. Even if he plays this season, he has already missed a full year of action.
New York Giants WRs Kadarius Toney and Sterling Shepard recently spoke about the new offense being installed by head coach Brian Daboll. 'Moving parts all day long,' Shepard said. 'It kind of gets overwhelming whenever you look at the motion list, too. They have it broken down on our [tablets], so when you look at the motion list, it's so many different motions that you can do. It'll be good getting a lot of our playmakers moving around. It's going to be tough on defenses.' Toney added, 'you're able to just win. You don't have to run the pen-and-paper version of your route every time. 'It's not set in stone, like, no matter which way the cornerback is playing you have to run that route.'
Pittsburgh Steelers QB Kenny Pickett saw reps with the third-string offense during mandatory minicamp, per The Athletic's Mark Kaboly.
Fantasy Spin: This is a bad sign for Pickett's chances of being the starter when 2022 begins, but it was always figured Mitch Trubisky would get the nod. This also opens the door for Mason Rudolph to secure the backup spot over the first-round pick. Pickett is a first-round pick in dynasty rookie drafts but isn't a viable option in re-draft leagues. Trubisky is a QB2 thanks to his dual-threat ability.
The NFL insisted on an indefinite suspension for Cleveland Browns QB Deshaun Watson during a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday, June 28, per sources. Watson's legal team argued there is no basis for such a ban. The hearing is set to resume on Wednesday, June 29.