Lineup Prep: Championship Games

Wed Jan 25 10:06am ET
By JEFF PAUR
Sr Fantasy Writer

Related photo caption below

Smith can keep up his hot ways


Let’s hope the games are a little better this weekend. For the most part, the games were’t crazy competitive last weekend like you had hoped. On paper, it sure seems these Championship games will be good, though. Here is to hoping it plays out that way.

Now for my random thoughts for the week. . . . . 

The big story for the Bengals last week was their offensive line. With several starters out, the backups had a tall task to try to contain the Bills defensive line. Well, the Bengals actually dominated the game along the line on both sides of the ball. The backups for the Bengals more than held their own, leading to the dominating win for the Bengals. It seems like the concerns for the line might have been a little overblown. Cincinnati is sure riding a lot of momentum into this game with the Chiefs, making it hard to bet against them. 

Brock Purdy looked a little shaky for the first time since taking over as the starter for the 49ers. He made a few bad decisions, including some time management issues at the end of the first half that almost cost his team three points. I am a little worried about him on the road this week against a very good Eagles defense. Maybe he will keep proving everyone wrong, but I think he comes back down to earth a little. I like the Eagles to win and advance to the Super Bowl. 

It is good news for Mac Jones getting Bill O’Brien as his offensive coordinator for next season. The two worked together at Alabama, so expect the offense to suit Jones’ talents very well in 2023. Jones could have his best season to date if the Patriots add some more talent at receiver this offseason. 

So I haven’t completely given up on Russell Wilson. I think he could be a good buy-low risk next season. He showed some signs of life after Nathaniel Hackett was fired late in the year. The Broncos certainly have a lot of talent offensively, so with the right system in place for Wilson, I think he can still produce. Just something to keep in mind this offseason. You are likely to get Wilson at a really good price after his disastrous first season in Denver. 

There is talk that Aaron Rodgers cool be moved this offseason if he decides to play another year. I’m a little intrigued by that. I think a new team with some top options to work with at receiver could rejuvenate Rodgers some. I hate to see him wear something other than a Green Bay uniform, but from a fantasy perspective, a move could be a real positive for his value. 

I know the Ravens keep saying they aren’t going to let Lamar Jackson go, but I’m not so sure. It was a really strange finish to his season, looking like both parties might be a little at odds with each other. I’m not completely sold on a return to Baltimore for Jackson. I really think a move to Atlanta would be great. That offense could be something else with Jackson running the show. 

News and Notes: The Patriots hired Bill O’Brien to take over their offensive coordinator duties. O’Brien should be a huge upgrade over this past season for the entire Patriots offense. 

HOT PLAYS

George Kittle, TE, 49ers. Kittle is the guy that rookie Brock Purdy leans on in the passing game when he is feeling pressured. That really showed last week with Kittle catching five passes for 95 yards. Kittle has at least 12 fantasy points five of six games. He has finished the season really well and should keep it going this week against the Eagles. Kittle can rack up the targets in this one. 

Tee Higgins, WR, Bengals. Higgins has been a little quiet in the playoffs, having two straight game with fewer than 40 yards. Don’t give up on him, though, especially if the Chiefs focus on trying to slow Ja’Marr Chase. This could create more favorable matchups for Higgins. Higgins scored a touchdown against the Chiefs in Week 13. Plus, Kansas City allowed the eighth most fantasy points to receiver during the regular season. 

DeVonta Smith, WR, Eagles. Smith had six catches last week and has at least six catches four straight games. He has at least five receptions seven straight. Smith is getting a ton of weekly work in the Eagles offense. A.J. Brown is considered the No. 1 receiver for the Eagles, but hasn’t gotten the looks as Smith in recent weeks. It could be more of the same for Smith this week against the 49ers. He matches up well in this one, getting looks in the screen game and on short-yardage routes. San Francisco had all sorts of issues containing CeeDee Lamb last week. And this has been a bit of a trend, allowing the sixth most fantasy points to receivers during the regular season. 

COLD PLAYS 

Miles Sanders, RB, Eagles. Sanders played well last week, rushing 17 times for 90 yards. He wasn’t much of a help to fantasy teams, though, scoring just nine fantasy points. He didn’t catch a pass in the game, which really hurt his fantasy numbers. He has not reached double-digit fantasy options five straight games. He is a little hard to trust right now, especially this week against the 49ers. San Francisco allowed the fewest fantasy points to running backs during the regular season and ranked second overall against the run. 

Jerick McKinnon, RB, Chiefs. McKinnon has come back down to earth a little after his red-hot play down the stretch. He ran 11 times for just 25 yards last week and didn’t catch a pass in the game. He has less than double-digit fantasy points two straight. McKinnon has the potential for the big game in this offense, but is a little hard to have faith in after his last two. Plus, the Bengals allowed the fifth fewest fantasy points to running backs during the regular season. 

Brandon Aiyuk, WR, 49ers. Aiyuk had two catches for just 26 yards on four targets last week. He has five or fewer targets three straight. And he has fewer than double-digit fantasy points two of those games. He has enjoyed a fine season but been a little up and down, mainly being down in recent weeks. It would not surprise to see him down again this week against the Eagles. Philadelphia is first overall against the pass this year, allowing just 179.8-passing yards per game. 

SLEEPERS

Tyler Boyd, WR, Bengals. Boyd has been inconsistent this year as the Bengals as their No. 3 receiver, but it isn’t for a lack of playing time. He is on the field a lot, so the chances are always there for a big game from Boyd in this explosive passing game. It would not surprise if this was a week for Boyd to produce well. He had four catches for 60 yards against the Chiefs earlier in the year. And Kansas City has struggled to stop fantasy receivers much of the year, allowing the seventh most fantasy points. Don’t forget about Boyd in this offense. 

Elijah Mitchell, RB, 49ers. Mitchell actually led the 49ers in carries last week, rushing 14 times for 51 yards. Christian McCaffrey is battling a calf injury, which could give Mitchell a few more chances. He also has double-digit fantasy points two of three games. The 49ers are going to run a lot in this matchup with the Eagles, so look for Mitchell to produce a solid game, getting double-digit touches. 

Marques Valdes-Scantling, WR, Chiefs. Valdes-Scantling had just a catch last week but it was for a touchdown. He is losing snaps to Kadarius Toney but still on a the field a decent amount. He has six or more target two of three games. And he has played at least 50 percent of the snaps three straight. He is a boom or bust play, but more than capable of the big play in this offense. He could break one in this matchup, especially with the Bengals focusing on shutting down Travis Kelce in the passing game. 

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: Bengals/Chiefs.

Low Scoring Games: 49ers/Eagles.

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 jeff@rtsports.com. Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffpaur.

Top Headlines
The Paur Report

Fantasy Running Back Preview

Player Notes
Brandon Aiyuk Jun 18 12:50pm ET
Brandon Aiyuk

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk posted a video on his TikTok account saying that the team "don't want me back." It's highly unlikely that is the 49ers' actual stance on the ascending wideout, but Aiyuk held out of mandatory minicamp this month as he seeks a long-term contract extension. If an extension isn't reached with the Niners, Aiyuk will play the 2024 campaign on his fifth-year team option, which was exercised earlier this year. The 26-year-old former 25th overall pick in 2020 out of Arizona State had 75 receptions for a career-high 1,342 yards and seven touchdowns in 16 regular-season starts and helped lead the team to a Super Bowl appearance last year. There's a chance that Aiyuk extends his holdout into training camp at the end of July, but contract issues aside, he profiles as a low-end WR1 in head coach Kyle Shanahan's offense.

From RotoBaller

Jayden Daniels Jun 18 12:50pm ET
Jayden Daniels

Washington Commander rookie quarterback Jayden Daniels, the second overall pick in this year's NFL draft, has done nothing but impress this offseason as he heads into his first year in the league in 2024. Daniels has yet to face a live pass rush, but what he's done to this point has been impressive nonetheless. The Commanders hope the former Heisman Trophy winner can bring stability under center in D.C. Teammates and coaches say that the 23-year-old signal-caller is ahead of schedule in learning the offense. "He's further along than you probably should be," head coach Dan Quinn said. It remains to be seen if he'll continue to look this good in training camp and the preseason, but Daniels' pedigree and dual-threat ability should make him fantasy relevant in his first NFL season as a QB2 in superflex leagues if he beats out Marcus Mariota for the starting gig.

From RotoBaller

Pat Freiermuth Jun 18 12:50pm ET
Pat Freiermuth

Nobody performed better and more consistently for four weeks during offseason workouts than Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth. He had an instant connection with new quarterback Russell Wilson and came across as a potential playmaker in new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith's tight-end-heavy offense. Pittsburgh can overcome their shortcomings at the receiver spot by relying more on Freiermuth this year. Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts went over 1,000 yards as a rookie in Smith's offense, and Jonnu Smith had 50 catches with the Falcons in 2023, so there is a history of TEs thriving in this system. Freiermuth is talented enough to take a short pass and turn it into a big gain. Despite catching a career-low 32 passes for 308 yards and two TDs last year in 12 regular-season games, Freiermuth is entering his fourth season as a highly attractive high-end TE2 in fantasy.

From RotoBaller

Russell Wilson Jun 18 12:50pm ET
Russell Wilson

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Russell Wilson got off to a good start during organized team activities this offseason, and his leadership was more than noticeable. Wilson also stood out with his arm talent, though, and he did nothing through 12 practices to even slightly indicate that he could lose the QB competition to Justin Fields. Wilson's work ethic, experience, arm talent and the fact that he basically took all the first-team snaps strongly suggest that nothing he can do between July 24 and the Sept. 8 regular-season opener would prevent him from starting to open the year. The 35-year-old veteran is going to need to perform all year to hold off Fields, however, and the lack of experience in the receiving corps is cause for concern from a fantasy standpoint. Wilson bounced back in 2023 in Denver after a bad first year with the Broncos, but he's merely a QB2 in fantasy in 2024 with his new team.

From RotoBaller

Calvin Austin III Jun 18 12:50pm ET
Calvin Austin III

If there is one wide receiver besides George Pickens who has a chance to have a big role in the Pittsburgh Steelers' offense this year, it's wide receiver Calvin Austin III. Austin continued to get better from the first day to the last during offseason workouts and will have a chance for a much bigger role this year with Diontae Johnson now in Carolina. In addition, receiver/running back/kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson could have a key role as a gadget player on offense for Pittsburgh in 2024. The 25-year-old Austin will be competing with Van Jefferson, Quez Watkins, Scott Miller and rookie third-rounder Roman Wilson for the No. 2 job behind Pickens in training camp. He caught only 17 of his 30 targets for 180 yards and a touchdown while also carrying the ball 11 times for 57 yards and a score in 17 games last year. Austin is one to watch this summer.

From RotoBaller

Justin Fields Jun 18 12:50pm ET
Justin Fields

Pittsburgh Steelers former first-round quarterback Justin Fields still has plenty of talent, but he has lots of obstacles to overcome for an opportunity in his first year in the Steel City in 2024 with veteran Russell Wilson in front of him. Fields didn't get many first-team repetition in offseason practices. His arm strength, speed and playmaking abilities with his legs are undeniable, but he showed inconsistent accuracy and relied on his feet too quickly after his first read during offseason workouts. The 25-year-old signal-caller is still a work in progress and is going to start the year as Wilson's backup. Fields should still be rostered in all dynasty/keeper leagues, but unless Wilson is eventually benched or misses time in 2024 due to injury, Fields' fantasy stock in single-year leagues is at an all-time low.

From RotoBaller

Darnell Washington Jun 18 12:50pm ET
Darnell Washington

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Darnell Washington struggled last year during spring workouts, and nothing has changed a full year later. Washington has proven himself as a solid blocking tight end, but he's not going to be a 30-catch guy based on what we've seen from him in his second offseason. Even in offensive coordinator Arthur Smith's tight-end-friendly scheme, fantasy managers in deeper leagues shouldn't expect Washington to have much more offensive output than he had last year, when he went for seven catches on 10 targets for 61 yards and no touchdowns in 17 regular-season games (seven starts). The 22-year-old former third-round pick last year out of Georgia doesn't figure to be on the fantasy radar in redraft leagues in 2024 unless Pat Freiermuth misses time with an injury.

From RotoBaller

Van Jefferson Jun 18 12:50pm ET
Van Jefferson

The Pittsburgh Steelers needed wide receiver Van Jefferson to stand out during offseason workouts, but he didn't. Spring practices typically don't mean a ton, but nothing has jumped out to suggest that Jefferson can be a difference-maker in 2024 with both Diontae Johnson and Allen Robinson II now out of town. Outside of George Pickens, there is a lot of opportunity in the Steelers' receivers room, but it looks like Jefferson hasn't really seized a role. As we head to training camp at the end of July, Jefferson will be competing with Calvin Austin II, rookie Roman Wilson, Scotty Miller and Quez Watkins for a role in the passing game in his first year in Pittsburgh. The 27-year-old had 20 receptions for only 209 yards and no touchdowns in 17 games (nine starts) with the Falcons and Rams in 2023 and will be a long shot for fantasy relevance outside of very deep leagues as receiver depth.

From RotoBaller

Devon Achane Jun 18 12:50pm ET
Devon Achane

Miami Dolphins running back De'Von Achane had an explosive rookie season. The 2023 third-round pick posted 800 yards and eight touchdowns on just 103 carries and added 27 receptions for 197 yards and three touchdowns as a receiver. However, he's looking to develop his route-running and overall receiving skill set, according to Dolphins reporter David Furones. "Two specific goals Achane has this offseason:" Furones wrote. "Get stronger to better withstand the hits taken in the NFL and improve on his route-running to get the ball more often in the passing game." Achane led all Miami running backs with 37 targets last season, and he has a clear path to doing it again since Raheem Mostert isn't much of a pass-catcher, and rookie Jaylen Wright didn't show much as a receiver at Tennessee. Any extra receiving work could elevate Achane into the next tier of fantasy running backs, so this is a good sign for his potential upside in Year 2.

From RotoBaller

Carson Steele Jun 18 12:50pm ET
Carson Steele

Kansas City Chiefs running back Carson Steele and Deneric Prince are behind second-team running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire on the depth chart this offseason, but either player could enter the fantasy football radar in 2024 if the backfield is on the wrong side of injury luck. Steele, a rookie undrafted free agent, rushed for 847 yards and six touchdowns and caught 17 passes for 163 yards and two scores in his final collegiate season at UCLA. According to Charles Goldman of AtoZ Sports, he has impressed the team this summer. "Prince seems to be the running back poised to sneak into the rotation," Goldman wrote. "But watch out for Steele, who impressed during his opportunities at mandatory minicamp." Prince spent last season with the Chiefs but played in just two games and did not record a touch. With Jerick McKinnon not currently on the roster, one of the team's young undrafted backs could push Edwards-Helaire for the RB2 role. Even if CEH holds onto the backup spot, Kansas City's RB3 should be monitored in deep fantasy football leagues.

From RotoBaller

Casey Washington Jun 18 12:50pm ET
Casey Washington

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Casey Washington has a tough road to playing time as a rookie, considering he was a sixth-round selection in the 2024 NFL draft. However, Falcons writer Daniel Flick reports that the Illinois product is making waves this offseason. "After rookie minicamp, Washington started OTAs working with the third- and fourth-string offenses," Flick wrote. "By the middle of OTAs, he began blending in with the first- and second-team unit, catching passes from Kirk Cousins and Michael Penix Jr." While it's important not to overreact to offseason developments, it's a great sign for Washington's chance to make the 53-man roster. Washington racked up just 1,508 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns in 55 collegiate games, but Atlanta clearly liked something they saw on tape, and his performance in practice is all that matters from this point on. Washington isn't on the fantasy radar yet, but he could push KhaDarel Hodge or Ray-Ray McCloudfor a roster spot behind Drake London, Rondale Moore, and Darnell Mooney.

From RotoBaller

Jared Wiley Jun 18 12:50pm ET
Jared Wiley

Kansas City Chiefs rookie tight end Jared Wiley is already getting reps with the starting offense, according to reporter Charles Goldman. "Wiley might turn out to be the biggest surprise of the 2024 NFL draft class for Kansas City. He's already getting a lot of play with the starters, getting looks in the red zone in the Jody Fortson role," Goldman wrote. "If he's good enough when the pads come on, he could quickly supplant Noah Gray, who is slated to be a free agent in 2025." The 23-year-old was a fourth-round pick in April's draft after catching 47 passes for 520 yards and eight touchdowns in his final collegiate season at TCU. The 6-foot-6, 249-pound pass-catcher could be a dangerous weapon in the red zone when the team operates in 12-personnel, and this development should put him slightly on the fantasy radar in deep tight-end premium leagues. Deep-league dynasty managers should consider stashing him, as Gray could be moving on soon, and superstar tight end Travis Kelce could retire at any point.

From RotoBaller

Patrick Mahomes Jun 18 12:50pm ET
Patrick Mahomes

Kansas City Chiefs rookie offensive lineman Kingsley Suamataia has shared first-team reps with Wanya Morris this offseason, but the first-year player out of BYU is trending toward being the Week 1 starter at left tackle. Suamataia was selected with the No. 63 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, so the fact that he's already taken first-team reps is promising. In 2023, Patrick Mahomes was the second-most-hurried quarterback (60) in the NFL, which contributed to the team lacking a downfield passing game for the first time in his career. The organization brought in Suamataia to potentially alleviate that issue, and gaining valuable reps from the start of the regular season could prepare him for the team's postseason run in search of becoming the first franchise to win three consecutive Super Bowls.

From RotoBaller

Ladd McConkey Jun 18 12:50pm ET
Ladd McConkey

Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Ladd McConkey signed his four-year rookie deal on Monday. The 22-year-old was selected with the No. 34 overall pick of the 2024 NFL Draft. He played 39 games at Georgia, starting 21, and totaled 119 catches for 1,687 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also had four more scores on the run. McConkey has received positive reviews from teammates this offseason, and with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams no longer on the roster, the rookie is worth considering late in fantasy drafts heading into the 2024-25 campaign.

From RotoBaller

Deshaun Watson Jun 18 12:50pm ET
Deshaun Watson

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (shoulder) was recently throwing during 7-on-7 drills. While that was a promising sign for fantasy managers, general manager Andrew Berry painted a more encouraging picture. "First and foremost, Deshaun has really worked his tail off," Berry told the media on Monday. "He's really actually ahead of schedule. He's thrown the ball well." The 28-year-old should be ready to go for Week 1 after undergoing shoulder surgery in November. But the real question is if he'll bounce back from a forgettable 2023-24 campaign. Although there's a good chance Watson will, he's still hard to trust to be the No. 1 signal-caller on any fantasy roster.

From RotoBaller

Amari Cooper Jun 18 12:50pm ET
Amari Cooper

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Amari Cooper recently held out of mandatory minicamp. The wideout, entering the final season of a five-year, $100 million deal, wants an extension. General manager Andrew Berry, while speaking to the media on Monday, acknowledged the situation while also mentioning Cooper's importance. "He's obviously been a high-level, Pro-Bowl caliber receiver. But he's also a great teammate, and he's a great professional," said Berry. "We'll navigate the business considerations, the business aspects, as it goes, but he is a big part of our team." Cooper finished his second year in Cleveland by amassing a career-high 1,250 yards with 72 catches and five touchdowns. Barring injury, it's reasonable to believe he'll remain a top fantasy receiver throughout the 2024-25 campaign, especially if Deshaun Watson (shoulder) returns to form.

From RotoBaller

Isaiah Buggs Jun 18 12:50pm ET
Isaiah Buggs

Kansas City Chiefs defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs was arrested for the second time in a month after he was booked on a domestic-violence/burglary charge in Alabama on Sunday morning and released, according to online records. On May 30, Buggs turned himself in after he was charged with two misdemeanor counts of second-degree animal cruelty in Tuscaloosa. His agent, Trey Robinson, has alleged his client is a victim of an ongoing "subversive campaign" to force the closure of the hookah lounge he owns in Alabama. The 27-year-old was originally a sixth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2019 out of Alabama. He played the first three years of his career in Pittsburgh before spending 2022 and 2023 with the Detroit Lions. The Chiefs signed him to their practice squad in January and re-signed him to a futures deal in February.

From RotoBaller

Ladd McConkey Jun 17 12:40pm ET
Ladd McConkey

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert was very impressed with rookie wide receiver Ladd McConkey during offseason workouts, and the second-rounder displayed the most potential throughout the offseason program with his precise route-running and sudden quickness in tight spaces. "It's like he's been a four- or five-year vet," Herbert said. "He understands the game. He understands leverage. He's a smart player, and he's very athletic. I'm really looking forward to getting him the ball." McConkey is gaining steam in dynasty/keeper leagues and could even be worth a late-round flier for receiver depth in deeper redraft leagues this fall if he continues to look good when the pads go on in training camp. There is opportunity in LA's receiver room with both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams no longer in town.

From RotoBaller

Diontae Johnson Jun 17 12:40pm ET
Diontae Johnson

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers, is entering the final year of his contract and has every reason to make the most of his first season with second-year quarterback Bryce Young. If Johnson can strike up some chemistry with Young, the 27-year-old wideout could be in position to cash in on the open market next March. "It's crazy seeing everybody getting big contracts," Johnson said. "It just motivates me to keep working," Johnson said. The 2021 Pro Bowler wore out his welcome in Pittsburgh and will now be a part of an offense that was atrocious in Young's rookie season in 2023. Johnson had lots of volume with the Steelers but struggled for efficiency. In Carolina, that volume isn't guaranteed, lowering his fantasy floor as low-end WR3/high-end WR4.

From RotoBaller

Cameron Heyward Jun 17 12:40pm ET
Cameron Heyward

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward doesn't want to play for another team before he hangs up his cleats for good. "The goal is to be a steeler for the rest of my career," Heyward wrote in a social media post on Sunday. The 35-year-old has spent his last 13 seasons with the Steelers since the team drafted him in 2011. He finished last season by amassing only two sacks, 8.5 fewer than the 2023-24 campaign. But Heyward appeared in just 11 games after suffering a groin injury during training camp, so he should bounce back if he stays healthy. With that said, Heyward wants to play for three more seasons before calling it quits, although it appears he's not looking to play at a discounted rate.

From RotoBaller