Wed Jan 26 10:40am ET
By JEFF PAUR
Sr Fantasy Writer
Samuel should get plenty of work
Wow, wow, wow. That is about all you can say about last week’s game. That might have been the greatest playoff weekend ever. Needless to say, this week has a lot to live up to. Hopefully, we can at least near those games. We’ll see. Now for my random thoughts for the week. . . . .
Josh Allen is so special. He had a game for the ages last week and lost. He had nine touchdowns without a turnover in the Bills two playoff games, showing he can come up big in the big game. Allen is a special, special player. At this point, I’m raking him first overall in my quarterback rankings for 2022. One thing that gets overlooked with Allen is his ability to make plays with his legs, rushing for 763 yard this season. This guy is as consistent it gets at the quarterback spot and is going to be a superstar for lots of years to come.
One player that is going to be intriguing next year is Gabriel Davis. He had one of the best games ever for a receiver in the playoffs, catching eight passes for 201 yards and four touchdowns. His stock is rising in a hurry, especially with Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley possibly gone next year. Davis should start opposite Stefon Diggs in the Bills explosive passing game. I’m not sure he is going to be a consistent play but expect plenty of big games. Plus, he is a great red-zone target because of his size and strength.
I think Tom Brady returns for one more season. He had a fantastic year once again and showed few signs of slowing down - if any. The Bucs were depleted at receiver by season’s end, so I think they reload there and give Brady one more shot to win it all. A healthy Chris Godwin and a new No. 3 to replace Antonio Brown would give Brady a big-time boost.
How do the Bucs let Cooper Kupp get behind him in the waning seconds of a tie game? I could not believe that one. I know Kupp is one of the best, so you can’t ignore that. But if I’m the Bucs, I do everything in my power to keep him in front of me to prevent a big play. I could not believe the end to that game. As for Kupp, he has 100-yard games six of his last eight games. He had one of the all-time great seasons for a receiver, so it was kind of a fitting end to this game for him.
And speaking of crazy finishes. You could second guess a lot with the end to that Bills/Chiefs, seeing a ton of points scored in a short time to send that game to overtime. The big one for me is seeing the Bills kick the ball into the end zone after they gook the lead with just 13 seconds left. I make the Chiefs run it back to run some time off the clock. I think they did them a favor by kicking it deep, giving Patrick Mahomes more time to do his thing. That was my big beef with how that played out. But even with that said, it was sure exciting to watch. Wow. That was probably the best football game I ever watched.
I had a hard time picking the games last week and am feeling the same way this week. These aren’t easy decisions. I have a hard time picking against the Chiefs right now, though. I never thought they would make three straight Super Bowls, but just can’t see the Bengals going on the road and winning that one. The Chiefs are playing their best football at the right time. And over in the NFC, I am going with the 49ers. They beat the Rams twice during the regular season and think they will make it a third time. San Francisco just seems a team of destiny. Their defense is playing great and I expect the offense, mainly the running game, to play much better this week. The Rams impressed last week, but I still don’t have total faith in Matthew Stafford. Maybe he showed me last week, but I don’t think the Rams run the ball well this week and Stafford will be forced to carry the offense against a very good 49ers defense.
Travis Kelce, TE, Chiefs. Kelce is red hot right now, having touchdowns five straight games. He also has 100-yard games two of those weeks. Kelce has 23-plus fantasy points two straight and three of five. He is setup to find the end zone again this week against the Bengals. Cincinnati struggles to stop the tight end, allowing the sixth most fantasy points to tight ends during the regular season.
Deebo Samuel, WR, 49ers. Samuel just keeps getting it done on a weekly basis. He has touchdowns three of four games. He has 20-plus fantasy points nine times this season. His rushing numbers make him a force at the receiver spot, producing as a dual threat for all his fantasy owners. Samuel had huge success in two games against the Rams this season. Samuel had 300 total yards and three touchdowns, catching nine passes. He should be heavily involved in the 49ers game plan.
Cam Akers, RB, Rams. Akers is back and looks to be the clear lead back for the Rams. He ran the ball 24 times last week and has 41 carries in the Rams two playoff games. Unfortunately, the Rams running game isn’t opening many holes for him right now. Akers has 41 carries for just 103 yards in those two games. And things won’t get much easier for him this week against the 49ers. The 49ers held the Rams to 116-rushing yards in two games this year. Ie might be more of the same for Akers.
Elijah Mitchell, RB, 49ers. Mitchell had a breakout season, emerging as the lead back for the 49ers and having much success in that role. His lack of work in the passing game holds him back little, though, especially in games against a team that does well in holding down the run. He faces one of those teams this week, the Rams. Los Angeles held Mitchell to fewer than double-digit fantasy points in each of their games this year. Mitchell got 20-plus carries in each game but couldn’t crack double-digit points despite the work. He might be tough sledding for him again this week.
Byron Pringle, WR, Chiefs. Pringle has really emerged as a consistent threat in the Chiefs passing game. He has five receptions three straight games. And he has at least five catches four of five games. He also has three touchdowns in two playoff games this year. Patrick Mahomes has more trust in him and is looking his way a lot more often. He could be a good play again this week in a game that could be very high scoring once again.
Tyler Boyd, WR, Bengals. Boyd can disappear at times in this offense with two top weapons to compete with for targets this year. But he has still produced some big games this year. He is more than capable. He has touchdowns four of five games. He also has three games with 20-plus fantasy points. The Chiefs allowed Cole Beasley to have six receptions for 60 yards last week. Beasley plays a similar position to Boyd, so that bodes well for Boyd to have some success in this matchup.
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, 49ers/Rams.
Low Scoring Games: None.
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 protected] Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffpaur.
Seattle Seahawks tight end Noah Fant was acquired this offseason as part of a blockbuster trade featuring superstar quarterback Russell Wilson. The former 2019 first-round pick was a highly touted prospect entering the league, given his athleticism and opportunity to be a downfield threat. While he showed flashes in Denver, his career-highs of 68 receptions, 670 yards and only four touchdowns left a lot to be desired. Recently described as having "the most spectacular camp of anybody" by head coach Pete Carroll, it's clear that Fant is making a strong impression with his new team. Despite the void left at quarterback, there will still be plenty of opportunity for Fant to emerge behind receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett as a focal point for this offense, which could equate to a big year as a top-15 tight end in fantasy.
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt struggled with injuries last season, limiting him to only eight games played. While still searching for a contract extension in an effort to remain a member of the Browns organization, it's good to know that health is no longer a concern for Hunt, who says "he feels 100%." Regardless of who ultimately ends up behind center, there are 181 vacated targets with minimal proven receiving options on the roster, creating a real opportunity for Hunt. After finishing as the RB10 in 2020 and RB8 in the first six games last season, Hunt has demonstrated his ability to produce and will again be a top-24 running back this year if he can stay healthy.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota was signed in free agency to be the team's new starter, replacing their long-time leader Matt Ryan. Mariota steps in after backing up Derek Carr for the Raiders the past two seasons, and he's hoping to regain his role as a starter in the NFL. Although his passing statistics were mediocre, he averaged 300-plus yards and three rushing touchdowns over his three seasons as a starter. While there has been concern about newly drafted quarterback Desmond Ridder, who the Falcons selected 74th overall, competing for the starting job, a recent report says Mariota is "far ahead" of Ridder and "injury would be the only way Ridder finds himself under center." This confirms the veteran's stranglehold on the role, which would make him an intriguing option as a streamer or second quarterback in two-quarterback/superflex leagues, given his rushing upside.
ESPN.com's Turron Davenport gives a 75% chance that Tennessee Titans rookie quarterback Malik Willis sits all season behind Ryan Tannehill in 2022. Barring injury or some kind of catastrophic failure, Tannehill will take the bulk of the snaps this year. The Titans are taking a ground-up approach with Willis, first getting him used to calling plays in the huddle and working from under center. QB coach Pat O'Hara has also worked extensively with Willis to make adjustments to his mechanics to improve his accuracy. Tannehill has started every game since taking over as the starter in Week 6 of 2019, and the team is still in win-now mode. The Titans have loved what they've seen from Willis so far this offseason, but he remains a work in progress, so he should only be selected in dynasty/keeper drafts this fall.
Carolina Panthers rookie quarterback Matt Corral is unlikely to start in Week 1, as ESPN.com's David Newton gives him a 5% chance to start the season opener. The plan is to have a veteran, whether it be Sam Darnold or Baker Mayfield or someone else, start the year and keep Corral ready to take over if necessary. Corral is having to learn a completely different offensive language, and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said he'll be tough on Corral so he'll be ready when it's his time. With that said, there's a very good chance the 23-year-old won't sit all year, as Darnold hasn't proven much in four NFL seasons. Corral could get his chance early if Darnold struggles out of the gates, but with Carolina not having much receiving depth behind DJ Moore and Robby Anderson, it's hard to envision Corral being anything more than a low-end QB2 right away.
New England Patriots rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe will most likely be the team's third QB behind second-year man Mac Jones and veteran Brian Hoyer. It seems like a long shot that Zappe will challenge Hoyer for the backup job at this time, but Hoyer was also viewed in the same way back in 2009 when he was competing against Kevin O'Connell before winning the job. The Patriots took Zappe in the fourth round of this year's draft out of Western Kentucky. The 23-year-old threw for 5,967 yards and 62 touchdowns in a historic senior season against weaker college competition. He's unlikely to be a difference-maker at the position because he lacks high-end arm strength and athleticism, but he could develop into a solid game manager because of his football IQ.
Washington Commanders rookie quarterback Sam Howell will enter the year as the team's No. 3 QB. Carson Wentz will be the starter, and the team considers Taylor Heinicke to be a high-end backup. But Heinicke is in the final year of his contract, so Howell has a chance to become the primary back in 2023. The Commanders also haven't had a quarterback start every game in a season since Kirk Cousins left after the 2017 campaign, and they've used at least three starters in each subsequent season. Howell slid to the fifth round of this year's draft after being a three-year starter for North Carolina. The 21-year-old won't wow anyone with his mobility, but he can make plays and should have some time to develop. Howell is unlikely to be on the fantasy radar in 2022, but he could be competing for a starting role sooner rather than later.
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Cooper Kupp both pointed out second-year receiver Tutu Atwell's improvement this spring. Stafford said he's noticed that "everything" Atwell does "seems to be that much more intentional." The 22-year-old played only 10 offensive snaps last year but had a role on special teams before injuring his shoulder and being put on Injured Reserve in November. Kupp, Allen Robinson II and Van Jefferson are the Rams' top three receivers, but Atwell could play a role in his second NFL season after being drafted in the second round out of Louisville in 2021. Fantasy managers probably aren't taking Atwell, even in the late rounds of drafts, but he'll be one to watch this summer.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jauan Jennings emerged as one of the team's most reliable targets on third down and in the red zone, but that didn't happen until late in the year. Jennings had 16 catches for 212 yards in the final five games, with 11 of those going for either a touchdown or a first down. He's carried that momentum into this offseason and has displayed an easy chemistry with quarterback Trey Lance that has made Jennings one of Lance's favorite red-zone targets. Head coach Kyle Shanahan said Jennings has had his best offseason since entering the league in 2020 as a seventh-rounder out of Tennessee. The 24-year-old finished last year with 24 receptions on 38 targets for 282 yards and five touchdowns in 16 games (one start). A third-year breakout could be coming, especially if San Francisco trades Deebo Samuel.
Seattle Seahawks former first-round defensive end/defensive tackle L.J. Collier has had an underwhelming start to his career, but defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt said during organized team activities that Collier was having one of the best springs of any Seattle defender. Collier will be fighting for playing time in a defensive-line rotation that is crowded after offseason acquisitions of Shelby Harris and Quinton Jefferson, however. The 26-year-old former 29th overall pick in 2019 had his fifth-year option declined after recording just three sacks, 33 tackles (21 solo), five tackles for loss, 12 QB hits and three passes defensed in 37 games (16 starts) in his first three NFL seasons. Collier will be hoping to put some promising performances on tape this year for when he reaches free agency next March.
Dynasty | Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota has looked like the player who will be starting to begin the season Dynasty Analysis: Recent reports have been that rookie Desmond Ridder has been impressive but not enough to be under-center come week one. It's Mariota's job to lose but the veteran remains on a relatively team-friendly two-year contract, meaning there's little reason to expect the Falcons not to turn to Ridder if, or when, the team falls out of playoff contention. Found as DLF's QB36, it's obvious expectations for Marcus Mariota remain extremely low with little belief he's the answer beyond 2022.
Dynasty | Falcons rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder continues to impress this off-season Dynasty Analysis: While Ridder is checking all the boxes thus far, Marcus Mariota is still fully expected to be the starter come week one. Whether he can retain the job is another thing altogether as the veteran has a very team friendly contract which won't present much of a financial hurdle when the time comes to insert Ridder. Ridder is found as DLF's QB34, ahead of Mariota's QB36 ranking, showing that the full expectation that it's "when" and not "if" the rookie is starting at some point during the 2022 season.
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.