From a fantasy lens, dozens and dozens of players being sidelined is already greatly impacting the depth of your league and roster. Starting stars is as justifiable as ever, but I am still here to take a flamethrower to your optimism on a weekly basis, highlighting a handful of upcoming fantasy busts for the forthcoming slate of games. Let me be clear — I like fun, I prefer to focus on positives and, most of all, do not hate any of these players. I simply believe they will perform below their normal output.
Falcons RB Todd Gurley at Saints (-5)
Total: o/u 51.5 | On a bye last week
Uncommon does not begin to describe the Todd Gurley transformation over the last few seasons. 64 receptions on 87 targets in 2017. 59 receptions on 81 targets in 2018. Those are apex numbers among the position across the league. Since? In 24 games, Gurley has compiled just 46 receptions in 24 contests, a drop of 55% in passing game opportunity on a per-game basis.
The evolution, if you want to call it that, is also highlighted by the drop in big plays. Nearly 29% of Gurley’s yards in 2017 and 2018 were accumulated from 15-plus yard carries. “Breakaway runs” as PFF calls them. In 2020? 18% with five runs of 15-plus yards in nine games this season.
I share those facts to arrive at this statement — for us, the fantasy football collective, has it mattered so far? Gurley is the RB11 in total points on the season in PPR scoring after being drafted around RB17 territory. RB16 in points per game in the same format. He has been a success for those who drafted him, posting only two sub-10 point weeks (at Dallas and Minnesota) for the entire season. By now you can guess that I believe he will record his third on Sunday.
Nearly 25% of the rushing attempts against the Saints have failed to gain yards this season. Gurley already struggles to compile yardage, topping 82 total yards in just one game this season. His touchdown rate this year has been incredible with nine in nine games, behind only Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara. With Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill at the helm for the Saints, the possibility is there for the Falcons to have numerous possessions in advantageous positions for their offense due to turnovers, which means more scoring opportunities. But I will bet on touchdown regression hitting this week for Gurley, and if he fails to find the end zone, he is unlikely to produce a top 12 scoring week — as highlighted in his comparatively lower yardage and receiving totals. The Saints have allowed just three rushing scores all season.
Prediction: 19 carries for 64 yards, 1 catch for 2 yards
Jaguars WR D.J. Chark vs Steelers (-9)
Total: o/u 46.5 | 70% Started
Is it too simple to say that the Steelers’ defense, with Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree and Minkah Fitzpatrick will totally overwhelm the rookie QB Jake Luton? Jay Gruden did a nice job of manufacturing two or three targets for Chark last weekend in bad conditions, including a sprint out to start the game and a screen in the fourth quarter. But even without Jaire Alexander on the field, Chark and Luton failed to establish the same connection as in Week 9. Connecting on a downfield shot will be critical this weekend; a stat sheet-altering moment. It hit early in Week 9 against the Texans, but missed in Week 10 with the secondary disrupting the catch point at the last moment on an underthrown ball. This has been the one glaring weakness for the Steelers’ defense all season, as they rank near the bottom of the league in allowing big plays in the passing game — but I trust Pittsburgh to simply confuse Luton for 60 minutes in the rookie’s most difficult matchup so far.
Prediction: 8 targets, 5 catches for 56 yards
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Eagles QB Carson Wentz at Browns (-3.5)
Total: o/u 46.5 | 43% Started
The list of the Eagles’ problems this season are endless, but many are rooted in Carson Wentz’s play. Teams across the NFL have dealt with injuries and COVID situations all year long. On good clubs, the coaching and quarterback play can mask these issues for a two or three game stretch. On bad teams, those holes and weaknesses become even more apparent due to a poor gameplan and poor quarterback play. Thus far, the Eagles fit in the second bucket.
Wentz has been a disaster over the last two games for fantasy purposes against the Cowboys and Giants, who rank 18th and 27th in Pass Defense DVOA respectively, totaling 331 passing yards and two touchdowns. That’s two quarters of play for Patrick Mahomes, not to mention the two interceptions and two lost fumbles. All despite the likes of Dallas Goedert, Miles Sanders and Jalen Reagor returning. What do you think is going to happen when Myles Garrett, Olivier Vernon and company face off against backup offensive linemen? Maybe Wentz’s hero ball hits this week and he continues to score rushing points, but you cannot start him with any sense of confidence.
Prediction: 24 of 40 for 240 yards and a touchdown, one interception and one fumble
Packers WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling at Colts (-2)
Total: o/u 51.5 | 12% Started
I’m sure many of you hate “regression” analysis, but it was built for Marquez Valdes-Scantling. While sitting on your bench, Valdes-Scantling accumulated 41.2 fantasy points in .5 PPR leagues over the last two weeks. In the previous seven games: 41.4 points. We all have been asking for a second pass catcher attached to Aaron Rodgers to sustain opportunity and production — so why, just as MVS appears to be doing just that, am I crushing dreams?
Multiple reasons. One, Allen Lazard’s return likely throws a sizable roadblock into MVS’s path to success. The two drew the same number of targets (17) over the first three weeks (when Lazard was healthy), and Lazard recorded five more catches, 90 more yards and an extra touchdown on that volume. Second, Valdes-Scantling was out-producing his expected totals based on opportunity by a staggering degree. He has a 50% catch rate on the season (22/44) and a target share of just 16% over the last two weeks. Aaron Rodgers’ downfield magic is back this season, and MVS has been the beneficiary over the last two weeks, but the Colts have been one of the league’s best at preventing big plays and vertical passes this season.
Prediction: 6 targets, 3 catches for 45 yards