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 dump cold water on 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.
Bengals RB Joe Mixon vs Browns (-3)
Total: 50.5 | Started 91%
The formula is back. Will the Bengals’ offensive line be steamrolled by their opponent this weekend? Yes? Then uneasiness is attached to starting any player associated with the offense.
After scoring four touchdowns in the last three weeks, Mixon has rocketed up to RB14 status in fantasy points per game. This rise has also been aided by an increased role in the passing game, with Mixon totaling 17 targets over his last three games compared to nine in the opening three. Shockingly, three of the Bengals’ four losses were one score games, yet Mixon’s best performance in those *tight* losses was 86 yards on 20 touches — against these Cleveland Browns. His nuclear three touchdown game materialized against the Jaguars in Week 4, one of the few even OL/DL matchups the Bengals will welcome this season.
Myles Garrett overwhelmed this Bengals’ offensive line in Week 2, producing six hurries, two QB hits and a sack. He has maintained that top level play ever since. The Bengals’ LG-C-RG combo is not NFL caliber, and the Browns’ interior rotation can be dangerous. Mixon’s best avenue to success will be a featured role in the passing game, but it would make (coaching) sense if Zac Taylor inserted Gio Bernard in those instances to rest Mixon after the lead RB suffered a foot injury in last week’s game. And if Mixon does miss Week 7, this same analysis can be substituted in for his replacements — the totality of fantasy points will be under Mixon’s current RB14 slot of 15 ppg.
Prediction: 18 carries for 54 yards, 2 catches for 19 yards
Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster at Titans (-1.5)
Total: 50.5 | Started 75%
Prior to the season, I recycled the 2019 possibility that JuJu might lead the NFL in targets. In reality, few players have been more disappointing in fantasy football than Smith-Schuster. He is averaging 5.6 targets and 38.8 yards per game, including Sunday's season low of four targets and six yards. JuJu’s team target share stands at 18%, his air yards share at 12% — and the same six week stretch has showcased Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson significantly outperforming him. For a player who saw 166 targets at 22 years of age in 2018, the fall from stardom is stunning.
From a big picture perspective, JuJu is a volume-based pass catcher who is not as successful against man coverage as his teammates. If he is not being peppered by targets, Smith-Schuster’s 4.6 Average Depth of Target does little for us. As for Week 7, the Titans do rank 24th in Pass Defense DVOA and are 23rd in PFF’s coverage grades — so if there was a matchup that JuJu could finally take advantage of, it is this one. But with every figure under consideration, Smith Schuster would need to hover near 10 targets per game to hit preseason expectations, unless he is able to find the end zone. That simply has not happened often enough this season. There are an abundance of pass catchers with higher ceilings in fantasy football right now.
Prediction: 6 targets, 4 receptions for 47 yards
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Raiders RB Josh Jacobs vs Bucs (-3)
Total: 53.5 | Started 72%
Henry Ruggs III returned to the Raiders’ lineup prior to their Week 6 bye and was a major factor in taking down the Chiefs. With Josh Jacobs and Darren Waller, Vegas’ offense can be solid even if incredibly predictable. Ruggs’ injection immediately raises the roof on the team’s potential, both as a vertical threat and near the line of scrimmage as an after-catch playmaker. I would expect to see a few more manufactured touches for the rookie receiver in the forthcoming weeks.
As for Jacobs, he currently stands as the RB8 in fantasy points per game. This list is not instructing you to sit Jacobs against Tampa Bay, rather to expect an output lower than his 16.8 ppg average. A simple rule of thumb when considering defenses in fantasy football is to highlight the top 5 and bottom 7 units in any given category and forget about the rest. While the offseason focused on the additions to the Bucs’ offense, the team has quietly built the No. 1 defense according to DVOA — No. 1 against the pass and No. 3 against the run.
There are looming questions about Las Vegas’ offensive line after Trent Brown landed on COVID IR and what impact that could have on the rest of the unit as the team works through contact tracing. But if this game is played as scheduled, Jacobs should be in your starting lineup. He has 22 touches baked into his projections. But unless the loss of DT Vita Vea hurts the Bucs far more in Week 7 than it did in Week 6 (which is entirely possible), Jacobs’ rushing totals likely hover near 70 yards. And if you believe the Bucs, who are favored, will lead by more than one score, that could significantly impact Jacobs’ day, as just 21% of his touches materialize when the Raiders are trailing.
Prediction: 19 carries for 64 yards, 3 receptions for 19 yards
Jaguars WR Laviska Shenault at Chargers (-7.5)
Total: 49.5 | Started 27%
I stumbled on numerous “Viska Szn” tweets prior to Sunday’s kickoff. The result? Seven targets, three receptions, 10 yards — despite playing a season high of 73% of the team’s snaps. Shenault is the WR41 in fantasy usage with an aDOT of 5.8 yards, behind four other WR names on Jacksonville’s roster. Combine that with Gardner Minshew’s regression in play, and Shenault simply is a vanilla fantasy option despite his yards after catch/contact skill set. Hopefully you have superior options on your bench.
Prediction: 6 targets, 4 receptions for 44 yards
Saints WR Emmanuel Sanders vs Panthers (+7.5)
Prior to the team’s bye week, Sanders secured stat lines of 14-12-122 and 9-6-93. Michael Thomas’ injury and the subsequent (and shocking) suspension were significant factors in Sanders’ importance in the Saints’ offense — overall WR9 usage in that time. Unless Thomas is once again surprisingly sidelined, a large enough opportunity share is unlikely to be there for Sanders this week, especially with New Orleans as heavy favorites. It is an Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray game.
Prediction: 4 targets, 3 receptions for 37 yards
Josh Norris is an NFL Draft Analyst for Rotoworld and contributed to the Rams scouting department during training camp of 2010 and the 2011 NFL Draft. He can be found on Twitter .