Fantasy football is a passion for many. Sometimes that passion causes fantasy managers to make emotional decisions even when the data suggests otherwise. Each week during the 2023 NFL season Liz Loza will attempt to strike a balance between what the data states and what the heart wants. This is called Facts vs. Feelings.
Does anyone actually enjoy packing? It seems as though there exists a particular kind of person — likely a Virgo — who finds joy in conquering the organizational challenges presented by preparing for an out-of-town excursion. Someone who maybe uses those “travel cubes” to neatly arrange their clothing and also makes lists (via an app, even) so as not to forget any detail. Those are enviable traits. Not only the hyperfocused approach, but also the accompanying enthusiasm.
That is not me. I loathe having to map out my days, consider all the potential curveballs, and then neatly jam my earthly possessions into a suitcase that weighs fewer than 50 pounds. There’s just so much to think about. From the weather to the footwear to the size of the toiletries to the numerous electronics (and coordinating chargers). Keeping everything straight is exhausting.
I never nail it. The last time I was in Bristol I forgot a hair brush and a jacket. (Bless the hair and makeup team for helping me solve half of that problem). The time before that, I managed to pack a crusty tube of toothpaste, but left my toothbrush back in Los Angeles. (Did you know that the “dental kits” available at business hotels last for approximately three brushings before basically disintegrating?). None of this was a big deal. Solutions were readily available, and there’s always somewhere to buy what you’re missing. But I still felt like such a clod. Like if I had taken just a moment longer to more thoroughly assess the situation then everything would have been perfect. I would have won packing!
I often feel the same way about my lineups. Except those results are hard and fast, not theoretical. Hindsight is, of course, always 20/20. It’s difficult, though, to not beat yourself up after the fact. No matter how many situations I was right about (Christian Kirk OVER 53.5 receiving yards), I cringe thinking about the whiffs (Josh Dobbs UNDER 16 fantasy points). If only I had done a better job of surveying the facts then, maybe, my feelings would have guided me to a more accurate decision.
Sometimes, however, there are just too many things to track. Or the data that appeared the most relevant still mattered, but just not as much as I had initially anticipated. For example, I knew that Josh Dobbs was the QB2 in rushing yards per game and that the Saints had allowed the second-most rushing yards to opposing quarterbacks. The facts were clear. My feelings were not. When that happens (and it does every week) the only choice is to note the new information and get ready for the next adventure, as flawed as it may be.
Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals: If you’re looking for imperfect journeys, look no further than Murray’s. The 26-year-old suited up for the first time in 11 months this past Sunday. There was some rust — particularly from an aerial perspective — but Murray’s trademark wheels were on full display. Ripping off 33 rushing yards (and, thereby, recording his seventh straight healthy game of 30+ rushing yards), Murray appeared 1,000% back to health. His 17 fantasy points ranked 12th at the position at the close of Week 10.
Murray averaged 20 fantasy points per game in 2022. Those numbers would make him a top-five fantasy play in 2023. Without DeAndre Hopkins in tow, a full rebound becomes more challenging … but not impossible. Murray peppered Rondale Moore and Michael Wilson a total of 15 times, connecting with both receivers for long gains. Increased reps could certainly lead to a boost in efficiency and field-stretching. Meanwhile, Murray’s connection with Trey McBride appeared ahead of schedule, as the second-year tight end led the team in targets (9) and finished with a 8-131-0 stat line.
Pair a progressing passing game with Murray’s electric rushing ability and the dual-threat QB deserves top-10 consideration heading into Week 11. Injuries have prevented the Texans from rounding into consistent form. It’s not the easiest matchup, but in what projects to be a high-scoring game (the 47.5 total is tied with the Raiders/Dolphins and Bears/Lions as highest on the slate), Murray figures to flirt with those aforementioned 20 fantasy points on Sunday.
Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans: Being the exception to the rule has long made Henry a fantasy star. From his physical tools to his longevity, Henry has provided managers with an elite floor. More specifically, Henry’s late-season efficiency has offered investors security during the most crucial weeks of the fake football season. This year, though, the King looks to (maybe) be running out of gas. The almost 30-year-old averaged 4.3 yards per carry before the Titans Week 7 bye. Since then, however, his yards per carry has steadily decreased (4.6 YPC, 4.4 YPC, 2.2 YPC), resulting in an average of 4.0 yards per carry over the past three weeks.
Additionally concerning has been a dip in Henry’s volume. The Alabama alum has averaged over 20 carries per game every season since (and including) 2019. In fact, he was the RB1 in carries per contest (21.8/gm) in 2022. But this go-around Henry is logging 16.4 totes per contest (RB4). Part of the decline can be attributed to Tyjae Spears’ increased involvement. The rookie’s snaps have inched upward, as he’s currently managing a total snap share of 52% (to Henry’s 55%). Interestingly, since the bye, those percentages are flipped with Henry registering a snap share of 45% and Spears recording 61% of the team’s snaps.
Ultimately, Henry’s volume (especially as compared to the rest of the field) continues to buoy his stock. Yet a potential slowing down is something that fantasy managers should continue to track. Henry draws a less than favorable matchup at Jacksonville (3.8 YPC allowed) this weekend. Fantasy investors should brace for a less-than-vintage outing; think low-end RB1/high-end RB2.
Jaylen Warren, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers passing game may be in meltdown mode, but Pittsburgh’s rushing attack has some juice. The backfield cooked to the tune of 5.5+ yards per carry in back-to-back efforts. Jaylen Warren’s fresh legs have been a significant portion of the ground game’s success. Recording double-digit carries in Weeks 9 and 10, Warren has managed top-15 fantasy RB numbers and 189 total rushing yards over his past two outings.
Striking a workload balance between Najee Harris and Warren has been a frustrating endeavor for fantasy managers. However, both backs appear to be thriving when near a 50/50 split. Warren registered 34 attempts (6.8 per game) and 3.6 yards per rush over the first five games of 2023. Those numbers jumped to 37 attempts (9.25 per game) and 6.5 yards per rush over the four games after the team’s Week 6 bye. Warren’s increased involvement (52% snap share last week) has helped Harris stabilize his own efficiency (over 4.3+ YPC in each of his past two games) and subsequent production (15+ fantasy points over his last two efforts).
The fantasy gods have, of course, presented a burdensome matchup at the Browns this Sunday. Cleveland has allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points to opposing RBs over the last four weeks. However, Gus Edwards and (the more explosive) Keaton Mitchell both managed to find the end zone versus the Browns in Week 10. As such, Harris and Warren offer optimistic fantasy managers low-end RB2/high-end flex appeal heading into the weekend.
Ty Chandler, RB, Minnesota Vikings: Headlining waiver wire columns web-wide, Chandler had himself a game last Sunday. With Cam Akers (Achilles) done for the year, Chandler was expected to see more action as the Vikings RB2 in Week 10. And he did. A lot more. Alexander Mattison’s exit in the third quarter (concussion) certainly contributed to Chandler’s 15-touch day, but the second-year back was plenty involved ahead of halftime, registering five totes to Mattison’s four.
If Mattison fails to clear the concussion protocol, Chandler figures to be in line for another 15+ touches in Week 11. Even if Mattison does return, the North Carolina product appears to have carved out a role for himself, particularly when noting Minnesota’s lack of running back depth (Kene Nwangwu, Myles Gaskin, and Dewayne McBride).
The Vikings’ run game certainly lacks efficiency (3.3 YPC) but Josh Dobbs’ mobility should open up holes for the speedy back. Just a few of those could result in some big gains versus a Broncos defense that’s coming off a short week and allowing the most fantasy points to opposing RBs (and allowed 179 rushing yards to the Bills backfield on Monday night). Fantasy managers need to keep an eye on Mattison’s status while speaking into existence a top-25 fantasy outing for Chandler.
Adam Thielen, WR, Carolina Panthers: Remember when the fantasy community was wondering if Thielen’s wild top-of-the season production was sustainable? Turns out … it’s not. After recording four touchdowns between Weeks 2 and 6, the 33-year-old has failed to find the end zone since Carolina’s Week 8 bye.
Coincidentally that was when Thomas Brown took over as the Panthers’ playcaller. The result has not been positive. For the team, or for Thielen. The former Viking’s targets, catches, yards, scores and fantasy points have all dipped since Brown was handed the clipboard. Thielen’s looks went from 10.4 per contest to 9. His receptions dropped to 6.3 from 9.4. Additionally, he’s posted a total of 143 yards over his past three games, which stings when noting he registered 145 yards in Week 3 alone.
The pressure is, obviously, on in Carolina. Frank Reich could reclaim the team’s playcalling duties immediately. Even if that happens, Thielen’s theoretical bounceback probably won’t happen until after Week 11. The Cardiac Cats are hosting the Cowboys on Sunday. Even without Trevon Diggs, the Dallas secondary has remained stingy, allowing the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers. Thielen’s volume makes him hard to sit, but fantasy managers should brace for middling WR2 numbers on Sunday.
Jayden Reed, WR, Green Bay Packers: While everyone else is still waiting on the Christian Watson breakout, me and Jordan Love seem to be following Jayden Reed’s emergence. Drafted by the Packers in the second round, the Chicago-area native has quietly materialized as a flex-worthy fantasy option. The rookie has drawn 18 targets (just four fewer than Romeo Doubs and Watson, who have 22 each) over the past four weeks. He’s also led the team in receiving yards, recording 207 since the Packers Week 6 bye.
A crisp route runner with above-average speed and impressive after-the-catch ability, Reed has been fantastically efficient. Deployed primarily out of the slot, the former Spartan has converted 15 of those aforementioned 18 looks, gaining Love’s trust and offering the QB much-needed stability.
That connection, and the security it appears to provide Love, figures to go far when the Packers host the Chargers. Los Angeles has allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to wide receivers and just gave up 333 receiving yards to the Lions. As three-point underdogs, the Packers’ game script figures to see Love throwing it, supplying the rookie with ample opportunities to record another flex-worthy fantasy showing.
Daniel Bellinger, TE, New York Giants: The Giants’ situation is grim. Outside of Saquon Barkley, the fantasy options are decidedly (no pun intended) slim. But the tight end position always requires a mining of sorts. While Daniel Bellinger is far from a sure thing (ahem, Lawrence Cager TD), he did lead the G-Men in receiving, accounting for 40% of Tommy DeVito’s passing yards in Week 10. That’s only 34 yards. Yet, it’s a (relative to the rest of the offense) bright spot that New York can attempt to amplify and grow.
With Darren Waller on IR, Bellinger has drawn three targets in back-to-back games while recording a snap share of 83 percent. Were the Giants to coax more throws out of DeVito, Bellinger’s numbers could easily improve. That seems entirely plausible heading into Week 11, as the Giants are 9.5 underdogs at Washington. The Commandeers gave up a score to Hunter Henry in Week 9 and 5 of 6 balls to Seattle’s trio of TEs in Week 10. A sleeper in the purest sense, Bellinger is this week’s desperation dart throw.
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