Heading into Week 13, the teams that remain in contention get smaller and smaller in the NFL and in fantasy. This is the time top fantasy teams hope they can coast into their playoffs while the contenders have to fret over picking a defense or kicker because every point may count.
There is still transition on NFL teams though most of it is still related to the injury impacts. Starting now, teams slide into the “next year” mentality and will try out new players to evaluate their rosters.
Hopefully your still in the thick of the playoff race. Even if you aren’t, there’s always something to learn for next year.
Six items for this weekend:
1.) The Jets backfield – It was a surprise to see that James Robinson was inactive last week and that Zonovan “Pardon me?” Knight took his place. It was even more surprising to see Knight lead the offense with 14 carries for 69 yards. And no one was more surprised than James Robinson. Ty Johnson was given five carries and gained 62 yards that included a 32-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Robinson spoke with his RB coach and was told that the backfield will always be a committee approach and could change week to week.
HC Robert Saleh said that Knight had earned a spot in the rotation as the undrafted rookie was on the practice squad up until last weekend. He said that Robinson was still learning the system. Also notable, the trade for Robinson was for a sixth-round pick that could become a fifth-round pick if he gained 600 rushing yards. Robinson is currently at 415 yards.
What makes this even more interesting is that Michael Carter injured his ankle and hasn’t practiced yet. He may miss this game depending on what happens (or doesn’t) in Friday practice. The beauty of Breece Hall was that he handled around 20 touches per game and was a lock for a full-time workload. The Jets backfield is getting very hard to rely on right when fantasy playoffs are coming into focus.
3.) WR Rashid Shaheed (NO) – Speaking of teams that are no longer in contention, the 4-8 Saints are sticking (at least for now) with Andy Dalton as the starting quarterback. But they have ramped up the use of undrafted rookie wideout Shaheed. The ex-Weber State receiver played there for five years as a kick and punt returner and totaled 146 receptions. His small school and lack of production left him out of the NFL draft but he’s become the No. 3 wideout in New Orleans.
He played almost as many snaps as Chris Olave (38) or Jarvis Landry (32) last week and had 28 in Week 11. The Saints are giving him a chance to be more than just a returner. He ran in a 44-yard touchdown in Week 6 and then caught a 53-yard score in Week 7. He’s been sparsely used but last Sunday, he ran once for six yards and caught passes of 35- and 18-yards as the Saints started to explore their roster more. He’s done well in abbreviated use and they are looking to involve him more. He’s 6-0 and is estimated to run between 4.3 and 4.4 40-time.
4.) Houston offense – The Texans once again spent their season trying to get their offense to stop sputtering and gain some consistent firepower. That happened in part with Dameon Pierce, who exceeded all expectations with six games of 100+ total yards and four scores in the first nine games. But Week 11 versus the Commanders was just ten runs for eight yards. Week 12 saw the same eight yards on five rushes in the loss to Miami. The Texans lost almost all their previous games, so why stop handing off to the only thing that used to work?
HC Lovie Smith, no doubt feeling the weight of losing, said that the change in workload was related to the ground game not showing enough to warrant forcing the carries in the backfield. They are at that part of a season gone bad where the fans and owners need to see there is still an attempt to find something that works better, hence the change to Kyle Allen at quarterback. The Texans may continue to focus on the pass at the expense of Pierce. Allen threw 39 passes in his debut, while Davis Mills only turned in one of his ten starts with that many passes. It hasn’t changed much for Brandin Cooks or Nico Collins yet, but at least Jordan Akins had a season-high game last week.
5.) 49ers backfield – For a unit that has so much fantasy potential, it is just getting to be a bigger headache to expect reliable results. Elijah Mitchell is out again with a <just pick something> for the next six or eight weeks, which is another way to say “maybe the playoffs.” Deebo Samuel contributes as a running back but was held out of practice yesterday which was a downgrade from his limited work on Wednesday. Friday practice and the injury report will disclose his status, but he is not trending in the right direction. That leaves just Christian McCaffrey from the A-Team.
He left last week complaining about knee irritation and then missed practice on Wednesday. According to HC Kyle Shanahan, the problem was caused by his knee brace. McCaffrey said he would play this week, but he has made it deeper into this season than he did in 2020 or 2021. Just saying.
Even with McCaffrey there, the 49ers need to mix in one or two other backs. That should fall on Jordan Mason, Tyrion Price-Davis or even Tevin Coleman who is on the practice squad after being released earlier this season. The 49ers need at least one of them to assume the role for Elijah Mitchell. They may regret trading Jeff Wilson. If one of the three is allowed a significant amount of touches (compared to the other two backs), then he could offer surprising fantasy value and if McCaffrey was to miss time or be rested, it could allow one of the three to become a rarity – a new primary back in a great offense with good blocking in the final month of the season.
6.) WR DeSean Jackson (BAL) – Sure, he is 36 years old. He changed teams six times and hasn’t scored more than twice in a season since 2018. He’s played in just two games as a Raven, but last week his two catches for 74 yards included a 62-yard gain in the fourth quarter of the loss to the Jaguars. Rashod Bateman left in Week 9 and Devin Duvernay is locked under 25 yards per game. Demarcus Robinson had one good showing in Week 11 but only one catch last week.
Jackson is more of a Daily Fantasy play. The Ravens need the help in the passing offense and there are a few soft secondaries looming that he could potentially exploit – Steelers twice and the Falcons with their No. 32 ranked pass defense. Again – no one has gotten rich off Jackson in many years, but he could help the Ravens while offering a cheap Daily play with upside.