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Welcome to Week 14 of the 2021 Footballguys Roundtable. Our intrepid and oddball panel of fantasy pundits bold lineup calls for the playoffs, hot running backs who are speculative starts, and players whose fortunes may be interlinked into next season.
For Real/Fool's Gold: RB Edition
Matt Waldman: The following players are top-24 fantasy producers in fantasy leagues for the past two weeks.
With the fantasy playoffs underway, most GMs are hoping they don't need to add a player off the waiver wire or resort to a player who has been their backup. Which one of these four do you believe is a "for-real" fantasy starter during the playoffs and which one do you think is fool's gold?
Sean Settle: Things have been complicated in Seattle this season. Chris Carson was lost for the season after a neck injury and this offense has churned through a plethora of running backs in recent weeks. Enter Penny, who has settled into the starting role and produced more than anyone else. He exploded for 137 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Texans and should see even more of the workload going forward.
Penny takes on a Bears defense that has played well next week but then gets a juicy matchup in the fantasy playoff finals against a Lions team that has not stopped anyone running the ball. The Seahawks' normal attack with Russell Wilson and his receivers has not been working so look for them to lean on Penny and the run for a more balanced attack the rest of the season.
Reynolds has been a nice story for the Lions after being elevated from the practice squad. With 11 carries for 83 yards and then 26 carries for 112 yards against 2 good running defenses it would be easy to jump on the train. However, DeAndre Swift has made progress and returned to practice this week and the backfield is suddenly crowded.
The Lions are playing for a top pick right now and have every intention of playing all of their players to see what they have for next season. Reynolds may continue to get a look but this situation will be too difficult to predict to trust him in your fantasy playoffs.
Jeff Haseley: I am hopeful that Duke Johnson Jr will continue to see reps at running back despite Myles Gaskin being back in the fold, but the hesitation of uncertainty leads me to look elsewhere. I lean on Penny as a player who could answer the bell in the playoffs. Seattle relies on the run game, and right now Penny is the best option they have. His success last week against Houston should carry over for the rest of the way, vs Chicago and vs. Detroit to finish off his fantasy season.
Like Sean, I feel Reynolds' time at the top of the Lions running back salvage committee is about over. Swift will be returning soon and there is also the presence of Jamaal Williams as a potential hurdle for Reynolds. It was a good run, but I don't think we can rely on Reynolds moving forward.
Drew Davenport: Foreman is for real. He is the type of running back that the Titans want to use in their offensive system, and he's led the team in opportunities each of the last three weeks. The only negative is that the matchups in the final two weeks of the season don't jump off the page (v. SFO; v. MIA). But he's had exactly 20 opportunities (targets plus carries) in his last three games and he's averaging 13.3 PPR points per game while scoring only one touchdown. He'll continue to dominate the opportunities in Tennessee as long as his nagging ankle injury holds up, and if his role as the goal-line back continues he has plenty of upside for the final two weeks of the year.
Johnson is fool's gold. He won't completely fade into obscurity, but the perfect circumstance he had this past week isn't likely to continue. Johnson carried the ball 22 times against one of the worst run defenses in the league and secured his lone target, but the Dolphins had just activated their other backs off the Covid list and this left Johnson getting most of the carries fresh off the couch. As Gaskin works his way back expect the split to be more even. The bigger problem is that Johnson gets an extremely unfavorable schedule for the final two weeks. He'll face the stout Saints run defense, followed by the Titans who are no slouch themselves. Johnson had a perfect scenario in Week 15 but that isn't likely to be replicated.
Dave Kluge: Like so many others, I can’t buy into Reynolds as a real asset through the end of this season for the simple fact that Swift or Williams could return. The Lions’ win over the Cardinals was a ton of fun, and seeing someone like Reynolds succeed is always heart-warming. But he’s a third-year undrafted practice squad back that ran a 4.66 at his Pro Day. Swift’s the much better back, and the Lions are looking to fix their long-term culture with a solid finish to this season. Reynolds isn’t likely to be any more than a flash in the pan.
Foreman is someone I can see finishing the year with a full head of steam. There’s no replacement for Derrick Henry, but Foreman is awfully reminiscent of him with his size and willingness to seek contact. Henry’s best-case scenario for a return will be Week 18, which means Foreman should maintain his role through the fantasy season. The Titans have some tough opponents coming up with the 49ers and Dolphins, but head coach Mike Vrabel is consistent in his desire to commit the run every week.
Victoria Geary: I’m not entirely sure any of these running backs are “for-real” fantasy starters during the playoffs, but given the landscape of the running back position right now, you may be in a pinch and forced to start one of these players for your Round 2 matchups.
Foreman has had the most low-end RB2 success over the second half of the season, currently sitting at the overall PPR RB23 over the last five weeks. It's worth noting that this production has been attained with Foreman playing an average of just 35% of snaps, and would certainly be interesting if the team gave him a larger workload down the stretch. He gets two tough upcoming matchups against the 49ers and the Dolphins.
Johnson and Reynolds are fool's gold. They both come from a three-headed backfield who will likely be a headache to predict over these next two weeks. It's a shame for Reynolds, who would have had two juicy matchups to himself against Atlanta and Seattle, but both Jamaal Williams and D'Andre Swift have returned to practice for the Lions this week.
Mark Schofield: Penny is probably the best option of the four. In addition to what has been said about Seattle, and how they rely on the ground game, there is a chance that the Seahawks decide to shut Russell Wilson down for the season in the next week or two, meaning that the team relies even more on the ground attack.
As with the rest of the group, Reynolds is a nice story, but the final chapter seems to have been written, at least for the 2021 campaign.
Waldman: I want your thoughts on pairs of players I'm linking together. Pick two pairs from the list.
- Noah Fant/Albert Okwuegbunam
- James Robinson/C.J. Spiller
- A.J. Dillon/Aaron Jones
- Daniel Jones/Jake Fromm
- Odell Beckham Jr/Robert Woods
Discuss their talents and their short-term (Rest of Season) and long-term fantasy outlooks.
Settle: Denver has shown they will sour on a player very quickly regardless of the circumstances. Drew Lock lost his job after a COVID-filled 2020 campaign where he was without the majority of the team’s top offensive weapons and with an offensive coordinator, they quickly fired. We are quickly starting to see the same thing with Fant who has dealt with injuries and a rotating door at quarterback.
Okwuegbunam is the new name that has delivered and the fans in Denver have been clamoring for him. Both Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton have fallen off in the second half of this season and the fans want to see something different. Fant is the better player and should have a better long-term outlook as long as Denver does not give up on him too soon. With the success of Javonte Williams, the Broncos could shift to more 2 tight-end looks but there still will not be enough to go around for both players.
The Packers find themselves in a situation where they suddenly have 2 starting caliber running backs. After committing 4 years and $48 million to Jones in March, Dillon has played well all season. Jones currently has 151 carries for 657 yards and 4 touchdowns while Dillon has 150 carries for 636 yards and 3 touchdowns. Jones has a big lead in receptions, yards, and receiving touchdowns but the ground game is almost identical.
Dillon has forced himself into the conversation when running the ball and has made Jones almost expendable. His contract came with a $13 million signing bonus and has $13 million guaranteed. If the Packers find themselves in a money bind, Jones could be the odd man out with the success Dillon has had so far.
Jones is more versatile and fits the current scheme of the Packers better right now, but Dillon has the big frame and power running game that is important during late December Green Bay home games. Jones is still the back to have right now, but we could see it shift more towards Dillon faster than most people think.
Davenport: Dillon and Jones have reached a status that not many backfield pairs can claim - they're every-week fantasy starters. They obviously cannibalize each other's touches at times, but it's hard to argue with what they are churning out on a weekly basis for a high-powered, efficient offense. Dillon was underestimated as a pass-catcher coming into the league but Green Bay is not afraid to throw him the ball (despite his one target the last two games). They also seem to like him in short-yardage situations.
Jones on the other hand is still working his way back from his knee injury and we saw a little of that this week as his burst seemed to have returned against a tough Ravens run defense. Both guys have multi-touchdown upside, and both guys have their value closely tied to what Aaron Rodgers does this coming summer. But if Rodgers stays these two will continue to have independent value for another year while they play together. At that point, it would be surprising to see Jones stick around. Dillon could have this backfield to himself by 2023 as Jones could be cut after 2022 with a reasonable cap hit. It's hard to project this duo's value out too far, but 2022 should look similar to this year.
Fant and Okwuegbunam are an interesting pair. There isn't a tight-end combination in the entire league with their athleticism. Unfortunately, they aren't in a good enough situation for either of them to be terribly relevant.
Teddy Bridgewater has played enough football that we know who he is by now. If he returns as the starter this low-volume offense will continue to neuter any chances these guys have to truly break out. The other problem is that not only does Bridgewater have a conservative side, but he also has a coaching staff that plays things the same way.
These tight ends are talented, and they are athletically gifted, but that won't matter unless something changes. If they can get an imaginative offensive mind to call plays and a new quarterback then I'm back in on the Denver duo. Until that time, I've officially bailed on the Fant and Okwuegbunam train.
Geary: To the dismay of Jones drafters, Dillon and Jones have played an almost identical snap share since Week 10. Whether due to the emergence of Dillon as a talent or the result of a banged-up Jones from a few weeks back, these two players have been utilized in a similar fashion in the second half of the season. Week 14 brought fantasy managers a bit of worry watching Jones carry the ball just five times, although his two-touchdown game salvaged his fantasy week. However, in Week 15, Jones out-snapped Dillon 63% to 37%, had six more carries and one more target... which lead to just 4.5 more fantasy points for Jones. This backfield may be more of a headache to figure out going forward, but I still like Jones's rest-of-season to have more pass-catching and touchdown upside out of the two.
Beckham Jr. has filled in fairly well in Woods' absence, racking up 211 yards and three touchdowns in his first five games with the Rams. Athletes are typically back from an ACL tear after about nine months, which would put Woods' estimated return in August 2022 - though there's absolutely no guarantee of that. If they are both healthy in August, it will be an absolute headache to rank the two players ahead of the 2022 season. I would still lean Woods if that was the case, but Beckham can certainly have value in your draft if Woods experiences any setbacks in recovery and cannot be on the field to start the season.
Schofield: New York Giants have an opportunity over the next few weeks to see what they have in Fromm, and that is an opportunity they should seize. The Giants face a looming decision on Jones' fifth-year option, and while the uncertainty over the incoming draft class might give Jones the chance to be New York's starter Week 1 of next season, Fromm could make that decision a bit tougher on the Giants if he performs well. He throws a good ball and reads the field well, and making throws as he did against the Cowboys late in the game could put him in a position to challenge Jones going forward.
As for Jones, while he handles the vertical passing game well, and has made strides over his three seasons in the league, he remains plagued by inconsistency. Inconsistency in reading the field, inconsistency with his decisions, inconsistency in his ball placement, and now inconsistency with his availability. Fromm could make this really interesting over the next few weeks.
Kluge: If the Packers could go back in time, they might have settled for a smaller contract with Jamaal Williams rather than paying up for Jones. Dillon has taken an immense step forward in his second year and shows that he has all the makings of a premier back. He’s become much more versatile in the receiving game as both a pass-catching and blocker. Jones brings a nice burst in the hurry-up offense, but the team seems content to use Dillon just about anywhere else. For the rest of this season, Jones is a high-ceiling RB2 while Dillon fits nearby in rankings with a much safer floor. Next season, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see Dillon finish the season with more fantasy points than Jones.
Woods and Beckham are an interesting pair of players to dissect. There’s no guarantee that Beckham is back in Los Angeles next year. With Woods’ injury coming late in the season, he might not be ready for Week 1 either. These players have different skillsets and can certainly coexist on the same team, but Woods would be my preferred target if they’re both back and healthy next season. His ability after the catch and Sean McVay’s willingness to scheme up plays to get him in space will make him very enticing.
They’re both about the same age and the production cliff is approaching, but Woods has shown years of success in this offense and I don’t expect that to disappear. Beckham, despite his touchdowns, hasn’t seen a ton of usage so far on the Rams.
Haseley: Depending on where this team goes in the offseason with coaching and quarterback decisions, we may be looking at a team with two capable tight ends where fantasy value is tough to rely on. The growth and development of Javonte Williams may steer the Broncos to remain fairly run-heavy and thus employ more 12-personnel formations, but alas, much depends on the direction of this team if a new coach enters the equation. I see Fant continuing to tail off as a fantasy commodity mostly due to the presence of Okwuegbunam and his rise to relevance on the team.
I see the acquisition of Odell Beckham by the Rams as an all-in push for a Super Bowl Championship which happens to be in their home stadium. The Rams got a taste of the title and now they want to take any means necessary to bring it to Los Angeles, including mortgaging draft picks to win now. I see Beckham as a monthly rental that gives them more chess pieces on the board.
After Robert Woods went down, Beckham's role became much more crucial. How he fills that void is in regards to playoff performance is yet to be seen. Regardless of how he and the Rams finish the 2021 season, I don't see Beckham sticking with the team in 2022. He'll likely use his stay in Los Angeles as a stepping stone to his next contract. The Rams will have Cooper Kupp, Woods, and Van Jefferson. They won't have a need to re-sign Beckham. He'll go his merry way and find a new team which is a strategy that Ryan Fitzpatrick has perfected.
Bold Playoff Lineup Calls
Waldman: Yes, you generally want to stick with your best players. Blah, blah, blah. Still, there are scenarios where you need the guts to deviate from the game plan.
- Give us one top-25 starter at RB or WR that you'd consider benching this week.
- Give us one RB or WR outside the top 35 that you'd consider starting this week.
VERY IMPORTANT: You cannot use a player outside the top 35 who was considered a starter or co-starter to begin the year but is outside that ranking mostly due to injury. For example, CEH, Kareem Hunt, Miles Sanders, A.J. Brown, Courtland Sutton, and Corey Davis are not allowed.
Schofield: I'd consider benchingCeeDee Lamb. There is something not quite right with the Dallas Cowboys offense at the moment. I do think it starts with the health of Dak Prescott, as his right calf seems to be hampering him still. Watching his game against the New York Giants live on Sunday, and then studying it Monday, it seems like he remains guarded with that calf muscle. There were moments whether in a clean pocket or when the pocket started to break down around him, where he seemed to be favoring that leg. So that Cowboys offense has me a bit wary, and Lamb might suffer as a result.
A player that has fascinated me this year, and might get more opportunities, is K.J. Osborne in Minnesota. He saw only three targets on Monday night but is coming off a season-high nine targets back in Week 14 against the Steelers. With Adam Thielen perhaps sidelined again this week, Osborne could see a number of targets thrown his way, especially if Minnesota's game against the Rams sees the Vikings needing to score a bunch of points.
Davenport: I would be finding it difficult to put D.K. Metcalf in my lineup going forward. Prior to Seattle's Week 9 bye, he was the PPR WR9 in points per game averaging 18.12 points. Not coincidentally, Russell Wilson returned in Week 10 and has struggled to throw the football since his injury. Metcalf's rank since the bye has plummeted to WR63 in points per game at a paltry 7.58 and he's been completely unreliable.
This week, he draws a Bears defense that just held Justin Jefferson and KJ Osborn to less than 20 total PPR points. Week 17 against the Lions is a different story, but for this week Metcalf should ride the bench if there are better options.
There are two guys outside the top 35 that I like this week. Ronald Jones II immediately comes to mind as he'll step in for the injured Leonard Fournette in an offense that likes throwing to its running backs. But the guy I'm really excited about is Gabriel Davis. The injury to Emmanuel Sanders has allowed Davis to blossom yet again.
It is eerily reminiscent of 2020 where an injury to John Brown allowed Davis to have a late-season surge. This year the veteran Sanders is down and Davis has parlayed that into 51.8 PPR points in his last three games. The matchup against New England is tough, but Davis had 2/30/1 a few weeks ago in the wind storm in Buffalo. He should find his way into a lot of lineups this week.
Geary: Darrell Henderson was taken off of the COVID list prior to Tuesday’s matchup against the Seahawks, and everyone was curious to see how the snap counts and touches would be divided between him and Sony Michel.
Los Angeles Rams -- RB utilization in the first half for Sony Michel and Darrell Henderson:— Dwain McFarland (@dwainmcfarland) December 22, 2021
Snaps: 64%, 36%
Attempts: 54%, 38%
Routes: 67%, 29%
Short-down-distance: 100%, 0%
Long-down-distance: 89%, 11%
Michel took over the lead role in all categories, including snaps, attempts, routes, and most importantly - fantasy points (13.5 to Henderson’s 4.7). I would be sitting Henderson this week with the extreme uncertainty of his usage hovering over our tinkering minds.
I would however continue firing up Falcons wide receiver Russell Gage. I hit on him in last week’s Roundtable article and he finished Week 15 as the overall PPR WR7 with 23.1 fantasy points. He led the team with 11 total targets (nine more targets than the next closest wide receiver) and had his second-highest snap share of the year last week playing 80% of snaps. He gets another fantastic matchup this week against the Detroit Lions, who are giving up the 8th most points per game to wide receivers since Week 10.
Haseley: I would consider benching Saquon Barkley against Philadelphia. The Giants are going nowhere quickly and I'm not even sure playing for pride is in the cards. The fan base is sickened and their quarterback/offense is failing in multiple ways. On top of that, the Eagles have been excellent against opposing running backs lately allowing only one back to exceed 13 PPR points since Week 8. The only running back to score any touchdown against Philadelphia was Melvin Gordon in Week 10.
I was on the Amon-Ra St. Brown train last week and it paid off. If you have him, it will be tough to remove him from your lineup. Aside from St. Brown as a surprise from the bottom of your roster, perhaps take a look at the Buccaneers who are desperate for help with injuries to their three best receiving threats, Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, and Leonard Fournette. Who's available and who has fantasy appeal?
From the running back position, Ronald Jones II is intriguing, especially with his history of success against Carolina. But don't forget, this is a Carolina team that is #2 in the league in defensive yards allowed. They are especially stingy defending the pass, which is good news for Jones as a rusher. Tom Brady will lean on whom he can rely on, whom he knows will run a 13-yard route, not 12 yards.
Aside from Rob Gronkowski, maybe veteran Breshad Perriman, who was last seen on the reserve COVID list and missed Week 15. Antonio Brown will be featured, but a secondary, complementary receiver could emerge as a threat for Brady. If I had to take a guess, Perriman would be my pick and maybe Scotty Miller. The best chance for a Buccaneer's substitute to reach pay dirt is Jones.
Kluge: Aaron Jones was drafted in the first round of fantasy football drafts and is technically the RB9 in PPR leagues but A.J. Dillon is carving out a larger role for himself by the week. So much of Jones’ overall numbers are inflated by a monstrous Week 2 outing where he had over 100 yards, six receptions, and three touchdowns. Over the last five weeks, Jones has seen just 12.2 carries and targets per game, compared to 17.9 in Weeks 1-8. You’re not benching him just for the sake of benching him, but guys like Ronald Jones II, Antonio Brown, James Robinson, and others in good situations this week are worthy of consideration.
Russell Gage is the WR47 this year but his recent production makes him an easy start in Week 16. He’s the WR5 over the last four weeks as he solidifies his role as the Falcons’ WR1. He’s averaging 9.0 targets and 86.8 yards per game over that stretch with a pair of scores. Looking at his early-season numbers is a bit deceiving as Calvin Ridley and Kyle Pitts were drawing the majority of looks from Matt Ryan. But with Ridley out, defenses are able to key in on Pitts which leaves plenty of open opportunities for Gage. He can be relied on as a WR2 this week.
Settle: It can be hard to bench your starters, but performance on the field and matchups matter when you are trying to survive and advance. Week 16 may be tough to navigate with games on different days and with positive COVID tests surging again. However, this week I would consider moving off of Adam Thielen.
He was ruled out late in Week 15 due to the ankle injury and could still see the lingering effects next week. Kirk Cousins did not look good against the Chicago secondary and completed just 50% of his passes. This week the Vikings take on Jalen Ramsey and a Rams defense that needs a win to keep up with playoff seeding. Thielen has been a great red-zone target for the Vikings this year, but with Cousins not playing well, a lingering injury, and a tough matchup against the Rams he could be left on your bench if ruled active this week.
The Lions just pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season in taking down the Cardinals and St. Brown played a major role in that. Over his past 3 games, he has 26 catches for 249 yards and 2 touchdowns. He has been the most targeted Lion in that time frame and the rookie is playing extremely well.
This week, he has a matchup against a Falcons defense that ranks in the bottom five against opposing receivers. Only A.J. Terrell has had success for Atlanta and St. Brown moves all over the field and will likely avoid his coverage. Look for St. Brown to continue his hot streak this week against the Falcons.
FF Fill in The Blank
Waldman: Pick one of the following statements, put a player (or teams) in the blanks.
- "_________ may turn out to be a scrub, but he's intriguing me."
- "_________ had a monster year, but that's not happening again in 2022."
- "__________ was healthy and underperformed this year, but he has talent."
- "My favorite game this year was ______ vs ________.
Explain your answers.
Geary: My favorite game this year was Chargers vs Browns.
This game gave us high-flying, neck-and-neck action for a full three hours back in Week 5. It was one of the best offensive efforts by both teams all season and watching Austin Ekeler, Mike Williams, and Justin Herbert pop was the cherry on top for all of our fantasy teams.
Haseley: James Robinson was healthy and underperformed this year, but he has talent.
For him to have the level of success he had playing on a woeful Jaguars team is an accomplishment in itself. Jamaal Charles once had 1,509 yards rushing on the 2-14 Chiefs in 2012. That may be the best comparison for a player who has done more with less. Hopefully, with a new coach in Jacksonville, Robinson will come alive as the fantasy threat that we all know he is capable of becoming.
Davenport: James Conner had a monster year, but that's not happening again in 2022.
If we go back to early in the season, Conner was being used in a split as a complementary piece with Chase Edmonds. That was always the vision for the Cardinals' offense. Injuries to Edmonds forced them to change their approach. Even before Edmonds was hurt though, Conner was seeing abnormally high touchdown numbers that pumped up his perceived value. He's touched the ball 218 times but has scored an eye-popping 16 times.
The perfect storm occurred for Conner - Edmonds got hurt, Conner himself did not, and he scored a lot. Count on him to be over-drafted in 2022.
Settle: K.J. Osborn may turn out to be a scrub, but he is intriguing me.
The Vikings have not been able to support the third receiver since before the Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs duo. They failed to utilize Laquon Treadwell and Cordarrelle Patterson in the past, but Osborn has shown flashes of what Thielen was a few years ago. He can hit the big home run and can play possession receiver. As long as Dalvin Cook is on the team, the Vikings will be a run-first offense and that will cut into Osborn’s production, but he has the ability to make a difference on this team if he does not get buried due to game script and the elite receivers ahead of him.
Kluge: James Robinson had a monster year, but that's not happening again in 2022
This is the same song and dance we went through in the 2021 offseason, but Robinson was suddenly thrust back into the starting role in the wake of an injury to Travis Etienne. Robinson is a great running back, but Etienne has the draft capital and history with Trevor Lawrence that will secure the starting role for him in 2022.
Robinson’s career trajectory could, unfortunately, end up looking like Jordan Howard’s. Howard was a late-round pick on a rebuilding Chicago Bears squad that posted strong numbers through his first two seasons. Then the Bears drafted David Montgomery and Howard has bounced around the league since.
There’s no shortage of talent with Robinson or Howard, but teams don’t seem willing to make a large investment on running backs like that. Robinson is likely to carry a lot of teams to a fantasy championship in 2021, but I’m trying to trade away shares in dynasty wherever I can.
Schofield: My favorite game this year was the Monday night affair between the Patriots and the Bills. It was ugly but fascinating. Watching Bill Belichick manage the elements, run the football as much as possible, ask Mac Jones to throw just three passes, and seeing how the two teams adjusted to the elements, was perhaps the most fascinating chess match between coaching staffs in recent years. Perhaps since Belichick squared off with Mike Martz in Super Bowl 36.