The Strategic Value of Scouting Reserves
Last week, I shared my thoughts on running backs who began the year as committee or reserve options that could matter for your fantasy team during the bye weeks and possibly down the stretch of the season.
If you're new to fantasy football or not a hardcore player, you may be more concerned about whether you should add Lamar Jackson after someone in your league dropped because you also have Matthew Stafford. After all, what's the benefit of knowing about the second-string tight end or fifth-string receiver when riches like Jackson get dumped at the side of the road in your league?
The best fantasy GMs know about the potential value of players before the average fantasy writer/analyst stamps their approval on a backup.
Khalil Herbert is a perfect example. The third-string back in Chicago, the rookie from Virginia Tech has been the No.13 fantasy runner between Weeks 5-7, essentially the moment he stepped onto an NFL field as one of the fill-ins for David Montgomery.
Most fantasy analysts who can tell you what to do about Lamar Jackson getting dropped would have relied solely on the depth chart value of Herbert and concluded that despite Herbert's strong Week 5 effort where he matched Chicago's No.2 RB Damien Williams touch-for-touch and out-pointed Williams, that once Williams returned in Week 7, Herbert would not earn the starting gig and he'd definitely falter against the top-ranked Tampa Bay Buccaneers run defense.
However, those "hardcore" fantasy analysts (and regular football analysts like ESPN's Matt Bowen) that study players and games made it clear that Herbert would likely earn at least a split with Williams and showed you why.
Although it has only been two weeks that Herbert has been the starter, Only seven backs have been better during this span. Montgomery is at least 1-2 weeks away from returning to the field and with Chicago's bye occurring in Week 10, it's likely Herbert's job in Weeks 8-9.
The regular season for most fantasy leagues is 12-14 weeks. Herbert has the potential to deliver RB1 production for five of those weeks. He's essentially done it for three.
Starting Herbert for 3-5 weeks and earning RB1 production during bye weeks for your RB2, flex-RB3, or even an injured RB1 keeps many of you in contention or pads your lead in the standings and increases your shot of a bye week in your fantasy playoffs. Knowing about Herbert's value BEFORE THE HERD MENTALITY GIVES ITS STAMP OF APPROVAL and adding him, even if you don't use him, keeps that value off your opponent's rosters.
With the idea that scouting talent that could help you prior to them become obvious adds where you have to fight the This week, we'll look at receiving and tight ends with similar reserve/committee status on depth charts who could make a difference if the opportunity presents itself.
The Chiefs will have to throw because the defense isn't good, the offensive line is leaky, and it leads to the worst tendencies for Patrick Mahomes II as a decision-maker. Although Mahomes had an awful game against the Titans, don't expect this to be the norm for the rest of the year. Still, Mahomes will be in Brett Favre Mode more often than we're used to seeing him in the NFL.
Tyreek Hill is nicked, Mecole Hardman is a mediocre starter who doesn't win contested targets, and Demarcus Robinson is also a limited route runner. With opposing defenses playing more two-high safety coverage that limits the deep game and the Kansas City offensive line allowing opponents to earn pressure with the minimum number of pass rushers a defense sends, Andy Reid and company could be compelled to use Pringle more often as a short and intermediate option ahead of Hardman.
Pringle's usage has already increased this year and he has earned more targets in seven games than he has earned in either of his first two seasons — and 10 targets away from besting career total heading into 2021. While the blowout last week likely facilitated Pringle's 6 targets against the Titans, Pringle already has 3 games with at least 55 yards receiving.
What I like most about Pringle, and I'm confident the Chiefs appreciate about him as well, is his toughness over the middle.
Mahomes and Pringle have always had a rapport in the middle of the field and while Pringle isn't as fast as Hardman and Hill, he has the vertical speed for the NFL and he was an excellent open-field runner as a top kick and punt return specialist for Kansas State.
It's the toughness element that could become an added necessity for Kansas City as they have to adjust for its offensive line's weaknesses and begin throwing shorter passes. Pringle made this catch on fourth down in the fourth quarter of a blowout and that will further endear him to coaches because they want to see players who come up big in late-down moments, especially in scenarios where many players would quit.
Pringle is a bye-week option in larger league formats but if Hill's injury worsens, Hardman gets hurt, or the Chiefs finally adjusts to its line's woes rather than hoping for growth that may not come this year, Pringle could see a steady uptick in production that makes him a WR3 in fantasy leagues down the stretch.
After all, Mahomes is still on track for a 5,000-yard, 40-touchdown campaign despite the rough start. When you have a low-cost opportunity to buy into a perceived disaster, it's often the scenario where you'll find value because everyone else is scared off.
He hasn't become that sleeper breakout option that appeared a possibility this summer, but he's not far from earning that opportunity in Las Vegas.
Despite a two-week period where he was practically non-existent in the Raiders' offense, his targets were still steady during that drought. Derek Carr is looking for Edwards a steady 4-6 times per game in all but the Steelers' matchup in Week 2. He's essentially one player away from seeing that workload increase to 7-10 targets and that one player could be Henry Ruggs III or Hunter Renfrow.
Zay Jones' jump from 1-2 targets per week to a 7-target, 116-yard performance against the Eagles is worth monitoring, but the steadiness of Edwards' workload, even last week, is the safer bet that your peers may overlook.
WRs Jaelon Darden And Tyler Johnson
These Buccaneers starters are older and with a 17-game season in place, we shouldn't be surprised if we see weeks later in the year where Chris Godwin and Mike Evans earn a week or two off. I can definitely see it with Antonio Brown, who missed Week 7 already.
Darden, a rookie from North Texas, was impressive for much of training camp with his speed, quickness, and ability to defeat press coverage. He earned a lot of attention and advice from Tom Brady during the summer about running routes and positioning himself at the catch point.
Already on a loaded depth chart, Brady's interest is an important nugget because it illustrates that Darden is an important part of the Buccaneers' future at the position with Brown in his final years, Evans getting holder, and Chris Godwin likely elsewhere in 2022 when his deal expires.
Despite the loaded depth chart, the Buccaneers kept Darden on the active roster despite him failing to earn the kick return job. It forced Tampa to roll with Jaydon Mickens until Darden could display enough reliability to take over the role. This happened for the first time last week and the Buccaneers cut Mickens last week in anticipation of the change.
Darden is a big-play YAC option who will do good work in the flats and over the middle if called upon. He'll also win as a post-route or seam-route target from the slot when Brady targets him on play-action-aided throws.
Johnson is the opposite of Darden: Big, tall, and slow. However, he wins tough targets in the middle of the field and if he and Brady have developed enough rapport (or can do so), Johnson is a trust-throw option with a big-play capability in the red zone and in the vertical game up the seams or over the middle.
Although Johnson had a slow start in training camp as a rookie because he was out of shape, he rebounded in Year Two and forced his way onto the active roster despite the wealth of receivers ahead of him. Again, this is a sign the team values him.
Tom Brady is a machine as long as he has a decent offensive line. If he loses some of his top receivers, plug-and-play Johnson and Darden. Johnson will likely be the big slot if Evans gets hurt and Godwin and Brown have to work outside. If Brown or Godwin get hurt, look to a mix of Johnson and Darden earning time inside. Darden has enough outside speed to do some perimeter work as well.
Slated to start when signed as a free agent in Tennessee, that changed when the Titans traded for Julio Jones. Later in training camp, we learned the Reynolds strained his Achilles tendon earlier in the spring/summer. It leads one to wonder if the Jones trade would have gone down if Reynolds was healthy and the timing of the injury occurred prior to the negotiation for Jones.
Reynolds needed the entire summer and most of the season thus far to get healthy. It's why we saw more of Nick Westbrook-Ikhine early in the season than Reynolds. Now that Reynolds is healthy, he's a potential player of value to monitor if not preemptively add if you have Julio Jones or A.J. Brown.
Especially Jones, who still has the juice in his legs and technique in his game to deliver strong production. However, Jones' injuries appear to be costing him games rather than series and quarters and it makes Reynolds a valuable reserve.
Unlike many receivers, Reynolds offers skills to potentially replace Brown or Jones in their role. At Texas A&M, Reynolds was one of the best contested-catch options in the country but the Rams used him as a target in the middle of the field. Brown and Jones both work over the middle and the deep perimeter, but Brown's emphasis is the former and Jones is the latter.
If one gets hurt, Reynolds is worth adding provided his 30-snap performance, before the blowout occurred, is a signal of things to come. Chester Rogers remains a viable obstacle when healthy, but he's also questionable and Reynolds' injury from the summer is probably the biggest reason he'd be behind Rogers on the depth chart.
WR Dante Pettis
I know, I know...if you are a longtime reader, Pettis' career has snakebit those of us high on his potential. However, there's mounting criticism of Kyle Shanahan from beat writers and 49ers analysts that Shanahan may be a great cook, but asking him to shop for ingredients and plan menus is outside his lane of expertise.
While Pettis hasn't set the world on fire with his performances as a temporary part of the Giants' active roster for the past two weeks, he has made plays that helped drives continue. With much of the depleted receiving corps returning in the next 2-3 weeks, Pettis is likely to head back to the practice squad. However, losing teams often have players who stay hurt a little longer. So if new injuries or aggravations to old injuries occur, Pettis shouldn't be written off just because Shanahan wrote him off.
I've added Pringle and Smythe to teams in the past 10-14 days as bye-week options for teams where I have studs (Travis Kelce) but little depth at tight end or I have a luxury position at receiver because I like to keep a deep stable. Smythe is one of my candidates to become a second-contract starter with surprising fantasy value. Perhaps it's only a one-year, Gary Barnidge type of year but the potential is there. He's a sound blocker and an underrated receiver, especially with contested plays at the boundary. This has been the case since he was Notre Dame's starter.
Smythe's targets have increased since DeVante Parker got hurt, earning 3-6 targets since Week 5. It's a modest number, but he's a good player in zone coverage and he has a rapport with Tua Tagovailoa that's resulting in trust-throws.
A former H-Back from Auburn, Uzomah has been a steady reserve for the Bengals, but he's becoming an occasional big-play target thanks to the presence of three excellent young receivers and an improved offensive line that is buying Joe Burrow time in the pocket and forcing coverage breaks that lead to huge plays.
Uzomah benefitted from two coverage breaks against the Ravens on Sunday, scoring on each of them. He's nimble enough to make the first man miss in the open field and he's quick enough to pull away from some safeties when he earns a good angle at the catch point.
Don't expect him to earn 5-7 targets every week, but 2-3 targets with 1-2 of them carrying the potential for the added weight of a chunk play or touchdown is likely, especially with the wide zone running game working well enough to create play-action opportunities off misdirection that typically leaves tight ends running free.
Southern Illinois' Pruitt began his career with the Vikings. Think of him as an Irv Smith type before the Vikings even opted for the offense that he installed when it drafted Smith. He's a big receiver with receiver-like ball skills and ball-carrying after the catch but not as explosive as the elite athletes at the tight end position.
Still, Pruitt has hung around the NFL since 2015 and the Titans since 2018, which tells you that he has proven useful for the NFL, if not for fantasy GMs. This year could prove different due to the early injury to Anthony Firkser and the fact that Firkser is a low-rent Cameron Brate as an athlete.
The Titans did a casting call for tight ends this summer but didn't have much luck landing any revelations. Meanwhile, Pruitt has matched his career-best TD totals (2) in six games and he's earning targets that reflect some confidence in his receiving skills.
It's unlikely that Pruitt earns more than 1-3 targets per game, but if there's a tight end capable of becoming a 4-6 target option on this team, he's it. It will require injuries to Brown and Jones for it to happen.
Remember all that love for Juwan Johnson? That appears short-lived. Trautman's fumble in the Seahawks game might draw the ire of Sean Payton, but it was a tough play and I wouldn't be surprised if his snap count continues rising as it has since a low point in Week 2.
What encouraged me about last week was the Saints using Trautman on a screen — a schemed play intended only for him. He's a high-end athlete with size, quickness, and route skills, Jameis Winston is short of reliable weapons and 79 of Trautman's 100 yards have come during the past two weeks. Tight ends take 2-3 years to develop and there's hope that his second-year option is gaining the confidence of the staff.
And if you missed it, I already profiled Foster Moreau in this week's Top 10.