10 Fantasy Thoughts: Justin Herbert makes case for fantasy MVP

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) runs against the Denver Broncos during the first half of an NFL football game. (Ashley Landis/AP)

As many of you know already, I’m a massive Bills fan. It was a fandom that started through my dad, who had been a fan for years because they were the closest team to where he lived. They were so bad for so long and to quote the great Michael Scott, “How the turntables.”

Isn’t Buffalo a blast to watch? And laying the boots to the AFC champion Chiefs gave all of us fans a bit of a hop in our step the following morning.

They’ve also been great for fantasy purposes as you would expect.

Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs have picked up where they left off, while periphery players like Dawson Knox, Zack Moss and Emmanuel Sanders (who we will get to later on) have all become fantasy viable.

Always remember: Nobody circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills.

Now let’s get to this week’s fantasy thoughts.

(All positional/statistical rankings courtesy of Fantasy Data)

1. Justin Herbert silences the critics

After the first two games of the season, plenty of people were questioning Herbert’s ability to replicate an outstanding rookie year. He definitely struggled a bit early with two touchdowns and three interceptions over the first two weeks, but still threw for 675 total yards in those contests.

He must have heard the criticisms because he’s been on some kind of a bender for the last three weeks. Herbert has managed 11 touchdown passes and one rushing touchdown in that span and has vaulted himself in to the QB4 position behind only Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen.

It certainly helps his case that new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi has made the necessary changes to the scheming that has made this offence more than a one-trick pony in the passing game. Mike Williams has proven to be a great asset to go alongside Keenan Allen, a healthy Austin Ekeler has made them more dynamic and even the tight ends are getting involved in the fun.

Would anyone really be surprised at this point if Herbert was not only this year’s fantasy MVP but also the NFL’s MVP?

2. Your Eagles running back conundrum

It’s almost as if someone predicted that Miles Sanders was a player to stay away from this season. You can’t win them all, but you can certainly victory lap the ones that you do!

For whatever reason, the Eagles have decided that running the ball with their backs is not something they are completely interested in. Overall, the team ranks 27th in rushing attempts per game with 22.6 and that includes the 8.6 attempts per game by quarterback Jalen Hurts.

If you’re keeping score at home, that leaves just 14 carries for the running backs per game.

It’s been a complete tire fire for the Eagles running backs as the volume is just not there to be fantasy relevant. Miles Sanders is averaging 12.8 touches per game and Kenneth Gainwell is averaging 6.8 touches per game. The two backs are separated by a measly 0.3 points on the year and rank as the RB30 and RB31.

Head coach Nick Sirianni clearly wants to throw the ball and you just can’t rely on the low floor of touches for both. Jalen Hurts is clearly the red zone rushing threat in that Eagles offence as he has more red zone rushing attempts than both Sanders and Gainwell combined, so it’s not like you can even get high value touches that go with the lower touch floor.

Stay away from this backfield until further notice.

3. All of a Sutton!

Coming off an ACL tear is never easy for a player but it seems we are getting closer to seeing the same Sutton we saw before his injury. Sutton’s snap count didn’t surpass 80 per cent in the first three games but it does look like he’s back up to speed now and has seen that percentage rise to no less than 90 per cent the last two weeks.

Aside from Week 1, which was a bit of a mess for him, he’s averaged nine targets per game and has bookended those four weeks with 159- and 120-yard performances. If he can get into the endzone more frequently (he scored his first of the year this past week) then we might be looking at a back end WR2 week in and week out.

His next three games provide some optimism for his fantasy production with Las Vegas, Cleveland and Washington on the docket, all of whom have allowed at least 70 yards to opposing teams’ top receivers in at least four of five contests.

4. Is the Kyle Pitts breakout here?

Let’s have some real talk here for a second before we delve deeper into Kyle Pitts’ season thus far. If the breakout game didn’t happen this past week against the Jets with both Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage out, then it probably would never happen. Maybe that’s a little excessive, but you get what I’m selling here.

I, like so many others, have been really high on Pitts and for good reason – he’s insanely talented and has physical traits like few before him at his position. A unicorn, as it were.

He currently occupies the TE6 spot on the year following a monster nine catch, 119-yard, one TD performance against the Jets this past week in London.

Overall, his season hasn’t really been all that bad. He has at least 50 yards receiving in three of five games and has six or more targets in four of five games this year. Only Darren Waller and Travis Kelce have more targets and yards than Pitts and he’s had early fantasy success with only one touchdown on the year.

A lot was expected from Pitts this season, but if you wrote him off before this week, I’m sure there is still room on the bandwagon to hop back on because this train is going to keep rolling.

5. Hard to cook with an injured finger

You never want to see a player get hurt, but let’s face it it’s a lot worse when it’s a player who provides entertainment (and in this case, fantasy points). With Russell Wilson on the shelf for an expected six weeks (missing as many as five games in the process), we will see Geno Smith taking the snaps as the starter for Seattle.

There is a clear drop off in talent between Wilson and Smith, but if we are talking in reality here, Smith didn’t actually look that bad in his first real game action in a while. He completed 10 of 17 passes for 131 yards with one touchdown and an interception that wasn’t his fault – Tyler Lockett slipped on his route and the Rams were rewarded with a pick.

Let’s also not forget he led the Seahawks on a 98-yard touchdown drive capped off by a DK Metcalf touchdown.

I’m not saying Smith is going to be a top fantasy option for you, but you could also do a lot worse. He walks into a ready-made offence with Metcalf and Lockett along with Gerald Everett and Chris Carson when healthy. With bye weeks coming up, there could be some openings for Smith to make spot starts for your team. After Pittsburgh and New Orleans in the first two weeks, they’ll play the Jaguars and Packers in the following two weeks. If he performs against Pittsburgh, he will be a hot waiver wire add, but it’s better to take the cautious approach right now.

6. Well, that was unexpected

When David Montgomery went down with injury, it was expected that Damien Williams would have the lion’s share of the workload as was evidenced by him being one of the top waiver wire targets last week.

We probably should have read a little bit more into the fact that the Bears acquired Jakeem Grant from the Dolphins to take over the return duties from Khalil Herbert who ended up having a significant role in Week 5.

Game script may have played a role in the numbers for each of the backs, but Herbert out-snapped Williams by 53 per cent to 48 per cent and both had 18 touches each – 18 carries for Herbert and 16 carries, two catches for Williams.

What we’ve also learned is that Matt Nagy doesn’t want Justin Fields to throw the ball, which is going to put a lot of opportunities in the hands of the running backs. Herbert will be a touchdown dependent play against the Packers this coming week, but with the Bucs, Niners and Steelers in the following games before Montgomery is expected back, he’s best left for someone else to waste a waiver priority or waiver budget on.

Williams on the other hand should get work in the passing game as the more adept pass catcher of the two and he is the better option going forward, especially in those games against teams who are tough against the run.

7. The new WR2 in Buffalo

It’s a position we figured would be a solid fantasy asset last season when Josh Allen took the next step in his development as Cole Beasley finished up as the WR27 on the year. To say that I’m surprised that Beasley has been basically unstartable and has been supplanted by Emmanuel Sanders is an understatement.

With that being said, there were people that cover the team that definitely saw this type of season from Sanders coming when he seemed to have immediate chemistry with Allen right from the hop during training camp.

The Bills have decided to push the ball a little bit more downfield than last season where there was a little more dinking and dunking to set up the deep ball and Sanders has been the beneficiary of this offensive scheming.

His 16.9 yards per reception is highest among Bills receivers with at least five receptions, he has at least five targets in each of the first five games and at least 48 receiving yards in every contest. He’s a locked-in starter on your rosters because of the high-octane offence and has a favourable schedule coming up with the Titans, Dolphins, Jaguars and Jets.

8. Not out of the Woods yet, but we’re close

I predicted Robert Woods would be the Rams receiver to roster in my pre-season predictions. Yes, I said it. Not afraid to admit it, but it hurts.

In three of the first four games, Woods failed to surpass the 50-yard plateau and didn’t manage his first touchdown until Week 4, but he absolutely blew up this past week with 12 catches for 150 yards on 14 targets, seemingly making up for lost time.

Woods needs the ball to make plays, plain and simple. He’s never been the big play threat and has always been a volume-based fantasy producer, so it doesn’t seem like much of a surprised that he reportedly spoke to head coach Sean McVay about getting him the ball more.

Despite the early struggles and the fact he only has one touchdown, Woods is still operating as a back end WR2 and is outscoring Stefon Diggs, CeeDee Lamb, Courtland Sutton and Calvin Ridley.

In an offence that has big time upside, I really feel Bobby Trees gets back on track sooner rather than later.

9. The Vikings running game doesn’t miss a beat

There was a time when Dalvin Cook got hurt that you really couldn’t count on anyone, including Alexander Mattison, to be productive from a fantasy perspective.

That time is over.

Here are Mattison’s numbers in the two starts he’s had with Cook out: Week 3 vs. San Francisco he had 26 carries for 112 rushing yards and six catches for 59 yards on eight targets; Week 5 vs. Detroit he had 113 rushing yards on 25 attempts plus seven catches on seven targets for 40 yards and a touchdown.

In the words of the legendary Larry David, that’s “pretty, pretty, pretty good.”

The issue with Mattison at the moment is that the Vikings seem to just hand all the workload to one running back and sprinkle in the other. One has to wonder if that’s going to change in the near future because of the success of both backs. Could we see Minnesota try to keep Cook healthy and lessen some of the workload? Could we see Mattison finally get some complementary work alongside Cook and see a one-two punch like we’ve seen in say, Cleveland?

All that remains to be seen, but what we do know is if Dalvin Cook misses anymore time that Alexander Mattison is a locked in RB1.

10. The Weekly “Mike Tolbert Vulture Awards”

Kendall Hinton: Remember him? Ya, the guy who had to play quarterback for the Broncos last season when basically every signal caller on their roster had to miss a game because of COVID protocols. Well, the quarterback-turned-receiver-turned-quarterback-turned receiver reeled in two of three targets for 25 yards and a touchdown.

Deonte Harris: This is one of those rare ones where the vultured touchdown is on a long bomb. It’s the thing that Marvin Hall had been famous for. Harris was able to secure his one target from Jameis Winston and turn it into a 72-yard score.

MyCole Pruitt: A player who saw this list last season and might see it more this year because who knows what to expect out of this Titans group of pass catchers. The tight end was able to take his lone 14-yard catch and turn it into a red zone touchdown. It really does feel like we are going to get a Titan on this list every week, doesn’t it?

Jacob Hollister: The ever so sweet immaculate line – you have to love it. Hollister was thought at one point to be the player who was going to take over as the lead tight end in Buffalo over Dawson Knox and now he’s taking limited snaps with the hapless Jaguars. His one catch for one yard, however, turned out to be more fruitful than his training camp with the Bills because it ended with a touchdown.

Antony Auclair: A Canadian Super Bowl champion gets his name on the scoreboard, catching his first target of the season from Davis Mills and hits paydirt in the process on the 11-yard reception. It was also the primarily blocking tight end’s first career touchdown and it came in his fifth season.

Jesper Horsted: The Chicago offence has been a fantasy nightmare outside of David Montgomery, who is now on the shelf with an injury, so I can’t say I’m surprised to see a Bears player on this list. Horsted, the Princeton product, made the most of his one catch, going a lengthy two yards for the touchdown.

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