We’re through two weeks of the 2016 NFL season, and by now you probably know whether or not your fantasy draft set you up for success. If you were smart enough to draft Kelvin Benjamin or C.J. Anderson, then good for you. But if Ezekiel Elliott’s sub-elite performance thus far has you stressed, or if you spent an early pick on Devonta Freeman, Todd Gurley, Jamaal Charles, Sammy Watkins, Allen Robinson — OK, you get it. If you’ve built your team around any of them — or a slew of other, equally disappointing or injured stars — then maybe you’ve already disabled fantasy push notifications and have started to wonder just what kind of fantasy value a non-shooter like Ben Simmons can really have in the modern NBA.
But again, we’re just two weeks in: Pieces are still moving, roles are still evolving, and key guys are (unfortunately) still getting hurt. If you look in the right places, there’s still plenty of new value to be had … and plenty of land mines to avoid.
Week 2 was a rough one for running backs, as seven key fantasy contributors went down with injuries. Here’s how to navigate the new landscape:
• Acquire Jerick McKinnon: After leaving Sunday night’s matchup with the Packers with a torn meniscus, Adrian Peterson is expected to be on the shelf for at least a few weeks. He’ll likely be replaced by a timeshare between veteran big back Matt Asiata and change-of-pace back Jerick McKinnon. Asiata saw the bulk of the load after Peterson went out on Sunday, but neither of the two impressed: Asiata ran six times for 14 yards, while McKinnon added two totes for 2 yards. But going forward, expect those numbers to flip. McKinnon averaged 5.2 yards per carry on 52 rushes last year (compared to Asiata’s 3.9 YPC on 29 runs) and is the more dynamic and explosive of the two: He creates his own yardage (he finished as Pro Football Focus’ 14th-ranked running back in elusiveness in 2014), has breakaway speed, is effective in the passing game (he caught 21 passes for 173 yards and one touchdown last year), and his experience as a running quarterback in Georgia Southern’s Wildcat offense helps his cause as the Vikings tinker with that scheme a few times a game. While the 219-pound Asiata could snipe some of the goal-line duties, McKinnon (who’s owned in just 24 percent of leagues at ESPN) should have a bigger impact.
• Stay away from the Miami backfield: The "Inevitable Arian Foster Injury" Watch lasted less than one and a half games, as the 30-year-old vet left Sunday’s game against the Patriots in the second quarter with a groin injury. Foster is "day to day," per head coach Adam Gase, but groin injuries can linger, so even if he returns this week or next, it may affect his explosiveness and ability to cut. It wouldn’t be a shock if Miami brings him back slowly so as to avoid aggravating the injury. A fifth-round pick out of Boise State last year, Jay Ajayi came into training camp as Miami’s projected starter, but he lost the job to Foster and then didn’t even travel to the team’s Week 1 game in Seattle because he reportedly sulked when Foster beat him out. He ran for 14 yards on five carries and fumbled in the third quarter on Sunday, a performance that isn’t likely to get him back in the coaching staff’s good graces. That leaves Miami’s backfield in chaos: We can’t trust Ajayi and it’s unclear who would be next in line (Damien Williams or rookie Kenyan Drake) to receive the bulk of the Dolphins’ carries. Miami has run the ball just 36 times for 134 yards in two games, so you’re better off staying away from all three.
• Stay away from the Carolina backfield: Thanks to a hamstring injury suffered early in Carolina’s win over San Francisco, Panthers starting running back Jonathan Stewart will miss "at least a week or two" and potentially longer. The Panthers are a heavy running team and lead the league with 333 ground yards after two weeks, but after Stewart’s injury they will likely go to a running back–by-committee. Fozzy Whittaker (owned in 1.1 percent of leagues) took over for J-Stew on Sunday and rushed 16 times for 100 yards, but Cameron Artis-Payne (who was inactive last week) is poised to take over as lead back in Stewart’s absence. When Stewart missed weeks 15 through 17 last season, Artis-Payne stepped in for Carolina, rushing 33 times for 152 yards and one score. That’s not a whole lot of production — an average of 11 carries for 50 yards per game — and it’s because the Panthers will spread Stewart’s workload around: Cam Newton will run a little more, Mike Tolbert will get some carries, and Whittaker will be the change-of-pace back. So while Artis-Payne will be the "starter," he won’t get enough carries to make him worth grabbing.
• Acquire Charles Sims: Buccaneers starter Doug Martin left Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury, and will get an MRI on Tuesday to determine the severity. Most likely, he’ll miss this week and his rehab could extend much further. Bucs coach Dirk Koetter has already said that Charles Sims is ready to shoulder the lead-back role. Sims (still owned in just 65 percent of leagues) becomes a must-add player who will be a big part of the Bucs’ offensive game plan, both as an early-down runner and as a pass-catching threat out of the backfield on third down. He’ll have even more opportunities to do this again:
• Hold on to Melvin Gordon: Danny Woodhead going down with an ACL tear is another big loss for the Chargers’ passing game — the versatile playmaker tied for the lead NFL tailbacks with 80 catches last year — but the blow is softened by Melvin Gordon suddenly looking like the top-tier runner the Chargers drafted him to be. He’s carried the ball 38 times for 159 yards and three touchdowns, and his workload will increase with Woodhead out. Unless you’re in a six-team league with a bunch of relatives who can’t use the internet, Gordon’s already rostered, so hang on to him if you have him.
• Hold on to Theo Riddick: Ameer Abdullah is seeking a second opinion on his injured foot (reported to be a foot sprain), but expect Detroit’s explosive de facto lead back to miss a couple of weeks of action. Theo Riddick, the Lions’ excellent pass-catching back, should earn a few more carries on early downs (both Riddick and Abdullah have averaged nine carries a game thus far). Riddick is already rostered in over 80 percent of ESPN leagues, and while he’s never been a lead back (he averaged just 3.1 YPC on 43 runs in 2015), he’s run well in 2016, picking up 82 yards and one touchdown on 18 totes thus far.
• Acquire Christine Michael: Thomas Rawls left Sunday’s game against the Rams in the second quarter after getting kicked in the shin, and didn’t return, finishing with seven rushes for minus-7 yards. After missing much of training camp and the preseason, Rawls doesn’t look 100 percent, so the Christine Michael "awakening" lives on despite Seattle naming Rawls the starter last week. C-Mike was much more effective against the Rams’ elite defensive line, carrying the ball 10 times for 60 yards (that’s 6.0 YPC behind an offensive line that looked like it would struggle at the college level) while adding three catches for 26 yards. A late-game fumble tainted an otherwise nice outing from Michael, so if players in your league dumped Michael last week (he’s owned in 59 percent of leagues), now’s the time to go grab him. Seattle’s offense has struggled, but the Seahawks are not going to give up on the run — expect Michael to get a ton of chances to produce next week against the 49ers, and beyond.
Every team is still fine-tuning its offensive hierarchy, but these five players should take on bigger and bigger roles as the season goes on.
• Tyler Boyd, WR, Cincinnati Bengals: Controversial fumble notwithstanding, in a rain-soaked and sloppy game in Pittsburgh on Sunday, rookie receiver Tyler Boyd led Bengals wideouts in targets and receptions, catching six of his eight looks for 78 yards. Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones are gone from Cincy’s offense, and the target-share this year has yet to truly reveal itself. Playing outside, Brandon LaFell is outpacing Boyd (12 targets to 11 through two weeks), but Andy Dalton showed increased comfort with the rookie, who played primarily out of the slot, on Sunday. Boyd, who’s owned in just 23.7 percent of leagues at ESPN, is a polished route runner and could end up as Dalton’s second favorite receiver after A.J. Green before long.
• DeVante Parker, WR, Miami Dolphins: He’s owned in 70 percent of ESPN leagues, and it won’t be long before that number hits 100. The 2015 first-round pick missed Week 1 with a hamstring injury, but he exploded for eight catches for 106 yards on 13 targets (tied with Jarvis Landry) against the Patriots on Sunday, including this ridiculous grab:
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill leaned on the talented deep threat, both on the outside and over the middle: The 6-foot-3, 212-pound receiver has converted 55 targets into 30 catches, 551 yards, and three touchdowns over his past seven games. Over a full season, that’ll get you 69 catches, 1,259 yards, and seven touchdowns.
• Quincy Enunwa, WR, New York Jets: Despite the presence of Brandon Marshall (17 targets) and Eric Decker (15), Enunwa is getting his fair share of looks (14) from Ryan Fitzpatrick. The third-year pro out of Nebraska has 13 catches, three of which came 20-plus yards downfield. He’s played both in the slot and on the outside, and at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, he’s using his size to box out defenders downfield. He’s owned in just 5.6 percent of ESPN leagues, and with Marshall unsure of his status for this upcoming weekend due to a knee injury, Enunwa’s role could increase very soon.
• Jamison Crowder, WR, Washington Redskins: Crowder has been targeted a team-high 18 times and has caught a team-high 12 passes, but he’s owned in just 3.2 percent of leagues. His six-catch, 39-yard, one-touchdown line on Sunday would’ve looked a lot better if Kirk Cousins hadn’t missed him wide open downfield for another score in the first quarter.
• Tevin Coleman, RB, Atlanta Falcons: Devonta Freeman’s performance plummeted in the second half of 2015 (nine of his 11 touchdowns came in the first six games), and nominal backup Coleman is getting more action early on in 2016. Coleman got 12 carries (to Freeman’s 17) Sunday, rushing for 46 yards and a touchdown, and added two catches for 25 yards. He out-touched Freeman (five to three) in the red zone as well. Coleman caught five balls for 95 yards in Week 1, and with his increased usage in the run game and the trust he’s earned from the Falcons’ coaching staff in the red zone, you should add him before it’s too late.
Mirage or Reality?
This trio may have had big games in Week 2, but the production came out of nowhere. Will it disappear as soon as it arrived?
• Tyrell Williams is a mirage: So far, life after Keenan Allen looks tolerable for Philip Rivers, who passed for 220 yards and four touchdowns in a blowout of the Jaguars. Travis Benjamin (owned in 77 percent of leagues) is his new go-to guy, but Tyrell Williams (owned in just 43 percent) looks like an intriguing second option. Williams matched Benjamin’s six targets, catching three passes for 61 yards and a touchdown. Except, Rivers still loves throwing to Antonio Gates — especially in the red zone, where he had three targets and a touchdown Sunday) — so he’ll steal some attention and targets. Plus, 40 of the 44 yards on Williams’s long touchdown Sunday came after the catch. That kind of YAC isn’t super reliable, nor is his 26.4 yards per catch average, so future production at this rate seems unlikely.
• Jacob Tamme is a mirage: Tamme led the Falcons with eight targets Sunday, catching five of them for 75 yards and a score. Julio Jones was nursing a sore ankle against Oakland, so Tamme won’t continue to lead the team in looks, but Matt Ryan and the Falcons love to look over the middle of the field in their passing game — they threw a league-high 29 percent of their passes to that area last year — and that’s Tamme’s domain. The only problem is that the Falcons were also very bad on passes over the middle of the field last year, ranking 31st in DVOA on passes to that area per the Football Outsiders Almanac. Six of Tamme’s eight targets on Sunday were over the middle, and he caught four of them for 60 yards and a touchdown, but Ryan also threw a pick to David Amerson while targeting the ninth-year pro. If last year’s performance tells us anything, Tamme’s production in Week 2 is more likely to be a fluke than the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
• Dennis Pitta is real: Pitta isn’t likely to consistently match his output against the Browns (he led the Ravens with 12 targets, nine catches, and 102 yards), but there are a lot of passes to go around in the Baltimore offense. Joe Flacco has averaged 39 throws per game through two weeks, and with his team-leading 16 targets and 12 receptions, Pitta, who’s owned in just 10.8 percent of leagues, looks like he’ll be a bigger part of the offense than anyone expected before the season began.