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The Opportunities in the Fantasy Football Injury Pile

A number of second-tier players are banged up entering Week 8, and taking advantage of the right situations could push your team over the top

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The NFL season is a grinding battle of attrition, both for teams and your fantasy squad. Injuries constantly force clubs to reshuffle depth charts and fill voids at key spots―and leave fantasy managers scrambling to make the best waiver-wire adds. Maximizing injury situations can make or break your fantasy team―whether you’re grabbing the proverbial next man up or adding a guy just before he gets back onto the field―but the right strategy isn’t always clear-cut. With that in mind, let’s take stock of a few of the biggest impact injuries around the league―along with the players who look poised to inherit (or take back) bigger pieces of the fantasy pie.

The Patriots’ Backfield

Sony Michel had emerged in the past month as New England’s physical, between-the-tackles, early-down bellcow, and has carried the ball 67 times for 316 yards and four touchdowns in weeks 4 through 6. But the rookie first-rounder left last Sunday’s game early after twisting his knee early in the second quarter, and fumbled the ball away before grabbing his knee in what looked to be extreme pain.

The good news is that while Michel’s injury looked pretty gruesome live, an MRI revealed no structural damage and he’s not expected to miss significant time. The bad news? Michel’s recovery timeline remains unclear, and the Patriots have kept their backup plans close to the vest, leaving plenty of room for speculation as to how the team will split up the workload going forward. Here’s what we know: Michel missed practice Wednesday, and the Patriots have yet to even work out anyone who could provide depth at the position. With Jeremy Hill and Rex Burkhead already on the injured reserve, James White and Kenjon Barner are likely to both see an increase in touches.

That duo picked up the slack last week after Michel’s exit. White out-snapped Barner 45-17; Barner did pick up 10 carries—and matched White in red zone looks (three)—but he was minimally effective, gaining just 3.6 yards per carry without finding the end zone. My guess is that the team will employ a similar three-to-one-type snap-split on Monday against the Bills, and will lean heavily on White (rostered in 96 percent of Yahoo leagues) as the lead guy. White has Tom Brady’s trust, is a team captain, and has produced in the passing game. But the team doesn’t want to overload the 5-foot-10, 205-pound vet, and will likely look to get Barner involved as much as game situations allow. This week, New England should have no trouble jumping out to an early lead against Buffalo, which would give Barner the opportunity for some second-half garbage time reps. The former Eagles back is owned in just 23 percent of Yahoo leagues, and is a FLEX option for those facing bye-week or injury woes this week.

The Dolphins’ Decimated Receiver Corps

The Dolphins’ receiver corps got paper thin in a hurry. Two of the team’s top pass catchers are on the shelf this week—Albert Wilson is on the injured reserve with a hip injury and Kenny Stills is out with a groin injury—which leaves Miami with just four healthy options for their matchup with the Texans on Thursday Night Football: Danny Amendola, Jakeem Grant, DeVante Parker, and recently promoted practice-squad receiver Leonte Carroo.

Amendola is owned in 30 percent of Yahoo leagues, and looks like the best bet as a waiver-wire add. The former Patriot has run 63 routes out of the slot the last two weeks, per Pro Football Focus, and seems to have built some rapport with quarterback Brock Osweiler. He’s caught 14 of his 18 targets for 143 yards and a touchdown since Osweiler took over, could get a volume boost with Wilson and Stills on the shelf, and will go up against a Texans defense missing slot cornerback Aaron Colvin (ankle).

In deeper leagues, Grant (12 percent of leagues) could be worth a stash as a run-after-the-catch speedster set to inherit Wilson’s role as the team’s open-field threat. The 5-foot-7, 169-pound dynamo is a touchdown-dependent fantasy option, but he’s got speed to burn and could see a deep target or two with Stills out of the lineup.

Even the Bills Have Fantasy Players

LeSean McCoy is in the concussion protocol after landing hard helmet-first on just the third play, and it’s unclear whether he’ll play on Sunday. His status with the team is up in the air too, for that matter, and as the subject of recent trade rumors, Buffalo may choose to hold McCoy out regardless of if he is cleared as a precaution as they look for potential suitors.

In either case, backup running back Chris Ivory (rostered in 23 percent of Yahoo leagues) is the next man up in the Bills’ backfield. The veteran runner got 36 snaps in relief last week, breaking four tackles while rushing for 81 yards and 16 carries with three catches on six targets for 25 yards. Buffalo’s offense is a mess, but Ivory was surprisingly effective against Indy’s front.

McCoy’s status must be monitored, but as the Bills look to take the ball out of quarterback Derek Anderson’s hands, Ivory could see enough touches to make him fantasy relevant this week. The team’s pass-catching complement to Ivory, Marcus Murphy, is worth keeping an eye on going forward, too. The nimble back broke three tackles on his four rush attempts Sunday, gaining 53 yards while adding five catches for 17 yards. He’s not getting enough snaps at this point to be worth an add, but if McCoy is out long term or traded, the team could up his volume.

The Jets’ New Running Back Rotation

With Bilal Powell headed to the IR with a career-threatening neck injury, Isaiah Crowell should see a slight boost in his snap share going forward, but the Jets will likely look to a pair of depth players to fill Powell’s spot. Trenton Cannon, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound rookie, played well last week and carried the ball twice for four yards while reeling in four catches for 69 yards. He should see action Sunday against the Bears, but going forward he’ll have to hold off fellow pass-catching back Elijah McGuire (foot), who’s eligible to return from the IR next week. Neither player boasts a ton of upside playing behind the touchdown-vulturing Crowell, but in deeper PPR leagues, both could be worth speculative adds to see how the workload shakes out.

Leonard Fournette’s Extended Absence

With Fournette still battling a nagging hamstring injury (he’s unlikely to return to the field until after the team’s Week 9 bye), the Jaguars called the Browns and acquired Carlos Hyde for a 2019 fifth-round pick. For those fantasy managers unlucky enough to depend on either Hyde or T.J. Yeldon this year, that deal has the potential to severely diminish both players’ fantasy value down the stretch.

It remains to be seen how the team plans to split up snaps and carries, but in the short term, Yeldon is sure to lose carries to Hyde, who is the type of “hammer” running back the team feels it needs in order to rediscover its smashmouth identity. In the long term, Hyde, who’s been an inefficient volume-dependant fantasy option this year, is sure to lose snaps to Fournette, who’s ostensibly still the team’s starter. Now’s the time to start looking for insurance options for both Hyde and Yeldon for the fantasy stretch run.

The Colts’ Soon-to-Be-Crowded TE Room

Eric Ebron has emerged as quarterback Andrew Luck’s favorite red zone target this year, racking up 33 passes for 367 yards and six touchdowns on the year (TE3 in PPR leagues). But his stranglehold on Luck’s attention might get some competition this week with Jack Doyle’s expected return to the field. The plodding pass catcher has been Luck’s trusted security blanket during the past couple of years: After reeling in 80 balls on 108 targets for 690 yards and four touchdowns last season, Doyle got off to an encouraging start this year, catching nine of 15 targets for 80 yards in two games before being sidelined the next five games with a hip injury. Now back at practice, Doyle has a shot to play Sunday in the team’s matchup with the Raiders.

There’s likely room for both tight ends in the Colts’ high-volume pass offense, and Ebron did catch seven of nine targets for 77 yards and two touchdowns playing alongside Doyle in weeks 1 and 2. But with Doyle owned in just 21 percent of Yahoo leagues, it’s worth monitoring how the team splits reps between its two top tight ends. For those looking for depth, or just an insurance/handcuff option for Ebron, Doyle could be worth an add this week.

Beast Mode’s Backups

With Marshawn Lynch headed to IR with a core muscle injury, the Raiders will look to veteran back Doug Martin to fill Beast Mode’s “feature back” role. Like Lynch, though, Martin’s utility may be game-script dependent, and the current state of the team leads me to believe that Oakland’s going to spend a lot of time down the stretch trailing their opponents. That makes pass-catching back Jalen Richard the more attractive fantasy option, especially in PPR leagues. The change-of-pace back (rostered in 51 percent of Yahoo leagues) has been a dependable dump-off option for Derek Carr in the passing game this year, and has seen at least six targets in all but two games. That gives him a relatively dependable floor week to week, and makes him a must-add for those looking for running back help.

Digging Deeper Into Denver’s Backfield

After leaving last week’s game with an ankle injury, Royce Freeman’s status for the team’s matchup with the Chiefs this week is in doubt. In his stead, starter Phillip Lindsay should get a nice volume boost—and the injury pushes backup Devontae Booker back into action. For those desperate for a running back option this week, the third-year back could inherit some of Freeman’s snaps, but there’s a reason the inefficient Booker lost his job to a pair of rookies. I’m staying away from Booker for now; he’s not going to be worth an add until I see the Broncos give him significant opportunities in the offense.

The Packers’ Receiver Reinforcements

After missing the last two games with a concussion and a hamstring injury, Geronimo Allison is back at practice this week and inching toward a return to the field. The third-year pro has quietly produced for Green Bay when healthy this season and notched 19 catches on 29 targets with 289 yards and two touchdowns in four games. His status for this week is worth monitoring—he was limited in practice on Wednesday—but is owned in just 46 percent of Yahoo leagues. Allison is worth picking up now before it’s too late.

Randall Cobb (rostered in 56 percent of leagues) is nearly back after missing the last month to a hamstring injury. The veteran pass catcher went off for nine catches, 142 yards, and a touchdown on 10 targets in Week 1, but wasn’t able to do much with his 17 targets the next two weeks, logging just eight catches for 52 yards. There’s no telling which version of Cobb we’ll see once he’s back in action, but the volume he was getting early in the year makes him worth a roster spot.