Pollard shines as starter, injury roundtable: Week 15 recap

December 22, 2020

            This might have been the craziest week of football for the season. The Steelers choked to the Bengals. The Chiefs had a nail-biter against the Saints. The freaking Jets beat the Rams. It was a semifinals week to remember — hopefully you all moved on to your finals. But let’s quickly take a look back on Week 15’s memorable slate.

Game of the week

Tampa Buccaneers @ Atlanta Falcons (31-27)

There were plenty of options to pick from this week, but the Falcons choking a 17-0 lead against Tom Brady is just too much. This game saw all three of the Buccaneers receivers provide solid fantasy output, especially Antonio Brown who caught five of his seven targets for 93 yards and a score. It could be anyone on any given week. Mike Evans (surprise) remains the most stable one, with 50 receiving yards or a score in every game since Week 7. Rob Gronkowski couldn’t find the end zone on any of his seven targets, catching just three. Without the score he finished outside the TE1 ranks — such is life as a fantasy tight end.

I’ll be quick. Leonard Fournette was bottled up for most of the game but happened upon two goal line chances when Evans fell just short. Fournette did his job and punched them in — two scores which put him as a great play on the week. This likely won’t continue into next week with Ronald Jones (finger/COVID-19) likely set to return, but he’s worth holding until there’s a useful update with Jones’ availability.

How about Calvin Ridley though? The 2018 first-round pick has been the best part of the Falcons’ lost season as he’s emerged as the team’s No. 1 receiver with Julio Jones often injured. The Buccaneers defense had no answer for Ridley who caught 10 passes for 163 yards and a score. He’s a locked-and-loaded WR1 next week and for the foreseeable future. Russell Gage has now put together several strong fantasy weeks, recording 50 or more yards in four of his last five starts. With Jones likely shelved for the year Gage could be a fantasy playoff darling as they head to Kansas City. Fire him up as a FLEX.

Run game? What run game? It was a clean split between Ito Smith (six carries, 24 yards) and Brian Hill (five carries, -2 yards) with Todd Gurley now the odd man out. Head coach Raheem Morris came out and said that Smith will be the leading rusher in the weeks to come, which should mean nothing to fantasy owners. No one can be trusted in a backfield that has only yielded success when one scores. It’s a pass-happy system — the highest scoring “running back” for fantasy was fullback Keith Smith who caught all three of his targets for 32 yards. If you had to choose between the Smiths, that would be Ito. But he’s still not someone to trust in your fantasy finals.

Player of the week

Tony Pollard @ SF (12 carries, 69 carries, two touchdown)

He also caught six of his nine targets for 63 yards. Pollard looked great against a formidable 49ers front, rewarding Ezekiel Elliot owners who have held their handcuff to this point. Pollard logged 90% of snaps as the clear every-down back in Dallas. The receptions were the most noteworthy part of his game — Elliot had not caught more than four passes in a game since Week 6. He’s a must-start if Elliot misses more time, but that’s no sure thing. Head coach Mike McCarthy told ESPN’s Jane Slater that Elliot has “a chance” to suit up next Sunday against the Eagles but based on Pollard’s play the Cowboys might lean on caution for Elliot. Either way Pollard is sure to be a hot pickup as a championship-winner.

Bust of the week

Juju Smith-Schuster @ CIN (Three receptions, 15 yards)

He also lost a fumble, finishing with zero points in some formats. It was a horrific day for the entire Steelers offense but just like last season, Diontae Johnson found a way to produce while Smith-Schuster couldn’t. He has almost double the amount of receptions as last season (82 to 42) but has just 118 more yards. He’s gotten the job done in PPR formats and by scoring touchdowns, but this is his floor without sufficient yardage or the ability to break a big play — his longest reception of the year went for just 31 yards. He’s still a FLEX option against Indianapolis next week but with Ben Roethlisberger looking his age, his floor and ceiling remains low.

Storyline to watch

Is Jalen Hurts the future in Philadelphia?

There’s no denying the promise Hurts has shown for the Eagles after beating the Saints and going toe-to-toe with MVP candidate Kyler Murray out in the desert. He’s not without his hiccups, as completing just 54.5% of your passes would attest to, but he gives the Eagles a spark that they desperately needed. His rushing ability also opens the run-pass-option game that Carson Wentz hasn’t been able to operate since tearing his ACL in 2017.

Injury roundtable

Derek Carr (groin)

On a bootleg in the red zone Carr popped his groin and hobbled out of bounds. After further testing he suffered a “significant groin injury” and is expected to miss next week’s game. Marcus Mariota played considerably well in relief of Carr, particularly on the ground where he ran for 88 yards and a score. He’s nothing but a low-end QB2 next week, however, against a much stronger Dolphins defense.

Nick Mullens (elbow)

It doesn’t matter too much whether Mullens or C.J. Beathard is leading the offense, but it’s worth noting that Mullens wasn’t able to finish the game. The severity is still unknown, but he has not played well enough to have the starting job locked up anyway. Mullens’ absence would make Brandon Aiyuk slightly riskier given the proven chemistry but there are no sweeping fantasy implications.

Cam Akers (ankle)

Akers suffered a high ankle sprain against the Jets, which will sideline him for the rest of the regular season. Darrell Henderson is the next man up, although head coach Sean McVay said both Henderson and Malcom Brown will be “heavily involved.” Consider Henderson a shaky flex like he was before Akers’ breakout.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire (ankle)

Like Akers, the Chiefs rookie running back suffered a high ankle sprain. He won’t be ready before the playoffs which rules him out for your fantasy championship. Le’Veon Bell is a must pick-up player even against a tough Atlanta run defense. They did allow two scores to Leonard Fournette this past week.

Raheem Mostert (ankle)

He was back and then he wasn’t. Mostert re-injured his ankle, and even if he’s healthy enough to play in Week 16 he can’t be trusted to stay on it. He should be out of fantasy lineups. Jeff Wilson will likely be the next man up in an RB friendly system, although Jerick McKinnon could factor in the passing game against a high-scoring Cardinals team.

Jamaal Williams (thigh)

The injury isn’t considered serious, but still requires further evaluation. Williams should not be considered as a FLEX even if he is active this week, which sets up rookie A.J. Dillon for a bigger role behind locked-in starter Aaron Jones.

Tyler Boyd (concussion)

Boyd’s helmet slammed against the turf on a jump ball during Monday Night Football, all but ensuring that he suffered a concussion. He will miss Week 16 as a result, which doesn’t help anyone as the offense becomes more stagnated. Kick returner Alex Erickson stepped in and played 50% of snaps but recorded just one target.

Stefon Diggs (foot)

Fantasy owners held their breath as we saw Diggs leave Saturday late in the fourth quarter with the game well in hand. He suffered a foot injury which fortunately doesn’t appear to be serious. Playing on Saturday also gave an extra couple days of rest since the Bills don’t play till Monday. The team is not worried about the injury and Diggs should be out there against the Patriots who will be without star cornerback Stephon Gilmore (quad).

Michael Gallup (hip)

The Cowboys receiver strained his hip which caused him to leave the game after posting a 3/26/1 line against San Francisco. Noah Brown and Cedrick Wilson will likely rotate as the No. 3 wide receiver, a role that has been extremely hit-or-miss all year.

Eric Ebron (back)

After trying to catch a ball in triple coverage Ebron fell down hard on his back. He was ruled out fairly quickly and should be considered highly questionable on a shorter week against the Colts. It’s a tough matchup already — fantasy owners should be looking to the wire for a replacement.

A final trio of quick hitters

The Steelers tried to change their offense after it was figured out by Washington by attempting to throw the intermediate/deep ball — the correct move after throwing it short all year. But there’s a reason why the Steelers have just two completions beyond 40-yards to deep targets — Roethlisberger has fallen off. The Steelers deserve more credit than they have gotten for hiding it this long, but Roethlisberger cannot run the offense the way it needs to be run.

Stop attacking NFL players for fantasy-related reasons. They’re not happy they underperformed. They’re not happy they got hurt. Raheem Mostert went off on Twitter against fantasy owners who act like this. Good riddance.

The Pro Bowl game may not be played, but the rosters were released this past Monday. If this is the world where Evan Engram and Josh Jacobs deserve to be in the Pro Bowl over Robert Tonyan and James Robinson, I don’t want to exist.