Technically, winter isn’t coming until next week. But a handful of fantasy stars has been ice cold for more than a month.
Among all wide receivers who have played at least four games over the past five weeks, Odell Beckham Jr. ranks 40th in fantasy points per game in ESPN PPR leagues. Saquon Barkley ranks 29th among running backs. And Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson both rank outside the top 20 quarterbacks.
But can you really consider benching them in the biggest game of your season if you somehow slid into the playoffs without their help?
Or can you hope that they will finally deliver when it matters most?
As always, ESPN’s NFL Nation reporters are here to help.
Beckham: Cleveland Browns coach Freddie Kitchens insisted that Beckham won’t be shut down despite battling hip and groin injuries that have limited him to just 20 catches for 269 yards and one touchdown over the past five games.
However, Browns reporter Jake Trotter said, “At this point, you might actually consider benching him” nonetheless.
“Jarvis Landry is clearly Baker Mayfield’s No. 1 receiver, and the Browns are a running team anyway with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt,” Trotter said. “On top of that, OBJ is playing hurt and just doesn’t have the same playmaking potential he has possessed in the past. If you have another option at receiver, that might be the way to go.”
Last weekend was the third time this season that Beckham was held to just two catches and less than 40 yards. And while Mayfield was defending the receiver after Sunday’s game, he also confirmed that Beckham hasn’t been himself.
“He’s not able to run as well as he should be able to, as well as he knows. And that’s frustrating for him,” Mayfield said, though he added that Beckham’s “not 100 percent” is “still good enough for us.”
Barkley: On the flip side, New York Giants reporter Jordan Raanan is much more optimistic about a strong finish for Barkley, who has been held to 209 rushing yards, 64 receiving yards and zero TDs over the past four games.
“If you made it this far with Saquon on your roster, you’re about to be rewarded. He’s about to pop,” Raanan said. “Barkley has looked better and healthier in recent weeks, and now he gets the Dolphins and Redskins in the two most important weeks of the season.
“This is set up perfectly for Barkley to produce his first 100-yard rushing game since Week 2. The Dolphins are ranked 30th in run defense and the Redskins 27th. Barkley’s about to live up to the lofty draft status before it’s too late.”
Raanan pointed out that Barkley’s season was affected by the high ankle sprain he suffered in Week 3 and the Giants’ offensive-line problems.
But workload certainly hasn’t been an issue. Barkley has averaged more than 17 carries and 20 touches per game over the past three weeks.
Rodgers: The problem with Rodgers is that he hasn’t really been a problem. The Green Bay Packers are 10-3, and Rodgers has been extremely efficient with 23 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. So even though Rodgers and coach Matt LaFleur are hoping to light it up a little more consistently, they are also content to lean on the run game or “win ugly” if that’s what it takes.
Stephania Bell updates fantasy managers on the latest injury news for Packers WR Davante Adams.
“Rodgers has been so hit or miss this season in terms of big production that it’s hard to predict what he’s going to do — or what the Packers’ offense is going to do,” said Packers reporter Rob Demovsky, who pointed out that Rodgers threw a combined eight TD passes in Weeks 7-8, then just two over the next three games. “Even touchdown machine Aaron Jones has had stretches where he either hasn’t gotten the ball or hasn’t produced. That could just be the way it is with a first-year offense, so keep that in mind when proceeding.”
Wilson and WR Tyler Lockett: Wilson is still a dark-horse MVP candidate. But he went from throwing 22 TD passes and just one interception in the first nine weeks to four of each over the past four games. (Last weekend’s loss was particularly ugly for the Seattle Seahawks‘ offense.)
On a positive note, however, Seahawks reporter Brady Henderson said, “It seems at least somewhat related that Wilson’s recent dip in production has coincided with Lockett playing at less than 100 percent.” And now it looks like Lockett’s shin bruise and recent illness are “in the rearview mirror.”
Lockett has just eight catches for 107 yards and zero touchdowns over the past four games — including a goose egg in Week 13 — after lighting it up over the first nine weeks. But he hasn’t been on the injury report for two weeks now. Coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday, “I think he’s really back.” And offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said Lockett has looked “terrific” in practice.
Now for the rest of our weekly tour around the league:
Arizona Cardinals and Washington Redskins: If you believe that bigger contracts can serve as inspiration for bigger fantasy performances, Josh Weinfuss wrote about how important these next three games will be for pending free-agent running back Kenyan Drake. And John Keim wrote about how Adrian Peterson’s offensive linemen have gotten behind his quest for another 1,000-yard rushing season (which comes with a $500,000 bonus).
Kansas City Chiefs: QB Patrick Mahomes said he couldn’t really grip the football until Wednesday, as Adam Teicher wrote. But the swelling has gone down from his “scary” hand injury, and it looks as though he’s good to go.
Los Angeles Rams: Welcome back to fantasy prominence, Todd Gurley. Lindsey Thiry wrote that Gurley should remain a big part of the game plan after his touches have increased to 21 per game over the past four games.
“He’s shown that he’s feeling good and when he’s doing those kind of things — whether it be through the pass game, through the run game — good things seem to happen for the Rams,” coach Sean McVay said.
New England Patriots: Rookie first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry played only two snaps last weekend. But the receiver made a big impression with his (should’ve-been) touchdown. And Mike Reiss wrote that his role should increase for an offense that needs a spark.
New Orleans Saints: RB Alvin Kamara’s dip in production has him flirting with that group of stars at the top of this column. But health doesn’t appear to be an issue after he played a season-high 51 snaps last weekend. And coach Sean Payton believes “he’s too talented of a player” to stay quiet for long. “I’m seeing everything in practice, the way he prepares,” Payton said when I asked him this week about Kamara. “So his best football this season’s ahead of him.”
New York Jets: It was good for Le’Veon Bell’s fantasy owners to see him run for a season-high 87 yards on 21 carries Thursday night after a turbulent stretch. As Rich Cimini detailed, over the past week, Bell missed a game with the flu, irked coach Adam Gase and said he was being underutilized.
San Francisco 49ers: Nick Wagoner suggested that fantasy owners might finally have some clarity in San Francisco’s backfield. Raheem Mostert has been so good over the past two weeks that coach Kyle Shanahan said he “has given us no choice” but to get him more involved.
Matthew Berry lists his reasons for favoring Raheem Mostert out of all the 49ers’ backfield options in fantasy.
Tennessee Titans: A fitting one to end on, since Ryan Tannehill and A.J. Brown might just be the guys that you consider starting ahead of Rodgers and Beckham. They connected on five passes for 153 yards last weekend. And as Turron Davenport wrote, their chemistry has provided a big-play element the Titans had been missing.