Fantasy football is a passion for many. Sometimes that passion causes fantasy managers to make emotional decisions even when the data suggests otherwise. Each week during the 2023 NFL season, Liz Loza will attempt to strike a balance between what the data states and what the heart wants. This is called Facts vs. Feelings.
This time next week I’ll be toiling away on the Week 6 edition of Facts vs. Feelings from a dimly lit hotel room in Bristol, Connecticut. And I can’t wait.
Not because the corporate-approved lodging is particularly luxurious. It’s not. Or because I’m thrilled to welcome a morning that doesn’t involve yelling at my kids to hurry up and brush their teeth so I can peel out of the driveway only to sit in a car line and stress about potential tardy slips. OK, well maybe a little (I truly do miss those adorable gremlins while I’m on the road, though).
It’s because… IT’S FALL, Y’ALL!
Los Angeles might have the whole of my heart (and my money), but the City of Angels cannot deliver on autumn vibes. It wasn’t until last year — when I returned to campus for the second time as an ESPN employee — that I realized how much I loved (and missed) a proper fall. I gasped at the foliage. I stared wide-eyed at the bushels (like, actual bushels!) of gourds lining the streets. I was taken back to my childhood and willingly wrapped myself in all of the pumpkin spice nostalgia.
My colleagues seemed charmed (if not a little startled) by my exuberance. Numerous co-workers leaned into it, generously taking me for scenic drives through some of the area’s most breathtaking vistas. (One of whom is likely proofreading this article right now. Hi, Pierre. [Good morning, Liz and gremlins.] That detour past the old-timey cemetery was so stinking cool!) It never got old — for me, at least. And I hope my genuine wonder rubbed off on them, serving as a potential reminder to take in the less-than-sophisticated (dare I say, “basic”) joys of the season.
I’ve been trying to manufacture that same cozy feeling in preparation for this weekend’s trip. Numerous outings to the local Trader Joe’s have resulted in an abundance of harvest-themed purchases. And while the bouquet of sunflowers on my desk looks beautiful and the pumpkin yogurt tasted surprisingly good… I want the real thing.
I want to hear fall leaves crunch under a pair of cute boots. I want to sip apple cider and not sweat. And I really want the Bears to not embarrass themselves Thursday night. None of those things will happen, however, without taking action. I need to — on my own — venture outside of the Bristol bubble and discover all of the bucolic hiking trails and quaint roadside stands. And the Bears, well, they need to do a whole lot but should probably start with letting Justin Fields use his legs.
The same is true in fantasy. We’re a month into the 2023 experiment and, speaking for myself, it has felt more like raking the lawn than snacking on pumpkin seeds. We have reached a point of transition. More than a few hot summer takes have begun to chill.
The emergence of new patterns and facts requires us to confront our feelings about what we thought was going to happen and instead get real about what is actually going on. Whether that means benching Joe Burrow (QB31) or getting behind Evan Engram (TE4); it’s time to shed what isn’t working and adventure toward something different. There’s no guaranteeing these adjustments will lead to victorious gains, but neither will nervously standing still.
So, while that maple chai-scented room diffuser might smell great now, you’re going to need something stronger to get you through the winter.
Anthony Richardson, QB, Indianapolis Colts: Richardson is showing zero anxiety. This man is fearlessly running — literally and figuratively — toward his destiny. Even while in the grasp of Aaron Freaking Donald, Richardson is advancing the ball. His maturation as a passer might still be in its beginning stages, but the rookie has, thus far, recorded the fifth-highest pressured completion percentage (63.6%). That shows guts and intelligence. Richardson’s physical tools are successfully translating to the NFL while manifesting a boon for fantasy investors.
Congrats to all of those who believed from the jump because Richardson is currently the QB2 in fantasy points per game. That’s what happens when a wildly gifted mobile passer is not only allowed but even encouraged to lean into his talent as a rusher. Richardson has executed 14 designed runs in three games, which includes all four of his touchdowns. (Can someone please forward this to Luke Getsy?) As a result, he has managed more fantasy points per game as a runner (12.38) than Joe Mixon, Rachaad White or Alexander Mattison. Additionally, his 29.60 fantasy points from Week 4 was the third-highest total by any QB this season (and 11 completions, tied for the fewest by any signal-caller in a full game so far this year).
Richardson will have to shift some of his focus from the ground to the air versus the Titans on Sunday. Tennessee has allowed a completion percentage of nearly 71% and an average exceeding 241 passing yards (10th-most) per week to opposing quarterbacks. Mike Vrabel’s gritty defensive front also managed to hold Deshaun Watson (the only dual-threat QB the team has faced, save a compromised Joe Burrow) to 16 rushing yards. It figures to be a close battle (+/- 1) but my money is on Richardson’s continued ascent. He’s a top-five fantasy play in Week 5.
De’Von Achane, RB, Miami Dolphins: While we’re on the topic of stocks rising … holy heck, welcome to the NFL, De’Von Achane! The third-round selection out of Texas A&M followed up his 233-yard and four-TD effort in Week 3 by blazing his way to another 120 yards and two scores in Week 4. So, is this a fluke? Or is Achane the real deal?
I’m leaning toward the latter. How does that genie fit back in the bottle? Achane’s snap percentage has increased with each effort (0% – 8% – 42% – 66%). Meanwhile, Raheem Mostert’s playing time has decreased since sharing the backfield with the explosive rookie (74% – 51% – 41%). The Dolphins — like the rest of the modern NFL — figure to go RBBC. However, Achane is proving to be the more effective rusher. His 11.4 yards per carry is as absurd as it is unsustainable. However, his 2.8 yards after contact per rush also ranks among the top three at the position.
You can’t sit this guy. Not now. And certainly not as an 11-point favorite versus a reeling Giants squad that gave up 5.3 YPC to Seattle on Monday night. Achane has youth, juice and upside. He also has managed double-digit touches in back-to-back efforts. Consider the burgeoning star a top-12 fantasy RB this Sunday.
Miles Sanders, RB, Carolina Panthers: If Miami’s backfield is Fast & Furious, then Carolina’s is giving Radiator Springs vibes. Sanders entered Week 4 with a groin injury, and although his effort deserves snaps, his output was worrisome. The Philly transplant managed a meager 19 rushing yards on 13 carries. While the aforementioned ailment certainly contributed to the vet’s inefficiency, his rushing numbers have steadily decreased since the season opener. Sanders recorded 72 rushing yards in Week 1, but then a total of just 86 over his next three contests. Additionally, his 2.9 yards per carry ranks 37th among 44 qualifiers.
If there is a silver lining, it’s Sanders’ work in the passing game. Bryce Young is checking down on the regular. As a result, Sanders ranks third in team targets (23) and receptions (15), placing him among the top five at the position in both of those categories. But this offense has no juice. Between an unfavorable game script and Chuba Hubbard’s pesky presence, Sanders is shaping up to be TD-dependent with little to no upside. He figures to further languish on the RB2/RB3 bubble when he takes on an improved (and rested) Lions defense in Week 5.
Michael Wilson, WR, Arizona Cardinals: Meaningful impacts are hard to come by at the next level. Lord knows I’m still trying to make a positive one on my mother-in-law. Wilson, however, has delighted thus far in his pro campaign.
The Stanford alum has demonstrated enticing chemistry with Josh Dobbs, recording 50-plus receiving yards in three consecutive efforts. That stat becomes more impressive when noting that he’s just one of 10 wideouts to accomplish such a feat. Wilson has additionally managed a top-15 aDOT (13.5 yards) along with the highest catch rate (88%) in the league. Furthermore, the rookie has outsnapped Rondale Moore in back-to-back games and managed to out-target the vet in his 7-76-0 effort at San Francisco this past Sunday. That arrow is pointing up, friends.
A player with plus size and strength, Wilson is on his way to emerging as the ideal complement to Marquise Brown. It might not happen this week. And he’ll still be saddled by Dobbs. Although with injuries mounting and byes upon us, now is the time to stash a rising star like Wilson. He’s worth a speculative flex versus a Bengals defense that has allowed the ninth-most opponent yards per game (364.3).
Jordan Addison, WR, Minnesota Vikings: High expectations often lead to disappointment. So does putting up a bagel on any given Sunday. Enter Addison. The 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner was the first rookie off of most fantasy draft boards. Touchdowns over his first two starts appeared to validate the preseason hype. But all that good juju came to a screeching halt when the 21-year-old failed to convert on his lone target in Week 4. Was it the result of uncharacteristic quarterback play and game flow? Probably. We still need to address the facts and recalibrate our feelings, though.
Addison’s 13.4% target share ranks third on his team (just ahead of Mattison’s 12.1%) and 70th among wide receivers. His above average aDOT (12.9) and his efficiency in the red area have buoyed his fantasy numbers. That kind of usage screams boom/bust. The reality of Addison’s situation has been tempered by the Vikings’ pass-heavy game scripts. When Kirk Cousins puts the ball in the air 40-plus times, Addison is likely to draw at least five looks. Makes easy sense, right? That is not, however, something we can rely on.
Consider Week 4 the wake-up call. That doesn’t mean Addison is a cut candidate. Definitely not while we’re weaving through bye weeks and subbing players in and out of IR spots. It does, however, mean thinking about Addison (at least for the moment) as more of an upside flex than an automatic WR3. He’s a top-40 FF WR option in what’s projected to be a high-scoring game (53.0) versus the Chiefs.
Dalton Schultz, TE, Houston Texans: Schultz has been quiet because his young QB hasn’t needed a binky. C.J. Stroud doesn’t mind letting it rip, averaging 8.0 yards per attempt (QB3) while registering the sixth-most air yards (953) on the season. From 20 yards out, however, the former Cowboy is proving to be his young QB’s bestie.
Schultz is tied for first in team red zone looks (31% RZ target share) and leads the Texans’ offense in end zone opportunities (38% EZ target share). From a positional point of view, His four red zone targets — as well as this three end zone looks — is tied for fourth among tight ends.
Is this chasing touchdowns? Absolutely. Do I like to do it? No, it feels dirty. But some of us — I’m looking at you, Kyle Pitts and Darren Waller investors — need to light a three-wicked Yankee candle and conjure up some fantasy goodness. The manifesting figures to continue at Atlanta, as the Falcons have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. I’m optimistically forecasting four grabs, 41 yards and a tuddy for Schultz.
Tyler Conklin, TE, New York Jets: As Travis Kelce has consistently reminded us, knowing not just how but when to shoot your shot is key. Conklin has been on my radar since Zach Wilson took over as the Jets’ starter. It wasn’t until the CMU product finished second in team targets versus the Chiefs, however, that I considered leaning into his streaming potential.
Conklin delivered a smattering of top-12 fantasy finishes over 2022, although most of his highs came without Wilson at the helm. Whatever was lacking between the two last year appears to have dissolved this go-round. Conklin ranks third on the team in offensive play percentage (76.2%) and second in team targets (17). He has managed 5-plus looks in each game over the past three weeks. Although those numbers are far from astonishing, only eight tight ends have managed the same or better. Welcome (again) to the TE hellscape.
Available in over 90% of ESPN fantasy leagues, Conklin offers sneaky sleeper appeal in Week 5. He’ll face a bruised and battered Broncos defense that has coaxed production out even the most broken offenses. Denver has given up the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends, including a stunning 7-85-2 stat line to Cole Kmet in Week 4.
I can’t promise it will be pretty. But I know it’s something different. Consider Conklin this week’s newest borderline TE1.
Follow Liz on social @LizLoza_FF
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