May 20, 2024

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.

It’s my birthday.

That’s all I’ve got, really. I’m not a big “birthday” person. Mostly because we all have one. It’s not something special or unique about any individual. In fact, it’s the opposite.

Don’t get me wrong, turning a year older is a wonderful excuse to throw a party and gather with one’s nearest and dearest. But that’s the best part. Not to celebrate a single person or open gifts or live through an awkward rendition of a timelessly cringey tune. But to come together and enjoy each other’s company.

Doing just that was one of the biggest highlights of my time in Bristol last week. My co-workers organized a “Family Fun + Liz’s Birthday” drinks at a local bar. I was nervous, at first, to be the reason my colleagues had to potentially adjust their schedules or veer from their weekly routines. (It was Meghan’s idea! Not mine!)

When I arrived, however, and was met with genuine smiles and warm hugs and incredibly strong pumpkin spiced martinis. All of that anxiety dissipated and was replaced by (as cheesy as it may sound) simple joy. For the first time since joining the company 14 months prior, I felt like a legitimately ensconced member of the crew. And that was the best birthday present I could have ever received.

The same sense of community and belonging is what has made fantasy football such a popular pastime. It’s true that “nobody cares about your fantasy team” (or your birthday). It’s also true that we all care (deeply) about our own fantasy teams (and our birthdays). And we want to revel together in the twists and turns of the season. From the highs (way to elevate, Travis Etienne Jr.!) to the lows (I traded Chris Olave for Anthony Richardson and Tank Dell ahead of Week 5) this fake football experience can be as much about the collective as the individual.

We’re now a third of the way through the 2023 experiment. It is flying by! Some offenses have yet to take off (K.C.) while others appear impossible to stop (Miami). And, yet, we’re all still in it. Navigating injuries (Why, CMC, why?) and byes (six this week!?!?) while gathering the facts that will best bolster our feelings. So, here’s to forging ahead with glasses raised into another new week — together.

Kirk Cousins, QB, Minnesota Vikings: I bet Kirk Cousins is wishing his whole crew could squad up. After passing for 300+ yards and averaging more than 23 fantasy points per week over the first three games of the season, the Captain has struggled to drive Minnesota’s offense.

Cousins has fallen outside of the top 20 fantasy QBs (registering fewer than 10 fantasy points) in two of his past three contests. He’s coming off of his least productive effort in 2023, registering just one score (his first single-digit TD of the year) against a Bears team that entered allowing the second-most passing scores to opposing QBs.

Without Justin Jefferson, Cousins fell flat. The 35-year-old managed under 6 yards per attempt for the first time all season. He also spread the ball around, distributing the bulk of his looks between T.J. Hockenson (8), Alexander Mattison (7), K.J. Osborn (5), and Jordan Addison (5). I expect Cousins to eventually acclimate to life without Jefferson (who is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a hamstring injury), but it’s going to be a process.

He certainly doesn’t figure to right the ship versus the 49ers this weekend. San Francisco has allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing QBs (9.8 per week). With little rushing upside to offer (2.8 rushing yards per game), in a brutal matchup, and missing his best playmaker, Cousins falls to QB2 territory in Week 7.

Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers: Cousins wasn’t the only NFC North player to start 2023 hot. Aaron Jones appeared poised to crush his sixth-round draft value, serving up 127 scrimmage yards and two scores in the season opener at Chicago. Despite exiting early with a hamstring injury (which has continued to hamper him) Jones closed out Week 1 as FF’s RB1, making Dead Zone believers giddy with validation and anticipation. Since then, however, the 28-year-old has logged a total of six touches (just 17 on the season).

It’s possible that — even coming out of the team’s Week 6 bye — Jones is not yet healthy enough to hit the field. He was, however, back at practice on Monday and there appears to be optimism he’ll suit up on Sunday. It’s worth noting that the team added James Robinson to the practice squad on Tuesday, though that could be less an indication of Jones’ health and more about AJ Dillon‘s lack of effectiveness.

The 96% of ESPN fantasy users who rostered Aaron Jones aren’t the only ones who need him back. Green Bay does, too! The aforementioned Dillon has been a massive disappointment, averaging fewer than 4.0 yards in each game for a total YPC of 3.03 on the season. Furthermore, Jordan Love has struggled without Jones available to bolster the backfield, recording 2 touchdowns to 6 interceptions over his past three contests after having started the year with 6 scores and 0 turnovers.

If deemed good enough to go, however, Jones could help get the operation back on track in Week 7. The Packers will travel to Denver to take on a Broncos defense that’s allowed the most rushing yards and the second-most receiving yards to opposing running backs. I’ve got my fingers crossed for clearance and a top-10 fantasy finish for a rebounding Jones this weekend.

Tony Pollard, RB, Dallas Cowboys: After a pair of down (both under 10 FPTs) efforts, Tony Pollard cracked the top-12 fantasy players at the position in Week 6. A relatively normal game script helped stabilize the offense and increase Pollard’s touches. His 110 scrimmage yards (5.2 YPT) certainly appear solid on paper.

But I’m not convinced. The 26-year-old struggled on the ground, managing 0.40 yards before contact per rush (RB40). His 30 rushing yards ranked 34th at the position (behind Ezekiel Elliott and Darrynton Evans) while his 15 carries ranked 15th among RBs (ahead of Bijan Robinson and Joe Mixon). There was very little creativity to Dallas’ run game, as Pollard regularly efforted up the middle and into congestion. It’s been an issue for Zeke’s heir apparent, as he’s managed 2.7 yards per carry when facing a competent run defense (NJY, SF, LAC).

Pollard’s receiving chops are, of course, the hallmark of his game. Converting 6 of 7 looks for 80 yards on Monday night, Pollard materialized as the Cowboys second-most productive pass-catcher. It’s entirely possible that Dallas takes the bye to sort out the team’s efficiency issues. And Pollard will likely return to the top-15 FF RB ranks in Week 8. But it’s something to be mindful of (while MNF is still fresh in our minds) as we move forward, particularly facing another L.A. team that’s solid at halting the rush post-bye.

Amari Cooper, WR, Cleveland Browns: Speaking of byes, I did not anticipate DeShaun Watson sitting in Week 6 after having Week 5 off. And I definitely did not think Amari Cooper was going to go off for over 100 yards with P.J. Walker under center. Sure, most of Cooper’s yardage came on a 58-yard grab in the first half, but that’s still evidence of elevated play from a wideout who has spent the bulk of his career underwhelming given his first-round draft status.

Big plays have been startlingly regular for Cooper, as the Alabama WR ranks 10th at the position in aDOT (16.6 yards) and has logged the sixth-most deep looks (9) on the season. Averaging nearly 8 targets per game, Cooper is drawing enough volume to keep him fantasy relevant even on an offense that’s dedicated to running the ball. He’s also producing at a consistent pace, clearing 90 yards in three of his past four contests.

I expect the points to roll again — regardless of the team’s starting QB — at Indianapolis this Sunday. The Colts rank 21st in fantasy points given up to WRs, having allowed an opposing team’s WR1 to hit 130 yards on four separate occasions (Puka Nacua, Nico Collins, DeAndre Hopkins, and Calvin Ridley). Fantasy managers should feel confident rolling with Cooper as a WR2 option in Week 7.

Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Evans has long been considered a fickle fantasy play because of both the number of looks he draws as well as the type of targets he receives. Low volume. But high value. That’s not been the case in 2023, however. Evans is posting the highest target share (26.3%) of his career since 2016. He also leads his team in end zone target percentage (35.7%). And, yet, he’s not converting, managing a reception percentage of 58.5% (WR62). More simply put, Evans has logged 10 targets in three of four healthy outings (remember, he left early in Week 4) but has yet to record a game with more than 6 catches (with just one effort over 70 yards).

He also draws a tough matchup this weekend. The Falcons have allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to WRs, giving up just five scores to the position. Cornerback A.J. Terrell has been outstanding on the perimeter this year, limiting opposing wideouts to an average of three catches and 35 yards. Terrell has also kept outside pass catchers from finding the end zone, surrendering a single score over the last six weeks. If the Falcons secondary has a deficiency, it’s via the slot (it was, after all, Curtis Samuel, not Terry McLaurin, who scored in Week 6). That means more for Chris Godwin, not Evans. With six teams on bye, Evans should be started, but think of him more as a WR2 (instead of an automatic top-12 play) for fantasy purposes.

Jameson Williams, WR, Detroit Lions: Did someone say low volume, high value? That’s the Jameson Williams experience. Or at least it was in Week 6. In his second start of the season, Williams converted 2 of 3 balls for 53 yards and a score, showing off his slippery deep speed on a gorgeous 45-yard bomb. That could very well be the height of Williams’ production throughout the season. Except, I don’t think it will be. Not when the hint of upside is so obvious.

I know, I know, I know. I’m probably wish-casting. And haven’t David Montgomery‘s six TDs taught me anything? It’s a good counterpoint. Afterall, per the facts, Williams has managed an offensive play percentage of 34.1% (tied with Kalif Raymond and eighth among the team’s pass-catchers) since taking the field in Week 5. However, he’s also recorded an aDOT of 11.67 yards (second only to Josh Reynolds‘ 11.88 yards). Additionally his air yards increased from just one in Week 5 to 69 in Week 6.

Eventually, the Lions will be playing from behind and Williams’ big-play potential will need to be unlocked. That could happen as early as this Sunday in Baltimore with the Ravens opening as three points favorites. Even if this game’s script doesn’t dictate huge Jamo gains, then couldn’t a cushy prime-time outing versus the Raiders secondary in Week 8? It just feels like a breakout is coming, and I’d rather be ahead of the curve than behind it.

Michael Mayer, TE, Las Vegas Raiders: If Williams is only maybe happening, then Michael Mayer has already happened. Arguably the most well-rounded tight end in this year’s class, Mayer’s opportunities have steadily increased over the season, culminating into an impressive 5-75-0 stat line last Sunday.

The 22-year-old’s receiving chops — he closed out his college career with the most receptions (180), receiving yards (2,099), and receiving scores (18) by a tight end in Notre Dame history — were finally on display in Week 6. It’s worth noting that both Jimmy Garoppolo (4) and Brian Hoyer (2) peppered the tight end, indicating the youngster’s burgeoning importance to the offense. With Davante Adams working through a shoulder issue and Mayer gaining steam in Josh McDaniel’s scheme, Mayer logged a season-high snap share (79.1%) and route participation percentage (62.5%).

He figures to be further utilized at Chicago this Sunday. The Bears have allowed the second-most grabs and the seventh-most receiving yards to opposing TEs. No one is expecting this game to be pretty, but it could deliver fantasy’s newest “borderline TE1” ahead of schedule.

Follow Liz on social @LizLoza_FF

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