To say that the NFL is unpredictable is like saying the Grand Canyon is a little hole in the desert. And when fantasy football is thrown into the mix, well, let’s just say that in trying to figure out what’s going to happen when something unexpected comes to pass, things can be perplexing, slightly maddening and fascinating.
Occasionally all at once.
Just look back at the preseason chatter surrounding players like Gus Edwards, Taysom Hill and Sam Howell. The talk was as disparate as the builds for Edwards (6-1, 238 lbs.) and Tutu Atwell (5-9, 165 lbs.). Edwards was purely a backup, going into his second season back from 2021 ACL surgery. Hill was pegged as a gadget player, with no true role and given the “better in best ball” tag. Howell was predicted to be hearing the footsteps of Jacoby Brissett before the leaves turned brown in the east.
All four of these players were either late-round dart throws in fantasy drafts or, more likely, waiver-wire pickups. Fantasy managers who used up a good chunk of their FAB or waiver-wire priority are smiling widely. Some could have been drafted, dropped and then picked up by different fantasy managers, which is always fun for the original drafters. These are the types of finds that sometimes salvage a season. And in some cases can be league winners.
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For several years Edwards has been a valuable backup running back for the Ravens, three times surpassing 700 rushing yards and serving as a large battering ram on short-yardage and goal-line opportunities. That changed with one bad step from Baltimore starter J.K. Dobbins, whose torn Achilles threw a major wrench into the 2023 plans of a Ravens squad that was looking forward to a deep playoff run. Edwards appeared in waiver wire articles, but it was somewhat reluctantly because the Ravens still had Justice Hill and preseason phenom Keaton Mitchell on the roster.
To say Edwards has returned on fantasy managers’ faith (desperation heave?) and investment is quite the understatement.
Weeks 2-8, Edwards rushed for 394 yards and five touchdowns, leaving him as the RB13 during that run. Edwards then had 52 yards on five carries and a pair of touchdown runs in Week 9. The carry total was small, but that was a byproduct of the Ravens dominating the Seahawks, 37-3. This was the third straight game that Edwards has scored, including a three-touchdown effort in Week 8 against the Cardinals.
Before his low Week 9 rushing attempts, Edwards had double-digit carries in each of the previous seven games. In this run-heavy offense, the Gus Bus rushed 97 times in that span, which was 60 more than second-place Justice Hill.
With the Ravens at the top of the AFC North and several days past the trade deadline, Edwards should remain the lead back for the team. Mitchell could offer a change of pace, but until he receives substantial carries in crucial game situations, fantasy managers with Edwards should feel confident.
Fantasy managers seeing touchdown notifications from T. Hill pop up from their Yahoo apps probably have gotten used to it because of the greatness that is Tyreek Hill. But they’re actually getting more and more accustomed to seeing Taysom, not Tyreek, light up those alerts, as this is the third week in a row that the “other Hill” has accounted for at least one touchdown.
Hill caught a second-quarter touchdown from Derek Carr in the second quarter, and then threw a touchdown to his fellow tight end Juwan Johnson in the fourth quarter to seal the 24-17 victory for the Saints — and countless number of people who used New Orleans in their survivor pools let out a big sigh of relief. Hill continues to fill up a box score, as he led the Saints with 52 yards rushing, caught four balls for 13 yards and completed his only pass to Johnson.
Over the past four weeks Hill has received consistent usage, and did so while helping the Saints wherever he was needed. When Johnson was out with an injury, Hill stepped up his receiving game, catching a season-high seven receptions in Week 6. Hill ran nine times for 63 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Week 8, after so many people had been picking him up off waivers to insert him in their lineups. His rostership has jumped from 35% to 64% recently.
What’s truly maddening about Hill is that his big-usage weeks can hardly be predicted. Then again, we’re talking about how unpredictable the NFL can be. Starting Hill on a week-to-week basis may be a crapshoot, but after Travis Kelce and maybe three other tight ends, fantasy managers are starting tight ends just hoping for a touchdown. When Hill offers the opportunity to score in three different ways, he’s as good as any tight end option outside the top four. He came into the week as TE10, and who wants to bet that he’s not going to keep moving up?
Howell appears to have graduated from among streaming quarterback options to full-fledged starter and there has been some talk among the Commanders’ brain trust that the second-year player out of North Carolina is their franchise quarterback. Howell was rostered in 45% of Yahoo leagues before his 397-yard, four-touchdown performance in Week 8. He’s up to 62% and will continue to climb after he passed for 325 yards and a score in New England on Sunday.
Howell went into Sunday Night Football in Week 9 as QB8 and was QB8 through Week 8. Not bad for someone who was drafted as the QB27 back in August. With three 300-yard games in his last five outings, and considering how generous the Commanders’ secondary has been, there could be some shootouts in the next couple months for Howell.
Looking ahead to the fantasy playoffs, Howell has a tough matchup at the Jets in Week 16, but before and after the Commanders take on NFC West foes Rams and 49ers. In a year when so many quarterbacks have gotten hurt, Howell may end up being one of the pickups of the year when we do our season-in-review articles.
Who could have predicted that?