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Like last week, I’m still trying to process the games from the weekend, even days later. I screamed as Evan McPherson’s kick sent Cincinnati to the Conference Finals, and I’ve seen enough discourse on overtime rules to last a lifetime. I’ve got some news on practice for Sunday’s games. Still, I wanted to take another look into next season. Last week centered on players I’ll likely target, but I found some guys I need to think about before drafting.
Question Marks for 2022
First, let’s start with the term “question marks.” I prefer that descriptor to “bust” or “fading” a player. I mean, the season’s not even over yet. We’ve got games on Sunday! But, best-ball lobbies are already open, and ADP discussions are running rampant on social media. So I thought of a few players I have questions about before drafting this offseason.
James Conner – Cardinals
Last year’s case for drafting James Conner was simple. He was cheap, we could project a stand-alone goal-line role for him, and his workload would blossom if Chase Edmonds got hurt. Literally, all of those things happened.
This clip exemplifies two aspects of Conner’s role in 2021. First, he was the red-zone option. No, not just because he had more rush attempts than his teammates. He had more than most of the league. Conner’s 42 rush attempts from inside the 20-yard line were fourth among all running backs. But obviously, it’s easier to score from closer to the goal line. And, like the clip shows, that’s where Conner endeared himself to many fantasy managers.
Conner was getting the opportunity like our early-round stars and producing better than most of them. He hadn’t seen a similar red-zone workload since 2018 when he was back in Pittsburgh. It’s clear Arizona found something in their backfield tandem, but I wonder about its sustainability as we look to 2022.
I keep coming back to Kenyan Drake’s runout in 2020. He handled 35 of the Cardinals’ 52 rushing plays from inside the 10-yard line and set career highs in scrimmage yards and touchdowns with a single team. I’m not one to quickly dismiss great performances, but as I said, I have questions. Is it the role? Or the person? The team might help us decide.
We can save the regression talk for another day since Conner’s contract status (along with Edmonds’) is still unclear. He’s the only bruiser, but he still missed time this year to injuries. A backfield addition makes sense, but their defensive needs may take precedence. Plus, Arizona has glaring issues on offense, as we saw in their season finale. Conner might’ve been an answer for them in 2021, but I’m not sure that’s the case for 2022.
Gabriel Davis - Bills
Wait, wait, wait. Just hear me out.
It’s not like I made Gabriel Davis the cover boy of the article to drive clicks. I saw a conversation on Davis that I didn’t immediately agree with, so I decided to piece together my thoughts here. But first, let’s start with the goods.
Shouldn’t the defender have to retire after a play like this? I thought that was an unwritten rule. Regardless, Davis’ four-touchdown night was one for the record books. So, naturally, the last thing we saw became the first thing discussed when talking about the following season. And that’s where I get stuck.
I’m hesitant to declare Davis the WR2 in Buffalo. My process (heavily) relies on trends indicating improved or expanded usage for a player. I’ll (incorrectly) categorize a 10-201-4 stat line as a “small” or “one-game” sample. I needed to see Davis’ sophomore season in its totality before buying into the notion he’s worth an early-round pick this offseason.
* - I used “Game” instead of “Week” to maintain continuity on the chart since he wasn’t targeted in Week 2 and missed Week 16.
OK, I’m sold.
Sunday’s game is the final point on the chart, but each metric has a positive trendline without the Divisional round added. Raw targets and targets per route run (TPRR, helps measure intent) were stabilizing, and red-zone targets were climbing. It’s a far cry from where he ended his rookie season, and his situation could (and I fully emphasize the word “could”) get better.
The Bills’ situation is a double-edged sword. Emmanuel Sanders, Cole Beasley, and Isaiah McKenzie could walk to help Buffalo’s cap situation. But their depth is what kept the offense moving when injuries or COVID struck. Plus, Brian Daboll’s likely departure will alter play-calling. At a cursory level, I’m in the “pro-Davis” crowd. However, I do want to see how the personnel and coaching changes shake out before testing the market on his draft cost.
Dalton Schultz - Cowboys
Every year I try to beat the system and find a non-Kelce/Andrews tight-end. Christopher Harris dubbed it “the quest for the next Tonyan.” Dalton Schultz had the touchdown total to give off a similar vibe (8), but I question the comparison.
Running routes in structure is one thing. Doing it while a play is breaking down is an entirely other skill. Schultz seems to have the latter with Dak Prescott after his second full season. The former is what likely fueled his 16.5% target share.
Schultz’s ability to create separation showed up in his production. He was top-10 in both yards after the catch and yards per route run. His main problem was a lack of red-zone targets while playing on a loaded offense. And yet, he was tenth in touchdowns from inside the 20-yard line.
Schultz has made his case as a receiver and a blocker. His upcoming free-agency status has led to rumors of a franchise tag as Dallas heads into the offseason. But Blake Jarwin will have the offseason to recover, and Michael Gallup’s late-season injury may change the team’s approach. He’s top-10 at his position, but any news surrounding the Cowboys may have me pivoting away from him in drafts this offseason.
We’re down to four teams, so no injury should get lost in the shuffle. I’ll walk through each squad, but we have a couple of players to check in on that missed last week’s divisional round.
- Darrel Williams – Toe – First full practice since the toe injury, but his availability creates more uncertainty for the Chiefs’ ground attack.
- Darrell Henderson – Knee – Wasn’t expected to play last week but was designated to return from IR. Practice participation to close out the week will be critical, but don’t expect much with Cam Akers and Sony Michel performing well enough.
Los Angels Rams
Van Jefferson (knee) was the only noteworthy absence on Wednesday. The injury didn’t come from their win on Sunday, and yesterday’s practice was more of a walkthrough, so “precautionary rest” may be the answer here. There’s no concern from the local media, but we’ll be watching Thursday’s participation to give us a better idea.
San Francisco 49ers
Well, I guess Deebo Samuel is fine.
Elijah Mitchell was the only skill-position player to miss practice yesterday, but he’s been following a similar practice pattern after his Week 16 injury. He was on the final drive to set up the winning field goal on Saturday night, so we should know more about his status today.
A (mostly) clean bill of health for Cincinnati to start the week. As of yesterday, the team’s main concern is preparing for the crowd noise in Kansas City. I can’t wait for Sunday. Who dey!
Kansas City Chiefs
I mentioned Darrel Williams’ return above, and his practice was the main fantasy highlight of yesterday’s practice. Tyrann Mathieu is still in the concussion protocol, but all of our fantasy stars were full go on Wednesday.