Help is on the way … sort of.
We’ve reached the point in the NFL season where some top players will be returning from the minimum eight weeks spent on injured reserve. But how many of them can truly help your fantasy team?
Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen is the only safe bet (and still just 51 percent owned in ESPN fantasy leagues, so go get him).
Baltimore Ravens running back Danny Woodhead should be back for Week 11, but he’s entering a backfield that feels more crowded than when he left. Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson says he wants to play again, but he’s still a long shot. And it’s hard to get too excited about Cleveland Browns receiver Corey Coleman.
Here’s the lowdown from ESPN’s NFL Nation:
OLSEN: Olsen will be back after the Week 11 bye, and ESPN Panthers reporter David Newton said he expected the 11-year veteran to “blend right into the role he’s had in the past and maybe be Cam Newton’s security blanket once again” after the Panthers traded away Kelvin Benjamin. In fact, Newton says he thinks Olsen’s pending return was one of the reasons why Carolina was comfortable letting Benjamin go.
Carolina does have other options that have emerged since Olsen broke his foot in Week 2, including receiver Devin Funchess and tight end Ed Dickson. But Olsen was ESPN’s No. 4-ranked tight end heading into the season for a reason. In 2016, he became the first tight end in NFL history to record three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
Tight end Greg Olsen, right, is on track to return for Carolina in Week 12, meaning he could provide a late-season lift to both Panthers QB Cam Newton and fantasy players. AP Photo/Mike McCarn
JOHNSON: Don’t get too excited here. But hey, if you’ve got an extra bench spot now that the bye weeks are almost over, why not? Johnson told Sports Illustrated that the cast comes off of his dislocated wrist Monday, and he still wants to try to play this season even if the Cardinals are out of playoff contention. But there are many reasons to be skeptical he can heal in time or that Arizona would risk putting him on the field if the playoffs are out of reach. Plus, Johnson probably wouldn’t return to his every-down role immediately.
ESPN Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss says Johnson’s return will be determined by how quickly he can regain the function of his left wrist, which could take a week or two or the rest of the season. Weinfuss wrote recently that a doctor told Johnson a wrist injury is “tricky” to recover from because of the number of small bones and ligaments around the wrist.
WOODHEAD: The veteran runner/receiver should be close to full health when he returns from a hamstring injury in Week 11. “I’m feeling good, but I understand there’s a process,” Woodhead said. The concern is that running back Alex Collins and fellow runner/receiver Javorius Allen have played well in Woodhead’s absence, so both should continue to have meaty roles. But there’s no doubt Baltimore’s offense could use a jolt.
COLEMAN: The second-year pro is eligible to return from his broken hand in Week 11. But ESPN Browns reporter Pat McManamon cautioned against expecting too much right away. As he wrote, the former first-round draft pick has more to prove both on and off the field before he can live up to his lofty expectations.
As ESPN Detroit Lions reporter Michael Rothstein wrote, Marvin Jones has become a big-play, touchdown-catching, creating-space-when-there’s-not, red-zone-threat receiver. Jones has been on a tear over the past three games, with 19 catches for 331 yards and three touchdowns. Although the sixth-year veteran went quiet last season after a hot start, Rothstein said he believes Jones can be a trustworthy option for your starting lineups down the fantasy playoff stretch.
Sterling Shepard also has a chance to emerge as a consistent fantasy starter. ESPN New York Giants reporter Jordan Raanan said he was going to be the Giants’ No. 1 wide receiver down the stretch, probably playing close to 100 percent of the team’s snaps. “His target share will be high … both in the slot and on the outside,” said Raanan, who pointed out that Shepard got nine targets this past Sunday in his return from an ankle injury and should have had a 75-yard touchdown when Eli Manning overthrew him on a wide-open deep ball. Shepard still finished with five catches for 70 yards.
Likewise, Marqise Lee has been the Jacksonville Jaguars’ best receiver this season despite dealing with rib and knee injuries over the past three games. And as ESPN Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco wrote, coach Doug Marrone is expecting even bigger things from Lee as he gets healthier. Lee has 17 catches for 230 yards over the past three games (including his first TD catch of the season in Week 9). And DiRocco said offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has been trusting quarterback Blake Bortles more to open up the passing game.
Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden also sees bigger games coming from second-year receiver Josh Doctson, who finally delivered the type of big-time, 38-yard catch in the final minutes of Sunday’s 17-14 victory at Seattle that teammates and coaches have seen in practice. “He’s a first-round guy; that’s a first-round catch,” Redskins cornerback Josh Norman said of Doctson, who finished the game with three catches for a season-high 59 yards.
Robert Woods was the most added position player in ESPN leagues this week after he caught his first two touchdowns of the season Sunday. He has become fantasy-relevant, with at least 59 yards in five of his past six games. But as ESPN Los Angeles Rams reporter Alden Gonzalez wrote after receiver Sammy Watkins had a season-high 67-yard touchdown catch in the same game, the Rams are going to keep spreading the ball around among Woods, Watkins and receiver Cooper Kupp, among others.
ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter Todd Archer said history suggests that veteran receiver Terrance Williams’ breakout game in Week 9 (nine catches for 141 yards) isn’t a sign of things to come and that he still remains fourth in the pecking order behind Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Cole Beasley. But Archer wrote about the respect the Cowboys have for Williams, even though he probably gets more grief from the outside than anyone else on the team.
New England Patriots receiver Phillip Dorsett probably won’t become too fantasy-relevant down the stretch this season. But as ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss wrote, Dorsett will have a nice opportunity to show how much he has grown with his new team this week while Chris Hogan is out because of a shoulder injury.
That type of opportunity doesn’t seem to be coming anytime soon for Cincinnati Bengals rookie John Ross, however. ESPN Bengals reporter Katherine Terrell detailed what has kept the No. 9 pick in this year’s draft off the field.
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This isn’t the first time we’ve linked to one of Archer’s breakdowns of the Cowboys’ backfield without Ezekiel Elliott. But it’s more relevant now that the running back is finally set to serve his six-game suspension. As Archer has maintained, the Cowboys will use a committee approach with Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden and Rod Smith to replace the Elliott monopoly.
Tom Brady must be thrilled to have tight end Martellus Bennett back, Reiss writes. Bennett should provide the Patriots a needed boost in the red zone, assuming his shoulder is healthy enough.
There are two reasons why you can use both New Orleans Saints running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara in your fantasy lineups: They’re both versatile enough to contribute in the run game and the passing game. And the Saints are running the ball as much as ever in the Drew Brees-Sean Payton era.
The Miami Dolphins also like where their running-back duo of Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams is heading in the wake of the Jay Ajayi trade.
Indianapolis Colts RB Frank Gore is aiming to get rookie Marlon Mack ready to take the reins from him in the future.
Kareem Hunt’s slump has more to do with the Kansas City Chiefs team as a whole than himself.
Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan has been “a little off” but needs to find his MVP touch.
Benjamin is on track to contribute Sunday in his Buffalo Bills debut.
Chicago Bears receiver Markus Wheaton is the ultimate wild card for fantasy owners.
Philip Rivers is up next on the Jaguars defense’s QB revenge tour.