The path to a fantasy championship is rarely ever a straight line.
Roughly two or three times every season, a wave of injuries rips
through the league (and by extension, fantasy football). The problem
this past weekend was not how many multi-week injuries some of our
weekly starters suffered, but the importance of those players. Managers
have little choice but to reassess and reload as best they can.
With that in mind, I will address the most notable of the injured
players and what we can expect from their replacements. I will
even suggest multiple alternatives that are likely available off
waivers or can be acquired via trade at a reasonable cost.
QB Anthony Richardson (shoulder) - expected to miss 1-2 months
The first statement in my first
regular-season column of the year was that Richardson would
not last the season if he continued down the same path that he
was walking a month ago. Since that column, he missed one game
with a concussion and is now set to miss a large chunk of the
season. To his credit, he toned down how reckless he was in his
NFL debut before injuring his shoulder last week, but the fact
of the matter is that quarterbacks who leave the pocket and attempt
to throw on the run as much as Richardson does will open themselves
up to injuries like the one he suffered in Week 5.
What do I do with Richardson now? Assuming you
are in a league with at least one IR spot, hold. Even in leagues
without IR spots, I would be hard-pressed to drop him unless it
is a small league (eight or 10 teams) with small benches.
How do I replace him? While most fantasy managers
understand that Gardner Minshew is a serviceable option, he will
not replace the insane fantasy upside Richardson possesses. Amazingly, Minshew has attempted one less pass than Richardson this season
(84-83). Where they have differed the most is running the ball
(Richardson's 25 carries for 136 yards and four touchdowns dwarfs
Minshew's 4-4-0 line for the season.
Assuming the likes of C.J. Stroud and even Sam Howell are no
longer available off waivers, it is highly probable that Joshua Dobbs and Matthew Stafford are. Dobbs is coming off his worst
game of the season in Week 5, but the difference between him and
Richardson for fantasy purposes has not been all that stark (18.2
vs. 16.7). It does little good to compare and contrast the two
from an efficiency perspective since the rookie has completed
only two games and left early in two others, but the encouraging
thing is that two of Dobbs' three best games this season have
come against two of the best defenses in the league.
Perhaps a safer alternative is Stafford, who unsurprisingly recorded
his first two-touchdown game of the season in the same week Cooper Kupp returned from IR. While the Eagles have been a top-10 defense
for fantasy quarterbacks to attack, part of the reason for their
"struggles" has been facing a league-high 201 pass attempts.
Another key contributing factor has been Philly's injuries in
the secondary. The point to be made here is that Stafford just
faced what should be one of the best defenses in the league last
week and looked as good as he has all season. While he lacks Dobbs'
rushing upside, it seems only a matter of time before Stafford
has a three-TD game with Kupp and Puka Nacua making quick work
It is also worth your time to consider Kyler
Murray (knee), although I highly doubt he is available in
many competitive leagues with IR spots. He could return before
Richardson and would possess just as much upside.
RB Devon Achane (knee) - will miss at least four weeks
Reports of the severity of his injury have varied, but initial
reported estimates make it sound as though Achane could be sidelined
through the team's Week 10 bye. The impact he made in fantasy
in only three weeks is nothing short of amazing. It also warrants
a considerable tip of the cap to HC Mike McDaniel, who may be
ushering in a new age of offensive football - one full of emphasizing
speed and misdirection.
What do I do with Achane now? It depends on
where your team stands right now and how much of a risk-taker
you are. When timelines for our injured stars are either unknown
or otherwise not yet common knowledge, there is a potential selling
opportunity in which we can get 80 cents on the dollar for a player
who might not be useful again until around Thanksgiving. More
likely, managers should hold onto Achane and try to survive. Miami
had a clear vision for him and was executing it very well. As
a result, it would not be shocking if he picks up where he left
off when he is ready to return.
How do I replace him? You don't. The rookie was the highest scorer
in fantasy football over the last three weeks (34 fantasy points
per game). You read that right. No quarterback matched his 100-plus
point output in that time. The semi-good news here is that his
rise and fall happened so quickly that most managers likely did
not have a chance to alter their roster. As such, he was more
of a convenient plug-and-play who cost his managers a late-round
draft pick than a foundational piece.
While there is no replacing the level of production he leaves
behind, Jeff Wilson
(finger, core) is a proven commodity who averaged 4.9 YPC between
Miami and San Francisco last season. It is well past the time
to be adding him over waivers. (He should have been stashed on
IR before the start of the season.) With Achane's knee injury
Mostert's durability issues, there is a world where Wilson
returns RB1 value for a few weeks. Even if Mostert stays healthy
(which seems unlikely as a 31-year-old back with his injury history),
there should be a window for Wilson to be a low-end weekly starter
and a flex play after that.
Looking outside of Miami, there is a slight bit of upside in
adding Keaontay Ingram and/or Emari Demercado. James Conner (knee)
is expected to miss roughly the same amount of time that Achane
is. The difference with the Arizona running backs is that they
could split time and don't possess a ton of fantasy potential
even if one of them is featured.
It might also be worth your time to trade for Tyjae Spears, who
may be my favorite to be the "next Jerome Ford." I also
have an insane amount of Keaton Mitchell (Ravens) stashed on IR
across my many leagues. While Mitchell cannot be expected to reach
Achane's lofty standards, he probably stands as good of a chance
as any widely available fantasy free agent to do what Jaleel McLaughlin
has done over the last two weeks in Denver. It may also be worth
your time to check on the price of Aaron Jones in your league,
as there is a good chance his manager is struggling - especially
with the Packers going into their bye week.
RB James Conner (knee) - will miss at least four weeks
Conner's fantasy usefulness has waned in recent weeks, although
that was mostly a product of Arizona being forced to go away from
him due to negative game scripts. Kudos to OC Drew Petzing, whose
offense as a whole has largely surpassed any reasonable expectations.
Among several other surprises (such as Dobbs' emergence), Petzing's
offense was proving to be a wonderful fit for Conner. Keaontay Ingram and/or Emari Demercado are expected to handle the majority
of running back snaps while the ex-Steeler heals up.
What do I do with Conner now? Assuming you are
in a league with at least one IR spot, hold. Regardless of your
league's size and/or the lack of an IR spot, the odds are not
particularly high that you will find a McLaughlin type over the
next few weeks.
How do I replace him? The same names mentioned
for Achane above are relevant here as well. Another low-cost alternative
could be D'Onta
Foreman, who could go from healthy scratch to the clear starter
in Chicago this week IF Roschon
Johnson needs another week to clear concussion protocol. A
case could also be made to try to buy low on Jerome
Ford, who still has many doubters due to the Browns' recent
addition of Kareem
Hunt. Another back who fits that description is Alexander
Mattison, who may or may not have Cam
Akers breathing down his back.
RB Khalil Herbert (ankle) - no timetable for return yet
Just as it appeared he was starting to distance himself from
hyped rookie Roschon Johnson, Herbert is reportedly dealing with
a high-ankle sprain that will likely sideline him for close to
a month (assuming Austin Ekeler's injury serves as a good barometer).
Herbert may not have been setting the world on fire from a fantasy
perspective, but he took advantage of a soft matchup against the
Broncos in Week 4 (22.2 PPR fantasy points) and was well on his
way to doing the same in Week 5 (10 carries for 76 yards) before
What do I do with Herbert now? The fact that
Herbert has yet to be placed on IR almost a week after suffering
the injury is a good sign, as it suggests the team is hopeful
he will miss fewer than four games. It should not be overlooked
that his ankle has an additional three days to heal with Chicago
playing on Thursday last week. (Admittedly, three extra days does
not matter much now, but it could make a difference in him returning
in Week 9 versus Week 10, for example.) The advice here is to
sell at a reasonable price if possible. Maybe Ekeler (and Herbert,
for that matter) can buck the trend of running backs struggling
to return to form after suffering a high-ankle sprain, but those
injuries are notorious for healing slowly and reducing a player's
effectiveness for the rest of the season.
How do I replace him? The most obvious move is to turn to Johnson
if you were able to handcuff Herbert or add Foreman. Otherwise,
consider the options I mentioned above for Achane and Conner.
WR Justin Jefferson (hamstring) - will miss at least four weeks
Jefferson was off to another scintillating start this season,
setting a 24-point floor through four weeks with at least six
catches and 85 yards through four games. One of the reasons he
was such an attractive No. 1 overall choice in fantasy drafts
this summer was his durability: Jefferson did not miss any of
the 50 regular-season games Minnesota has played since he arrived
What do I do with Jefferson now? In the highly
unlikely event that managers are offering the likes of Stefon
Chase or A.J.
Brown, Jefferson is OK to sell. Otherwise, he should be held
and treated as a "luxury stash" - not unlike Alvin
Kamara at the beginning of the season. In the one league I
have Jefferson, I am holding in part because I also drafted Keenan
Ridley and Zay
Flowers to go along with David
Montgomery and Alvin Kamara. Not everyone has that luxury,
so selling is an understandable option if Jefferson was carrying
your team. Just don't sell for anything less than a player you
know can start every week.
How do I replace him? Good luck. Managers that took a receiver-heavy
approach in their drafts might be able to weather the storm if
Jefferson only misses four weeks, but that assumes they are not
hurting at running back because they passed on the position early.
Jordan Addison will almost certainly be hard to acquire at this
point, but K.J. Osborn should be able to provide managers with
at least one or two weeks of WR2 or WR3 production during Jefferson's
absence. Perhaps the best "in-house" move fantasy managers
can make, however, is adding Brandon Powell. The pint-sized journeyman
attracted six targets on only 17 routes in Week 5, earning five
of those targets on Kirk Cousins' final 14 throws.
As for non-Viking alternatives, a player who might be available
at a reasonable price is Flowers. As the overall WR37 in points
per game despite not having scored a touchdown, he should begin
to experience some positive touchdown regression soon. (Flowers
and Chris Godwin
are the only players with at least seven red zone targets who
have failed to score a touchdown.) Baltimore is set to face four
consecutive opponents that rank among the top 12 in most fantasy
points allowed to receivers. Diontae
Johnson's fantasy managers are likely tired of waiting for
his return as well and probably do not have high expectations
for him anyway given how bad Pittsburgh's offense has been for
long stretches this season. The Browns' next seven opponents rank
inside the top half of most fantasy points allowed to receivers,
which should make Elijah
Moore (and maybe even Amari
Cooper) reasonably price targets. (Avoid them this week as
will likely draw the start at quarterback against the 49ers.)
TE Travis Kelce (ankle) - status uncertain for Week 6
One of the NFL's true ironmen, is it possible the 34-year-old
Kelce is finally starting to feel his age? Or is he still recovering
from his early September knee bruise? There is little question
he is merely a short-area target now, as his current 8.2 YPC is
four yards less than his previous career low. Kelce is still picking
up chunks of yardage after the catch on occasion, but even that
number (4.0) would be a career low. Then again, does it really
matter if he is just a craftier route-runner than any other tight
end? Maybe not. Kelce's fantasy managers probably don't need to
sweat his current injury, but they should recognize that he has
suffered two lower-body injuries this season - matching the number
he had endured since his NFL career took off in earnest in 2014.
What do I do with Kelce now? Part of the risk
with drafting Kelce this year was the likelihood that age would
catch up with him, assuming he continued to avoid injuries as
well as he has throughout his career. Kelce is hardly slipping
from a fantasy perspective, entering Week 6 as the TE1 in points
per game (16.8). With that said, he is not moving as well as he
did even last season - and that was before this ankle injury.
The beauty of having Kelce on your fantasy team is that his durability
and consistency are so ingrained in most managers' minds that
his value probably has not dipped much - if at all - since draft
season. While I would not be in a hurry to get rid of Kelce, I
fear the window of maximizing his value is starting to close.
How do I replace him? Each year we hope the tight end position
is about to take a turn for the better, but it feels as if the
outlook now is about as gloomy as it has ever been. Thankfully,
Kelce's reputation is so pristine that managers can rightfully
ask for whatever tight end they want in return plus another player
and be justified in doing so - assuming they can handle the idea
of taking a bit less certainty at tight end in exchange for an
upgrade somewhere else. If I had Kelce on any of my teams, I would
gladly cash out and try to acquire Sam LaPorta or Mark Andrews
plus another piece. Beyond that, I would strongly consider trading
him for an elite receiver and take my chances that Logan Thomas
or Cole Kmet can maintain their recent level of play. My point
is that I do not think Kelce will carry fantasy teams in 2023
as he did for stretches in 2022.
Doug Orth has written for FF
Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy
Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s
hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday
in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national
sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”.
Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.