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Chicago Bears rookie Khalil Herbert keeps running game alive without David Montgomery – Chicago Bears Blog

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Khalil Herbert’s name barely registered on draft weekend.

Selected by the Bears with the 217th overall pick in the sixth round out of Virginia Tech, Herbert spent more time during his introductory news conference discussing how he was born with six toes on his left foot and 12 fingers — two have been removed — than what his role would be for the Bears.

It seemed simple.

Herbert played the role of standout rusher last year for the Hokies (1,183 yards and eight touchdowns) and for Kansas from 2016 to 2019 (35 career games, 1,735 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns), but the Bears appeared set at the position with David Montgomery and veteran Damien Williams — not to mention Tarik Cohen, who is recovering from a torn ACL.

No, the Bears said they drafted Herbert primarily to help in the kickoff return game.

Except, Herbert’s rookie contributions of late have reached far beyond special teams.

With Montgomery on injured reserve with a sprained knee since Week 5 and Williams battling thigh and knee injuries as well as a spell on the reserve/COVID-19 list, Herbert has emerged as Chicago’s feature back, grinding out tough yards at an ultra-impressive clip.

“He prepares like a pro. He takes advantage of the opportunity. He’s not afraid to ask questions. And most importantly, he’s having fun playing football,” Bears running backs coach Michael Pitre said last week. “I think all those things combined and just how he works, it’s created a great opportunity for him to step in and help this football team.”

Since the Bears’ 20-9 Week 5 victory over the Raiders, Herbert has rushed for 344 yards — fourth most in the league over that span — and averaged 4.41 yards per carry. His 78 rushing attempts are second to only Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry.

“I really feel like the game has begun to slow down for me,” Herbert said.

Sometimes it’s easy to confuse Herbert for Montgomery. Both run with a low center of gravity that allows them to explode through holes on the offensive line. At 5-foot-9, 212 pounds, Herbert has proved difficult to tackle in the open field and in tight spaces near the line of scrimmage.

“I love that Herbert is a really quick decision-maker so when he makes decisions and sticks a foot in the ground, hits it with that low-contact balance he’s hard to bring down,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “So there’s not a lot of negative yards which is important. And so that combined with probably his confidence is going to grow every day every snap he gets. And I just love his demeanor. He’s a team player, not really vocal or loud or anything like that, but he’s just a really good running back.”

“Khalil is just a guy who has natural vision, but it’s all set up with the other 10 guys on the field doing their jobs, which allows him to go do his job,” Pitre said. “He has a very good feel for our scheme, [and] what we do. And the offensive line, tight ends, receivers, all those guys are doing a great job blocking their tails off. It makes it really easy for him to be able to do his job.”

Montgomery’s return is inevitable. Herbert might not receive the bulk of the touches for much longer, but the experience gained in this stretch has been invaluable.

“Khalil can do it all,” Bears center Sam Mustipher said. “Just the way he runs behind his pads, his vision, his ability to explode through contact, his ability to understand his assignments. He just runs really hard.”

Second-year tight end Cole Kmet summed it up best.

“Khalil has been awesome since he came in … just awesome,” he said.

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Mike Vrabel, Bill Belichick set for Round 3 as the Tennessee Titans travel to the New England Patriots – Tennessee Titans Blog

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel calmly stood on the sideline as his team was clung to a 14-13 lead in the AFC wild-card game against the New England Patriots two seasons ago.

With just under six minutes left, Titans punter Brett Kern assumed his position to field the snap, but it didn’t come as the final seconds ticked off of the play clock. The Titans got a delay of game penalty.

The clock then started running and linebacker Wesley Woodyard drew a false start penalty, thus wasting more time. Before the Titans could commit another delay of game, the Patriots went offside and wasted even more time.

The television cameras portrayed a visibly irritated Bill Belichick spewing expletives at the officials. An additional minute bled off the clock before Kern punted the football.

Vrabel, who played eight seasons for Belichick with the Patriots, outfoxed his former coach to seal a 20-13 win, thus ending New England’s season.

That game was the only time Vrabel faced off with Belichick other than a 34-10 win for the Titans in 2018.

The tradition and history is not going to win or lose the game for anybody,” Vrabel said of his former team ahead of another matchup against them. “I think we all know where the banners are and the success that organization has had over the last 20 years.

“What will win or lose [Sunday’s] game is playing sound, fundamental football, taking care of the football, penalties, playing with great technique.”

However, Vrabel downplayed any idea of him going against Belichick when asked about the coaching matchup.

“Bill and I won’t be squaring off to determine this game,” Vrabel said. “This game will be won, like it always is, by the players.”

Belichick and the Patriots (7-4) will look to get their first win against a Vrabel-led Titans (8-3) team Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS) at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

“Mike’s done a great job at Tennessee,” Belichick said in his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI. “I have always had a lot of respect for Mike, and certainly had a ton of respect for him when he was a position coach and as a head coach, for sure. It will be a big challenge. Tennessee is obviously a good football team, one of the best teams in the league. Other than when we play him, I’m rooting for him. But not this week.”

Tennessee was tied for the best record in the NFL and had the best record in the AFC entering last Sunday’s game before losing to the Houston Texans, who had the worst record in the conference.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, the Titans’ loss to the Texans was the latest into the season a team with the outright worst record in a conference has beaten the team with the outright best record in that conference. The prior latest was in Week 7 of the 1979 season when the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Five turnovers proved to be the ultimate equalizer in what was supposed to be a lopsided matchup. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill‘s first of four interceptions occurred in the red zone and was returned to the Titans’ 6-yard line. Chester Rogers had a punt bounce off of his foot that was downed at Tennessee’s 5-yard line. The turnovers resulted in 10 points.

Although the Patriots have forced 13 turnovers during their five-game winning streak — which is now the longest in the NFL after the Titans lost — and the Titans’ five turnovers cost them Sunday, Belichick doesn’t expect Vrabel’s Titans to be as careless.

“They turned the ball over against the Texans, which is hard to count on,” Belichick said. “That’s not what they do, so I don’t think we’ll get that. It’s a typical Mike team – they’re tough, they’re physical, they make you beat them, they don’t make many mistakes. They know what they’re doing. They’re sound. They’re a good fundamental team.”

The Titans experienced a similar surge in turnovers when they had 11 takeaways during their six-game winning streak which was ended by Houston.

The two coaches offered up scouting reports on each other’s teams on Monday. It’s no coincidence they mentioned similar attributes.

“They are turning the football over,” Vrabel said. “Guys understand where to create turnovers at and they are good on the edges. Guys play with great technique up front. They are running the football and marrying that with the play-action game. Receivers all block, they are all selfless, they all understand that their effort is going to help whichever back they have in the game at the time run the football. The quarterback is accurate.”

“Tough, physical team,” Belichick said. “They tackle well. The backs and receivers run hard with the ball. The quarterback’s athletic. They’re sound in the kicking game. We’re going to have to play a good football game in all three phases.”

Going back to New England is special for Vrabel. Of course, he’ll enjoy returning to Gillette Stadium. But it’ll also be a chance to spend time with his son, Tyler, who plays offensive line for nearby Boston College.

“Coaching in this league and being involved in the National Football League is special,” Vrabel said. “The opportunity to get to coach this football team, to get to travel to other stadiums, certainly this one, having spent eight years there. Tyler’s going to be there since he is going to school there. I think it will be cool.”

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From the Patriots’ Mac Jones to the Jets’ Zach Wilson, inside the first season of 10 NFL rookie QBs

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — When New England Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones threw his first career touchdown pass, teammates tried to give him the football as a keepsake as he ran off the field. But he kept giving it back.

It was a signature moment that reflects Jones’ always-moving-forward approach, which has helped move him to the head of the class among his rookie QB peers.

Six different rookie quarterbacks, including Jones, have started a game this season — the Jacksonville JaguarsTrevor Lawrence, New York JetsZach Wilson, San Francisco 49ersTrey Lance, Chicago BearsJustin Fields and Houston TexansDavis Mills. That ties for the most through Week 11 of a season over the last 22 years (along with 2012, 2016 and 2019).

And there have been some predicable growing pains.

Rookie QBs collectively have a 35.3 Total QBR, the worst mark since 2010, when Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen and Colt McCoy were breaking into the NFL.

Jones has helped raise the bar with a rookie-best QBR of 49.8.

Meanwhile, his 7-4 record is best among rookie quarterbacks. The rest of the field is a combined 5-26. Jones’ completion percentage of 70 is also tops, with the rest of the group at 60.

One secret to the Patriots’ success with Jones has been picking their spots to throw down the field.

Jones’ 7.6 air yards per attempt is the second lowest among rookie quarterbacks. Fields is at a rookie-high 10.5 air yards per attempt. As a result, Jones’ off-target percentage (14.4) is the best among his peers.

Jones’ overall performance, and daily behind-the-scenes approach, has earned him respect throughout the Patriots’ locker room.

“This kid is very serious about what he’s doing. He spends more time in this building than a lot of guys I can ever remember here,” said captain Matthew Slater, who is in his 14th season and is the Patriots’ longest tenured player. “I can’t believe how quickly he’s developed, as far as his understanding of the things we’re trying to do here — and that’s not just offensively. I’m talking about overall culture.”

ESPN NFL Nation reporters break down this year’s 10 rookie quarterbacks.


Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars

Overall pick: No. 1

Stats: 10 games played, 8 TDs, 9 INTs, 35.2 QBR (27th among all QBs)

Jaguars reporter Mike DiRocco’s assessment: Lawrence threw seven interceptions in his first three games but just two since, and he played his best football in Weeks 4-6. In the four games since the bye, however, it has been a struggle (56% completion rate, one TD pass). Lawrence hasn’t been as accurate and until recently hadn’t taken a lot of downfield shots. However, he’s also been hurt by 20 drops — tied with the Jets for most in the NFL — and a group of receivers that is having trouble getting separation.

Highlight: Lawrence led the Jaguars to a pair of field goals in the final 6:39 in a 23-20 victory over Miami in London on Oct. 17. He overcame a first-and-15 to start the game-winning drive, and he completed a 9-yard pass to Laviska Shenault to gain critical yards and got a timeout with one second to play. Matthew Wright followed with a game-winning 53-yard field goal to snap the Jaguars’ 20-game losing streak that dated back to the 2020 season opener.

Moving forward, it looks like: It’s going to continue to be a struggle for Lawrence and the Jaguars offense to score points, mainly because the lack of playmakers and explosive plays. Plus the wide receivers have a lot of trouble winning one-on-one matchups and the drops are just embarrassing. That leaves Lawrence no margin for error — which is unfair for any quarterback, let alone a rookie — and when he is off target his mistakes get magnified.


Zach Wilson, New York Jets

Overall pick: No. 2

Stats: 6 games played, 4 TDs, 9 INTs, 27.1 QBR (31st among all QBs)

Jets reporter Rich Cimini’s assessment: Wilson’s a long way from his cozy cocoon at BYU. This has been a struggle for Wilson, who was handed the starting job with no competition. In retrospect, it would’ve been better to start him on the bench, learning behind a seasoned pro, but the Jets wanted to start his developmental clock ASAP. He holds the ball too long, leaves the pocket too quickly and tries to play hero ball. He looks to make spectacular plays when routine checkdowns will suffice. Some insiders call it the “Mahomes Effect.” Wilson has crazy arm talent, but he must learn to harness it. The offense came to life when he went out with an injury, and that was no coincidence.

Highlight: Wilson’s signature moment was a 53-yard touchdown pass to Corey Davis against the Tennessee Titans. He rolled to his right on a designed bootleg, spotted Davis downfield (his No. 2 read) and motioned for him to go deeper, like we used to do as kids on the schoolyard. Wilson’s pass was a dime that traveled 50 air yards, one of the Jets’ longest passes in recent memory.

Moving forward, it looks like: After sitting out four games with a sprained knee, the Jets hope he has benefitted from the time off, which has allowed him to watch three other quarterbacks run the offense. Wilson says he will be more patient, looking for checkdowns instead of forcing passes into dangerous windows. There’s plenty of time for him to change the narrative on his rookie year. He can save the season from total disaster with a strong finish.


Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers

Overall pick: No. 3

Stats: 5 games played, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 40.2 QBR (didn’t qualify for overall ranking)

49ers reporter Nick Wagoner’s assessment: The plan for Lance has shifted a couple of times, first because of an injury to starter Jimmy Garoppolo, and then because of one to Lance. Ideally, the Niners wanted to sprinkle Lance in situationally while Garoppolo held down the starting job. But that hasn’t happened much since the early weeks, in part because Garoppolo has played well. That makes it hard to know how far along Lance is, though he fared OK in his lone start of the season (Week 5 against Arizona) and coaches say he’s made steady progress.

Highlight: Lance’s second career touchdown pass came against Seattle on Oct. 3 when he hit receiver Deebo Samuel for a 76-yard score in the third quarter. Sure, Samuel was wide open, but hitting the layups is as important as squeezing one into a tight window, and the touchdown undoubtedly gave Lance some needed confidence.

Moving forward, it looks like: The question of when Lance will take over permanently looms, but the Niners seem content to let him sit, watch and learn for the time being. If Garoppolo can stay healthy and the Niners stay in the postseason hunt, that will continue. In the meantime, Lance remains the backup and must be ready to go should something happen to Garoppolo. Regardless of when Lance’s time arrives, he has plenty to work on, not least of which is his accuracy as he’s showed an early tendency to miss high when he’s not on target.


Justin Fields, Chicago Bears

Overall pick: No. 11

Stats: 10 games played, 4 TDs, 8 INTs, 25.8 QBR (32nd among all QBs)

Bears reporter Jeff Dickerson’s assessment: The Bears’ initial plan to bring Fields along slowly was scuttled when veteran Andy Dalton got hurt in Week 2. Thrust into full-time action, Fields has mostly been up and down. There’s no question Fields possesses all the tools to be a franchise quarterback (arm, speed, elusiveness) but the rookie needs to learn consistency. The numbers look bad, but Fields has enjoyed some memorable moments, not just on the run, but also as a passer. The coaching staff raves about Fields, and someone is going to turn him into a franchise quarterback, just depends on which regime in Chicago.

Highlight: The end of the Pittsburgh game on Nov. 9. With Chicago down the entire night, the Bears mounted a comeback when late in the fourth quarter Fields led them on a touchdown drive to put them up 27-26 (temporarily). First, Fields completed a beautiful 39-yard pass to No. 1 receiver Allen Robinson, then followed it up on the very next play with a 16-yard touchdown strike to Darnell Mooney. Earlier in the quarter, Fields fired a 28-yard missile to tight end Jimmy Graham; a throw coach Matt Nagy called “elite.” The Bears eventually lost the game 29-27, but Fields had a night to remember.

Moving forward, it looks like: Much of the same. Fields will have some great moments, and some not-so-great moments. That’s the life of a rookie quarterback in the NFL. The Bears probably aren’t good enough for Fields to lead them on a miraculous playoff run. The more likely scenario is the Bears play out the string with Fields making modest improvements each week, although he’s currently nursing a rib injury that could keep him sidelined for at least the time being. But the arrow is still pointing up. Fields is going to be in Chicago for a long time.


Mac Jones, New England Patriots

Overall pick: No. 15

Stats: 11 games played, 14 TDs, 8 INTs, 49.8 QBR (19th among all QBs)

Patriots reporter Mike Reiss’ assessment: The “Bringing A Rookie QB Along 101” class coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels have led has been impressive. Jones has steadily grown along the way, initially relying on more of the short passing game before downfield strikes gradually became a bigger part of the plan. Accuracy and decision-making, two of his best traits, have come as advertised. Furthermore, his processing is at a higher level than the standard rookie QB, and the Patriots have put a lot on his plate in that area, just as they did with Tom Brady.

Highlight: Jones hit his peak in a Week 10 win over the Browns when he was on fire on third down, registering his first 3-TD game of the season and making high-level throws downfield that raise the ceiling for what the offense can become. The performance also stood out because he wasn’t at his best in the two prior games, which had sparked some media-based discussion if he had hit a rookie wall.

Moving forward, it looks like: Jones continues to take care of the football and delivers in clutch situations, which complements a physical running game. It’s the same formula the early-era Patriots championship teams relied upon.


Overall pick: No. 64 (2nd round)

Moving forward, it looks like: For now, Trask is the fourth-string quarterback. Yes, he’s on the active roster, whereas Ryan Griffin is on the practice squad, but Trask has been inactive every game and they’re treating it as a redshirt year. He does get some reps as the scout team quarterback. It may be a year or two before he can push for the backup job. “Obviously, he doesn’t get the reps, but in the meetings, he has responsibilities,” offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said. “So, we’re trying to teach him how to play the position and he has a guy in front of him that he can learn from. [He] couldn’t be in a better situation. You want to learn how to play the freaking quarterback position and Thomas [Brady] is in front of you. … I appreciate the work that he’s putting in. He’s putting in a lot of work to not be playing a snap. That’s how you get better in this league, and you just appreciate that as a coach.”

— Buccaneers reporter Jenna Laine


Overall pick: No. 66 (3rd round)

Moving forward, it looks like: It took Mond four years to put it all together at Texas A&M, so it comes as no surprise the quarterback is very much in the development phase of his NFL career. That’s what the Vikings anticipated wen they drafted him in April — not that he would ever threaten Kirk Cousins for his job this season. What is surprising, though, is Mond has yet to be active for a game. The Vikings brought Mond in to compete as QB2, and he never stood a chance among the other two backups in training camp after missing time with COVID-19. The team signed veteran Sean Mannion before the season to be Cousins’ backup, a sign Mond was nowhere near ready. Most teams don’t use a high third-round pick on a player they don’t expect to be active on game days as an emergency option. Maybe a full redshirt year is exactly what Mond needs to compete to back up Cousins in 2022.

— Vikings reporter Courtney Cronin


Davis Mills, Houston Texans

Overall pick: No. 67 (3rd round)

Stats: 7 games played, 7 TDs, 8 INTs, 30.7 QBR (29th among all QBs)

Texans reporter Sarah Barshop’s assessment: The Texans had a chance to get a long look at Mills after starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor injured his left hamstring in Week 2. In the six starts Mills made, he was 0-6 and struggled at times. His main goal, he said, was to make sure to protect the football, especially after he threw four interceptions in a 40-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills. Coach David Culley said he was happy with the progress Mills made, but Taylor gives Houston the best chance to win.

Highlight: One of the reasons Culley said he had confidence in Mills is the maturity the quarterback has to quickly move on from bad plays or games. Mills came back from the 40-0 loss — his worst performance of the season — with his best. Mills threw two touchdowns in the first half against the Patriots and a third to start the third quarter. The rookie completed 21 of 29 passes for 312 yards with a passer rating of 141.7, but it was not enough to get the Texans a victory.

Moving forward, it looks like: Culley said Taylor is the Texans’ starter when healthy, but it’s not unreasonable to wonder whether Houston will decide to play Mills at the end of the season because the team is out of playoff contention. There are a lot of questions around the Texans’ quarterback position — if and when the team trades Deshaun Watson, re-signs Taylor or drafts a quarterback — so if there lingering questions about Mills’ future with Houston, the end of the season is the time to answer them.


Overall pick: No. 133 (4th round)

Moving forward, it looks like: Book probably won’t be in the running to start for the Saints as early as 2022. But he does have promising potential as a backup, with a chance to compete for more playing time as he develops. This has basically been a redshirt year, but Book has been active at times as the backup ever since Jameis Winston suffered a torn ACL on Oct 31. So there’s a chance we could see him on the field before the season ends. The 6-footer, who won more games than any QB in Notre Dame history (30-5), showed good poise during training camp. And just like in college, Book did some of his best work when he had to move outside of the pocket and extend plays or take off running.

— Saints reporter Mike Triplett


Overall pick: No. 218 (6th round)

Stats: 2 games played, 38.7 QBR (didn’t qualify for overall ranking)

Moving forward, it looks like: Ehlinger’s play in training camp and in the preseason was good enough for the Colts to release Jacob Eason and make Ehlinger the No. 2 quarterback behind starter Carson Wentz. Wentz is locked in as the starter after Indianapolis traded for him with the hope that he’ll be its next franchise quarterback. But that doesn’t mean Ehlinger won’t see the field, because Wentz has dealt with injuries at different points in his career, and the coaching staff has used Ehlinger situationally in the red zone because of his athletic ability.

— Colts reporter Mike Wells



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Reporters give advice on Saquon Barkley, Tony Pollard, Titans RBs

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There is great joy and likewise utter misery in choosing streaming options.

As fantasy managers, we’ve all been there. You get caught short at a position because of injuries, COVID-19, bye weeks, etc. Suddenly you’re scanning the waiver wire looking at projected points and matchups, trying to choose between players you know very little about. In some cases their coaches don’t know how they’ll play either.

Of the running backs who played on Thanksgiving Day, a few were primary streaming options this week. In New Orleans, Tony Jones Jr. figured to play a big role with both Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram unable to go. And while Jones did get 16 carries, a nice volume for a streaming option, which is half the battle, he wasn’t targeted in the passing game and rushed for only 27 yards. And 2.7 fantasy points does not a great streaming option make.

As it turns out, the better streaming option from the Saints was Ty Montgomery. He got six carries and seven targets in the passing game that resulted in five receptions. He mustered only 45 yards, but put it with the receptions in a PPR league and Montgomery was a much better option than Jones.

ESPN fantasy sports researcher Kyle Soppe, who is responsible for our 32 questions, noticed all of the interesting happenings on Thursday, and has questions about Montgomery as well running backs you possibly streamed such as Matt Breida of Buffalo and Tony Pollard of Dallas.

Riding byes this week are Kansas City and Arizona. So questions about the respective West Division leaders will resume next week. Away we go.

AFC EAST

Is Matt Breida‘s role in this offense something we should expect to continue to grow?

Yes, but more production doesn’t mean he will be seeing the field as much as a top running back. This version of the Bills’ offense will never have a true No. 1 back, but Breida is certainly seeing an uptick in opportunities and has brought much-needed speed. He has scored at least one touchdown in two of the last three games and is primed to continue to have more opportunities. — Alaina Getzenberg


It has been every other week for Myles Gaskin. After 23 carries on Sunday, can we finally count on him for consecutive good games?

You can count on him for a good workload — and you can work with that in fantasy football. Miami’s win in Week 11 marked Gaskin’s fifth straight game with at least 12 carries and 15 total touches. Even more promising? He has 17 red-zone touches over the past three weeks — 12 of which came inside the 10-yard line. With Malcolm Brown not expected to return this week, Gaskin should be the Dolphins’ unquestioned RB1 yet again. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


If you have to pick one running back from this offense the rest of the way, who would it be?

Damien Harris. While rookie Rhamondre Stevenson is coming on strong, and a case could be made for him to be the choice, Harris is still 1A, and experience tilts the needle in his direction ever so slightly. Rushing touchdowns this season: Harris 7, Stevenson 3. — Mike Reiss


Elijah Moore seems to be coming into his own. Do you expect his growth to continue this season? How good can he be in 2022?

Moore could be the Jets’ WR1 in 2022, ahead of Corey Davis. That’s how much the organization thinks of him. He has 24 receptions, 336 yards and four TDs over the last four games. Don’t be surprised, though, if his production dips temporarily. QB Zach Wilson, who returns from a four-game knee injury, didn’t have much success with Moore early in the year; Davis was his go-to receiver. It may take some time before Wilson and Moore build their chemistry. — Rich Cimini

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Matthew Berry and Field Yates break down Elijah Moore’s emergence as a top-scoring fantasy wide receiver in recent weeks.

AFC NORTH

Safe to label Devonta Freeman as the leader of this backfield for Week 12? For the rest of the season?

Absolutely for Week 12, and most likely for the rest of the season. Freeman has shown the most burst of all the Ravens running backs signed to help fill the void of the injury-filled backfield. It was noticeable when Freeman still received 60% of the running back carries, even after Latavius Murray returned from his ankle injury. Ravens coach John Harbaugh has always talked about going with the hot hand, and Freeman is the hottest of the backs. But, if he slows down, Baltimore could turn to Murray, who is more of an inside-the-tackles runner. — Jamison Hensley

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Field Yates and Matthew Berry break down Devonta Freeman’s recent success in fantasy.


That’s three high-usage games out of four for Tyler Boyd. Do you think he can sustain consistent, albeit low upside, value moving forward?

The Bengals have been very hard to predict. What we believed the offensive philosophy might be this season has shifted and adapted throughout the course of the season. There does seem to be some optimism about Boyd maintaining his current usage rate. Bengals coach Zac Taylor took the blame for Boyd’s two-target outing against Cleveland in Week 9. Bengals QB Joe Burrow called Boyd his comfort blanket, which will always make him a valuable resource. — Ben Baby


D’Ernest Johnson was an afterthought with Nick Chubb back; safe to cut ties with him if the roster spot is needed?

Yes, safe to cut ties with Johnson. Especially with Chubb’s wingman, Kareem Hunt, on the way back from the calf injury. — Jake Trotter


Sunday night was Chase Claypool‘s best game in over a month; safe to call him healthy and poised for a strong finish to the season?

He’s healthy, but it’s hard to trust any Steelers receiver’s fantasy output. Ben Roethlisberger likes to spread the ball around, though Diontae Johnson and Claypool are the two he trusts the most. Still, the Steelers utilize Najee Harris in the run game, and Pat Freiermuth has been coming on strong in recent weeks, too. Claypool is worth keeping around on a fantasy team if there’s a bench spot because he could get hot, but it’s too soon to tell just how strong he’ll finish the season. — Brooke Pryor

AFC SOUTH

Brandin Cooks has found producing difficult lately; does it continue, or can he regain his early season form?

Don’t expect Cooks to replicate what he did in the first three weeks — coach David Culley said “it wasn’t intentional” for Cooks to have such a high target share early in the season — but his numbers should be somewhere in the middle. Culley said teams are doubling Cooks way more as the season has gone on, but given the receiver’s chemistry with Tyrod Taylor, his production should increase. — Sarah Barshop


Make your case for Jonathan Taylor as the top overall pick next season.

The numbers don’t lie. Taylor not only leads the NFL in rushing yards (1,122) by nearly 200 yards over the injured Derrick Henry, he leads the entire league in yards from scrimmage (1,444) by more than 300 yards over the next-closest player — Rams receiver Cooper Kupp (1,136) to go with 13 total touchdowns. Enough said. — Mike Wells

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Field Yates and Matthew Berry react to Jonathan Taylor’s five-touchdown performance for the Colts on Sunday.


Do you think James Robinson can take advantage of a favorable upcoming schedule?

That depends on how banged up he is. He’s dealing with heel and knee injuries, and unless the Jaguars shut him down for a couple weeks he’ll have to battle through them every week. You could see in last Sunday’s game against San Francisco that Robinson doesn’t have the same burst through the line of scrimmage that he did before the injury. Another issue for Robinson is the Jaguars are having a hard time consistently moving the ball and are falling behind by double digits, which effectively takes the run game out of play. — Michael DiRocco


Does any Titans running back need to be rostered?

No! Don’t be fooled by how the Titans collectively topped 100 yards rushing last week. That came against a Texans’ defense that was allowing 136 rushing yards per game entering last week. D’Onta Foreman and Dontrell Hilliard have flashed, but they’ll continue to be part of a committee. The stats simply aren’t relevant enough to warrant rostering any Titans back, especially with no one emerging as a candidate to get 15+ carries. — Turron Davenport

AFC WEST

Is Courtland Sutton going to see more looks, or will his low production/usage in games with Jerry Jeudy active continue?

If the Broncos really self-scouted during the bye and stick to what they do best on offense, Sutton’s productivity should increase. But it’s up to the Broncos. If they put quarterback Teddy Bridgewater under center more, use play action more, they will have more success pushing the ball down the field in the passing game. In the win over the Cowboys they had a season-best 190 yards rushing, as well as their only game of the season with multiple completions of more than 40 yards. If they run the ball a little more, the opportunities for Sutton to have impact out of the play action will rise. — Jeff Legwold


Are you buying DeSean Jackson as a weekly upside threat (102 yards, but tied for fifth on the team in targets on Thanksgiving)?

Once on Thanksgiving and twice on Sundays. Jackson was signed to bring that big-play possibility and production, and produce he did at Dallas. The trust is there with QB Derek Carr, who said it was “fun” to throw the soon-to-be 35-year-old wide out the ball. And with another old NFC East rival in Washington up next, that chip on Jackson’s shoulder will only loom larger. — Paul Gutierrez


Are you buying the chunk run plays we saw Sunday night from Justin Herbert as a real part of his game moving forward?

Not necessarily, but it worked well in this instance and his sliding game was on point. If the gaps are there and the defense is giving it to him, he proved what an asset his wheels are. But little of that was by design. — Shelley Smith

NFC EAST

Give us your best guess for average touches per game moving forward for Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard.

If the Cowboys were in a 60-40 split between Elliott and Pollard for a good spell earlier in the season, it will now be closer to 50-50. But don’t confuse this with any ineffectiveness from Elliott. He is dealing with a bone bruise in his knee that is limiting him. He is trying to play through it, and the Cowboys are managing his workload if not so much his snap count. With a longer break after next Thursday’s game vs. the Saints, the Cowboys hope that will serve as a mini-bye for Elliott. The running game as a whole, however, needs to improve. Aside from a 31-yard run vs. the Chiefs, Pollard’s yard per carry average is not much different than Elliott’s. — Todd Archer


What are your weekly touch expectations moving forward for Saquon Barkley on a 3-7 team?

Barkley played 32 snaps (59.3%) and had 12 touches in Tampa Bay following a six-week absence. It would have been more if it wasn’t a blowout in the fourth quarter. Barkley should creep closer to 20 touches and 75% of the snaps on Sunday in Philadelphia. Expect his role to increase only as he gets healthier. It should mean for some big games. — Jordan Raanan

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2:34

Field Yates, Stephania Bell and Matthew Berry react to Saquon Barkley’s performance in the Giants’ loss to the Buccaneers.


The backfield rotation seemed to vary by quarter. Do you expect any RB to earn the feature role, or is this a committee that will be more of a headache than anything?

Miles Sanders is the starter when healthy and will get the bulk of the snaps, but Jordan Howard has earned a role and could siphon a lot of the touchdowns given his effectiveness as a short-yardage back. Howard is expected to be out at least this week because of injury. However, Boston Scott could be featured given his success against the Giants in the past (222 rush yards, 5 TDs in 4 games). — Tim McManus


Antonio Gibson looked like “the guy” in Week 10, not so much in Week 11. Moving forward, can we count on him for 15 touches a game, or is it going to vary weekly?

Actually, he looked a lot like “The Guy” in Week 11 — in the second half, that is. That’s when he gained 76 of his 95 yards, following a three-series benching at the end of the first half after he had fumbled. The fumbling issues will be worth watching down the stretch; he has fumbled five times this season, losing three. If it continues to happen, beware. Short of that, yes you can expect 15 touches a game — provided his shin holds up. They like how Gibson is running – more physical, pressing the hole better. They’ve found an offensive identity and it centers around their run game. The other backs — J.D. McKissic and Jaret Patterson — have shown they can be effective. But Gibson remains the primary focus. — John Keim

NFC NORTH

Cole Kmet‘s role is on the rise: Can we count on him weekly to produce viable numbers?

I think so. Kmet is a viable member of the offense who is a proven pass-catcher. Unfortunately, he often got lost in the shuffle earlier in the season because the Bears were such a mess on offense. Kmet, however, has emerged over the past couple of weeks and I see no reason for that to change. To clarify, he isn’t going to put up eye-popping statistics. But viable numbers? Absolutely. — Jeff Dickerson


How many touches should we expect from Jamaal Williams if D’Andre Swift were to miss time?

On average, even with Swift, Williams is already seeing a little over 12 touches per game. On Thanksgiving, he got 15 carries for 65 yards with another five receptions for 18 yards, so that would be around the number I would expect him to see if Swift were to remain out. Although he’s not as gifted as Swift, he has proven that he’s more than capable of carrying that load as a dual threat, if necessary. — Eric Woodyard


Anything to the heavy Marquez Valdes-Scantling usage against the Vikings, or was it simply a one-week matchup thing?

Allen Lazard‘s absence due to a shoulder injury helped get him more in the plan. Also, MVS’ hamstring injury finally appears to be completely healed. He could have trouble this week, though, because all the injuries on the offensive line might force Aaron Rodgers to get the ball out much faster, which means fewer deep-ball chances for MVS. — Rob Demovsky


Minnesota’s final four games of the season: Bears (twice), Packers and Rams. Can Kirk Cousins be a top-10 QB over that valuable stretch?

Yes. Cousins ranks top 10 in all the major passing categories (passer rating, QBR, completion percentage, yards, touchdowns) and his 21-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio is insanely good. Mike Zimmer wants his quarterback to keep “going for the jugular” despite throwing two near-interceptions versus Green Bay, and if Cousins can keep the Vikings’ offense humming with this new-found aggressive attitude (PFF has him ranked fourth in expected points added), Minnesota should fare well against two bottom-half defenses in Chicago and Detroit. — Courtney Cronin

NFC SOUTH

Would the return of Calvin Ridley help Kyle Pitts, or would it further hurt his upside by taking targets off his plate?

A return of Calvin Ridley — which is anything but certain as Arthur Smith had no update Monday even though Ridley is now eligible to return off the NFI list — would be beneficial to Kyle Pitts. While it might shrink his target share, it would give Atlanta three players defenses must account for every play — Pitts, Cordarrelle Patterson and Ridley. That alone could leave Pitts in some single-coverage situations, which might lead to more breakout plays. Right now, Pitts is the main target for defenses in the intermediate and deep passing game, and it has shown in his — and Atlanta’s — production. — Michael Rothstein


Is Cam Newton back to being a viable option?

Well, he had two touchdowns on only eight plays in his first outing, and he followed that with two touchdown passes and one rushing touchdown in his first full game. So YES. He’s a viable option. The more he learns this offense the more dangerous he should be. — David Newton

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Matthew Berry explains why he thinks Cam Newton is a borderline QB1 as long as he has the starting job in Carolina.


Can Ty Montgomery work into a weekly role if at least one of Alvin Kamara/Mark Ingram is injured?

No, I think he would need both to be sidelined to make a significant fantasy impact, and I expect one or both to be back next week. But if they do both remain out, Thursday night was a reminder that Montgomery might be just as valuable as Tony Jones Jr. in PPR leagues. And the seven-year vet does deserve credit for being a reliable emergency option at both RB and WR. Remember, he ran for 105 yards in Week 17 last year when the rest of the RB room was wiped out by COVID. — Mike Triplett


Leonard Fournette has impressed as a pass-catcher all season, but his usage is peaking. Can he sustain 6-8 targets per game moving forward?

As long as opposing defenses are hell-bent on stopping the big play downfield — which they have been all year — we’ll continue to see more of Fournette in the short passing game as he’s who Brady trusts the most in the Bucs’ running back room. — Jenna Laine

NFC WEST

The second most productive pass catcher in this offense moving forward will be …

Van Jefferson. Prior to Odell Beckham Jr.’s signing and the season-ending knee injury to Robert Woods, quarterback Matthew Stafford had been looking more often to target the second-year pro and the two have connected on short, intermediate and deep throws. Watch for Stafford to continue to connect with Jefferson, who can be depended on to run crisp routes and hang onto the football. — Lindsey Thiry


A great season for Deebo Samuel is getting better with his usage in the backfield. Can we count on that continuing?

Yes. Here’s the thing, Elijah Mitchell has earned the right to be the team’s primary ball carrier when healthy, but he has struggled to do that. And the Niners love racking up the rushing attempts, so it only stands to reason they’ll keep handing it to Samuel as part of that plan. If nothing else, it’s a guaranteed way to get the ball in the hands of their best player, and that’s always a good thing. — Nick Wagoner


Is there a single player in this offense we can trust right now?

Nope. They’ve scored a combined 13 points in the last two games because Russell Wilson and their passing game have been so off. Wilson continues to say his surgically repaired finger is fine, and his resume over the last decade suggests he’ll snap out of his funk eventually. But who knows when? The closest thing the Seahawks have to a reliable fantasy play right now is Alex Collins, who figures to remain their primary back. But barely getting double-digit touches each week means his ceiling is limited. — Brady Henderson



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