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



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.


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



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


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



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


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



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


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


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



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


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


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



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


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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NFL moves to dismiss Jon Gruden lawsuit, calls ex-Las Vegas Raiders coach’s claims against league ‘baseless’



The NFL filed a motion asking a Nevada court to dismiss former Raiders coach Jon Gruden’s lawsuit against the league, saying accusations that the NFL leaked Gruden’s old, offensive emails are “baseless” and “should be dismissed for failure to state a single viable cause of action.”

The league responded Wednesday to the suit Gruden filed in district court in Clark County, Nevada, in November. The NFL filed a motion to dismiss the case and also asked the court to stay that motion until it first rules on whether the case should be moved to arbitration.

Gruden resigned as coach of the Raiders in October with more than six seasons remaining on his 10-year, $100 million contract.

He claimed a “malicious and orchestrated campaign” was used by the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell to destroy his career by leaking the old emails that included racist, misogynistic and anti-gay language.

The emails were sent to former Washington Football Team executive Bruce Allen and others from 2011 to 2018 during Gruden’s time as the lead analyst for ESPN’s Monday Night Football. The emails came from a set of 650,000 obtained by the league in June during an investigation into WFT’s workplace culture.

The Wall Street Journal first reported on Oct. 8 that Gruden used a racist trope to describe NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith.

Gruden apologized, and then coached two days later as a listless Raiders team lost at home to the Bears.

Then on Oct. 11, the New York Times revealed Gruden sent additional emails using misogynistic and anti-gay language over a seven-year period. He resigned that evening, apologizing again and saying he never meant to hurt anyone.

“Gruden does not, and cannot, dispute that he wrote the published emails. He does not, and cannot, dispute that he sent those emails to multiple parties,” the league’s filing said. “Nor does he claim that they were somehow altered or edited and that the repugnant views espoused in them were not in fact expressed by him. Instead, Gruden filed the instant complaint against the NFL and the commissioner, painting himself as the victim in a fictional story and seeking money through baseless claims against the NFL.”

Gruden’s lawyer had said “there was no explanation or justification for why Gruden’s emails were the only ones made public out of the 650,000 emails collected in the NFL’s investigation of the Washington Football Team or for why the emails were held for months before being released in the middle of the Raiders’ season.”

The league denied leaking the emails, which had been sent to up to a half-dozen people and added that Gruden had no “expectation of privacy” for the emails.

The filing said even if the league had leaked the emails it still would not constitute “intentional interference with a contract” as claimed by Gruden because the NFL had no obligation to protect the confidentiality of the emails, had the right to disclose truthful information to the media and could have suspended or canceled Gruden’s contract because of the emails.

Raiders owner Mark Davis said in October he had reached a settlement with Gruden over the final six-plus years of his contract. Davis did not reveal the terms of the settlement.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Los Angeles Rams’ Matthew Stafford says toe feeling fine ahead of playoff game vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers



Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford doesn’t expect his injured toe to be a factor in Sunday’s divisional-round game against the Buccaneers in Tampa, Florida.

Stafford suffered the injury in the Rams’ regular-season finale against the San Francisco 49ers, a 27-24 overtime loss.

“I’m feeling OK,” Stafford said Wednesday. “The toe kind of happened in that game and that was kind of a real thing, but I got a bunch of treatment on it. I’m feeling a lot better. So I don’t see anything limiting me in this game.”

Coach Sean McVay said one of the reasons he tried to put the 49ers away with their run game near the end of regulation was because Stafford was hobbled. He said Stafford had “no limitations” Monday night against the Arizona Cardinals as the Rams leaned on their run game for much of their 34-11 wild-card victory.

Stafford was 13-of-17 passing, both easily season lows, for 202 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also ran for a score in the first playoff victory of his 13-year NFL career.

“He felt good,” McVay said. “Everything was up and available to be called. He was feeling great.”

The Rams are uncertain about the statuses of left tackle Andrew Whitworth and safety Taylor Rapp for Sunday’s game.

Whitworth, 40, got his right knee rolled up on during the Rams’ opening play against Arizona. He played 30 of the team’s 60 offensive snaps before Joe Noteboom replaced him for the remainder of the game.

McVay said tests results haven’t indicated that the Rams need to rule Whitworth out yet. He’d be a nonparticipant if the Rams were practicing Wednesday, per McVay.

“He’s got some swelling in that knee and that ankle,” McVay said. “It’s a miracle. He’s like Gumby with the way that he got rolled up on. It was not a good looking play when you watch it on the replay. But he’s a resilient guy. He responds quickly. He’s been a quick healer. For him to be able to play and start at tackle at the age of 40 tells you everything you need to know about how blessed he is with his genetics and the way he takes care of himself.

“But we’ll see how quickly he can turn around. Not sure whether he’ll be able to go or not this week. We’ll take it a day at a time. Fortunately his scans gave us some information where we didn’t have to rule him out.”

Whitworth ranked third during the regular season in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate among offensive tackles.

Rapp, who missed the Cardinals game, remains in concussion protocol. His absence and Jordan Fuller‘s season-ending ankle injury prompted the Rams to bring 37-year-old Eric Weddle out of his two-year retirement last week to pad their safety depth. He played 19 of 56 defensive snaps while Nick Scott and Terrell Burgess started.

“With Rapp, we’re just taking that a day at a time,” McVay said. “The concussion protocol and kind of going through those strategic steps and making sure that when you are active, you’re not having any symptoms. Those are the things we’re working through right now and I know Taylor’s going to do everything in his power to be ready if he can.”

Cornerback David Long Jr. (knee) is “doing good,” per McVay. He returned one of the Rams’ two interceptions of Kyler Murray for a touchdown Monday night. McVay said backup running back Buddy Howell (hamstring) also would have been a nonparticipant Wednesday and that “everybody else would be in good shape” if the team was practicing.

McVay expects the Rams to designate linebacker Ernest Jones to return to practice from injured reserve on Thursday, thereby starting his 21-day window to be activated to the 53-man roster.

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Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield has shoulder surgery, eyes return to ‘my true self’



Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield says he is on track to getting “back to my true self” after undergoing surgery Wednesday to repair a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder.

Dr. Orr Limpisvasti, the orthopedic surgeon for the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks, performed the surgery on Mayfield’s left shoulder in California.

“Surgery went great. Was a complete success,” Mayfield said in a video posted to social media. “Now it’s on to the road to recovery. It’s one of those steps to get back to my true self. … This is not the end of my story.”

The Browns said the likely time period for Mayfield’s recovery is four to six months. He will start physical therapy on his shoulder next week and is expected to be cleared by training camp, if not sooner, a source told ESPN.

Mayfield, who suffered the shoulder injury in Week 2 and played through it for the rest of the season, will begin light throwing in April and should be able to participate in the off-season program on a limited basis, the team said.

After the Browns’ Week 17 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mayfield admitted that he was “pretty damn beat up.”

With Cleveland already eliminated from playoff contention, Mayfield sat out the team’s season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 9.

Even though Mayfield finished 27th in the league in QBR (35.3) this season, Cleveland general manager Andrew Berry declared last week that the Browns “fully expect” the 2018 No. 1 draft pick to be their starting quarterback in 2022 and “bounce back” from his injury-plagued season.

Mayfield will be entering the final year of his rookie contract, which will pay him close to $19 million in 2022 after the Browns exercised his fifth-year option last offseason.

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