Monster fantasy outings from wide receivers dominated the Week 12 NFL headlines, but questions about certain running backs, quarterbacks and tight ends are bugging fantasy owners as we head for the fantasy playoffs. Will Kareem Hunt bounce back? Is there a reliable fantasy running back in the Mile High City? Can we trust that quarterback named Brett who plays for the Green Bay Packers now? Is it time to bench Evan Engram? FantasySharks.com senior writer Matt Wilson answers those questions and sifts through the Week 12 aftermath in his newest edition of “Traps and Trends.”
1. So what has happened to that promising rookie running back that fumbled on first career regular-season carry but still gashed the New England Patriots for 246 combo-yards and three touchdowns back in Week 1? Will he turn things around?
The Dude: Kareem Hunt
The Damage: The grumbling from disappointed owners of Kareem Hunt that I’ve been reading on fantasy football message boards during the last month has been non-stop. During the first five weeks of the season, he rushed for 609 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 6.3 yards per carry. However, during the rookie’s next six outings, he amassed just 281 yards on 3.3 yards per carry and hasn’t found the end zone. The message board grumbles turned into shouts of anger this past Sunday after Hunt compiled a shockingly terrible season-worst 11-17-0 rushing line at home versus a Buffalo Bills defense that ranks as one of the NFL’s worst against the run. Will Hunt get back on track in time for the fantasy playoffs?
The Diagnosis: TOSSUP
Has Hunt hit the fabled rookie wall? Maybe that’s one minor reason for his struggles, but Hunt didn’t suddenly lose his talent after running wild during the first few weeks of 2017. It’s easy to defend the Kansas City Chiefs offense nowadays. Focus on the talented ball carrier and take your chances with the struggling mediocre passer. Hunt isn’t finding much room to run because his offensive line hasn’t been able to create holes consistently against defenses that have been loading up the box to contain Hunt at all costs. Opposing stop units are stacking the line because the slumping Alex Smith, with the exception of a Week 6 outing against the Oakland Raiders, isn’t playing as well as he did during the opening weeks of the season. Smith, who admittedly isn’t getting best blocking from his line, isn’t making defenses pay the price for stacking the line.
Will Hunt turn things around? Maybe – if the line blocks better and Smith breaks out of his slump. Hunt’s Week 13 road matchup against the New York Jets is a toughie, but his three-game stretch of home contests with favorable matchups against the Oakland Raiders (Week 14), the Los Angeles Chargers (Week 15) and the Miami Dolphins (Week 16) screams “get right” on paper.
2. Did new Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave bring some clarity to a messy Denver backfield?
The Damage: During an ugly fight-filled clash with the Oakland Raiders, C.J. Anderson got the start. He carried five times for 12 yards and wasn’t targeted as a receiver. Anderson didn’t touch the ball during the second half mainly because Denver fell behind. Booker was equally ineffective, toting the rock six times for 11 yards and catching two passes for 20 yards. One of his receptions almost went for a touchdown. Charles rushed one time for three yards and made two grabs for seven yards. Is there any reason to think one of these runners will take over the Denver backfield?
The Diagnosis: TRAP
If you’ve been holding onto Anderson, Booker or Charles, the news isn’t good. So far Musgrave doesn’t seem interested in changing up the backfield arrangement used by his predecessor, Mike McCoy, so it looks like status quo with Anderson, Booker and Charles for the rest of the season. However, Booker’s usage in the passing game has been consistent two weeks in a row, so he’s the only one offering a scrap of fantasy value in a Broncos offense that has quarterback issues and looks like a complete mess as the team slips to 3-8. I can only wonder how long it will be before the Broncos players, who are riding a seven-game losing streak, start thinking about next season.
3. Has the workhorse running back that the Cincinnati Bengals thought they had drafted finally showed up?
The Dude: Joe Mixon
The Damage: It took more than half the season to happen, but Mixon finally racked up his breakthrough performance. This past Sunday, he gashed what had been considered a top-notch Cleveland Browns defense with career highs of 114 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries, and kicked in three receptions for 51 yards. By the way, Mixon’s touchdown against the Browns was his third score in the last four weeks, and he’s averaging 17.2 touches and 75.2 combo yards per contest with four touchdowns scored since Bill Lazor started calling the shots for the Cincinnati Bengals offense in Week 3. Is Mixon a safe fantasy starter going forward?
The Diagnosis: TREND
While his game is clearly improving and the Bengals have relegated Giovani Bernard to limited usage as a backup, I wouldn’t overreact to Mixon’s 100-yard effort. Cincinnati’s offensive line is still one of the weaker groups in the league, but I don’t have a quick explanation why the Bengals dominated what had been a solid Cleveland front seven. I would treat Mixon as a matchup-play flex option or fantasy RB3. He will draw challenging matchups against the Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 13) and at the Minnesota Vikings (Week 15) with more favorable ones versus the Chicago Bears (Week 14) and the Detroit Lions (Week 16) mixed in.