Fantasy Soccer: Begin/sit Lamar Jackson, Breece Corridor?

  • Liz Loza, ESPNDec 6, 2023, 12:00 PM ET

Fantasy football is a passion for many. Sometimes that passion causes fantasy managers to make emotional decisions even when the data suggest otherwise. Each week during the 2023 NFL season Liz Loza will attempt to strike a balance between what the data states and what the heart wants. This is called Facts vs. Feelings.

If you’ve ever heard of the Fish Bowl, then you’re aware of Scott Fish. But he’s not just the brainchild behind fantasy’s most beloved annual tourney. Not even close. Scott is also the president and founder of Fantasy Cares, an accredited 501(c)(3) nonprofit that aims to inspire people to bring a charitable element to their fantasy leagues and to help raise money for various charities via the fantasy sports community.

Basically, Fantasy Cares is devoted to helping do good. I know this because I sit on the board. It’s a position I’m incredibly proud of and take quite seriously. As a board member, I also have the privilege of organizing a massive shopping spree in conjunction with Toys for Tots each holiday season. These excursions happen throughout the country, which is pretty awesome!

This past Sunday (in between the morning and afternoon games), my kids and I met up with three Marines (and two of their littles) at a local retailer. I was given $10,000 to spend on toys and goods for underserved children and families in the area. And spend we did! The eight of us devised a strategy (we were asked to focus on items for newborns and kids up to 6 years old) so as not to disrupt the store’s patrons and to really make the purchases matter.

It was pure chaos at the beginning. We were trying to load up shopping carts with bulky items (car seats, strollers, and bikes) and realizing that this was going to be a BIG group effort. And then something pretty cool happened. A worker saw us all pacing and chatting and struggling and asked if we needed a pallet. We answered “YES!” in unison and explained that we were with Toys for Tots and would be in the store for a significant amount of time.

A few moments later, he came back with a coworker, who was driving a forklift! They told us that in order for us to use the store’s pallets an employee would have to be in charge of pushing it. So, our group of eight became a gaggle of 10! We loaded up two pallets and three carts and then ANOTHER cool thing happened.

One of the employees (Vanessa) radioed to her manager (Christina) that we were going to need our own dedicated checkout line (and more carts, too)! It felt like the whole store was a part of the mission. Christina stepped in and began the check out process while we continued to shop. Her efficiency was De’Von Achane-esque!

A short while later, we hiked back to the front of the store and finished ringing up all of the goodies. Our gaggle had grown to around twenty. Christina had arranged for extra staff to help pack up and bag. She also suggested to Marine Sgt. Bonilla that he park the rented moving truck in the front of the store’s entrance in order to make the loading process more seamless (again the efficiency!). Before I knew it, the store’s stockers, checkers, parking attendants, and security guards were all chipping in to make this event a success.

And you want to know something? There was zero whining. From the kids. From the adults. From the other poor souls trying to get their errands done on a Sunday. Not one person grumped or threw side-eye. It was the opposite. There were a ton of head nods, smiles and fist bumps. Even selfies!

Honestly, I got teary-eyed. Not just because I was proud of my own kids’ genuine enthusiasm, but because I was so impressed with the goodness of the surrounding community. What a fantastic (and necessary) reminder.

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This is a big week for fantasy players. There are an endless number of “final push to the playoffs” stories posted all over the internet. I’ll probably contribute to (or at least click) on a few. But my fantasy season won’t be defined by how I finish in the standings. Because after this past Sunday, this season can be deemed a success. This community is so stinking cool. I’m grateful to be a small part of it. Those are irrefutable facts. Here’s another one: I hope you all advance to the postseason, but I also hope you feel really good about how you got there.

Lamar Jackson, QB, Ravens: Lamar Jackson has a 99% chance of making the playoffs. His fantasy investors, however, aren’t quite as secure. Jackson has managed just two 20-point games since Week 4 and only one such outing since Week 7. In fact, he has recorded fewer than 15 fantasy points in four of his past five efforts.

The Ravens have handled their business. And, so, the production hasn’t been there for Jackson. Lamar ranks third at the position in rushing attempts (9.3 per game), but he’s outside of the top 20 in pass attempts per contest (27.8 per game). Perhaps more alarming (from a fantasy POV), he’s registered one or fewer total scores in four of his past five games. He’s like Sam Howell (who, by the way, is averaging 0.7 fewer fantasy points per game) in the upside down.

Baltimore is a 7-point favorite versus the Rams heading into Week 14. As such, it’s unlikely that Lamar will go ham through the air. Furthermore, while Los Angeles has allowed the 12th-most fantasy points to QBs, the defense has given up 16 or more fantasy points to only two signal-callers since Week 5. If Jackson is going to register big fantasy numbers, he’s likely to do it with his legs. Jalen Hurts, Anthony Richardson and Josh Dobbs all had significant success on the ground when facing the Rams. Additionally, L.A. has allowed the fourth-most rushing scores (5) to QBs.

Jackson’s upside makes him a top-five play at the position nearly every week. Fantasy managers, however, should brace for low-end QB1 numbers and seek ceiling-skimming options elsewhere in their lineups. Like Baltimore, it’s all about balance right now!

Breece Hall, RB, Jets: Speaking of ceilings, Breece Hall showed his off at the top of the season. Recently, however, those electrifying chunk gains have started to shrink. In fact, Hall has averaged fewer than 3.7 yards per carry and failed to rip off a run of 20 or more yards since Week 5. The Jets offense is, obviously, not doing him any favors. But Coach Saleh thinks the young RB isn’t helping himself either, stating that Hall is focusing so much on hitting home runs that he’s missing on singles and doubles.

Most situations are more complex that we care (or dare) to believe. Still, facts are facts. Hall has registered 50 or fewer rushing yards in seven straight efforts. Moreover, he’s been under 30 rushing yards in four consecutive outings. And he hasn’t managed a rushing score since Week 6. Yet, his work in the passing game is helping to buoy his overall numbers. On the plus side, he has recorded 10-plus fantasy points in eight of his most recent games (though he has been under 12 in four of his past five).

It’s hard to imagine the 22-year-old mounting a bounce-back in Week 14. The Jets are 5.5-point underdogs versus the Texans. And Houston’s run defense has improved as of late, ranking sixteenth in fantasy points per game allowed to running backs. Hall’s massive talent and dual usage makes him a top-20 fantasy RB, but managers would be wise to manage their expectations. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best!

Tyjae Spears, RB, Titans: Derrick Henry apparently avoided a concussion in Week 13. In turn, the waiver wire buzz surrounding Tyjae Spears has quieted. But I’m still going to suggest managers scoop and save the former Green Wave player. Yes, his season-high 16 rushes came as a result of Henry’s exit on Sunday. Still, it was an indication of the team’s confidence in the rookie, especially given that he had recorded a total of 16 attempts in his previous four games combined.

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Scouts noted Spears’ ability as a receiver throughout the spring’s draft process. That skill set has immediately translated to the field, as Spears is averaging 3.7 looks per game (RB13). He has also managed four or more grabs in three of his past five outings.

Given the recent increase in his workload, Spears could see more opportunities as a pass-catcher at Miami on Monday night. The Dolphins gave up four of five to Antonio Gibson in Week 13. With the Titans likely to be playing catch up, Spears could offer utility as a flex-option in PPR friendly formats. More than that, though, he’s an elite insurance policy and a must-add option (available in 68% of ESPN fantasy leagues) for playoff-bound squads.

Brandin Cooks, WR, Cowboys: From a rookie to a vet. What a wild ride it’s been for Brandin Cooks! Not just over his career, but over this past season. The 30-year-old wideout has posted 14 or more fantasy points — including a touchdown — in four of his past six games. In fact, he has averaged nearly 15 fantasy points per game since returning from the Boys’ bye in Week 8.

The volume feels hard to trust. After all, he’s drawn no more than five looks in five of his past six outings. But the fact is that he has also converted at a wild rate, making good on 24 of his 29 opportunities (83%) since hosting the Rams in late October. Additionally, Cooks has earned Dak Prescott’s trust in high-value moments, recording seven end zone targets (just two fewer than TD hype man Jake Ferguson).

Admittedly, his last meeting against the Eagles was far from stunning. Cooks registered just two looks and managed a paltry 1-7-0 stat line at Philly back in Week 9. With an over/under points total of 51.5, however, the points should be popping. Plus, the Eagles’ secondary has been all kinds of generous, allowing the most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers (21 TDs!). Managers searching for a flex option with boom potential should consider Cooks on Sunday in prime time.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Seahawks: Smith-Njigba is no stranger to sharing the field with two other uber-talented (and productive) pass-catchers. While the Ohio State product is definitively the Seahawks No. 3 WR, his opportunities have steadily increased over the course of 2023.

The rookie managed a season-high 11 targets and 7 catches this past Thursday night (falling just 1 yard shy of a season-high number of yards as well). His playing time has also gone up since returning from bye. JSN has been on the field for between 60% and 81% of the team’s snaps in every game since Week 5. Interestingly, he recorded his second-highest snap share (76%) versus the 49ers two weeks ago.

That brings us to this week’s matchup. Seattle will travel to Levi Stadium as a 10.5-point underdog on Sunday. The Seahawks struggled mightily versus the Niners in Week 12. As mentioned, JSN was on the field a lot in that game. However, he was targeted just three times. That figures to change this go around.

The 49ers face the fourth-most slot targets and allow the third-most slot receptions in the league. Smith-Njigba occupies the slot at a rate of nearly 68% (WR11). He may not post a gaudy number of yards (though he is certainly talented after the catch), but he could reel in between five and seven balls. That puts him in flex territory (for deeper leagues) this weekend. Even better, he gets the Eagles at home in Week 15. Don’t give up on the youngster yet!

Cole Kmet, TE, Bears: The last time we saw Cole Kmet, he was converting all seven of his looks for 43 yards at Minnesota in Week 12. It was a brutal watch, but Kmet continued to work as the team’s most efficient pass-catcher (82.4 reception percentage). He has also been Justin Fields’ favorite target in the red area (not the end zone, that’s still where D.J. Moore thrives) recording 11 red zone looks (TE11) on the season.

Drawing at least seven targets in four of his past five outings, Kmet figures to be heavily involved in Week 14. There are numerous jobs on the line in Chicago, and this game is versus another divisional opponent. The offense can’t afford to stray from one of maybe two things that unequivocally work. Plus, the matchup should make it easy for Kmet to continue posting numbers. Detroit has allowed the 12th-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. Furthermore, only the Saints and Jets have given up more scores to the position. So, don’t forget about Kmet because he’s back from bye and heading into the weekend with top-10 fantasy TE potential.

Brevin Jordan, TE, Texans: Jordan recorded a season-best showing in Week 13. His boost in production was largely because of Dalton Schultz’s absence. However, Jordan’s involvement had been on the rise since returning from injury, as he and Schultz split snaps evenly (26 for Jordan and 27 for Schultz) and ran the same number of routes (18) in Week 12.

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At the time of writing, it’s unclear if Schultz (hamstring) will return to action in Week 14. We do know, however, that Tank Dell is out for the season. That means a large number of targets have been vacated regardless. Jordan, obviously, isn’t going to be the front-runner to absorb those opportunities. Given his newly expanded role, however, he’s worth keeping on the sleeper radar (especially if Shultz is limited or sits).

The Jets’ defense is tough up front and brutal on the back end. Where New York has proven to be vulnerable, however, is over the middle. Gang Green has allowed the 10th-most fantasy points and the most scores to tight ends. Before getting hurt, Schultz drew eight end zone targets (TE5). It’s conceivable to believe then that Jordan could get lucky with six on Sunday. The odds are long, but the season is about to get short, so make backup plans accordingly.

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