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The Waiver Wire Wizard Week 13 2021
Injuries, without a doubt in my mind, are the worst part of Fantasy Football. It is a topic that has been discussed in most of my articles each year, and one of the most common gripes that participants have each season. Yet, for as much as we preach to address depth at all positions (especially running back and wide receiver) whenever possible, it is nigh impossible to have a team in a competitive league that won't be placed into a hard spot, should a star or two go down at the wrong time.
There is no good time for a star performer to miss time with an ailment. The early portion of the season, one really wishes to build a lead in their league and separate themselves from the pack. During the bye weeks, roster construction is already being tested with players sitting out. But perhaps the worst time for team to be without key pieces is now - the playoff stretch. Weeks 10-14 are crucial to clinching a playoff spot and/or cementing an all-important first-round bye! Now is the time to assert your dominance over the competition, if possible.
Week 12, in short, was cataclysmic for injuries. Therefore the format of this column will be addressed towards my thoughts specifically on those injured players, their direct replacement and waiver-wire options that might be used to patch holes in your roster for Week 13.
Though not a recent injury, Kyler Murray has been sidelined with an ankle sprain since Week 8, putting his supporters in a real bind for the back half of this season. Arizona is coming off of a bye, and Murray practiced in a limited fashion the entirety of Week 11, prior to sitting out the contest. To say that this situation is frustrating is a vast understatement, considering that Murray has been telling beat reporters and the coaching staff that "if he's able to play, he will" the last two games. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury stated on Monday that he "is hopeful" that Murray will play in Week 13, but won't fully commit until he sees him on the practice field this week. Fingers crossed mighty mouse toughens this one out.
Teddy Bridgewater briefly exited Week 12 against the Los Angeles Chargers with a shin injury, but he was able to return in the second half. I don't expect him to miss any time, but if he were to experience a setback, Drew Lock would take over. This would actually be a benefit to the Denver receivers, since Bridgewater's dink-and-dunk nature greatly caps their upside.
Justin Fields missed Week 12 with fractured ribs, and his status for Week 13 is uncertain. Anyone who has experienced rib injuries can tell you how debilitating they can be - breathing and movement can deliver sharp pain. If Fields were to miss Week 13 against Arizona, Andy Dalton would continue to start. Dalton makes for a rather uninspiring option against a Cardinals defense coming off of a bye week.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is expected to miss the remainder of the 2021 season due to a partial dislocation of his right hip in Week 1 - Taylor Heinicke will continue to start under center for Washington. Heinicke isn't a recommended option in one-quarterback leagues.
Alternative Options: Tua Tagovailoa is rostered in less than 45 percent of standard leagues, and he has been playing lights-out for the Miami Dolphins since being awarded back the job. Tagovailoa takes on the New York Giants in Week 13, and they are a team that can be exploited. Tyrod Taylor is rostered in less than 30 percent of standard leagues, and he squares off against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 13. Taylor brings a nice floor due to the rushing yards he adds with his legs, and the Colts have allowed more than 250 passing yards each week in 2021.
This position took an absolute BEATING this weekend, starting on Thanksgiving with D'Andre Swift. Swift sustained a shoulder sprain on Thursday after multiple defenders rode him out of bounds, and Jamaal Williams received the majority of work in his absence. On Monday, head coach Dan Campbell was pessimistic about his outlook for Week 13, stating "it would be hard to see Swift playing against the Vikings". As Campbell is usually optimistic, I'd consider that damning enough to pencil him out. Prior to the injury, Swift was averaging nearly 20 points per game in a PPR format, and was a locked-in RB1.
Christian McCaffrey was unable to play during the second half in Sunday's loss to the Miami Dolphins after his ankle was rolled over. I was hopeful that this wouldn't be a multi-week absence based upon initial reporting, but "CMC" was placed upon season-ending injured reserve on Monday. His 2021 season will be the second consecutive disappointment, especially considering he was drafted as the top overall selection based upon ADP. In his stead, Carolina will go back to starting Chuba Hubbard, with Ameer Abdullah sprinkled in. Hubbard's ownership took a sharp decline when CMC returned to action in Week 9, but he is now the top waiver-wire recommendation of the week.
Dalvin Cook suffered a torn labrum and a dislocation of his left shoulder on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, and he was immediately ruled out of the contest. On the bright side, it was feared that he experienced something much more severe, so this news (if it can be looked at as such) is actually good. Cook's season isn't over, and he is expected to miss 2-3 weeks. Minnesota thankfully has one of the most talented backup options in the league with Alexander Mattison, who was widely considered the most essential handcuff to own. The Vikings next few games against Detroit, Pittsburgh and Chicago are certainly winnable, but the team will need Cook back for Week 16-17 when they square off against the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers.
Alvin Kamara has been sidelined since Week 9 with a knee injury, but New Orleans is hopeful that he will be able to return in Week 13 on Thursday against Dallas. The news has been generally positive on his front over the last 3-4 days, with Kamara participating in the media-access portion of Saints practice on Sunday. Keep an eye on practice reports early in the week to see if Kamara and running mate Mark Ingram will return in a crucial matchup.
Ezekiel Elliott has been trending in the wrong direction for several weeks in terms of total touches - he hasn't registered more than 15 carries since Week 8. Playing through a knee injury during that span, Elliott has been a shell of his former self, and he has really hurt his Fantasy prospects. Reports leaked that Dallas was considering sitting him on Thursday's matchup against New Orleans to allow his knee to heal, and allow him to improve for their playoff stretch. Even if Elliott was to play, New Orleans has one of the top run defenses in the league, and he would cede a number of touches to Tony Pollard regardless. In a best-case scenario, Elliott should sit and allow his body time to recover, and come back fully healthy in a week or two.
Michael Carter was placed on IR last Saturday, and he has been ruled out through Week 14. Tevin Coleman and Ty Johnson will split carries while he recovers.
Chase Edmonds is in the midst of his IR stint, and is eligible to return in Week 14 against the Los Angeles Rams. James Conner will continue to handle 80 percent of the backfield touches in his absence.
Alternative Options: This list isn't pretty, but here goes. Alex Collins will continue to operate as the 1A option in Seattle's backfield with Chris Carson out for the rest of 2021. Collins has averaged 4.1 YPC, but Seattle has done an awful job with establishing and continuing to run the ball. Negative game script works against him. That said, he's rostered in just 45 percent of leagues, and Seattle's coaching staff has repeatedly stated that they want to run the ball more often. Both backs in Tennessee (D'Onta Foreman and Dontrell Hilliard) are widely available, and Derrick Henry is still several weeks away from returning. Hilliard is the more explosive option, but Foreman will see goal-line and short-yardage work. In PPR formats I'd prefer to add Hilliard, who is currently floating around 30 percent ownership. Foreman sits just above 40 percent, as a volume-based add.
Deebo Samuel was well on his way to another monster week as a running back/wide receiver hybrid for San Francisco, before he departed with a non-contact injury that was later revealed to be a groin pull. Initial reports have Samuel missing 2-3 weeks, though it could be longer given the propensity of a reinjury. In his stead, Brandon Aiyuk will continue to be the 1A option in the passing game, with Elijah Mitchell handling an increased snap share in the backfield.
Both top options for Tennessee are on IR, with Julio Jones (hamstring) being able to return in Week 14, and A.J. Brown (chest) being able to return in Week 16. The Titans offense has been utterly gutted by injuries in 2021, which has made this team one-dimensional. Nick Westbrook-Ikhine is a touchdown-dependent option that will soak most of the passing targets when Ryan Tannehill drops back.
Similar to Tennessee, Dallas was without each of its best receiving threats in Week 12, while Amari Cooper sat in COVID-19 protocol and CeeDee Lamb remained in the league's concussion protocol. It is expected that Cooper returns to action in Week 13, after head coach Mike McCarthy stated that he was back on track to return to practice on Monday. This means that Cooper, who was unvaccinated, has tested negative on two COVID-19 tests 24 hours apart. Lamb is also expected to return in Week 13, and he was close to playing against Las Vegas on Thanksgiving. Had it not been for the shortened turnaround timeframe due to the holiday, Lamb certainly would have been cleared.
The New York Giants are currently without both of their top slot-options at receiver in Sterling Shepard and Kadarius Toney, with Shepard taking forever to return from a quadriceps injury he suffered in Week 8, and Toney dealing with a quad injury of his own. Shepard is a notoriously slow healer and oft-injured player, who is dynamite when actually on the field. Neither player was a participant in practice leading up to Week 12 and their status for Week 13 against Miami is murky at best.
Calvin Ridley continues to miss games due to mental health reasons, and it goes without saying that no one has an idea if (or when) he will return in 2021. I certainly hope that he is finding the help that he needs while he's off the field.
Antonio Brown has been off the field since Week 7 due to an ankle injury, but head coach Bruce Arians stated last week that the team has "targeted" Week 13 as his return date. Brown was a non-participant in all practices, so we will have to monitor things and see if he's been able to trend in the right direction of late.
Alternative Options: In standard formats, I'd be willing to take a chance on DeSean Jackson, who torched Dallas on Thanksgiving with a 3/102/1 line. Las Vegas takes on Washington, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if Jackson found paydirt once again in a revenge-narrative game. He's rostered in just three percent of leagues. Van Jefferson is a player similar in skillset to Jackson - a downfield threat with modest targets that will occasionally find the end zone. The Los Angeles Rams offense has appeared out of synch lately, but Jefferson has played well regardless. The Rams take on Jacksonville, Arizona and Seattle the next three weeks, and all of those teams can be exploited in the secondary. Jefferson is rostered in 42 percent of leagues.
Waiver wire darling Dan Arnold was poised for a bounce-back game against Atlanta this past Sunday, but he suffered a sprained MCL and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks (effectively the rest of the year). James O'Shaughnessy is in line to step up in his duties.
Kyle Rudolph was largely irrelevant in Fantasy circles anyway, but his ankle injury forced additional snaps and opportunities on Evan Engram for the New York Giants. Already short several receivers, Engram will continue to have a modest role in an offense that will need to pass in order to stay competitive.
Eric Ebron isn't eligible to return until Week 14, which has the Pat Freiermuth hype-train full steam ahead. Freiermuth is now the second option for Ben Roethlisberger behind Diontae Johnson in Pittsburgh.
Darren Waller went down with an ugly injury on Thanksgiving (noticing a trend here?) against Dallas, and his owners were collectively holding their breath on MRI results. Thankfully, no major damage was reported other than a strained IT band. Reports are muddled whether this is an injury that Waller will be able to play through or not, but the additional days of rest should help things significantly. Las Vegas takes on Washington and their shoddy pass defense in Week 13 in what would be a cupcake matchup.
Alternative Options: It would be foolish to suggest that anyone would be a true plug-and-play alternative at this position, which is so highly touchdown dependent. Foster Moreau is the obvious name to mention, should Darren Waller sit out any period of time. Moreau posted a 6/60/1 line in Week 7 against Philadelphia when Waller sat. He's available in 99 percent of leagues. Evan Engram, who I mentioned earlier, should be in for another healthy target share in Week 13 with so many other options ailing. Engram is a desperation play that is 32 percent owned.