Mike Evans needs just 54 yards to get his eighth-straight 1,000-yard season
He would break Randy Moss’ record for the most 1,000-yard seasons to start a career, should he secure it.
The star wide receiver has long been a franchise pillar but he might now be as important a figure as he’s been in Tampa Bay. The wide receiver position used to be the strength of the team. Now it’s a weakness with Chris Godwin on IR and Antonio Brown’s messy departure last Sunday.
Evans should be squarely in the center of the passing-game universe for Tampa Bay.
Depth is a huge issue after him, Rob Gronkowski at tight end notwithstanding. Cyril Grayson has run the most routes in relief duty since Godwin went down and it looks like he’s the natural replacement. Grayson hauled in the game-winner from Tom Brady last week and has a track background.
Beyond that, Scotty Miller has been banged up all year and the Tyler Johnson thing just hasn’t happened, despite the pushing from some circles of the fantasy industry.
While that’s not ideal for the Bucs as we head into the postseason, it does put Evans in a position to finish the season on a high note.
Bruce Arians revealed that Evans was on a pitch count alongside Brown last week and he got a limited practice in this week. The head coach has also said he wants Evans to get this record; Evans himself surely wants the honor, as well.
The problem is with Evans so crucial to the team’s success amid this new wide receiver situation, having him hit a setback while record-chasing would be nightmarish. Not even Brady is equipped to play with a receiver room bereft of its top three guys, a reality facing the Bucs should Evans miss time.
The Bucs look like they’ll be playing most of their starters for some period of time in Week 18. They can improve from the third to second seed in the NFC with a win and a Rams’ loss. That’s not nothing.
When and if the team does pull starters, Evans may be the first to go. Still, with this record in sight and the Panthers having just placed Stephon Gilmore on the COVID list, a hot start for Evans could be in play. Brady made sure last season that he got the now-departed Brown his monetary incentives in the final game of the regular season. Perhaps Evans gets the same treatment.
The Bucs are playing with fire if they run out an injured Evans for a full snap share. Nevertheless, they need him and he has a personal incentive to get rolling early. All this makes his salary an enticing daily fantasy play at just $27 this week.
Cooper Kupp needs 136 yards to break the record and 12 catches to break another
Cooper Kupp himself might not like the idea of breaking a 16-game record in 17 games — as if the season wasn't even shorter than 16 games many years ago — but he could conceivably topple a pair of them in Week 18.
Calvin Johnson’s receiving yardage record and Michael Thomas’ reception record are in danger.
The Rams face the 49ers this week, who have every incentive to win this game. The trouble is their secondary is in a run of bad luck. Deommodore Lenoir was placed on the COVID list. He is the fifth defensive back and the fourth corner moved to the reserve list this week, a group that includes Ambry Thomas and Jimmie Ward. This all comes on the heels of Kyle Shanahan benching Josh Norman last week.
Kupp caught 11 passes for 122 yards against the 49ers last time they played, both totals just shy of a would-be record-breaking day.
Odell Beckham is tied for third in receiving TDs since Week 12
While we’re all gassed up about Kupp potentially breaking records in Week 18, don’t forget about Odell Beckham as a strong play in DFS. He can also take advantage of the 49ers’ weakness on the back end.
Beckham was never going to put up numbers to compete with Kupp. That was not even close to possible in the range of outcomes. That said, he’s emerged as a key cog, especially in scoring areas and in contested situations outside the numbers. Beckham has done a great deal to rehab his value in Los Angeles.
Three rookie QBs are in the bottom four in adjusted net yards per attempt
The rookies are Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Zach Wilson. The fourth player is Sam Darnold.
All three of those rookies played in hideous circumstances but will all enter 2022 with serious questions around them just the same. It’ll be a race for their franchises to rebuild the infrastructure around them — to salvage them.
Interestingly enough, Wilson will be the only one to enter next season with (we presume) the same coaching staff as his rookie campaign. That’s interesting when we consider he seems to be the one the general consensus has the least optimism for despite being a statistical equal with Fields and Lawrence.
Unfortunately, Fields was placed on the COVID list earlier this week, robbing him of one last chance to shine in Year 1. It’s been a bizarre rookie campaign for Fields from start to finish.
We should be rooting for all of them to take the next step in Year 2.
Joe Burrow leads the NFL in completion percentage over expectation (NGS)
There is a reason Joe Burrow is getting some late-season MVP love. His massive Week 16 and 17 outputs against AFC contenders have earned national attention.
However, this metric shows he has been strong all season long. Burrow has been one of the best pure passers in the NFL this season. He attacks all areas of the field and is a pristine distributor.
Burrow is unlikely to overtake Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady in the MVP voting but might he push Dak Prescott for Comeback Player of the Year? With Dak’s end-of-season struggles and Burrow’s surge, we can’t rule it out.
Tyler Huntley ranks sixth in completion percentage over expectation
It looks like we will get another Tyler Huntley start with Lamar Jackson not practicing all week.
Huntley has shown some good ability through his last four games with Baltimore. Some are hoping he could grow to be an eventual starter. We’re probably well ahead of ourselves with that talk but at the very least, he’s shown he’s a pro-level quarterback. A hot finish to the season might well move the needle in this discussion.
Amon-Ra St. Brown’s electric five-game stretch
Most total fantasy points scored by a rookie WR in Weeks 13-17 all-time:
2014 Odell Beckham (160.9)
1998 Randy Moss (129.2)
2021 Amon-Ra St. Brown (125)
2021 Ja'Marr Chase (111.9)
2011 Julio Jones (105.6)
— Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield) January 6, 2022
When you consider Amon-Ra St. Brown in this light, this is a huge development for his future. Certainly, there is always a risk for a Day 3 receiver to flash as a rookie and then fizzle out or just not grow from there — think a Darius Slayton type — but St. Brown could buck the trend.
Simply put: Those other guys weren’t this good.
Can the talent-deficient Lions see this eruption and then put it back in the bottle? That seems unlikely. While Detroit is a lock to add some talent on the perimeter, St. Brown seems like he’ll walk into the 2022 season with an entrenched role.
Chase Claypool is sixth in contested targets (PFF) with a 41% catch rate
With Diontae Johnson on the COVID list, Chase Claypool could be the No. 1 target for Ben Roethlisberger in his likely final NFL game.
There has been no play more fruitless in football than a Big Ben deep shot to Claypool on a go route down the right sideline. This stat perfectly encapsulates Claypool’s miserable usage this season.
However, Claypool hasn’t been an above-average performer in the contested-catch game at any point during his first two NFL campaigns. His lack of ball skills are a concern at this point. Claypool can certainly breakout next season with a different quarterback but I do believe he needs to shoulder some of the disappointment of his second season.
Johnson was set to be a prime DFS play against the Ravens’ secondary, given the matchup and the fact both teams have an incentive to play their best. Claypool’s role and struggles this season should give some pause to immediately vault him into the same projection Johnson carried.