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5 things to care about from Week 13: Spencer Ware fantasy football heat check

Yahoo! Sports logo Yahoo! Sports 12/3/2018 Matt Harmon
a person wearing a helmet: It’s worth asking if we need a heat check on Spencer Ware after Week 13. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) © Provided by Oath Inc. It’s worth asking if we need a heat check on Spencer Ware after Week 13. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

So much happens on any given Sunday of the NFL season. It’s hard to keep track of it all. More importantly, it’s quite a lot to decide what we should value as signal and what we should just ignore as noise. In this space, I’ll go through all that I watched in Week 13 and give you the five things I care about coming out of Sunday, along with five things I can’t muster up the emotional energy to care for.

Five things I care about

At least asking the Spencer Ware question

After the Kareem Hunt release, so many fantasy analysts couldn’t come out with stronger words telling you to start Spencer Ware this week. If you played Ware, you aren’t really filled with regret but the results weren’t overwhelming. He finished with just over 50 total yards and a score, good for 11.7 points — outside the top-15 fantasy backs. Ware led the backfield with 15 touches but Damien Williams chipped in with seven of his own. Not exactly a clear workhorse workload.

Adding more intrigue, Yahoo’s Terez Paylor reported that the Chiefs will bring in one-time 1,000-yard rusher C.J. Anderson and former Kansas City runner Charcandrick West for workouts.

I’ve gone back and forth on how to feel about Ware following today’s action. If we’re just looking at the bottom-line, we don’t need to know much more than he’s the lead back on one of the NFL’s best offenses — and one who’s proven he can hang during a prior starting stint. He also clearly led the backfield with a 69 percent snap rate and 23 routes run. Overall, I love Ware as a runner, want him to succeed and if you have him in fantasy, you’re almost certainly starting him next week. Yet, after ceding some work to another back in his first starting shot and the team responding by looking at more depth, perhaps I’m just a small percentage-point less bullish on him than I was 24 hours ago. At the very least, it’s worth asking the question.

Jeff Wilson Jr.

With a name befitting a random next-door neighbor in a sitcom, undrafted free agent Jeff Wilson Jr. led the 49ers backfield with 23 touches for 134 total yards. Despite Matt Breida being removed from the injury report on Friday, Wilson was the feature back to start San Francisco’s Week 13 contest. What prompted this? Who the hell knows. Breida was coming off a stretch where he rushed for 100 yards in back-to-back games and caught three passes for over 30 yards in each. He’s struggled with an ankle injury throughout the year and did aggravate it in pre-game warmups.

We could easily see the former starter restored to his top spot in the pecking order if he’s healthy in Week 14. Breida sure didn’t deserve a demotion but for whatever reason, with the 49ers firmly out of contention in 2018, perhaps the team wants to get a look at Wilson. For that reason, Wilson should be on your radar with a chance for more work in a rushing offense that’s produced even without ideal game scripts.

Dalvin Cook looks incredible

It’s been a slow burn to get here but over the last two weeks, Dalvin Cook has looked better than at any point since he tore his ACL early last season. He looks like the explosive, multi-purpose back we hoped he’d be coming into the NFL. While his rushing production has been a roller coaster all year, his passing game work looks solid of late. Cook has 11 catches on 13 targets over the last two weeks. The Vikings passing distribution tree is extremely narrow, with only Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen absorbing meaningful volume. Combine the open passing volume with the pass protection that dictates a quick release time from Kirk Cousins, Cook could be primed to handle more work through the air.

Cleveland turns in their test papers

In my Week 13 preview piece, I looked at why the Browns trip to Houston was a consequential test for the young team. By getting hammered in the first half and never truly challenging the AFC South-leading Texans, Cleveland’s offense showed that while we all have a right to be optimistic about their future, they have not arrived just yet.

Baker Mayfield had passer ratings of 95.0, 151.2 and 143.9 in the three games prior to Week 13, but was a mess in the first two quarters. He chucked three interceptions, including a truly puzzling one to end the second quarter. Nick Chubb did score a rushing touchdown and once again caught three passes for over 10 yards per catch. However, he didn’t control the game on the ground.

The Browns have a bright future and one that will attract a good head coaching candidate. However, we’ll have to wait until next year before we can confidently project them to vanquish top defenses like Houston’s.

Justin Jackson outshining Austin Ekeler

Coming into the second half of Sunday Night Football, Austin Ekeler had just a single yard on eight carries. He finished the game averaging 1.6 yards per carry on the ground but totaled 22 yards on five catches through the air. It’s a small sample, but through two starts with Melvin Gordon out, Ekeler has failed in his chances to be the Chargers feature back.

The Chargers were getting buried in the backfield often in the first half but it was hard not to notice the instantaneous difference when rookie runner Justin Jackson got his chances. Jackson sliced through the Steelers defense with patience and electric moves to break tackles. He collected 63 yards and a touchdown on a measly eight carries, most of which came late in the game. Jackson looks like the real deal. The Chargers need to consider splitting this backfield down the middle, if not leaning Jackson’s way in the run game and letting Ekeler thrive as an outlet receiver.

Five things I don’t care about

Guessing the regression doomsday in Seattle

If Russell Wilson keeps up his 8.9 touchdown rate it would be a top-five mark among passers since the merger. Despite their run-heavy approach, the Seahawks passing offense has still been a gold-mine for success. Wilson chucked four more touchdowns on just 17 attempts on Sunday. The math-defiant Tyler Lockett caught his lone target of the day for a 52-yard touchdown. Coming into Week 13, Lockett already sported a near 80 percent catch rate and 15 percent touchdown rate.

The Seahawks are taking a sledgehammer to regression this year. We know the margin for error with these players is thin and the bottom could fall out without the needed volume. Alas, we need to ride this until the wheels fall off.

The Seahawks get the Vikings, 49ers and Chiefs over the next three weeks. Those three games could be some combination of a high-scoring script and/or a favorable defensive matchup. We might not see the regression doomsday clock hit zero until next season.

a group of football players on the field: Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson does not care about your touchdown regression worries. (AP Photo/John Froschauer) © Provided by Oath Inc. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson does not care about your touchdown regression worries. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Courtland Sutton’s big day

When Demaryius Thomas got shipped out of Denver at the trade deadline, fantasy analysts couldn’t get to their respective platforms fast enough to hype up Courtland Sutton. It quickly became clear that Sutton was not yet up to the task. The rookie had indeed made explosive plays as the No. 3 option but those familiar with his prospect profile could justifiably raise questions as to his readiness to be a full-time starter with the technical precision to win on a route-by-route basis. As such, it took until Week 13 in a cakewalk matchup for Sutton to finally show signs of that upside. He produced 85 yards and a score on four catches.

I am confident Sutton will develop into a starting option with big-play upside, perhaps as soon as next year. This Week 13 performance won’t change the way I project him for the rest of 2018. His case will serve as a reminder that these players aren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet. How they play the game and where they’re at in their career trajectory matters. Next man up doesn’t always work.

Wide receivers checking in with surprising big lines

At this point in the season, with almost everyone in a win-or-go-home game in the fantasy postseason, it’s hard to recommend chasing WR4-or-5 options on the waiver wire. With players like Dante Pettis and Zay Jones at the top of the wide receiver rankings and long-lost sleepers like Taywan Taylor and DeVante Parker popping up for big games this week, the options won’t be limited this week. Unless you play in a league that starts three-plus wide receivers and awards a full point per reception, just keep on moving. The wide receiver position is stocked full in the NFL right now.

Injuries will always open up room but unless you have those extra starting spots, it’s unlikely these players will reliably carry stronger target projections next week than receivers you already count on. If you’re still alive in fantasy, you need to focus on difference-makers. It’s unlikely these type of thin wide receiver plays will qualify.

Kenny Golladay’s volume

It’s unfair to say I completely don’t care about Kenny Golladay’s volume. More often than not, my advice in fantasy debates will be to cling tightly to players getting volume like a stubborn dog with a chicken bone it picked up off the filthy street (Charlie, I’m looking at you, bud). Golladay’s 60 percent share of the team air yards in the three games prior to Detroit’s meetup with the Rams showed WR1-type promise for him. After this week, the road may be tough to travel getting from the process to the results finish line.

Golladay totaled just three catches for 50 yards against a Rams secondary that just got back Aqib Talib, who is a difference-maker. With the Lions leaky offensive line putting Matthew Stafford under siege, he was quicker to dump the ball off to Bruce Ellington, who led the team with 10 targets in the slot. Golladay will now draw Patrick Peterson, Tre’Davious White and Xavier Rhodes in Weeks 14 to 16. While he is still a strong option, he’s not a locked-in player the rest of the way.

The Falcons

At this point in the season, there are a handful of teams I could just do without being in our weekly discourse around the sport. For example, I’d love to never field a Jameis Winston question again. I have Winston fatigue. One team quickly finding itself on that radar is the Atlanta Falcons. Most of the analysis on their matchup with the Ravens featured all the correct process calls to attack their stop unit with the new-look run game spearheaded by Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards. Yet, it was puzzling that this game was a viewed as a potential shootout. Perhaps the Falcons of Weeks 1 through 8 could have held up that end of the bargain, but that’s my issue.

It seems those of us in the football world have been slow to ingest the new reality of Atlanta’s offense. This team hasn’t hit 20 points in four straight weeks. The offensive line’s pass protection issues are now handicapping the aerial attack. On the ground, no player has seemingly cost himself more free agent buzz than Tevin Coleman, who has cleared 60 yards rushing in just two games all year and totaled 34 yards over the last two weeks. The Falcons offense is broken, and the batteries have been slowing dying for over a month now.

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