Can you really buy low on three New England Patriots pass-catchers at once?
Sure you can, says ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss, who sees better fantasy production ahead for tight end Rob Gronkowski, receiver Josh Gordon and receiver Julian Edelman -- even if they are technically competing for targets in a suddenly-crowded offense.
"I always start with the snaps," said Reiss, who pointed out that Gronkowski is still basically an "every-snap guy" who just played 77 of 78 snaps in Sunday night's 43-40 thriller over the Kansas City Chiefs, which included the big man rumbling downfield for gains of 42 and 39 yards in the fourth quarter.
Then there is Gordon, whose snap count vaulted from 18 in each of his first two games with the Patriots to 63 this past Sunday -- which Reiss called "a pretty strong statement that he has made a big breakthrough" with his new team.
Not only has Gordon healed from a hamstring injury, but more importantly he has earned the trust of Tom Brady.
"Brady really feels strongly about him," Reiss said of Gordon, who led New England with nine targets last week. "That's a key thing with the Patriots. When Brady feels like he can trust you, you're in. And Gordon's in."
Last but not least is Brady's longtime go-to guy, Edelman, whose snap count increased from 48 in his first game back from a four-week suspension in Week 5 to 71 in Week 6.
Reiss said he would start Edelman "decisively" in fantasy football leagues. And he is leaning toward putting Gordon in that same category as well if he sees another week with similar playing time.
The challenge for fantasy owners, Reiss said, is trying to identify which of New England's pass-catchers might have bigger games or quieter games based on how a particular defense might attack them (in that sense, it sounds like the old problem of trying to figure out which New England running back will be featured in a particular week).
But it's a little different with pass-catchers, where they can open things up for one another. And the presence of Gordon and Edelman should actually help Gronkowski, who has been noticeably double-teamed for much of this season.
"He's getting punt-viced on some of his routes -- literally just running into two bodies," Brady told WEEI radio. "They make it tough for him."
Reiss said the defensive coverage is probably about 90 percent of the reason why Gronkowski is in the midst of the longest drought of his career without a touchdown catch (five straight games). The other 10 percent could be age and injury-related, since Gronkowski has been listed on the injury report with an ankle injury this season.
But, as Reiss said, "he'll still show you flashes of vintage Gronk" like he did in the fourth quarter Sunday.
And as Brady said after the game, "I'll keep throwing it to him in the biggest moments."
On the flip side, the emergence of Edelman and Gordon as the Patriots' top two receivers obviously hurts the value of other receivers such as Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett, who showed promise early this season. Hogan hasn't completely evaporated from the Patriots' offense, but he played just 47 snaps on offense Sunday while his special-teams role has increased.
Atlanta Falcons: Another look at the snap counts shows Falcons running back Tevin Coleman played 38 last week, while rookie Ito Smith played 31 in Atlanta's Week 6 game. On Tuesday, starting RB Devonta Freeman was placed on injured reserve. ESPN Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure said the increased snap counts seems like a good indication the Falcons are comfortable with Smith sharing the load with Coleman going forward. Plus, McClure said, Smith has proven himself to be reliable in the red zone while scoring in each of the past three games.
Smith is ambitiously hoping to ignite the Falcons' run game, as McClure wrote. "I think we can be way better, man. I want us to get 200 yards rushing," the fourth-round pick from Southern Mississippi said. "Y'all haven't even seen the surface yet out of the running backs or out of the whole offense. We haven't played a great game yet."
McClure also wrote about how these next three months could help the Falcons make some tough decisions at the RB position, where Freeman is signed through 2022 and Coleman is scheduled to be a free agent after this season.
New Orleans Saints: No one has ever done a RB timeshare better than the Saints did it last season, when Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara became the first duo ever to both surpass 1,500 yards from scrimmage in the same season while both scoring at least 12 touchdowns. Those numbers are almost certainly unsustainable -- but it's a good example of what the Saints will strive for now that Ingram is back from his four-game suspension.
As I broke down this week as ESPN's Saints reporter, Kamara's fantasy owners don't need to panic after he had just nine touches in Week 5 when Ingram came back (that was mostly a fluke since the Saints got ahead by so many points so early, and it was also a chance to ease up on Kamara's workload). No, Kamara won't average 23 touches per game anymore like he did in September. But I expect him to be a slight "1A" to Ingram's "1B," like they were down the stretch last season.
As for the Saints' wide receiver corps now that starter Ted Ginn Jr. has been placed on injured reserve with a knee injury, I think both backups Tre'Quan Smith and Cameron Meredith are worth picking up and possibly using as bye-week fill-ins if needed. Neither is a sure-thing fantasy starter, though, since they'll probably split the production.
We saw how the Saints are likely to use them when Ginn was out in Week 5. Smith, who should run more of Ginn's deep routes, caught three passes for 111 yards and two deep TDs. Meredith, who could see more volume as both an inside and outside receiver, caught a season-high five passes for 71 yards.
Pittsburgh Steelers: It sure seems like we'll see some sort of RB timeshare in Pittsburgh, as well, with Le'Veon Bell expected to return from his contract holdout after the Steelers' Week 7 bye. As ESPN Steelers reporter Jeremy Fowler has reported, Ben Roethlisberger and other teammates have continued to campaign for incumbent RB James Conner to keep a significant role even when Bell returns. And it got to the point where Roethlisberger even made a sarcastic joke about it after Conner ran for 111 yards and two TDs on Sunday.
"What a great game, but I know it's his last game for us, because Le'Veon's coming back," Roethlisberger cracked.
Dallas Cowboys: Veteran Cole Beasley had his second breakout performance of the season with nine catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday against the vaunted Jacksonville Jaguars' defense -- and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones called it "Witten stuff ... No. 1-ish stuff."
ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer said it's hard to expect that type of involvement from Beasley on a weekly basis and it probably had more to do with the specific game plan against a man-to-man coverage team. But Archer did point out Beasley has 39 catches for 415 yards and two TDs in his career against this week's opponent, the Washington Redskins.
Green Bay Packers: ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky wrote about how both Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay's offense could look different after the Week 7 bye. Rodgers is hoping to shed the restrictive brace from his knee. But the Packers overall are hoping to stop relying on his arm so much after he has thrown at least 40 times in five straight games.
Indianapolis Colts: Indy will give Marlon Mack every chance to be the leading man in their backfield after he ran for 89 yards on 12 carries, according to Colts reporter Mike Wells. Wells said Nyheim Hines should get some work, too, but some of that could be as a receiver -- which is where he began his college career at NC State. Also, Wells wrote about the Colts' alarming rate of dropped passes, including 13 over the past three weeks.
Miami Dolphins: Dolphins receiver Albert Wilson continues to be one of this season's most electrifying playmakers -- and lately he has been doing it in more of a full-time role instead of just a handful of plays. The self-described "best YAC receiver" in the league had 138 of his 155 receiving yards after the catch on Sunday, along with two fourth-quarter touchdowns. Wilson made six defenders miss on one of those TDs, according to Dolphins reporter Cameron Wolfe, who wrote that Wilson's 14.57 yards after the catch this season are by far the most in the NFL.
Philadelphia Eagles: Eagles reporter Tim McManus suggested Zach Ertz might be the league's top tight end right now. Ertz leads all tight ends with 480 receiving yards, and he ranks second behind only Minnesota's Adam Thielen among all NFL pass-catchers with 48 receptions. He is on pace for 128 catches, which would shatter Jason Witten's record of 110 by a tight end in a single season.
Through six weeks, he leads all tight ends in targets (66) and receiving yards (480) and is second in the NFL in receptions (48) behind only Thielen. His 48 receptions are the most by a tight end through six games since 1999. He's on pace for 128 catches, which would shatter Witten's record of 110 for most catches in a single season by a tight end.
Carolina Panthers: Panthers reporter David Newton wrote about how Carolina is counting on rookie receiver DJ Moore to shrug off his "welcome to the NFL" experience when he lost two fumbles last Sunday.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bucs reporter Jenna Laine wrote that one month ago veteran receiver DeSean Jackson was the hottest thing in the NFL next to "Fitzmagic." But now he has to find a similar rhythm with QB Jameis Winston that they haven't quite developed yet, dating back to last season.
San Francisco 49ers: After battling nagging injuries earlier this season -- and a major one to his starting quarterback -- Marquise Goodwin finally had a breakout performance with four catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns on Monday night, as 49ers reporter Nick Wagoner wrote.
Good thing, too, since I have Rivers as my QB in two leagues for what feels like the 15th straight year.