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Fantasy Football: 11 targets after a nutty NFL trade deadline

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USA TODAY

Fantasy Football: 11 targets after a nutty NFL trade deadline

Finally: An NFL trade deadline with some action!

Before the 2017 deadline, the league made several impactful moves after years of mostly-boring inaction. 

Everybody loves a good trade and the league did not disappoint, with guys like Jay Ajayi, Jimmy Garoppolo and Kelvin Benjamin on the move while the Seattle Seahawks bolstered their offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott was suspended (again). 

Here are the fantasy implications of a nutty week in the NFL:

Jay Ajayi, RB, PHI

While it's impossible to predict exactly how Ajayi will be utilized in Doug Pederson's notoriously-fickle backfield, this trade is a clear win for Ajayi's fantasy owners. Even if he doesn't get 25 touches a game like he did in Miami, Ajayi is running behind a much better offensive line on the best team in football that figures to be running to close out leads late in games as opposed to passing to try to eliminate deficits (like the Dolphins). Ajayi should be able to have much more of an impact in Philadelphia even if he sees a noticeable decline in snaps and touches. (Tony Andracki)

Kenyan Drake/Damien Williams, RBs, MIA

With Ajayi out, the Dolphins have announced they will roll with the guys they have going forward. Those guys are Drake and Williams, though you can forgive any football fan if they didn't know that given the two have combined for just 33 touches through seven games. Neither guy is worthy of a "must-add" and there are serious question marks about each guy moving forward: They don't have a proven track record, the Dolphins offense is a complete mess and the offensive line is a huge reason for the struggles. Williams figures to be the passing down back, but Drake is only 23 and in his second season, so he has higher upside and is the most likely of the two to break out and be a legit fantasy contributor down the stretch. (TA)

Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, SF

Let's just get this out of the way first: unless your league allows you to play a quarterback in the flex spot, Garoppolo needs to remain on the waiver wire for the time being. Garoppolo is expected to be eased into action with his new club and should be up to speed to start against the Giants in Week 10. However, with a lack of options in the passing game and not being the type of quarterback who will gather points with his legs, Garoppolo will have a hard time posting high fantasy totals in San Francisco. The only thing to look forward to about this move, from a fantasy perspective, is that the 49ers may have found a quarterback who can help Pierre Garcon find the end zone for the first time in 2017. (Scott Krinch)

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, BUF

Benjamin has been one of the most frustrating fantasy players for years now and his insertion into a new offense will almost assuredly come with a learning curve. That offense also features an inconsistent passing game that has yet to promote consistent WR fantasy value given their propensity to spread the ball around and play ground control — Tyrod Taylor ranks 29th in the NFL with only 192 pass yards per game. This move does nothing to help Benjamin's value and really only hurts the value of fringe fantasy players like Jordan Matthews and Zay Jones. (TA)

Jamison Crowder, WR, WAS

The Redskins were rumored to be interested in acquiring a receiver before the NFL deadline but no deal was made. That's fine for Crowder fantasy owners or anybody else searching for a receiver (he's still available in nearly half of ESPN leagues). Crowder was a popular breakout candidate heading into 2017 and after a slew of injuries sapped his early-season potential, he tallied 123 yards on 9 catches and 13 targets in Week 8. Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson have both been big-time busts, leaving the door wide open for Crowder to emerge as the clear No. 1 threat in that passing game, especially with Jordan Reed once again flashing his complete inability to stay on the field. (TA)

JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, PIT

The guy with the best name since Jim Bob Cooter is still somehow owned in less than 30 percent of leagues. He's on a Bye this week, but after exploding for 7-193-1 in Week 8, the NFL's youngest player is officially on the fantasy map. Not saying he's a must-start from here, but he absolutely needs to be owned in every format and moving forward could provide huge dividends for both your fake team and the Steelers. (TA)

Marlon Mack, RB, IND

Mack was another popular sleeper entering 2017 and despite a Week 1 touchdown was a fantasy non-factor until Week 5. In the four games since, his PPR point totals: 16, 1, 10, 14. Frank Gore is like a million years old and Mack is young, fresh, spry and showing he can be a productive NFL back. Look for more Mack as the season goes on, especially if the Colts continue to fall out of it even more and wind up looking toward 2018 and beyond. Plus, the dude is owned in only 30 percent of leagues, so go grab him on waivers or look to acquire him in a trade if you can pull it off. (TA)

Alfred Morris/Darren McFadden/Rod Smith, RBs, DAL

Ezekiel Elliott's six-game suspension is back on after a United States District Judge dissolved his temporary restraining order. So what does that mean going forward for the Cowboys running back situation? Your guess is as good as mine. And we probably still haven't seen the last of Elliott trying to fight the suspension. If Elliott does remain sidelined, the most likely benefactor will be Alfred Morris with Darren McFadden nipping at his heels. Both players are must-adds on the waiver wire this week. Through seven games, Morris has served as Elliott's backup, while McFadden has been inactive for every Cowboys game this season. The upside for both players running behind that offensive line is relatively high, but it's a fluid situation right now and it could vary week-to-week with even Rod Smith being a player who owners should keep an eye on in deep leagues. (SK)

Jack Doyle, TE, IND

Doyle has been a target machine this season, accumulating 55 through seven games. Doyle had his best game of the season in Sunday's loss to the Bengals as he hauled in 12 receptions on 14 targets for a season-high 121 yards and his first score of 2017. Doyle is now fantasy's seventh-highest scoring tight end and should see his numbers continue to climb on a team that will be playing from behind the majority of Sundays for the remainder of the season. (SK)

Robby Anderson, WR, NYJ

There haven't made been many positives from a fantasy football outlook when it comes to the Jets offense, but one emerging player who needs to be on your radar is Anderson. The second-year wide receiver has seen a minimum of five targets in each of his last six games. Anderson has reached in the end zone in consecutive weeks and has become a favorite target of quarterback Josh McCown. (SK)

Paul Richardson, WR, SEA

Who would've predicted that Richardson would be the Seahawks' No. 1 fantasy wide receiver through seven games? Definitely not this guy. Over the last two games, Richardson has eight receptions for 166 yards and three touchdowns. With the Seahawks showing zeo interest in running the football, Richardson is a legitimate flex option this week and the rest of the season. (SK)

Bears grades: High marks for Mitch Trubisky, Matt Nagy, and Khalil Mack

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USA Today

Bears grades: High marks for Mitch Trubisky, Matt Nagy, and Khalil Mack

Quarterback – A-
We’ll start with the bad, being the interception that ended the Bears’ first drive on the Cowboys’ 1-yard line. Trubisky admitted after the game that he was trying to extend the play and “didn’t make a smart decision.” Otherwise, he was efficient through the air; he threw the ball better against the Lions, but his all-around performance on Thursday night, against a better team, makes it feel like the Cowboys’ win was his best game of the year. The Bears aren’t falling over themselves to tell us what, but something finally clicked during that four-game losing streak, and Trubisky looked way more comfortable in the offense than at any point prior. Mike Pettine, Mike Zimmer and Andy Reid will all have a better knowledge of how to scheme the Bears, but having Trubisky playing at his highest level of self-confidence going into the toughest stretch of the season is never a bad thing. 

Running Backs – B+ 
Montgomery’s stats (20 rushes, 86 yards, 1 fumble) could be seen as underwhelming, but truth be told, the Bears will take the rookie averaging almost four-and-a-half yards a carry any game of the year. The fumble came at a bad time in the game on a bad part of the field, but as Nagy even admitted afterwards, they gave him the ball on the very next play – the Bears aren’t concerned. Tarik Cohen (3 rushes for 7 yards) had an all-around quiet night, but weirdly struggled with fielding punts. The offense has shown it can win featuring either, but still struggles finding room for both simultaneously. 

Wide Receivers – A- 
It was a strange night for pass catchers. Seven different guys had catches, and Tarik Cohen led the team in receptions (6). No one had more receiving yards than JP Holtz, who got 30 of his 56 yards on one screen pass. Two of Allen Robinson’s five catches were touchdowns from inside the 10, and Riley Ridley had his first NFL grab. Jesper Horsted had four catches for 14 yards and Cordarrelle Patterson had one catch for twice as many yards (33). None of it made any sense, but it worked (?), and was kind of fun (!). 

Tight Ends – B 
Horsted is clearly earning the coaching staff’s trust, and even if the JP Holtz passing revolution ends up being a fluke, the Bears now have 60 minutes of tape to point to as evidence that yeah, the tight ends really *are* that important to this offense. It wasn’t perfect: Horsted got flagged for two false starts, admitting after the game that the Cowboys’ front seven was the best he’d seen and noting that Robert Quinn had “incredible speed” and DeMarcus Lawerence had “strength like I’ve really never seen before.” It’s absolutely still a work in progress, but the Bears finally have a tight end situation they can work with. 

Offensive Line – B
The Bears passed for 242 yards and rushed for 151, so credit for both of those starts on the line. They allowed the Cowboys’ pass-rush to sack Trubisky twice and hit him three other times, but the quarterback stayed upright for most of the game, and the line did a great job moving the pocket for him on some of his rollouts and scrambles. Charles Leno got much of the (deserved) credit for sealing off Dallas’ edge rusher on Trubisky’s touchdown run, but James Daniels also does a great job of keeping the gap open. They even stayed away from penalties, too. 

Defensive Line – C
Zeke Elliot is still very good, but it was a generally forgettable performance from the defensive line on Thursday night. Elliot ran for 81 yards on 19 rushes, which is not entirely the D-line’s fault but nonetheless not great. No one on the line had more than one tackle, which, again, not great. The Bears were able to sack Dak Prescott twice, but those sacks came from Khalil Mack and Eddie Jackson. Akiem Hicks, come on down! 

Inside Linebackers – B+ 
Nick Kwiatkoski was the only Bears player to finish the game with double-digit tackles (10), and Kevin Pierre-Louis (4 tackles, 1 QBH, 1 TFL, 2 Pass Deflections) filled in admirably for Roquan Smith, who left the game after suffering a pectoral injury on the first drive of the game. Kwiatkkoski hasn’t missed a beat since becoming the starter in Danny Trevathan’s absence, but ‘KPL’ has only started one game in his career – back in 2015 with Seattle. Matt Nagy wouldn’t comment on Trevathan’s availability going forward, but reading the tea leaves over the last couple weeks would indicate that there’s a chance he’s back before the season ends. Chuck Pagano’s going to have to get real creative if it’s KPL-Kwiatkoski for the rest of the way, but on Thursday they provided some optimism. 

Edge Rushers – A 
Another quiet game for Leonard Floyd, but if you’re of the He-Impacts-The-Pocket camp, Thursday was fine for you. Then, of course, there was Khalil Mack: 

A! 

Secondary – B- 
Kyle Fuller and Kevin Tolliver tied each other for second-most tackles (7) of anyone on the Bears’ defense Thursday night. Fuller was particularly good, and Tolliver held his own in relief of Prince Amukamara, who was out all week with a hamstring injury. Prescott ended the night 27-49 with 334 yards, and Tolliver admitted after the game that some of the garbage time yardage that Dallas piled up left a bad taste in the secondary’s mouth. Eddie Jackson had a sack, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had six total tackles too. Teams have been able to break off big passing plays against them more often of late, but no one’s playing exceptionally poorly. 


Special Teams – B+
Eddie Pineiro had seven points (4 XP’s, 1 FG) and has continued to bounce back since his poor performance against the Rams. Pat O’Donnell only punted four times but landed all four inside the 20-yard line. Tarik Cohen fumbled two punts, but was fortunate enough not to lose any. Cordarrelle Patterson did Cordarrelle Patterson things on kick returns. It was nothing too exciting, so it gets the least exciting grade possible. 

Coaching – A
The Bears ran the ball more often than they threw it, which almost definitely makes Matt Nagy scream into his hands when no one’s watching. But to his credit, he’s adjusted to what this personnel does well, and that’s a credit to his ability as a gameplanner that got so frequently panned earlier in the year. David Montgomery got 20 touches, Trubisky got the ball out early and often, and multiple Bears players talked after the game about how there was a better attention to detail through all four quarters. They clearly had a beat on Dallas’ defense: Trubisky even mentioned that on his option touchdown run, the offense easily recognized the Cowboys’ ‘squeeze-and-scrape’ concept. All this starts with Nagy, so he earns high grades for the week. 

J.P. Holtz provides spark Bears have been missing at tight end

J.P. Holtz provides spark Bears have been missing at tight end

Trey Burton's nagging injuries and Adam Shaheen's lack of development created a tight end crisis for the Bears through the first half of the 2019 season, but with Burton on injured reserve and Shaheen seemingly no longer in the team's plans, someone had to rise from the ashes and take over the starting job.

Enter J.P. Holtz, the 26-year-old unknown commodity whose under-the-radar signing with the Bears was hardly noticed by the fanbase. GM Ryan Pace claimed Holtz off waivers on Sept. 11 after a brief stint with the Washington Redskins, where he spent 2018 and the start of 2019 bouncing between the practice squad and active roster.

Holtz initially entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Pittsburgh. He signed with the Browns in May 2016 and spent the end of that season on Cleveland's practice squad. 

Needless to say, Holtz's journey to the Bears' starting lineup has been anything but traditional. But in Week 14's game against the Dallas Cowboys, he provided the Bears' offense with its first legitimately productive game at tight end. Holtz finished Thursday's game with three catches for 56 yards and had the longest catch of any Bears receiver (30 yards). He was the highest-graded player on Chicago's offense, per Pro Football Focus. His 79.2 grade was better than Burton's top mark in 2019 (67.6) and would've qualified as Burton's third-best game of 2018, too. 

Holtz out-snapped fellow tight end Jesper Horsted, 37-31, and appears to have taken a slight lead over Horsted for reps moving forward. That said, both players have surprisingly looked like better fits for what Matt Nagy wants to do in his offense than either Burton or Shaheen. Horsted had four catches for 36 yards on Thursday.

Holtz and Horsted combined for seven catches and 92 yards. That's more yards in one game than Burton managed in the eight games he played, total.

It would be unfair to expect similar production from Holtz from here on out considering he was never a pass-catcher at any point in his career. In college, Holtz never topped more than 24 catches in a season and recorded a career-high 350 yards his senior year. But we've seen players' roles change once they get to the NFL before. Take 49ers superstar George Kittle, for example. His career-high in receiving yards at Iowa was just 314. We know what kind of weapon he's turned into as a pro.

No, Holtz isn't the next Kittle. But he doesn't have to be. He just has to be the guy we saw Thursday night who made plays for an offense desperate for a playmaking tight end.

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