Jesse Pantuosco (@JessePantuosco): Often this column is devoted to finding injury replacements. Players get hurt every week, so it’s usually a pretty useful exercise. Even when we’re only grasping at straws, there’s a certain therapeutic quality that comes from commiserating over fallen fantasy heroes (pour one out for Keenan Allen and Adrian Peterson).
But most injuries aren’t forever. In fact, we’ve seen many important fantasy players resurface over the last couple of weeks. Dez Bryant, Donte Moncrief and Jordan Reed all returned on Sunday while Tyler Eifert also saw his first significant playing time of the season. Many others are on the comeback trail including Corey Coleman, Ladarius Green, Carlos Hyde, Dion Lewis and Ben Roethlisberger. So out of these returning players (and anyone else I may have missed), who carries the most fantasy intrigue? Take any angle you want. This week, rest of season—I’m all ears.
Rich Hribar (@LordReebs): Eifert is locked in as a top-5 play the rest of the way now that he's up to full speed. That was an offense thirsty for a secondary passing option and a factor in the red zone.
I want to sell myself on Dion Lewis being a factor, but he had little to no involvement on the goal line last season and the Patriots’ offense is already overcrowded. Besides Rob Gronkowski, LeGarrette Blount has played well as the Pats’ goal-line closer while Julian Edelman, despite his struggles, is still seeing a ton of targets from Tom Brady. That leaves Lewis fighting for scraps along with players like Chris Hogan, Martellus Bennett and even Danny Amendola. All of those guys will have their moments, but the weekly volatility is going to be a headache for fantasy owners.
Corey Coleman intrigues me because the Browns have trailed for 70.8 percent of their plays (second-most behind Jacksonville) and the organization has shown a willingness to put their young players in position for immediate opportunity. Add in that Hue Jackson has shown he's also going to get the ball to his best players and Coleman could have a chance for some usable weeks. Since Coleman was injured, Andrew Hawkins and Ricardo Louis have combined for 11.2 targets per game, so there's room for him to take most of those looks away.
The guy we're really waiting on is Doug Martin. No one seems to know what is going on with him but the Bucs’ backfield is filled with vagabonds at the moment. As we’ve seen with Jacquizz Rodgers, the running back position in Tampa Bay is still a spot that produces high fantasy outputs from week to week. If Martin can come back soon and knock some of the rust off, he gets the Chargers, Cowboys and the Saints twice between Weeks 13-16. That could change the outcome of many fantasy leagues.
Patrick Daugherty (@RotoPat): I'm most bullish on Donte Moncrief. He was nearly an every-snap player in his return from a six-week absence on Sunday and could play literally every snap this week against Green Bay. That’s how limited the Colts’ receiving depth is. Moncrief is returning to the same role fantasy players envisioned for him before the season started. He has the receiver trifecta: volume, big-play ability and red zone opportunities. That gives him a rock-solid floor and a very appealing ceiling.
Dion Lewis was so dynamic last year, but Reebs lays it out pretty well. He's returning to arguably the most crowded offense in football and James White, who has filled the Lewis role on passing downs, has been pretty darn good. Maybe it will come back to bite me, but I don't view Lewis as someone worth rostering.
Jeff Brubach (@Jeff_Brubach): I'm a Corey Coleman fan and have been targeting him in trades recently in anticipation of his return. As Reebs pointed out, if Andy Hawkins saw looks with Coleman out, the rookie can certainly hop right back into a nice-sized role this week and moving forward. Coleman never got a chance to play with Cody Kessler before the hand injury but Kessler has performed well enough to not be a drag on Coleman's rest-of-season stock. Fantasy titles are won by teams with players that peak at the right time and Coleman could fit that mold down the stretch.
Evan Silva (@evansilva): Eifert should be a huge difference maker ROS. That is a passing-based team with a really inconsistent running game and a declining defense. They will be throwing a lot in the second half of the season. Eifert was a low-volume tight end who made his living off TDs last year but he will be a high-volume tight end the rest of the way. High-volume tight ends are gold.
Carlos Hyde is made of glass and only has good games in the fourth quarter of blowouts. I have very little faith in Dion Lewis, Ladarius Green and Doug Martin coming back and being big factors. I love Corey Coleman’s talent but it’s real hard to imagine him giving us anything resembling consistency while sharing targets with Gary Barnidge, Duke Johnson, and Andrew Hawkins behind Terrelle Pryor.
Pantuosco: All good thoughts. I’ll add another name to the mix. How about our old friend, Steve Smith Sr.? Rumor has it our boy is on the comeback trail. He practiced on Thursday (he did it very secretly as nobody saw him during the open part of practice), getting in his first session in almost a month. His sprained ankle seems to be healing nicely and he should be back in the next week or two.
Smith was quietly catching fire before he got hurt. He caught 16-of-22 targets for 198 yards between Weeks 3 and 4 and was playing well in Week 5 (three catches for 29 yards) before exiting in the first quarter. Going back to the start of last season, Sr. has averaged 81.7 yards and more than nine targets over his last 12 games. Joe Flacco hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since his injury, which is pretty convincing evidence that Smith is the straw that stirs the drink in Baltimore. If you come across his name on the waiver wire (he’s still available in 47 percent of Yahoo leagues), I’d go ahead and click the plus button.