Jets fans, rejoice. Sam Darnold has been medically cleared to return Sunday versus the Dallas Cowboys. Darnold has been out since Week 1 after being diagnosed with mononucleosis and dealing with enlargement of his spleen, which places him at risk for rupture upon contact. His clearance is indicative that swelling has resolved, and the risk of severe complications has normalized.
Darnold is all but forgotten in redraft leagues, but in a season where the quarterback position has been decimated by injuries, he shouldn't be overlooked. Despite a slow start after being drafted with the third overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Jets made moves to help him out with offseason acquisitions Le'Veon Bell and Jamison Crowder. Between their free-agent signings and returning Robby Anderson and Chris Herndon, Darnold seemed destined to make a second-year leap. He started his first nine career games totaling 11 touchdowns to 14 interceptions before suffering a foot injury that held him out of three games. Upon his return, we saw a new version of Darnold - safer with the football, and most importantly, getting the ball to his best playmakers.
Darnold had an unimpressive start to the 2019 season with a loss to the Buffalo Bills at home, posting just 175 yards and a touchdown. It was easy to forget through the offseason that the Bills Defense is the real deal, but worry not, fantasy owners. The best in his schedule is yet to come. After a couple of tough matchups to kick off his return to game-action, Darnold sees the Dolphins, Giants, Redskins, Raiders, Bengals, and Dolphins once more. That's six straight games against opposing defenses who are all in the top-10 of fantasy points allowed to the quarterback position in 2019.
Darnold's return to the active lineup breathes life into the fantasy value of his receivers. Robby Anderson headlines this list after being taken in the sixth round of fantasy drafts and subsequently dropped in some leagues after Luke Falk was under center. In the four-game span after Darnold's return from injury in 2018, Anderson ranked sixth in targets, fifth in receiving yards and third in air yards. He was the wide receiver five in that time span and is a must-own in fantasy leagues with Darnold under center.
Honorable mentions among Darnold's pass catchers goes to offseason Jamison Crowder and TE Chris Herndon. Crowder spent the last four seasons with the Washington Redskins as a borderline WR3/WR4. He started 2019 with a whopping 17 targets that landed him as the WR19 on the week. He missed seven games in 2018 with an ankle injury but by all accounts is healthy, and if Darnold continues to use him, could be a waiver-wire steal in PPR formats.
Herndon will be kicking off his sophomore season Sunday after serving a four-game suspension for a DUI. Despite his absence to start the season, it's worth noting that he got off to a great start with Darnold in 2018. Among tight ends with 25 or more targets, Herndon ranked fifth in average depth of target and eleventh in air yards on the season. He was the TE10 in half-PPR formats after Darnold returned from his foot injury and should be a priority for tight end needy teams if available on waivers.
Last but not least, how could we miss Jets RB Le'Veon Bell? After signing with the Jets in free-agency, Bell had his most efficient performance on the ground with Darnold in the lineup in Week 1. He's averaged 2.7 yards per rushing attempt in his three games since. Small sample size, sure, but theoretically, it all makes sense. Defenses have had little to defend with Darnold out of the mix, and his return to the lineup should allow Bell some breathing room at the line of scrimmage. He will continue to have massive value in PPR formats, as he's currently on pace for a career-high 123 targets and 112 receptions. Bell is the RB19 on the season and is worth targeting in trade moving forward.
Panthers QB Cam Newton was spotted at the Panthers practice facility without a walking boot Tuesday. It's a step in the right direction for Newton, who's been diagnosed with a Lisfranc injury and is already ruled out for Week 6. While Kyle Allen continues to win in his place, there's no incentive to rush Newton back. The earliest we will see him is Week 8, when the Panthers travel out west to match up with the 49ers. Newton is worth a speculative add in redraft leagues with a deep bench. ... Rookie Drew Lock has resumed throwing and is eligible to resume practicing with the team after Week 6. The Broncos secured their first win of the season with Joe Flacco, whose production has bolstered two capable fantasy assets in WRs Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton. A shift to the rookie at any point in 2019 would likely mean some growing pains for the wide receiver corps.
Editor's Note: Here are some of the top guys to target for trades, but who should you give up? Plug your trade props into our Season Pass Trade Analyzer to make sure you're coming out on top of every deal!
Running Back Slants
Steelers RB Jaylen Samuels had a knee scope Monday that will keep him out of the active lineup for the next month, barring complications. Samuels has seen an increased role since the season-ending injury to Ben Roethlisberger, as the team dabbled in the wildcat formation. Samuels' injury leaves James Conner and rookie Benny Snell, who was drafted in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Conner has yet to see more than fourteen carries on the season, but the running backs provided a safety net underneath as the Steelers quarterback woes continue. We should assume the Steelers will look to establish the run early against a Chargers Defense that allowed 191 rushing yards against the Broncos Sunday. Perhaps this will take some pressure off of undrafted free agent Devlin Hodges, who will likely get the start Sunday while Mason Rudolph continues in the concussion protocol. Fullback Roosevelt Nix hopes to return Sunday to help the cause, while Steelers RBs average just 3.3 yards per carry this season. ... Saquon Barkley was listed as a limited participant on Tuesday before their TNF matchup in Foxborough. It's already been presumed that Barkley is out for the week, but he has a legitimate chance to suit up against the Cardinals in Week 7. He'd be sure to feast against an Arizona defense that allowed Christian McCaffrey 188 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. ... Miami news is generally not big news, but Mark Walton appears to be in line for some carries after a lackluster start for Kalen Ballage. Ballage was the talk of training camp after starter Kenyan Drake sustained a foot injury that left him in a walking boot through the preseason, but is averaging just 1.53 yards per carry on 19 attempts and has caught just 30% of his targets. Walton is worth a speculative add in deep leagues, but any upside is capped by the overall inability of the Dolphins Offense to move the ball and get in scoring position on a regular basis. ... Patriots RB Rex Burkhead got in a limited practice Tuesday, but is likely to miss their TNF outing against the Giants. James White has seen 19 targets over the last two games and is the RB 20 in that time span in PPR formats. If Burkhead is indeed out, White is an RB2 with RB1 upside.
Wide Receiver and Tight End Slants
NE WR Phillip Dorsett did not practice on Tuesday and is not likely to play on the Patriots' short week versus the New York Giants. Dorsett has managed to make a quiet but meaningful impact through his first four games, accounting for 23 targets, 197 receiving yards ad three scores. Rookie Jakobi Myers should get the start in his absence. Though he exploded onto the scene in the preseason, Myers has produced, as many rookies do, quite minimally. He's off fantasy radars for now. ... Steelers WR James Washington is officially questionable for Week 6 with a shoulder injury. Rookie Dionte Johnson has stolen the show in Pittsburgh with backup QBs under center and should be rostered in fantasy leagues. ... Evan Engram got in a limited session Tuesday for the Giants, though it is looking unlikely that he'll suit up on a short week. Rhett Ellison would be the next man up for the Giants, but fantasy owners may want to look elsewhere for production in Week 5 against a suffocating Patriots secondary.