Can you trust Tee Higgins this week? Is Jeff Wilson okay? Rhamondre?
Press conferences: They’re either the most important thing in the world or something to be entirely ignored, depending on if they validate how you already felt or not. Nonetheless, they are an important window into an NFL organization. Much as the eye in the sky don’t lie about players, coaches can’t cover up every emotion or lean they have when they’re asked questions. In omission, or in tone, even someone as tight-lipped as Bill Belichick or Nick Caserio can give something away. And that’s what this column scans for.
Let’s look at some of the trickiest situations for Week 15 lineups.
Jeff Wilson‘s hip Saturday adventure
The surprise of Thursday’s news cycle was Jeff Wilson. Not spotted early in practice, not only did he rally to get in a limited session -- he also spoke to the media and gave a full rundown of where he’s at. He had missed both Tuesday and Wednesday practice and looked dead in the water, but rallied for a questionable tag.
Jeff Wilson said no decision yet on if he can play Saturday. He and medical staff will decide Saturday. Some discomfort in hip but has been improvement— Barry Jackson (@flasportsbuzz) December 15, 2022
The real thing to me -- and the reason I wouldn’t hold Wilson up over anyone in or around his tier -- is that WIlson has kind of already been disappointing over the last couple of weeks. Wilson’s smash spot against the Texans delivered only 13/39. He didn’t get hurt against the 49ers and barely played, ceding plenty of ground to Raheem Mostert already. I think in a vacuum Wilson should be a more valuable back than Mostert -- he’s a better pass-catcher, he’s younger, and has a better recent track record -- but that’s not how this backfield has shook out the last few weeks.
So not only are we fighting in-game aggravation, we’re also fighting recent usage patterns. I hope for the sake of the Wilson drafters he gets ruled out before kickoff. I’m not saying he can’t get you a touchdown to deliver some value, but when you look at how this backfield is trending and stack his injury on top of it, it’s hard to see a lot of avenues to playing him and watching him deliver an upside performance. The best I think you can hope for is that he holds serve.
Tee Higgins: Zac Taylor better deliver or else
Zac Taylor better answer for what he did to us last week. Or else.
Tee Higgins remained questionable with his hamstring injury that apparently acted up right after inactives were declared last week. But everything else we’ve heard on the front besides the questionable tag is pretty optimistic. Higgins practiced in full on Friday. Taylor told reporters on the scene that:
"Feel good about it. Practiced full today. Thought today was a good day (for Tyler Boyd)." Zac Taylor on Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) December 16, 2022
More importantly, Higgins talked to reporters in the locker room -- a step that always provides me with some personal optimism -- and said the following:
“Got the treatment that I needed this week, did everything I need to do to prepare me for this game,” Higgins said. Would I prefer a better story about why he was knocked out before the game last week? I would. Do I 100% believe that he’s going to play? Yes. Am I still worried to some extent because Zac Taylor is involved? You betcha. We could still be in the “active but snap-limited” zone. However, that hasn’t been how Higgins has tended to play this year when he’s hurt. He was rotated a little bit early against the Saints in his comeback from an ankle injury, but for the most part he played and was a big part of the offense right away.
So, reluctantly, I am taking Taylor at his words this week. Everything but the questionable listing holds up. If you’re absolutely tilting off Higgins and have like a Chris Olave or someone, I understand you and I see you. I don’t agree with your decision, but I respect it and you may be able to laugh at me on Sunday evening. I’m going to ride with Higgins this week.
Rhamondre Stevenson: No clue what to believe
One of my favorite parts of this column is grabbing clips for you guys. You truly do have no idea what is said sometimes unless you actually focus your attention on it. That said, I watched 35 minutes of Bill Belichick pressers and -- while I feel like I know a little bit more about the true meaning of life -- I came away with little real clarity on Rhamondre’s status. Nobody asked him a single question about it over the last two days of pressers.
I think the best way to put it would be like this: Rhamondre didn’t do an interview at any point this week. The media -- who are all travelling with the Patriots as they stayed in Arizona -- all but gave up on the idea of him playing after Thursday. I couldn’t find a single optimistic point of reference that he’ll play. The Patriots also love to play games with the injury report, as they did earlier this year with Mac Jones and Damien Harris when they clearly had no business even being limited.
Now, could the Patriots pull a fast one on us and have Stevenson active? They sure could. And is he talented enough to score anyway and be a good fantasy start? Unquestionably. He’s spent his whole year doing that. But I can tell you that I benched Stevenson without remorse for Kenneth Walker this week in a few leagues. Because Damien Harris is also trending towards playing, is also questionable, and will gobble up some of the load if he’s active anyway, Stevenson is starting with a smaller pool of carries even if he is active. Then there’s the risk of aggravation, the fact that the game is late and you won’t have many ways to move off Stevenson if he’s inactive ... I’d rather just play someone I’m more sure about this week.
Stevenson could absolutely make me look foolish on that call, but I get nothing but weird vibes off his first practice of the week coming on a Friday after all media obligations are done considering what this team has done this year.