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Do we trust McCaffrey’s quad, Godwin’s hammy, Hollywood’s foot?

Christian McCaffrey

Christian McCaffrey

Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

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 4 lineups.

Christian McCaffrey injury scare No. 382

After back-to-back missed practices, Christian McCaffrey (thigh) got in a limited practice on Friday as the optimism balloon swelled. Matt Rhule said “He looked good today. Unless something comes up, I’m sure he’ll be — he’ll give it his best chance to go. So we’re very hopeful.” McCaffrey spoke to the media as well -- always a pretty sure sign someone will play -- and said he felt great.

You can make a full cut of McCaffrey stonewalling and saying he felt “great” -- it was a long presser. I don’t think the injury necessarily is scary -- it feeds into a narrative that McCaffrey is never healthy. And to be fair, he has played just 10 games in the last two years. What I was most curious about, since this isn’t a scenario where I’m too worried about him not at least attempting to play, is: Should we be worried that he’ll play poorly?

McCaffrey’s two worst games in 2021 -- Week 3 against the Texans and Week 12 against the Dolphins -- came with in-game injuries that forced him to miss most of the game. For the most part in both 2021 and 2022, McCaffrey goes to the game without a questionable tag and is taken off the injury report altogether. The closest we have to a repeat session is his questionable tag against the Patriots in Week 9 of last year when he was activated off IR and responded with 14/52 on the ground and 4/54 through the air.

I’d like to give you a reason to not play him. Because I fear the idea of starting him and watching him bagel in a psychological way that can only be explained with textbooks after spending some high picks for him in some very important leagues to me. But nothing I can see in his health history would tell me that this injury makes him more likely to perform poorly. You can nitpick the matchup for fantasy purposes -- fade him in DFS because he could burn you if he’s actually dinged, and so on -- but McCaffrey was picked high because he’s supposed to be immune to matchups. I think you have to trust him to cook in this matchup and be willing to take the heat if you drafted him. This is kind of what you signed up for.

Chris Godwin and Julio Jones: Resting, or hurting?

Both Chris Godwin and Julio Jones got the “game-time decision” tag Friday after a frustrating week where they mostly were limited, but each also had a single DNP on the injury report that was affixed with the term “rest.” Annoyed, I sought answers from the pressers and found nothing that would actually help. Hurricane Ian has taken an immeasurable toll on Florida and I in no way want to minimize that. All your focus should be there, and I would urge you to donate to organizations you believe in down there.

But as for the business of fantasy football, Tampa moved their practice operations out of the way of the hurricane and thus we have much less coverage of what actually happened this week. There are no player interviews that weren’t requested, ala standard 2020 Zoom Protocol. There are no practice reports.

What we have is Todd Bowles speaking into a camera, and while I wouldn’t call Bowles cagey, he sure doesn’t give out a whole lot about the team that’s interesting. It sure sounded like Julio Jones is further along than Godwin on account of a much longer Bowles quote on him than on Godwin, who got the standard “questionable.”

It sure sounds like Jones could be on a pitch count if he does play based on that answer. I would roll out Mike Evans with confidence this week based on how rough the rest of the Tampa wideout room looks. Russell Gage got a touchdown and a PPR trophy in a garbage situation last week, but he still looked bothered by his hamstring. Byron Leftwich said in his availability that he doesn’t talk about injuries when asked about Godwin but said that they are “excited.”

Obviously if you have the option to not rely on these guys this week, I think it’s for the best that you don’t. If you have to rely on them, I’d rank them: Gage, Jones, Godwin. If Godwin does play he could absolutely crush and make this look stupid, but, well, it’s hard to believe he’d be playing based on what we publicly know.

Back to the desert for another week, does Hollywood Brown leave a huge target vacuum?

From a team that was undercovered this week to a team that’s always undercovered, Hollywood Brown popped up on the injury report with a foot injury on Friday. It was enough to get him dinged to questionable. And, coincidentally, the team folded up the tents after Kliff Kingsbury’s Friday presser and thus didn’t have to say anything about Brown being added.

Kingsbury did say that Rondale Moore (hamstring, questionable) will make his debut as long as he warms up okay against the Panthers:

Darren Urban noted that he is “guessing” that Brown will play on Sunday, and Aaron Wilson believes that both Moore and Brown are “trending in the right direction.”

With A.J. Green already ruled out, there were going to be some targets to go around. Zach Ertz had 10 targets in Week 3, Brown had 17, and Greg Dortch had 10. As much as the Cardinals want to get James Conner involved, I doubt that level of volume is happening again. But if we cut Kyler Murray‘s attempts down to 40, that still leaves room for an eight-target game or something in that range for Rondale Moore in the event that Brown plays. If Brown sits, that sucker is cut wide open.

I don’t entirely know what to expect from Moore right off the bat, but if he takes the routes that Dortch usually runs, he should be fantasy-valuable right away. I’d fall back on what Moore did last year except it was so bizarre and so clearly not what an NFL wideout would be asked to do that it feels almost entirely useless for our projection purposes. We’re lucky that this is an early game and we’ll know the score. Obviously you’re starting Brown in leagues if he plays, and I’d feel alright about him in DFS if not stoked. I think Moore and Dortch can be bargain players with the target vacuum, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both of them made someone some major money this weekend.