Welcome back to another edition of Spin’s Fantasy Factory! I’m Spin, UConn’s self-proclaimed “fantasy football expert,” and for once, I finally made a prediction that came to fruition on Sunday (thank you for not stinking, Jamaal Williams). It’s a feat that’s been so elusive though the first three weeks of the NFL season that it was impossible for me to not be happy when Williams punched two touchdowns in for the Lions last weekend. It seems that my luck has reached an early-season high, and there’s no reason for slowing down now!
Over the course of the season, players are forced to adapt as injuries as well as player and coach performances can change game plans and team schemes. As a result, many players are utilized in ways that affect their fantasy production. Subsequently, the value of certain players may fluctuate based on what is happening in real life, providing fantasy managers the opportunity to target certain players and make transactions in order to acquire those with rising value.
Even if we don’t like to admit it, most of us aren’t NFL insiders and don’t know how players will be utilized from week-to-week. However, I’d like to attempt that with this edition of Spin’s Factory. I’ve listed three players who I believe will gain value as the season progresses, so fantasy managers should try to pursue them while their value is still low. Without further ado, let’s get this train in the water and the boat on the track!
Keenan Allen, WR, Los Angeles Chargers
Los Angeles has been playing without its top wide receiver in Allen, who went down with an injury in the season opener last month. He’s on track to suit up for the Chargers’ Week 6 contest, though it remains possible that he plays as early as this Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. When he does make his long-awaited return, Allen will resume his role as the focal point of LA’s offense.
Allen has topped 1,000 receiving yards in four of the previous five seasons, falling just eight yards shy with 992 in 2020. Over that span, he reeled in 32 receiving touchdowns, tied for the 13th-most in the NFL. He’s also topped 100 receptions in four of the past five seasons, tallying 97 in 2018. A model of consistency, Allen’s reliability has made him a staple in fantasy lineups for years. Especially in leagues where points are rewarded for receptions, Allen’s availability should be a priority.
LA will face a number of teams over the remainder of their schedule that are near the bottom of the NFL in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing wide receivers this season, including Atlanta, Kansas City, Miami and Tennessee. These favorable matchups give Allen plenty of opportunities to “boom” over the course of the season. He also sports an undeniable chemistry with star quarterback Justin Herbert, a player who has managed to lead the NFL in passing yards through four games, even without his favorite receiver. As long as Herbert remains at the helm, Allen will produce on a regular basis. Fantasy managers should make a bid for him now while his value remains low due to injury.
Diontae Johnson, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
It’s “Picksburgh” time! The 20th overall selection in this year’s NFL Draft, Kenny Pickett has been given the reins of the Steelers’ offense after Mitchell Trubisky failed to prove he could be any more than a mediocre signal-caller. With the move away from Trubisky at quarterback, Pittsburgh is likely to play a less conservative brand of football, resulting in the team’s other offensive players receiving “risk/reward” designations.
Unlike his fellow wide receiver Allen, the Steelers have a difficult schedule coming up, though that could prove to be a good thing. If Pittsburgh finds themself down and chasing points, their offense may switch to a more pass-heavy approach. That bodes extremely well for Johnson, who has been the Steelers’ most reliable receiver for the past few seasons and has seen his robust target share transfer from the Ben Roethlisberger era to the Trubisky/Pickett regime.
The main attraction for fantasy managers is the insertion of Pickett at the head of the offense. There were too many instances where Pittsburgh’s offense seemed to stall under the guidance of Trubisky, and the team will hope that Pickett can unlock the talent of his offensive weapons. That is good news for everyone in the Steelers’ offense, but it means the most for a player like Johnson who has dominated his team’s receiving load for years.
Brian Robinson Jr., RB, Washington Commanders
A third-round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft out of Alabama, Robinson challenged teammate Antonio Gibson for lead back duties in training camp, and many believed that he would enter the season as a key piece of Washington’s offense. In an unfortunate sequence of events, Robinson was the victim of a carjacking attempt shortly before Week 1 that resulted in him being shot twice in his leg. But quite remarkably, Robinson is back practicing with his team, and he has been designated for his return from the non-football injury reserve list after the minimum of four weeks. He could suit up this weekend to make his NFL debut.
In his final season at Alabama, Robinson was a force to be reckoned with. The back tallied 1,343 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground, while adding 296 yards and two touchdowns on 35 receptions through the air. That year, he was named the Most Valuable Player of the Cotton Bowl, played between No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Cincinnati. In that game, he totaled 204 rushing yards on 26 carries to help the Crimson Tide dominate the time of possession and secure a 27-6 victory.
In Washington’s first four games of the season, Gibson has seen his usage go down in every consecutive contest. The team is preparing for Robinson’s return, and he could very well overtake Gibson as the top running back on the Commanders’ depth chart. He’s an explosive player with plenty of playmaking upside. Fantasy managers should prioritize adding him now before he makes his long-awaited NFL debut.