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Making Lemonade: Players Who Will Benefit from Injuries

The NFL has taken many precautions to protect its players and coaches from COVID-19. The league has now gone two consecutive weeks without seeing a single positive test, suggesting that these measures have been successful.

Sadly, the NFL has not been able to shield its athletes from the injury bug. This past slate of games saw an unprecedented number of players go down. From Christian McCaffrey to Raheem Mostert, and from Saquon Barkley to Courtland Sutton, no one was safe. The constant stream of bad news was quite fitting for 2020.

Very few fantasy teams made it through the week unscathed. Many managers will be forced to look to the waiver wire or the trade block to salvage their teams. If the injury report has you in tears, look no further. This article will examine some of the most likely players to step up during the absences of their teammates.

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Melvin Gordon, Denver Broncos

Broncos quarterback Drew Lock sprained his AC joint in his throwing shoulder last week, which will damage the team's passing attack. Then, WR1 Courtland Sutton was pronounced out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Backup RB Phillip Lindsay has already missed a game and could be out longer. That leaves their new free-agent running back to carry the load.

Gordon, who saw 19 carries in Week 2, will become a larger focal point of the offense during Lock's 2-6 week absence and beyond. Denver trailed for the majority of the contest, and yet Gordon still had 21 touches. Granted, his YPC was just 3.7, but he was up against a stout Pittsburgh defense that held Saquon Barkley to just 6 yards rushing. Gordon is generally considered to be an RB2, but his usage alone could get him into RB1 territory over the next few weeks.


Evan Engram , New York Giants

Giants receiver Sterling Shepard has been diagnosed with turf toe, an injury that is known to linger. With Shepard hobbled and Golden Tate just returning from an injury himself, other receiving options will see a larger share of the team's targets. Engram could be the biggest beneficiary here, as he led the Giants in catches, receiving yards, and targets last week.

Shepard was targeted on four of the team's 40 pass attempts despite exiting the game in the second quarter, so there is room for Engram's target share to increase. Star tailback Saquon Barkley's season-ending injury should make the team more pass-heavy overall also. Engram has already seen 15 total targets in the first two weeks, so his already-good usage could become great. He also has played 99.2 percent of the team's snaps, suggesting that he will be on the field enough to capitalize on these extra opportunities. Engram will be a big enough part of the passing game to be a TE1 going forward.


Jerick McKinnon, San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers have been devastated by injuries so far this season. Key contributors have gone down on both sides of the ball, including running back Raheem Mostert. With tailback Tevin Coleman likely out multiple weeks as well, McKinnon is poised to assume a larger role. McKinnon's performance thus far has been very promising. He has rushed for 101 yards on just six carries, resulting in a sky-high 16.8 YPC.

Granted, this is in a small sample size, and it includes a game against the Jets. However, McKinnon's 2.26 fantasy points per opportunity rank third among all NFL running backs through these two weeks. When McKinnon starts getting double-digit touches, look out.


Chris Herndon, New York Jets

The Jets have looked terrible, and wideout Breshad Perriman's ankle sprain won't help matters. Pairing this with fellow receiver Jamison Crowder's hamstring injury leaves the Jets desperate for playmakers. Herndon could be the fill-in, despite his so-so production so far. His poor stats have mainly been due to inaccurate passing from quarterback Sam Darnold. Herndon has gained the fifth-most average target separation among tight ends, and he has the sixth-highest air yards share at his position.

With better play from Darnold and even more passes coming his way, Herndon could have a breakout performance. His five yards on four targets last week will be the exception, not the rule.


Tre'Quan Smith, New Orleans Saints

Star Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas is hampered with an ankle injury that will likely last for a few more weeks. Thomas set the NFL record for single-season catches last year, meaning a massive target share has opened up in New Orleans. It looks like Smith could be the next man up.

After a Week 1 performance where he saw just one target, Smith had five catches for 86 yards on Monday. His catches, yards, and targets all dwarfed those of teammate Emmanuel Sanders, suggesting that Smith might be the team's top wideout for the moment. Such a role in a Drew Brees offense is very lucrative fantasy-wise. Snatch up Smith before anyone else does.


Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts

Colts receiver Parris Campbell is out indefinitely with an MCL injury, leaving the door open for Pittman. The rookie actually led Colts wideouts in targets last week with six, so quarterback Philip Rivers is clearly willing to throw his way. Pittman did turn those targets into just 37 yards, but he is still adjusting to the NFL. The Colts also hardly had to throw because they led against the Vikings nearly all game.

When the team is in more passing situations, Pittman will be a primary target. Rivers had 363 yards passing in Week 1, 71 of which went to Campbell, indicating that Pittman will have a decent ceiling as he progresses.

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