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Fantasy Football: start/sit Russel Wilson, Mixon, Robinson?


Fantasy football is a passion for many. Sometimes that passion causes fantasy managers to make emotional decisions even when the data suggest otherwise. Each week during the 2023 NFL season Liz Loza will attempt to strike a balance between what the data states and what the heart wants. This is called Facts vs. Feelings.

I got in a little trouble last week. Some of you will probably think I deserved the scolding. And I’m not saying I didn’t, but I can also tell when someone is relishing an opportunity to sneak in a dunk.

My “home” fantasy league was established in 2006. I joined the crew a handful of years into its existence (and promptly won the Super Bowl at the close of my rookie campaign). We, obviously, go way back. This was the league in which I was introduced to fantasy football. The catalyst for my ongoing love affair with the virtual game. And the inspiration for my less-than-conventional career path. I’ve been a diligent (and oft-sniped) manager for nearly 15 years.

When I was in Bristol for Week 11, however, I made an error in saving my lineup. In between commercial breaks, I made a few tweaks to my roster and then moved on to the next task hand, assuming the changes had been auto-saved (note: this league does NOT play on ESPN’s platform). I was wrong. All of my other leagues were saved. But I fielded an incomplete squad in my longest-running and most-beloved league.

GIRL, the note I received from my commish! It wasn’t over the top “How dare you” but giving more “Are you ok? It’s not like you to be so messy” vibes. For real? I mean … you can turn on the TV and know that I’m fine. Or you can send me a text and say, “Hey clown, you forgot to set a lineup.” But don’t send the side eye with an “I just want to check in because I’m concerned” email.

I have seen other members of this league forget to swap out players on bye or leave in injured flex options. This was fantasy grandstanding at its best (i.e. most passive aggressive). For all I know, I’m going to get a strongly worded email on Thursday about using my personal league experiences for professional gain (though no one complains about that when they get a shout out on a pod or ask my advice in a different league). But that’s the conceit of this column.

Anyone posting ranks or asking start/sit questions better also be suffering through the Cooper Kupp Catastrophe(s) and/or the Taysom Hill Tilt(s). We’re a community. A wonderfully weird and curiously passionate band of beautiful misfits … who sometimes (like once every decade) absolutely blow it and gift their opponents a dub.

Just don’t let it happen again (don’t worry, Kev, I won’t).

Russell Wilson, QB, Broncos: Russell Wilson is also no stranger to receiving a talking-to on the heels of a public blunder. Those mistakes, though, have been reduced in his second year at Mile High. The interceptions, sacks, and “Let’s Ride” declarations have all subsided. In turn, Wilson’s Yards Per Attemp have decreased (7.3 in 2022 to 6.9 in 2023), but the friskiness in his legs appears to have returned. For fantasy, that is a welcome exchange.

Wilson is managing more than 24 rushing yards per game, which is up from his average of 18.5 last year. More specifically, he’s gone over 30 rushing yards in six games this season. Only Lamar Jackson, Josh Dobbs, and Jalen Hurts have cleared that line in more outings. But that’s not all. Wilson is succeeding through the air. Yes, he’s become more conservative, but he remains one of just three players with a passing score in every game this season (Josh Allen and Tua Tagovailoa are the other two). While the aerial numbers are far from gaudy, they have been consistent, which has been an unforeseen blessing in 2023.

Averaging nearly 17 fantasy points per game, Wilson enters Week 13 as fantasy’s QB14 overall. He’ll battle a Houston defense that’s allowed the third-highest completion percentage (68.9%) and the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing QBs. The Texans have given up at least 19 fantasy points to the position for four consecutive outings. That figures keep Wilson looking a little less vintage and on the QB1/QB2 board for another Sunday.

Bijan Robinson, RB, Falcons: I want to believe that the great unleashing of Bijan Robinson occurred last Sunday. But the Arthur Smith of it all has me processing a wellspring of fantasy trust issues. The facts are plentiful, though not entirely conclusive.

Bijan’s snap count doesn’t provide many clues. Not including headache-gate, the Texas standout recorded a snap share of 71% before the last two weeks … and a snap share of 70% over the last two weeks. Additionally, he registered an 87% snap share on third downs before his last two efforts, but a snap share of 86% over his last pair of outings.

While his time on the field has remained steady, there has been a positive shift in his usage. And those facts are giving big feelings. Robinson’s touches have increased from 16.3 per game to 21 per contest over the last two weeks. Additionally, his role in the red area has grown. Robinson managed just six red zone touches in the seven games previous to Week 10. Since then, though, he’s recorded six red zone opportunities over his past two games. That has in turn (here’s where it gets really good) led to 3 scores in the last two weeks (whereas he had 3 all season before that).

Robinson heads into Week 13 with top-14 fantasy appeal at the position. His dual usage (4.3 targets per game, RB6) in tandem with the aforementioned increase in high-value opportunities allows for upside against a Jets defense that’s easier to beat on the ground than through the air. Give me over 85 total yards and a score on Sunday!

Joe Mixon, RB, Bengals: The vibes are not as high for Mixon. With Jake Browning under center and Tee Higgins sidelined, he recorded just 10 touches in Week 12. That was a season low! More concerning was the fact that (again, in Browning’s first full game) Cincy ran just 41 plays last Sunday, which ranks 358th out of 360 games this season.

The result was clearly not a recipe for success so, perhaps, a tweak and subsequent positive shift in Mixon’s volume is looming. Forgive me, however, for not holding my breath. Without a hefty number of touches, Mixon’s numbers underwhelm. The 27-year-old has long struggled with efficiency. He’s no longer a player who regularly rips off breakaway runs or jukes his way past defenders. It makes sense then that when his offense falters, his production similarly nose-dives.

Unfortunately, even an uptick in opportunities doesn’t figure to provide Mixon with enough oomph to push him into top-15 FF RB territory when he travels to Jacksonville on Monday night. The Jaguars have allowed just two rushing scores to RBs this year and only two backfields (ATL and SF) have managed at least 80 rushing yards. Woof.

Brandon Aiyuk, WR, 49ers: The quantity carousel surrounding San Fran is a top-tier fantasy conundrum. I get it. There are only so many touches to go around. Except these are some of the highest value touches in the league. I understand why folks feel like the 49ers pass-catchers (outside of Christian McCaffrey, of course) are boom or bust. But those aren’t facts. Because Brandon Aiyuk doesn’t bust. He’s only gone under 10 fantasy points in two of 10 games all year.

I’m not saying it’s not scary to back a player with volume variance. However, Aiyuk always makes the most of his opportunities. He found the end zone for a third straight outing last Thursday. And he did it on a season-low two grabs. Interestingly, he’s averaged more fantasy points per game (18) on fewer looks (13 total) over his last three games with Deebo Samuel back on the field than he did with more opportunities (25 total targets) in the three prior efforts with Deebo sidelined (12.7 fantasy points per game).

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