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Fantasy Football Week 7: 10 keys to victory

Fantasy football analyst Sal Vetri will use this space to deliver his keys to victory every week of the 2023 NFL season.

Finding No. 1: The best (RB) spot of the week belongs to Kenneth Walker III

Walker returned from bye last week and commanded 22 touches. He quietly ranks top 10 in usage this season and now finds himself in the best spot of the week. Walker and the Seahawks are an eight-point home favorite against the Cardinals’ 29th-ranked run defense. Arizona allows the fourth-most rushing yards to opposing running backs this season and just allowed a 158-yard game to Kyren Williams last week.

Starting running backs in similar spots have averaged over 16 points this season.

Finding No. 2: The sketchy spot of the week belongs to Rachaad White

White returned from his bye in Week 6 and saw some concerning usage. He handled a season-low 54% of the Bucs’ carries, while backup Ke’Shawn Vaughn saw a season-high 46% of the carries.

For the first time this season, this was a split backfield on the ground. Now, White still commanded the far majority of the snaps and passing-down usage. But he’s been far from productive. He ranks 38th among all backs averaging just 3.8 yards per touch this season.

White will face the Falcons’ No. 4 run defense this week.

Finding No. 3: Rashee Rice is a fast-rising rookie

Rice continues to be one of the most efficient receivers in the NFL, averaging over 2.60 yards per route run. This ranks top 10 among all receivers.

This past week against the Broncos, Rice totaled 72 yards on four targets. But the most important part to point out was the change in snap share for Rice. For the first time this season, Rice operated as a top-three WR for the Chiefs. He saw similar snaps and routes to Skyy Moore.

Rice saw this bump in usage partly due to his recent success, but largely because of Justin Watson’s injury. Watson dislocated his elbow and will miss some time. Rice is the next man up for Kansas City and will face two bottom-five secondaries the next two weeks in the Chargers and Broncos.

Finding No. 4: Michael Mayer is the bye-week tight end filler

The Raiders rookie TE saw season-high usage in Week 6. He ran 67% of the routes and earned six targets. His previous high was just three targets. This led to a 75-yard performance and Mayer ended up being a top-five TE on the week.

Mayer was the Raiders’ second-round pick this year and was thought by many to be the best TE in the NFL Draft. He averaged 8.5 targets per game at Notre Dame the past two seasons. He started his NFL career as mostly a blocker for the first four weeks, earning just two total targets, but in the past two games he’s been primarily used as a receiver.

Mayer will face the Bears’ bottom-five secondary this week. Chicago allows the second-most receptions to TEs this season.

Finding No. 5: James Cook is trending down

Cook has relied on strong efficiency this season. We saw this in Week 2 when he totaled 159 yards on just 21 touches. But since that game, we’ve seen his role get worse. Over the past four weeks, Cook has played just 54% of the snaps and handled only 48% of the rush attempts. To make matters worse, he’s been losing passing-game work to Latavius Murray.

In Week 6, Murray handled 88% of the third-down snaps and continued to earn touches over Cook in the red zone. Through six games, Cook has just 26% of the Bills’ red-zone touches.

A running back needs at least one of the two fantasy cheat codes to be reliable in fantasy football: they either have to earn targets or be used often in the red zone. Cook didn’t have either in Week 6.

Taylor returned in Week 5 and saw just 16% of the snaps. But this was the game plan that we were told would happen before Week 5. The plan was to ramp him up over the following weeks. We saw this happen in Week 6. Taylor played 43% of the snaps and earned 14 opportunities, including a strong six targets.

We also received news that Anthony Richardson will miss the rest of the season. This increases the target and touchdown projections for Taylor for the rest of the season. The flaws for Taylor this preseason were his contract dispute and a mobile QB under center. But both of these concerns are now out of the picture. Taylor will soon take over the elite role Zack Moss had seen of 20+ opportunities per game.

Finding No. 7: The buy-low of the week is Puka Nacua

Trade for Puka Nacua immediately. Puka had his worst game of the season in Week 7, scoring just 4.6 points against the Cardinals’ 31st-ranked secondary. Despite the low point total, Puka still saw great usage. He earned 29% of the Rams’ targets and ran 100% of the routes.

The problem in Week 6 was Stafford only threw 24 times. Kyren Williams had a strong second half on the ground and totaled 158 rush yards. LA didn’t have to throw the ball as much due to that rushing success. Entering this game, Stafford was averaging 41 passes per game. Expect the volume to rise this week against the Steelers’ bottom-10 secondary. Buy low on Puka if you can.

Finding No. 8: Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s usage is something to monitor

His usage has increased in four straight games and in Week 6 he ran a season-high 81% of the routes. This led to five targets for the second straight game. The increase in usage is great to see for the first-round receiver who posted 1,600 yards at Ohio State while playing next to Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave.

This season, Smith-Njigba’s average target distance is just 4.2 yards downfield. This makes it hard for big plays to occur. However, in Week 6 his average target distance was a season-high 7.4 yards downfield as he was used more on the outside.

The competition ahead of JSN is still strong in DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. But it’s worth monitoring this usage since the rookie became more involved after the bye week.

Finding No. 9: Jalin Hyatt looks like the Giants’ new starting WR

Jalin Hyatt was the Giants’ third-round draft pick. He’s a dynamic downfield receiver who wasn’t used much the first three weeks of the season. But his usage has quietly increased each of the past five games.

In Week 6, Hyatt ran a season-high 80% of the routes. This led to a three-catch performance on four targets. Hyatt also had a 40+ yard catch called back in this game due to a penalty. These big plays are going to become more consistent now that he’s seeing starter usage. He’s worth an add in deeper leagues.

Finding No. 10: The Rams backfield is officially a mess

Kyren Williams is dealing with an ankle injury and was put on IR. Backup Ronnie Rivers is also hurt and on IR. The next man up on the depth chart seemed to be sixth-round rookie Zach Evans. Evans earned nearly 1,100 yards in his final year at Ole Miss. He averaged an elite 6.8 yards per carry in college but only had 30 receptions over 27 games.

LA has been making moves this week. The Rams signed Royce Freeman from their practice squad and picked up Darrell Henderson and Myles Gaskin. Henderson has spent time with McVay and the Rams as recently as last year and Gaskin had a great preseason with Miami.

Gaskin profiles out as the best long-term replacement for Kyren Williams. He’s an athletic, pass-catching back with a similar profile to Williams. But it appears to be too quick of a turnaround for him to be a factor this week after being signed just a few days ago. Expect Freeman, Henderson and Evans to all be involved Sunday, but don’t be surprised to see Gaskin get some run in Week 8.