Fantasy football start sit: Deebo, Aiyuk

Eric KarabellESPN Senior Writer

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  • Author of “The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments”

Each Friday during the 2022 NFL and fantasy football season, Eric Karabell will bring his always-reasonable perspective to highlight the biggest fantasy football storylines heading into the weekend’s games.

Everyone loves San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel, and for good reason. Samuel, the No. 17 pick in ESPN average live drafts this season (and seventh WR taken), is big and physical, and the 49ers use him in creative ways, as he piles on fantasy points as a traditional receiver but also as a running back.

The problem with this narrative is that Samuel hasn’t been piling on fantasy points lately, as he battles injury and the team’s depth, and while nobody should do something as drastic as benching Samuel (yet), one can ask if he remains an automatic weekly fantasy play. Hey, we’re just throwing it out there!

After all, Samuel enters Monday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals in Mexico City ranked 29th among wide receivers in fantasy points this season, fewer than injured Cardinal Marquise Brown, occasional Green Bay Packers provider Allen Lazard and his own teammate Brandon Aiyuk. Samuel scored double-digit PPR fantasy points in each of the first six games this season, though he surpassed 16 points in only one game.

The problem is he has been in single digits the past two games, while Aiyuk and recent acquisition running back Christian McCaffrey star around him and handle more volume.

The 49ers aren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut to start with, relying on an excellent defense and the efficiency and turnover avoidance from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to guide them back to the playoffs, which seems eminently plausible. Fantasy managers get into a habit of playing their most popular, most rostered players they drafted early rather than potential top options. We’re guilty of this in ranking players, too. Samuel was incredible last season. He caught 1,405 yards worth of passes on an NFL-best 18.2 yards per catch, ran for 365 yards and scored 14 total touchdowns.

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This season is not going nearly as well, and perhaps it is time fantasy managers stop expecting things to change. Aiyuk is blossoming in his third season, well on his way to 1,000 receiving yards, as he has topped 80 yards in four consecutive contests, along with three touchdowns. No, Aiyuk doesn’t get chances to run the football traditionally, like Samuel does, but then again, will Samuel continue to earn the chances he did last season? McCaffrey boasts 57 touches in his three 49ers games and another running back, Elijah Mitchell, earned 19 touches in Week 10, his first game since Week 1.

So it is that Samuel is reasonably on the hot seat for fantasy purposes, not as someone in danger of losing considerable value, but someone to evaluate each week — which managers might not have been doing — just in case one has the depth to activate better wide receivers. For example, isn’t Aiyuk just as good or even a better option this week? Our rankings laugh at this possibility, but Week 4 was the last game in which Samuel actually outscored Aiyuk for fantasy purposes. McCaffrey was a Carolina Panther then. Samuel’s role has clearly changed, no?

Perhaps Samuel dominates the Cardinals on Monday and makes any debate look ridiculous, but fantasy managers should always remain open-minded about their weekly lineups, trades and everything else, even when — and perhaps especially when — it comes to the bigger-name players, those we drafted early. The best way to do this is not to rely on statistics from the previous season. I ranked Samuel as a WR2 for this week. His upside remains tremendous, and perhaps he doesn’t need myriad touches to reach it. I also ranked Aiyuk as a WR2. Hmm, something to consider.

Best of ESPN Fantasy Football Content

Get your lineups set for your Week 11 fantasy football matchups with analysis for each of the games left to be played, last-minute pickup options, and our take on the biggest stories of the weekend.

Fantasy Field Pass
Field Yates on replacing Kupp, how to value Taylor, McCaffrey, Mitchell..

Fantasy Hot Seat
Eric Karabell puts Deebo Samuel among players under most pressure in Week 11.

Last-minute pickups
Matt Bowen offers names to consider if you need a bye-week fill-in or if you’re streaming at a position.

Here’s a look at other situations to keep an eye on in advance of Week 11:

There are quarterbacks who are playing well (and not so well), but with higher-profile backups in the wings in case they stumble. Washington’s Taylor Heinicke is obvious. He’s winning, but overrated Carson Wentz is healthy. The Saints’ Andy Dalton is another. Jameis Winston awaits. And then there’s Atlanta’s Marcus Mariota. He’s not winning, and rookie Desmond Ridder awaits. … Denver’s Russell Wilson is hardly playing well, but what could be gained by sitting him for Brett Rypien? Eh, why bother? … Does it matter who plays QB for Carolina?

Running back

Fantasy managers are going to assume the Bears’ David Montgomery is a great play now that Khalil Herbert (hip) is out at least a month. That seems dangerous. … The Patriots’ Damien Harris is healthy, but is it too late for him to help fantasy managers with Rhamondre Stevenson thriving? … The Ravens are interesting but hard to figure. Gus Edwards might play, and if he does, much will be expected. Kenyan Drake has filled in nicely, though. … The current Chiefs backs getting touches (Isiah Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon) have pressure to keep that going, or perhaps we see the original starter (Clyde Edwards-Helaire) again. … People will rely on the Rams’ Darrell Henderson Jr. Intriguing Kyren Williams awaits.

Wide receiver

We’ll start with the Rams’ Allen Robinson II. Someone has to replace Cooper Kupp, and Robinson has the big name. I think Ben Skowronek and Van Jefferson have just as good a chance to shine, but few seem to agree. … Houston’s Brandin Cooks has four consecutive games with only four catches. He has scored one touchdown all season and led the Texans in receiving yards in only two games. Why is he still so popular? … Devin Duvernay of the Ravens caught one pass in the team’s most recent game. Rashod Bateman is out. Is Demarcus Robinson a better choice than Duvernay?

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