Thanks for submitting your questions for this week’s NFL Nation fantasy mailbag. Send them anytime @MikeTriplett and I’ll share insight every week from our 32 team reporters around the league.
Fortunately, our NFL Nation crew is high on several replacement options who could be available. Keep in mind that any one of these guys is capable of a two-catch, 20-yard game. But a lot of them have intriguing upside:
Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings: The former Pro Bowl MVP had fallen off the fantasy map. But he has caught 13 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown over the past two games. Vikings reporter Ben Goessling said Rudolph was asked to block a lot more early in the year to help rookie right tackle T.J. Clemmings. But quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Rudolph have continued to develop their timing and trust, and Goessling believes we’ll see a heavy dose of quick, short throws to Rudolph going forward.
Scott Chandler, New England Patriots: The obvious Gronk replacement, since that’s exactly what he’ll be doing for the Patriots for at least a couple of weeks and maybe the rest of the fantasy season. “The one thing you’re going to get as a certainty with Scott Chandler is that he’s going to be on the field,” Patriots reporter Mike Reiss said, because New England really doesn’t have any other options. Chandler caught five passes for 58 yards and a touchdown last week against the Denver Broncos, when Gronkowski suffered a knee injury late. And Chandler had a combined 100 catches over the past two years with the Buffalo Bills. Reiss does have a note of caution, however, which is that Chandler has not emerged as a weapon in the Patriots’ passing game during the first three months as many thought he would, including Chandler himself. “So to think you’re just going to snap the fingers in Week 13 and all of a sudden that’s going to happen just because Gronkowski went down is a little bit of a stretch,” he said.
Jacob Tamme, Atlanta Falcons: As ESPN analyst Field Yates pointed out, the veteran tight end has benefited from an injury as well -- to receiver Leonard Hankerson. Hankerson missed three of the past four games, and Tamme caught 21 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown in those three games. Hankerson is now out for the season.
Vance McDonald, San Francisco 49ers: This guy seemingly came out of nowhere, even though he has been in the NFL for three years. McDonald has 10 catches for 136 yards and two TDs over the past two games after having a total of 19 catches and zero TDs previously in his career. But 49ers reporter Paul Gutierrez said new 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert has shown a lot of trust in McDonald, and Gabbert throws a lot of checkdown passes. So there is no reason to expect anything to change going forward, especially with fellow tight end Garrett Celek sidelined by an ankle injury.
Crockett Gillmore, Baltimore Ravens: The second-year pro has been a decent contributor all year and posted his first 100-yard game in Week 11. But Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley said the trouble with projecting Gillmore is his inconsistency. “He hasn’t had back-to-back games of 45 yards or more this season,” Hensley said. “And the fact that he was a nonfactor in quarterback Matt Schaub’s first start is concerning.”
Zach Miller, Chicago Bears: Another guy who seemingly came out of nowhere with 12 catches for 187 yards and four TDs over the past four games after not playing regularly since 2011 with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Injuries have derailed Miller’s career. But Bears reporter Jeff Dickerson likes what he has seen from Miller now that he’s healthy and said the Bears think highly of him. Dickerson said Miller “absolutely” belongs in this group of replacement tight ends. “Athletic guy, fast, good moves in the open field. Just couldn't stay healthy. ... The guy’s really good.”
@MikeTriplett: This kind of depth is a good problem to have at this stage of the year. But I chose this question specifically because I wanted to dig deeper into the expectations for Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte now that he is back from a minor knee injury.
Bears reporter Jeff Dickerson said he would be “a little leery to really go over the top and endorse Forte for fantasy” because he expects rookie Jeremy Langford to continue to get a healthy dose of carries.
Dickerson said Forte is “still the lead guy,” but Dickerson expects something similar to last week, when Forte tallied 15 carries and Langford got 12. He said the Bears would like to run more, but the split could still be something like 20 to 15.
“Langford’s the future, so they’re not going to sit him over the final five games. He’s going to get a lot of carries too,” Dickerson said, though he added he still would recommend Forte ahead of Langford because there is always that possibility of a “typical Forte game.”
So to answer this question specifically, I would go with LeSean McCoy and Thomas Rawls ahead of Forte. Then it’s close between Forte and Darren McFadden. For this week, I’d probably lean toward McFadden until we see Forte get closer to his usual volume of touches.
@MikeTriplett: My instinct when I saw this question was to leave Kansas City Chiefs running back Charcandrick West on the bench since his backup, Spencer Ware, performed so well over the past two weeks while West was nursing a hamstring injury. But West could still be a good play if your backfield isn’t as deep as this one.
Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher said West should get more work than Ware, especially as a receiver. But Ware earned the right to stay involved and likely will be the preferred option around the goal line. Teicher had a great breakdown on the duo Friday.