Can you trust James Conner this weekend?

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Press conferences: They’re either the most important thing in the world or something to be entirely ignored, depending on if they validate how you already felt or not. Nevertheless, they are an important window into an NFL organization. Much as the eye in the sky don’t lie about players, coaches can’t cover up every emotion or lean they have when they’re asked questions. In omission, or in tone, even someone as tight-lipped as Bill Belichick or Nick Caserio can give something away.

Last week we had the following: Dameon Pierce’s role to expand (check!), Jeff Wilson getting an unchallenged workload (complicated answer but Tyrion Davis-Price had seven of his 14 carries on the final drive with the 49ers winning big, then got hurt ), and looked at another major factor this week, the Bucs wideout room.

Let’s look at some of the trickiest situations for Week 3 lineups.

The eternal James Conner injury situation

As I’m sure you’re familiar with if you’ve ever managed James Conner in a fantasy football league before, the back gets hurt a lot. Conner played just 18 snaps before leaving Week 2’s game with an ankle injury, and has not played an entire season of games in any of his five years in the NFL to date. Conner did not practice Wednesday, picked up a limited practice on Thursday, and had another limited session on Friday.

Now, unfortunately the Cardinals are one of the most undercovered teams in the NFL. I don’t have video to show you of the following statement but I take it at face value:

Conner was declared a “game-time decision” by Kliff Kingsbury before practice. He noted that they’d “run him around” and see where he’s at on Sunday.

I found it interesting that Kingsbury had a long answer about Darrel Williams — and that Cardinals.com’s Darren Urban was extremely quick to point out on the official website that Williams looked good in his place on Sunday. The short statements on Conner in both cases — little beyond that he was doing good — make me believe we may get another situation like Week 16 last year, where Conner was questionable as a game-time decision and did not play. In Week 17, he did not play as a questionable. Conner fought a rib injury late in the season and was questionable before the Cardinals played the Rams in the playoffs — in that game he was outsnapped handily by Chase Edmonds.

What I’m getting at is that you shouldn’t just expect Conner to be active for Week 3. There’s a chance he won’t be. There’s also a chance that even if he is healthy that the Cardinals rotate their backs a little bit more than they did while Conner was healthy. He’s got the big contract, which keeps this as more of a lean than an actual recommendation. But Conner has not played particularly well when he’s been banged up and that’s a big reason the Steelers let him walk in the first place. As for the great Eno Benjamin-Darrel Williams war, the fact that Benjamin carried the ball in the fourth quarter and was part of the two-minute drive would have me prefer Benjamin to Williams at the moment as the RB2. The fact that a question was asked about Williams has me intrigued as to how much of the solution he might be in a Conner replacement role, though. It could very well be a pure committee.

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Darrell Henderson vs. Cam Akers

After opening day’s full-on Darrell Henderson ascension, Cam Akers struck back in Week 2. He out-carried Henderson 15-10 and got 43% of the snaps to Henderson’s 56%. What, exactly, is going on here? Let’s look at what Sean McVay said after the game:

McVay called it a “step in the right direction,” in a general sense, but it sure looked like he meant it about Akers. Akers, of course, notably spent the opening game of the season making everyone who drafted him look like a donkey in a ridiculously small role. Week 2’s snaps went 35 for Henderson, 27 for Akers.

My reading of the situation by the words involved is that the team wants to commit to Akers as the lead back, but can’t really do so based on his play to date. Akers has a 62.3 PFF rating in 2022, a slight upgrade on his 43.7 at the beginning of his Achilles comeback in 2021 that mostly involved the playoffs. PFF grades are a descriptive stat rather than a prescriptive stat to me, so I don’t carry them around as gospel that a player has played poorly, but Akers doesn’t look like he really has fully recovered everything he left on the surgery table just yet.

The trickiest thing about this situation is that the Rams thought highly enough of Malcolm Brown to bring him back to the practice squad this week. Not only that, both McVay and offensive coordinator Liam Coen were effusive in their praise of the veteran back.

Oftentimes a practice squad addition can be the opening step you need to read more into the state of the room. For instance, the Packers added Travis Fulgham to their practice squad on Thursday. Then they declared four of their wideouts missed practice later that day. I don’t think Fulgham will be a fantasy factor, but it says a lot that they made the move to pick him up. And then, Friday, we got word that Sammy Watkins would be out and that Christian Watson and Randall Cobb were questionable.

Injuries aren’t the issue here yet — but the fact that the Rams thought they needed Brown in the room tells me they’re not entirely happy about what they’re getting from Akers. As someone who promoted that I thought he was a fine buy this offseason, the shares of him I have in leagues make me pretty uncomfortable at the moment. Ian Rapoport said of Justin Herbert Friday that “he’s not out of the woods yet” — that’s about how I feel about Akers after last week’s rushing yardage. It may have been a step in the right direction. He’s not out of the woods yet.

The ever-injured Tampa Bay wideout room Mk. II

Chris Godwin (hamstring) and Julio Jones (knee) are both unlikely to play based on what we’ve seen, with Godwin not getting a practice in all week and Jones only working on the side with trainers on Friday despite officially being labeled as ” limited” on the practice report. While Todd Bowles talked about Jones as a game-time decision, he also said that if he’s not healthy, he’s not going to play when pressed:

Mike Evans will be serving a one-game suspension. So the three-wide set for Tampa of guys that got the most run last week was: Scotty Miller, Breshad Perriman, and Russell Gage. Except, suddenly Gage missed practice on Friday.

Gage was the guy who got most of the preseason hype, but he hasn’t really done a lot to open the season. Even with Jones and Godwin both cleared from the deck last week and Evans docked on Revis (checks notes) sorry, Lattimore Island, Gage was only able to put up five catches for 28 yards. Miller handily out-targeted him eight to six. Perriman got the lone offensive touchdown for the Bucs and finished with the most yardage of the three. We’ve also got murmurings, as per the practice squad bit above, that Cole Beasley could make his Buccaneers debut on Sunday as a practice squad elevation.

Ultimately if you asked me to pick one guy here who I have any faith in this week it’s probably Perriman. He’s dealing with a hamstring issue of his own, but the limited practices don’t put him in any real position to miss time. Brady’s confidence in Miller looked poor on Sunday, as he shouted down the receiver several times on miscommunications. And then Gage — how can we be sure he’s healthy? He doesn’t play healthy and he keeps missing practices. If I had to go down the DFS rabbit hole on this passing game this week, I’d ride with Perriman outside and hope he grabbed another touchdown in what looks like a low-scoring affair.

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