Fantasy football: How health of Rodgers, Cousins affects rest of Jets, Falcons (2024)

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New York Jets Atlanta Falcons
  • Fantasy football: How health of Rodgers, Cousins affects rest of Jets, Falcons (1)

    Liz Loza, ESPNJun 12, 2024, 07:08 AM ET

Injuries are always gut-wrenching. Although advancements in modern medicine have allowed athletes to recover in miraculous fashion, Achilles tears, in particular, have long been the, well, Achilles' heel of all injuries, often prematurely ending careers.

But even for the dreaded Achilles, things appear to be changing for the better. NBA stars Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson are two pros who didn't just return to play after an Achilles tear but were able to return to a prior level of performance as recently as five years ago. In the NFL, running backs James Robinson and Cam Akers are examples of athletes who bounced back from an Achilles injury within the past three seasons. Yet, we don't have current data on QBs who have sustained the same injury, which makes drafting Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and, by extension, their surrounding talent a heady proposition in fantasy football this summer.

I'm not in possession of a working DeLorean, but I can crunch numbers and talk to medical experts in an attempt to gain clarity. The NFL is a "next man up" organization, but as quarterbacks go, so goes the entire offense. So let's discuss the range of outcomes for Rodgers and Cousins this season, and the domino effect on the offensive playmakers for the Jets and Falcons.

Fantasy football: How health of Rodgers, Cousins affects rest of Jets, Falcons (2)New York Jets

QB Aaron Rodgers: Rodgers' debut in Gotham Green was more Justice League than Dark Knight. Despite the shocking and immediate setback, the 10-time Pro Bowler (re)retreated to the darkness, intent on shattering rehab records. Famed orthopedic surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache performed Rodgers' surgery on Sept. 13, two days after the star signal-caller ruptured his left Achilles in primetime.

It's worth noting that ElAttrache also operated on the aforementioned Akers' Achilles, implementing a newer SpeedBridge procedure. Akers' positive results have allowed for increased optimism regarding Rodgers. Per ESPN's Stephania Bell, however, a specific surgical technique (and the precision of its employment) is only one piece of a player's recovery and can't alone guarantee success. Bell reiterates that an acutely supervised rehab that appropriately (and realistically) accompanies the surgery is key to a player's healing and ultimate rebound.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that Rodgers' recovery plan was impeccably curated and meticulously carried out by the nation's most respected medical professionals. Rodgers' diligence and the excellence of his medical team was reflected in the 40-year-old's ability to return to practice as early as November of last year.

While he admitted struggling to run at full speed in February, his rapid progress confidently suggests a full recovery by the start of training camp. Rodgers may not be able to extend plays with his legs like he used to (a trend that's been on the decline since 2019), but he figures to be a more-than-capable passer with receiving talent that allows for a low-end QB1/high-end QB2 fantasy finish.

RB Breece Hall: Hall proved his mettle last season by rebounding from an ACL tear and stiff-arming Dalvin Cook into free agency. Despite regularly facing stacked fronts while laboring behind a wildly compromised offensive line (which has since been retooled), the Iowa State standout averaged 5.3 yards per touch (RB11) and closed out his second pro season as fantasy's RB2 overall in total points. A multi-dimensional talent in possession of speed, power, and pass-catching chops, Hall is one of a few ball carriers expected to touch the ball 18 to 20 times per game. His opportunity share in combination with New York's enhanced offense make Hall a top-five overall fantasy pick heading into August.

WR Garrett Wilson: Wilson closed out his rookie campaign with an impressive 83-1,103-4 stat line. He also registered the sixth-most unrealized air yards (837) among WRs in 2022. The upgrade under center, therefore, created understandable excitement for a potential sophom*ore breakout. That obviously didn't happen (Wilson logged 992 unrealized air yards in 2023), but it could come to fruition in Wilson's third season. With Rodgers likely to make a full recovery, Wilson's efficiency should skyrocket (far surpassing his 56% catch rate from last season), resulting in a probable top-10 positional finish for fantasy purposes.

WR Mike Williams: Williams has been limited to just 16 total games the past two seasons, part of an injury history that makes him a risky fantasy proposition. Coming off a torn ACL (which he suffered in Week 3 of 2023) and entering his age-30 season, the baggage is evident, even given the Jets' apparent confidence in his lingering abilities. As a result, the former Charger has fallen in drafts, coming off of boards after the first 100 picks (and usually in the ninth or 10th round of 12-team exercises). That's solid value.

A wide range of possible outcomes exists for Williams. He could suffer a setback and ride the bench for the bulk of 2024, or he could emerge as the team's No. 2 WR and draw upwards of 90 targets while finding the end zone five to seven times. Williams' progress over the summer will be essential in projecting his eighth pro season. If, however, reports indicate a full recovery then Williams is likely to provide a robust ROI (given his current ADP). Stay tuned.

WR Malachi Corley: Aptly nicknamed the "YAC King," Corley racked up a jaw-dropping 694 yards after the catch at Western Kentucky in 2023 (fifth among FBS WRs). At 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, he moves more like a running back than a wide receiver after the catch. He has been compared to Deebo Samuel Sr. throughout the draft process, though that's generous (and largely discounts Samuel's receiving skills). Still, the 22-year-old Corley brings a physical element to the Jets' receiving corps. He could emerge as a top-50 fantasy player at the position given Williams' injury history. However, fantasy managers should temper immediate expectations, as Corley's value will likely materialize as a backup plan via the waiver wire.

TE Tyler Conklin: Conklin has drawn exactly 87 targets for three consecutive seasons, falling outside the top 15 fantasy contributors at the position each year. Conklin's struggles in the red zone have negatively impacted his fantasy stats, as he's hauled in just six scores (zero in 2023) over that span of time. Rodgers isn't a QB who has necessarily favored the position (17.5% of his pass attempts have been lobbed at TEs, ranking 119th out of 158 QBs with 200 pass attempts since 2008), but his return figures to improve Conklin's odds of hitting paydirt.

Still, with each of the aforementioned pass-catchers in the mix (along with TE Jeremy Ruckert, who created buzz at OTAs last June and saw his targets increase down the stretch of 2023), Conklin's opportunities figure to remain stifled. As such, he's currently 18th at tight end in the ESPN consensus rankings.

Fantasy football: How health of Rodgers, Cousins affects rest of Jets, Falcons (3)Atlanta Falcons

QB Kirk Cousins: Unlike Rodgers, Cousins was two months into the season before sustaining the same injury. His situation additionally differed from Rodgers in that Cousins opted to stay local for his tendon repair and immediate rehab. Dr. Chris Coetzee of Twin City Orthopedics (which is located next to Vikings headquarters) performed the surgery on Nov. 1, three days after Cousins passed for 274 yards and 2 TDs in Lambeau Field in Week 8.

Another difference between the two QBs' circ*mstances is Cousins tore his right Achilles. That's the leg he steps back on when he throws. It's essential for any quarterback to have adequate strength and power in order to properly load and capably sail the ball downfield. Given this detail, it's reasonable to believe that Cousins' deep throws (a category in which his pass rate has hovered around QB15 in three of his past four campaigns) could suffer, at least at the top of the season.

The Falcons appeared -- at least initially -- fully confident in the almost-36-year-old's ability to rebound, signing him to a four-year deal with a reported $100 million guaranteed. The organization's decision to then "blindside" the vet by drafting Michael Penix Jr. with the eighth overall pick muddies the waters a bit. Insurance plans are always prudent, but the capital attached to this one gives me pause.

Given Cousins' timetable, the fact he's moving to a new geographic location, adjusting to completely new personnel, learning a different playbook, all while also rehabbing his right Achilles ... feels like a lot to overcome in a relatively short amount of time. I do not doubt his grit, but his obstacles are numerous. Unfortunately, time is not a luxury afforded to star athletes or their fantasy investors. Cousins is, therefore, ranked outside of my top 15 at QB.

RB Bijan Robinson: Robinson came into the league giving off Baby Barkley vibes, but didn't get Saquon's workload in year one, averaging 16 touches per game. As a rookie, Robinson flashed the speed, vision, tackle-busting prowess, and pass-catching promise to emerge as an impact player in his sophom*ore effort. Bogged down by below-average QB talent and ineffective playcalling, the former first-round pick averaged a "meh" 4.6 yards per carry. However, he finished as RB6 in evaded tackles (63) and RB5 in yards created (1,041). Robinson made additional waves as a receiver, running more than 22 routes per game (RB1) and managing 8.4 yards per reception (RB8). Given the change in QB and with Sean McVay acolyte Zac Robinson holding the clipboard, the 22-year-old figures to be unleashed. Rejoice, fantasy heads, Bijan is set to capture top-three positional numbers in 2024.

WR Drake London: It's hard not to get excited about London. He has size (6-foot-4 and 213 pounds), talent (particularly in contested situations) and first-round draft pedigree. Yet, the former Trojan has finished outside the top-36 fantasy WRs in both of his previous NFL seasons. It's easy enough to explain away. After all, he was stuck in Arthur Smith purgatory while catching passes from Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder. Surely, this will be the year in which his full potential is unlocked, right?

Probably. But that's the general consensus within the entire fantasy community, which means London is being drafted at peak value. He's coming off the board inside the top-15 wide receivers ... and it's only June. His ADP figures to climb even higher once everyone is paying attention and watching padless highlight videos on social media. And most potential investors aren't putting enough stock in the previously outlined challenges that Cousins is attempting to overcome. London is likely to record his first 1,000-yard season, but his current ADP leaves little room for error. Personally, I'd prefer to roster a high-floor wideout like Chris Olave or Stefon Diggs rather than end up reaching for London's ceiling (again).

WR Darnell Mooney: Mooney's potential in Atlanta has, thus far, been overshadowed by enthusiasm surrounding London and Kyle Pitts. His past two seasons in Chicago (not to mention this heartbreaker of a play from last December) were relatively quiet, as he failed to clear more than 40 grabs and 500 yards in either season. People tend to best remember what they saw last, which helps to explain the 26-year-old's 13th-round ADP. That feels low, though.

Falcons head coach Raheem Morris recently praised Mooney's speed (4.38 40-yard dash) and ability to get open, calling him an "elite separator." Considering the Falcons gifted Mooney with a three-year deal worth $39 million ($26 million guaranteed), that seems like more than commonplace coach speak. Mooney appears to have a legit role in Robinson's uptempo offense and figures to work as an excellent complement to London. With other mouths to feed ahead of him, Mooney is unlikely to reel in more than 55 or 60 grabs, but given his downfield prowess, an 800-yard season seems within the range of probable outcomes. That makes him an interesting flex or, even better, streaming option, ideal for starting when those pesky bye weeks pop up, particularly after Cousins has shaken off rust and found literal footing.

TE Kyle Pitts: The "burn factor" in fantasy is very real. When a player busts (especially in consecutive seasons), fans of the virtual game have a tendency to stay far away. Pitts remains a highly polarizing player for this exact reason. It's interesting, however, that the fantasy community is willing to offer so much grace to London. There are, obviously, plenty of Pitts hype-train conductors still sounding the alarm. However, his ADP hasn't catapulted at the same rate as his teammate's. Right now, Pitts is being selected as a midrange (and sometimes low-end) TE1, around the TE7 to TE9 spot. Clearly, there's still some trepidation surrounding the former Florida standout.

I don't think it will hold, but I hope it does. Cousins has a history of leaning on his tight ends, targeting the position on 21.5% of his pass attempts, which ranks 36th out of 127 QBs with at least 200 pass attempts since 2012 (Cousins' rookie season). Coming off of an Achilles tear, it's reasonable to believe Cousins will further rely on his TE, boosting Pitts' opportunities and catchable target rate (which has ambled below 65% over the past two seasons). Pitts could, therefore, finally emerge as the red zone threat he was promised to be upon entering the NFL three years ago.

Fantasy managers tend to be all-in or totally out on Pitts, affecting his ADP dramatically from league to league. If yours follows the "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice (or three times), shame on me" way of thinking, then pounce on Pitts. Otherwise, surrender to settling for David Njoku (or maybe even Dalton Kincaid).

Follow Liz on social @LizLoza_FF.

Fantasy football: How health of Rodgers, Cousins affects rest of Jets, Falcons (2024)
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