Week 12 of the NFL season was defined as much by who wasn't playing as by who was, but Fantasy football players had to be happy to see some familiar faces returning. Before we get to the top early waiver-wire targets for Week 12, however, let's take a quick look at some of the key names who returned from injury this week.
Often, you'll want to give a guy a week to get his legs under him before you throw him back into the starting lineup, especially if it has been an extended absence. However, given all of the absences we've been dealing with, you may not have had a choice but to rely on Austin Ekeler, Raheem Mostert and Deebo Samuel in their first games back from IR. And, if you did, all three rewarded your faith.
Ekeler is obviously the biggest name of the bunch, a potential RB1 who has been sidelined since Week 4 with a severe hamstring strain. He wasn't even a guarantee to play this week before the Chargers practice, but he looked like he hadn't missed a beat, leading the Chargers in both rushing and receiving. He had 44 yards on 14 carries and added 11 catches for 85 yards on a whopping 16 targets, leading the team in each category. Ekeler returned to a better situation than the one he left thanks to Justin Herbert's breakout, and he might just be a top-five RB rest of season. Just in time for the playoffs.
Mostert and Samuel weren't quite as impressive as Ekeler, but that's more about how good Ekeler was. Mostert was the 49ers top back in his return, and though he wasn't great, he had a fine Fantasy game for those of you who trusted him. He rushed for 43 yards on 16 carries and added two catches, plus a touchdown. A fumble dropped him to 10.3 PPR points, and fellow injury returnee Jeff Wilson cut into his work with 43 yards on 12 carries, but you should feel pretty good about Mostert as an RB2 moving forward.
And as for Samuel? Well, he just might be the top target on waivers heading into Week 13. With Brandon Aiyuk out, Samuel returned from his hamstring injury as the team's stand out in the receiving game, leading the team with 11 catches for 134 yards on 13 targets. That's his best game of the season for Fantasy, but it's his third in a row with at least 11.5 PPR points, and you have to figure he'll get involved in the running game, too, after he didn't record a carry Sunday.
If Samuel isn't the top target for Week 13, it would only be because Josh Jacobs' ankle injury pushes Devontae Booker into a huge opportunity against the Jets. Jacobs is expected to get that ankle checked out Monday, so we should know more by Tuesday at the latest, in time for waiver runs. If Jacobs is expected to be out, make Booker the top priority, especially if you need a running back. He's run very well for the Raiders -- who are expected to get tackle Trent Brown back for Week 13, too -- and they figure to be able to sit on a lead against the lowly Jets, allowing Booker to rack up carries. Add in a handful of targets, and Booker could be a huge asset in Week 13, and possibly beyond -- Remember, DeAndre Washington averaged 18 carries, 6.3 targets, and 111.3 yards with two touchdowns in his three starts in Jacobs' place last season.
The list of top players to target for Week 13 will surely change as we learn more about various injuries and COVID-19 situations from around the league, but coming out of Sunday's games, here's who else figure to be the top options:
Early Waiver Targets
Cam Akers RB
LAR L.A. Rams • #23
Age: 21 • Experience: Rookie
You shouldn't expect to be able to start Akers in Week 13, but it feels like he's knocking on the door of a bigger role, and that knocking got a lot louder Sunday. This is still a three-headed backfield, but if Akers pushes his way into the lead role, he could be a viable starter for the playoff stretch. You probably have someone less interesting on your bench these days. He's at least as valuable as the best of the handcuffs, because he could be a Darrell Henderson or Malcolm Brown injury away from must-start status.
MIA Miami • #14
Age: 38 • Experience: 16 yrs.
It wasn't a dominant performance against the Jets, but the Dolphins didn't need Fitzpatrick to force the issue Sunday, so he didn't. And he was still pretty good for Fantasy, just like he almost always is. Fitzpatrick is averaging 23.4 Fantasy points per game over his past 16 starts, and Tua Tagovailoa could miss multiple weeks with his thumb injury. With a matchup against the Bengals coming up in Week 13, Fitzpatrick could be a top-10 QB next week.
Brian Hill RB
ATL Atlanta • #23
Age: 25 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Todd Gurley missed Week 12 after he was unable to practice all week, so you have to think there's a chance he won't be able to play in Week 13 against the Saints either. That's a tough matchup, but hey, a running back is a running back. Ito Smith was the better player Sunday, rushing for 65 yards on 12 carries with a touchdown and adding four catches for 10 yards, but much of that came in garbage time as the Falcons walked away with a laugher. Based on how they were used Sunday, you should assume Hill will remain the primary back with Gurley out, but both are worth an add if you need RB help.
Frank Gore RB
NYJ N.Y. Jets • #21
Age: 37 • Experience: 16 yrs.
There was absolutely nothing exciting about Gore's performance Sunday, except that he got 18 carries and nobody else had more than two. That's what we expected to see, and it should remain the case moving forward with Lamical Perine out at least the next two weeks with a high-ankle sprain. The Jets lost by 17 Sunday and gave Gore 21 touches, so the game flow may not matter much. I would rather start Hill than Gore among the two, but Gore should be in the low-end RB2 mix moving forward.
MIA Miami • #31
Age: 27 • Experience: 5 yrs.
We'll see if Myles Gaskin (knee) or Salvon Ahmed (shoulder) are healthy enough to play in Week 13, but if not, Washington could have a lot of value in a great matchup against the Bengals. He did most of his work in garbage time, but it wasn't just because the Dolphins were up. With the Dolphins up 13-3, Matt Breida fumbled to end the third quarter drive and Patrick Laird fumbled to end the next one; Washington got 11 of 12 Dolphins RB carries or targets from that point on. He has three-down skills, and he might have earned a larger role Sunday.
BUF Buffalo • #13
Age: 21 • Experience: Rookie
There have been flashes from Davis all season long, but Sunday was his best game yet. You'd like to see more than four targets, sure, but Cole Beasley also only had four targets to match him for second on the team because the Bills threw the ball just 25 times Sunday. With John Brown on IR, Davis and Beasley are going to be the top options behind Stefon Diggs, and Davis' demonstrated big-play ability that makes him an intriguing option, although a tough stretch against the 49ers and Steelers the next two weeks could make him a feast-or-famine kind of player. Of course, Davis is always going to be a feast-or-famine type player, so he could still hit a big play or two even against tough opponents.
NYJ N.Y. Jets • #19
Age: 27 • Experience: 6 yrs.
Joe Flacco has outplayed Sam Darnold this season, which feels like a pretty bad sign for the Jets moving forward. However, Breshad Perriman and Denzel Mims still played well with Darnold back Sunday, and that's a good sign for them if not for Jamison Crowder, who doesn't have more than 50 yards in a game since Week 5. Perriman has 234 yards and three touchdowns over the past three games, while Mims has 200 yards over that stretch. Mims could develop into the better player, but if I had to pick between the two, I would go with Perriman, who has shown a bit more upside of late. However, both are solid bench options with late-season upside.
Trey Burton TE
IND Indianapolis • #80
Age: 29 • Experience: 7 yrs.
The Colts have made a point of getting Burton involved near the end zone this season, but he showed he can be more than just a short-area specialist Sunday. He's still splitting work with multiple other tight ends, but Burton is the clear lead option among them, with 22 targets since the Colts bye in Week 7. If you need tight end help, he's got a great matchup against the Texans in Week 13.
Kyle Rudolph TE
MIN Minnesota • #82
Age: 31 • Experience: 10 yrs.
Rudolph has played two games without Irv Smith active, and he has 11 catches for 131 yards on 13 targets. Smith is dealing with a lingering groin injury that has cost him two of the past three, so if he's out for Week 13 against a cake matchup with the Jaguars, Rudolph would be a solid streaming option yet again.
JAC Jacksonville • #19
Age: 23 • Experience: Rookie
Time will tell if this was a breakout performance by the fifth-round rookie, but he was Mike Glennon's favorite target Sunday. Of course, that was with D.J. Chark and Chris Conley (No. 1 and 3 on the team in targets for the season) inactive, so we'll see if they can get back for Week 13. That seems more likely for Conley than Chark, who was unable to practice all week with his rib injury. Johnson is 6-foot-6 and 222 pounds and had a decent career at Texas, and if Chark and Conley remain out, he could be an interesting option for deeper leagues against the Vikings in Week 13.