Each Friday during the 2023 NFL and fantasy football season, Eric Karabell will bring his always-reasonable perspective to highlight the biggest storylines heading into the weekend's games.
Fantasy football managers do not covet Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields because he is a skilled or accomplished passer. He isn't. They did target Fields among the first five quarterbacks in preseason ESPN average live drafts because he rushed for a historic 1,143 yards -- second in NFL history for a QB -- and eight touchdowns last season, better totals than most running backs. He also threw for 2,242 yards and 17 touchdowns. This duality of skills, even at vastly differing levels, makes Fields so valuable in the fantasy world, even if, well, the real world might not be so enamored or impressed.
Fields clearly desires to run a lot more. The Bears clearly desire a pocket passer. Fantasy managers are clear that they just desire production. Things came to a head in a somewhat dramatic, perhaps ill-advised news conference Wednesday when Fields told unsuspecting reporters he needs to be "thinking less and playing more," suggesting coaches do not allow him the freedom to play as he likes to blame for his robotic, underachieving performance. "That's when I play my best, when I'm just out there playing free and being myself."
Well, then, Fields firmly placed himself on the proverbial hot seat for the Week 3 road game against the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs, as he is 5-22 as a starting quarterback in his three-year career and on a 12-game losing streak. Oddsmakers don't like Chicago's chances to compete. Patrick Mahomes, quite skilled as a pocket passer, cannot wait to face Chicago's terrible defense. Fields, a poor decision-maker and inaccurate thrower, hardly has the same luxury ... but he sure has the legs.
Still, as poorly as Fields threw last season, when he completed 60.4% of his passes (31st in the league) and tied for 26th in passing yards, only five quarterbacks scored more fantasy points. Just five! Fantasy managers do not care so much how their quarterbacks achieve their fantasy points or whether the quarterbacks win games. They just crave numbers. Fields has scored 29.28 fantasy points this young season, 21st among quarterbacks, well below expectations. Even before the troubling news conference, the pressure was on Fields this weekend, as he is among the most-dropped quarterbacks in ESPN leagues (though still rostered in 94%).
What should fantasy managers expect this weekend? Well, it is clear Fields is uncomfortable and not improving as a pocket passer, lacks the ability to read defenses at a high level, and, yeah, he holds on to the football too long. Give him credit for his honesty and strong desire to change things and play the style he wants to play. It seems quite likely things will change versus the Chiefs, that Fields will play differently, the way he wants. Hey, this should be good for us in the fantasy world, but he better play it well.
The Bears have little leverage to stop him from being a more exciting player. Perhaps it even helps them compete. C'mon, are the Bears going to bench him for backup Tyson Bagent, an undrafted Division II Shepherd University product, or find a new starting quarterback off the street? That is the only true risk for fantasy managers -- but hardly realistic. Veteran Nathan Peterman backed Fields up the first two games before his Wednesday release (he was also re-added). (Wednesday was a big day in Bears land. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams also resigned.)
Expect Fields to start playing more like last season's running version -- even sans the blessing of Bears coaches/management -- and this should be a positive statistical maneuver for fantasy purposes. Fields averaged 76 rushing yards per game last season. This season, he is at 31 rushing yards per game. Even Mahomes has more rushing yards! The Bears paid a hefty price to add accomplished wide receiver DJ Moore to the team, and perhaps he and Fields simply need more time to connect and they will justify the move. It is just Week 3, after all.
Ultimately, impatient fantasy managers -- are there any other kind? -- are going to do what they desire, and that might mean sending Fields to free agency in their leagues so they can add Brock Purdy, Jordan Love and Baker Mayfield. Curious decisions, to be sure, because Fields, Baltimore Ravens star Lamar Jackson and Philadelphia Eagles star Jalen Hurts are the preeminent running quarterbacks in the sport and are so, so valuable, as we can see from their average draft positions.
We will find out this weekend, in a game that bears -- sorry -- even more watching. Fields can run, but it has yet to translate into Bears wins, thus the frustration all around. Fields is incredibly valuable. Do not drop him, but everyone should realize this might be a defining weekend for his future value.
While we are talkin' Bears, it is tough not to notice how Fields is hardly the lone member of the team on ESPN's most-dropped list. They all are! Moore, who surpassed 1,000 receiving yards three consecutive seasons for the Carolina Panthers prior to last season, comes off a 104-yard game. Give Moore more time. Starting running back Khalil Herbert is hardly doing much and has a backup feel to him, while D'Onta Foreman was deemed inactive in Week 2. Watch Texas rookie Roschon Johnson usurp this starting role quickly. Starting tight end Cole Kmet and wide receiver Darnell Mooney are also being dropped. Tough to argue.
Other quarterbacks on the fantasy hot seat
Baltimore's Jackson enters the week with 29.44 PPR points, just a shade more than Fields, but their situations are so different. The Ravens are winning, so there's no controversy. But again, fantasy managers expected more than the No. 20 QB scorer. Things must improve versus the Colts. ... Cleveland Browns starter Deshaun Watson has not played well as a Brown, including last season, and now his top running back is done. Watson or Jordan Love the rest of the season? Gotta think about it, eh? ... The Miami Dolphins will be scoring points versus Denver this week. It remains to be seen if Russell Wilson can keep up, and, yeah, he might be mentioned in this space all season long.
And finally, in the last game of the week on Monday night against the Los Angeles Rams, we shall see if Cincinnati Bengals star QB Joe Burrow is healthy enough to play better. Burrow is a legitimate star, so he gets a pass, but perhaps the Bengals should give him a few weeks off, too. It might actually aid his fantasy value that way. Add backup Jake Browning in superflex formats, just in case.
The Minnesota Vikings certainly did not pay a hefty price to acquire Cam Akers from the Rams (switching late 2026 draft picks), but current underachieving starter Alexander Mattison has to do more to avoid the dreaded timeshare. Akers might play a bit for his new team Sunday, but he does not come recommended for fantasy. ... Perhaps similarly, Kareem Hunt rejoined the Browns this week. Everyone added Jerome Ford and, to a lesser degree, Pierre Strong Jr. this week. As good as Ford was in Week 2, 69 of his 106 rushing yards came on one play. Hunt could quickly become the featured running back here.
Meanwhile, you and I rushed for more yards than Las Vegas Raiders star Josh Jacobs in Week 2. He ended up with minus-2 yards. We all rank Jacobs as a RB1 this week, and nobody seems too worried yet, but there has to be a little bit of doubt. ... As for the sophomore running backs, perhaps Dameon Pierce seemingly has little chance for success behind the ragtag Houston Texans offensive line. Fantasy managers need to know if they can go with Pierce once the bye weeks start in Week 5. ... Perhaps similarly, New York Jets starter Breece Hall needs help around him, not only in the form of better quarterback play. Dalvin Cook is already off the hot seat. People moved on.
Dallas Cowboys Brandin Cooks and Michael Gallup are two of the most-dropped receivers in ESPN leagues. Cooks missed Week 2 with a knee injury. Gallup has only four targets so far. Dak Prescott should have a big game at Arizona. ... JuJu Smith-Schuster is the most-dropped wide receiver, while fellow New England Patriots Kendrick Bourne and DeVante Parker are being added. Fair or unfair? Can fantasy managers really rely on any Patriots WRs? Mac Jones is throwing plenty, but perhaps the Patriots dial that strategy back a bit. ... I keep touting the Chiefs' Skyy Moore, and this is the week, against the Bears, for him to break out. Moore and Kadarius Toney should do well. ... Denver's Jerry Jeudy is not on the most dropped list, where he would join teammate Courtland Sutton, but there will be more than whispers if he has another quiet game in Miami.