Coming into training camp, if not for the buzz around Cam Newton, the praise was going to New England Patriots RB Damien Harris. Some believed, myself included, that he was going to be the Week 1 starter. However, surgery to repair a broken bone in his hand derailed his season before it ever took off, and was placed on the IR. Now in Week 4, Harris is eligible to come off injured reserve. Given the nature of the Patriots’ backfield, is Damien Harris a player you should target in fantasy football before he returns to the field?
Damien Harris should see an increased role with Sony Michel ruled out
According to the team, RB Sony Michel has been ruled out for their game against the Kansas City Chiefs due to a quad injury. Michel reportedly did not travel with the team.
Michel, who had nine carries for 117 yards in a Week 3 win over the Las Vegas Raiders, had been limited in practice all last week. Given the team will be relying on Brian Hoyer at quarterback, the rushing game will need to be a focal point as they try to keep up with the high-powered Chiefs’ offense.
We expect to see James White split with Rex Burkhead for the passing game while Harris will see the vast majority of rushing attempts. If he is still out there on your waivers, pick him up, even if you don’t have a spot to play him this week. At worst, he is a valuable trade piece that you can flip for essentially zero investment.
What does the IR mean in the NFL and for fantasy football?
First, we need to start with where Damien Harris has been before we can talk about where he is going. After undergoing surgery to repair a broken bone in his pinky finger, the Patriots placed Harris on the Injured Reserve.
The injured reserve (IR) is a designation the team can give to a player who is injured, and does not count against their 53-man roster cap but is eligible to return to the team. In 2020, the length of how long a player had to be on the IR was reduced from a mandatory eight weeks to only three weeks. This change was made due to the extenuating circumstances in an effort to give teams flexibility with their roster if a player were to test positive.
For fantasy football managers, this makes Week 4 a rather large week as any player who was placed on IR after the final 53-man roster cuts took place, like Harris, are eligible to return to the team this week and play on Sunday. This creates a great buy-low opportunity.
Harris was going to be the Week 1 starter and had all the hype behind him. Now that several weeks have passed, he has become a forgotten name. Grabbing someone like Harris off waivers this week prior to their game could put a fantasy manager at an advantage as they would be ahead of the crowd when Week 5 waivers would hit.
Can Damien Harris regain the momentum he had in camp?
During the offseason, everyone raved about how well Damien Harris looked. He was even described as the Patriots top running back. After three weeks, the backfield is still wide open as no one player has taken the job and ran with it to this point.
Sony Michel, perhaps sensing he was losing a grip on his job, picked a good week to produce his best overall performance. Michel rushed nine times for 117 yards and caught both targets for an additional 23 yards. He showed explosiveness that had been missing, picking up 86 yards on just two carries with a 38-yard run early in the third quarter, and a 48-yarder shortly after. If not for this performance, I think there would have been serious talks about touches he was going to need to give up to Harris. His Week 3 performance more than doubled his season rushing total coming into the week (56).
The surprising player of the week was Rex Burkhead who continues to show off his versatility when called upon. Burkhead, rushed six times for 43 yards with two touchdowns and caught seven of his ten targets for 49 yards and another score. This was Burkhead’s fourth career multi-touchdown game. He was a benefactor to the absence of James White, who on most weeks, would see the lion’s share of the targets.
Also, there is undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor who saw his first real action of the season. The former Arizona back rushed 11 times for 43 yards.
The issue is that the Patriots will never rely on a single running back, someone who is a three-down workhorse. It is even less of a possibility with Cam Newton as their leading rusher. However, it does not mean that there is no value to be found. The Patriots are averaging 67 plays per game and rushing on 52% of their play calls. If Haris can get 40% of those rushes per game, that is roughly 15 per game. A number that is well within the range of outcomes and would be a tremendous fantasy value for someone you just scooped off waivers.
Should you be targeting Damien Harris in fantasy for Week 4?
I think it is a resounding yes. Even if he comes out of the gates slow in Week 4, this is too powerful of an offense to not want a share of. The Patriots deploy a handful of running backs weekly, but if Harris can show out in his return, goal line and early-down carries could be his. Then in Week 5, he would likely see an increased workload. Michel did enough to keep his job for Week 4, but can he do it again when Harris is back and breathing down his neck? We will find out this week as they face off with the Kansas City Chiefs.
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